Some clarifications on Sola Scriptura

Hi,

I recently came across your article on Scripture and Tradition, and I feel that it makes a number of misrepresentations about what exactly the idea of Sola Scriptura entails. My chief objections related to the following statement:

“Protestants claim the Bible is the only rule of faith, meaning that it contains all of the material one needs for theology… anything extraneous to the Bible is simply non-authoritative, unnecessary, or wrong”

Sola Scriptura does not claim the Bible to be the only source of doctrinal authority. What is claimed is that the Bible is the only infallible source of doctrinal authority. While both Protestants and Catholics will agree that scripture is an infallible source of doctrine (2 Timothy 3:16-17), the Protestant position is that no other infallible source of doctrine is anywhere established.

However, Protestants do believe that other sources of authority exist outwith scripture, with perhaps the most significant of these being the church. Scripture itself shows that the church may make authoritative interpretations of scripture (Acts 15), and enforce these as a matter of discipline across the local churches (Acts 16:4). Indeed, this is the very basis of the presbyterian church polity of the Reformed branch of Protestantism. An example of the application of such authority would be the almost universal implementation of creeds and confessions across Protestant churches, which are regarded as authoritative, despite not being part of the scripture. Some of these we will share with Catholics (eg the Nicene Creed), while others we will not (eg the Westminster Confession of Faith). So I feel that your article was very misleading when it stated Protestants believe that “anything extraneous to the Bible is simply non-authoritative, unnecessary, or wrong”.

While Protestants and Catholics can agree that the church is invested with a certain authority to speak on doctrinal matters, their disagreement is about whether or not is it infallible in doing so. Protestants would say that the church is a subordinate authority to the scripture. Indeed, it is the scripture that establishes the authority of the church (Acts 15, Acts 16:4, Matthew 18;17-19 etc). Likewise, the scripture shows the church to be subordinate and subject to the scriptures. For example, the Thessalonians were commended for searching out the scriptures to prove the teachings of Paul himself (Acts 17:11) - if the words of the original apostles were subordinate to scripture, how can the ‘apostles’ of this day and age claim to speak with greater authority?

This issue aside, one important point to note is that while Protestants do not believe the Bible to be the sole source of all doctrine and discipline, we do believe it to contain all that is necessary for salvation, and that its teachings in this particular matter are sufficiently clear that they are of themselves sufficient to preach salvation. Accordingly, 2 Timothy 3:15 states:

“And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

Protestants believe that the scriptures are indeed sufficient to make us wise unto salvation, independent of any supposed apostolic traditions, or the interpretations of church leaders. However this is only true of matters pertaining to salvation, and not the entirety of Christian life and discipline.

I feel that perhaps the Catholic Answers article on this matter has been too influenced by the misunderstandings of Sola Scriptura that prevail within the highly individualistic and doctrinally lax culture of American Evangelicalism; rather than the more traditional understandings of mainstream Protestantism. With this in mind, I would appreciate it if you amended your article on ‘Scripture and Tradition’ so that it no longer misrepresents Protestant beliefs.

This is a good point. If you stick around this forum, you will discover that many Catholics are convinced that Sola Scriptura is per the article, and, try as you might, they will insist that SS is per the article, and then grumble about your correction being “another definition” because they already know the right one. I have not read the article but have seen plenty of Catholics argue on the basis that Protestants reject all authority except Scripture. Too many Protestants fall for it when they should know better.

First of all, welcome to CAF. Lets define some terms. The Catholic Church refers to Sacred Scripture as “inerrant”, rather than “infallible”. A text cannot be fallible or infallible. It can either contain error or not contain error. It cannot “make” error. Fallibility or infallibility is a function of interpretation of the inerrant texts. In other words it takes a person to be fallible or infallible; to correctly discern the truth present within the text or not.

You may wish to consider that nowhere in the Bible does it tell us how many books are to be included in the canon nor what those book are. You have tacitly given your assent to the infallibility of the Catholic Church by accepting the New Testament as the inspired word of God.

I believe you would agree with the concept of infallibility insofar as it concerns those who wrote the sacred Texts. And you had better hope that the Church was infallible in choosing the Books to be included in what you now consider the final authority of your faith; that they didn’t leave something out, and that they didn’t include something that should not have been included. How do you know?

So you see, you really do believe that another infallible source of doctrine exists; the Catholic Church from whence your “final authority” in the form of the Bible came. :slight_smile:

Peace.

Steve

Steve,

I have seen two arguments your statements that I would be interested in hearing a response to:

  1. God gave authority to the Church in stewardship, until the Bible was finalized and became the authority.

  2. The Catholic Church didn’t make the canon; the one they devised includes (what they view) as non-Scriptural books (the Apocrypha), due to personal study on the characteristics of Scripture and reading the Apocrypha books.

I look forward to your reply.

Hey, don’t change the subject!

He’s trying to change the subject. This has been done to death on a million threads. Take it elsewhere.

Hi.

Please refer to SteveVH information about “infallibility”.

I read 2 Timothy 3:16 All scripture is inspired by God and[a] 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.

But I didn’t see what exactly constitute [all] scripture. I’ve read [all] scripture and I couldn’t find book, chapter and verse that tells me what is [all] scripture.

There is an index at the beginning of all my Bibles and I always wonder who put them there and if whoever put it there made a mistake or not. Since the only [inerrant] source is Scriptures and they don’t tell me without error what am I to consider Scripture.

Big dilemma… I have an errant source telling me something is inerrant… What to do?

When I read [all] the scriptures again I found something that helped me:

1 Timothy 3:15 if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.

And it’s written to this same Timothy guy. Imagine my wonder :slight_smile:

So this inerrant source of scripture tells me that the pillar and bulwark of the truth is the church. Who am I to argue against that?

:smiley:

As to what Sola Scriptura means… well I have gotten a different definition from Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Non-Denominationals, Anglicans, Catholics, Orthodox… you name it.

I think it is safe to say that it doesn’t have a singular meaning and it’s something that is particular to each denomination.

 I live in the Bible Belt in beautiful Charlotte, NC.  I have nothing but the utmost respect and regard for Evangelical Christians.  They are devout in their faith.  They eager and zealous in their love of Christ to share their faith.  Unlike many of the older Protestant demoninations they are mainting their traditions and values.  They are not falling into the quick sand of Moral Relativism like many of the mainstream Protestant denominations. 
 Where I respectfully disagree with your statement is that many of the Evangelical Christians I have engaged in coversation with have told me point blank that the bible is the only sourse of Divine Revelation. In the South the Non Demoninational Evangelical Churches are among the fastest growing churches.  In the event an individual does not agree with the values or the doctrine of a church they are attending they are able to leave that church and find one that is more in line with their personal views and beliefs.  This discussion begs the question:  How do Protestants determine which Protestant denomination hold the truth?  :signofcross:

I just googled the phrase “Bible is our only authority,” and I found numerous Protestant churches that claim that the Bible is their only authority. Examples:

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) - “The Bible is our only authority in matters of religion; not our opinions, emotions, conscience, or human feelings.” (bible.ca/interactive/worship-18-singing.htm)

Truth Magazine - “As Christians, we understand that the Bible is our only authority in religion.” (truthmagazine.com/archives/volume40/GOT040007.html)

Christadelphians - “Christadelphians believe that the Bible is God’s only revealed message to mankind…[and] their only authority, and it is taught that it should be read prayerfully and with care at every opportunity.” christadelphia.org/manitoba/whoarethechristadelphians.html

By googling “Bible is our SOLE authority” you can get even more results.

Perhaps it would be better to say that some Protestants believe it is the only authority. What do you think of that?

Scripture itself shows that the church may make authoritative interpretations of scripture (Acts 15), and enforce these as a matter of discipline across the local churches (Acts 16:4). Indeed, this is the very basis of the presbyterian church polity of the Reformed branch of Protestantism. An example of the application of such authority would be the almost universal implementation of creeds and confessions across Protestant churches, which are regarded as authoritative, despite not being part of the scripture. Some of these we will share with Catholics (eg the Nicene Creed), while others we will not (eg the Westminster Confession of Faith).

Correct me if I’m wrong, but if you thought the Westminster Confession of Faith might be wrong about something, you could still be a Protestant and reject its teaching. I think that is theoretically true for anything outside of the Bible, in Protestantism. (I would love to be corrected on this.) You can SAY that X, Y, and Z have authority, but if you think X, Y, or Z can be in error, what authority do they have on points where you think they are wrong? To me, it boils down to no authority at all. How do you defend the idea that the Presbyterian Church has binding authority on what’s true and what’s false, if you think its teachings can be wrong? (Or is that even an accurate description of what you think?)

Indeed, it is the scripture that establishes the authority of the church (Acts 15, Acts 16:4, Matthew 18;17-19 etc).

I think the Church had that authority even before those passages were written down. In fact, I think it had binding authority before ANY of the New Testament was written down. Therefore, I don’t think the Scriptures establish the authority of the Church, but the Church came before the New Testament (and neither can be in error). What do you think of that argument?

Likewise, the scripture shows the church to be subordinate and subject to the scriptures. For example, the Thessalonians were commended for searching out the scriptures to prove the teachings of Paul himself (Acts 17:11)

I think that is a misunderstanding of that passage. Throughout Acts, St. Paul argues with Jews by quoting prophecies to prove that Jesus was the Messiah. I think Acts 17:11 shows the Bereans checking to see if those prophecies were really there. Paul had no authority at all to them, binding or non, until they became Christian. At least, that is my understanding of the passage, and I don’t think it reveals anything about Scripture being of greater authority than the Apostles’ oral words. In fact, I think Presbyterians and Catholics agree that the Apostles’ oral teachings were the Word of God as much as the Bible was. 1 Thess. 2:13. Is that what you believe as well?

This issue aside, one important point to note is that while Protestants do not believe the Bible to be the sole source of all doctrine and discipline, we do believe it to contain all that is necessary for salvation, and that its teachings in this particular matter are sufficiently clear that they are of themselves sufficient to preach salvation.

When people say this, I like to ask them about important teachings that they disagree with other Protestants on. For example, if I understand Lutheran beliefs correctly, they believe that the Eucharist contains the real body and blood of Christ, and that receiving the Eucharist is necessary for salvation. But, if I understand Presbyterianism correctly, Presbyterians think it is just a symbol. Are the Lutherans lost because they disagree with you on a clear teaching about salvation, or am I misunderstanding something?

Protestants believe that the scriptures are indeed sufficient to make us wise unto salvation

I don’t think the key word “sufficient” was contained in the verse you quoted. Thus, it seems that not even that verse is sufficient to teach the doctrine you believe in. What do you think of that argument?

I think the OP has a good point, the article makes it seem like Sola Scriptura has a uniformly known, clear definition. Naturally, it can’t address all of them, but should at least hit on some of the more common ones.

Christ gave authority to the Church in very specific terms; the Keys, the power to bind and loose; the power to forgive sins. He also promised the Holy Spirit to lead the Church into all truth. Nowhere did he command or even suggest that his Apostles or disciples write anything down.

Now, if you can show me where Sacred Scripture even implies that the Church would only possess this authority until the Bible was written I will reconsider my position. In other words, what evidence can you produce that supports your proposition?

Please provide evidence that the deuterocanonical books are non-Scriptural. Or is this just your opinion? Are you the authority to which we should turn to decide this issue?

More importantly, tell me how you know the book of Hebrews is the inerrant, inspired word of God and that the canon of the New Testament is to include 27 books? Where and how did you obtain this information and why do you accept it?

Thanks.

Steve

You mean the subject as to whether or not the Bible is the final authority in one’s faith? What subject do you think we are discussing? :shrug:

It looks to me right on subject.

The subject is whether the referenced article is incorrectly representing Sola Scriptura. The subject is not “whether or not the Bible is the final authority in one’s faith”.

Absolutely. If there is one thing I have learned on this forum it is that no two are exactly alike in their beliefs and so we should never make sweeping statements about “Protestants”. But that is kind of the point; a myriad of beliefs and variation in those beliefs as direct result of sola scriptura and private interpretation of Scripture.

What they all have in common is that Scripture trumps Tradition, it is only a matter of degree. As you know, we consider them equal as they come from the same divine source. We look to the Church, the pillar and bulwark of faith, as the authentic interpreter of both Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture.

Peace.

Steve

I was specifically addressing this comment, Tomi. And it is on subject:

Originally Posted by Covenanter
…What is claimed is that the Bible is the only infallible source of doctrinal authority.

:tiphat:

Hi TG,
As a Lutheran:

  1. I can’t recall where scripture says this, but I do recall scripture giving the Church the power of the keys, without a time limit.

  2. Catholics here will tell you that I vigorously defend Luther’s privilege to dispute particular books of the Bible, as was the case from the earliest centuries of the Church.
    By the same token, the historic position of much of the Church, many of the Fathers, both east and west, is that the seven books in question were and are scripture. If nothing else, we as non-Catholic, non-Orthodox western Christians must recognize this fact. It was not “devised” as such. We can point to Trent and claim that that was when the Catholic Church set dogma about the canon, but we can’t honestly claim that it doesn’t reflect a significant amount of Church history.

Jon

Jon, for the record, again, can you tell us if you agree with the OP’s position, and subsequently all of Protestantism, of the definition of sola scriptura? The OP seems to be speaking for all of Protestantism and if we have learned anything here on CAF, that is a dangerous position.

Peace!!!

Not far off, from my perspective.

Sola Scriptura does not claim the Bible to be the only source of doctrinal authority. What is claimed is that the Bible is the only infallible source of doctrinal authority. While both Protestants and Catholics will agree that scripture is an infallible source of doctrine (2 Timothy 3:16-17), the Protestant position is that no other infallible source of doctrine is anywhere established.

We would say that scripture is the only final norm for doctrine. Doctrine is determined by the Church, using scripture. In no way is Tradition ignored or excluded, and Tradition, such as the creeds, can be authoritative. The Lutheran confessions say we pledge ourselves to the three creeds.

Jon

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