Theology

Sola Scriptura and the Canon of Scripture

by Steve Ray on May 23, 2018

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 bible11Timothy 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:

2 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.

The-Septuagint-600x330This 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.

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I was asked a question about Catholics, cremation and the scattering of ash. Here is my brief answer:

Ancient cremation practices

The whole issue of cremation goes back to the Romans. They denied the bodily resurrection so they often burned the body and if they were rich they put the ashes in urns and put them in the necropolis which was the city of the dead. Every year on the anniversary of the death they would “visit” the dead in remembrance and pour their favorite wine into the ashes. 

Imagine the contrast in ancient times. The Romans would build a pyre and lay the body on top. The flames would take many hours to completely consume the body. The whole time the smell of burning hair and flesh would waft through the air. It was a big project and you watched the body disappear with nothing left but a heap of ashes and foul smells.

In contrast, the Christians prepared sarcophagi for their dead. Often it was decorated with biblical images related to the resurrection. Or the body was carefully wrapped in white to represent forgiveness of sins and eternal life. They were placed in the ground or the catacombs with respect for the integrity of the body which would one day be raised.

Christians forbid cremation because they wanted to stand in contrast to the pagans who cremated as a statement against the bodily resurrection. They also did not have an necropolis, the city of the dead. Rather, Christians had a cemetery which means a sleeping place. 

Christians reverently preparing body for deposit awaiting the resurrection

They did not bury the dead – they deposited them in the grave. Why deposit? Because just as you deposit money in the bank you intend to come back and withdraw the money. The body was deposited in the ground in preparation for Jesus coming back to withdraw the body at the end of time.

So cremation was a denial of the bodily resurrection and burial was an affirmation that the body was sleeping awaiting the day of, resurrection.

The Catholic Church has recently taught that cremation was OK as long as it was not a statement against the bodily resurrection. As long as one affirmed the resurrection of the body at the end of time, cremation was acceptable. However to preserve the integrity of the body the remains were to remain in one place and not scattered across an ocean or field, etc.

The Code of Canon Law says, “§3. The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the bodies of the deceased be observed; nevertheless, the Church does not prohibit cremation unless it was chosen for reasons contrary to Christian doctrine.”

The Catechism states, “The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.”

The scattering of the ashes could be seen as denying the bodily resurrection because scattering the ashes everywhere can imply the person is gone — reabsorbed into the physical creation as its final end. It ceases to exist. 

That is why the Catholic Church affirms the need to keep the ashes with integrity remembering that those ashes in the urn are the very matter that will be raised up at the end of time and reconstituted into the body of the person. The new heavenly body will be reunited with the soul to live forever — either in glory or in the torments of hell separated from God for eternity.

Mom with Dad before he died

When my father died my mother had no desire to visit the grave (though she has several times since) because she said, “That is not Dad”. I explained to her that this attitude denied the bodily resurrection because God loves stuff. He made stuff, matter, the body. On the day he created Man he said, “It is very good.” He liked what he had created.

That cold dead body was still Dad and when Jesus comes back he loves that body enough to raise it from the dust and re-fashion it into a new heavenly body. God keeps his eye on those dry bones and dust every day. My mom now understands. Her’s was an understandable reaction to the body with the life gone.

At the end of time my Dad will be raised from the dead and his body will be glorified. If God loves the bodily remains inside the coffin or urn then how much more should we respect the integrity of the remains as well.

For more info.

Catechism (CCC) 1004:  In expectation of that day, the believer’s body and soul already participate in the dignity of belonging to Christ. This dignity entails the demand that he should treat with respect his own body, but also the body of every other person, especially the suffering: “The body [is meant] for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?… You are not your own; … So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:13–15, 19–20).

CCC 997 What is “rising”? In death, the separation of the soul from the body, the human body decays and the soul goes to meet God, while awaiting its reunion with its glorified body. God, in his almighty power, will definitively grant incorruptible life to our bodies by reuniting them with our souls, through the power of Jesus’ Resurrection. 

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Here is a real prince of the Church. God bless him. The following interview on current events in the Church with George Weigel is also excellent.

You may also want to read “The German Church Divided” in the Catholic Thing. This regards communion for divorced and civilly remarried and communion for Protestants.

Also Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s article “Francis and Marx: Another Fine Mess” here. Should Protestants receive communion? If they want communion they should join full communion with the Catholic Church.

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