Sunday, June 10, 2007

Jesus and Sola Scriptura

“Sola scriptura!” has long been a rallying cry of churches whose history begins with the Reformation. The Bible alone is their authority for what they believe. To them, the Catholic Church adds to the Bible by its use of Tradition, the teaching of the apostles that was written in scripture and their oral teaching that was passed on by the Church (2 Thess. 2:15), later including the teaching of the Church after the time of the Apostles. Catholic apologists point out that the very decision as to which writings make up the Bible that Protestants appeal to as their only authority is one of those Traditions of the Catholic Church!

I find two incidents in the Gospels shed light on Jesus view of the scriptures and authority. The first is in Mark 12:18-27 (also Matthew 22:23-33). The Sadducees issue their challenge against the resurrection of the dead by recounting a story of a woman who was married to seven brothers according to levirate marriage laws. The Sadducees want to know which of the seven she will be married to in heaven since she had been married to all seven in succession on earth! (BTW, this story bears a striking resemblance to Tobit 3:7-9, a book Protestants do not consider canonical, but which Catholics do. So which scriptura is sola?).

Jesus reply is that when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven. She will be married to none of the seven or to anyone else! But more than that, he tells them that they are mistaken because they do not know the scriptures or the power of God, the very things they were sure they knew! They had forgotten the scripture where God had said “I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6). And they had forgotten the power of God, for if he is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, then they are alive because God is not the God of the dead but of the living! As Jesus tells them, “You are greatly misled.”

The Sadducees argued from a scripture they didn’t believe. The scriptures alone were not enough; they had them and they were wrong about the resurrection of the dead because they also needed to understand the power of God.

The other incident is found in John’s Gospel. In chapter 5, Jesus heals a lame man by the pool of Bethesda. The Pharisees are angry with Jesus because he has healed on the Sabbath. When Jesus responds by telling them “My Father is at work until now, so I am at work” they become incensed! They understand that by saying that Jesus is making himself equal to God (a claim so many today deny!) So, naturally, they want to kill him (v 18).

Jesus tells them that the work he does testifies that he comes from the Father and that the Father himself has testified on Jesus behalf. But they do not believe. “You search the scriptures because you think that you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf. But you do not want to come to me to have life.”

The Pharisees were right to search the scriptures to find eternal life. Jesus does not rebuke them for this. But the scriptures alone will not give them, or us, eternal life, only Jesus can. But they would not come to Jesus. They thought they had eternal life through the scriptures. But they missed the testimony of the scriptures about Jesus, so they would not come to him to have life.

In both instances, people relied on their understanding of scripture alone and were mistaken. What they missed each time was the God of the scriptures. Words on a page can only give you the letter of what you need to have eternal life. It is the Spirit of God whose power gives that life. It is that same Spirit that Jesus said would lead us to all truth (John 16:12-15). He has given the Spirit to the Church and the Church has given us the scriptures. We need both; the scriptures and the Spirit-led Church that gave us the scriptures as part of her Tradition—the Catholic Church.

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