I’ve been writing down my thoughts on why I abandoned Protestantism, and part of it is an analysis of sola scriptura as its taught in the Westminster Confession. I’m sure there’s nothing new here, but it was a good exercise and I’m more likely to remember it all now. I’d like to post it for others to review and comment on, especially for helpful bits about logical errors, clumsy phrasing or anything else I’ve missed.
An evaluation of Sola Scriptura as given by the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF).
The WCF says that the entire revealed word of God is contained in scripture, and that scripture is the sole inerrant rule of faith.
(Clause 1) “Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence, do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; (Clause 2) yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation; (Clause 3) therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his Church; (Clause 4) and afterwards…to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the holy Scripture to be most necessary… (Clause 5)Under the name of holy Scripture, or the Word of God written, are now contained all the books of the Old and New Testaments, which are these: (list of 66 books). (Clause 6)All which are given by inspiration of God, (Clause 7)to be the rule of faith and life…(Clause 8)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…” (WCF, Chapter 1, Article 1/Article 2/Article 6)
Clause 1 summary: God’s existence and goodness is made known through nature. We agree.
Clause 2 summary: That which we can know through nature about God and his will is insufficient to attain salvation. We do not agree; insufficiency would be good grounds for an excuse. For purposes of this discussion we can let it pass.
Clause 3 summary: In various ways God revealed himself to us, and made it known that this revelation is his will for us. Agreed.
Clause 4 summary: God’s revelation was written down in its entirety, being completely contained in Sacred Scripture. We do not agree.
Clause 5 summary: The body of work (Sacred Scripture) that contains this revelation is comprised of 66 books. We do not agree, the correct number is 73. For purposes of this discussion we can let it pass.
Clause 6 summary: Sacred Scripture is given by the inspiration of God. Agreed.
Clause 7 summary: Sacred Scripture is the rule of faith and life. We do not agree, the rule of faith and life is Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, which together comprise the full deposit of Gods revelation.
Clause 8 summary: The whole counsel of God concerning salvation is expressly written in Sacred Scripture or may be deduced from it. We do not agree.
The WCF says that the task of interpreting Scripture has been entrusted solely to Scripture itself. The only authoritative source and infallible interpreter of God’s Word is the original, untranslated Hebrew and Greek texts.“The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as in all controversies of religion the Church is finally to appeal unto them…The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture…” (WCF Chapter 1, Article8/Article 10)
The WCF says that in trying to understand the meaning of the text, the individual believer must rely only on his subjective intuition that the Holy Spirit is guiding him. The very councils that codify doctrines are fallible, and thus cannot declare a rule of faith:“We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the holy Scripture… yet, notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts…All synods or councils since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err, and many have erred; therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice, but to be used as a help in both.” (WCF Chapter 1, Article 5; Chapter 31, Article 4)(cont.)