Tough Questions about ScriptureThe questions below are impossible for a believer in sola scriptura to answer, since no verse or combination of verses in Scripture provides the required information. Though every sola scriptura Christian interprets Scripture in a slightly different way, nearly all Christians, Catholic, Protestant, fundamentalist, or evangelical, hold a common set of beliefs about the faith, beliefs which Catholics know to be true because of the testimony of living Sacred Tradition, but which other Christians simply accept on faith, sometimes with no real Scriptural support at all. The topics presented below are of this variety - they are held to be true by almost all sola scriptura Christians, yet no Christian can demonstrate from Scripture why it is that he or she believes such a thing, since no verse or combination of verses in Scripture teaches the belief.
Ex nihilo Creation: All Christians know that God created the world 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 a formless waste and darkness was on 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 (ca. 150-215 A.D.) appears to have been the first person to state and give a proof from reason for ex nihilo creation, while Tertullian (ca. 160-225 A.D.) conceded that creation out of nothing was not explicitly stated anywhere in the Bible, but argued from the silence of Scripture to say this manner of creation had to be the case. 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. It was only with the definition of the canon of Scripture, established between 382 and 419 A.D., that any book of Scripture taught the doctrine 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 Maccabees 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 borne down through the ages in the body of Sacred Tradition guarded by the teaching authority of the Catholic Church, the Magisterium.
Provide the name of the "beloved disciple": Remarkable, but true. 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.
Provide the names of the authors of Matthew's Gospel, Mark's Gospel, Luke's Gospel, John's Gospel, or the Acts of the Apostles: 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 any of these listed works. Likewise, the chapter and verse divisions are traditions of men, chapter divisions being added in 1206 A.D. by Stephen Langton, a professor at the University of Paris and subsequently Archibshop of Canterbury and a cardinal, while the verse numbering was added in the sixteenth century in order to assist in mechanically printing the text. The final form of the verse numbering scheme was set by Robert Etienne, also called Stephenus, in 1551 A.D.
Scripture is the sole authority: While numerous passages of Scripture state that Scripture is an authority, none state that it is the sole authority. The closest verse in support of the statement is 2 Tim 3:16: "Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, reproof, 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. Unfortunately for the sola scriptura thesis, James 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 completes? 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 James 2:24, while simultaneously pointing out the necessity of good works for salvation in several other passages, e.g., Eph 2:8-10, Jn 14:15, 1 Jn 5:1-3, Mt 25:31-46, Gal 6:2, etc.
List the Old Testament canonical books or lists the New Testament canonical books: While we know what books are in Scripture, it is not 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 Testament, with books in both Testaments being contested as false. For the Old Testament, Tobias, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, 1 and 2 Maccabees, parts of Esther (chapters 11-16, or A-F), and parts of Daniel (3:24-90 and 13, 14) were disputed, for the New Testament, Hebrews, James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Revelation, parts of Mark (16:9-20), parts of Luke (22:43-44) and parts of 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 replied by Pope sending him a letter containing a list identical to every definition so far given. 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.
Explain 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 God is one in divine nature having two processions between three Persons in four relations, each Person wholly and entirely God, all co-equal, co-eternal, none sharing the divine nature, but each possessing it totally unto Himself, the Godhead having but one divine intellect and one divine will.
Tells us 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 Scripture was not yet fully defined and because those elements of Scripture which were recognized were simply not all that clear on how the Holy Spirit fit into the Godhead.
Tells us Jesus Christ was both fully God and fully man from the moment of conception (e.g. how do we know His Divinity wasn't infused later in His life?) and/or tells us Jesus Christ is One Person with two complete natures, human and Divine and not some other combination of the two natures (i.e., one or both being either absent or less than complete): Again, remarkably, 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? As the early years of Church readily indicate, agreement was not complete on this issue. The idea that Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man, having the fullness of the divine nature and a complete human nature, including human body, human will, human intellect, and human soul 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 nature was laid out at Chalcedon in 451 A.D.
Tell(s) us Jesus Christ is of the same substance of Divinity 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 was the highest of all created beings and the first-born of creation, 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 council fathers vacillated between the two sides, for each had a very strong case, and no clear decision could be reached. 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, at which point most of the council fathers who had been vacillating agreed that the Athanasian 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."
As these examples readily show, sola scriptura doesn't work as pleasantly as many Christians would like to believe. Scripture is an inspired book, it is God-breathed, and Catholics are called by the fathers of the Second Vatican Council to venerate Sacred Scripture as we venerate the Body of Christ. However, just as we can only learn what the Eucharist means by being taught, so we can only learn what Scripture really means by sitting at the feet of the Teacher and His Bride, the Church, whose authors together wrote it for our education. Jesus Christ is head of the Church and head of His Bride, the Body of Christ. We who are the children of God need the gentle home-schooling of our Mother, who instructs with Jesus' authority, if we are to learn the full truth of what the Father has to teach us.