Some say the Bible is all that is needed for salvation — maybe this is so. If you were stranded on a desert island with only a Bible; perhaps you would become a Christian. But you would certainly not become a Baptist, or a Catholic, or some other kind of Christian. Yet all these emphasize their distinctive organizational structures and doctrinal views.
Perhaps we should go back to a Bible-based Christianity. But those emphasizing Sola Scripturawould be horrified at the suggestion; they would have to give up their particular Bible interpretations not shared by others, since these are obviously not clearly taught in the Bible (otherwise, why the controversy?)
There are two general fallacies with Sola Scriptura; reasons why it simply isn't true.
Sola Scriptura is the Protestant doctrine which states (regarding matters of faith):
The doctrine of Sola Scriptura is unsound.
Sola Scriptura means:
scripture only, or
Verses refuting Sola Scriptura
Many passages in the Bible contradict Sola Scriptura:
The house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:15)
The church is the pillar of truth, not the Bible.
And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him. (Acts 8:30-31)
This passage refutes the notion of Sola Scriptura.
Understanding the scriptures requires someone to instruct, but who is qualified? If nothing is needed except the scripture why do we need people to interpret it and to instruct us? And why do the various Protestant interpretations contradict? The true source of authoritative interpretation is the Holy Spirit who does not contradict himself.
We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. (2 Peter 1:19,20)
The word we of verse 19 refers to the apostles and the next generation of orthodox church leaders who received the message they passed-down. After this (2 Peter 2:1-2) Peter introduces the topic of fighting false teaching and heresy with this received message, not with the scripture.
The biblical passages refuting Sola Scriptura can be divided into these categories:
Protestants typically "explain" the passages that refute Sola Scriptura by ...
I prefer to accept these passages as they are.
Passages misused in supporting Sola Scriptura
In the attempt to "prove" Sola Scriptura some passages are given a meaning they simply don't have.
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16)
This verse doesn't say anything about "only scripture."
I should mention that all these things are true about scripture (both Old and New Testaments)
These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. (Acts 17:11)
Upon hearing the preaching of the "word" the Bereans compared it with the Old Testament (the "scriptures") and concluded that Paul's message was trustworthy and true. They did not believe Sola Scriptura, rather, they believed Paul.
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
The "Word of God" contained in the Bible is all these things. But this verse does not say (1) that the Bible is all that is necessary, nor does it say (2) that the "Word of God"is limited to the written words in the Bible.
Can't prove Sola Scriptura from the Bible
The doctrine of Sola Scriptura is not contained in the Bible.
The Bible doesn't inform us which writings are to be included in the canon of scripture, but this knowledge is a prerequisite for Sola Scriptura — we must first know which writings are included in the Bible and which are not before we can consider the Bible to be an authority.
In defending Sola Scriptura certain biblical passages are presented as having a meaning which they simply do not have.
Some biblical passages highlight other authority besides the scripture.
Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? (James 4:5)
James quotes something that is not in the New Testament and calls it scripture. Therefore, Sola Scriptura is without foundation.
In the New Testament the word "scripture" refers to the Old Testament, not to the New Testament; in fact, not one New Testament passage uses the term scripture to refer to the New Testament (this is not surprising since the New Testament had not yet been written).
For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. (Romans 15:4)
Scripture = Old Testament.
And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another. (1 Corinthians 4:6)
This passage is specifically referring to the Old Testament.
As also in all his [Paul's] epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:16)
This verse seems to equate Paul's letters as scripture but it says nothing about scripture being the only thing that is needed. The phrase "other scriptures" refers to the Old Testament.
Verbal Teaching is Valid
Many verses in the New Testament indicate that verbal teaching is valid. This refutes Sola Scriptura which teaches that only scripture is authoritative. Certainly the writers of the New Testament didn't believe that.
Protestants might object that the early Christians didn't have the New Testament so all they had was verbal teaching, but that is exactly the point — not one Bible verse teaches that some day in the future the Bible is to be the only authority.
Having many things to write unto you, I would not write with paper and ink: but I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be full. (2 John 1:12) I had many things to write, but I will not with ink and pen write unto thee. (3 John 1:13)
These verses should shock adherents of Sola Scriptura; John prefers to share information verbally rather than write it down. Presumably whatever these "many things" are, they are not in the Bible. How can we know about these except by learning what was passed-down to the early church?
His communication was verbal, not written. If Sola Scriptura were correct there would be nothing more for him to say: the written word would be sufficient.
By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:2)
Not everything that Paul preached to them was written down yet he considers this information to be essential to salvation. How are we to hear about all of this just from the Bible?
Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father. (1 John 2:24)
Notice that they "heard from the beginning" before the Bible was written. This demonstrates that the verbal message is valid. Notice that John doesn't repeat what they heard, he merely assumes they know it or that they will continue to hear it from orthodox church leaders.
God's Word manifests in many ways
The source of Divine Revelation is God himself; he revealed his Living Word to the apostles and prophets directly, not through writing. Later these apostles and prophets shared these received revelations both verbally and by writing them down. But the Word of God is the authority, not the medium of communication of the message (for example, the writings).
Certainly the Bible contains the Word of God and is authoritative, but the Word of God takes other forms also. For example, the Word of God manifested in the council of Nicea when the bishops formulated the Nicene Creedin response to the Arian heresy.
Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. (Ephesians 3:5)
This Divine Revelation was not made known by scripture alone (Sola Scriptura) but was revealed to the apostles.
The apostles were the first leaders of the Christian church. They had the authority (1) to teach correct doctrine, and (2) to interpret scripture.
We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:19)
The apostles possessed the reliable prophetic message and this message is the important thing whether communicated via scripture or tradition.
Who is qualified to interpret? The word we refers to the apostles and those who teach the same orthodox gospel message.
I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one. (1 John 2:14)
Protestant fundamentalists often equate the phrase "word of God" with the Bible. But the true Word of God is the gospel message of redemption expressed in the holy life of Christians.
Other authority besides the Bible
The Word of God manifests in many ways. Some examples:
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. (1 Thessalonians 5:21)
The criteria we must use for testing all things is goodness, not scripture. This contradicts the doctrine of Sola Scriptura which claims that scripture is the final authority.
If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God. (1 Peter 4:11)
We should preach the words (plural) of God; these are not limited to the words of Bible — God has other words besides the Bible.
Sacred traditions are authoritative
The Protestant Reformers opposed what they called traditions of men but we must distinguish between sacred traditions and human traditions. Sacred traditionsare those truths of the Christian faith bringing redemption.
We must allow for human traditions that do not violate the Christian faith. Examples of these:
Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle. (2 Thessalonians 2:15)
We are to stand firm in the traditions of the apostles, including oral traditions. Certainly manmade traditions have no binding spiritual authority, this in contrast to the traditions and teachings passed-down from the apostles which are authoritative.
Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. (2 Thessalonians 3:6)
Apostolic tradition is the measure of true Christian faith.
Ignatius, 108 A.D. I heard some saying, If I do not find it in the ancient Scriptures, I will not believe the Gospel; on my saying to them, It is written, they answered me, That remains to be proved. But to me Jesus Christ is in the place of all that is ancient: His cross, and death, and resurrection, and the faith which is by Him, are undefiled monuments of antiquity.
Ignatius addresses those who claim they won't believe unless they find it in the scripture (Sola Scriptura). Notice that he seems to believe that the faith (based on tradition) is sufficient proof.
Notice also that these who claim they will believe if they can find it written in the scriptures interpret the scriptures in such a way that they don't find the gospel in the scriptures. This question of who is qualified to accurately interpret the scriptures highlights one of the problems with Sola Scriptura; no one can agree. But Ignatius sidesteps all this by stating that the faith passed down by the church is the authority.
Papias, 115–140 A.D. If, then, any one came, who had been a follower of the elders, I questioned him in regard to the words of the elders,-what Andrew or what Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the disciples of the Lord, and what things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I did not think that what was to be gotten from the books would profit me as much as what came from the living and abiding voice.
The Writings of Papias, From Book 3 of Ecclesiastical
History by Eusebius, Chap. 39, Para. 4
Papias considered the spoken words (tradition) of trustworthy individuals to have a greater value than the scriptures.
Irenaeus, 180 A.D. True knowledge is [that which consists in] the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes]; and [it consists in] reading [the word of God] without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy.
Against Heresies, Book 4, Chap. 33, Para. 8
Notice that the scripture is merely one aspect of true knowledge; the Church through her validly-ordained succession of bishops (tradition) also plays a key role.
Certainy Irenaeus didn't intend to include heretics or other unqualified men in his list of valid bishops,nor did he teach the concept of the sacrament of Holy Orders, that the ordination ceremony itself confers sacramental power. The problem is, historically, the bishops did not present a united voice in teaching the true gospel; heresy abounded, and this from so-called validly-ordained bishops.
Tertullian, 200 A.D. But if there be any (heresies) which are bold enough to plant themselves in the midst Of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the apostles, because they existed in the time of the apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [that first bishop of theirs] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men,-a man, moreover, who continued stedfast with the apostles. . . . To this test, therefore will they be submitted for proof by those churches, who, although they derive not their founder from apostles or apostolic men (as being of much later date, for they are in fact being founded daily), yet, since they agree in the same faith, they are accounted as not less apostolic because they are akin in doctrine.
The Prescription Against Heretics, Chap. 32
According to Tertullian, the litmus test of true teaching is its source: not the scriptures but, rather, from a bishop ordinated via apostolic succession. Tertullian had in mind holy and orthodox bishops,not heretics or corrupt bishops. But their ordination does not guarantee they qualify since, historically, many heretics were validly-ordained.
Sola Scriptura is typically supported by citing evidence from the Bible itself. But this is a circular argument and is therefore invalid. (The book of Mormon and the Koran make similar claims.)
Protestants don't completely rely on the Bible as they claim. They must consider other factors from outside the Bible because Sola Scriptura itself of necessity requires authority outside the Bible. A few obvious examples:
The flawed assumptions of Sola Scriptura:
The Bible is silent about many important issues in church life. Why should we assume we can invent whatever information we wish to fill these gaps? Many important topics are simply missing in the New Testament (for example, the specifications for how to conduct a worship service). Do we really have complete freedom to do whatever we choose in these areas? And shouldn't we consult early church teaching and practice?
Protestant teachers and preachers don't agree how to interpret the Bible and they regularly contradict each other on important issues. More disturbing, they contradict the Bible.
Protestants have spiritual authority other than the Bible. A few examples not already mentioned:
These facts don't disprove Sola Scriptura, they merely demonstrate that Protestants don't really wholeheartedly believe it.
I believe the Bible to be the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God (but not the only Word of God). The following factors are the necessary ingredients in defining the Christian faith:
At one time it was impossible for scripture (the New Testament) to be the sole authority for the Christian faith because the books and letters of the New Testament were not yet written.
The several time periods of Christianity in relation to the scripture:
|Time Period||Authority for Faith|
|Apostolic, phase 1 — before they wrote anything||
|Apostolic, phase 2||
|First generation after the apostles||
|Nicene Creed to Canon||
|Up to the Protestant Reformation||
|Up to modern times||
The Old Testament can never be the authority for Christianity unless combined with the New Testament.
The doctrine of Sola Scriptura was only possible after the Council of Carthage in 397 A.D. when the canon of scripture (list of books) was defined. (Before this time many people accepted non-inspired books, the so-called Apocrypha, as divinely-inspired.) Without a clear definition of which writings are truly the Word of God, the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is impossible.
The Deuterocanonical books (called Apocrypha by modern anti-Catholics) were discarded from the canon of scripture during the Protestant Reformation (the first edition of the King James Bible includes these books). Yet the foundational Christian doctrines were derived using this flawed set of books; how can we trust these?