The doctrine of authority by scripture alone.
(Thread begun by RandyP )
Sola Scriptura is one of the five pillars of the reformed faith, Sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone), Solus Christus(through Christ alone), Sola Gratia (by grace alone), Soli Deo Gloria (glory to God alone), Sola Fide (by faith alone).
Sola Scriptura speaks primarily of the authority of the scriptures in all doctrinal and interpretive matters. It is further complimented by the doctrines of divine inspiration and scriptural inerrancy. In this examination we will contain our discussion to scriptures rightfull authority mainly as the necessity of final authority nearly needs to be pointed out first before one can see the need for the supporting doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy.
- The primary evidences behind this pillar are:
- nkjv@2Timothy:3:16-17 - All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
- nkjv@Hebrews:4:12 @ For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
The first key to it's understanding are the terms infallible and fallible, infallible meaning incapable of failing, fallible being capable of. Fallible is incorrectly thought of by some in terms of always failing when rather it may not fail but once, but because it has failed or could fail that once it can no longer be called infallible. Neither does the failure of such a fallibility have to be a complete and utter failure or break down of truth, but only in slight measure if to only alter the course or means producing any shortcoming or miscalculation or false expectation.
As the reformed observer surveys the tool set available to men to determine truth and direction many tools (God given in fact) are at his disposal. For instance, we look to the long established tools of Church Tradition/Church Councils/Church Confessions etc..., the spiritual gifts of tounges/words of knowledge/dreams and visions/revelations/prophecies etc..., even the more global forms of human deduction/reasoning/temporal science etc...; each of these things can be proved valuable and wholesome in their own right, but also just as easily can be proved corruptible historically in the Church/individual believers, error prone with out authoritative scriptural supervision. To insist upon sola scriptura is not simply to rule out these many other fine things, it is to be aware of their susceptibility to human error.
Now the same can be said of scripture if left to human interpretation. This is typically the point where the traditionalist and the reformist disagree. The reformed view depends on two main essentials in this regard: the ability of scripture to sufficiently interpret itself and the omnipotence of the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us into all truth (with certain reproof and correction of the pupil of course).
The traditionalist view relies heavily upon a secret unwritten oral tradition passed down from the Apostles and kept in it's full integrity by the leaders of their Church generation after generation.
- Possible Scriptural Evidences:
- "Sola Scriptura" Is Not Taught in the Bible
- The "Word of God" Refers to Oral Teaching Also - nkjv@Jeremiah:25:3, nkjv@Jeremiah:25:7-8; nkjv@1Thessalonians:2:13; nkjv@2Thessalonians:3:6
- Tradition Is Not a Dirty Word - nkjv@Acts:2:42; nkjv@1Corinthians:11:2; nkjv@2Thessalonians:2:15; nkjv@2Timothy:1:13-14, nkjv@2Timothy:2:2
- Jesus and Paul Accepted Non-Biblical Oral and Written Traditions - nkjv@Matthew:2:23; nkjv@Matthew:23:2-3; nkjv@1Corinthians:10:4; nkjv@2Timothy:3:8
- The Apostles Exercised Authority at the Council of Jerusalem - nkjv@Acts:15:6-30; nkjv@Acts:16:4
- Pharisees, Sadducees, and Oral, Extrabiblical Tradition - (Christian Pharisees mentioned) (Pharisees believing scriptures where perhaps Saducees did not) nkjv@Acts:15:5 nkjv@Philippians:3:5
- Old Testament Jews Did Not Believe in Sola Scriptura - nkjv@Ezra:7:26; (needing to be taught) nkjv@Nehemiah:8:3 nkjv@Nehemiah:8:8, nkjv@Nehemiah:8:12; nkjv@2Chronicles:17:8-9
- Ephesians 4 Refutes the Protestant "Proof Text" - (Paul referencing oral tradition) nkjv@2Timothy:1:13-14, nkjv@2Timothy:2:2, nkjv@2Timothy:3:14; nkjv@Ephesians:4:11-15
- Paul Casually Assumes That His Passed-Down Tradition Is Infallible and Binding - nkjv@2Thessalonians:3:14; nkjv@Romans:16:17
- Sola Scriptura Is a Circular Position
(summarized and condensed from article http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=7185 )
To summarize this dissenting position, the main argument against this Protestant pillar is the fact that at the time of the writing of the New Testament it had yet to be canonized as Holy Scripture. When the NT writers refer to "scripture" then it follows that they are speaking of the Old Testament canon. When they refer to the "Word" it is the old long established canon plus the new apostolic oral tradition. The traditionalist would further that it was the oral tradition led early Church then that canonized what the reformer is now calling New Testament scripture; therefore the scripture cannot be infallible with out there first being an infallible oral tradition kept by the consenting church fathers.
The Council of Trent became the Roman Church's definitive response finally separating the holders of this and the other pillars out from it's midst. There are other arguments for their abrupt extraction of the reformed view as well such as the often difficult interpretation of the texts and the flagrant and voluminous outpouring of unqualified private interpretations soon to be resultant.
- Early church fathers are documented as having quoted several of the New Testament (soon to be) scriptures, prior to their full canonization. The fact that they already were was part of the reason that they could be unanimously confirmed later when formally canonized by the Church. Just because men had yet to canonize them as scripture yet does not mean that the all knowing (before the foundations of the world) Holy Spirit had not.
- Peter acknowledges some of Paul's present epistles as scripture nkjv@2Peter:3:15-16
- kjv@2Timothy:3:16-17 states that "all scripture" is inspired/given by God not "all tradition". It is never stated here or elsewhere that "all tradition" is profitable nor that it can fully equip the man of God unto all good works. In fact there are scriptural quotes of our Lord Jesus insisting that the scriptures themselves had already been made of no effect by the misleadings of Pharisetical tradition.
- nkjv@Psalms:19:7-14 lists several articles given from God that could perhaps be interpreted as being separate (Law Testimony Statutes Commandments Judgments), all of these items listed here can definitely be observed as being contained in one collected authoritative source: written scripture. That cannot be said of any other source in the same measure.
- nkjv@Romans:10:17-21 Faith is said to come by the hearing of the word; agreed? The word is often interpreted to include or be the oral traditions. But in the examples immediately following Paul wonders how the word could have gone out to all nations and the jealous Israel with all of their tradition still needing to be provoked not have believed the word itself. By so much tradition, they were at best a disobedient and gainsaying people. It clearly was not the tradition that the other nations paid attention to, it was the preaching of Hebrew and recent Greek and soon to be multi vernacular written scriptures.
- Just because the writ does not say "by scripture alone" verbatim but once does not mean that the melding of all verbatim articles and other scriptural evidences do not strongly suggest/insist on it. It can just as easily be stated that the "immaculate conception" of Mary does not appear in the scriptures either, but at the same time there is absolutely no other complimentary verbatim article or scriptural evidence to imply it in the slightest.
- The Bereans in nkjv@Acts:17:11 are commended for having searched the OT scriptures daily to verify that the things that the Apostolic message was so. It behooves us in similar fashion to verify that the things said even today by a Pope or Council or Pastor or prophet or Christian Musician or lunch time coworker are advancing as biblical truth as well.
- The idea of there being a secret unwritten knowledge superior to the written word held by only an elect few very closely resembles a similar notion advanced by the gnostic sects that the Apostolic Fathers tried so diligently to caution us of.
The reforming fathers do not hold their beliefs regarding the supremacy of scripture as being anything new to the church, they hold this as having been core and central to the early church fathers evidenced in the writings of many including:
TODO - Get exact quotes:
- Irenius - (Faith the public confession of the church)
- Clement of Alexandria - (Faith is from the scripture)
- Tertulian - (Faith no other source than scripture)
- Cyril of Jerusalem - (reject any tradition not confirmed by scripture)
- Gregory of Nyssa - (scriptures are the rule to measure every other tenet)
- Chrysostom - "You have Scripture for a master instead of me; from there you can learn whatever you would know."
- Hyppolytus - (scripture the final doctrinal authority)
- Basil of Caesarea - "Let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth."
- Athanasius - (scripture inspired and sufficient)
- Hilary of Poitiers - "In order to solve as easily as possible this most difficult problem, we must first master the knowledge which the Divine Scriptures give of Father and of Son, that so we may speak with more precision, as dealing with familiar and accustomed matters." (Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity, Book 3, 2)
- Augustine - "Among those things which are said openly in Scripture are to be found all those teachings which involve faith, the mores of living, and that hope and charity which we have discussed."
Note: It can be countered that some of these historical church sources also went on to speak volumes of other more discernible traditionalist Catholic items, surely however, it can be logically assumed that they did not write these quoted statements in order to contradict themselves.
Even later before the time of Martin Luther and John Calvin there were the evidences of William Auckman and others (some would say even Thomas Iquinus) in this regard. However, Protestants also point out a long steady increasing procession of of Catholic Councils from the 5th century on eroding a way for the sake of their traditions through this pillar.
"Right to interpret scripture individually does not mean having the right to misinterpret"
"The Church is to be judged by the Scriptures, not the Scriptures by the Church." - John Wesley
"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." Westminster Confession of Faith
"Therefore we must not consider human writings-- no matter how holy their authors may have been-- equal to the divine writings; nor may we put custom, nor the majority, nor age, nor the passage of time or persons, nor councils, decrees, or official decisions above the truth of God, for truth is above everything else. For all human beings are liars by nature and more vain than vanity itself. Therefore we reject with all our hearts everything that does not agree with this infallible rule. . ." (Belgic Confession 1561, Article 7: The Sufficiency of Scripture).
We have left out the issues of inspiration and also interpretation from this present undertaking for the time being so as to pay to the overall leaning of pillar itself the consideration due. These additional matters must be brought into the mix at some point, but not before the pillar of Sola Scriptura can stand on it's own merit.
Personally, I find it curious that while the Church by doctrine rightfully intends to keep the congregation in line that the congregation by scripture rightfully intends to keep the Church and it's doctrines in line. Where one can fear that there is too great a variation of private interpretation of scripture one can also fear that there is too narrow an interpretation when one particular strand of it is ultimately driven by some secret oral tradition that no one in authority has need to publish nor explain. Isn't that just the game of shells? Who is to say that tradition of all types is not just as susceptible (if not more so) to widely varied private interpretation as is presumed of scripture?
There is also a difficulty with the traditionalist view in that what is truthfully intended intellectually from the Bishopric does not always equate to the living fulfillment of it out in the public sector. For instance they can insist that the Church does not indulge in idol worship to its saints and fully intend that, but simply saying so doesn't stop any of the assembly from doing just that; in fact it might be reasonably argued that the Church practices encourages it regardless of its stated objective. There are many more of the same examples to be made.
To believe the infallibility of the Holy Church or the Holy Pontif in holding to the true apostolic oral tradition given prior to the canonization of the NT, one has to believe that it's leadership has to of had the God's and therefore the Church Bodies best interest always at heart; historically the evidence of this is most disappointing. So much the better to believe in the infallible authority of scripture only and all else in the fallible sense does it match up to scripture.
Practically speaking, the pillar of Sola Scriptura is not only meant for the understanding of differences between Catholic/Orthodox and Protestant doctrinal issues, it is for the guidance of our individual daily walks in Christ. Often times believers of all faiths are lead about by voices and urges and idioms and superstitions and the like thinking that they are of God when they in fact are not. Believers seek counsel from a variety of trusted sources, but certainly not all are infallible but the Holy Word itself. A great many preachers declare "the Lord has told to me" and the "Spirit has so led me". How do we know that is or is not the case? Are we left to our own preference or discernment? No, thankfully we are given the very accessible very well established Word of God!
Other competing or complimentary doctrines:
Prima Scriptura - First above all other inspired sources
Toda Scriptura - All scripture equally as a whole and sufficient