Truth That Matters

"What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" - Jesus Christ

QUESTIONS CONCERNING THE AUTHORITY OF THE BIBLE

Here we deal with questions about the points made in the Bible Authority page.

1. Is the Bible sufficient?

The true Christian believes that scripture is sufficient because IT CLAIMS TO BE SO as I have shown in the Bible Authority page. The following are some arguments in favor of "tradition" as an addition to scripture and my responses to them:-

1. "The Bible does not have penance, auricular confession, altar boys, liturgy, church hierarchy, Christmas, Lent, Easter, etc. This proves that it is not sufficient."
No. This proves that God does not want those things! But don't "Protestants" celebrate Christmas and have denominational hierarchies? Well, God wants you to obey his word, the Bible; He has not asked you to obey "Protestants". If you're thinking, "There are no cars in the Bible, but all Christians use cars!" then please see How to interpret the Bible especially Rule 7 and Examples 15 & 16.

2. "The Bible does not have the Trinity"
Yes it does. The Bible teaches that God is a Trinity.

3. "The Bible has never been understood completely. This proves that tradition is needed to supplement it."
The first statement is correct, but the conclusion drawn is false. The Bible can never be understood fully because its Author is infinite, while its readers are finite. Therefore, clergy or tradition will not solve this problem. Example: the Bible teaches God's sovereignty as well as human choice and responsibility. With our finite human minds, we will never be able to understand how the two of them fit together. The writings of the "church fathers" and clergy do not enable us to understand it fully because the "church fathers" and clergy are mere humans (as are Calvin and Arminius).

2. Should everyone try and understand the Bible for himself instead of relying on rabbis, priests, church fathers and tradition?

Yes, for the following reasons:-

Firstly: As discussed in the Bible Authority page, the Bible itself prescribes individual interpretation.
 
Secondly: Rabbis and priests have violated the Biblical injunction to not add to scripture. They thus have no moral authority to claim a monopoly on interpretation.

Thirdly: There is no single historical tradition among the "church fathers". In fact, even during New Testament times, there was great variation in the beliefs and practices of various churches. The Corinthians were lax, while the Galatians were unnecessarily particular about certain rules. The Ephesians hated the Nicolaitans, whereas the church at Pergamos tolerated them. In Thessalonica there were some who were so expectant of the Lord's second coming that they stopped earning their living, while in Corinth, people were questioning the resurrection from the dead.

Fourthly: Today, the RCC, the Greek Orthodox Church and the Orthodox churches of South India all claim to be the custodians of authentic historic tradition that has been handed down through the ages. However they disagree with each other. To prove that their tradition is authentic, each side appeals to minute details of history. Since history is not fully known at such a microscopic level, no side can conclusively prove its point. Thus, all custodians of "tradition" fail to authenticate themselves.
 
Fifthly: God never instituted any church hierarchy (clergy) or system of rabbis. When the mere existence of clergy is not sanctioned by the Bible, their authority to interpret the Bible is obviously illegitimate.
 
Sixthly: The New Testament was a product of divine revelation given to just eight or nine men who all lived in the first century. It is not a late compilation of the traditions of any large group of people. Most traditions developed centuries after the Bible was completed. Thus, there was and is no body of people today who can claim a legitimate monopoly on interpreting it.
 
Seventhly: The traditions of Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy contradict the Bible completely. So there is no such thing as "interpreting the Bible in the light of tradition". If a text says: "The sky is blue" and a tradition says: "The sky is orange", you have to choose one and reject the other - it is intellectual suicide to interpret one in terms of the other.
 
The following are some arguments used to support clerical interpretation, and their refutations.
 
1. "Individuals are prone to bias and do not have the intellect to understand the Bible. So individual interpretation leads to difference of opinions and errors"
  1. The Bible demands individual interpretation; who are you to suggest an alternative?
  2. The Bible demands individual interpretation. This proves that the problem lies not with individual capacity but individual attitude: people who come to different opinions are either insincere or are not putting enough effort. These problems are equally likely among the "magisterium" as among individuals. Thus, the solution does not lie in magisterial interpretation, but in judicious, sincere, individual effort, helped by Bible teachers (Ephesians 4:11) whom you can find in any Biblical church. According to 1 John 2:27, God's Holy Spirit who indwells in each believer will enable them to understand it correctly (There's nothing like being taught a book by its Author himself!). Thus we can expect uniformity in belief among true disciples of Christ who are sincerely seeking to understand scripture.
  3. Orthodox/Catholic apologists suggest that a great intellect is needed to understand the Bible. This is completely different from what the Bible claims about itself. It is a "lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path" (Psalm 119:105). You don't need to be an intellectual to hold a lamp and walk in the dark. Instead of telling us that you need to be wise to understand the Bible, it tells us that Bible study makes simple people wise (Psalm 19:7)! See Point 11 at Bible Authority
  4. Clerical interpretation also leads to differences of opinion. The Roman Catholic Church persecuted Galileo based on its "tradition", then apologized to him recently. The Orthodox Church has no consensus on whether "baptism by sprinkling" is okay and on the interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2. Some leaders interpret it almost literally, while others try and blend it with evolution theory.
2. "Peter says that no scripture is of private interpretation."
In 2 Peter 1:20, Peter does not mean that individuals should not try to understand scripture for themselves (if he did, he would be contradicting himself in 2 Peter 1:19, where he asks his audience to feed on God's word, not on the magisterium's interpretation thereof). What he means is that private interpretations - that is, interpretations that are private to individuals, are not correct. In other words, it is nonsense to claim that "this is what the Bible means to you, but it says something else to me, and that's fine!". The Bible has one message, and all of us should try to understand what that message is.

3."There is safety in numbers. The magisterium (a body of many persons) is more likely to be correct than an individual"
To the first part: Yes (Proverbs 24:6). There are hundreds of thousands of Bible teachers among Biblical Christians (and because of them, the average Biblical Christian knows his Bible much better than the average Catholic or Orthodox Christian). You do not know of their existence because they don't wear fancy costumes and many of them support themselves with their secular jobs. Thus, the beliefs of Biblical Christians are not based on just "an individual". Note however that truth is not determined merely by majority opinion. The Jewish majority interpretation of Messianic prophecy was false, and Jesus reprimanded individuals who held to it (Luke 24:25-26). Rather than put a blind faith in numbers, the real joy lies in studying the Bible and developing convictions, and then seeing that others have independently come to the same convictions, at the same time constantly testing one's learning with others.
 
4. "You're arrogant if you want to interpret the Bible on your own"
Orthodox and Catholic apologists say this but the Bible presents the opposite picture; read Psalm 119. This dichotomy exists because these apologists subconsciously view the Bible as an intellectual/philosophical treatise - a person who understands it is "great"; the Bible on the other hand presents itself as a simple book to be obeyed - the person who understands and obeys it is being humble. God is willing to give wisdom to people to understand the deeper things in the Bible (James 1:5). The very fact that clergy demand an authority that the Bible refuses to give to them proves that they are arrogant.
 
5. "The Ethiopian eunuch accepted magisterial interpretation."
No he didn't. He asked Philip: "How can I understand the scriptures, except some man should guide me?" (Acts 8:31). He was not asking for Philip's interpretation so that he could blindly follow it - he wanted guidance so that he himself could understand it. He thus illustrates the need for Bible teaching, which is not the same as magisterial interpretation. Note the following:-
  1. Unlike the Bibles of seekers and Christians today, the eunuch's Bible was incomplete. Thus, Philip only told the eunuch what anyone can understand from the New Testament (which the eunuch did not have with him). Thus this incident demonstrates the need for the New Testament, not the need for clerical interpretation.
  2. Even if we assume that Phillip had the right to interpret the Bible for others, that still does not justify clerical interpretation today because today's clergy are not legitimate successors of Phillip
To summarize: No amount of pleading can change the fact that individual interpretation is what the Bible demands. To depart from this is to put blind faith in one particular group of people, or to be tossed among innumerable "isms".

3. In ancient times, people didn't even have access to the Bible. How could they rely on it then?

No:-

The hundreds of Old Testament quotations in the New Testament show that its writers had excellent knowledge of the Old Testament. The divine inspiration of the New Testament does not negate this conclusion, because Biblical inspiration does not mean mechanical dictation.

Jesus had an excellent knowledge of the scriptures when he was just 12 years. The deity of Jesus does not negate my point about the Bible being available, because Jesus never used his divine powers for his personal use. When his parents found him, he did not reply, "Didn't you know that I'm God so I have a chance to display my supernatural Bible knowledge to the teachers?" He said, "Didn't you know that I must be about my Father's business?" His Father's will was that he would learn as a human (Hebrews 2:11, 14); part of the learning process is discussion with others (not blind acceptance of the Magisterium's views)

Stephen's speech in Acts 7 proves that he had an excellent knowledge of the Bible.

Timothy learned the Old Testament as a child (2 Timothy 3:15)

Groups of ancient Christians used to make copies of the Bible and sell it to others.

The Bible can easily be handwritten in a year by writing about three chapters daily. Why should it be inaccessible? When man cannot live except by God's word (Deuteronomy 8:3) [and God's word is the Bible, not Latin liturgies] why would God make it so difficult to have a Bible?

It turns out that the non-availability of scripture was not a serious problem to deal with except when the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches used their might to keep the Bible away from people.  

4. If the Bible is sufficient, why do you teach at all? Why not stop at distributing Bibles?

This is like asking a college student: "You've got textbooks that cover the full syllabus. Why do you attend lectures then?" This false dilemma arises from treating things from different categories as belonging to the same. When the Bible claims to be sufficient, it obviously means sufficient within its category. That is, the Bible does not have to be supplemented with other works claiming similar authority (the Book of Mormon, Papal Bulls, "church father" writings, etc.). It is sufficient in the sense of containing all we need for our spiritual growth.

Teaching is endorsed in the Bible itself (Ephesians 4:11, 2 Timothy 2:2). Philip explained scripture to the Ethiopian eunuch.   Biblical sufficiency does not mean that teachers are redundant! Just as, when I tell a student that such and such physics textbook is sufficient (it covers the whole syllabus) I don't mean that I'm about to resign!

5. Doesn't the Bible itself endorse tradition in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 and 1 Corinthians 11:2?

When Paul uses the words "tradition" and "ordinances" in these verses, he's only referring to his own teachings, that is, the teachings of the apostles. He is not referring to the writings of the Origens, Cyprians and Cyrils of the subsequent centuries!!

There were no voice recorders in Paul's day. So we have no record of what he spoke to the Corinthians and Thessalonians. But we have his epistles! So the only way you can obey these two verses is to obey the Bible.

So do I endorse tradition? Yes, if by "tradition" you mean the apostle's doctrine. I find this tradition in written form in the Bible. The oral form of the apostle's doctrine has not been preserved. There are dozens of "church fathers" who don't all agree with each other. I don't see any logical or scriptural basis for endorsing their "tradition".

6. Why do you say that the Bible is the only authority when the Bible itself contains quotes from other sources in 2 Timothy 3:8, and Jude 14-15?

First of all, "quoting" someone or something does not amount to saying that the source is the ultimate authority. It only means that the source contains the truth being quoted. Nowhere does Paul or Jude say that some other books are scripture. Do Catholics and Orthodox believe that the writings of Epimenides and Aratus should be considered authoritative just because Paul quoted from them in Acts 17?

Secondly, 2 Timothy 3:8 and Jude 14-15 are not "quotes", just statements of fact about the past. They do not endorse any other book as companion to the Bible. Why would Jude even quote from the fraudulent "book of Enoch"? He quoted something that Enoch (who lived 3000 years before him) had said, which the fabricators of the "book of Enoch" also included in their fake "work".

7. The New Testament epistles were written merely to deal with problems in certain churches. Why do you make such a fuss of them?

Because this is precisely what the  New Testament epistles demand for themselves!

When a book demands a certain treatment, it is stupid and arrogant to pontificate about what you think may be the purpose of the book and then decide how to treat it. Rather, if you actually read the New Testament, you would find that its scope goes far beyond church problems. For example, in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, the scriptures don't just help the man of God solve church problems. In 1 Peter 2:2, Christians are asked to study God's word without any reference to church problems. In 1 Timothy 3:15, the NT epistles are said to be helpful for right conduct in the church, without any reference to any specific problems.

8. If the Bible was meant to be the final authority on doctrine, why does it not contain a comprehensive doctrinal statement?

We believe that the Bible was meant to be a complete authority on doctrine because that is what it claims about itself, not because it looks like how we expect a final doctrinal authority to look like. Plausibility or fitting into your preconceived notions is not an adequate test for truth. We can be sure that the Bible that God has given us is the best possible. He knows us, and thus knows what's best for us.

You reject psychological counselling and the Pope because they are not found in the Bible, but you accept noodles and cars even though they're not found in the Bible. Aren't you being inconsistent?

No. When we accept or reject things in the light of the Bible, we must see whether they belong to a category the Bible speaks on or not. 

The Bible points to God as the true source of confidence, joy, peace, etc (the things that psychological counselling promises), and already speaks about church leadership. Since the "Pope" is not among the church offices prescribed by the Bible, any Bible believer must reject the Pope. However, the Bible does not purport to satisfy our physical hunger; nor does it claim to facilitate our travel. Thus, eating noodles and driving cars do not undermine the authority of the Bible. 

9. You selectively reject extra-Biblical stuff!

You reject psychological counselling and the Pope because they are not found in the Bible, but you accept noodles and cars even though they're not found in the Bible. Aren't you being inconsistent?

No. When we accept or reject things in the light of the Bible, we must see whether they belong to a category the Bible speaks on or not. 

The Bible points to God as the true source of confidence, joy, peace, etc (the things that psychological counselling promises), and already speaks about church leadership. Since the "Pope" is not among the church offices prescribed by the Bible, any Bible believer must reject the Pope. However, the Bible does not purport to satisfy our physical hunger; nor does it claim to facilitate our travel. Thus, eating noodles and driving cars do not undermine the authority of the Bible.
You reject psychological counselling and the Pope because they are not found in the Bible, but you accept noodles and cars even though they're not found in the Bible. Aren't you being inconsistent?

No. When we accept or reject things in the light of the Bible, we must see whether they belong to a category the Bible speaks on or not. 

The Bible points to God as the true source of confidence, joy, peace, etc (the things that psychological counselling promises), and already speaks about church leadership. Since the "Pope" is not among the church offices prescribed by the Bible, any Bible believer must reject the Pope. However, the Bible does not purport to satisfy our physical hunger; nor does it claim to facilitate our travel. Thus, eating noodles and driving cars do not undermine the authority of the Bible.
I reject psychological counseling and the Pope because they are not found in the Bible, but I accept noodles and cars even though they're not found in the Bible. Am I being inconsistent? 
 
No. When we accept or reject things in the light of the Bible, we must see whether they belong to a category the Bible speaks on or not. The Bible points to God as the true source of confidence, joy, peace, etc (the things that psychological counseling promises based on anti-Biblical, evolutionary premises), and already speaks about church leadership. Since the "Pope" is not among the church offices prescribed by the Bible, any Bible believer must reject the Pope. However, the Bible does not purport to satisfy our physical hunger; nor does it claim to facilitate our travel. Thus, eating noodles and driving cars do not contradict the authority of the Bible. At How to interpret the Bible see Rule 7 and Examples 15-16.

No. When we accept or reject things in the light of the Bible, we must see whether they belong to a category the Bible speaks on or not. 

The Bible points to God as the true source of confidence, joy, peace, etc (the thi

10. The doctrine of "Sola scriptura" leads to an ambiguity: how literally should we take the Bible?

No it doesn't because the Bible itself clarifies how it is to be interpreted.

In fact it is the Catholic/Orthodox policy of glossing over the Bible that leads to ambiguity. For centuries, the RCC and the Orthodox Church have been saying that the Bible does not really mean what it says about salvation, Israel, church, baptism, the return of Jesus Christ to the earth, etc. In modern times, atheistic scientists have claimed that Genesis 1 is wrong. So Catholic and Orthodox apologists have a dilemma: some of them (Father Victor Warkulwiz, for example) take Genesis 1 "literally" and insist that the secular scientists are wrong. Others (Pope Francis, Pope Benedict XVI and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, for example) interpret it in a highly figurative way so that they can make it mean something completely different from what it says (the latter complain that the former are more akin to "Protestant fundamentalists"). The Biblical Christian has no dilemma. Genesis 1 is written as narrative, and so has to be interpreted as narrative: literally. The scoffers are wrong.

11. You fault Catholics for violating the Bible. Don't you violate the Bible?

All humans (including me) are imperfect, and thus, no one follows the Bible perfectly. Does this mean that any two people who call themselves Christians differ only in degree? No. The Bible recognizes two types of violation of its tenets.

Firstly: Violation due to failed attempts. I agree with the Bible's commandments on having pure thoughts (Matthew 5:28, Philippians 4:8, 2 Corinthians 10:5) and I try to follow them, but I sometimes fail. In this respect, we all are failures (Psalm 130:3, 1 John 1:8). Since these sins are against our policy, we confess them, and find mercy (1 John 1:9, Psalm 32:5, Psalm 51:17). Peter is an example. He had good intentions (Matthew 26:33) but failed miserably (Matthew 26:69 onwards). Instead of rejecting Peter, the Lord Jesus restored him (John 21:15 onwards).

Secondly: Violation as a matter of continuing policy. A person who refuses to acknowledge the Bible's commandment on having pure thoughts, and insists on having impure thoughts is violating the Bible as a matter of continued policy. Such a person is not a true Christian (1 John 3:9) and he can only expect God's wrath (Romans 1:18). The Pharisees insisted on giving more importance to tradition than to God's word, even when the two were contradictory (Mark 7:13). Jesus did not restore them - he simply said they were headed for hell (Matthew 23:33).

There is a fundamental difference between the above two categories.

All the differences between fundamental Bible teachings and Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy that I have listed down are matters of continuing policy by these churches. People who insist on such disobedience are like the Pharisees in their policy, and will be like the Pharisees in their destination. As humans, we will never attain perfection here on earth. But trying our best (Matthew 5:48) includes the elimination of all anti-Biblical policies from our lives. Do you see any anti-Biblical policy in me?

12. The RCC gave you the Bible in the Council of Carthage, AD 397. So its authority supersedes that of the Bible!

Nothing could be further from the truth. Note the following:-

Firstly, The Bible claims to have divine authority - above that possessed by any human body. Thus, if anyone has "given" the Bible, it is God.

Secondly: God never authorized any group of people to pontificate about what constitutes the Bible. Thus, any "authority" claimed in the name of the Council of Carthage above the Bible is invalid.
 
Thirdly: To be fair to the Carthage delegates, they never claimed to have any authority above the books of the Bible. They were only trying to figure out which books were really apostolic and which weren't. Thus, the RCC did not "give" or "compose" the Bible - it only recognized the Bible (three centuries too late!)
 
Fourthly: Books were not included in the Carthage canon because they agreed with tradition. They were included because they were divine revelation and recognized as such. For example, Paul writes to the Ephesians that the "church" was a mystery - unknown until suddenly revealed to Paul (Ephesians 3:3). The book of Ephesians dwells on the church: thus, Ephesians is revelation, not tradition. Writing to the Galatians, Paul explicitly states that what he preaches is not something learned from others (tradition) but given to him as revelation (Galatians 1:12). The writer to the Hebrews "puts two and two together", that is, Jesus' life and the Old Testament and draws conclusions opposite to the traditions that were developing among his Hebrew audience. Thus, just as a child recognizes its mother but the mother has authority over the child, the council of Carthage (and innumerable Christians over the centuries) recognized the Bible but this does not mean that its authority supersedes that of the Bible.
 
Fifthly, man does not live by bread alone but by every word of God (Matthew 4:4). If the word of God was completed before AD 100, why would a faithful God keep His people guessing for 300 years as to what this word is? Rather, He enabled people to recognize scripture as it was being written. Second and third century Bibles such as the Syrian Peshitto, the Old Latin (Vetus Latina), and the Gothic Version of Ulfilas prove that God's people knew what was the Bible long before Carthage.
 
Sixthly: The RCC claims that the book of Baruch belongs to the Bible, although the Council of Carthage did not include it in their canonical list. Therefore, by Catholic criteria, the Council of Carthage does not settle the Bible. Thus, the premise behind the question is refuted.

13. Does all you said about Bible authority apply only to the originals?

I wouldn't bother to write all I wrote if it applied only to the originals (the autographs) because they do not exist! But the Bible is well preserved, so Biblical authority applies also to the Hebrew and Greek texts extant today. In fact, even during New Testament times, God's people used copies of the Old Testament and referred to them as scripture (see Luke 4:21 for example).

Does Biblical authority apply to translations of the Bible? Yes, because:-

  • The Holy Spirit inspired Matthew to use the Greek equivalents of Hebrew names in his genealogy of Christ. This shows that in God's sight, there is nothing sacrosanct about the original languages.
  • We are told that the Ethiopian eunuch was reading scripture (Acts 8:32). It is highly unlikely that this man would know Hebrew. He was probably reading from a translation.
  • Peter writing to all believers (2 Peter 1:1), most of whom spoke Greek and Latin, asks them to take heed to scripture (2 Peter 1:19-21). Since Acts and the Epistles mention nothing of Hebrew classes for Gentile believers, we must conclude that Peter is referring to Latin and Greek translations of the Bible when he uses the word "scripture".
  • The same can be said for Paul's use of the word "scripture" in Romans 15:4.
Conclusion: Translations also count as "scripture" as long as they are faithful to the original. All the claims that the Bible makes about itself are applicable to the Bible that you hold in your hands.