How many times have you heard someone respond to a specific Catholic teaching, say on Mary or on the papacy, with the question, “Where’s that in the Bible?” So often the intent of this question is to imply that these Catholic teachings are in fact not found in Scripture, and are therefore not to be believed.
But where’s that in the Bible? Where does the Bible teach that what Christians should believe must be found in Scripture? The theological assumption here is often called by its technical Latin name, sola Scriptura, or Scripture alone, and amounts to something like, “the Bible is the only authority on matters of Christian doctrine.”
Certainly 2 Timothy 3:16-17 teaches that, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (NIV). That all Scripture is God-breathed, or inspired, is of course true and is not something only taught by Protestants; the Catholic Church equally affirms this teaching, and in fact cites this passage, e.g. in the Second Vatican Council’s 1965 dogmatic constitution on divine revelation, Dei Verbum (no. 11; see also the Catechism of the Catholic Church, ftnt 70 to no. 105).
What is at issue here is the divine authority inherent in Apostolic Tradition, of which the Bible itself is a part. In 1 Timothy 3:15 we also discover that the Church is the “pillar and foundation of truth” (NIV). Moreover, 2 Thessalonians 2:15 exhorts its audience (including us) to, “stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us” (NASB).
Such Apostolic Tradition is important for many reasons, one of which is that Scripture is difficult to understand. Acts 8:26-40 attests to this when Philip meets with the Ethiopian eunuch who was reading from the suffering servant passage in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Philip asks, “Do you understand what you are reading?” to which the Ethiopian eunuch responds, “How can I unless someone explains it to me?” (30-31, NIV). The Apostle Peter also highlights the difficulty of interpreting Scripture. Peter mentions Paul’s Letters, “in which are some things hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16, NASB).
What we have in Scripture is indeed sacred, but Jesus is the Word of God (John 1:1). Jesus embodies the fullness of God’s communication to humanity. What Jesus taught was passed down in Scripture, but was also faithfully handed on by His greatest of students, the Apostles, some of whom wrote portions of Scripture. Jesus never wrote a Gospel, nor did He ask others to do so, rather He built a Church (Matthew 16:18), and promised to remain with it forever (Matthew 28:20). Indeed, it was this very Church that, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit determined which books belonged in Scripture and which ones did not.
“Where’s that in the Bible?” is an important question, and I think that Catholic teachings can indeed be found in Scripture. But, a more biblical question might be, “Where does the Church teach that?”