Accusations of Anti-Catholic Heresy Part 3: Sola Scriptura

It isn’t easy being Natalina.  Sometimes I get accused of being a Jesuit sympathizer, a Vatican disinfo agent, a member of the Marion Mafia, a rosary rocker, and a general promoter of Popery.  Thankfully, I can always count on my favorite critic to email me at just the right time, to remind me that I’m not nearly Catholic enough.

Our friend, who this time calls himself “Paul”, has sent me numerous emails of an urgent nature. In previous correspondence, I’ve been warned to “expect a swift arrival of condemnation” from “The Sovereign Jurisdiction of the Holy Roman Church” due to my status as a “heretic of the Protestant sect” and that I needed to “gain a proper appreciation for the sacred institution of the Holy and Universal Inquisition.”  I began to worry that I’d soon be paid a visit from these fearsome fellas…

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To bring you up to speed, have a look at my previous posts featuring extensive accusations about my outlandish heresy:

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Now that you’re all caught up, let’s have a look at the most recent email I received from my number one fan.


Protestantism is a false religion of man that leads souls to Hell. There is absolutely No Salvation Outside the Catholic Church. You are not a Christian but a Protestant. Also Protestantism does not have “scripture” in light of the following:

The top ‘conservative’ Protestant “biblical scholar” on the planet D.A. Carson explained: “What we possess is something over 2,100 lectionary manuscripts, more than 2,700 minuscules, just over 260 uncials, and about 80 papyri. To keep things in perspective, however, it is important to remember that the vast majority of these 5,000 or so manuscripts are fragmentary, preserving a few verses or a few books. Only about 50 of these 5,000 contain the entire New Testament, and only one of these 50 is an uncial (viz., codex Sinaiticus). Most of the manuscripts, however, do contain the four Gospels.” (D.A. Carson, The King James Version Debate – A Plea for Realism, p. 18.) He also explains that no two manuscripts agree in every detail. “By contrast, the New Testament, as I have said, is preserved in five thousand Greek manuscripts and eight thousand manuscripts of versions. Yet despite this abundant supply of manuscript evidence, this providential wealth of material sufficient to embarrass the most industrious textual critic, it is a stark fact that no two manuscripts agree in every detail.” (D.A. Carson, The King James Version Debate – A Plea for Realism, pp. 18-19.)

Now it is crucial to realize that working from the assumption of sola scriptura (i.e., the position that a book is the ONLY inerrant rule of faith and practice) the Protestant cannot be sure what “scripture” is: due to the aforementioned fact about the imperfection of extant biblical manuscripts.You cannot identify which manuscript of the many thousands there are: that is a facsimile copy of the original inspired writings: You are fallible and only have your fallible opinion. Furthermore even if you did (which is of course absolutely impossible) many passages are missing and thus incomplete and you have no way of knowing what was originally there. Is it not a contradiction to believe the “word of God” (as you construe it) is preserved when the facts indicate otherwise? This crushes sola scriptura.

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My response:

Sola Scriptura…. You keep using that phrase. I do not think it means what you think it means.

I’ve often heard the concept of sola scriptura used as a weapon to bludgeon we ignorant folk of the protestant ilk.  It is true that it is a teaching held by many Christians.  But it is often misused and misinterpreted, even by those who claim to adhere to the doctrine.

What the heck does Sola Scriptura actually mean?  Does it imply that anything ever written or ever said outside of scripture is useless?  No.  Does it suggest that any study outside of scripture is verboten? Nope.  Does it mean that scripture is the final authority on all things that it addresses? Yes.

According to (bold emphasis mine)

Sola Scriptura is the teaching that the Scriptures contain all that is necessary for salvation and proper living before God.  Sola Scriptura means that the Scriptures, the Old and New Testaments (excluding the Catholic apocrypha) are the final authority in all that they address (1 Cor. 4:6) and that tradition, even so-called Sacred Tradition, is judged by Scriptures.  Sola Scriptura does not negate past church councils or traditions. Those who hold to Sola Scriptura are free to consider past councils, traditions, commentaries, and the opinions of others. But, the final authority is the Scripture alone because the Scripture alone is what is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16) and not past church councils, tradition, commentaries, and opinions.  Scripture is is above them all.

It is quite interesting to note that it is not just Catholic detractors of sola scriptura who often get this wrong.  As I said, many defenders of the doctrine end up proclaiming that all written and oral traditions outside of scripture are useless for a Christian.  We know this is not the case, because even the authors of various books in the Bible quote extra-Biblical sources.  We can learn a lot about how the early church handled complex theological questions by looking to their writings and traditions to see how they responded to those issues.  This is all right and good.  But we must always remember to keep the main thing the main thing, and that is to adhere to scripture as the final authority.

When it comes to the questions of translational accuracy and inerrancy, I suggest having a look at The Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy for clarification, which says in part:

We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.

Speaking of manuscripts, our friendly emailer has suggests that a true understanding of scripture is impossible, given the “imperfection of extant biblical manuscripts.”  He supplies a quote from theologian and professor of New Testament studies D.A. Carson which he perceives to be the nail in the coffin of sola scriptura.

However, the Carson quote is cherry picked from a variety of research Carson has done on the issue of Biblical manuscripts and how they represent the complete New Testament.  If “Paul” was being completely intellectually honest, or if he had at least done his homework, he’d have to admit that the quote he supplies from Carson in no way supports his claims of textual inaccuracy or incompleteness, but is rather a small portion of the overall research that Carson puts forth which actually proves the opposite of what “Paul” is trying to say.

I point you to this selection from Carson’s textbook, An Introduction to the New Testament.

Whatever the ongoing scholarly disputes, serious Christian readers today are equipped with astonishingly accurate and detailed information in their printed Greek New Testaments. The overwhelming majority of the text of the Greek New Testament is firmly established. Where uncertainties remain, it is important to recognize that in no case is any doctrinal matter at issue. Of course, textual variants may raise the question as to whether a particular doctrinal stance or historical datum is or is not supported in this or that passage, but inevitably one can appeal to parallel passages where the text is secure to address the larger doctrinal or historical issues. In terms of the availability and range of textual evidence, owing to the large number of manuscript discoveries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, we are incomparably better off than Christians have been for almost nineteen hundred years.10 Perhaps too, it is worth speculating that, in God’s providence, we are better off without the originals, for we would almost certainly have treated them with idolatrous reverence focused more on the mere artifact than on what the manuscript actually said.

D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 31.

It is safe to say that the criticism leveled by “Paul” is extremely misguided.  An interesting side note can be pulled from Carson’s final sentence in the above quoted text. “Perhaps too, it is worth speculating that, in God’s providence, we are better off without the originals, for we would almost certainly have treated them with idolatrous reverence focused more on the mere artifact than on what the manuscript actually said.”  Knowing what we do about the traditional Roman propensity for applying idolatrous significance to artifacts and objects, I echo Carson’s suggestion that perhaps it is providential that we do not have access to the original manuscripts.

It strikes me as somewhat surreal how in recent weeks I’ve been accused of having overt sympathy toward the Roman Catholic Church, with some going so far as to imply that I have a clandestine agenda to inject Catholic rhetoric into the impressionable minds of my audience.  Thankfully, “Paul” has endeavored to insure me that I remain squarely in the cross hairs of the “Holy and Universal Inquisition”, and any suggestions to the contrary are emphatically false.

Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. – Acts 17:11