A story relating to Sola Scriptura


(I hope this makes sense)

Let’s say that in the era of early Christianity there was a rich man who had heard rumors of a teacher called Jesus and was curious about him. He enjoys reading very much so he sent a servant to find some writings attributed to him or about him.

The servant is sent to the library of a friend of his master. The owner of the library is a non-religious pagan who is a collector of works of all sorts. When he learns that his friend wants some books relating to this Jesus fellow he says he will happily lend a few books to his friend.
He brings the servant to a room and against a wall is a shelf filled with works. The man says "Here is my collection of writings which are scripture pertaining to this Jesus fellow"
The servant knows that he can not bring all the scrolls so he asks the man which ones he should bring.
“Well” he says, “I have a rather large collection and haven’t really read much of them. I can tell you this row is filled with works called Gospels, perhaps you should bring some of these first. They’re named after their author. This one is Matthew, this one is Mark, this one is Peter, this one is Mary, these two are Thomas, this one is Luke, this one is Judas, this one is John, this is Marcion and this is Mani. I also have some other books relating to Jesus, this one is called the Apocalypse of John of Patmos, this is the Apocalypse of Peter and copies of letters written by men such as Paul of Tarsus, James of Jerusalem, Marcion of Sinope and many others”

Now for a second let’s just remember to put on some suspension of belief and ignore any anachronisms present. How would the servant or his master or the master’s friend be able to differentiate between the apocryphal books and the canonical books? Suppose the friend of the master had such a huge collection that among the works he owns would be the books that make up the canonical Bible. In what way would they be able to tell the inspired texts from the uninspired or downright blasphemous?

Would they be able to what is canonical and what isn’t through divination of some sort? (If so I’d like to see scripture supporting this)

If the Bible was all that was needed for faith then the Bible is to be the source of all theology. What books make up the Bible is part of theology. Nowhere in the Bible does it tell you what books are to be a part of the Bible.


I had a chat with a young fellow who believed in Sola Scriptura on another forum. I asked him how he can subscribe to the doctrine when it self-defeats itself by providing no table of contents. You know how he explained how we know the letter of Barnabas isn’t Scripture? Well because it is “a Gnostic piece of writing” of course!! That’s what he said!

Silly me!!! :banghead:

If anyone is reading without getting my sarcasm, this Sola Scripturist did not understand that there was some debate about this epistle among believers as to whether it was Scripture. Not only that, but there was debate as to whether it was gnostic. So this SS fellow appealed to Tradition without even realizing it, nor would he admit it when I so told him.


interesting thoughts.

however (and i say this as one who does not hold to sola scriptura… i am a proponent of prima scriptura or scripture first), i think the story does not represent the actual thinking behind the idea of sola scriptura.

most protestants would say that our faith is not based on the bible per se, but ultimately on the apostles’ teachings (see acts 2). well, there weren’t a whole lot of apostles if you think about it. so many of them wrote things down. stories they remembered about Jesus and His teachings. letters explaining these teachings and how to apply them. explanations of the defense of Jesus as messiah, the fulfillment of prophecy, the Son of God, and the nature of God (trinity, although this word is not used, the idea of it is explicit). the apostles have people make copies of these (well, the actual writing was probably done by scribes mostly) and send them out to the communities that have formed in other cities. before they all had to flee jerusalem, they didn’t need these writings since the apostles were there with them. but when they followers of “The Way” (as it was called in the beginning) began to spread throughout the empire and grow, they needed a way to communicate truth to them all (for there were false teachers roaming about).
so now, the apostles’ teachings are still being spread verbally, but they are also being written down (gospels of mark and luke are examples of gospels not written by apostles but probably told to them by apostles). as the apostles began to be martyred (or die), the followers began to cherish these writings from them. it was widely known which writings were from apostles (and those who were with the apostles).
later, some other writings began to appear claiming ties to an apostle (thomas, judas, mary, peter, barnabas, etc.). the problem is that most of Christianity (they were called Christians by now) knew these books came later and were not actually part of the apostolic writings. there were letters written by the successors of the apostles though that many churches used (look at the letters of clement). as more and more of these letters and books turned up, the leaders in the church decide to put out a statement saying which books were from the apostles (or from those directly in contact with the apostles… meaning the content of their writings could be attributed to an apostle) and which weren’t. the list was already widely known (although some books were in contention like hebrews and revelation). so the church convened a council and discussed and came to decide on the list once and for all. again, this list was already basically agreed upon and had been for a while. we find plenty of evidence of which books people thought were related to the apostles (many are mentioned here and there in ecf writings although the first composite list, i believe, was said by athanasius).
therefore, the faith is based on the teaching of the apostles. the NT books are the written form of their teaching (directly from their mouths so to speak). thus, the bible contains the faith. this would be the argument of the sola scripturists. not that a book feel from heaven but that it is the teachings of the apostles handed down to us, which is the basis of the faith.
i hold to prima scriptura because i don’t think the apostles ever intended our faith to be individual. Christianity is a corporate faith. thus, the bible must be read and interpreted in community. there is nothing wrong with individually reading and interpreting scripture, but your interpretation must be “ratified” (so to speak) within the community of believers. there is room for disagreement (not all the apostles agreed with each other on every issue) on certain items or different takes on the symbolism or meaning, but the basics of the faith (derived from scripture) must be agreed upon by the community. hence, church councils where every voice is equal. yes, there must be a moderator but each voice carries equal weight. and each argument must have backing in scripture. no practice or belief can ever contradict scripture. scripture is the first authority we have because it is directly from the apostles. the church interpreting in community with each other is the second (and secondary) authority. the individual is the third (and last in hierarchy) authority.

all this to say, most sola scripturists would not fall into the example of the story given.


If I wanted to know more about Jesus (from your example) why would I ask a pagan for writings about Jesus? I mean, why would I expect him to know what literature I ought to read?

When I commited myself to Christ, I didn’t go to the nearest bookstore and ask the clerk for a book on Christianity. I looked at history and found out what literature was considered the most original and truthful. I found out how Christianity got its fame after Christ’s ascension. I found out that the apostles were credible witnesses and teachers. I decided to read their writings (Scripture).

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