The Bible Alone vs. Tradition Alone

I keep hearing on EWTN (the Catholic channel) and from other places, including on your website, about how absurd it is to believe in the "bible only." While I agree with the articles about Holy Tradition I want to clarify a few things about Scripture Alone.

My understanding is that the Protestants NEVER say that the bible contains EVERYTHING about Christianity--period.

It would be more like this:
All things regarding our salvation is contained in the bible.
Sola Scriptura (which is the doctrine that the Bible alone contains everything necessary for salvation) is not in the bible.
Therefore Sola Scriptura is not necessary for salvation.

The bible contains EVERYTHING one needs to understand God's plan of salvation. I can't think of one single thing that is NOT in the bible that is necessary for salvation.

I guess I get tired of seeing and hearing Catholics debating about the simple-minded Protestants that believe in the bible alone. They are setting up a strawman then with glee, knocking it down.

I would like to know just what doctrine regarding salvation is NOT in the bible, but must be known through tradition. Of course, tradition on how to worship, and many other things have been supplied by tradition, but NOTHING regarding man's salvation has been supplied by "Tradition Alone."
Don in Colorado Springs, CO

This is an excellent e-mail. Two months ago I heard this same complaint in an article in a good Protestant magazine, & I realized that I needed to re-evaluate or even change my opinion about the Sola Scriptura doctrine, Tradition, & so on. But as the weeks went by & I researched it, I believe that the objections to Sola Scriptura are still solid, despite any complaints about moot points against it.

I believe that Sola Scriptura has different audiences. 1) Some Protestants teach that it can be found in the Bible, that it's necessary for salvation, & that there is nothing outside the Bible which can be Holy Spirit inspired, particularly Apostolic Tradition. 2) Other Protestants teach that Sola Scriptura is not found in the Bible, & not necessary for salvation, yet there is nothing from the Holy Spirit outside Scripture. 3) While still others teach that Sola Scriptura is not found in the Bible, so it's not necessary for salvation, though there are some teachings from the Holy Spirit that can be found in Tradition. The last group of Protestants, & maybe some in the 2nd group, would of course feel that Catholics & Orthodox are refuting Sola Scriptura by arguing moot points. But there are some Protestants who do believe that Sola Scriptura is written in Scripture, that it's necessary for salvation, & that the Holy Spirit has never inspired Apostolic Tradition, not even certain parts of it. This is the crowd that the Catholics & Orthodox are speaking to when they refute Sola Scriptura, & they do this to make sure that such an extremist doctrine influences as few people as possible.

From what I've seen & heard from Protestants about this subject, these 3 views seem most popular. It is possible that the Lutheran church & your circle of Christian friends & research materials don't hear other more extreme Protestant views of Sola Scriptura, but I know they're out there because I've dealt with them, though I have no idea how numerous their proponents are. At the same time, I believe that you're right about Catholics & Orthodox misunderstanding certain things about Sola Scriptura. The crowd accepting it as Biblical has a position that's so ridiculous & easy to disprove, that it becomes the best target to dispute, thus causing some to think that all Protestants believe this way. So your clarification on this point is well taken, & when I see the need to pass your point on to others, I will do so.

In those 19 articles that I wrote about Scripture & Tradition, I mentioned how there are some important things necessary for salvation which are not contained in Scripture. One of the most important is the fact that the books of the Bible were collected, scrutinized, & accepted in contrast to other sacred books, like 1 Enoch, the Epistle of Barnabas, etc., & in contrast to less established texts, like the Martyrdom of Isaiah, the Acts of John, etc., as well as heavily disputed books that were deemed heretical. Another important one is the fact that the Trinity is not objectively taught in the Bible. If it is necessary for salvation, why does the Bible present passages suggesting a Quadrinity? Why does it allow for a Duality? Some Gnostics proved from Scripture that Jesus was not born God, but that He later became God at His Baptism. Despite these difficulties, the Bible does present the Trinity in some way & it can be argued that Scripture teaches it. However, it has to be interpreted into the Bible, so it can also be argued that Holy Tradition contains some input for a doctrine necessary for salvation, as the Early Christians had said about the Trinity being derived from Tradition, not Scripture. But even if it doesn't come from Tradition, the fact that Tradition itself determined which books should be made biblical & which ones should not be can be argued as evidence that Tradition in more ways than one helped formulate doctrines necessary for salvation.

The point that Tradition determined Scripture is important in this issue. Origen mentions a tradition stating that the Apostle John had gathered many gospels that had been written, as Luke 1:1-4 mentions, & chose only four as most relevant to the Faith. But Jewish and Christian councils utilizing Holy Tradition determined many of the contents for the rest of the Bible. If Scripture contains all that is necessary for salvation, then Tradition, which had a say in the matter, literally determined what is necessary for salvation. In other words, the books of the Bible were chosen according to a predetermined understanding of what is or isn't necessary for salvation. Hence, many of the Bible's books were made to conform to Tradition, which had always contained everything necessary for salvation, rather than the idea that Tradition was made to conform to Scripture. This is the Early Christian perspective on this issue which Protestants can't or won't comprehend. The Early Church believed that Apostolic Tradition contained everything necessary for salvation, & Scripture simply reflected it or parts of it. Ireneus, a student of an Apostolic disciple, in the 2nd century actually said that if the Apostles had left no Scriptures, then Tradition would be enough for salvation, saying, "Even if the Apostles, had not left their Scriptures to us, ought we not to follow the rule of the Tradition which they handed down to those to whom they committed the churches?" So, if this argument should be used, Scripture contains everything necessary for salvation because Tradition contains everything necessary for salvation. And Tradition made Scripture conform to Tradition. In this sense, Tradition ultimately contains everything necessary for salvation.

The Trinity & the determinations of Scripture are the best examples for proving how certain doctrines necessary for salvation can be found or at least partially found in Tradition alone. However, the argument isn't only if or not Scripture &/or Tradition contain everything necessary for salvation, but rather, what is necessary for salvation? And whose interpretation about what is necessary for salvation is most correct?

The Early Christians relied on Tradition as the basis of Scripture, yet they also believed that Tradition contained teachings that the Bible doesn't have; & they were all necessary for salvation. Nowadays, mostly among Protestants, the extra-biblical beliefs in Tradition have been relegated to a status not necessary for salvation. But in Early Church times some amount of extra-biblical rituals, practices, teachings, devotions, etc. were all treated as necessary for salvation. Basil the Great in the 4th century, in his book On The Holy Spirit, was adamant in stating how the Apostles had left behind Scripture and Tradition, & that both were of equal power from the Holy Spirit. He added that if anyone should take away or diminish the unwritten rituals & teachings of Tradition, such as praying to the east, making the sign of the cross on one's body, obeying one's bishop, the mystical teachings about the Virgin Mary as the Queen of Heaven, etc., then that person is destroying the Gospel in its vitals. Maximus the Confessor in the 7th century, relying on Tradition, influenced the 6th Ecumenical Council to teach that Jesus Christ had two wills, one human & one divine, which did not contradict that He was fully Human & fully God at the same time. Gregory Palamas in the 14th century, as recorded in the Philokalia, clarified the doctrine that the Holy Spirit consists of many energies of God, like love, peace, goodness, etc. The Catholics had taught that these energies were created by God, & they also taught that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father & the Son. These new Catholic doctrines were immediately recognized as extremely important issues necessary for enhancing or harming salvation, depending on how one viewed them, even though the energies of God are not directly taught in the Bible as being created or uncreated & the procession of the Holy Spirit is not directly taught in the Bible. The Iconoclastic Movement, which sought to eradicate the use of icons in prayer, was another extremely volatile issue in the 7th to 9th centuries, not because painting & praying before icons was some beloved little ritual, but because it was understood as quite necessary for salvation to retain this aspect of worship. Eradicating it meant the elimination or downgrading of the belief that Christ's humanity has purified & sanctified the body & all earthly materials, which includes Baptism, the water for Baptism, Chrismation, the oil for Chrismation, as well as involving other vital doctrines of the Faith. Furthermore, Apostolic Tradition has always taught that 5 of the 7 Sacraments are necessary for salvation, though the Bible only directly mentions that Baptism & Communion are important for salvation (Confession, Holy Unction, & Chrismation can be interpreted into Scripture, but the Bible does not at all specify them as necessary for salvation).

These are just a handful of examples of doctrines from Tradition which the Early Christians accepted or heavily debated as necessary for salvation, if or not the Bible hints of them or doesn't at all mention them. In some cases, the Bible actually makes hints of important doctrines, though some Christians today refuse to interpret them as biblical. James 5:14 has always been viewed as teaching the Sacrament of Holy Unction, a Sacrament necessary for salvation; yet Protestants treat this verse as unnecessary for salvation. Catholics use Christ's pronouncement of Peter being the Rock as proof that salvation is through the papacy; yet all other Christians have never seen it that way. Praying or speaking to the saints is another important doctrine that is necessary for salvation, since the rejection of it repudiates the unity of the Church (in Heaven & on earth) & the power of Christ's Resurrection, among other important related concepts. And examples like these can go on & on. Thus, understanding how Scripture & Tradition do or do not contain everything necessary for salvation has become a matter of how one wants to interpret it, though originally it was the Apostolic Church that was accepted as possessing the only standard for determining this. This is the standard which the Orthodox Church follows.

Even though extra-biblical Apostolic Tradition, rituals, forms of worship, certain doctrines, etc. were treated as necessary for salvation, the Early Christians & Eastern Orthodox were aware that God's plan of salvation is not confined to water Baptism, knowing the Virgin Mary to be the ladder to Christ, praying to the saints, etc. God's acceptance of the thief on a cross next to Jesus's Cross proves how God's plan of salvation isn't limited to what the Apostles taught the Church to consider necessary for salvation, nor even what the Bible may say. This theological difficulty is a paradox which the Church has inherited from the Apostles, that is, that God's plan of salvation has no other condition but the acknowledgement that one needs a Savior while at the same time also requiring a combination of various virtues, attitudes, beliefs, & other conditions, which the Apostolic Church has always taught. So, in some sense the Bible has everything necessary for salvation & in another sense Tradition in the Orthodox Church has everything necessary for salvation. That's the fullest & best answer that I can give for now!

I hope this e-mail answers your question or stimulates you to do more research on this issue. I have to continue research on this myself, but I still hear the Early Christians relying on a symbiosis of Scripture & Tradition as containing everything necessary for salvation, not the Bible alone. If I'm distorting anything, or if you find some good evidence to change my opinion, let me know.

-Follow-Up Response-
Dear Gaius:
Actually, you have made several very excellent points. First I want to start with the last point about Sola Scriptura. You are right! I don't have much to do with the people that think everything is in the bible. Period! Those are the same ones that tell me that the King James Version is the ONLY version that has the plan of salvation in it. I ask them if it dropped out of heaven on a silver platter. I believe these people, though mistaken, are sincere. I would tend to hold their "leaders" responsible for such absurd statements.

Back to the topic of salvation. Now I could quote scripture all night long to back up Luther, Calvin, Wesley, you name it. But, like you made clear, and I was very impressed by your arguments, all this talk about salvation was not even a minor discussion among the early Christians and the Church Fathers. It's almost to the point where one can read whatever preconceived theology one wants to into the text and prove a point. I GET IT. That's why the Tradition and the CHURCH. And I do agree with you that after Luther got kicked out of the Catholic Church he had to come up with something so he could "feel good" about himself. Hence, hocus pocus, wave the wand and what do you get? Why, of course, you get AN INVISIBLE CHURCH. Now Luther would say the local church of course exists, but the REAL church is where the Word and Sacraments are properly preached and administered. So, if you have a Lutheran church in Colorado that teaches what Luther thinks is proper, then you have the INVISIBLE CHURCH. Sounds dumb doesn't it?

I'm telling you, I really enjoyed your comments (all 15,000 pages of them). Just kidding on the amount.

Like the Reformed site I sent you. They call the Orthodox, the Catholic and all the other churches that believe one co-operates with God for salvation, Ariminian of course (Ariminian is the view that salvation is only by free will with no help from God at all).

When Luther came up with his "new" interpretation on Romans 1:17--a totally different reading than any Father for the 1500 years before him, he got people to follow him because they were fed up with the abuses in the Catholic Church.

Now some say that the Orthodox Church cannot be traced back in a line anymore than the Baptist church can. Well, maybe that's a little overstatement, but only to about A.D. 1000 I disagree with that though.

Original sin is a big one. I had never heard the Orthodox view until a few months ago. I thought Adam sinned, and since he was our Federal Representative, we sinned through him, fell out of God's grace, were totally depraved and unless regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit we were headed to hell. (another concept that is totally different than the Protestant one. Hell, I mean).

I think the Orthodox view is so much more loving. Not only that, but more "reasonable" also. I mean, if I go rob a bank, even the secular authorities are not going to go to my daughter's house and arrest her. But this whole concept of we inheriting death from Adam and that is why we sin is fairly new to me too. No, REALLY NEW! I'm loving it though. I've rambled enough for now. I saved your letter to my documents so that I can re-read it several times. I really do see the Truth of the Orthodox Church. It is such a beautiful TRUTH, too!!!!
Don in Colorado Springs, Co