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Where in the Bible. . .?
A recurring obstacle in discussions with “Bible Christians” is that you can never be quite sure what they believe — every sola scriptura Christian interprets Scripture in a slightly different way.
Interestingly, however, nearly all Christians, Catholic and Protestant, hold a common set of beliefs that Catholics know to be true because of the testimony of living Sacred Tradition, but which other Christians simply accept on faith, sometimes with little or no real scriptural support.
The beliefs presented below are held to be true by almost all sola scriptura Christians, yet no Christian can demonstrate from Scripture alone why it is that he or she believes such a thing, since no verse or combination of verses in Scripture irrefutably teaches the belief.
Ex nihilo creation: All Christians know that God created the world ex nihilo (“out of nothing” ), but the Protestant Scriptures do not say this anywhere. Some of the Bible commentaries on Genesis 1:1-2 assert that the Hebrew phrase, “the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep,” was a Hebrew metaphor for ex nihilo creation, but the evidence in support of this assertion is not particularly compelling. Indeed, before the canon of Scripture was established, the earliest Fathers of the Church had to make this point through reason alone to their pagan opponents. Clement (c. 150-215 A.D.) and Tertullian (c. 160-225 A.D.) appear to have been the first to give proofs from reason for ex nihilo creation. Both Christian apologists realized that God and matter could not be co-eternal — God’s existence had to precede the existence of matter or His omnipotence could be called into question.
Protestants do not accept the second book of Maccabees as part of the canon of Scripture. However, it is the only place in Scripture where the doctrine is taught explicitly:
I beseech you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed (2 Mac. 7:28).
The revelation of Jesus Christ ended with the death of the last apostle: The question is quite simple: Is Scripture closed? For example, would God inspire the writing of any more sacred books today? While not all Christian denominations agree, most recognize that no inspiration coming to us after the death of the last apostle could qualify as Scripture. However, this idea of the closing of the canon of Scripture is not found anywhere within Scripture itself. It is an apostolic teaching carried down through the ages in the body of Sacred Tradition guarded by the teaching authority of the Catholic Church, the Magisterium.
The identity of John as the “beloved disciple” : Remarkably, the only reason we know the beloved disciple was John, the author of the Gospel, is through Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium. It is to be found nowhere in Sacred Scripture.
The author's of the Gospels: Again, Scripture doesn’t tell us that the Gospel of Matthew, for instance, was written by Matthew. The titles to the Gospels are known to us only through Sacred Tradition — Scripture doesn’t say who wrote them.
Scripture is the sole authority: While numerous biblical passages affirm Scripture’s authority, none state that it is the sole authority. The closest verse in support of this proposition is 2 Tim 3:16: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Supposedly, this implies Scripture must be sufficient in and of itself, or the man of God could not be made complete by using it. However, Jas. 1:4 states that “steadfastness” makes a person “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing,” while 2 Tim. 2:21 asserts that anyone who “purifies himself from what is ignoble . . . will be a vessel for noble use, consecrated and useful to the master of the house, ready for any good work.” So, which is it, Scripture, steadfastness, or self-purification, that complete s? It would seem that all are necessary, but none are sufficient by themselves.
We attain salvation through faith alone: While numerous passages of Scripture state that faith is necessary for salvation, none say that faith alone saves. In fact, Scripture specifically denies that faith alone saves in Jas. 2:24, while simultaneously pointing out the necessity of good works for salvation in several other passages, such as Eph. 2:8-10; Jn. 14:15; 1 Jn. 5:1-3; Mt. 25:31-46; and Gal. 6:2.
The canon of Scripture: While we know what books are in Scripture, it isn’t because Scripture tells us, but because the councils and popes of the Church told us. The first three centuries of the Church saw a wide-ranging dispute over the contents of both the Old and the New Testaments, with books in both Testaments being contested as false. For the Old Testament, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, 1 and 2 Maccabees, and parts of Esther (chapters 11-16, or A-F) and Daniel (3:24-90 and 13, 14) were disputed; for the New Testament, Hebrews, James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Revelation, and parts of Mark (16:9-20), Luke (22:43-44), and John (5:4 and 8:1-11) were all called into question.
The complete canon of Scripture was first recognized by the Roman Synod convoked by Pope Damasus in 382 A.D., which produced the Roman Code. The Code contained the list of Holy Scripture. Pope Damasus confirmed the Synod and Code. The Council of Hippo (393 A.D.) and the First Council of Carthage (397 A.D.) provided identical lists of Scripture. Pope Innocent I confirmed the list again in 405 A.D. when the Gallican bishop Exsuperius of Toulouse asked him what books should be considered Scripture, and the Pope sent him a letter containing a list identical to every definition given so far. The Second Council of Carthage (419 A.D.) confirmed the list yet again. All five definitions were identical to the Council of Trent’s. In fact, every council between 393 A.D. and 1965 A.D. (Vatican II) which pronounced on the matter gave an identical list.
The doctrine of the Trinity: Once a Christian has the doctrine of the Trinity, Scripture can be found to support it, but no verse or combination of verses in Scripture tells us that there is one God in Three Persons, each Person wholly and entirely God, all co-equal, co-eternal, and possessing the divine nature totally unto Himself, the Godhead having but one divine intellect and one divine will.
The Holy Spirit is one of the three Persons of the Trinity: Certainly Scripture can be found which tells us the Holy Spirit is God (e.g., Acts 5:3-4), but nowhere does it say that God consists of more than one Person. Numerous early heresies concerning the Holy Spirit arose both because the canon of Scripture was not yet fully defined and because those elements of Scripture that were recognized were simply not all that clear on how the Holy Spirit fit into the Godhead.
Jesus Christ as true God and true Man: Scripture is essentially silent on the true nature, or rather natures, of Christ. Scripture says Jesus Christ is God; Scripture says Jesus Christ is human; Scripture says Jesus Christ is like us in all things but sin. But nowhere does Scripture say how or when all of this fits together. Was He this way from the moment of conception, or did His divinity descend upon Him at the baptism by John?
The idea that Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man, having the fullness of the divine nature and a complete human nature, was only finally settled by the Magisterium at the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon. He was known to be God from the moment of conception because Ephesus (431 A.D.) declared Mary to be Mother of God in order to clarify that very point. The doctrine of Jesus’ dual natures was laid out at Chalcedon in 451 A.D.
Jesus Christ shares the same nature as God the Father: The Arian heresy, one of the toughest heresies the Church has ever faced, was fought over precisely this point. Arius had many passages of Scripture to support his position that Christ is the highest of all created beings, but not God, while his opponent, Athanasius, had an equally compelling case from Scripture asserting that Jesus Christ is truly God. As the debate progressed, the majority of bishops vacillated between the two sides.
The declaration that Jesus was consubstantial with the Father, not just of nature “like unto” the Father (as Arius asserted), but actually of the same substance as the Father, was only won after Athanasius appealed to apostolic Tradition to prove that his formula expressed the true faith handed down to the bishops from the apostles. As a result, the First Council of Nicea (325 A.D.) formulated what we now call the Nicene Creed, including in it the first unscriptural word ever used in a creed, “homoousious,” which means “of the same substance as” or “one in being with”.
Catholics are called by the Second Vatican Council to venerate Sacred Scripture, the inspired Word of God, as we venerate the Body of Christ.
Yet we can only interpret Scripture properly by listening to the Church, our Mother and Teacher. We who are the children of God need the gentle “home-schooling” of our Mother, who instructs us with Jesus’ authority, if we are to learn the full truth of our Father’s saving plan.
Kellmeyer, Steven. “Where in the Bible..?” Lay Witness (December 1998).
Reprinted with permission of Lay Witness magazine. Lay Witness is a publication of Catholic United for the Faith, Inc., an international lay apostolate founded in 1968 to support, defend, and advance the efforts of the teaching Church.
Steven Kellmeyer writes from Steubenville, OH.
Copyright © 2000 Lay Witness