What do all false religions share in common? While a number of answers suggest themselves, in our context, I am referring to their united attack upon the inspiration, consistency, and sufficiency, of the Bible as the Word of God. In particular, false religions that wish to make some room for Jesus in their teaching while fundamentally altering the truth about who He is or what He did will have to find a way around the Bible. They can do this in a multitude of ways, such as the addition of new “revelation,” mistranslation of the text of Scripture, or, the ever-popular “you can’t figure out the Bible on your own, you need us to tell you what it is really saying” maneuver.
As we look at Steve Ray’s attempt to give a defense for the dogmatic teaching of Rome regarding the bodily assumption of Mary, along with her regular teaching concerning the queenly coronation of Mary (not a dogmatic definition, but, given her regular promotion of such a teaching, surely one that falls well within appropriate criticism), we once again see the “attack Scripture as a means of smuggling your false teachings into the faith” motif. Just as the Apostle Paul did not put up with such false brethren for even a moment (Gal. 2:4-5), if we wish to follow the Apostolic example we must likewise be quick to cast the light of truth upon those who wish to bring the people of God into slavery to false religion and error.
Ray spends some time attacking a very shallow version of sola scriptura. It would probably be sufficient to simply link to the many articles and resources on sola scriptura on my own website. But that would not help most folks in seeing the errors that are part and parcel of the Roman Catholic presentation.
Surely, when it comes to trying to defend the Marian dogmas, one has to attack sola scriptura. Why? Well, as Ludwig Ott put it, “Direct and express scriptural proofs are not to be had” [Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Rockford: IL, Tan Book Publishers, 1974), p. 208.] You have to start off making the claim that everything a Christian must believe to be a follower of Jesus Christ is not in fact to be found in a “direct and express” reading of the inspired text. As Karl Keating said in Catholicism and Fundamentalism, p. 275,
Still, fundamentalists ask, where is the proof from Scripture? Strictly, there is none. It was the Catholic Church that was commissioned by Christ to teach all nations and to teach them infallibly. The mere fact that the Church teaches the doctrine of the Assumption as something definitely true is a guarantee that it is true.
Ray likewise admits that “Are these Marian dogmas explicitly spelled out in the Bible? No.” and “So, what about Mary? The Church has defined certain doctrines about the Mother of Our Lord. Does everything they define have to be explicitly stated in the Bible? No.” Indeed, no one would ever come to these conclusions by simply reading the text of Scripture. The early church surely did not. But this is why Ray has to begin with page after page of attacks upon sola scriptura.
Ray begins with some comments on the concept of tradition:
Though many try to turn tradition in a dirty word–the dreaded T word–the Bible is not so negative. Notice these three passages in particular that mention the existence and importance of the apostolic tradition: “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.” (2 Thess 2:15); “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us.” (2 Thess 3:6); “Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.” (1 Cor 11:2).
We have discussed tradition ourselves…much more thoroughly than Mr. Ray has. Here is just one example from our website, an article that has been posted for many years:
At this point Mr. Palm goes well beyond the scope of a discussion of the NT usage of “tradition,” and begins to engage in a good bit of special pleading for his cause. The ellipses in the quotation remove a little “however” that points us back to the discussion in Kelly of how often the early Fathers cited as yet “uncanonized” Scripture, especially that of Paul. Hence, Kelly has just indicated the high viewpoint of the written testimony to the apostolic teaching, and as a counterbalance produces the statement cited. However, he doesn’t stop there. He continues on:
Logically, as it must have done chronologically, the testimony stood prior to the documents, and it would be more correct to say that the latter were valued precisely because they were held to enshrine the former. 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. But there is equally nothing to suggest, and general probability makes it unlikely, that Christian teachers had these books specifically in mind on the majority of occasions when they referred to the apostolic testimony. It is much more plausible that they were thinking generally of the common body of facts and doctrines, definite enough in outline though with varying emphases, which found expression in the Church’s day-to-day preaching, liturgical action and catechetical instruction, just as must as in its formal documents (pp. 33-34).
Now that is quite different than reading the entire Roman concept of “Tradition” into Kelly’s words as Mr. Palm does above! Remember, Mr. Palm’s “Tradition” includes, of necessity, purgatory, indulgences, Papal Infallibility, and a whole plethora of Marian doctrines. Surely Kelly would be the first to admit that such beliefs were utterly absent from the Church’s instruction and belief at this stage in history. Hence, to read Mr. Palm’s capitalized Tradition back into Kelly’s words is a misuse of a scholarly source, to be sure.
Now I will only mention in passing that Mr. Palm’s reference to the early Father’s struggle against the heretics begs the issue. What was the rule of faith they used to refute the heretics? Mr. Palm’s infallible Roman Tradition? In no way. The “rule of faith” was far more simple, and was, in fact, derived from biblical sources, and is fully defendable from the Scriptures themselves. Hence, the idea that this rule of faith, this tradition, mentioned by men like Irenaeus, is in fact an extra-scriptural revelation, holds not the first drop of water.
Likewise, Ray objects at one point to the assertion that Rome’s claims of infallibility force her to a functional position of sola ecclesia over against sola scriptura. He writes,
But while we Catholics do not accept sola Scriptura, we also cannot be painted into a corned [sic: corner] named sola Ecclesiathe Church alone.
To which I offer this reply from this article on our website:
Paul again looked a little dazed at the turn of events, but pressed bravely on. “Yes, I said it is unbiblical. The Scriptures teach us to hold to the traditions we were taught, whether by word of mouth or letter from the apostles, in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, and Jesus bound men under extra-biblical authority in Matthew 23:1-3, as well, referring to a non-biblical tradition, the “seat of Moses.”
“So are you admitting that your proof against sola scriptura is found primarily in your positive assertion of sola ecclesia?”
“I’m sorry, sola ecclesia?” he replied quizzically.
“Yes, the other position being presented here this evening, Rome’s position. The idea that the church, specifically, the Magisterium, headed by the Pope, is the final and infallible authority in all things.”
“Gracious” Paul laughed, “we don’t believe that!”
“Oh?” I replied. “I thought I just heard you defending that idea, or at least getting ready to. But I think you do, indeed, believe that, and in fact, I think you will confirm that when I ask a few simple questions. First, do you believe the Roman Church infallibly defines the extent of Scripture, i.e., the canon?”
“Yes, of course, I was going to be getting to that eventually.”
“I’m sure you were, and I look forward to that. And does not the Roman Church have the ability to infallibly interpret the meaning of the text of Scripture?”
“Well, I’d prefer we refer to the Catholic Church, not the ‘Roman Church,’ and yes, Christ gave that authority to His Church.”
“I’m sure you would prefer that, but I refer to the church that is centered in Rome, headed by the bishop of a single city, Rome, and hence, that is the Roman, not the Catholic, Church. Be that as it may, you have now affirmed that Rome can infallibly define the extent of Scripture and the meaning of Scripture, and is it not likewise true that Rome claims the infallible ability to define both the extent of ‘tradition’ as well as the meaning of ‘tradition’?”
“Yes, that is true as well, since in reality, Scripture is just tradition written. It is the written portion of the Word of God.”
“OK, so please tell me: if Rome determines the extent of both Scripture and ‘tradition,’ and the meaning of both Scripture and ‘tradition,’ how can she logically be subservient to two things that she in fact defines and interprets?”
Paul seemed taken aback. “Well, that’s an interesting way to put it, but surely you realize we do not put it that way.”
“Of course, but that is what sola ecclesia is all about: the Church as the final authority in all things. That is the position you hold, if you are a faithful defender of the orthodox Roman Catholic claims to infallible teaching authority. And that is what I meant when I said your citations from Scripture were showing me that you attack sola scriptura so as to establish sola ecclesia. It is vital that everyone see that there are two positions being presented, and that the standard of proof demanded for one side be demanded of the other as well.”
“I’m sorry, but how did my noting 2 Thessalonians 2 and Matthew 23 lead you to that conclusion?”
“Two things: this isn’t the first time I’ve spoken to a Roman Catholic apologist on this topic, and I know where you are going” I said with a smile. “Second, the only meaningful interpretations of either of those two passages you could possibly offer that is relevant to your reason for being here this evening both require us to embrace an infallible teaching authority in a church–the Roman Church, of course–so you seem to be teaching that the Bible, rather than teaching sola scriptura, teaches sola ecclesia. That means you’ll need to meet the same level of proof that I must meet, as you are presenting a positive position, just as I am.”
I would strongly direct the reader to this entire article, as it addresses the majority of the objections that are raised on this topic, and I believe it provides a very strong contrast to the kind of presentation Ray gives.