Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Refuting Matt Slick's "Did the Roman Catholic Church Give Us the Bible?"

On his CARM website, Matt Slick argues that the Catholic Church did not give us God’s Word.  And so, the Church would agree, because we believe the source of God’s Word is God.  He also is the source of authority in His Church.  However, Mr. Slick seems willing to misrepresent the Church’s claims and teachings, and so is willing to engage in deception in order to make his point.  This deception will be evident throughout his article, and will show itself no more than two sentences into his argument.

 The Catholic Church, what many people today call the “Roman Catholic Church”, did indeed decide which books and letters were to be included in the Canon of Scripture.  Martin Luther, one of the so-called "Pillars of the Reformation” made this point clear.  To claim otherwise, there are some things that Mr. Slick is going to have to explain.  Among them are:  1) how did the Church come to know, without doubt, which books belong in the Canon of Scripture; 2) is the known Canon a fallible list, or an infallible list; 3) what did the Church look like/teach, that which declared “these books are the Word of God and are to be included in the Canon of Scripture”?

 Mr. Slick will be quoted verbatim, his words appearing in black.  My responses will follow in blue. 

 “Roman Catholics often say that it was their church that gave us the Bible. They sometimes claim this when defending their "Sacred Tradition" so that they might support extra-biblical teachings such as purgatory, penance, indulgences, and Mary worship.”

 Well, that didn’t take long.  Only two sentences in, and we have a gross misrepresentation of the Catholic Church.  Sure, it can be said that this argument, that “the Church gave us the Bible,” is used to defend Sacred Tradition; after all, without Sacred Tradition, we wouldn’t know which books/letters to include in the Canon of Scripture.  I would even allow, after much clarification, that “purgatory, penances, and indulgences” are “extra-biblical”…even though that’s not quite true.  But to say, “so they might support…teachings such as…Mary worship” is an outright falsehood.  Catholics don’t worship Mary any more than Matt Slick worships his own parents.  But, that’s a whole different topic.  Suffice it to say that Mr. Slick is not reliable for presenting correct information and is prone to misrepresenting the Church.  Given his history and multiple corrections by Catholic apologists, I have no problem in saying that his act is deliberate.  Mr. Slick, did you intentionally misrepresent the Church, or was this in ignorance?

But let’s get back to the actual topic of where the Bible comes from, shall we? 

  “They often say that the only way the Christian church knew what books are to be included in the Canon of Scripture was because it was revealed by word-of-mouth in the early church, that is, by the tradition of the Catholic Church.”

That’s not actually true.  Nowhere does the Church claim that “the only way the Christian church knew what books are to be included in the Canon of Scripture was because it was revealed by word-of-mouth”.  Matt is misrepresenting the Church yet again, and making a false claim as to what the Church teaches about the Canon of Scripture.  The contents of the Canon of Scripture were revealed by God to His Church via the Holy Spirit, just as Christ promised (Jn 16:13, 14:26; Lk 10:16; Mt 28:19-20; cff. Acts 15:28; etc.).   

 “Unfortunately, this argument implies that tradition is superior to Scripture. Of course, we are not saying that the Roman Catholic church teaches that tradition is above Scripture. But when Sacred Tradition is claimed to be the thing by which Scripture is given, then tradition is inadvertently the thing that gives blessing and approval to the Bible. “

 Actually, our argument says that ALL of God’s Word, both written and oral, is equally important.  We do not discredit the spoken Word of God just because it isn’t written in the Scriptures.  In fact, the Scriptures themselves tell us to hold fast to BOTH the written AND oral Word (2Thess 2:15).  Is there a reason we should ignore that part of Scripture and discredit the spoken Word?  Is God not able to bless and approve the books He wants in the Bible by telling His Church, in a manner other than written form, which books He wants included in the Canon? 

 “Heb. 7:7 says, "But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater."  The unfortunate psychological effect of saying that Roman Catholic tradition is what gave us the Bible is that it elevates their tradition to a level far greater than what is permitted in Scripture. In fact, it is contradicted by Scripture:”

 Whoa!  Hang on a bit.  Did Matt Slick just say that God’s spoken Word, the "living transmission accomplished in the Holy Spirit" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 75-80), is “lesser” than His written?  I have a hunch he didn’t think this one through.  First of all, God’s *whole* Word is Jesus Christ.  And Scripture is clear that we are to hold fast to both the oral AND the written Word.  Further, it was by the "living transmission accomplished in the Holy Spirit" (Sacred Tradition) that the Gospel message was proclaimed to all the Gentiles until the written Word began to be written, little by little. 

Our “tradition” isn’t what Catholics claim gave us the Canon.  It is Sacred Tradition.  Matt can either admit he is misrepresenting the Church and its claim, or he can continue arguing what is known as a “strawman fallacy” (yourlogicalfallacyis.com).    Either way, his position is one based in deception. 

 “"Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that in us you might learn not to exceed what is written, in order that no one of you might become arrogant in behalf of one against the other," (1 Cor. 4:6).  The Bible tells us to obey the Word of God--to not go beyond the written Word (1 Cor. 4:6).”

 This is another misapplication of Scripture, but not as grievous as the one above.  There are many sources that delve into why this verse is misapplied by Mr. Slick.  Suffice it to say that this verse does NOT say that God’s spoken Word is in excess of “what is written”.  Remember 2Thess 2:15?  We have to “obey the Word of God” there as well.  In Matt’s use of Scripture, these passages contradict each other, and Scripture cannot contradict itself.  (Never mind the actual context of 1Cor 4:6…say, the REST of the chapter?) 

Still, this does nothing at all to address the fact that, without the Catholic Church saying so, Christians would not know what books and letters are to be considered the inspired Word of God.
How about, “Mr. Slick, without going “
beyond what is written”, please list for me the Canon of the NT.

 “Unfortunately, the problem with an elevated status of Roman Catholic church tradition is that it results in various justifications of its non-biblical teachings such as prayer to Mary, purgatory, indulgences, penance, works of righteousness, etc.  Because it has deviated from trusting God's Word alone, it has ventured into unscriptural areas.”

 Some of these things ARE Biblical.  But let’s pretend they aren’t and that Sacred Tradition is the sole source for these.  Why is that a problem for Mr. Slick?  Why is it a problem that God’s Word comes to His Church both orally and in writing?  Using this logic, can’t we just as well say that Christ never should have spoken in His ministry, and should rather have just written everything down?  

“Nevertheless, did the Roman Catholic Church give us the Bible? No, it did not.”

 I could actually agree with this.  The Church doesn’t claim to have given us the Bible as Mr. Slick understands "the Bible".  God did that.  And He did it via His Catholic Church, revealing to His Church which books/letters were to be included in the Canon of Scripture through the Holy Spirit, without writing down a table of contents for them to go by.   

 “First of all, the Roman Catholic Church was not really around as an organization in the first couple hundred years of the Christian Church. The Christian church was under persecution, and official church gatherings were very risky in the Roman Empire due to the persecution. Catholicism, as an organization with a central figure located in Rome, did not occur for quite some time in spite of its claim they can trace the papacy back to Peter.”

And a very simple and cursory study of Christian history will dispel this myth, even using non-Catholic historians such as J.N.D. Kelley.  Yes, the early Church was persecuted and gatherings were indeed risky.  Yet they still gathered and wrote and died for their faith.  And the religion was as Catholic then as it is today.  Is it a coincidence that the people who were dying for their faith were writing “Catholic” things?  Is it just a coincidence that we have no writings from Christians in the early years that contended against then-Catholic beliefs that are still held by the Catholic Church today?  The first Christians were all Catholic, and their written testimonies and martyrdoms testify to their Catholic faith. 

 “Second, the Christian Church recognized what was Scripture. It did not establish it. This is a very important point. The Christian Church recognizes what God has inspired and pronounces that recognition. In other words, it discovers what is already authentic. Jesus said, "my sheep hear my voice and they follow me . . . ," (John 10:27). The church hears the voice of Christ, that is, it recognizes what is inspired, and it follows the Word. It does not add to it as the Roman Catholic Church has done. Therefore, it is not following the voice of Christ.”

 And how exactly does this happen, Matt?  The Catholic Church gives a hearty “AMEN!” to Christ’s sheep hearing His Voice to come to know the Scriptures.  That’s how the Church decided the official Canon of Scripture.  So, without going “beyond what is written”, please tell me how Christians knew what God had inspired and how they pronounced that recognition, and whether their pronouncement of it is fallible, or infallible.  Recall that there was much controversy amongst early Christians as to which books should or should not be included in the Canon.  Which of them were right, and which were wrong, and how do you know?  And are you only “fallibly” sure about that?  In other words, might you, and they, be wrong?

 “Third, the Roman Catholic Church did not give us the Old Testament which is the Scripture to which Christ and the apostles appealed. If the Roman Catholic Church wants to state that it gave us the Bible, then how can they rightfully claim to have given us the Old Testament which is part of the Bible? It didn't, so it cannot make that claim. The fact is that the followers of God, the true followers of God, recognize what is and is not inspired. “

 And again, this misrepresents what the Church actually claims.

 “Fourth, when the apostles wrote the New Testament documents, they were inspired by the power of the Holy Spirit. There wasn't any real issue of whether or not they were authentic. Their writings did not need to be deemed worthy of inclusion in the Canon of Scripture by a later group of men in the so-called Roman Catholic Church. To make such a claim is--in effect--to usurp the natural power and authority of God Himself that worked through the Apostles.”

Actually, there was a great deal of contention about several books and letters.  There are “Gospels” and other writings that are not included in the current Cannon of Scripture that were purported to be from Apostles and their followers.  And the Church didn’t “deem worthy of inclusion” any of God’s Word.  That’s yet another misrepresentation by Mr. Slick (and a good reason not to waste one’s time at his website).  The Catholic claim that God worked through His Church to decide the Canon of Scripture doesn’t usurp anything.  It’s simply an excellent example of yielding to God’s authority, obeying His command, and trusting in what He promised.

 “Fifth, the Scripture says, "But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God," (2 Pet. 1:20-21). “

 AMEN!!  If this isn’t irony, I don’t know what is.  This is exactly why Catholics don’t adhere to sola Scriptura…because “no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation”.  It’s also exactly why we recognize that God’s spoken Word is alive in His Church which is led by the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus said, and just as this passage alludes to.  What Catholics DON’T do is assume that each of us is infallibly led by the Spirit.  We believe that Christ’s Church is, because Christ said it would be.  But we recognize our own personal fallibility, and so submit ourselves to Christ’s Church, the “pillar and bulwark of truth” (1Tim 3:15). 

 “The Bible tells us that the Scriptures are inspired by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the very nature of the inspired documents is that they carry power and authenticity in themselves. They are not given the power or the authenticity of ecclesiastical declaration.”

 AMEN again!!  (Sort of.)  But this still doesn’t tell us how we know WHICH books and letters are God’s Word to begin with.  No book or letter in the Canon of Scripture claims itself to be the inspired Word of God.  And many of them don’t appear to be written with the expectation that they would be considered such.  So, how do we really know, and are we only fallibly certain?  Mr. Slick has no answer for that.  Nor does anyone who adheres to sola Scriptura. 

 The Christian church as an earthly organization recognized the Word of God (John 10:27).”

 According to John 10:27, they recognized the SPOKEN Word of God.  This passage flies in the face of Matt Slick’s argument because it attests to the importance and permanence of God’s Word “voice[d]” through Christ, not written by Him.     

 “It didn't give us the Word of God.”

 But the Church DID declare, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which books/letters are to be included in the Canon of Scripture; and THAT is what the Church claims.   

“Also, it was the Jews who gave us the Old Testament. [Snip/paste, to include a repetitive claim at this point].   Furthermore, the Roman Catholic Church did not give us the Old Testament. The Jews did. How can the RCC claim that it gave us the Bible when it did not give us the Old Testament?”

 Which Jews, and which version of the Old Testament?  The Greek/Hellenist Jews who had the Septuagint (the current OT Canon used by the Catholic Church)?  Or the Pharisees/Hebrew Jews who rejected Christ and rejected the Deuterocanon which the Greek Jews accepted?

 “The authenticity of the New Testament documents rests in the inspiration of God through the apostles--not the Catholic Church.”

 But how do we know which ones are to be included in the list of the New Testament documents?  How do we know they were inspired, or even who authored all of them?  What about the letters claiming to be written by Apostles and their disciples that are now considered apocryphal?  Matt Slick has no Biblical answer for this.

 “Finally, when the Catholic Church claims that it is the source of the sacred Scriptures, it is--in effect--placing itself above the Word of God by claiming that through its authority, we received the Word of God.”

 Except that isn’t what the Church claims.  The main basis of Slick’s argument, and the conclusion to his entire premise, is based on misrepresenting the Church.  This is deception on Mr. Slick’s part, either willfully or in ignorance.  Which is it, Mr. Slick?


  1. Hi Dave. Great article. I would just encourage you to expand your definition of Sacred Tradition as the "oral word of God" to "this living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit" as stated in section 78 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church below.

    To me, the phrase "oral word" has the connotation of ending with the last Apostle. To the contrary, we know that the Holy Spirit will guide the Bride of Christ, that is His Church until our Lord returns again.

    Catechism of the Catholic Church

    I. The Apostolic Tradition

    75 “Christ the Lord, in whom the entire Revelation of the most high God is summed up, commanded the apostles to preach the Gospel, which had been promised beforehand by the prophets, and which he fulfilled in his own person and promulgated with his own lips. In preaching the Gospel, they were to communicate the gifts of God to all men. This Gospel was to be the source of all saving truth and moral discipline.”32 (171)
    In the apostolic preaching...

    76 In keeping with the Lord’s command, the Gospel was handed on in two ways:

    — orally “by the apostles who handed on, by the spoken word of their preaching, by the example they gave, by the institutions they established, what they themselves had received—whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or whether they had learned it at the prompting of the Holy Spirit”;33

    — in writing “by those apostles and other men associated with the apostles who, under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, committed the message of salvation to writing.”34

    ...continued in apostolic succession

    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.’”35 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.”36 (861)

    78 *This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition*, since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it. Through Tradition, “the Church, in her doctrine, life, and worship perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes.”37 “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.”38 (174, 1124, 2651)

    79 The Father’s self-communication made through his Word in the Holy Spirit, remains present and active in the Church: *“God, who spoke in the past, continues to converse with the Spouse of his beloved Son.* And the Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the Gospel rings out in the Church—and through her in the world—leads believers to the full truth, and makes the Word of Christ dwell in them in all its richness.”39

    II. The Relationship Between Tradition and Sacred Scripture

    One common source...

    80 “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing and move towards the same goal.”40 Each of them makes present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ, who promised to remain with his own “always, to the close of the age.”41
    ...two distinct modes of transmission

    Reference Notes:

    32 DV 7; cf. Mt 28:19-20; Mk 16:15.
    33 DV 7.
    34 DV 7.
    35 DV 7 § 2; St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 3, 3, 1: PG 7, 848; Harvey, 2, 9.
    36 DV 8 § 1.
    37 DV 8 § 1.
    38 DV 8 § 3.
    39 DV 8 § 3; cf. Col 3:16.
    40 DV 9.
    41 Mt 28:20.

    1. Michael, thanks for the excellent feedback and the citation of the Catechism. I did go back and edit this evening (to cut it back by about 300-400 words), and I included your suggestion as well. :-)
      In Christ,

  2. Who is Matt Slick? (Like John Galt) Nice detailed post and response. Timely for me for many reasons. Thanks.

    1. You're welcome. To answer your question, Matt Slick is an anti-Catholic who, unlike certain other Christians who simply disagree with our Catholic faith, is willing to misrepresent it in order to paint Christ's Church as something other than Christian. He runs "CARM", the "Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry", which I have found to be anything other than Christian when it comes to charity and dialog.