The One-Legged Stool Called ‘Inscripturation’ is Not Taught in the Bible

Inscripturation as a counter-reply to the biblical/Catholic rule of faith utterly fails, and is itself merely an unbiblical tradition of men.

Lucas Cranach the Younger, “Saint Paul in His Study,” 1547
Lucas Cranach the Younger, “Saint Paul in His Study,” 1547 (photo: Public Domain / Public Domain)

Protestants offer a counter-reply to the Catholic “three-legged stool” rule of faith (Bible-Tradition-Church). They call it “inscripturation.” It is explained at length by the late Protestant apologist Norman Geisler, writing with Ralph MacKenzie, in the article, “A Defense of Sola Scriptura” (Christian Research Institute,  4-8-09):

“It is not legitimate to appeal to any oral revelation in New Testament times as proof that nonbiblical infallible authority is in existence today. …

“Since the death of the apostles the only apostolic authority we have is the inspired record of their teaching in the New Testament. That is, all apostolic tradition (teaching) on faith and practice is in the New Testament. … all apostolic teaching that God deemed necessary for the faith and practice (morals) of the church was preserved (2 Timothy 3:15-17). … 

“There is not a shred of evidence that any of the revelation God gave them to express was not inscripturated by them in the only books — the inspired books of the New Testament — that they left for the church.”

Inscripturation as a counter-reply to the biblical/Catholic rule of faith utterly fails, and is itself merely an unbiblical tradition of men (therefore, self-refuting, given Protestant premises of sola Scriptura). It’s simply not taught in the Bible. Rather, it’s assumed without any biblical indication (neither expressly stated nor even deduced). 

The Bible never teaches that “all apostolic tradition (teaching) on faith and practice is in the New Testament.” Therefore, how could he or any Protestant supposedly know the contrary? There is nothing whatsoever along these lines in 2 Timothy 3:15-17. It simply teaches that Scripture is great for teaching and reproof, etc. (which no one disagrees with). 

Protestants have to believe something akin to this notion, because of their aversion to extrabiblical (yet harmonious with Scripture) authoritative, binding tradition. They agree that what apostles taught was binding, but they fail to see that some of that teaching wouldn’t be recorded in Scripture. The Bible itself teaches us that there are such teachings and deeds not recorded in it (John 20:30, 21:25, Acts 1:2-3, Luke 24:15-16,25-27). The logic is simple: 

Apostles’ teaching was authoritative and binding (i.e., for all practical purposes, “infallible”).

Some of that teaching was recorded in Scripture, but some was not.

The folks who heard their teaching were bound to it whether it was later “inscripturated” or not.

Therefore, early Christians were bound to “unbiblical” teachings or those not known to be “biblical” (as the Bible would not yet be canonized until more than three centuries later).

If they were so bound, it stands to reason that we could and should be, also.

Scripture itself does not rule out the presence of an authoritative oral tradition, not recorded in words. Paul refers more than once to a non-written tradition (e.g., 2 Timothy 1:13-14, 2:2).

Scripture informs us that much more was taught by Jesus and apostles than what is recorded in it.

Scripture nowhere teaches that it is the sole rule of faith or that what is recorded in it about early Church history has no relevance to later Christians because this was the apostolic or “inscripturation” period. Those are all arbitrary, unbiblical traditions of men.

Where in the Bible does it say that this period is absolutely unique because the Bible was being written during it? When Paul was preaching he did so authoritatively, as an apostle. Not everything he said was later included in the Bible; therefore it was not all inspired (he was no walking Bible-machine any more than Jesus was). But he was an authority, and acted consciously upon this authority.

Inscripturation teaches that anything not recorded in Scripture could not have been passed down by Paul: a contention that is absurd on its face.

As an example of a Protestant who accepts the binding, infallible nature of a teaching even if it isn’t taught in the Bible, I submit Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism. He wrote a letter to Albrecht (or Albert), Margrave of Brandenburg and Duke of Prussia, dated April 1532 by some and February or early March by others. The well-known Luther biographer Roland H. Bainton cites the following portion of it:

“This testimony of the universal holy Christian Church, even if we had nothing else, would be a sufficient warrant for holding this article [on the sacrament] and refusing to suffer or listen to a sectary, for it is dangerous and fearful to hear or believe anything against the unanimous testimony, belief, and teaching of the universal holy Christian churches, unanimously held in all the world from the beginning until now over fifteen hundred years.” (Studies on the Reformation, Boston: Beacon Press, 1963, p. 26; primary source: WA [Werke, Weimar edition in German], Vol. XXX, 552)

Protestant historian Philip Schaff, in The Reformed Quarterly Review, July, 1888, p. 295, cited the passage and commented:

“Luther combined with the boldest independence a strong reverence for the historical faith. He derives from the unbroken tradition of the church an argument against the Zwinglians for the real presence in the Eucharist … A Roman controversialist could not lay more stress on tradition than Luther does in this passage.”

St. Augustine had taught the same 1100 years earlier:

“As to those other things which we hold on the authority, not of Scripture, but of tradition, and which are observed throughout the whole world, it may be understood that they are held as approved and instituted either by the apostles themselves, or by plenary Councils, whose authority in the Church is most useful, ... For often have I perceived, with extreme sorrow, many disquietudes caused to weak brethren by the contentious pertinacity ... of some who, in matters of this kind, which do not admit of final decision by the authority of Holy Scripture, or by the tradition of the universal Church.” (Letter to Januarius, 54, 1, 1; 54, 2, 3)