Debating the Authority of Scripture

How much authority does the Bible hold over the subjects it addresses? Believers sometimes hold differing answers to this question. Protestants promote the principle of sola Scriptura (Scripture as the supreme authority), while according to the Catholic position, tradition shares authority with the Bible.

In 1997, I participated in a debate on the topic of the Scripture’s authority with Jesuit priest Mitchell Pacwa at Southern Methodist University. I explained and defended the Protestant view and Father Pacwa represented the Catholic position.

While Father Pacwa and I strongly disagree about some critically important theological issues, we mutually like and respect each other and remain friends to this day.

You can listen to the dialogue here:

  One thought on “Debating the Authority of Scripture

  1. November 13, 2012 at 9:44 am

    I get a 404 error when I click on the link. I think you need to take out the period at the end of the link. Thanks for all you do!

    • November 13, 2012 at 11:26 am

      Hi Erik,
      Thank you for letting us know about the broken link. You were right about the period. It should be working now.
      Maureen (Kenneth’s editor)

  2. Ian Clark
    November 16, 2012 at 6:23 am

    As a long-time visitor to Reason To Believe’s website I feel that in some ways I know you, but this is my first time here. I find it more than coincidental that this is the featured item as I am in the middle of Ron Rhodes’ “Reasoning from the Scriptures with Catholics” (by the way, Ken, he quotes you at least once so far.) My personal witness is that I came to Christ by reading the Bible (KJV without the Apocrypha) so I attest that it is more than sufficient for salvation. Although Father Pacwa does argue his position well and avoids some of the traps that I think his fellows fall into I find you to have won this debate all in all. For me the key point is the impossibility of direct access to the oral tradition. Both the Romans and the Greeks claim to be the original church, but how do we know? While I don’t know the Orthodox position so well, I do know the RC position is that we need the Church to intercede with God which is a direct contradiction of Scripture. Scripture teaches quite clearly that it is Christ alone who is our intercessor and that none other is needed. Paul cautions against Phariseeism when he speaks of the Bereans and this is a warning to be heeded as it comes from a Pharisee. Now the Pharisees also reserved the right to properly interpret Scripture. If we, as believers, are truly indwelt by the Holy Spirit then studying the Scripture should lead to understanding as the Holy Spirit bears witness to our spirits. I understand the need for guidance from the Church and from those very able thinkers that have gone before, but is there some superior Holy Spirit only available to the clergy? The Bible certainly does not teach this and the Pope and the Curia are men who struggle with sin. I think Father Pacwa bogged himself down with particulars of history and avoided the here-and-now contradictions of RC dogma with scripture. In Judaism there is a similar Rabbinical appeal to oral tradition which has them bogged down as well. Our God is not a God of confusion, but of truth and this truth is quite plain in Scripture. We protestants have our problems, yes, but sola scriptura is not one of them. Faith comes by hearing the word of God and Scripture provides this very word in an immutable fashion — it allows us to directly access apostolic teaching or, to use another word, tradition. For those who say reading isn’t hearing, I read the Bible by having it read to me in audio form. Writing is recording what is said, so reading is in a very real sense hearing. A question for Catholics: why is the Second Canon second? Thank you Ken for featuring this, it is at the root of faith so it’s importance cannot be overstated!

  3. November 19, 2012 at 4:53 pm


    Thanks for listening to the debate and for your thoughtful comments.

    Best regards.

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