Where is that in the Bible?


December 6, 2012 by mattfradd


Have you ever been asked: Where’s that in the Bible?

Have you ever been asked by a non-Catholic Christian, “Where is that in the Bible?”

This question usually rests on the presupposition that the Bible is the sole rule of faith and practice for Christians. This view is also known by it’s Latin name, sola scriptura.

In the words of Protestant apologist, James White:

“The doctrine of sola scriptura, simply stated, is that the Scriptures and the

Scriptures alone are sufficient to function as the regula fide, the “rule of faith”

for the Church.  All that one must believe to be a Christian is found in

Scripture and in no other source.  That which is not found in Scripture is

not binding upon the Christian conscience.” [1]

This raises an interesting question, how do we know what books belong in the bible, let’s start by taking a look at the new testament.

Sometimes people seem to assume that the New Testament fell from heaven, complete, and with no questions of what belongs in it, but actually the Church had to decide which books were inspired and which were not.

In the second and third centuries, many “gospels” were falsely attributed to the apostles; such as The Gospel of Thomas, and Peter, and James etc.

Other revelations and epistles may not have been falsely attributed, such as The Epistle of Barnabas, The Shepherd of Hermas, and the Didache but were not deemed by the Church to be Scripture.

The first time we have a magisterial document that recognizes in full the canon of Scripture was at the council of Rome in 382 under pope Damasus I (soon reiterated by the councils of Hippo and Carthage). The list of books given by the council of Rome is the same lists Catholics use today. [2]

Regarding the New Testament, the council declared:

Likewise, the list of the Scriptures of the New and Eternal Testament, which the holy and Catholic Church receives:

of the Gospels, one book according to Matthew, one book according to Mark, one book according to Luke, one book according to John.

The Epistles of the Apostle Paul, fourteen in number: one to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, one to the Ephesians, two to the Thessalonians, one to the Galatians, one to the Philippians, one to the Colossians, two to Timothy, one to Titus, one to Philemon, one to the Hebrews.

Likewise, one book of the Apocalypse of John. And the Acts of the Apostles, one book.

Likewise, the canonical Epistles, seven in number: of the Apostle Peter, two Epistles; of the Apostle James, one Epistle; of the Apostle John, one Epistle; of the other John, a Presbyter, two Epistles; of the Apostle Jude the Zealot, one Epistle.

Thus concludes the canon of the New Testament.

So here’s a question: If you are willing to accept the inspiration of the New Testament, are you not also required to accept the authority of the Church to tell us what belongs in it?

On the other hand, if one is not willing to accept the authority of that Church, are you able to know with certainty that the New Testament documents are inspired?



[2] Some books in the Damasine list appear unfamiliar when compared with modern Bibles as some books were later combined or titled differently

14 thoughts on “Where is that in the Bible?

  1. I’ve always wanted to ask a Protestant who holds to Sola Scriptura: if the Bible is the sole and only source of revelation, what did the Christians of the first decades follow before any of the books of the New Testament were even written? They obviously followed what the apostles were teaching, right? The apostles were still alive. So what the apostles said (the Magisterium) and what the apostles did (apostolic tradition) were a rule of faith and a source of revelation even before the first book of the New Testament was ever put to pen and ink. Nowhere does the Bible say that, once these books were written down, the Magisterium and Apostolic Tradition were now rendered obsolete; therefore, they are still sources of revelation in addition to Sacred Scripture – thus, there are three infallible and binding sources of Revelation.

  2. Jane says:

    In 2 Tim. 3:16-17 Paul tells us that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” It is naivety and slightly offensive (to me) to suggest that sola scriptura is merely a presupposition. There is scriptural evidence that the Bible itself is sufficient. If you believe that the Bible is the infallible Word of God, then you must believe that what God says in the Bible is true. I choose to believe that God tells the truth. And according to what God tells us in 2 Tim., Scripture is sufficient. Scripture lays out everything I need to know to receive the gift of grace of Jesus Christ.
    Based on Scripture, we know of no situation where Jesus or his apostles appealed to tradition in order to refute error. Instead, Scripture is used (see, e.g. Acts 17, Romans 4). If your claim is that Christians need sacred tradition in order to be properly equipped doctrinally and spiritually, then the burden is on you to establish that the Bible is *not* sufficient for teaching, or proof, correction, and training in righteousness.
    While we certainly understand that the apostles were given authority, Protestants believe that the apostolic time disappeared, along with revelations and prophesies and so forth. Now, the final authority rests in the written word. But, if we’re wrong, and if sacred tradition in fact is also a source of final authority, what happens when it is in direct conflict with the Word of God? Is papal infallibility above scriptural infallibility? Protestants see a problem when, for example, the Catholic Church thinks of Mary as the/a(?) mediatrix of grace when Scripture clearly teaches that Christ is the one and only mediator between God and man… So who is right? Protestants believe that God tells the truth. And since God tells us in 1 Timothy that there is “one God and mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” we take that as the final word on the matter.
    The Bible is our alone final authority because it alone is the Word of God. It has been attested, authenticated, by God Himself. True Protestants do not despise tradition. We have it. We value it. We are partial to it. We love it and defend it. But, we simply believe that the Bible, the written Word of God is the key, and is then, the final standard.

    • mattfradd says:

      Jane, thank you for your thoughtful response. My article did not explore the question: Does the Bible claim to be inspired, but rather: Who decided what books constitute the New Testament.

      I argued that one cannot accept the inspiration of the New Testament without accepting the authority of the Church which discerned it to be so.

      I hope that you will take the time to respond to that argument.

      Let’s take a look at your claim that 1 Tim 3:16-17 teaches sola scriptura.

      St. Paul teaches that Scripture is inspired and necessary—a rule of faith—he is not claiming that Scripture alone is all you need to determine the truth about faith and morals.

      All of this, get’s back to the primary argument of my article, which is that without the Catholic Church you would not accept 1 Timothy as inspired.

      Please take the time to respond to the points made in my article.

      I appreciate your time.

      • Jane says:

        Matt & Donny, I simply do not believe that men were wholly or primarily responsible for putting together the New Testament. I find it interesting that Catholics are very involved in the mystical and believe without question accounts of levitation, etc. yet they quite proudly proclaim that they are responsible for the Bible we have today. I ask you, where was God in that? Do you believe that God’s hand was not at work? I personally believe that God guided the canonization of His Word, and that the Bible that we have today can be relied upon as full, complete, and sufficient Truth, because God, and not man, is in control.

        So yes, you are absolutely correct that there of course was a time before the NT was in written form. I have not forgotten that fact. Canonics is a very difficult subject, admittedly! But when the epistles went out–when these writings went out, they had apostolic authority, and they were brought together and together they are on the order of the oracles that were in the Old Testament times. As Paul says, “What advantage has the Jew? He has, then, the oracles of God.” The written word.

        So to directly answer your question, (if there was any confusion!), no, I do not believe that I must accept the authority of the Catholic Church in order to be properly equipped doctrinally and spiritually, or to know how I might be redeemed, because that’s what God tells me in his Word. I would repeat to you again, that if your claim is that Christians *need* sacred tradition in order to be properly equipped doctrinally and spiritually, then the burden is on you to establish that the Bible is *not* sufficient for teaching, or proof, correction, and training in righteousness. And if the Catholic Church holds to the full authority of Scripture (which I believe it does) then my second question, again, is what relationship does tradition have to that? Is it an infallible interpretation of the Church that stands beside the Scriptures, or even over the Scriptures? What happens when the Church makes claims about, for example, Mary being the mediatrix of grace that directly conflict with what the Bible says?

        Finally, to briefly touch upon your response to 2 Tim.: I disagree. Paul is, in fact, teaching us that Scripture provides us with everything we need to be adequate and fully equipped men and women of God. Without the Catholic Church, I would accept 1 Tim, along with the rest of the Bible as inspired and infallible for the sole reason that it is the Word of God. God tells the truth.

      • I guess you have never read the documents of the Second Vatican Council, specifically Dei Verbum, which quite emphatically affirms everything you say about God guiding the hand of the human author to write what He wanted him to write down.

        As for believing that Mary as Mediatrix of Grace contradicts scripture: you have misunderstood. No one is saying grace comes from Mary and not through Christ. Mary by her cooperation, brought Christ into the world, so she is the conduit from which we receive Christ, who is all grace. “Conduit” is basically another word for “Mediatrix”.

    • Jane, when that was written, to what was it referring? You do realize the Bible had not been put together at that point, right? It’s easy to sit here in our time and forget that fact. MEN decided what was to be included in the Canon as scripture. They did so in the 4th century, as Matt rightly pointed out earlier.

    • Samantha says:

      2 Thessalonians 2:15 says “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.”
      As Catholics, we do believe in what scripture tells us, but that does not mean that we only look to scripture for our teachings and actions. That would be ignoring the many traditions that were established by Jesus himself and passed on by his apostles to present day in the Church.
      Also, focusing on the Protestant beliefs that apostolic time, revelations and prophecies have all ended would be putting a limit to the works of God. If God could appear to humans long ago, who says he cannot today?

  3. The most fundamental proof that Sola Scriptura is not valid is that different Protestants read the Bible and come to different conclusions, sometimes even with violent results. If Scripture alone is able to teach truth, then why is there so much disagreement? Protestants should be a united people in one denomination with a clear understanding of the will of God. This is obviously not the case. (Henry VIII, the founder of Anglicanism, burned Lutherans and Anabaptists at the stake!) When people come to different conclusions as to the meaning of certain texts, how do you know who is right and who is wrong? Obviously, you need some authority to make that decision. That’s why Jesus gave the power of the keys to St. Peter (you see, infallibility IS in the Bible!) and it is this power that was used at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 to settle the difference of opinion as to whether Gentiles needed to be circumcised in order to become Christians. This power Jesus promised “the power of hell will not prevail against it”, which means it will never come to an end, and that He will never allow the Church to sustain a lie as part of any official teaching. In order for the Church to have lost the authority that Jesus gave Peter, Jesus Himself would have had to return and remove it. What is your proof that He did?

  4. Diffal says:

    Thank you for the Article, I would certainly hold that the Sola Scriptura argument is a circular one, which I believe, lacks credibility: I believe in the Bible because I believe in God, and I belive in God(at least the incarnate God of Revelation) because I believe in the Bible, and I believe what the Bible says because the Bible tells me it is trustworthy. For Sacred Scripture to be recognised as the inspired Word of God a Source/Witness external to the Scriptures would be necessary, one which can say I was there at Jordan, I was there in Jerusalem, I was there at Calvary, One which still exists today. Outwith the Living Community of the Church Christ founded, the Scriptures are indistinguishable from a good Novel or the Greek myths(epistemologically speaking).

    But of course Saint Augustine got there first and I am quite happy to have a similar epistemological stance as him:

    “For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church. So when those on whose authority I have consented to believe in the gospel tell me not to believe in Manichæus, how can I but consent? Take your choice. If you say, Believe the Catholics: their advice to me is to put no faith in you; so that, believing them, I am precluded from believing you—If you say, Do not believe the Catholics: you cannot fairly use the gospel in bringing me to faith in Manichæus; for it was at the command of the Catholics that I believed the gospel;— Again, if you say, You were right in believing the Catholics when they praised the gospel, but wrong in believing their vituperation of Manichæus: do you think me such a fool as to believe or not to believe as you like or dislike, without any reason?”

    The Foundation 5:6

  5. C says:

    I was just reading an article by Karl Keating about this! So cool how God works like that :o) A good point made by Keating:

    “The fact is that the Holy Spirit guided the Catholic Church over time to recognize and determine the canon of the New and Old Testaments in the year 382 at the synod of Rome, under Pope Damasus I. This decision was ratified again at the councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397 and 419). You, my friend, accept exactly the same books of the New Testament that Pope Damasus decreed were canonical, and no others.

    “Furthermore, the reason you accept the books you do is that they were in the Bible someone gave you when you first became a Christian. You accept them because they were handed on to you. This means you accept the canon of the New Testament that you do because of tradition, because tradition is simply what is handed on to us from those who were in the faith before us. So your knowledge of the exact books that belong in the Bible, such as Philemon and 3 John, rests on tradition rather than on Scripture itself!

    “The question you have to ask yourself is this: ‘Where did we get the Bible?’ Until you can give a satisfactory answer, you aren’t in much of a position to rely on the authority of Scripture or to claim that you can be certain that you know how to accurately interpret it.

    “After you answer that question—and there’s really only one answer that can be given—you have some other important questions to ask: ‘If the Bible, which we received from the Catholic Church, is our sole rule of faith, who’s to do the interpreting?’ And ‘Why are there so many conflicting understandings among Evangelicals and Fundamentalists even on central doctrines that pertain to salvation?’”

  6. Natalie says:

    Are the 3 Letters of John not all from the same John?!
    Why would they number them so if there were two different Johns?!

    “of the Apostle John, one Epistle; of the other John, a Presbyter, two Epistles”

  7. Darren Cruz says:

    Two problems with the doctrine of sola scriptura: (1) Sola scriptura is self-contradictory. The Bible doesn’t teach sola scriptura. So, if you believe only what the Bible says, then you wouldn’t believe in sola scriptura. (2) Sola scriptura violates the principle of causality – that an effect cannot be greater than its cause. The Church (i.e., the apostles) wrote Scripture, and the successors of the apostles (i.e., the bishops) decided on the canon, the list of books to be declared scriptural and infallible. If Scripture is infallible, then its cause, the Church, must also be infallible.

    For more, see:

  8. For anyone interested, here is a good article that discusses in great length the attempts by Protestants, specifically Reformed or evangelical Protestants, to determine the canon:

  9. Bennett says:

    It is of some interest to me that anytime I’ve confronted (or seen confronted) a hardline Protestant with the contradiction of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, the response is rather formulaic. They’ll drudge up that verse from St. Paul’s letter to Timothy, and tap-dance around your points, then steam-roll you with assertions. I’ve never seen one explain how the apostles and prophets could somehow produce infallible doctrines and dogmas, but only when they were writing them down. The question of infallible book selection is also quite thorny, given that 7 books were taken out by Martin Luther (and he’d have liked to take out more!) Where in the Bible does it say that “Martin Luther may decide what belongs in the canon”? Where, indeed, does it declare who *at all* gets to make these editorial decisions? It all begins to feel more like arguing with Islam than Christianity, after a while.

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