Does 2 Timothy 3:16–17 Sinks the Catholic Position on Sola Scriptura?

Question: Why does James White maintain that 2 Timothy 3:16-17 sinks the Catholic position on Sola Scriptura?


His allegation that “Catholics just can’t answer 2 Timothy 3:16,17” is a lie. I demolished him on this on a BBS several years ago. How soon he forgets. As usual Mr. White leaves out the context which tells you what the verse is all about:

2 Timothy 3:12-17: Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Note verse 14. It admonishes Timothy to do three things:

1) Remember what you have learned and firmly believed (Tradition)
2) Know from whom you learned it (Magisterium)
3) Know you have the Scriptures

The Bible on St. Paul’s list comes in third, not first. He actually gives here the traditional Catholic teaching on the three sources of sound teaching.

In verse 15 he goes into an excursus on the Bible. This brief excursus emphasizes the value of the Bible and recommends a fourfold method of exegesis. This verse was used in the pre-Deformation Church as a proof text for the Quadriga which was the standard Catholic approach to the Bible. The Quadriga method used the following four categories:

Literal/Literary (teaching) – the text as it is written Analogical (reproof) – matters of faith Anagogical (correction) – matters of hope/prophecy Moral (training in righteousness) – matters of charity

The analogical, anagogical and moral senses of the Bible were known collectively as the spiritual senses.

Now also note that St. Paul says that St. Timothy has known the Scriptures “from childhood.” We know that Timothy was of Jewish extraction through his mother and that St. Paul circumcised him as an adult (the pagan Greeks thought that circumcision was a horrible mutilation of the perfection of the human body and even some Greek Jews did not do it at that time).

Acts 16:3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews that were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.

Consequently, St. Timothy had known the Bible from childhood because he was Jewish. There was no New Testament at the time this epistle was written or when Timothy was a child, so it is the writings of the Old Testament that are being recommended to him, NOT our two testament Bible.

Now we must take this section as a whole to understand St. Paul’s teaching here. He told St. Timothy that he should hold to sound doctrine and not be led astray by “impostors” and “deceivers.” He gives the sources of sound Christian doctrine to be the traditions of the Church as handed on by its authoritative teachers (including himself) along with the OT scriptures. He admonishes St. Timothy not to ignore the Jewish Scriptures because they were inspired by God and are full of good information on how to live in accordance with God’s will.

It is by adding the teaching of the OT Scriptures to the traditions and the authoritative teaching of the Apostles that the man of God is made “fully equipped for every good work.” It is not by the Scriptures alone.

I hope this clarifies the matter.

By Art Sippo

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Note: While content aims to align with Catholic teachings, any inconsistencies or errors are unintended. For precise understanding, always refer to authoritative sources like the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Always double-check any quotes for word-for-word accuracy with the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

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