REFUTING 1 TIMOTHY 3:16:17
“All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
According to Protestant understanding, this verse proves “Sola Scriptura”! Sola Scriptura basically says that the Bible and the Bible alone (Sola) is our final authority on matters of religion. Everything we believe MUST be found in the Sacred Writings. I will point out three reasons why this verse is quite inefficient to prove Sola Scriptura.
To start out with, the verse does not say “only Scripture”, but “all Scripture”. Catholic’s agree wholeheartedly that all Scripture is inspired, or “God-breathed.” "Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit." This is a quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) #81. Thus, the Scriptures ARE inspired according to Catholic teaching. However, the verse says that Scripture, whatever it is, is inspired, not that ONLY Scripture is inspired and useful for teaching and reproofing.
The second point to make is the verse says that it (Scripture) is “profitable,” not “the only authority.” There are lots of things that are profitable, but profitable does not mean ONLY. Gas is very profitable if I want my car to make it from point A to point B, however, it is not the only thing needed. I need to make sure there is oil in my car, the tires have air etc. etc. Therefore, to say this verse proves Sola Scriptura is really a stretch.
Another point to note is the context of the verse does not warrant the assumption of the “Bible Alone.” Here is the verse in context: “Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions, my sufferings, what befell me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra, what persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
Note, if St. Paul was trying to teach Sola Scriptura, why did he even need to address Timothy at all? Why not just tell him to go to the Scriptures, study them, and you’ll be perfect in righteousness? Look at what St. Paul says. First of all he tells Timothy to remember what he had seen St. Paul do with a strong implication to learn from him. Then he says to remember who taught you the Scriptures! Did you get that, who taught you, or more literally, who you’ve learned them from. And these are the Scriptures from Timothy’s childhood, the Old Testament! Certainly no one would assert that the Old Testament is sufficient to make the man of God perfect for every good work. Therefore, this verse falls fall short of anything the non-Catholic would like it to.
Thus, far from preaching the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, this verse actually reinforces the Catholic teaching of Scripture and Tradition. Why do I say that? Well, from the context you can see that St. Paul is really saying that remember everything; what you learned from watching me work and preach, what your grandmother taught you, and what you learned when you the Old Testament Scriptures. This verse teaches Scripture + Tradition!
We can plainly point to other passages of Scripture which verify this understanding. “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” (2 Thess 2:15 RSV) This sis a plain passages that point to 2 separate sources, Scripture (or writings) and Tradition (oral teaching). No where does Scripture exclude this oral transmission of Truth. One chapter later we read: “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.” 2 Thess 3:6 Again, we are to stay away from those who ignore those traditions, whether orally or written.
Here are some other verses you’ll want to check out that teach the Bible cannot be the sole authority
“I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you.” 1 Cor 11:2
“Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink, but I hope to come to see you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.” 2 John 1:12
“I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink; I hope to see you soon, and we will talk together face to face. 3 John 1:13-14
"If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Matt 18:15-17
So, what, or who, is the final arbiter in matters of faith and morals?
“I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.” 1 Tim 3:14-15
It is the Church that is the pillar and ground of Truth. While the Church venerates the Scriptures as they do the body of the Lord (see CCC #103), the Church has the guarantee of Jesus Christ that the gates of hell will not prevail against her (see Matt 16:16:19)