Articles by Norman L. Geisler

President & CEO of Southern Evangelical Seminary

Indeks Kristiani | Indeks Artikel | Tentang Penulis
ISNET Homepage | MEDIA Homepage | Program Kerja | Koleksi | Anggota



Norman L. Geisler
President & CEO of Southern Evangelical Seminary
     Professor of Theology and Apologetics
     B.A., Wheaton College
     Th.B., William Tyndale College
     M.A. Wheaton Graduate School
     Ph.D., Loyola University, Chicago, IL
     Copyright 1994 by the Christian Research Institute
This data  file  is  the  sole  property  of  the  Christian
Research Institute.   It may not be altered or edited in any
way.   It  may  be  reproduced  only  in  its  entirety  for
circulation as    "freeware,"    without    charge.      All
reproductions of this data file must contain  the  copyright
notice  (i.e.,  "Copyright  1994  by  the Christian Research
Institute").  This data file may not  be  used  without  the
permission of the Christian Research Institute for resale or
the enhancement of any other product sold.    This  includes
all  of  its  content  with  the  exception  of  a few brief
quotations not to exceed more than 500 words.
If you desire to reproduce less than 500 words of this  data
file  for resale or the enhancement of any other product for
resale, please give the following source credit:   Copyright
1994  by  the Christian Research Institute, P.O. Box 500-TC,
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92693.

"What Think Ye of Rome? Part Three: The Catholic-Protestant
Debate on Biblical Authority" (an article from the Christian
Research Journal, Spring/Summer 1994, page 24) by Norman L.
Geisler and Ralph E. MacKenzie.
The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is
Elliot Miller.
    Traditional Roman Catholicism has always, in its
official pronouncements, held sacred Scripture in high
esteem. Indeed, doctors of the church such as Jerome,
Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas -- when dealing with Holy
Writ -- at times sound positively Protestant. Unfortunately,
Roman Catholicism has not followed their lead and has
elevated extrabiblical tradition to the same level as the
Bible. The authors maintain this is a serious error, having
dire consequences on the practical formation of the
layperson's Christian faith. Scripture itself should be the
final authoritative guide for the Christian. As the apostle
Paul reminds Timothy, "From infancy you have known [the]
sacred scriptures, which are capable of giving you wisdom
for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 3:15
[The New American Bible]).
    How should evangelical Protestants view contemporary
Roman Catholicism? In the first two installments of this
series[1] Kenneth R. Samples showed that classic Catholicism
and Protestantism are in agreement on the most crucial
doctrines of the Christian faith, as stated in the ancient
ecumenical creeds. Nonetheless, he also outlined five
doctrinal areas that separate Roman Catholics from
evangelical Protestants: authority, justification,
Mariology, sacramentalism and the mass, and religious
    Samples observed that Roman Catholicism is
foundationally orthodox, but it has built much on this
foundation that tends to compromise and undermine it. He
concluded that Catholicism should therefore be viewed as
"neither a cult (non-Christian religious system) nor a
biblically sound church, but a historically Christian church
which is in desperate need of biblical reform."
    With the first two installments of this series being
largely devoted to establishing that Catholicism is a
historic Christian church, it is appropriate that in the
remaining installments we turn our attention to the most
critical doctrinal differences between Catholics and
Protestants. This is especially important at a time when
many ecumenically minded Protestants are ready to portray
the differences between Catholics and Protestants as little
more important than the differences that separate the many
Protestant denominations. For although the doctrinal
differences between Catholics and Protestants do not justify
one side labeling the other a cult, they _do_ justify the
formal separation between the two camps that began with the
16th-century Protestant Reformation and that continues
    Among the many doctrinal differences between Catholics
and Protestants, none are more fundamental than those of
_authority_ and _justification._ In relation to these the
Protestant Reformation stressed two principles: a formal
principle (_sola Scriptura_) and a material principle (_sola
fide_)[2]: The Bible alone and faith alone. In this
installment and in Part Four we will focus on the formal
cause of the Reformation, authority. In the concluding
installment, Part Five, we will examine its material cause,
    By _sola Scriptura_ Protestants mean that Scripture
alone is the primary and absolute source for all doctrine
and practice (faith and morals). _Sola Scriptura_ implies
several things. First, the Bible is a direct _revelation_
from God. As such, it has divine authority. For what the
Bible says, God says.
    Second, the Bible is _sufficient:_ it is all that is
necessary for faith and practice. For Protestants "the Bible
alone" means "the Bible only" is the final authority for our
    Third, the Scriptures not only have sufficiency but they
also possess _final authority._ They are the final court of
appeal on all doctrinal and moral matters. However good they
may be in giving guidance, all the fathers, Popes, and
Councils are fallible. Only the Bible is infallible.
    Fourth, the Bible is _perspicuous_ (clear). The
perspicuity of Scripture does not mean that everything in
the Bible is perfectly clear, but rather the essential
teachings are. Popularly put, in the Bible the main things
are the plain things, and the plain things are the main
things. This does not mean -- as Catholics often assume --
that Protestants obtain no help from the fathers and early
Councils. Indeed, Protestants accept the great theological
and Christological pronouncements of the first four
ecumenical Councils. What is more, most Protestants have
high regard for the teachings of the early fathers, though
obviously they do not believe they are infallible. So this
is not to say there is no usefulness to Christian tradition,
but only that it is of secondary importance.
    Fifth, _Scripture interprets Scripture._ This is known
as the analogy of faith principle. When we have difficulty
in understanding an unclear text of Scripture, we turn to
other biblical texts. For the Bible is the best interpreter
of the Bible. In the Scriptures, clear texts should be used
to interpret the unclear ones.
    One of the basic differences between Catholics and
Protestants is over whether the Bible alone is the
sufficient and final authority for faith and practice, or
the Bible plus extrabiblical apostolic tradition. Catholics
further insist that there is a need for a teaching
magisterium (i.e., the Pope and their bishops) to rule on
just what is and is not authentic apostolic tradition.
    Catholics are not all agreed on their understanding of
the relation of tradition to Scripture. Some understand it
as two sources of revelation. Others understand apostolic
tradition as a lesser form of revelation. Still others view
this tradition in an almost Protestant way, namely, as
merely an _interpretation_ of revelation (albeit, an
infallible one) which is found only in the Bible.
Traditional Catholics, such as Ludwig Ott and Henry
Denzinger, tend to be in the first category and more modern
Catholics, such as John Henry Newman and Cardinal Joseph
Ratzinger, in the latter. The language of the Council of
Trent seems to favor the traditional understanding.[3]
    Whether or not extrabiblical apostolic tradition is
considered a second source of revelation, there is no
question that the Roman Catholic church holds that apostolic
tradition is both authoritative and infallible. It is to
this point that we speak now.
*The Catholic Argument for Holding the Infallibility of
Apostolic Tradition*
    The Council of Trent emphatically proclaimed that the
Bible alone is not sufficient for faith and morals. God has
ordained tradition in addition to the Bible to faithfully
guide the church.
    Infallible guidance in interpreting the Bible comes from
the church. One of the criteria used to determine this is
the "unanimous consent of the Fathers."[4] In accordance
with "The Profession of Faith of the Council of Trent" (Nov.
13, 1565), all faithful Catholics must agree: "I shall never
accept nor interpret it ['Holy Scripture'] otherwise than in
accordance with the _unanimous consent of the Fathers."_[5]
    Catholic scholars advance several arguments in favor of
the Bible and tradition, as opposed to the Bible only, as
the final authority. One of their favorite arguments is that
the Bible itself does not teach that the Bible only is our
final authority for faith and morals. Thus they conclude
that even on Protestant grounds there is no reason to accept
_sola Scriptura._ Indeed, they believe it is inconsistent or
self-refuting, since the Bible alone does not teach that the
Bible alone is the basis of faith and morals.
    In point of fact, argue Catholic theologians, the Bible
teaches that apostolic "traditions" as well as the written
words of the apostles should be followed. St. Paul exhorted
the Thessalonian Christians to "stand fast and hold the
traditions which you were taught, whether by word or
epistle" (2 Thess. 2:15; cf. 3:6).
    One Catholic apologist even went so far as to argue that
the apostle John stated his _preference_ for oral tradition.
John wrote: "I have much to write to you, but I do not wish
to write with pen and ink. Instead, I hope to see you soon
when we can talk face to face" (3 John 13). This Catholic
writer adds, "Why would the apostle emphasize his preference
for oral Tradition over written Tradition...if, as
proponents of _sola Scriptura_ assert, Scripture is superior
to oral Tradition?"[6]
    Roman Catholic apologist Peter Kreeft lists several
arguments against _sola Scriptura_ which in turn are
arguments for tradition: "First, it separates Church and
Scripture. But they are one. They are not two rival horses
in the authority race, but one rider (the Church) on one
horse (Scripture)." He adds, "We are not taught by a teacher
without a book or by a book without a teacher, but by one
teacher, the Church, with one book, Scripture."[7]
    Kreeft further argues that "_sola Scriptura_ violates
the principle of causality; that an effect cannot be greater
than its cause." For "the successors of the apostles, the
bishops of the Church, decided on the canon, the list of
books to be declared scriptural and infallible." And "if the
Scripture is infallible, then its cause, the Church, must
also be infallible."[8]
    According to Kreeft, "denominationalism is an
intolerable scandal by scriptural standards -- see John
17:20-23 and I Corinthians 1:10-17." But "let five hundred
people interpret the Bible without Church authority and
there will soon be five hundred denominations."[9] So
rejection of authoritative apostolic tradition leads to the
unbiblical scandal of denominationalism.
    Finally, Kreeft argues that "the first generation of
Christians did not have the New Testament, only the Church
to teach them."[10] This being the case, using the Bible
alone without apostolic tradition was not possible.
    As convincing as these arguments may seem to a devout
Catholic, they are devoid of substance. As we will see, each
of the Roman Catholic arguments against the Protestant
doctrine of _sola Scriptura_ fails, and they are unable to
provide any substantial basis for the Catholic dogma of an
infallible oral tradition.
*Does the Bible Teach Sola Scriptura?*
    Two points must be made concerning whether the Bible
teaches _sola Scriptura._ First, as Catholic scholars
themselves recognize, it is not necessary that the Bible
explicitly and formally teach _sola Scriptura_ in order for
this doctrine to be true. Many Christian teachings are a
necessary logical deduction of what is clearly taught in the
Bible (e.g., the Trinity). Likewise, it is possible that
_sola Scriptura_ could be a necessary logical deduction from
what is taught in Scripture.
    Second, the Bible _does_ teach implicitly and logically,
if not formally and explicitly, that the Bible alone is the
only infallible basis for faith and practice. This it does
in a number of ways. One, the fact that Scripture, without
tradition, is said to be "God-breathed" (_theopnuestos_) and
thus by it believers are "_competent, equipped for every
good work_" (2 Tim. 3:16-17, emphasis added) supports the
doctrine of _sola Scriptura._ This flies in the face of the
Catholic claim that the Bible is formally insufficient
without the aid of tradition. St. Paul declares that the
God-breathed writings _are_ sufficient. And contrary to some
Catholic apologists, limiting this to only the Old Testament
will not help the Catholic cause for two reasons: first, the
New Testament is also called "Scripture" (2 Pet. 3:15-16; 1
Tim. 5:18; cf. Luke 10:7); second, it is inconsistent to
argue that God-breathed writings in the Old Testament are
sufficient, but the inspired writings of the New Testament
are not.
    Further, Jesus and the apostles constantly appealed to
the Bible as the final court of appeal. This they often did
by the introductory phrase, "It is written," which is
repeated some 90 times in the New Testament. Jesus used this
phrase three times when appealing to Scripture as the final
authority in His dispute with Satan (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10).
    Of course, Jesus (Matt. 5:22, 28, 31; 28:18) and the
apostles (1 Cor. 5:3; 7:12) sometimes referred to their own
God-given authority. It begs the question, however, for
Roman Catholics to claim that this supports their belief
that the church of Rome still has infallible authority
outside the Bible today. For even they admit that no new
revelation is being given today, as it was in apostolic
times. In other words, the only reason Jesus and the
apostles could appeal to an authority outside the Bible was
that God was still giving normative (i.e., standard-setting)
revelation for the faith and morals of believers. This
revelation was often first communicated orally before it was
finally committed to writing (e.g., 2 Thess. 2:5).
Therefore, it is not legitimate to appeal to any oral
revelation in New Testament times as proof that nonbiblical
infallible authority is in existence today.
    What is more, Jesus made it clear that the Bible was in
a class of its own, exalted above all tradition. He rebuked
the Pharisees for not accepting _sola Scriptura_ and
negating the final authority of the Word of God by their
religious traditions, saying, "And why do you break the
commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?...You
have nullified the word of God, for the sake of your
tradition" (Matt. 15:3, 6).
    It is important to note that Jesus did not limit His
statement to mere _human_ traditions but applied it
specifically to the traditions of the religious authorities
who used their tradition to misinterpret the Scriptures.
There is a direct parallel with the religious traditions of
Judaism that grew up around (and obscured, even negated) the
Scriptures and the Christian traditions that have grown up
around (and obscured, even negated) the Scriptures since the
first century. Indeed, since Catholic scholars make a
comparison between the Old Testament high priesthood and the
Roman Catholic papacy, this would seem to be a very good
    Finally, to borrow a phrase from St. Paul, the Bible
constantly warns us "not to go beyond what is written" (1
Cor. 4:6).[11] This kind of exhortation is found throughout
Scripture. Moses was told, "You shall not add to what I
command you nor subtract from it" (Deut. 4:2). Solomon
reaffirmed this in Proverbs, saying, "Every word of God is
tested....Add nothing to his words, lest he reprove you, and
you be exposed as a deceiver" (Prov. 30:5-6). Indeed, John
closed the last words of the Bible with the same
exhortation, declaring: "I warn everyone who hears the
prophetic words in this book: if anyone adds to them, God
will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if
anyone takes away from the words in this prophetic book, God
will take away his share in the tree of life..." (Rev.
22:18-19). _Sola Scriptura_ could hardly be stated more
    Of course, none of these are a prohibition on future
revelations. But they do apply to the point of difference
between Protestants and Catholics, namely, whether there are
any authoritative normative revelations outside those
revealed to apostles and prophets and inscripturated in the
Bible. And this is precisely what these texts say. Indeed,
even the prophet himself was not to add to the revelation
God gave him. For prophets were not infallible in everything
they said, but only when giving God's revelation to which
they were not to add or from which they were not to subtract
a word.
    Since both Catholics and Protestants agree that there is
no new revelation beyond the first century, it would follow
that these texts do support the Protestant principle of
_sola Scriptura._ For if there is no normative revelation
after the time of the apostles and even the prophets
themselves were not to add to the revelations God gave them
in the Scriptures, then the Scriptures alone are the only
infallible source of divine revelation.
    Roman Catholics admit that the New Testament is the only
infallible record of apostolic teaching we have from the
first century. However, they do not seem to appreciate the
significance of this fact as it bears on the Protestant
argument for _sola Scriptura._ For even many early fathers
testified to the fact that all apostolic teaching was put in
the New Testament. While acknowledging the existence of
apostolic tradition, J. D. N. Kelly concluded that
"admittedly there is no evidence for beliefs or practices
current in the period which were not vouched for in the
books later known as the New Testament." Indeed, many early
fathers, including Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem,
Chrysostom, and Augustine, believed that the Bible was the
only infallible basis for all Christian doctrine.[12]
    Further, if the New Testament is the only infallible
record of apostolic teaching, then every other record from
the first century _is fallible._ It matters not that
Catholics believe that the teaching Magisterium later claims
to pronounce some extrabiblical tradition as infallibly
true. The fact is that they do not have an infallible record
from the first century on which to base such a decision.
*All Apostolic "Traditions" Are in the Bible*
    It is true that the New Testament speaks of following
the "traditions" (=teachings) of the apostles, whether oral
or written. This is because they were living authorities set
up by Christ (Matt. 18:18; Acts 2:42; Eph. 2:20). When they
died, however, there was no longer a living apostolic
authority since only those who were eyewitnesses of the
resurrected Christ could have apostolic authority (Acts
1:22; 1 Cor. 9:1). Because the New Testament is the only
inspired (infallible) record of what the apostles taught, it
follows that since the death of the apostles the only
apostolic authority we have is the inspired record of their
teaching in the New Testament. That is, all apostolic
tradition (teaching) on faith and practice is in the New
    This does not necessarily mean that everything the
apostles ever taught is in the New Testament, any more than
everything Jesus said is there (cf. John 20:30; 21:25). What
it does mean is that all apostolic teaching that God deemed
necessary for the faith and practice (morals) of the church
was preserved (2 Tim. 3:15-17). It is only reasonable to
infer that God would preserve what He inspired.
    The fact that apostles sometimes referred to
"traditions" they gave orally as authoritative in no way
diminishes the Protestant argument for _sola Scriptura._
First, it is not necessary to claim that these oral
teachings were _inspired_ or _infallible,_ only that they
were _authoritative._ The believers were asked to "maintain"
them (1 Cor. 11:2) and "stand fast in them" (2 Thess. 2:15).
But oral teachings of the apostles were not called
"inspired" or "unbreakable" or the equivalent, unless they
were recorded as Scripture.
    The apostles were living authorities, but not everything
they said was infallible. Catholics understand the
difference between _authoritative_ and _infallible,_ since
they make the same distinction with regard to noninfallible
statements made by the Pope and infallible _ex cathedra_
("from the seat" of Peter) ones.
    Second, the traditions (teachings) of the apostles that
were revelations were written down and are inspired and
infallible. They comprise the New Testament. What the
Catholic must prove, and cannot, is that the God who deemed
it so important for the faith and morals of the faithful to
inspire the inscripturation of 27 books of apostolic
teaching would have left out some important revelation in
these books. Indeed, it is not plausible that He would have
allowed succeeding generations to struggle and even fight
over precisely where this alleged extrabiblical revelation
is to be found. So, however authoritative the apostles were
by their office, only their inscripturated words are
inspired and infallible (2 Tim. 3:16-17; cf. John 10:35).
    There is not a shred of evidence that any of the
revelation God gave them to express was not inscripturated
by them in the only books -- the inspired books of the New
Testament -- that they left for the church. This leads to
another important point.
    The Bible makes it clear that God, from the very
beginning, desired that His normative revelations be written
down and preserved for succeeding generations. "Moses then
wrote down all the words of the Lord" (Exod. 24:4), and his
book was preserved in the Ark (Deut. 31:26). Furthermore,
"Joshua made a covenant with the people that day and made
statutes and ordinances for them... which he recorded in the
book of the law of God" (Josh. 24:25-26) along with Moses'
(cf. Josh. 1:7). Likewise, "Samuel next explained to the
people the law of royalty and wrote it in a book, which he
placed in the presence of the Lord" (1 Sam. 10:25). Isaiah
was commanded by the Lord to "take a large cylinder-seal,
and inscribe on it in ordinary letters" (Isa. 8:1) and to
"inscribe it in a record; that it may be in future days an
eternal witness" (30:8). Daniel had a collection of "the
books" of Moses and the prophets right down to his
contemporary Jeremiah (Dan. 9:2).
    Jesus and New Testament writers used the phrase "It is
written" (cf. Matt. 4:4, 7, 10) over 90 times, stressing the
importance of the written word of God. When Jesus rebuked
the Jewish leaders it was not because they did not follow
the traditions but because they did not "understand the
Scriptures" (Matt. 22:29). All of this makes it clear that
God intended from the very beginning that His revelation be
preserved in Scripture, not in extrabiblical tradition. To
claim that the apostles did not write down all God's
revelation to them is to claim that they were not obedient
to their prophetic commission not to subtract a word from
what God revealed to them.
*The Bible Does Not State a Preference for Oral Tradition*
    The Catholic use of 3 John to prove the superiority of
oral tradition is a classic example of taking a text out of
context. John is not comparing oral and written tradition
about the past but a written, as opposed to a personal,
communication in the _present._ Notice carefully what he
said: "I have much to write to you, but I do not wish to
write with pen and ink. Instead, I hope to see you soon when
we can talk face to face" (3 John 13). Who would not prefer
a face-to-face talk with a living apostle over a letter from
him? But that is not what oral tradition gives. Rather, it
provides an unreliable oral tradition as opposed to an
infallible written one. _Sola Scriptura_ contends the latter
is preferable.
*The Bible Is Clear Apart from Tradition*
    The Bible has perspicuity apart from any traditions to
help us understand it. As stated above, and contrary to a
rather wide misunderstanding by Catholics, perspicuity does
not mean that everything in the Bible is absolutely clear
but that the _main message_ is clear. That is, all doctrines
essential for salvation and living according to the will of
God are sufficiently clear.
    Indeed, to assume that oral traditions of the apostles,
not written in the Bible, are necessary to interpret what is
written in the Bible under inspiration is to argue that _the
uninspired is more clear than the inspired._ But it is
utterly presumptuous to assert that what fallible human
beings pronounce is clearer than what the infallible Word of
God declares. Further, it is unreasonable to insist that
words of the apostles that were not written down are more
clear than the ones they did write. We all know from
experience that this is not so.
*Tradition and Scripture Are Not Inseparable*
    Kreeft's claim that Scripture and apostolic tradition
are inseparable is unconvincing. Even his illustration of
the horse (Scripture) and the rider (tradition) would
suggest that Scripture and apostolic tradition _are_
separable. Further, even if it is granted that tradition is
necessary, the Catholic inference that it has to be
infallible tradition -- indeed, the infallible tradition of
the church of Rome -- is unfounded. Protestants, who believe
in _sola Scriptura,_ accept genuine tradition; they simply
do not believe it is infallible. Finally, Kreeft's argument
wrongly assumes that the Bible was produced by the Roman
Catholic church. As we will see in the next point, this is
not the case.
*The Principle of Causality Is Not Violated*
    Kreeft's argument that _sola Scriptura_ violates the
principle of causality is invalid for one fundamental
reason: it is based on a false assumption. He wrongly
assumes, unwittingly in contrast to what Vatican II and even
Vatican I say about the canon,[13] that the church
determined the canon. In fact, God _determined_ the canon by
inspiring these books and no others. The church merely
_discovered_ which books God had determined (inspired) to be
in the canon. This being the case, Kreeft's argument that
the cause must be equal to its effect (or greater) fails.
*Rejection of Tradition Does Not Necessitate Scandal*
    Kreeft's claim that the rejection of the Roman Catholic
view on infallible tradition leads to the scandal of
denominationalism does not follow for many reasons. First,
this wrongly implies that all denominationalism is
scandalous. Not necessarily so, as long as the denominations
do not deny the essential doctrines of the Christian church
and true spiritual unity with other believers in contrast to
mere external organizational uniformity. Nor can one argue
successfully that unbelievers are unable to see spiritual
unity. For Jesus declared: "This is how all [men] will know
that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another"
(John 13:35).
    Second, as orthodox Catholics know well, the scandal of
liberalism is as great inside the Catholic church as it is
outside of it. When Catholic apologists claim there is
significantly more doctrinal agreement among Catholics than
Protestants, they must mean between _orthodox Catholics_ and
_all_ Protestants (orthodox and unorthodox) -- which, of
course, is not a fair comparison.
    Only when one chooses to compare things like the mode
and candidate for baptism, church government, views on the
Eucharist, and other less essential doctrines are there
greater differences among orthodox Protestants. When,
however, we compare the differences with orthodox Catholics
and orthodox Protestants or with all Catholics and all
Protestants on the more essential doctrines, there is no
significant edge for Catholicism. This fact negates the
value of the alleged infallible teaching Magisterium of the
Roman Catholic church. In point of fact, Protestants seem to
do about as well as Catholics on unanimity of essential
doctrines with only an infallible Bible and no infallible
interpreters of it!
    Third, orthodox Protestant "denominations," though there
be many, have not historically differed much more
significantly than have the various "orders" of the Roman
Catholic church. Orthodox Protestants' differences are
largely over secondary issues, not primary (fundamental)
doctrines. So this Catholic argument against Protestantism
is self-condemning.
    Fourth, as J. I. Packer noted, "the real deep divisions
have been caused not by those who maintained _sola
Scriptura,_ but by those, Roman Catholic and Protestant
alike, who reject it." Further, "when adherents of _sola
Scriptura_ have split from each other the cause has been sin
rather than Protestant biblicism...."[14] Certainly this is
often the case. A bad hermeneutic (method of interpreting
Scripture) is more crucial to deviation from orthodoxy than
is the rejection of an infallible tradition in the Roman
Catholic church.
*First Century Christians Had Scripture and Living Apostles*
    Kreeft's argument that the first generation of
Christians did not have the New Testament, only the church
to teach them, overlooks several basic facts. First, the
essential Bible of the early first century Christians was
the Old Testament, as the New Testament itself declares (cf.
2 Tim. 3:15-17; Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:6). Second, early New
Testament believers did not need further revelation through
the apostles in written form for one very simple reason:
_they still had the living apostles to teach them._ As soon
as the apostles died, however, it became imperative for the
written record of their infallible teaching to be available.
And it was -- in the apostolic writings known as the New
Testament. Third, Kreeft's argument wrongly assumes that
there was apostolic succession (_see_ Part Four, next
issue). The only infallible authority that succeeded the
apostles was their infallible apostolic writings, that is,
the New Testament.
    There are many reasons Protestants reject the Roman
Catholic claim that there is an extrabiblical apostolic
tradition of equal reliability and authenticity to
Scripture. The following are some of the more significant
*Oral Traditions Are Unreliable*
    In point of fact, oral traditions are notoriously
unreliable. They are the stuff of which legends and myths
are made. What is written is more easily preserved in its
original form. Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper notes four
advantages of a written revelation: (1) It has durability
whereby errors of memory or accidental corruptions,
deliberate or not, are minimized; (2) It can be universally
disseminated through translation and reproduction; (3) It
has the attribute of fixedness and purity; (4) It is given a
finality and normativeness which other forms of
communication cannot attain.[15]
    By contrast, what is not written is more easily
polluted. We find an example of this in the New Testament.
There was an unwritten "apostolic tradition" (i.e., one
coming from the apostles) based on a misunderstanding of
what Jesus said. They wrongly assumed that Jesus affirmed
that the apostle John would not die. John, however, debunked
this false tradition in his authoritative written record
(John 21:22-23).
    Common sense and historical experience inform us that
the generation alive when an alleged revelation was given is
in a much better position to know if it is a true revelation
than are succeeding generations, especially those hundreds
of years later. Many traditions proclaimed to be divine
revelation by the Roman Catholic Magisterium were done so
centuries, even a millennia or so, after they were allegedly
given by God. And in the case of some of these, there is no
solid evidence that the tradition was believed by any
significant number of orthodox Christians until centuries
after they occurred. But those living at such a late date
are in a much inferior position than contemporaries, such as
those who wrote the New Testament, to know what was truly a
revelation from God.
*There Are Contradictory Traditions*
    It is acknowledged by all, even by Catholic scholars,
that there are contradictory Christian traditions. In fact,
the great medieval theologian Peter Abelard noted hundreds
of differences. For example, some fathers (e.g., Augustine)
supported the Old Testament Apocrypha while others (e.g.,
Jerome) opposed it. Some great teachers (e.g., Aquinas)
opposed the Immaculate Conception of Mary while others
(e.g., Scotus) favored it. Indeed, some fathers opposed
_sola Scriptura,_ but others favored it.
    Now this very fact makes it impossible to trust
tradition in any authoritative sense. For the question
always arises: _which of the contradictory traditions
(teachings) should be accepted?_ To say, "The one pronounced
authoritative by the church" begs the question, since the
infallibility of tradition is a necessary link in the
argument for the very doctrine of the infallible authority
of the church. Thus this infallibility should be provable
without appealing to the Magisterium. The fact is that there
are so many contradictory traditions that tradition, as
such, is rendered unreliable as an authoritative source of
    Nor does it suffice to argue that while particular
fathers cannot be trusted, nonetheless, the "unanimous
consent" of the fathers can be. For there is _no_ unanimous
consent of the fathers on many doctrines "infallibly"
proclaimed by the Catholic church (_see_ below). In some
cases there is not even a majority consent. Thus to appeal
to the teaching Magisterium of the Catholic church to settle
the issue begs the question.
    The Catholic response to this is that just as the bride
recognizes the voice of her husband in a crowd, even so the
church recognizes the voice of her Husband in deciding which
tradition is authentic. The analogy, however, is faulty.
First, it assumes (without proof) that there is some
divinely appointed postapostolic way to decide --
extrabiblically -- which traditions were from God.
    Second, historical evidence such as that which supports
the reliability of the New Testament is not to be found for
the religious tradition used by Roman Catholics. There is,
for example, no good evidence to support the existence of
first century eyewitnesses (confirmed by miracles) who
affirm the traditions pronounced infallible by the Roman
Catholic church. Indeed, many Catholic doctrines are based
on traditions that only emerge several centuries later and
are disputed by both other traditions and the Bible (e.g.,
the Bodily Assumption of Mary).
    Finally, the whole argument reduces to a subjective
mystical experience that is given plausibility only because
the analogy is false. Neither the Catholic church as such,
nor any of its leaders, has experienced down through the
centuries anything like a continual hearing of God's actual
voice, so that it can recognize it again whenever He speaks.
The truth is that the alleged recognition of her Husband's
voice is nothing more than subjective faith in the teaching
Magisterium of the Roman Catholic church.
*Catholic Use of Tradition Is Not Consistent*
    Not only are there contradictory traditions, but the
Roman Catholic church is arbitrary and inconsistent in its
choice of which tradition to pronounce infallible. This is
evident in a number of areas. First, the Council of Trent
chose to follow the weaker tradition in pronouncing the
apocryphal books inspired. The earliest and best
authorities, including the translator of the Roman Catholic
Latin Vulgate Bible, St. Jerome, opposed the Apocrypha.
    Second, support from tradition for the dogma of the
Bodily Assumption of Mary is late and weak. Yet despite the
lack of any real evidence from Scripture or any substantial
evidence from the teachings of early church fathers, Rome
chose to pronounce this an infallible truth of the Catholic
faith. In short, Roman Catholic dogmas at times do not grow
out of _rationally weighing_ the evidence of tradition but
rather out of _arbitrarily choosing_ which of the many
conflicting traditions they wish to pronounce infallible.
Thus, the "unanimous consent of the fathers" to which Trent
commanded allegiance is a fiction.
    Third, apostolic tradition is nebulous. As has often
been pointed out, "Never has the Roman Catholic Church given
a complete and exhaustive list of the contents of
extrabiblical apostolic tradition. It has not dared to do so
because this oral tradition is such a nebulous entity."[16]
That is to say, even if all extrabiblical revelation
definitely exists somewhere in some tradition (as Catholics
claim), which ones these are has nowhere been declared.
    Finally, if the method by which they choose which
traditions to canonize were followed in the practice of
textual criticism of the Bible, one could never arrive at a
sound reconstruction of the original manuscripts. For
textual criticism involves weighing the evidence as to what
the original actually said, not reading back into it what
subsequent generations would like it to have said. Indeed,
even most contemporary Catholic biblical scholars do not
follow such an arbitrary procedure when determining the
translation of the original text of Scripture (as in _The
New American Bible_).
    In conclusion, the question of authority is crucial to
the differences between Catholics and Protestants. One of
these is whether the Bible alone has infallible authority.
We have examined carefully the best Catholic arguments in
favor of an additional authority to Scripture, infallible
tradition, and found them all wanting. Further, we have
advanced many reasons for accepting the Bible alone as the
sufficient authority for all matters of faith and morals.
This is supported by Scripture and sound reason. In Part
Four we will go further in our examination of Catholic
authority by evaluating the Catholic dogma of the
infallibility of the Pope.
*Dr. Norman L. Geisler* is Dean of Southern Evangelical
Seminary in Charlotte, NC. He is author or co-author of over
40  books and has his Ph.D. in philosophy from Loyola
University, a Roman Catholic school in Chicago.
*Ralph E. MacKenzie* has dialogued with Roman Catholics for
40 years. He graduated from Bethel Theological Seminary
West, earning a Master of Arts in Theological Studies
(M.A.T.S.), with a concentration in church history.
    [The material for this  article is excerpted from a
forthcoming book by the authors titled, _Roman Catholics and
Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences_ (Baker Book
 1 _See_ Kenneth R. Samples, "What Think Ye of Rome?" (Parts One
   and Two), _Christian Research Journal,_ Winter (pp. 32-42) and
   Spring (pp. 32-42) 1993.
 2 Some Reformed theologians wish to point out that the material
   principle is really "in Christ alone" and faith alone is the
   means of access.
 3 Henry Denzinger, _The Sources of Catholic Dogma_ (London: B.
   Herder Book Co., 1957) [section] 783, 244. From the Council of
   Trent, Session 4 (April 8, 1546).
 4 Denzinger, "Systematic Index," 11.
 5 _Ibid._ [sections] 995, 303.
 6 _See_ Patrick Madrid, "Going Beyond," _This Rock,_ August 1992,
 7 Peter Kreeft, _Fundamentals of the Faith_ (San Francisco:
   Ignatius Press, 1988), 274-75.
 8 _Ibid._
 9 _Ibid._
10 _Ibid._
11 There is some debate even among Protestant scholars as to
   whether Paul is referring here to his own previous statements or
   to Scripture as a whole. Since the phrase used here is reserved
   only for Sacred Scripture (cf. 2 Tim. 3:15-16) the latter seems
   to be the case.
12 J. D. N. Kelly, _Early Christian Doctrine_ (New York: Harper &
   Row, 1960), 42-43.
13 _See_ Austin Flannery, gen. ed., _Vatican Council II,_ vol. 1,
   rev. ed. (Boston: St. Paul Books & Media, 1992), _Dei Verbum,_
   750-65 and Denzinger, [section] 1787, 444.
14 J. I. Packer, "Sola Scriptura: Crucial to Evangelicalism," in
   _The Foundations of Biblical Authority,_ ed. James Boice (Grand
   Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), 103.
15 _See_ Bruce Milne, _Know the Truth_ (Downers Grove, IL:
   InterVarsity Press, 1982), 28.
16 Bernard Ramm, _The Pattern of Authority_ (Grand Rapids: Wm. B.
   Eerdmans, 1959), 68.
End of document, CRJ0172A.TXT (original CRI file name),
"What Think Ye of Rome? Part Three: The Catholic-Protestant
Debate on Biblical Authority" release A, September 30, 1994
R. Poll, CRI
(A special note of thanks to Bob and Pat Hunter for their
help in the preparation of this ASCII file for BBS
The Christian Research Journal is published quarterly by the
Christian Research Institute (CRI) -- founded in 1960 by the
late Dr. Walter R. Martin.  While CRI is concerned with and
involved in the general defense of the faith, our area of
research specialization is limited to elements within the
modern religious scene that compete with, assault, or
undermine biblical Christianity.  These include cults (that
is, groups which deny essential Christian doctrines such as
the deity of Christ and the Trinity); the occult, much of
which has become focused in the contemporary New Age
movement; the major world religions; and aberrant Christian
teachings (that is, teachings which compromise or confuse
essential biblical truth).
Regular features of the Journal include "Newswatch,"
witnessing tips and book reviews.
                              One Year     Two Years
U.S. Residents               [ ] 20.00     [ ] 37.00
Canadian (U.S. funds)        [ ] 24.00     [ ] 44.00
Other Foreign (U.S. funds)   [ ] 36.00     [ ] 66.00
Please make checks payable to CRI
To place a credit card order by phone, call us toll-free at:
                  (800) 2-JOURNAL
To subscribe to the Christian Research Journal, please print
this coupon, fill in the necessary information and mail it
with your payment to:
    CRI, P.O. Box 500-TC, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92693-0500
[ ] Yes!  I want to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal.
Name:    ___________________________________________________
Address: ___________________________________________________
Address: ___________________________________________________
City, State, ZIP: __________________________________________
Country: _______________ Phone: ____________________________
Did you know that CRI has a wealth of information on various
topics that is yours for the asking?  In fact, a free
subscription to the Christian Research Newsletter is yours
if you contact CRI and ask for one saying that you found out
about the offer from this computer text file.  We offer a
wide variety of articles and fact sheets free of charge.
Write us today for information on these or other topics.
Our first-rate research staff will do everything possible to
help you.
Christian Research Institute
P.O. Box 500-TC
San Juan Capistrano, CA  92693
(714) 855-9926
End of file.

Indeks Kristiani | Indeks Artikel | Tentang Penulis
ISNET Homepage | MEDIA Homepage | Program Kerja | Koleksi | Anggota

Please direct any suggestion to Media Team