I was reading this entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia about the theological concept of Tradition (as a source of revealed truth different from the Scripture). The author states that the Protestant rejection of tradition lead to logical inconsistencies in their doctrine/practice (if I understood it correctly). I would like to know which are some replies from Protestant theology to these comments. I show below some key paragraphs:

Now in this respect there are several points of controversy between Catholics and every body of Protestants. Is all revealed truth consigned to Holy Scripture? or can it, must it, be admitted that Christ gave to His Apostles to be transmitted to His Church, that the Apostles received either from the very lips of Jesus or from inspiration or Revelation, Divine instructions which they transmitted to the Church and which were not committed to the inspired writings? ... The Protestant principle is: The Bible and nothing but the Bible; the Bible, according to them, is the sole theological source; there are no revealed truths save the truths contained in the Bible; according to them the Bible is the sole rule of faith: by it and by it alone should all dogmatic questions be solved; it is the only binding authority. Catholics, on the other hand, hold that there may be, that there is in fact, and that there must of necessity be certain revealed truths apart from those contained in the Bible; they hold furthermore that Jesus Christ has established in fact, and that to adapt the means to the end He should have established, a living organ as much to transmit Scripture and written Revelation as to place revealed truth within reach of everyone always and everywhere.

... it is impossible to be satisfied with the Bible alone for the solution of all dogmatic questions. ... Catholic controversialists soon proved to the Protestants that to be logical and consistent they must admit unwritten traditions as revealed. Otherwise by what right did they rest on Sunday and not on Saturday? How could they regard infant baptism as valid, or baptism by infusion? How could they permit the taking of an oath, since Christ had commanded that we swear not at all? ... Where is it indicated in the Bible that the Bible is the sole source of faith?

In a similar way [controversies] show that [Protestants] cannot dispense with a teaching authority, a Divinely authorized living magistracy for the solution of controversies arising among themselves and of which the Bible itself was often the occasion. Indeed experience proved that each man found in the Bible his own ideas ... One man found the Real Presence, another a purely symbolic presence, another some sort of efficacious presence. The exercise of free inquiry with regard to Biblical texts led to endless disputes, to doctrinal anarchy, and eventually to the denial of all dogma. These disputes, anarchy, and denial could not be according to the Divine intention. Hence the necessity of a competent authority to solve controversies and interpret the Bible. To say that the Bible was perfectly clear and sufficient to all was obviously a retort born of desperation, a defiance of experience and common sense. Catholics refuted it without difficulty, and their position was amply justified when the Protestants began compromising themselves with the civil power, rejecting the doctrinal authority of the ecclesiastical magisterium only to fall under that of princes.

I am sorry for the long quotes, but I think they provide the line of argument to be counterattacked.

It seems, according to this question, that Luther, Calvin, and Wesley were against the Magisterium (and thus against the Tradition?), by stating that the Scripture is the sole source of revealed truth.

So the question is, how do Protestant theologies defend the aforementioned attacks of logical inconsistency, namely that there is necessarily a dogmatic choice involved in their theology which cannot be supported by the Holy Scripture?

Notice that I am not particularly interested in defences of specific instances given in the text (e.g. rest on Sundays), but rather on the more general principle of how unwritten traditions adopted by Protestantism are not logically inconsistent with their Sola Scripture belief.

  • What we do is try and find Scriptural backing for what we do and dig ourselves into a deeper and deeper mess! What we should do is identify what is unscriptural and make corrections. Commented Dec 29, 2020 at 12:53

3 Answers 3


Sola Scriptura means that the Bible is the sole infallible rule of faith and practice. It does not preclude the existence of lesser, fallible rules of faith and practice, existing under its authority.

For example, the Westminster Confession of Faith, 1.6, reads:

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word: and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.

Note several qualifications that address your question:

  • The only things necessarily included in Scripture are those things necessary for God's glory and man's salvation, faith, and life
  • Some things in scripture are "expressly set down," while others may be deduced "by good and necessary consequence."
  • Some things are not mentioned in the Bible, but "are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word."

Thus many Protestant denominations hold to a creed of some kind – perhaps a short "what we believe" page on their website, or extensive doctrinal and ecclesiastical documents (such as the Westminster Confession of Faith itself). Such documents are typically summaries or interpretations of Scripture, not verbatim quotes, making them "fallible" rules of faith and practice. And because they still recognize the Bible as the only infallible rule, they are not violating Sola Scriptura.

In the case of many denominations that hold to the Westminster Confession, they hold to a number of doctrines and practices that they recognize may not be "expressly" set down in scripture, but at least can be deduced from it either by good and necessary consequence, or by Christian prudence and the light of nature. For example,

How each of these things is justified may vary from denomination to denomination. Some say meeting on Sundays is a matter of good and necessary consequence from Scripture; others say it is more of a light of nature thing. But in neither case does a "tradition" of meeting on Sunday violate the principle of Sola Scriptura, since none of them believe that the Bible forbids meeting on Sundays, and if they found that it did forbid such meetings, they would discard them.

  • Thanks! The quote you give ends with "which are always to be observed." How are these non Biblibal based but binding truths different from unwritten revelation, i.e. Tradition in the Catholic Church? In practice, I see no crucial difference. Also, what about the Biblical (Protestant) canon? That is clearly an obligatory choice not found in the Bible, and hence an unwritten revealed truth.
    – luchonacho
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 10:35
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    @luchonacho That phrase modifies the "light of nature and Christian prudence" clause, and doctrines/practices in that category will not be as dogmatically held as doctrines expressly or deductively found in Scripture. So one church's "tradition" of meeting on Sunday morning at 10 AM or using Robert's Rules of Order for its congregational meeting would not be considered binding on any other church. Even though such "traditions" seem prudent and not in violation of the "general rules of the Word." Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 11:17
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    @luchonacho As for the canon, at least some Protestants wouldn't consider it to be an infallible selection – many doubt John 7:53ff, for example, and some have some hesitancy toward 2 Peter. But I think properly answering that question would need to be done elsewhere; perhaps here: Do Anglicans believe the decision on the 66 book canon was infallible? Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 11:22
  • "as dogmatically held as": to me, a belief/practice is or is not a dogma. There is no middle ground. To put it differently, is the way out of the inconsistency given by the recognition that everything in the Protestant doctrine/practice that is not "expressly or deductively" found in Scripture is assumed to be fallible? This is, that Protestantism holds some beliefs/practices that are expected to be "truth" but that ultimately, within its own theological epistemology/ontology, have no Divine assurance to be true, and thus are potentially false?
    – luchonacho
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 14:48
  • @luchonacho I'd say that's a fair summary. Of course, there will still be strong opinions over things that are "fallible," but they wouldn't be seen as obstacles to salvation. Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 16:17

The Catholic Encyclopedia's article on tradition mentioned in the OP confuses itself and thus the Protestant practice and belief.

The article begins with a definition. Emphasis is mine.

The word tradition (Greek paradosis) in the ecclesiastical sense, which is the only one in which it is used here, refers sometimes to the thing (doctrine, account, or custom) transmitted from one generation to another; sometimes to the organ or mode of the transmission (kerigma ekklisiastikon, predicatio ecclesiastica).

But in its application thereof to the Protestant position (sola scriptura), it fails to identify in which sense it is using said word (tradition). The article agrees with the Protestant that there is such a thing as tradition, like Christ was born on December 25, but where it loses the argument is when it continues with that definition of tradition (custom) and applies it to Tradition or in the language of the article, revealed truth.

That "revealed truth" or Tradition with a cap T is where the Catholic and Protestant part company. For the Catholic, she believes Jesus left an unwritten, oral truth passed perfectly from one generation to the next and by which she defines her "de fide" statements. An example would be the old Bull that said outside the Catholic Church there is no salvation. Or one must believe Mary remained a virgin during and after the act of Christ's normal human birth. Or various other statements spoken as Tradition, not tradition.

These definitions of Tradition (revealed truth) are the things against which the Protestant disagreed.

So, if one keeps one's definitions consistent as one reads and understands, then one will find there is no "logical inconsistency". Essentially the "problem" was invented because the author confused between tradition and Tradition and falsely applied the latter to the former. It is called the fallacy of Equivocation.

As far as the Magisterium is concerned, a teaching authority of some type is Biblical. Paul asks are all teachers. Peter warns of false teachers. John mentions false apostles. The question is from where will the true teacher pull true information to teach? Will it be from Divine Inspiration (bible) or unwritten, oral Tradition? What will be the plumb line against which what is taught is determined true?

  • Calvin also believed outside the Church there is no salvation... All he did was change what he meant by Church. The early major reformers believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary aswell.
    – aska123
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 8:51
  • I am not really following the argument. You say that Protestants hold the tradition that Chirst was born on December 25, but this is not in the Bible. You seem to imply that such tradition is not a revealed truth, but simply a custom. Are you saying that every tradition in the sense of custom that is not in the Bible is not taken to be a revealed truth, and thus it is fallible, and subject to potential change? As I commented to Nathaniel, this seems to be at odds with the "[rules of faith and practices] which are always to be observed." phrase written in the Westimnster Confessions of Faith.
    – luchonacho
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 10:51
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    Custom/tradition (not in the Bible) is not salvific for any group. Revealed truth or divine/Tradition (also not in the Bible) is salvific to the Catholic. Those are two different things to each group. The Protestant would say Tradition (divine) and tradition (custom) is not in the Bible (the sole guide to faith/practice), so neither are salvific; they are not binding. Custom may be observed, but you aren't going to hell if you don't observe 12/25 (not in the Bible). If you deny Christ came in the flesh (in the Bible), then you have a problem.
    – SLM
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 14:20

There are many practices in different protestant denominations that are observed, and defended, but not expressly commanded in scripture.

But to answer your question, in these instances, it is most often a cultural issue or cultural practice, but it is not an issue which is strictly forbidden in scripture, or in other cases, scripture is silent on the issue.

I'll give several examples from different cultures.

In Russia, in Protestant churches, it is common for men to sit on one side and women on the other.

It's also common in Evangelical churches for men to greet other men with a kiss and women to also greet other women with a kiss. This is a product of Slavic tradition and is not expressly forbidden.

Another example from churches in Russia and Ukraine - women may pray in public, but a man should end the prayer. This is not supported by scripture, but is totally a cultural issue. They defend this practice by using the verse that man has authority over women. Another example is that in Danish Evangelical Churches, and Evangelical Churches in Poland, it is common practice to not allow someone to take communion unless that person has been baptized. Again, this is a cultural issue, and there is nothing in scripture anywhere that says a person has to have been baptized to receive communion - but they defend this, with the scriptural idea that baptism is an act of obedience and public declaration of faith, and communion is another part of identifying with the body of Christ. It's a stretch for sure.

In the same way - many protestant churches around the world ban women from being a pastor, or holding an official role as a pastor, or an elder, or where they teach doctrine to men. Some even go farther and do not allow women to teach Sunday school, or lead Bible study groups where men are present. It's from the words of Paul that women should be silent in churches.

Another example is that most churches in Europe use wine for communion, but they use regular bread. Not unleavened Matzo. Is it Biblical? - No. Is it how Christ celebrated Passover? - No. But they also see that the elements are symbolic, and they don't save a person, and in some places in the world, grape juice is not available, so it's legalistic to demand Christians use elements that aren't available.

As for the example of meeting on Sunday, this is a widely - practiced custom around the world, but the truth is that the Sabbath always was and is still on Saturday.

The early church was meeting on Sunday, and we see this in Acts and the Epistles from Paul.

Paul also explicitly said to the mixed - Jewish and Gentile churches in the early church that we should not judge each other based on which day they observe to worship. Again, there is no explicit scripture against it.

In the cases where scripture is clear - or it is a major issue of doctrine, then Protestants hold scripture as the final authority - and it takes precedent over tradition. That is why Protestants believe in the Virgin birth - because it is clearly in scripture, but reject the concept that Mary was sinless.

It is explicitly clear in scripture - in more than one place that all mankind- every man and every woman is sinful -so scripture takes priority over tradition.

Scripture also says clearly that Christ is our mediator and that He is our high priest. Scripture also says that Peter was married, and marriage was instituted by God, and so the notion of making priests be celibate is not supported by scripture and many Catholics around the world see this as controversial issue. There is no explicit ban in scripture, and even in the Catholic church, priests were married and had families until about the 11th century. https://catholicstraightanswers.com/why-does-the-church-mandate-that-priests-be-celibate/

https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/696 "The practice of priestly celibacy began to spread in the Western Church in the early Middle Ages. In the early 11th century Pope Benedict VIII responded to the decline in priestly morality by issuing a rule prohibiting the children of priests from inheriting property. A few decades later Pope Gregory VII issued a decree against clerical marriages.

The Church was a thousand years old before it definitively took a stand in favor of celibacy in the twelfth century at the Second Lateran Council held in 1139, when a rule was approved forbidding priests to marry. In 1563, the Council of Trent reaffirmed the tradition of celibacy."

  • 1
    ”So the notion of making priests be celibate is not supported by scripture and many Catholics around the world see this as controversial issue.” See this article or this article. That is totally not true. It is a matter of internal discipline in the West that can be be changed at any time. Please back that up. Eastern Rite Catholic priests are commonly married.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Dec 28, 2020 at 4:03
  • Hello Ken, Not sure which part you are disputing. It's a well-established fact that the multiple popes have issued decrees which mandate priests be celibate. Do you have more than one pope at a time? I lived in a Catholic country and know that many Catholics here and in Europe find this not only a very controversial issue, but see it as not being in scripture. catholicstraightanswers.com/…. Not sure what your beef is, but it's obvious you are just down-voting my answers. ??
    – Tennman7
    Commented Dec 28, 2020 at 17:51
  • historynewsnetwork.org/article/696 Here's another article on the history of the Pope's decree mandating celibacy. Sure, maybe Eastern Rite is an exception, but there is only one Pope at a time. The point is that this is man-made tradition, and not in scripture. and Paul spoke against this. In 1 Timothy 4:2-5, Paul lists warns against false teachers and lists those who forbid marriage.
    – Tennman7
    Commented Dec 28, 2020 at 18:03

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