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Is the Bible the Sole Authority for Faith and Practice?
Updated February 20, 2008 (first published March 5, 1999) (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143, fbns@wayoflife.org)
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Is the Bible the Sole Authority for Faith and Practice? The Roman Catholic Church Says It Is Not. The Vatican II Council Affirmed That “Both Scripture and Tradition Must Be Accepted and Honoured With Equal Feelings of Devotion and Reverence” (Vatican II Documents,“Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation,” Chap. 2, 9, P. 682). Thus, Rome Has Boldly Exalted Its Traditions to a Status Equal With Holy Scripture. I frequently receive letters and e-mails from Catholics who challenge me about the authority of the Bible. They know that they cannot defend Catholic doctrine strictly from the Bible. If the Bible alone is the authority for faith and practice, it can easily be demonstrated from Scripture that the Catholic Church is false. The authority of the Bible is therefore at the heart of the difference between Roman Catholicism and churches that base their doctrine and practice strictly upon the Holy Scriptures.

Following is an example of the many challenges I have received:

“I haven’t found anything in the Bible that says it should be used as the only authority. It seems to me that the Bible itself is a sort of tradition, as it wasn’t even considered complete in its present form for many years after the death of all of the apostles. We had to trust somebody for its authenticity and completeness. I have found in the scriptures the exhortation to follow proper traditions, whether written or spoken. Of course, I understand that ‘traditions of men’ are wrong to follow” (e-mail from a Catholic who found Way of Life articles on the Internet, March 2, 1999).

REPLY FROM BROTHER CLOUD:

You tell me you haven’t found anything in the Bible that says it should be used as the only authority. I can only say that you must not have read the Bible very carefully.

FIRST, 2 TIMOTHY 3:16-17 TEACHES THAT THE SCRIPTURE IS SUFFICIENT FOR FAITH AND PRACTICE.

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be PERFECT, THOROUGHLY FURNISHED UNTO ALL GOOD WORKS.”

The Scripture alone is given by inspiration of God and is able to make the man of God
perfect. Obviously nothing else is needed, then, beyond the Scripture.

Catholic tradition is not Holy Scripture, is not therefore inspired by God, and is not therefore necessary to make the man of God perfect. I say this on the authority of 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

This one passage alone refutes Rome’s teaching that its tradition is equal to Scripture. Only Scripture can be equal to Scripture, because only Holy Scripture is inspired of God.

Paul contrasts the word of men with the word of God.

“For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when YE RECEIVED THE WORD OF GOD WHICH YE HEARD OF US, YE RECEIVED IT NOT AS THE WORD OF MEN, BUT AS IT IS IN TRUTH, THE WORD OF GOD, which effectually worketh also in you that believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

We must continue to make this crucial distinction today. If a teaching is not the word of God, it is the word of men. Rome’s traditions are not the Word of God. Rome does not even claim that its traditions are the Word of God. Thus, they are the word of men and are not to be followed. The Word of God, the Scripture, is all the believer needs, because it is able to make him perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

SECOND, WE KNOW THE BIBLE IS THE COMPLETE WORD OF GOD BECAUSE WE ARE TOLD THE FAITH WAS ONCE DELIVERED TO THE SAINTS.

“Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for THE FAITH WHICH WAS ONCE DELIVERED UNTO THE SAINTS” (Jude 3).

“The faith” refers to the body of New Testament truth delivered by the apostles through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The term “once delivered” tells us that this body of truth was given during one particular period of time and was completed. It refers to the New Testament Scriptures that was completed during the days of the apostles.

Jude 3 singularly refutes the idea that the Christian faith has been progressively given through the Roman Catholic Church.

THIRD, A SEAL WAS PLACED ON THE FINAL CHAPTER OF THE FINAL BOOK OF THE BIBLE, SIGNIFYING ITS COMPLETION AND WARNING EVERY MAN NOT TO ADD TO OR SUBTRACT FROM IT.

“For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Rev. 22:18,19).

Those who claim to have a new revelation or a tradition equal to the Bible fall under the judgment described in this passage. The book of Revelation concludes and completes the Holy Scripture. Nothing is to be added or removed.

FOURTH, THE COMPLETED CANON OF SCRIPTURE WAS RECOGNIZED IN THE SECOND CENTURY, LONG BEFORE THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH EXISTED.

Christian leaders in the second century recognized the canon of the New Testament and accepted the apostolic writings as Holy Scripture on equal authority with the Old Testament. God gave them wisdom in this process and they did not need to wait for the statements of councils that came centuries later (Jn. 16:13; 17:8; 1 Thess. 2:13; 1 Jn. 2:20).

Irenaeus (125-192), for example, in his extant writings, made 1,800 quotations from the New Testament books and used them “in such a way as to imply that they had for some time been considered as of unquestioned authority” (Herbert Miller,
General Biblical Introduction, p. 140). Irenaeus accepted the four Gospels, and four only, as Scripture.

Clement of Alexandria (150-217) quoted from and acknowledged the four Gospels and most other New Testament books, calling them “divine Scriptures.”

Tertullian (150-220) made 7,200 citations from the New Testament books and accepted them as Scripture.

The Latin
Itala translation, which was probably made in the second century, “contained all the books that now make up the New Testament” (John Hentz, History of the Lutheran Version, p. 59).

A list of New Testament Scriptures dating to the latter half of the second century was discovered in the Ambrosian Library in Milan, Italy, in 1740. This second-century list contains all of the 27 books of the New Testament canon (Hentz, p. 60).

Thus the completed New Testament Scriptures were being circulated and accepted by God’s people under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Many of the modernistic textual scholars who write today about these early centuries deny, or totally overlook, the working of the Holy Spirit in the inspiration and canonicity of the New Testament. The Apostles were not left to their own devices to transcribe the record of Christ, nor were the early Christians left to their own devices to recognize which writings were Scripture (1 Thess. 2:13). The words of the New Testament are the words of the Lord Jesus Christ through divine inspiration, and the Lord’s sheep know the voice of their Good Shepherd and can discern His voice from false shepherds (John 10:4, 5, 27).

FIFTH, PASSAGES THAT URGE CHRISTIANS TO FOLLOW TRADITION REFER TO THE INSPIRED TRADITION GIVEN BY THE APOSTLES, NOT TO THE UNINSPIRED TRADITIONS OF MEN WHO HAVE COME AFTER THEM.

The term “tradition” is used in two ways in the New Testament. First it refers to apostolic doctrine given by divine inspiration (2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6). The churches are bound to obey this tradition as it is supernaturally recorded in the New Testament Scripture. Second, tradition refers to uninspired teachings that religious teachers attempt to add to the Scripture and by which they attempt to bind the lives of men (Matt. 15:1-6; Mk. 7:9-13; Col. 2:8). In this sense, tradition is condemned, as we see in the following references:

“But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9).

“Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye” (Mark 7:13).

“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

We are thankful that the Lord that has given us a complete and sufficient Revelation and that we are not dependent upon extra-biblical prophecies, visions, voices, tongues, or traditions. In the Bible we have everything the churches need for faith and practice.

Therefore, though it is true that “the Bible itself is a sort of tradition” this does not mean that it is merely another of various authoritative traditions. The Bible
alone is GOD INSPIRED tradition. That is what sets it apart from every other writing. The Bible claims to be the inspired Word of God. Over two thousand times the Bible uses phrases such as “thus saith the Lord.”

SIXTH, THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH CANNOT BE FOUND IN SCRIPTURE.

The Roman Catholic Church did not exist until centuries after the writing of the New Testament. The churches described in the New Testament are nothing like the Roman Catholic Church. That “church” was formed over a period of centuries following the death of the apostles, as false teachers corrupted the New Testament church pattern and added their man-made traditions. In the New Testament we find no papacy, no priesthood after the fashion of Rome’s, no sacraments that are added to faith for salvation, no archbishops or cardinals, no baptismal regeneration, no mass, no infant baptism, no last unction, no Mary as queen of heaven, no Mary as Mother of God, no sinless Mary, no prayers to the saints, no treasury of grace, no purgatory, no holy relics or holy robes or holy water, no crucifixes, no candles, no cathedrals, no monks, no “celibate” pastors, no enforced days of fasting, no prohibition against marriage or against eating meat, nothing about the church of Rome being exalted over other churches.

SEVENTH, ROMAN CATHOLIC TRADITION CANNOT BE RIGHT BECAUSE NOT ONLY DOES IT ADD TO THE BIBLE, IT CONTRADICTS THE BIBLE.

The Holy Scripture always upholds itself as the absolute and sole standard for truth.

See, for example, Isaiah 8:20: “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”

Those who speak contrary to the Scriptures are in darkness. The Lord Jesus Christ severely rebuked the Pharisees because they added their manmade tradition as authority with the Scriptures
and thereby contradicted the Scriptures:

“Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:1-9).

Not only is Roman Catholic doctrine and practice not based on the Bible, it contradicts the Bible, so it cannot be its source. Catholic dogmas such as the papacy, Mariolatry, the Saints, the Priesthood, the Mass, and Purgatory are not only not found in the New Testament, they contradict plain New Testament teaching and practice. The papacy contradicts 1 Pet. 5:1-4, among many other passages. Mariolatry and the Saints contradict 1 Tim. 2:5. The Mass contradicts 1 Cor. 11:23-26. Purgatory contradicts 2 Cor. 5:1-8 and Phil. 1:23. The Priesthood contradicts the New Testament in that Christ alone is a priest after the order of Melchisedec (Heb. 7:21-27) and Christ established no priesthood for the New Testament churches other than the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:5, 9). There is not one example in the New Testament of a priest being ordained and set apart or performing the type of ministry that we see in the Roman Catholic Church. The N.T. gives qualifications for pastors and deacons, but none for priests.

If I obey 2 Thessalonians 2:15 and 3:6 and compare Catholic tradition with the teaching of the apostles, I must reject Catholicism because it is contrary to this pattern. The apostles did not teach that there is a special priesthood among the believers. The apostles did not teach that there is a pope. The apostles did not teach that the Lord’s Supper is to be a sacrifice of any sort. The apostles did not teach that Mary is sinless or perpetually a virgin or ascended bodily to Heaven or that she is the Queen of Heaven or that Christians are to pray to her. The apostles did not teach that their office was to be passed on at their deaths and they gave no instruction for “apostolic succession.” The apostles did not teach that the churches are to have sacraments. The apostles did not teach that there are special saints to whom Christians can pray. These are only a few of the Catholic traditions that are contrary to the teaching of the apostles in the New Testament Scriptures.

You say, “We had to trust somebody for its authenticity and completeness.” You are right. I have the choice between trusting the Bible as the authoritative and complete Word of God and trusting the Catholic Church. They cannot both be right, because they are in contradiction. The Bible proves itself to be the inspired and infallible Word of God in countless ways: fulfilled prophecy, its scientific accuracy, its cohesive unity even though it was written over a period of hundreds of years, its power to change lives, its universal appeal, its testimony of Jesus Christ, the testimony of the Apostles (study the book of Acts, for example, to see what the Apostles thought of Scripture).

On the other hand, the Catholic Church proves itself to be false by any standard that I use. It is morally corrupt and doctrinally heretical. The Bible does not contradict itself, but the popes have continually contradicted themselves. I have the choice between trusting the apostles and trusting the popes. The apostles were not morally reprobate nor did they contradict the Holy Scriptures. Everything they taught was in complete conformity with Scripture. I find it very easy to trust the apostles and to reject the popes.

EIGHTH, THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH HAS NO AUTHORITY IN THE BIBLE. ITS CLAIM TO AUTHORITY MUST COME FROM OUTSIDE OF THE BIBLE.

The Roman Catholic Church claims that its authority lies in the popes as the successors of the apostles and in the priesthood. There is not a hint of this in the New Testament Scripture.

1. Show me in the Bible where Jesus Christ established the office of the pope as it is found in the Catholic Church and where He made provision for the continuation of such an office.

2. Show me in the Bible where Jesus Christ established the Catholic priesthood. Where do we find such a priesthood described? Where do we find the standards for how to choose such priests? Where do we find a description of how to ordain such priests? Where do we find a description of the seven sacraments that they perform?

For my part, I have Scriptural authority for the gospel that I believe (that salvation is by the grace of Jesus Christ alone through His completed atonement alone through faith alone without works and sacraments—Acts 16:30-31; Rom. 3:23-26; 4:1-8; Eph. 2:8-10; 1 Cor. 15:1-4) and for the type of simple New Testament church that I attend. My faith is in Jesus Christ, and I learn of Him through the Scriptures that He gave through divine inspiration.

I have an infallible test whereby to judge the teachings of man. Every teaching and tradition that is contrary to that inspired Scripture I reject on the authority of God’s Word.

These decisions have eternal consequences, and I refuse to stake the eternal salvation of my soul on anything but the very highest authority.

“So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).



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