Sola ScripturaThe Problem: Sola scriptura Christians claim a) Scripture is the sole and final authority and b) it is formally sufficient for knowledge of salvation, i.e., it expresses itself clearly enough on matters involving salvation that no interpretation is necessary. Yet, while Scripture claims to be inspired in 2 Timothy 3:16, the Qur'an, the Book of Mormon, and the Hindu Vedas all claim to be inspired as well. How do we know ours is and theirs isn't? "Burning in the heart" a la Mormonism doesn't count. How do we know that Scripture is the sole authority? Unfortunately, Scripture itself denies the idea that it is either the sole or the final authority. We know of Scripture's authority because of two good witnesses - the Church and Tradition.
The Truth: Holy Scripture is materially sufficient for knowledge of salvation, that is, implicitly or explicitly, it describes everything necessary for salvation. However, Scripture is not formally sufficient, that is, it does not teach the truths of salvation so clearly that anyone who picks up a Bible can discover those truths for himself. Scripture needs a teacher who bears and embodies the infallible teaching authority of the Holy Spirit if it is to be understood as God intends, for only the Holy Spirit knows the mind of God.
1 Jn 2:26-27 I write this to you about those who would deceive you; 27 but the anointing which you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that any one should teach you; as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie, just as it has taught you, abide in him.
This text is used to demonstrate that an infallible teacher for Scripture is not necessary - the anointing received from Christ is sufficient. But if that were the meaning John intended, then why is John writing it at all? The epistle is an instruction in which John gives a new command (1 John 2:8) - why give a new command, or explain the meaning of Christ's message, to people who don't need instruction? John TELLS them that they don't need to be TOLD anything because of their anointing, so John would seem to be saying his own epistle is useless. In fact, John's reference to the "anointing [which] teaches you about everything" is a reference to the catechizing prior to baptism and confirmation, and the Isaiahan gifts of the Spirit which were poured out in and perfected by those sacraments. If John really meant that no further catechization were necessary after anointing, then the Spirit's gift of teaching and the Word of Scripture itself would be useless.
1 Thess 5:21 but test everything; hold fast what is good...
The same Christians often assert that a doctrinal practice is licit only if Scripture explicitly affirms or describes it. However, nowhere does Scripture state that this idea is the test of whether or not a practice is licit, thus the rule itself fails its own test. Worse, Scripture did not command any of the Apostles to
write down what is in Scripture, nor does Christ command anyone to write anything down (apart from John's Apocolypse). Thus, if this rule were followed, the writing down of Scripture was itself not licit because Scripture does not affirm the Apostles were authorized by God to write it down.
Likewise, the disciples who were not Apostles (e.g., Mark and Luke) had even less authority to write.
1 Jn 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
Many claim to be led by the Holy Spirit in their interpretation of Scripture. Yet do they follow the command of Scripture? They should test each spirit, to make sure the spirit of interpretation is from God. How can one test a spirit, except against one's own conscience? The interpretation of one Scripture passage cannot be used to test the interpretation of another Scripture passage, since the same spirit may very well be influencing both interpretations. In order to test the spirit which is giving them their interpretation, their only measure is their own conscience. Yet is not the conscience and soul of every man stained with sin? So we test the spirit and its teaching with
a dim eye using a darkened measure. We must instead test with a clear eye using a clear measure.
1 Cor 2:10-11 For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For what person knows a man's thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.
There is only one who is both without sin and who knows the measure of God, and He is Jesus Christ, within whom the Spirit of God rests. It is only the authoritative voice of the Body of Christ, animated by the Holy Spirit, which can properly test the Spirit and render just judgement upon the meaning of Scripture (cf. Apostolic Succession). Scripture confirms this.
Mt 18:16-17 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
In the Matthean passage, Scripture witnesses that the Church is the final authority. Her authority must be infallible, for if She were to err, then Christ would be commanding disciples to treat a fellow believer as an unbeliever on the basis of an erroneous judgement. If you cannot trust your church to be a final authority (and who can trust any authority except an infallible authority?), then you are not in the church of Christ described by Scripture. Scripture states that the Church is to be listened to. It states no exceptions. It does not hint at fallible teachings.
Mt 4 This argument holds that during the temptation of Christ, Christ referred only to Scripture and He parried the Devil's quoting of Scripture by again referring to Scripture. He did not refer to His own Divinity, to tradition or Tradition, to the authority of the Church, or to any authority besides Scripture. What those who hold this argument forget is that Jesus Christ is always infallibly led by the Holy Spirit for the right interpretation of Scripture, for He is indissolubly united with the Holy Spirit in the Godhead. Thus, this passage merely affirms what the Church teaches - that only the Body of Christ can interpret Scripture rightly, and only His Body, with Him as the head, can correct those who use it incorrectly.
Sola scriptura supporters sometimes use Deuteronomy as support for their contention.
Deut 31:9,12 And Moses wrote this law, and gave it to the priests the sons of Levi,...[he said] Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law...
Deut 32:46-47 he said to them, "Lay to heart all the words which I enjoin upon you this day, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. 47 For it is no trifle for you, but it is your life, and thereby you shall live long in the land which you are going over the Jordan to possess."
The Deuteronomy passages certainly establish Scripture as an authority, but they do not indicate that Scripture is the sole authority.
Psalm 119 is also often used to support sola scriptura. It is an extended meditation on knowing and keeping the law. Nowhere does it state that the law (Scripture) is the sole, final, or formally sufficient authority.. Indeed, those who use arguments from the Old Testament to support sola scriptura defeat their own purpose, for the Old Testament references to the law are references to the
Mosaic law, the law which Paul specifically says was made obsolete (Hebrews 8:13).
Acts 17:1-7 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and for three weeks he argued with them from the scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ." 4 And some of them were persuaded, and joined Paul and Silas; as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. 5 But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked fellows of the rabble, they gathered a crowd, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the people. 6 And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brethren before the city authorities, crying, "These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, 7 and Jason has received them; and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus."
According to the analysis presented by Steve Ray in "Why the Bereans Rejected Sola Scriptura", This Rock, March 1997, pp. 22-25, it appears that the Thessalonians were sola scriptura adherents. After all, Paul reasoned with them from the Scriptures for three weeks, but they were not convinced. Christ did not visibly fulfill any of the recognized messianic texts (e.g. Psalms 45, 89; 2 Sam 7:11-16; Mic 5:2-4; Amos 9:11; Mal 3:1-4;4:5; Is 9:2-7; 11:1-16; 49:8-13; 52:1-12) nor was he a martyr like the Maccabees who died in defense of the Torah. His life and death challenged the status of Torah as the absolute norm for life. In his manner of living he was a sinner (2 Cor 5:21) and in his death, cursed by God (see
The Sign of the Cross). Jesus was not blessed by God, but accursed by God and these Jews could prove it from Scripture by the very mode of his death.
They did not accept oral teaching, they accepted only what they privately interpreted from Scripture. Paul's words obviously contradicted the Torah, as far as they could tell. As a result, Paul was nearly run out of town on a rail.
Acts 17:10-12 The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Beroea; and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so. 12 Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.
Some argue that Paul did not say only the Church could interpret or that only Peter could interpret. They point out that Scripture praises the practice of the Bereans for studying Scripture. This is true. Note, however the Bereans did not study Scripture on their own. They studied Scripture under Paul's direction, in the light of his oral teaching. Paul was an officially deputed member of the Church, and they accepted Paul's oral teaching authority. Scripture actually demonstrates that Scripture alone was not sufficient for the Bereans, since the Bereans had failed to understand the meaning of Christ's crucifixion until the Church explained Scripture to them. There is no instance in Scripture where a community of Jews or Gentiles managed to discover the truth about Jesus Christ through their own study of Scripture without an apostle, an
officer of the Body of Christ, to explain the Good News to them, this despite the fact that news of Jesus Christ quickly traveled as far as Rome, as we know from pagan accounts and from Acts itself (cf. Acts 26:26 "This was not done in a corner.").
Gal 1:11-12,15-20 For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man's gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.... But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus.
18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!)
Paul learns the Gospel through a special private revelation from Christ Himself. Even so, he goes to Jerusalem to talk with
Gal 2:1-2 The after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas... I went up by revelation; and I laid before them (but privately before those who were of repute) the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, lest somehow I should be running or had run in vain.
Paul checks his preaching with the men of repute on a regular basis.
2 Pet 1:20-21 First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, 21 because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
Scripture is not a matter of personal interpretation. Luther vol. 4 p. 317 "The epistle of James gives us much trouble. If they will not admit my interpretations, I will make rubble also of it. I almost feel like throwing Jimmy into the stove." He was also unsure about 2 Peter, Hebrews and Revelation. Yet even Luther began to realize how divisive his own sola scriptura theology was. In his Letter against Zwingli, Luther wrote "If the world lasts long it will be again necessary on account of the different interpretations of Scripture which now exist that to preserve the unity of faith we should receive the councils and decrees and fly to them for refuge."
2 Pet 3:15-16 And count the forbearance of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.
Scripture itself testifies that Scripture is hard to understand.
2 Cor 1:13 For we write you nothing but what you can read and understand; I hope you will understand fully...
2 Tim 3:14-17 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
2 Tim 3:14-17 is often used to demonstrate that Scripture is sufficient and the final authority. However, the New Testament was not yet written when Timothy was in his "infancy," so this passage really refers to the Old Testament, not the New. Even if it did refer to the New Testament, it would be insufficient. Scripture does not say it is itself the final authority. Insofar as the idea that it shows Scripture's sufficiency, v. 17 uses the words "arteos" and "exartisminos" for "competent" and "equipped." Arteos is only used in Timothy, exartisminos is used only in Acts 21:5, and once in the Septuagint, thus it is impossible to be sure what he meant by those words, since they can mean anything from "suitable" to "perfected." In neither case does it help the sola scriptura advocate, since these two words refer to "the man of God," not to Scripture. But even if they did refer to Scripture...
James 1:4 And let steadfastness have its full effect (teleos), that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
"Teleos" means "perfection," and is generally a stronger word than "arteos" or "exartisminos." This would seem to indicate that perseverance is more important than Scripture in order to become a complete man of God.
2 Tim 2:21 If any one purifies himself from what is ignoble, then he will be a vessel for noble use, consecrated and useful to the master of the house, ready for any good work.
The phrase "every good work" is exactly identical to what is used in 3:15. The word "prepared" (Greek heteomazo) can mean everything from ordinary preparation to divine preparation, so one who cleanses himself is a complete man of God.
1 Jn 2:4-6 He who says "I know him" but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: 6 he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
John says keeping his word, i.e. doing what Christ commands, is what perfects us - not Scripture itself.
2 Tim 2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
Rom 10:8 But what does it say? The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach);(quoting Deut 30:14)
Deuteronomy shows sufficiency in quality, but says nothing about Scripture being the only source. Paul refers to Scripture as "profitable" using the Greek word "ophedimos," which implies Scripture is not sufficient in and of itself. Paul does not claim that the sole infallible source of truth is Scripture. Instead, he refers to other, non-written teachings.
2 Tim 1:13-14 Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus; 14 guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.
2 Tim 2:2 and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
2 Tim 3:10-11 Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions, my sufferings, what befell me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra, what persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me.
If 2 Tim 3:16 is sola scriptura, what is Timothy to do with Paul's oral teaching? The passage implies Paul's impending death. What should Timothy do with Scripture, considering that the canon is not complete? Paul did not say to look on his oral teaching with suspicion after his death.
1 Thess 2:13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.
The word of God can also come from hearing. Since the Word of God is a Living and vibrant word, why would it lose this characteristic simply because it is transmitted orally? We do not have any of the original manuscripts of the New Testament - we have only copies of copies of copies. If the copied message can be transmitted without error because it is the Word of God, could not the spoken Word of God be transmitted without error? It can - this oral transmission is called Sacred Tradition.
2 Thess 2:15 So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.
2 Jn 12 Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink, but I hope to come to see you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.
2 Thess 3:9-10 For what thanksgiving can we render to God for you, for all the joy which we feel for your sake before our God, 10 praying earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?
Phil 4:9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you.
1 Cor 11:2 I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you.
Acts 20:17,27 And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church...... or I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.
The Ephesian epistle is only 6 chapters long - is that the whole plan of God?
Eph 3:3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly.
This implies a much more thorough oral transmission of knowledge.
1 Cor 11:34 if any one is hungry, let him eat at home - lest you come together to be condemned. About the other things I will give directions when I come.
This implies that not all teaching was through written word.
Mt 18:16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.
The testimony accepted by the Roman Catholic Church is tripartite - Scripture, Tradition, Church, each established by Christ and guided by Holy Spirit. According to Dei Verbum, the magisterium, which is the teaching office of the Church, finds itself a servant of the Word of God, subject to the authority of Scripture. It guards the deposit of Scripture. Though Scripture is the norm which norms all other norms, but which is itself not normed, yet it needs the interpretation of Sacred Tradition to help us understand what it truly says. Statements change meaning depending on vocal emphasis. For instance, repeat the phrase "I never said you stole money" a few times, and emphasize a different word each time you say it - the implied meaning alters radically with each shift in emphasis. Which words of Scripture are emphasized where? Only a good witness could tell. Only an infallibly guided witness who survived 2000 years of hardship to bring us the subtly nuanced meanings could be trusted. The written word is not sufficient - the oral witness must also be present (cf.
How the canon was established). Even in a court of law, a written deposition does not bear the same weight as oral testimony, because a live witness can be examined, probed, tested for sure knowledge of the event. The Word of God is living and active, sharper than a two-edged sword, but that is so precisely because it is transmitted to us by a living, infallible witness - the Body of Christ.
Col 1:24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church...
Jn 21:25 But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
Christ's sacrifice on the cross was complete, but there is a sense in which it is lacking. It lacks our participation - we must become partakers of the divine nature in order to complete Christ's work, and we can do that only by imitating Him in obedience, in suffering, in directing that suffering towards the perfection of the Church. The Scriptures are complete, but there is a sense in which they, also, are lacking. They lack an authoritative witness, an interpreter who can describe individually all that Christ said and meant, even those things not recorded, who can fill up the world with Christ; a witness who can help us purify ourselves, before whom we can be obedient to the Divine Word, to God.
Lk 10:16 "He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me."