Sola Scriptura and the Canon of Scripture

by Steve Ray on October 12, 2016

Sola Scriptura and the Canon

When non-Catholics are asked to provide biblical support or their belief that the Bible Alone is the sole rule of faith for the believer, they usually cite 2 Timothy 3:16-17 which states that “all scripture is God-breathed and is useful”. However, they somehow miss the fact that the two verses immediately prior stress the importance of oral teaching and the teaching authority of the Church. Here is the entire passage with context added:

bible112 Timothy 3:14-17

Verse 14: But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of (Timothy had learned the Gospel and become convinced that it was true by Paul’s ORAL preaching and teaching. This oral preaching and teaching is known to Catholics as Sacred Tradition.), because you know those from whom you learned it (Timothy had learned the Scriptures first from his mother and grandmother, and then the full gospel from Paul, an Apostle (and Bishop) of the Church, and possibly from other Church leaders whom Timothy had heard preaching and teaching. The teaching authority of the Church is known to Catholics as the Magisterium.) ,

Verse 15: and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures (Timothy would have known only the Old Testament scriptures from his infancy since the New Testament had not been written or completed at the time Paul’s letter to Timothy was composed. However, the New Testament is recognized as part of the Bible, the written Word of God. This is known to Catholics as Sacred Scripture.), which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (Only after commending the Tradition “handed on” from the Magisterium does Paul go on to discuss the nature of Sacred Scripture in the following verses.)

Verse 16: All Scripture is God-breathed (referring exclusively to the Hebrew Scriptures) and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Viewed this way, we can see that 2 Timothy 3:14-17 does not support the doctrine of sola scriptura at all. In fact, the opposite is true. (Compare: 1 Cor 11:2; 2 Thess 2:15, 3:6.)

Another point to consider is that Paul’s disciple, Timothy, was a Greek, and the Old Testament that Timothy would have been most familiar with from the time of his youth was the Greek Septuagint. Because of his travels outside of Israel, Paul, too, would have been familiar with and would have used the Greek version of the Old Testament writings. Eighty percent of Paul’s quotations of the Old Testament in the New are from the Greek Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Bible. Therefore, in this passage of scripture, Paul encouraged Timothy to continue in what he had learned from the Septuagint.

This has important implications for a controversy concerning seven books of the Old Testament now known collectively to Catholics as the “Deuterocanonicals” and to Protestants as the “Apocrypha”. Catholics consider the Deuterocanonicals to be inspired scripture while Protestants reject them. The Greek Septuagint contains these seven books while the Hebrew version of the Old Testament does not. (For more on this topic, see Gary Michuta’s excellent book Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger).

There is no doubt that the Septuagint was known to and used by Jesus, Paul and Timothy and yet, in the 16th century, Martin Luther removed these seven books from the Bible because they contain passages that support distinctly Catholic doctrines like praying for the dead and purgatory—doctrines which he rejected. Luther justified his action in part upon the fact that the some Jews themselves rejected the Deuterocanonicals as part of their canon.

This development in the history of the Jewish canon is interesting in itself. Beginning as early as 90 A.D. some Jewish leaders began to re-think which books of the Bible should and should not be considered scripture. In the second century, the Jews questioned the Deuterocanonical books due in large part to the fact that the early Christian Church was using the Deuterocanonicals to support the Christian belief in the resurrection from the dead. The Jewish scriptures were being used to win converts to the Christian faith! Consequently, some two centuries after Christ’s death and resurrection, the Jews are often thought to have questioned the Deuterocanonical books which taught the resurrection. Martin Luther used their doubt to justify his own. (For more on the “Council of Jamnia and the collection of Old Testament books, read my article The Council that Never Wasn’t as published in This Rock Magazine.)

This leads to a couple of obvious questions: “Why would the Holy Spirit guide a group of rabbis on matters related to the Old Testament canon when there was already a Christian Church in existence that was under His infallible guidance as Jesus had promised? And why should Luther accept the revised Hebrew canon instead of the canon of the Septuagint that had been used by St. Paul and from then on in continuous use in the Church for over fifteen centuries?

Luther picked that truncated canon for the same reason the rabbis did:  in order to undermine the teachings of the Catholic Church which did not fit his new theology.

For more, click here.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Melissa Spence October 20, 2009 at 10:10 PM

Steve you could not have posted this at a better time, thank you! I am currently having a dialogue on Facebook with a Sola Scriptura adherent. She tells me: “Asking a dead person ( Mary, or anyone else) for anything including prayers is strictly forbidden in scripture, as that person cannot hear you, Jesus is the only one who can pray for us who is in the spirit- everyone else is asleep. Purgatory is a myth. Or a lie. Whatever you choose. You read from a different Bible from me. Mine says Commandment number two tells me to never bow down to any idol or pray to any other God. Yours doesn’t say that, if you have a true catholic Bible.” So I pointed her to this post, I hope she visits the link I provided her.

Patrick Dorsey October 21, 2009 at 9:36 AM

Hi Steve,

I love you ‘Quote of the moment’. Would it be possible to add a date when it is a non-Scripture quote? I teach High School Rel. Ed. and often give them those quotes. I love including the date when it is centuries ago because it reinforces our 2,000 faith.

God bless you

Steve Ray October 21, 2009 at 12:38 PM

I am glad you find them helpful. I will see what I can do with adding dates.

Tim October 22, 2009 at 6:54 PM

I don’t think in Bible translation removed these books up until the KJV in the 1800’s to print a cheaper Bible for the people, are you trying to say Rome had dogmatically defined the books in it’s canon by Luther’ time? He also didn’t put much stock in some books of the antilegomina (read

Tom Nourse October 23, 2009 at 10:12 AM

Tim, yes, Rome had ‘dogmatically’ defined the books in THE (there is only one) Canon in the year 393 (Council of Hippo) and reconfirmed and closed the Canon in 397 (Council of Carthage). Note, there was no new testament before this. You had to go to Mass to HEAR what would eventually be the New Testament (and some of it I’m sure that wouldn’t) If you are really interested in this, read Eusebius’ History of the Church, the first recorded history of the Catholic Church, the only Church that existed in the first 1000 years until the split of the CC and the OC. Picks up in Acts and continues for the first 300 or so years. Note, this is a historical reference, not a book that was vying to get into the Canon, it need not be inspired to be accurate….Covers the Apostolic Succession actually naming which Bishop succeeded which Bishop, who succeeded Peter as Pope (back to the apostle(s) and Peter, the first Pope), covers (related to this discussion) the Inspired Writings that were in play back then (over 400, whittled down to the 27 fixed in the Canon in 393), which church held which document(s), who believed which to be inspired, who believed which to not be inspired, etc. Good examples, Shepherd of Hermas, Protoevangelium of James, Gospel of Peter, Gospel of Thomas, etc
Tom Nourse

Christopher Lake November 6, 2009 at 8:31 PM

Hi, Steve (and/or other knowledable Catholics who can answer this question),

I am a Reformed Baptist and former Catholic convert (from agnosticism) who is studying Catholicism to see what I might have missed or misunderstood years ago, when I left the Church. Part of my studies involves reading Crossing The Tiber, and I am finding it very interesting and stimulating!

On the subject of the Biblican canon– I understand that the Church teaches that for the New Testament canon, the Popes and Magisterium infallibly defined which books were to comprise it. I also understand that according to Catholic teaching, they (the Popes and Magisterium) have infallibly interpreted the books of the New Testament through the centuries. However,a question is plaguing me– who infallibly defined and interpreted the Old Testament canon, in the years before the existence of the apostles and the Church? If we need the infallible teaching authority of the Pope and Magisterium to know and interpret the books of the New Testament canon, don’t we need a similarly infallible “deciding” and teaching authority for which books should have been in the Old Testament canon, before the Church existed? From the Catholic perspective, what would that infallible authority have been?

Steve Ray November 6, 2009 at 9:23 PM

Hello Christopher: Swamped right now with video crew here shooting an interview with me for a documentary. Will try to answer more soon. In the meantime might I suggest a very helpful book on this matter — Why Catholic Bibles are Bigger by Gary Michuta.

Christopher Lake November 8, 2009 at 4:19 PM

Thank you for the reply, Steve. I will look for the book that you suggested! I look forward to reading more from you on this subject, whenever you have the time. I know you’re a very busy man! :-) I’m still reading Crossing the Tiber, btw– I’m actually studying through it with a fellow member at my Reformed church who has expressed a desire to learn more about church history! (We’re also studying a Reformed book in conjunction with Crossing the Tiber.)

MichaelTX September 9, 2013 at 3:11 PM

Steve and/or Christopher,
Did you guy’s every get any deeper in the study of a preChristian magestirium. I am talking with another guy about the same topic and am hoping for a head start. I’m a father of four so I don’t get as much time to sort through histories as I might like. I know there is the Matthew 23 reference calling the hearers of Christ to do what those who sit on the seat of Moses tell them to do. I could use some help if it is an area others have looked deeper at historically or Church doctrine wise.

MichaelTX September 9, 2013 at 3:14 PM
carol28 November 3, 2015 at 12:53 PM

Brilliant and succinct- answers practically an historical truth that needs re-examination by reverts such as myself and convers such as my kids and relatives-an excitingtime for us!

Dave November 3, 2015 at 2:02 PM

I never understood why Protestants use this passage to support sola Scriptura in the first place. Scripture is “useful”, “God-breathed”, able to make one thoroughly equipped for every good work, able to make you wise for salvation, etc. Never is there any hint that Scripture is the ONLY thing necessary.

Bill912 November 3, 2015 at 11:57 PM

When one approaches Scripture with the doctrine of Sola Scriptura–not reading Sola Scriptura from the Bible, but reading it into the Bible (what Steve calls “protestant-colored glasses”)– one looks for texts that seem to support it.

John Davies November 10, 2015 at 1:18 PM

STEVE RAY HERE: I am allowing the comments below to show how misguided some people can be. There is NO implication that simply because it says “it is written” that there is no other source of authority in the church or that this proves sola scriptural. Wishful thinking at best.

“Jesus taught sola scriptura in Matthew 4:4. The very phrase “It is written” means exclusively transcribed, and not hearsay. The scriptures is ALL AUTHORITY (Titus 2:15, Esther 9:29). Only children of satan will raise objections – John 8:44”

De Maria November 22, 2015 at 10:45 PM

John Davies November 10, 2015 at 1:18 PM

“Jesus taught sola scriptura in Matthew 4:4.

Matthew 4:4 (ESV)
4 But he answered, “It is written, “ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”

That’s not true. Jesus would not contradict Scripture. And Scripture says:

2 Thessalonians 2:15King James Version (KJV)

15 Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.

The very phrase “It is written” means exclusively transcribed, and not hearsay.

Not true. It just means that it has been written in the past. Jesus also said, “you have heard”.

Matthew 5:38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:

Does that mean it was never written?

The scriptures is ALL AUTHORITY (Titus 2:15,

Titus 2:15 These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.

That is St. Paul telling St. Titus to exert his Episcopal (i.e. Church) authority. It says nothing about Scripture.

Esther 9:29).

Esther 9:29 Then Esther the queen, the daughter of Abihail, and Mordecai the Jew, wrote with all authority, to confirm this second letter of Purim.

And where is that letter? If all authority is in that letter, then we can discard with the Church and the Scriptures as well. Your logic is totally bogus.

Only children of satan will raise objections

On the contrary, only children of Satan will not raise objections to your blatant errors.

Sean S October 19, 2016 at 9:57 AM

In the Protestant churches in which I was raised, there was only the authority of the ‘preachers’ in teaching the meaning of the Bible. This stands opposed to the argument that Scripture is the only authority, as they believe THEIR individual interpretation is the only authority.

If it were Scripture Alone, would it not be up to each person to interpret for themself? So if it IS Scripture alone, the need for teaching is deleted is it not?

Many Protestants, Evangelicals in particular, ‘preach’ endlessly about what Scripture means, but when they say Scripture is the only rule of Faith, they are in direct contradiction to their own statements being valid I think. That’s to say, if there’s a leader then he is responsible for defining the meaning, so ORAL teaching is necessary as a result of ‘submitting to authority’ as I heard it preached so many times.

Who then is most qualified to teach? Is it those who have the teachings passed down since Christ or the preachers who have come about only since the (so called) reformation? I’ll listen to those who have the ancient teachings. If I believed in Scripture alone, I think I’d just hole up at home with my Bible and try to figure it out for myself rather than consulting (unqualified and uneducated) preachers.

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