I read this quote at the Christian Research Institute's site:

One, the fact that Scripture, without tradition, is said to be “God-breathed” (theopnuestos) and thus by it believers are “competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, emphasis added) supports the doctrine of sola Scriptura. This flies in the face of the Catholic claim that the Bible is formally insufficient without the aid of tradition.

Does the Catholic Church officially claim anywhere that the Bible is insufficient without tradition?

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    What precisely do you take "formally insufficient" to mean in this quote? Commented May 23, 2017 at 19:09
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    Possible duplicate of What is the basis for not believing sola scriptura?
    – Geremia
    Commented May 23, 2017 at 20:05
  • @MattGutting, to be honest I cannot elaborate the meaning of "formally insufficient". But the word "insufficient" only as long as I know from my limited English is "not enough". So, "the Bible is formally not enough without the aid of tradition". But again, I don't know in what way is the "formal" in the pov of Catholic. And I wonder how about when it's "informal". Can it be like this : "the Bible is INformally sufficient without the aid of tradition" ? Anyway, my question is is there a written claim from the Catholic ?
    – karma
    Commented May 23, 2017 at 20:42
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    @Geremia, thank you for the link. But it doesn't answer my question. The link you gave me is talking about Sola Scriptura, while what I am asking is the written claim from the Catholic that "the Bible is formally not enough without the aid of tradition" .... (logically with my addition) : "that's why we reject Sola Scriptura, because the bible only is formally not enough".
    – karma
    Commented May 23, 2017 at 20:49
  • @curiousdannii, thank you for the editing.
    – karma
    Commented May 27, 2017 at 17:43

5 Answers 5


Yes she (Catholic Church) does. I've copied the pertinent parts from the previous poster's quotes to show this.

82 As a result the 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."

While it may or may not be true that her Tradition sources to apostles, since after all, the Orthodox say the same thing, yet the two groups contradict at a number of well known Tradition points, the whole point in answering your question is for them, Scripture alone as regards all things necessary for salvation, is incomplete. They are quite clear and open about this. Why someone would think otherwise is beyond the scope.

PS From the authentic Catholic mouth 1965:

Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed.


Can't be any clearer than that.

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    I acknowledged that Catholics believe Scripture and Tradition come from the same source and, to add, they believe from the beginning and from the "one true church", but that is not to say that they believe the truth that all things salvific may be found in Scripture only. For example, Mary's Assumption is not found in Scripture and Catholic believe it as de fide. As noted, they bolster Tradition authority to the level of Scripture, but even by doing this, they clearly and obviously believe Scripture alone is insufficient for all necessary salvation information.
    – SLM
    Commented May 24, 2017 at 15:59
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    Nowhere in this answer do you find a statement that Scripture is insufficient in an official utterance. Since that description is not used, it is unclear why you make this assertion. Commented May 25, 2017 at 14:00
  • Saying that "it is not from Sacred Scripture alone" simply means "the Church does not believe in sola scriptura ." This, I hope, isn't news to anybody. But it doesn't mean that Scripture is somehow deficient.
    – Wtrmute
    Commented May 27, 2017 at 13:46
  • If you're making the color orange, you need red and yellow. Red alone is deficient. Yellow alone is deficient. Both are required to achieve your goal.
    – SLM
    Commented May 27, 2017 at 16:26
  • @SLM, that is a wrong analogy with colors. According to your analogy red color is deficient but in reality is as much valuable(sufficient) as any other color. Catholics don't say that the Bible is insufficient without tradition but not the only source of truth, referencing the tradition as another source of truth.
    – Grasper
    Commented Jun 14, 2017 at 17:09

The assertion is based on a faulty premise

The Church does not teach that Scripture is insufficient; the authors' are putting their words into someone else's mouth.

The quoted statement about a claim by the Catholic church (unfounded, as the Church does not refer to scripture as insufficient) presents a question suffering from the fruits of the poisoned tree. The sola scriptura premise used to criticize the teaching of the relationship between Holy Tradition and Holy Scripture is a post hoc conclusion (arrived at by Luther and others) that is at odds with church history (in the macro sense).

  • A point worth remembering in challenging the frame of that assertion: Sola Scriptura did not become a lens through which to view the Faith until about 1300 years after the Church (in the macro sense) began.
  • It is a semantic trick to take the position of the direct relationship of Scripture and Tradition and then present it as a criticism of Scripture. The two authors are playing word games, in an article entitled "In Defense of Sola Scriptura."

Before the Reformation/Origin of Protestant Christianity, Tradition and Scripture were in a harmonious relationship (granted, not without a lot of argument, see various heresies and schisms). A sound argument can be made that without tradition and the lived faith of the faithful having carried forward from the first two generations of Christians -- who did the "boots on the ground" spreading of and teaching of the Gospel (the Good News of Jesus Christ)-- the NT would not have been put into written form. (1) But that's getting off topic and a bit "truthy" in nature). (2) This does not contradict the point the authors made about scripture being "God breathed." (3) It is bizarre to conclude, however, that God's breath only applies to someone subsequently taking a pen to paper, though after reading through that article again I am not sure that is an assertion of record.

The authors' bias presents a post hoc criticism and dishonestly presents the teaching of the Church in presenting the basis of your question. While the Catholic Church teaches that Holy Tradition and Holy Scripture have been bound together since the beginning, the authors' statement presents the view, that Scripture (which they as sola scriptura advocates hold as separate from Tradition) is being denigrated as insufficient. Yet the church does not use the term "insufficient" for Scripture.

The Church is not required to answer a loaded question

The answer on what the church teaches and believes is pretty simple, that Scripture and Tradition are directly related and have always been; it is dishonest of the authors to frame it otherwise and attempt to claim a wedge driven between Scripture and Tradition in Catholic teaching, rather than in their own opinion. (They are free to hold their own opinion).

Put another way, Tradition and Scripture have been together since the beginning. It is not a valid question to ask as framed (since it is based on a faulty premise) whether the Church's teaching renders Scripture as insufficient. The Church does not teach that about Scripture. Furthermore, when it reviews Holy Tradition one of the tests is that it not contradict Scripture.

CCC 81 and 82

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

"and [Holy] 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."

82 As a result the 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."

Note: per the question's tag this is necessarily a Catholic based answer.

A comment preserved as a footnote, originally to karma who asked the question: karma, I think you need to (1) consider the source and (2) understand what "spin" is. A significant variety of Protestant sects are avid in their efforts to condemn whatever it is the Catholic church teaches simply because it is the Catholic church, and will thus feel free to misrepresent what is taught in order to then condemn it. See also "burning strawmen." I do not doubt that the Catholic church leadership has also fallen into that mind set on some topics.

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    It would seem (no pun intended) that if there are truths of the faith which cannot be derived from Scripture alone, then Scripture alone is "insufficient without the aid of tradition" - insufficient, that is, to produce every truth of the faith. The provided quote from Timothy does not seem to conflict with this apparent conclusion, nor can it be used to derive sola scriptura; but the conclusion itself seems to hold. Commented May 24, 2017 at 17:35
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    I'm not asking about that. I'm asking about the conclusion I drew, which appears to me to be the focus of the question. If the Church teaches that it "does not derive [its] certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone", is it not true that it thereby teaches that "the Bible [alone] is ... insufficient [to derive all revealed truths]"? Commented May 24, 2017 at 17:52
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    @MattGutting The Church also teaches that holy tradition, to be the real thing (such stuff gets wrassled over in various councils) must not conflict with scripture. Did you leave out that part on purpose? Mary's Assumption cannot be in conflict with scripture (it isn't). As with much else in Christianity, the Church (write large) has had to fill in a lot of gaps. It's still on going 2000 years later in Protestant Circles as well as in others. Oh, but wait, under Sola Scriptura and Perspicacity, they'd not need to go into any of that effort -- it's CLEAR! Yet they still do. Commented May 24, 2017 at 17:54
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    The question is not based on a false premise, it's just based on ordinary English language usage. Catholics use terminology differently and no matter how much you may feel your own definitions are justified, when you are answering a question like this it's only fair to note that –as used by those that make this assertion in the first place– the assertion holds. In normal English parlance If A ≠ C but A + B = C then A by itself is insufficient to make C. You believe A and B are joined at the hip, but this is exactly why the Reformation formulated sola scriptura in the first place.
    – Caleb
    Commented May 25, 2017 at 14:23
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    What would be wrong with just owning it? Catholics don't believe in sola scriptura as defined by Protestants. And as asked by this question, yes the Catholic church does teach that Tradition must be taken into account in order to complete ones' understanding of the Scriptures. We can disagree about that all day long but it's a lot better point to start a discussion from than to have you try to deny it. Anything else and you end up just talking past each other.
    – Caleb
    Commented May 25, 2017 at 14:26

A better question is: Is Tradition also a medium of divinely revealed truth?

If so, then it is on par with Holy Scripture.

First, is the Word of God intrinsically something which is written word?

Scripture itself calls the oral teaching of the Apostles, under inspiration of the Holy Ghost, the Word of God. We know, therefore, that the Word of God cannot be said to be exclusively, or intrinsically, written, at least necessarily:

1 Thessalonians 2:13

Therefore we give thanks to God without ceasing: because that when you had received of us the word of the hearing of God you received it not as the word of men but (as it is indeed) the word of God, who worketh in you that have believed.

So the answer is no, the Word of God can be preached and still remain to be the Word of God (if you took Scripture away after you had preached it, you would have nonetheless preached the Word of God [1 Cor 15:2], proving its written component being accidental, in the 'consequence' or philisophical sense).

The Apostles also conveyed revelation in the form of Tradition: oral, i.e. handed-on, teachings which are to be held to be the truth just as the epistles are held to be truth in the Church.

2 Thessalonians 2:15

Therefore, brethren, stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word*, or by our epistle.

* spoken word

This further and concretely and explicitly tells us the Word of God is both Scripture and Tradiiton. Since here, Tradition is defined as epistle (written Word of God) and oral Tradition (not a game of telephone—teaching that was simply not written teaching, but which was to nonetheless form the faith of the Church in the same way).

Since oral and written epistle form are two veins of the one term 'Tradition', or, as we might say 'deposit of faith', we cannot only accept one or the other—you'll notice the 'or' here does not have that meaning; it isn't a choice between the oral tradition and the written. We are to hold fast to both. Written Scripture is merely the crystalized Tradition, or Word of God, as oral Tradiiton is.

They would not be distinguished like this if only the written Word is the Word of God.

In Matthew 28:20 we read that Christ taught His disciples to teach everything He had commanded. Yet we read twice in John's Gospel that Christ's actions were not all written down (Jn 21:25). In fact, he uses strong hypberbole to convey this point: all the world could not contain all that could be written of what Jesus said and did.

Asking if removing something will not change anything that will affect your salvation is to question the validity of giving that Tradition in the first place. Did St. Paul suggest tradition, or did he hand it on to be believed just as the rest of his epistles were (1 Cor 11:2)?

Is the light of a fire sufficient enough to constitute a fire? No, it by definition causes the heat. Asking if the the light alone is sufficient is to question the nature of fire. Similarly, questioning the oral and written components of the Word of God is to do the same; namely, question the nature of divine revelation.

As we saw from Scripture, the Word of God, the Tradition or deposit of faith handed on through the Apostles, is both written and oral in nature.

Some Protestants argue that Scripture itself says Scripture alone is sufficient. In reality, any supposed Scriptural evidence neglect or ignore one simple fact: none of the provided texts are actually exclusive.

For one example,

2 Timothy 3:16-17

All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.

Notice what this says: all of the Scripture is inspired. It is helpful for (profitable, helpes toward the end of—) making you able or equiped for ever good work.

It doesn't say only Scripture is inspired. It doesn't say that it exclusively achieves the benefits described.

To make matters worse, it doesn't even include the New Testament, since they didn't exist in its entirety when this was written. It referred to the Tanakh, or Old Testament.

In fact, the same is said to result or be the benefit of purging oneself of bad works (2 Timothy 2:21).

The faith does not only consist in reading the Scriptures, but interpreting them (which itself implies access to an orthodox interpretation of the Church—including and taking into consideration Tradition), applying it (the same applies here), living it.


The CCC says no such thing. The part of the Catechism which covers Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture stretch from Paragraphs 74 to 141. While it is perhaps not convenient to transcribe this somewhat large section of the Catechism in this answer, I will select a few paragraphs which speak more directly of Scripture and its relation to 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." Dei Verbum 7; cf. Mt 28:19-20; Mk 16:15

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";DV 7

  • 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".DV 7

. . . 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."DV 7 # 2; St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 3, 3, 1: PG 7/1, 848; Harvey, 2, 9. 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."DV 8 # 1

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."DV 8 # 1 "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."DV 8 # 3

Therefore, the Church understands Tradition to be the preaching of the Gospel, preached from teacher to disciple, down from the time of the Apostles; and this teaching has, by Divine grace of the Holy Spirit, been kept whole and entire.

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".Mt 28:20

. . . two distinct modes of transmission

81 "Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit."DV 9

"and [Holy] 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."DV 9

82 As a result the 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."DV 9

Therefore, both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition transmit the Word of God, and both must be honoured as manifestations of the Gospel that Our Lord preached to his Apostles and, through them, down to us.

134 "All Sacred Scripture is but one book, and that one book is Christ, because all divine Scripture speaks of Christ, and all divine Scripture is fulfilled in Christ" (Hugh of St. Victor, De arca Noe 2, 8: PL 176, 642).

As you can see, a lot of these paragraphs draw themes and quotes from the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, which was one of the documents published by the Vatican II Council. In it, the understanding of the Conciliar Fathers about Scripture and Tradition are laid out in some detail. I'd like to quote a section, from article 11, regarding Sacred Scripture:

Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings (5) for the sake of salvation. Therefore "all Scripture is divinely inspired and has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error, for reformation of manners and discipline in right living, so that the man who belongs to God may be efficient and equipped for good work of every kind" (2 Tim. 3:16-17, Greek text).

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    The cognitive dissonance here is almost tangible. You start out saying "no", then the entire rest of your answer makes the case for "yes".
    – Caleb
    Commented May 25, 2017 at 8:31
  • @Caleb Glad to see that the inter-denominational polemics continue when we allegedly don't do that here. As I was putting my answer together I began to see what was going on ... and had some misgivings about answering at all. Commented May 25, 2017 at 14:03
  • @Caleb The cognitive dissonance exists if you start by assuming that we don't need Tradition because Scripture exists. This is the point of sola scriptura and the underlying assumption in the article the OP links to. Regardless, the question was about what the Church claims, and this is it. Should I add in the anathemas from Trent?
    – Wtrmute
    Commented May 27, 2017 at 13:41
  • Sometimes I wonder, is it a particular tradition which Christian don't need because Scripture exist ? I feel strange - because if it is "we don't need ANY tradition, because Scripture exist" - then my mind raise a question: "then why do Christian celebrate Christmas ?"
    – karma
    Commented Jun 2, 2017 at 3:59
  • @karma Most non-Catholic Christian traditions didn't celebrate Christmas and considered it heretical, though that has been fading. Some groups do believe that we don't need any tradition and simply roughly test their own understanding of a passage with historical understandings of fervent believers as a hint to help limit error. Such groups tend to question practices like Christmas.
    – DKing
    Commented Jun 13, 2017 at 17:29

The Catholic Church follows Scripture itself, in claiming that the Word of God is not reduced to the Written Page, but is also from Oral Tradition: 2 Thessalonians 2:15 (New International Version)

"So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter."

  • +1 for quoting NIV, one of the most evangelical and Protestant translations, in support of Catholic Tradition. Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 21:27

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