In my Church history class, one of my better students (an ex-Catholic) made a presentation; he posted a whopper-stopper question I’d never heard before.
He said, “Professor Hahn, you’ve shown us that sola fide isn’t scriptural—how the battle cry of the Reformation is off-base when it comes to interpreting Paul. As you know, the other battle cry of the Reformation was sola scriptura: the Bible alone is our authority, rather than the Pope, Church councils or Tradition. Professor, where does the Bible teach that ‘Scripture alone’ is our sole authority?”
I looked at him and broke into a cold sweat. I had never heard that question before. In seminary I had a reputation for being a sort of socratic gadfly, always asking the toughest questions, but this one had never occurred to me.
I said what any professor caught unprepared would say, “What a dumb question!” As soon as the words left my mouth, I stopped dead in my tracks, because I’d sworn that, as a teacher, I would never say those words.
But the student was not intimidated—he knew it wasn’t a dumb question. He looked me right in the eyes and said, “Just give me a dumb answer.”
I said, “First, we would go to Matthew 5:17. Then we would look at 2 Timothy 3:16-17, ‘All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof for correction and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.’ And we’d look at what Jesus says about tradition in Mathew 15.”
His response was penetrating. “But Professor, Jesus wasn’t condemning all tradition in Mathew 15, but rather corrupt tradition. When 2 Timothy 3:16 says ‘all Scripture’, it doesn’t say that ‘only Scripture’ is profitable. Prayer, evangelizing and many other things are also essential. And what about 2 Thessalonians 2:15?”
“Yeah, 2 Thessalonians 2:15”, I said weakly. “What does that say again?”
“Paul tells the Thessalonians, ‘So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.’”
I shot back, “You know, John, we’re straying from the topic. Let’s move on and I’ll share something on this next week.”
I could tell he wasn’t satisfied. Neither was I. As I drove home on the beltway that night, I stared up at the stars and moaned, “Lord, what’s happening? Where does Scripture teach sola scriptura?”
There were two pillars on which Protestants based their revolt against Rome—one had already fallen, the other was shaking. I was scared.
Those I consulted were shocked that I would raise such a question. They were even more dismayed that I wasn’t satisfied with their answers.
To one professor I said, “Maybe I’m suffering from amnesia, but somehow I’ve forgotten the simple reasons why we believe the Bible is our sole authority.”
“Scott what a dumb question!”
“Just give me a dumb answer.”
“Scott,” he responded, “you really can’t demonstrate sola scriptura from Scripture. The Bible doesn’t expressly declare that it is the Christian’s only authority. In other words, Scott, sola scriptura is essentially the historic confession of the Reformers, over and against the Catholic claim that it is Scripture plus the Church and Tradition. For us, then, it is a theological presupposition, our starting point rather than a proven conclusion.”
Then he offered me the same Scripture texts I had given my student, and I gave him the same penetrating responses.
“What more is there?” I wanted to know.
“Scott, look at what the Catholic Church teaches! Obviously Catholic teaching is wrong.”
“Obviously, it is wrong”, I agreed. “But where is the basic notion of tradition condemned? Further, what did Paul mean when he required the Thessalonians to hold fast to tradition, both written and oral?” I kept pushing. “Isn’t this ironic? We insist that Christians can believe only what the Bible teaches. But the Bible doesn’t teach that it is our only authority!”
I asked another theologian, “What for you is the pillar and foundation of truth?”
He said, “The Bible of course!”
“Then why does the Bible say in 1 Timothy 3:15 that the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth?”
“You set me up, Scott!”
“I’m the one who feels set up!”
“But, Scott, which church?”
“How many applicants for the job are there? I mean how many churches even claim to be the pillar and foundation of truth?”
“Does this mean you’re becoming Roman Catholic, Scott?
“I hope not.”
I felt the ground shaking, as though somebody was pulling the carpet out from under my feet. This question was larger than all the others, and nobody had an answer.
Dr. Hahn responds to Dr. John Gerstner, a Harvard trained, Calvinist theologian with strong anti-Catholic convictions. On the way home I talked a lot more with Dr. Gerstner. I asked him to show me where the Bible taught sola scriptura. I did not hear a single new argument. Instead he posed a question to me. “Scott, if you agree that we now possess the inspired and inerrant Word of God in Scripture, then what more do we need?”
I replied, “Dr. Gerstner, I don’t think that the primary issue concerns what we need; but since you ask the question, I’ll give you my impression. Ever since the Reformation, over twenty-five thousand different Protestant denominations have come into existence and experts say there are presently five new ones being formed every week. Every single one of them claims to be following the Holy Spirit and the plain meaning of Scripture. God knows we must need something more. (Rome Sweet Home, Scott and Kimberly Hahn, Pages 51-54; Ignatius Press)
Thank you Scott and Kimberly Hahn!
LENNYS NOTE: The most fascinating thing to me about the Bible Alone (sola scriptura) is that the moment you believe it, you now believe something that is not in the Bible. This is why sola scriptura is self-refuting; it is not in the Bible. Those who reject tradition and the Bible, for sola scriptura obviously do not realize that sola scriptura is tradition, handed on by the Protestant Reformers. Scott Hahns theologian admits this when he says; “you really can’t demonstrate sola scriptura from Scripture. The Bible doesn’t expressly declare that it is the Christian’s only authority. In other words, Scott, sola scriptura is essentially the historic confession of the Reformers…”
Sometimes people will say to me; “Lenny, you are not being fair; you are not using my definition of sola scriptura. And I will say, “Fine, let’s use your definition of sola scriptura; however; before we do, will you show me where your definition of sola scriptura is in the Bible? As Dr. Gerstner puts it, all we need is “the inspired and inerrant Word of God in Scripture.” If Gerstner is correct then why would we need sola scriptura which is not in scripture and why would we need some ones definition of sola scriptura which is not in Scripture?