Sola Scriptura: A Blind Spot but Not Worthless

Sola Scriptura does have a blind spot: Since Scripture does not specify the books that belong in the Bible, it is not the sole infallible authority on all matters pertaining to Christian faith and practice. All Christians today are dependent on the extrabiblical tradition known as the canon of Scripture. What’s more, they treat that tradition as infallible, since they don’t dare to question it or change it.

Whenever I ask a non-Catholic or non-EO Christian to show me where the Bible says that the Epistle to the Hebrews is inspired, invariably the answer goes outside the Bible, whether to history or to the claim of a subjective, inner witness by the Holy Spirit, or perhaps both. (I use Hebrews as my example because it’s not clear whether it was written by an apostle; other NT books could be used in the question.)

Having said that, I don’t take that fact as far as Catholics take it. Catholics take that fact and conclude from it that the Church is of equal authority with Scripture (unless I’ve misunderstood Catholic teaching on this point), but I think that is a non sequitur. The church was the conduit through which the Holy Spirit gave us the canon of Scripture, but a conduit is not equal to or as important as the water that flows through it.

A better analogy is that of a messenger: A messenger does not have equal authority to the one who wrote the message, just because he or she delivers it, and if he or she spoke about the message, his or her words would not be of equal authority to the words in the message.

This is why I don’t reject SS, even though it does have the blind spot I mentioned.

I can only answer for my own tradition. However, I would think the Catholic view is at least similar. They would not necessarily say that the Church is of equal authority with Scripture, rather, they would say Tradition is. In the Orthodox view, Scripture is part of the collective whole known as Tradition (we don’t separate the two into two sources of revelation. Rather, all revelation is Holy Tradition). The problem with saying that the Church was not infallible in its reception of the tradition of the canon, is that it amounts to simply a more glorified version of the individual who “feels” that Hebrews is Scripture. That is to say, if the Church could have gotten it wrong, then there’s a possibility that the Church did get it wrong.

Dei Verbum:

  1. Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church. Holding fast to this deposit the entire holy people united with their shepherds remain always steadfast in the teaching of the Apostles, in the common life, in the breaking of the bread and in prayers (see Acts 2, 42, Greek text), so that holding to, practicing and professing the heritage of the faith, it becomes on the part of the bishops and faithful a single common effort. (7)

But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, (8) has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, (9) whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.

It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.

(Bold mine)

References:

  1. cf. Pius XII, apostolic constitution, “Munificentissimus Deus,” Nov. 1, 1950: A.A.S. 42 (1950) p. 756; Collected Writings of St. Cyprian, Letter 66, 8: Hartel, III, B, p. 733: “The Church [is] people united with the priest and the pastor together with his flock.”

  2. cf. First Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Chap. 3 “On Faith:” Denzinger 1792 (3011).

  3. cf. Pius XII, encyclical “Humani Generis,” Aug. 12, 1950: A.A.S. 42 (1950) pp. 568-69: Denzinger 2314 (3886).

CCC:

II. INSPIRATION AND TRUTH OF SACRED SCRIPTURE

105 God is the author of Sacred Scripture. "The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit."69

"For Holy Mother Church, relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and the New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts, on the grounds that, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author, and have been handed on as such to the Church herself."70

106 God inspired the human authors of the sacred books. "To compose the sacred books, God chose certain men who, all the while he employed them in this task, made full use of their own faculties and powers so that, though he acted in them and by them, it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever he wanted written, and no more."71

107 The inspired books teach the truth. "Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures."72

108 Still, the Christian faith is not a “religion of the book.” Christianity is the religion of the “Word” of God, a word which is “not a written and mute word, but the Word is incarnate and living”.73 If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, "open [our] minds to understand the Scriptures."74

References:

69 DV 11.
70 DV 11; cf. Jn 20:31; 2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:19-21; 3:15-16.
71 DV 11.
72 DV 11.
73 St. Bernard, S. missus est hom. 4,11:PL 183,86.
74 Cf. Lk 24:45.

For me, the Achilles heel of sola scripture is this:

—contradicting passages in the Bible, which DEMAND reader appraisal and understanding, which DEMAND a method of interpretation. . .

—the Bible, to respect it, is the world’s most unusual book. It’s not just a chap-book of do’s and don’ts. It really requires serious study----by talented minds (and not just my layman’s “pick it up and see” approach). . . and I respect the Catholic Church’s approach, using intelligence over time.

It has a lot more blind spots…as this testimony from someone who actually lived it testifies:

freerepublic.com/focus/f-religion/1858224/posts

And finally, the Protestant notion of sola scriptura (the Bible alone) fell apart each time I tried to test it. I began to see that Evangelicalism’s insistence on going by the Bible alone led continually into division and problems. Worse yet, claiming to go by the Bible alone didn’t really provide any certitude of belief for believers.,This is the point at which I began to have serious doubts about the doctrine of sola scriptura. I noticed that the early Church did not follow the Protestant concept of going by the Bible alone. That was a shocker! My study of the early Church showed that Scripture and Sacred Tradition, promulgated by the Church’s teaching magisterium, was the model of authority for the early Christians.

Koineman - how do Protestants view the Old Testament? If taken literally and if no outside sources are used to understand it, it is a very difficult text to follow.

I am currently in an Old Testament bible study and we are using the Jewish understanding of some of the text to fill in the gaps. Without that, things just wouldn’t make much sense.

The problem is that protestants sadly confuse God’s Word with Scriptures. And God’s Word is a lot more than Sacred Scriptures. First of all, Christ is the perfect and living God’s Word and He is infinite greater than Sacred Scriptures. Remember is Christ who has saved us not Sacred Scriptures and this is an historic fact from the begining. Becauses Christ have saved millions of people during several centuries (many of them gave testimony as martyrs of Christ’s Church) by the oral preaching of the apostolic succesors (bishops and priests of the Church) and not because they got Bibles and read the Sacred Scriptures. During the first four centuries post-Christ there wasn’t any Bible and there was a lot of controversy about what books were God-breathed, and of course never was suggested something similar to this artificial and modern constructo known as “sola scriptura”. The irrefutable fact is without a Bible and with this huge controversy about what books were ‘theopneustos’, there were a rich Apostolic and Sacred Tradition that preached God’s Word and allowed millions of people received Jesus’ Gospel and accordingly God’s salvation. This Apostolic and Sacred Tradition is, as the Bible, also God’s Word. The salvific mission of this Sacred Apostolic Tradition was the perfect God’s tool that ideally works for God’s standars without any Bible present. There are thousands of martyrs that testify this fact. The crucial question is: Why did God in an historical moment give up this salvific tool (Sacred Tradition) and replace, submit or dismiss (whatever the protestant variant) by the Bible is something that protestants need explain us. And by the way why God waited 1500 years and chose Luther to make such a change.

That is a horrible question.

The same can be asked to us from the Jews, only add a lot many more years to the wait.

The same can be asked to us as to the supreme, absolute jurisdiction of the See of Rome, which only precedes the Reformation for 100 years. Why wait 1400 years and choose Rome for supreme and absolute?

Yes, a much dangerous path.

Rather take a stand from the CCC:

104 In Sacred Scripture, the Church constantly finds her nourishment and her strength, for she welcomes it not as a human word, “but as what it really is, the word of God”.67 "In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them."68

And Dei Verbum:

  1. In Sacred Scripture, therefore, while the truth and holiness of God always remains intact, the marvelous “condescension” of eternal wisdom is clearly shown, “that we may learn the gentle kindness of God, which words cannot express, and how far He has gone in adapting His language with thoughtful concern for our weak human nature.” (11) For the words of God, expressed in human language, have been made like human discourse, just as the word of the eternal Father, when He took to Himself the flesh of human weakness, was in every way made like men.

Let’s address the concept, not the persons behind it. And keep in mind that the Magisterium **serves **the Sacred Scriptures.

Sola Scriptura’s achilles’ heel is that it cannot be practiced.

forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=346780

The Church is the authority, plainly speaking. It is the authority when interpreting both Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. The Church is the authority because of its nature with Christ as its head, the faithful as its body and the Holy Spirit as its guide. Both Tradition and Scripture come from the Church, the Church does not come from them. The inerrant word of God must have an authoritative interpreter. Neither Tradition nor Scripture are an authority unto themselves. Authority comes from a living, breathing, rational entity headed by Jesus Christ and guided and protected by the Holy Spirit. One cannot separate the Church from God. It is his presence on earth.

Perhaps that’s an horrible question but I know that the Second Person of the Holy Trinity was incarnated in a precise moment of the History and was in this time when He gave His eternal and divine authority to His Apostolic Church. Not 1400 years before. Neither He wasn’t incarnated in Luther’s time, that’s evident. So for me is appropiate (and not horrible) to make that question. But I don’t want to make here a discussion about Luther, rather I would prefer to know what were the reasons why God decided to change Sacred Tradition by Bible Alone and to use Luther to make this change.

And? I never denied that. In fact I didn’t say any word about Magisterium but about Sacred Tradition.

It’s interesting how people give Luther so much credit for singlehandedly reforming the Church, as if he didn’t have predecessors such as Jan Hus or Wycliffe. Luther was one part of one arm of the Reformation ( Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, Henry VIII, Conrad Grebel and their allies worked in other arms of the Reformation) and he didn’t work alone. Justus Jonas, Phillip Melanchthon and others worked with Luther in his efforts to reform the Church. My personal experience is that *Sola Scriptura *works easily with the parameters set by the early Lutheran Evangelicals. I know that other Lutherans and yet other Protestants have explained that *Sola Scriptura *didn’t originally have the definition that modern American charismatics put on it now, rather traditions were interpreted *in light of *Scripture.

Well, then let’s forget Luther. I repeat my comment and make the same question:

The irrefutable fact is during the first centuries without a Bible and with a huge controversy about what books were ‘theopneustos’ (God-breathed), there were a rich Apostolic and Sacred Tradition that preached God’s Word and allowed millions of people received Jesus’ Gospel and accordingly God’s salvation. This Apostolic and Sacred Tradition is, as the Sacred Scriptura, also God’s Word. The salvific mission of this Sacred Apostolic Tradition was the perfect God’s tool that ideally worked for God’s standars without any full Bible. There were thousands of martyrs that testify this fact. The crucial question is: Why did God in an historical moment give up this salvific tool (Sacred Tradition) and replaced, submited or dismissed it (whatever the protestant variant) by the Bible? I suppose that for protestants must be a good reason for God decided to change the ‘rules of the game’.

Who said God changed the rules of the game? Maybe the Reformers were actually trying to get back to the basics, without all the innovations the intervening centuries had imposed. In their efforts ( guided by the Holy Spirit), they respected and refined the central place of the Bible as authoritative. Putting Scriptures in the hands of the people in their own language was surely an act of the Holy Spirit, as was returning Jesus Christ to the central focus of the life of the Church, without any distractions, without any flagellations or people trying so painfully to reach a standard of holiness that can’t be reached without the aid of the Holy Spirit. Sacred Tradition was simply subordinated to Sacred Scripture as a guideline. With the eruption of Protestantism ( that many splintered thing), the Gospel of Christ was put into the hands of the people and* despite *our many doctrinal differences, many of our core tenets remain the same: the Holy Trinity, the centrality of the Gospel, the necessity to live a Godly life, but crediting it to God’s grace through faith, adherence to the three creeds ( Apostles, Nicene and Athanasian). That’s why we credit our unity to the Holy Spirit, despite our differences, because in the basics, we are all one. People are given Truth, the same Truth that Catholics and Orthodox share, that Jesus is Lord, He is come in the flesh, he was crucified and died for us. He was resurrected, ascended and will return some day. His return will accomplish something no human apologetics ever could… true Union among His People.

All this scheme could be reasonable but there is a problem. It’s no accurate. The Bible translation to vernacular languages was made time before the reform. But it didn’t mean a break with the Sacred Tradition. Returning Jesus Christ to the central focus of the life of the Church has been always present in Chuch History, there have been many reforms within the Churh but they didn’t mean a break with the Sacred Tradition. The break only came when someone decided plain an directly to reject Sacred Tradition (remember, God’s word during 1500 years) basing on a modern innovation called Sola Scriptura, inexistent during the same 1500 years.

Respect the rest of your comment (the sharing doctrines) Amen.

It could be that I’ve heard Catholics say things that are not really in line with official teaching of the RCC, but in general, the apologetic argument I’ve heard tends to go like this: Since the RCC identified the canon of Scripture, the RCC must be submitted to in its interpretation of that Scripture. Since you trust the RCC for the canon, how can you say she is wrong about other things?

In the Orthodox view, Scripture is part of the collective whole known as Tradition (we don’t separate the two into two sources of revelation. Rather, all revelation is Holy Tradition). The problem with saying that the Church was not infallible in its reception of the tradition of the canon, is that it amounts to simply a more glorified version of the individual who “feels” that Hebrews is Scripture. That is to say, if the Church could have gotten it wrong, then there’s a possibility that the Church did get it wrong.

Yes, you nailed it. People may deny that the church was infallible in identifying the canon, but in practice they agree with it, since, like I said in my OP, they treat it as infallible by not daring to question it or change it. It doesn’t matter how much non-Catholics and non-EOC people cry out, “I don’t believe in any tradition unless it’s in the Bible,” because their unquestioning acceptance of the extrabiblical tradition of the canon shows that they DO.

I second this… but I do question the criticism of Martin Luther dispensing with the Deuterocanonicals… weren’t they seen as non- authoritative during Luther’s time anyway, *even by *the Catholic Church? He went with the Books universally accepted as inspired by God and inerrant, even the Book of James. Other than that, who has a problem with the pre- Trent Hail Mary or any of the other trads that can be supported by the Bible and/ or universal Church acceptance?

You pointed to Luther instead of the concept. Which is why I said what I said.

Also, it is very difficult to understand what you wrote here:

This Apostolic and Sacred Tradition is, as the Bible, also God’s Word. The salvific mission of this Sacred Apostolic Tradition was the perfect God’s tool that ideally works for God’s standars without any Bible present.

As far as I know, there is no difference between Apostolic and Sacred Tradition. As Sacred Tradition is everything that is derived from the Apostles.

And also keep in mind that as early as ~140 AD the writings of the Apostles were already circulating as Sacred Tradition demonstrates in the writings of Justin Martyr:

CHAPTER LXVII – WEEKLY WORSHIP OF THE CHRIS- TIANS.

And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, **and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. **Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.

So while there was no bible concept yet, it is glaringly obvious that there were writings from the Apostles that were already considered Holy. And while the Church is the mechanism God used to narrow down what is and isn’t Scripture, it doesn’t mean that it is above the Scriptures but its servant.

Ok.

Perhaps the reason is because my english is not very good. When I say Apostolic and Sacred Tradition is because I want to put emphasis in the apostolic character of the Sacred Tradition, not because I think there are two different Traditions (Apostolic and/or Sacred)

I don’t deny there were writings from the Apostles considered Holy but there are not consensus about what is exactly the complete God’s word. Only when Catholic Church canonized the Bible the discussion was over (Roma locuta causa finita). That’s happened when Sacred Tradition had been three and half centuries working perfectly God’s plan of salvation. So the notion that Sacred Tradition is dispensable is an artificial and absurd concept that doesn’t fit in first with God’s will, second with Church’s history and third with the Sacred Scriptures. That concept is a constructo from modern times created ‘ad hoc’ by people that having rejected the authority of the Church basing on new doctrines (Sola Scriptura) decided to invent new “churches”. Only in that moment, Sacred Tradition was conveniently considered as dispensable because is an annoying witness that show up the new and ‘ad hoc’ doctrines.

Finally your notion of the Church is deadly wrong. The Church is not the servant of the Scriptures. The Church is the bride of Christ. So is more important than Scriptures. Without the Church there is not possible a complete and certain God’s word. Christ didn’t order to write and compile Sacred Scriptures to establish His Church. He only established His Church. The Bible is only the written form of part of the Sacred Tradition of His Church. Sacred Tradition and Bible are on the same level of importance because both are the two sides of the same coin. The coin is Christ’s Church.

Hi K man,

I thought it would be easy to respond in the affirmative but it is not so simple , for me. I would say all conveyance methods of Truth have a blind spot. I am also thinking the conveyor definitely has authority even power. The legitimacy, however, is conditional, and that is what we quibble about. The more i think about it, the (a) church is tempted to say the conditions are infallibly met and her legitimacy is not just equal to Writ but even above it, as a father is above the son though “equal” in nature only while both are still alive.

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