By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM
Is the Bible alone sufficient for us to know all about divine Revelation? Is the written word of God the sole rule of faith? What does the Bible itself have to say about it?
The fact is that, according to Sacred Scripture itself, the Bible is not, and was never meant to be, the only source of divine Revelation and sole rule of faith. Jesus, in His infinite bounty and love for us, gave us much more: the Apostolic Tradition and the Magisterium of His Church.
To demonstrate this truth, let us establish a basic, simple premise with which all baptized Christians agree: Everything that Jesus said or did was God speaking to us, and was divine Revelation. He Himself confirms this premise, when He said to the Devil (who incidentally used Sola Scriptura to tempt Him): “Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Every word, not just what was committed to writing.
That was the first thing He said, as it is recorded in the Gospels. The last thing He said was a commandment to the apostles to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them” and teaching them to observe all things whatsoever “He had commanded them” (Matt. 28:18-20).
So the first and the last things He said as recorded in the Gospel suffice to make our point: Everything that comes forth from the mouth of God must be preached to all men in all nations everywhere till the end of time.
Fine. But — and this “but” is of extreme importance — did the eleven apostles personally preach to men of all nations, teaching everything He commanded, and baptizing those who accepted the message?
No, they did not. The apostles died a few decades later, and did not fulfill the commandment of preaching the Gospel to all nations.
Did they fail in their mission? Silly question — of course not. Or — since they died long before the mission was accomplished — perhaps Jesus gave them a mission they were not able to carry out? Another silly question.
So, how could they accomplish the Great Mission, then? Simple: They passed it on to other apostles to continue the mission through the centuries.
We see this in the case of the election of Matthias, who replaced Judas, in the calling of St. Paul, who was not one of the twelve but did more than the others put together; or the calling of Barnabas, who was, like St. Paul, not one of the twelve and yet is referred to an “apostle.” And so on and so forth in the course of the centuries.
Call them bishops, overseers, elders, presbyters, whatever you like, but the fact remains that the Great Mission did not die with the apostles. It continued after them. Other men succeed the apostles in carrying it out. This biblical-historical reality is called the Apostolic Succession.
Now the million-dollar question: Was everything that Jesus said or did ever committed to writing? The answer is clear and simple: No, not at all. Only a small part of His teachings and actions were committed to writing. And who says so? St. John the Evangelist. Here are his words:
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book” (John 20:30). Wow! Where are they written, then?
Well, that’s bad news for Sola Scriptura believers: Nowhere. And St. John adds: “But there are also many other things that Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25).
Man alive! That’s a huge library for sure! Bigger than the libraries of both Congress and the Vatican put together! In any event, even if we make allowances for the oriental mind that speaks in parables and can indulge in a bit of exaggeration to press a point, the fact remains that the four Gospels are demonstrably way too small to report on all of Jesus’ teachings.
More: What did He say to the eleven apostles after the Resurrection, when He spent forty days giving them a crash course on Catholic apologetics? Nothing was written. What did He say to Mary and Joseph in Nazareth, during the thirty years He lived with them? Nothing was written. What did He say to the doctors during those three days in the Temple? Nothing was written!
I know the answer to these questions: “Ah, true, but what is written in the New Testament is enough for us to know the whole message. . . . ”
Really? Who said that? That’s an individual opinion, because the Bible does not say so. Remember that man lives in every word that proceeds from the mouth of God — and He is God the Son.
Jesus never wrote anything Himself — except perhaps the sins of the Pharisees on the sand — and never commanded anybody to write anything. On the contrary, as we have seen, He commanded the apostles to preach. And preach they did. Orally. Some of them, apostles, bishops of the Church, not all, just a few, were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write about many of Jesus’ teachings, but not all. The rest came down to us orally, kept by the early fathers of the Church and the Bishops of Rome (whom we Roman Catholic folks call “Popes”).
St. Paul makes it very clear when He exhorted His disciple Timothy, bishop of Ephesus: “And what you have heard from me before many witnesses, entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).
It should also be noticed that St. Paul’s teaching to those many witnesses was oral, not written. St. Paul was a prolific speaker, and his two letters to Timothy cannot possibly contain everything he taught, otherwise the exhortation to teach other men would have been unnecessary.
It would suffice for St. Paul to say, “Tim, here is the letter, copy it and pass it around.” But he didn’t. He told Timothy to repeat what he had heard before many witnesses — and faith comes through hearing (Romans 10:17). If it were to come through reading, St. Paul would have said so. But he didn’t.
Remember that St. Paul spent quite a long time with Jesus in the desert? It was a complete apologetics course. And what did Jesus say to him? Nothing is written. Sola Scriptura believers are in trouble.
Therefore, the teachings that Jesus commanded the apostles to preach to the world, the Apostolic Tradition, came down to us in the 21st century in two ways: in written form and in oral form. The written form was directly inspired by the Holy Spirit — the New Testament; the oral form was passed on to the early Fathers, who committed to writing in different ways.
But the best was the Magisterium of the Church, guided infallibly by Jesus Himself, as He promised to be with His apostles until the end of time. And He surely did not fail in His promise!
Next article: Jesus established a Church with a Magisterium, that is, a teaching Church, not a Bible printing society.
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(Raymond de Souza is director of the Evangelization and Apologetics Office of the Winona Diocese, Minn.; EWTN program host; regional coordinator for Portuguese-speaking countries for Human Life International [HLI], president of the Sacred Heart Institute and a member of the Sovereign, Military, and Hospitaller Order of the Knights of Malta. His web site is: www.RaymondeSouza.com.)