11 Sep 2016

Peter Kreeft on the Authority of the Bible

Religious 30 Comments

I have a Catholic friend who sent me the link to this essay (though she warned there are a lot of typos from whoever webbed this). Peter Kreeft had been Protestant and converted to Catholicism, so he has an interesting take. (I was raised Catholic and currently consider myself Protestant so that’s why this is particularly intriguing to me.) An excerpt:

There are at least four things wrong with the sola scriptura doctrine. First, it separates Church and Scripture. But they are one. They are not two rival horses in the authority race, but one rider (the Church) on one horse (Scripture). The Church as writer, canonizer, and interpreter of Scripture is not another source of revelation but the author and guardian and teacher of the one source, Scripture. We are not taught by a teacher without a book or by a book without a teacher, but by one teacher, with one book, Scripture.

Second, sola scriptura is self-contradictory, for it says we should believe only Scripture, but Scripture never says this! If we believe only what Scripture teaches, we will not believe sola scriptura , for Scripture does not teach sola scriptura.

Third, sola scriptura violates the principle of causality: that an effect cannot be greater than its cause. The Church (the apostles) wrote Scripture, and the successors of the apostles, the bishops of the Church, 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.

30 Responses to “Peter Kreeft on the Authority of the Bible”

  1. Khodge says:

    Catholic Church infallible teaching is typically negative, e.g. the Pope , when speaking infallibly (following very specific guidelines) cannot state an error. That is why debate within Catholicism – for those who follow it – is often much more rigorous and varied than with or among our Protestant brethren. The church is loathe to stop good faith debate or reformulation of specific doctrine.

  2. Kevin Regal says:


    I read the whole essay. I was with him until he got to his five arguments against sola scriptura. I suppose his arguments have rhetorical power (they motivate those who already agree) but no persuasive power at all.

    I am curious of your reaction (as a former catholic) to his arguments. Could you say more?

  3. Richard Parks says:

    It seems to me that the second argument is based on a misunderstanding of sola scriptura. As I understand it, sola scriptura doesn’t mean we believe only in Scripture, but that Scripture is the only ultimate authority.

    Protestants believe a lot of things that are not specifically in Scripture just like Catholics. The difference being that Rome places the Church’s authority on par with God’s Word and it’s dogmatic decrees carry the same weight as the Scriptures themselves. Protestants don’t (or at least shouldn’t) hold their extra-Biblical beliefs with the same authority as Scriptures.

    The first and third arguments seem more debatable, but I think the second one can be disregarded.

  4. Reader says:

    When I first started commenting on this blog, I was an evangelical and a Calvinist. I’m starting RCIA wednesday, which is great. Sola Scriptura was a big issue for me. The idea that it’s self refuting was really important.

    if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.
    1 Timothy 3:15

    Bob, I’m going to guess you haven’t read the writings of the early Christians/church fathers (because you haven’t announced your conversion to Catholicism yet). I would really recommend reading the primary sources and seeing what they actually believed. For instance, they unanimously interpreted John 3:5 “Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” as referring to baptism. That makes sense in light of 1 Peter 3:20-21 which says “Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ”.
    There are tons more scriptures supporting this view of baptism (and the other sacraments). (Luther believed in baptismal regeneration and infant baptism and Calvin did as well (but only for elect infants)).

    For instance, Catholics interpret James 5:14-5:15 quite plainly “is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; And the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick. The Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.” Catholics recognize the sacrament of the anointing of the sick but Protestants largely ignore this scripture.

    Don’t get me started on John 6, 1 Corinthians and the Eucharist.

    Also, where in the Bible does it say which books belong in the Bible? R.C. Sproul says we have a fallible canon of infallible scripture, which is scary because if we even leave out 1 book or include 1 apocryphal text (or even verse!) we could be in serious theological trouble. The Christian Church detailed in Acts of the Apostles predates the writing of a single word of the New Testament, and yet they were somehow still able to function. How could they function if nothing of the New Testament was written yet and the Bible is their supreme authority? Something else must have been an adequate alternative (sacred tradition and the teaching authority of the Church)

    2 Thes 2:15, “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.”

    1 Cor 11:2, “I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you.”

    2 Tim 2:2: “and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

    1 Thes 2:13, “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the Word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the Word of God, which is at work in you believers.”

    I really like the direction you’re heading Bob.

    God bless.

  5. Steve Maughan says:

    The second point is an invalid argument from silence. There is no contradiction. The scriptures nowhere say, “nothing is true that is not in the scriptures”. The absence of an affirmation (i.e. scripture is the source of all doctrine) does not necessarily mean the negative of an affirmation is true (i.e. there can be other sources of doctrine).

    In the third point I disagree that the, “Church (the apostles) wrote Scripture”. Based on 2 Tim 3 v 16 we read, “All Scripture is God-breathed”. So I’d say the source of the causality is God, not the Church – so the logic falls down. What the author is claiming is akin to saying the Sistine chapel was created by a paint brush while forgetting about Michelangelo.

    As a Reformed Libertarian I have a problem with the first paragraph. If the Church and Scripture are “one in the Authority race” then one of them is redundant (when it comes to authority). Since we can access scripture directly ourselves I’d say the redundant element is the Church. And with the same instinct that I shirk the State when it comes to politics, I’m equally suspicious of anyone which says they have an earthly monopoly on the teaching and interpretation of scripture,


  6. Edgardo Tenreiro says:

    You can be an anarchocapitalism and atheist or a Protestant at the same time…but the worst thing about Catholicism is that the closer you get it, the further away you must stray from Rothbard….always good to read you…and good luck on your spiritual journey!

  7. Daniel Davis says:

    Well, you get to pick between sola scriptura or sola ecclesia. If you’re considering swimming the Tiber (or are just interested in these questions of religious epistemology), I’d definitely check out some debates between James White (Reformed guy) and some Roman Catholic apologists. There are plenty on YouTube.

    • Richard Parks says:

      I second this, James White is an incredibly useful resource.

  8. William says:

    Interesting. For 17 years I was a committed conservative Presbyterian Calvinist . Sola Scripture was the cornerstone of faith. In the early 80’s during a class for prospective deacons and elders ,the issue of ordination vow(PCA) that we ascribe that theBible was inerrant, infallible and verbally inspired ( up to this point I was on board until the pastor added,)- “in the original autographs”. I asked ” where are the original autographs? He acknowledged we don’t have them. OK, then how could we vow to something we did not have? His answer was ” The Holy Spirit preserved the truth in the Church. At the time I was president of the largest TN Protestant pro life organization and regularly spoke to many churches, Protestant, RC, Pentecostal etc. All were wonderful, caring people who loved Christ and wanted to be faithful to Him. As I worked with them I encountered one group baptize babies while another only adults( or those of a certain age). Some immersed , some poured, some sprinkled. Some allowed padeocommunion, others did not. What broke through to me was if the Holy Spirit was to work through the Church, he did not tell one group one thing and the next one something else. He was to lead us into all truth not truths. It also became apparent that no one really believe Sola Scriptura. It is always SSand something or someone else. Unless the Bible can hop onto you lap and speak to you in the original language and autographs, and you understand the Greek, Hebrew and Aramic the concept of interpretation is inescapable! So, since all of us must have the Bible interpreted the primary issue become-who or what will be the interpreter? The search led me to try to find the truth . In 1990 my family ” came home” to the Orthodox Christian Church ,protected by the Spirit through the 7 Councils followingChrist’s teaching through the Apostles and Holy Fathers of the Church who proclaimed St. Paul’s declaration in 1 Tim 3:15-“.. The Church of The Living God, the pillar and ground of the truth”.

    • Khodge says:

      My pastor likes to point out that translate and traitor share a common etymological root.

  9. Bob Murphy says:

    Hey everyone,

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I am reading these and will catch up with them, but I’ve been traveling.

  10. Jeffrey Singer says:


    I’ll let you come to the truth of Catholicism on your own, although Kreeft is a good apologist 🙂

    I did want you and your readers to know, however, that he is really a very talented writer and tackles some great basic Christian/philosophical themes (think of him as sort of a modern C.S. Lewis) in his “Socrates meets” books. I’ve only read “Socrates meets Jesus”, “Socrates meets Freud”, and “Socrates meets Kierkegaard” but all three were funny, smart and make you really think through some basic philosophical questions about the meaning of life.

    • Andrew_FL says:

      Except Lewis was an Anglican…

      • Jeffrey Singer says:

        So? Just because he never swam the Tiber doesn’t mean he’s not a brilliant Christian apologist! “Mere Christianity” is still a wonderful book and some of his other works (“Screwtape Letters”, “Problem of Pain”, “Abolition of Man”, “Surprised by Joy”, etc.) hold up very well after all these years.

        Catholics aren’t forbidden to read and profit from smart non-Catholic authors!!

        • Craw says:

          Index. Explain.

        • Andrew_FL says:

          “So” I’m not sure how reading Lewis, an Anglican, is supposed to convert Bob, a Protestant, to Catholicism.

          • Dan says:

            That’s not what he suggested. He said Kreeft was like a modern day Lewis and then mentioned some of Kreeft’s books that he liked. Nowhere did he say to read Lewis in order to become a Catholic.

            • Andrew_FL says:

              Okay but that’s not true, either. If Kreeft is a Catholic, he can’t be a modern day Lewis, because he’s a Catholic apologist and, as I said, Lewis was an Anglican.

              • Bob Murphy says:

                I mean, his name is Kreeft, so he can’t possibly be a Lewis. Duh.

              • Andrew_FL says:

                Bob, that’s just a non sequitur.

              • Jeffrey Singer says:


                Take a deep breath and review what I wrote in my first comment to Bob:

                “[Kreeft] is really a very talented writer and tackles some great basic Christian/philosophical themes (think of him as sort of a modern C.S. Lewis) in his “Socrates meets” books.”

                The Lewis reference is not to apologetic work, but to his other stuff that “tackles some great basic Christian/philosophical themes.”

                Kreeft can be two things at the same time:

                1) a wonderful Catholic apologist;

                2) a wonderful more general ecumenical Christian author, appropriate for Christians of all faiths.

                Kreeft is a man of many talents 🙂

              • Andrew_FL says:

                They advocated and wrote on behalf of distinct religions. This is not as fine as a distinction as putting it the way you are makes it seem.

  11. Craw says:

    The mind reels at the nonsense here, but to pick just one:
    “If Scripture is infallible, then its cause, the Church, must also be infallible.”
    This is fatuous. Don’t people argue that God works through fallible human beings? Doesn’t Bob Murphy argue that?? So then why cannot a perfect book be produced by fallible beings and institutions inspired or guided by god?

  12. Edgardo Tenreiro says:

    “So then why cannot a perfect book be produced by fallible beings and institutions inspired or guided by god?”

    For the same reason that Jesus could not be born of just any woman but one without original sin, conceived immaculately.

  13. guest says:

    The Apostles were merely restating what they got from God.

    Certain qualified people wrote scriptures (not “the Church”), but they didn’t “create” scripture. Therefore, the fact that Apostles refered to their own words in some places does not contradict the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.

    The Scripture is the rider – he’s got the analogy backward.

    • Jeffrey Singer says:

      Yes, I agree that various Apostles and other early witnesses to Jesus’ ministry wrote the New Testament books of the Bible inspired by the Holy Spirit — but that still begs the question of who (or rather what institution) decided on what books to include in the New Testament and make them official canon? It was the Church (either at Carthage or Rome in the late fourth century) that formalized the canon. No Church, no official Bible.

      • guest says:

        There’s not supposed to be an “official Bible”, if what is meant by that is that the Church is deciding what is Scripture based on ideas it came up with on its own.

        Rather, the Church *discovered* what writings werer Scripture based on consistency with OT writings, the Apostle’s words (which they got from God), and verified (at the time) first-hand accounts:

        How Were the Books of the Bible Compiled? (Video)
        [With transcript]

        “The central question with regards to the canon was: Does any particular book bear with it apostolic authority? Did a bona fide apostle who had authority write it, and therefore the authority would be in his word? Or was the book written by someone associated with a bona fide apostle close enough that it gives authority to his work? …”

        “… The early church didn’t just assemble a collection of books. Rather, there already was a collection of books that virtually everybody agreed had authority. …”

        “… It wasn’t just a matter a voting by a bunch of people who saw themselves as the authority. Rather, it was an act of Christian leaders who recognized the authority inherent in those books principally because of the apostolic connection that those books had.”

  14. moik rentz says:

    A horse and a rider are not one thing.

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