The Roman Catholic Church says that the Bible is materially sufficient but not formally sufficient. Materially sufficient means that everything the Christian needs to believe is found in Scripture. Formally sufficient means that in order to understand the Bible, the Roman Catholic Church has to interpret it. The problem here is that this position subjects the Bible to Roman Catholic interpretations and essentially makes Catholic sacred tradition superior to scripture1--since it declares that the Bible can't be understood except through the Catholic Church's Magisterium. Since we don't see doctrines such as worship of Mary, prayer to Mary, her immaculate conception, purgatory, penance, etc., found in Scripture (material sufficiency), we must naturally ask if the Roman Catholic view of formal sufficiency is correct. It isn't.
The inspired word of God, the Scriptures, make statements about its own sufficiency.
2 Tim. 3:16-17, "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 that the man of God may be adequate--equipped for every good work."
Let's take a look at the Greek. The word "inspired" is qeovpneustos (theopneustos), and it means literally "God breathed." This means that God was the one working through people--breathing through them His words. The Scriptures, therefore, are perfect and without error because they come from God. Paul continues and says that these Scriptures are profitable for teaching, for proof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. In verse 17, he explains that this is so the Christian may be adequate--equipped for every good work. The word artios (artios) is defined as follows:
So, we see from three sources that explain the Greek that Paul is telling us that the Scriptures are "complete, capable, proficient, able to meet all demands, exactly fitted, etc." This is fine, but Paul continues to tell us this so we might understand that by studying the Scriptures we will be adequately equipped for every good work.
The Greek word for "equipped" is ejxhrtismevno" (exartismenos), and it means, "having been finished, fully equipped":
We can then see that we are equipped for every good work. Every good work is explained in the previous verse as teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. This means that the Bible is sufficient for all of these things. This naturally includes the teaching of doctrine because teaching correct doctrine is a good work by which we reprove, correct, and train. Furthermore, this means that we don't need sacred tradition to teach, reprove, correct, and train in righteousness because the Scriptures are what is sufficient for this.
What about correcting error
Is there any place in Scripture where Jesus or the apostles appealed to tradition in order to refute error? We know of no occurrence whatsoever. However, Scripture was repeatedly used. If the Scriptures are sufficient and thoroughly able to equip us for every good work, then we would not expect tradition to be consulted when correcting error. We would expect exactly what we find--the appeal to the Word of God as the standard by which truth is declared and error is exposed.
- Acts 17:2-3, "And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ."
- Acts 17:11, "Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so."
- Rom. 4:2-3, "For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? "And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness."
It is not tradition that is appealed to in refutation of error but God's Word.
Burden of proof is on the Catholics
Finally, if the Roman Catholic wants to say that we need sacred tradition in order to be properly equipped doctrinally and spiritually, then he must establish that the Bible is not sufficient for teaching or proof, correction, and training in righteousness--and doctrinal issues.
The Scriptures themselves declare that they are sufficient in and of themselves for us to know and establish spiritual truth. Therefore, we do not need the Roman Catholic Magisterium and sacred tradition.
- 1. In a radio discussion I had (Nov. 15, 2006, Faith and Reason Radio were I am the host) with Mark Bonocore, a well-known Catholic apologist, he told me that tradition was superior to Scripture. Upon questioning him about this, he again stated that tradition was superior to Scripture.
- 2. Bauer, Walter, W. A. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979.
- 3. Liddell, H. A., Lexicon: Abridged from Liddell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon, Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1996, p. 120.
- 4. Strong, J., Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, electronic ed., Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship, 1996, GK739.
- 5. Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker, 1979.
- 6. Liddell, p. 120.
- 7. Strong, GK739.