Ultimate Authority

A Contrast of Two Foundations:

Presented by Richard Bennett, Former Dominican Missionary Priest of 21 Years


I.   Final Authority - The Bible


A.            Statement: The Bible is the sufficient basis for all truth.

B.            Scripture:


1.      Matthew 4:4  But he [Jesus] answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”

2.      St. John 17:17  Jesus said, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.”

3.      Proverbs 30:5-6  Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.”

4.      Psalm 119:160  Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever.”

5.      Psalm 138:2  I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.”

6.      St. Mark 7:7-9,13  Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men... And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition... Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.”

7.      Timothy 3:16-17  All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.”

8.      Isaiah 8:20  To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”

9.      Psalm 36:9  For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light.”

II. Final Authority - The Roman Catholic Church


A.            Statement: For Roman Catholicism, the basis for truth is not just the Bible, but also tradition and what is proposed as divinely revealed by the Roman Catholic Church. Of these three sources, the ultimate authority is the decision and decrees of the reigning pope.


B.            Vatican Council II Documents [1]


1.   No. 58, Dei Verbum, 18 Nov. 1965, Vol. I,

      Sec. 10, p. 756  “It is clear, therefore, that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the [Roman Catholic] Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others.”


2.      Sec. 10, p. 755  “But the task of giving an authentic inter-pretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the [Roman Catholic] Church alone.”


3.      Sec. 9, p. 755  “Thus it comes about that the [Roman Catholic] Church does not draw her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Hence, both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal feelings of devotion and reverence.”


4.   No. 28, Lumen Gentium, 21 Nov. 1964, Vol. I,

      Sec. 25, p. 379  “... This loyal submission of the will and intellect must be given, in a special way, to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff...”


C.  Post-Vatican Council II Canon Law [2]


1.      Canon 750  “All that is contained in the written word of God or in tradition, that is, in the one deposit of faith entrusted to the [Roman Catholic] Church and also proposed as divinely revealed either by the solemn magisterium of the [Roman Catholic] Church or by its ordinary and universal magisterium, must be believed with the divine catholic faith...”


2.      Canon 749  “The Supreme Pontiff, in virtue of his office, posses infallible teaching authority when, as the supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful . . . he proclaims with a definitive act that a doctrine of faith or morals is to be held as such.”


3.      Canon 333  “There is neither appeal nor recourse against a decision or decree of the Roman Pontiff.” (Sec. 3)


4.      Canon 212  “The Christian faithful, conscious of their own responsibility, are bound by Christian obedience to follow what the sacred pastors, as representatives of Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or determine as leaders of the [Roman Catholic] Church.” (Sec 1)


D.            Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994) [3]


1.      Para. 77  “In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church, the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them ‘their own position of teaching authority.’ Indeed, ‘the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time.’”


      Comment:  Nowhere in Scripture is there a reference to the existence of apostolic succession. The New Testament does not present the apostle Peter as ruling over all the apostles. He is in fact an elder among elders as he himself states that he is in 1 Peter 5:1-4. Peter never mentioned an overall authority. There is no Biblical text for these power-endowing sentences of the new Catechism. Para. 77 is an example of so-called “truth” by decree.


2.      Para. 78  “This living transmission, accomplished by in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition, since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it. Through Tradition, ‘the [Roman Catholic] Church, in her doctrine, life, and worship perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes.’ ‘The sayings of the holy Fathers are a witness to the life-giving presence of this Tradition, showing how its riches are poured out in the practice and life of the Church, in her belief and her prayer.’”


      Comment:  Far from presenting the straightforward Biblical message of salvation in Jesus Christ alone, Rome explicitly states that she “transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes.” This she refers to as being “accomplished in the Holy Spirit.” Colossians 2:8 sounds the warning against such man-made tradition, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”


3.      Para. 80  “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together and communicate one with another. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine wellspring, come together in some fashion to form one thing and move towards the same goal.”


4.      Para. 81  Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit.

            And [Holy]*[4] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound, and spread it abroad by their preaching.”


5.      Para. 82  “As a result the [Roman Catholic] Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of revelation is entrusted, ‘does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.’”


6.      Para. 85  “The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of tradition, has been entrusted to the living, teaching office of the [Roman Catholic] Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.”


Comment: Why would anyone be motivated to read the Bible if he is not allowed to let the Bible interpret itself? (Psalm 36:9;  2 Peter 1:20-21).


7.      Para. 87  “Mindful of Christ’s words to His apostles: ‘He who hears you, hears me,’ the faithful receive with docility the teachings and directives that their pastors give them in different forms [i.e., either Scripture or Tradition].”


      Comment: Consistent with Roman Catholic teaching, the new Catechism teaches that the apostles have entrusted a “sacred deposit”, i.e., Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, to the Roman Catholic Church. Based on the scheme of so-called “apostolic succession”, the proof-text used to back up this modern pharisaic position is found in St. Luke 10:16, “He that heareth you heareth me...” These words were spoken by Jesus to the seventy additional disciples that He sent out, not to the twelve apostles at all. There is no Biblical basis for Rome’s position at all.


8.      Para. 67  “Throughout the ages, there have been so-called ‘private’ revelations, some of which have been recognised by the authority of the Church. They do not belong however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. guided by the magisterium of the [Roman Catholic] Church, the sensus fidelium knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes a authentic call of Christ of his saints to the Church.”


      Comment: According to Rome’s teaching, while ordinary Catholics may be vehicles for extra-Biblical revelation, discernment of the authenticity of such revelation does not extend to the ordinary Catholics themselves. rather, it must be fed through the magisterium of the “Church” which does claim such authority (see also Canon 750 above). Rome rationalises acceptance of other sources of extra-Biblical revelation by stating that the ordinary faithful Catholics welcome whatever the magisterium of the Roman Church guides them into accepting. She consolidates her power over the rank and file by denying that revelation is complete and definitive. The bible warns us not to think above that which is written.[5] Here Rome gives acceptance to private extra-Biblical revelations, but only at her discretion. What follows from such unbiblical doctrine is, for example, the tide of acceptance of apparitions of Mary and her “works” gospel.


III.     Conclusion


The principle of Sola Scriptura, the written word of God alone, being the ultimate authority, is clearly demonstrated in the Old and New Testaments. In the New Testament, it is the written word of God alone to which the Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles refer as the final authority. In His temptation, Jesus three times resisted Satan saying, “It is written” as for example, in Matthew 4:4, “But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” Furthermore, in refuting the errors of the Sadducees, the Lord Jesus said, “...Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures nor the power of God.[6]

The Lord’s total acceptance of God’s written word is evident in all His quotations from the Old Testament.

Concerning ultimate authority, the Lord Jesus always appealed to the final authority of Biblical written truth, and never once to tradition. In fact, it was on this very point of accepting tradition as equal to or more important that the written word that Jesus severely castigates the Pharisees and scribes of Judaism. The Lord Himself, the apostles, and the early believers all stood firm on the written word of God as authoritative, as Jesus proclaimed to God the Father, “Thy word is truth.” (St. John 17:17)

[1]Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post-Conciliar Documents, Austin P. Flannery, Editor, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. (Grand Rapids, MI), 2 Vols., 1984. Bolding in any quotation indicates emphasis added in this compilation.

[2]Code of Canon Law, Latin-English edition, Canon Law Society of America (Washington, DC), 1983. Unless otherwise stated, all canons cited are taken from this source.

[3]Catechism of the Catholic Church (Liguori Publications: Liguori, MO 63057) 1994. This edition is the same as the Veritas edition published in Ireland, 1994.

[4]Square brackets followed by an asterisk [ ]* indicates that this bracket is in the original document.

[5]1 Corinthians 4:6

[6]Matthew 22:29