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Is the Bible all that is Needed?

I abandoned this article on 8/15/2011 in favor of my fresh one about the same topic (click here to read it).

In the early 1500's the Protestant Reformers invented the doctrine of Sola Scriptura (scripture only or scripture alone) which teaches that the Bible is the only source of spiritual authority. These reformers rejected the Catholic teaching that, in addition to the Bible, the church and sacred tradition are sources of spiritual authority.

As I shall demonstrate, the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is unsound and cannot be supported either from church history or from the pages of scripture itself. However, I should emphasize that I believe the Bible to be the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God (but it is not the only Word of God). I believe the Bible should be interpreted literally and that wild allegoricalinterpretations (ala Origen and the Liberal Christians of modern days) should be rejected.

This article addresses these topics:

  1. What do Protestants mean by Sola Scriptura?
  2. How do they support Sola Scriptura?
  3. Why is Sola Scriptura unsound?
  4. What are the side effects of Sola Scriptura
  5. What are the alternatives to Sola Scriptura?
  6. What is the Word of God, rightly understood?
  7. Is this really an important issue?

 *Sola Scriptura*  Sola Scriptura


Overview

Was this doctrine in existence before the Protestant Reformation? (Protestants claim it was).

Sola Scriptura (scripture alone) is the Protestant teaching which states (regarding matters of faith):

  1. The Bible is the only thing that is needed.
  2. The Bible contains everything that is needed.

But the facts are clear that:

  1. The apostles did not teach it.
  2. The Bible does not teach it.
  3. The Early Church Fathers did not teach it (because the apostles never taught it to them).
  4. It was considered a heresy from the earliest days of the church.
  5. It requires the use of circular reasoning by assuming the conclusion.
  6. It requires prerequisite truths outside of the Bible.
  7. It has undesirable side-effects.
  8. The Bible contradicts it.
  9. It did not become mainstream until the Protestant Reformation.

Apostles did not Teach Sola Scriptura

There are passages in the New Testament which indicate that verbal instruction and teaching are valid. This contradicts Sola Scriptura which teaches that only the scripture is authoritative. Certainly the writers of the New Testament didn't believe that.

It is the apostles who are the head of the institutional church. They have the authority to (1) teach correct doctrine, and (2) interpret scripture.


Sola Scriptura Requires Prerequisite Truths Outside the Bible

Sola Scriptura itself of necessity requires authority outside the Bible. A few obvious examples:

  • The creeds are not contained in the Bible.
  • The bylaws of any denomination are not contained in the Bible.

I've noticed that Protestants don't completely rely on the Bible as they claim. The following are additional things which even they must consider:

  1. To determine which books and letters are inspired and authoritative (the Canon) required assistance from the Early Church Fathers. The Canon cannot be derived from the Bible itself. The doctrine of Sola Scriptura must assume that we first have an authoritative set of books to work with.
  2. The doctrine of Sola Scriptura itself originated from the Protestant reformers and is therefore merely an interpretation of the Bible. Interpretations require assumptions and information which originate from outside the Bible. These include: (1) Rules of interpretation and hermeneutical principles, (2) knowledge about Biblical times and history, (3) archaeological evidence, (4) an accurate translation of the Bible, (5) philosophical and theological biases which inevitably guide the interpretation (Martin Luther certainly had a bias which he could not disguise). Those who hold to Sola Scriptura pretend that the Bible is easy to accurately interpret but the fact of so many contradictory interpretations proves that this is not the case.
  3. Many key doctrines, such as the Trinity, which are accepted as foundational by Protestants are not specifically formulated in the Bible but centuries later by the Church — usually in response to heresy. All doctrines are based on biblical interpretations and these interpretations are outside of the Bible. As a result the doctrines themselves are also outside of the Bible. To be true to Sola Scriptura we would not need any additional books of doctrinal formulations, Catechisms, or commentaries; yet Protestants have a high regard for these. Even sermons are extra-Biblical — it should be sufficient to merely read the Bible during church because expounding on the scripture violates Sola Scriptura.

Even Protestants must admit that there are several sources of valid extra-biblical information:

  1. We must trust the determination of the Canon by the Early Church Fathers and the church.
  2. We should consider the writings of the Church Fathers and the Synods (the Creeds) to assist us in properly interpreting the Bible and avoiding heresy.

Sola Scriptura has undesirable side-effects

Side-effects of Sola Scriptura.

  • Protestant teachers contradict each other.
  • Protestant teaching contradicts the Bible.
  • Protestants don't agree how to interpret the Bible.
  • Sola Scriptura provides a justification for claiming that Christ's Church failed.
  • Protestant doctrines are not stated in the Bible.
  • Denominational bylaws and distinctives are not in the Bible.
  • Protestant doctrines have developed over time.
  • There is disunity among those who accept Sola Scriptura.
  • Not all topics are in the Bible.

One problem with Sola Scriptura (and the problem that resulted in my conversion to Catholicism) is that no one can seem to agree on what the Bible even says. Each denomination and each system of Protestant Theology contradicts each other on important points. If all we needed was the Bible then we would be able to agree on what it says.

Those who follow Sola Scriptura may respond by noting that they all agree on the fundamental, foundational, and essential doctrines of the faith as expressed in the creeds. But they should consider that the creeds are merely interpretations of the Bible which were formulated by the Early Church Fathers in ecumenical councils. In addition, the creeds and other doctrinal statements are expressed in other documents besides the Bible.

The creeds are a part of the many traditions of the church herself. Thus, it is tradition that provides the foundational unity of the Protestant denominations rather than Sola Scriptura. Church organizations which don't adhere to these traditions, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons are rightly not even considered as truly Christian because it is tradition which defines Christianity, not the Bible. (Both Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses claim to base their faith on the Bible.)

The flawed assumptions of Sola Scriptura:

  1. That the New Testament talks about all important topics.
  2. That the New Testament gives a proper emphasis on each topic (but why so much emphasis on genealogy [Matthew 1] and virginity [1 Corinthians 7], for example?)
  3. That doctrine does not develop (but the Trinity did develop, for example)

What is conspicuously missing in the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is the need for a single unified interpretation authority. Without a Holy Spirit-inspired interpretation people can come up all kinds of conflicting interpretations, which is exactly what we observe in the various Protestant denominations and Protestant systems of theology.

The doctrine of Sola Scriptura itself is a doctrine which developed over time. The notion of Sola Scriptura as a foundation for the faith simply did not exist prior to the Protestant Reformation because it was promoted by Martin Luther in the early 1500's. This is significant because the notion that doctrines can develop over time is typically rejected by those who base their faith on Sola Scriptura. But Sola Scriptura is itself a developed doctrine.

The Christian Church is fragmented with disunity as is witnessed by the multiplicity of denominations. If the Bible were the only thing necessary why is there not a single, unified church?

There has been doctrinal development over time. For example:
  • The Trinity took hundreds of years to formulate. This was done in response to heretical claims.
  • The doctrine of the inerrancy of scripture took time to develop. This doctrine did not exist until after the New Testament was written and until the Canon of Scripture was determined.
  • All the foundational doctrines that appear in the table of contents of any book of Systematic Theology developed over time.
  • Even the Protestant Reformers developed doctrines 1,500 years after Christ. Examples are Sola Scriptura (scripture alone) and Sola Fide (faith alone).

Protestants claim that the Bible is the sole authority in all that it asserts. The difficulty of this view is that so many well-meaning theologians have come up with so many different interpretations from the same Bible. Who are we to believe?

Why do Protestant teachers disagree about so many teachings? Why would God give us His inerrant word and we would not be able to properly interpret it? Examples of disagreements:
  • Calvinism vs. Arminianism
  • Easy-believism vs. Lordship salvation
  • Young-earth creationism vs. old-earth progressive creationism
  • Baptism as a symbol vs. Baptism actually removing original sin
  • Communion as a symbol vs. the Real Presence
  • End-time viewpoints
  • Charismatic vs. non-charismatic
  • Miraculous healing is the norm for today vs. the miraculous gifts ended with the apostles
  • The various forms of church government
  • Trinity vs. Modalism

For many of these topics you, the reader, may have already taken a strong stand for one position over the other. But there are many respected teachers and scholars who have taken the other side. Who is right? How can we know the truth?

Commonly it is claimed that these topics are not essentials to the faith, but some of them are rather important. But even the disagreements about the non-essential points are troubling. The fact that we can't properly interpret God's revealed revelation implies that God was not particularly concerned with clearly communicating the truth. But of course this simply can't be.

There is a side effect of Sola Scriptura which Protestants ignore. Since Sola Scriptura assumes that anyone can properly interpret the Bible and arrive at the correct interpretation, Protestants should be willing to embrace a variety of interpretations including non-standard ones as long as the proponents have provided adequate Biblical support. Of course, few Protestants are willing to do this because they each consider themselves as the only valid authoritative interpretation authority. For example, Martin Luther considered his interpretation of the scripture to be the correct one. Examples of views with adequate biblical support that should also be acceptable to those believing Sola Scriptura: (1) non-Trinitarian views of Christ, (2) amillennialism, and (3) the claims of Jehovah's Witnesses. The only way to be certain of the truth of a particular interpretation which has adequate biblical support is with the genuine Holy Spirit-inspired interpretative authority.


Sola Scriptura did not become mainstream until the Protestant Reformation

Sola Scriptura appears in earnest with Wycliffe and Hus in the 1300's. It was mentioned occasionally in the very early centuries of the church and was refuted by the early church fathers, but note: in those early days those who were opposed to Sola Scriptura were orthodox in their faith and those who used Sola Scriptura as a basis for their views were clearly heretics (such as Arians) — even Protestants admit this.


The Canon

The Canon was determined by the Early Church Fathers and, in fact, cannot be derived from the pages of the Bible itself — we must trust their conclusions. They decided which books to include in the Canon (because they were apostolic and accurately taught the faith) and which books to reject.

The criteria used in determining which books and letters should be included in the Canon:

  1. Discover which were written by the Apostles and their assistants.
  2. Ensure that the orthodox faith was taught.
  3. Ensure that forgeries were not included.
  4. Ensure that heretical writings were not included.
  5. Ensure that mistranslations were not included.


The original Christian Greek Old Testament canon included some books and writings (called Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical) which the Protestant Reformers later rejected. These writings were included in the Septuagint (written in Greek) and in the 1611 King James Bible. Around 90 A.D. a group of Jewish Rabbis decided to discard these writings from the Hebrew Old Testament because they were originally written in Greek instead of Hebrew.

The Protestant Reformers discarded the Apocrypha because these writings contain doctrines which they consider false (such as purgatory, the role of works in salvation, and the immaculate conception of Mary). (I should note that I consider these doctrines to be true.)

In my opinion, it is not really that big of an issue whether or not we accept the Apocrypha. These writings don't effect any significant doctrine. People commonly assume that the doctrine of Purgatory can only be determined from the Apocrypha, but this is not the case. Here is the passage in question:

Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin. (2 Maccabees 12:46)

This historical passage speaks about the Jewish practice and belief at the time. But the New Testament also includes a passage with this same doctrine in the context of Christian practice and belief:

Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? (1 Corinthians 15:29)


Biblical Interpretation

How can we be sure that our interpretations of the Bible are correct? Why are there so many different interpretations of key passages? Is the Catholic Church's claim to being the only true authority in biblical interpretation correct?

There are hermeneutical principles we can use to interpret the Bible. But if we look at the writings of the various Bible scholars over the centuries, we find a variety of differing viewpoints. The creeds formulate doctrines on certain matters, such as the Trinity, but these creedal statements have developed over time and even contradict one another. The Catholic Church claims to be the only authority to properly interpret the Bible and sort out these difficult issues. Who can we trust?

Why would God give us His word yet make it so difficult to understand?

The problem is that without accepting a single interpretive authority, we will be forever coming up with our own particular interpretations which will contradict the interpretations of others. We could attempt to find the common set of interpretations that everybody can agree on, but there is practically nothing of significance in this category.

There is another approach to resolve the problem, which I discuss merely to highlight the issues involved. I don't seriously present this option as a viable alternative. This approach is to not use any doctrinal formulations at all but to merely repeat what the Bible says about a topic. An example of this approach follows:

The Trinity as an Example

The Trinity is a key doctrine of the Bible. It has developed over the centuries as people struggled with heretical teachings. Each new formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity came closer to expressing the modern doctrine until there was stability with Augustine's statement and the modern view of the Trinity was established.

But did Paul understand the Trinity in the modern form? I suspect not. What seems clear in the New Testament is that Paul (and others) understood the following key points:

  • There is one God
  • Jesus, the Son, is God
  • The Father is God
  • Jesus had a relationship with the Father
  • The Holy Spirit is God
  • There is no contradiction between the "oneness" and the "manyness" of God

The modern doctrine of the Trinity goes beyond these simple understandings as it attempts to define, explain, and defend the doctrine against attacks from various heretical views.

Two important questions for Protestants to consider are, (1) "If we are committed to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, why should we accept the doctrine of the Trinity at all since it clearly goes beyond the statements of the Biblical text and even adds to Paul's concept?" and (2) "What justification is there for believing in doctrinal formulations that took centuries to develop?"

A Possible Solution to the Dilemma

One possible solution to this dilemma is to adopt a simpler view of Christian doctrine. (As I mentioned previously, I don't consider this a viable alternative). In this solution we would not formulate doctrines at all and would merely:

  • Understand the New Testament statements as they are without "translating" them into doctrinal formulations, and
  • Use the creedal formulations only to guard against heresy (since that is what motivated the creeds in the first place).

This solution is more true to the principle of Sola Scriptura although it still has these fatal problems:

  • There is no way to know what the Canon should be.
  • There is no way to determine the principle of Sola Scriptura — it must be merely assumed.
  • There is no way to know that the Bible is inspired and inerrant.

The significance of this alternative is that rather than attempting to understand difficult doctrinal statements (creeds), we would instead limit our understanding to the words and ideas of the Bible. For example, we would prefer to understand the words of the apostle Paul under the supernatural guidance of the Holy Spirit rather than the words of Augustine. The readers and hearers could then judge for themselves how to understand these inspired words without formulating doctrinal statements.

Thus, when we considered the Trinity, for example, we would content ourselves with understanding what the New Testament asserts about the Trinity and de-emphasize the creedal statements about the Trinity. By insisting that the creedal statement is the correct understanding instead of viewing the New Testament statements as sufficient, we are in danger of making the Church Fathers our authority for understanding the Bible rather than using the Bible itself as the final word on the matter. Doing so contradicts the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.

We would then have the freedom to understand the words of the Bible in whatever manner we chose, using the creeds as our guide to keep from misunderstanding God's intent and drifting off into heretical views. But the side effects of this procedure are that there would not be a unity of belief and the church would be fragmented. This alternative is very unsatisfying as I have previously indicated. Yet to be true to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura this is really the only viable alternative, otherwise we are inadvertently making the church fathers or the Protestant reformers our authority in violation of Sola Scriptura. There really is no satisfying solution to this problem other than to accept an interpretive authority.

To illustrate the difficulties I have highlighted let us consider various viewpoints that are not accepted by mainstream Protestant doctrinal understanding but which result from this process of doctrinal definition. For example, the doctrine of "modality" (that there is one person of God who operates in three modes) was developed by focusing on trying to explain what the Bible leaves unsaid and to understand its meaning beyond what is explicitly stated. The Bible doesn't consider how to reconcile the apparent contradiction between the oneness of God and the manyness of the three persons of the Godhead. By going beyond what the Bible explicitly asserts the modalists have developed a doctrine that is troublesome and problematic. They should have contented themselves with either (1) understanding the simple statements of the Bible on the topic, or (2) accepting the doctrine of the Trinity as formulated by the early church.

Summary of this Alternative

Without the obvious solution of accepting an interpretative authority, there is only one other possible solution (but it is not very satisfying and does not provide a unified church). To reiterate the point, the two aspects of this solution are:

  1. Rather than dwell on creedal statements and formulated doctrines, we would instead focus on the statements of the Bible. Doctrines and topics that fall into this category are Calvinism, Trinity, Eschatology, Genesis, Faith, Sin and many others.
  2. We would use the creeds and the writings of the Early Church Fathers as a guide to assist us in avoiding heretical viewpoints — but not in place of the statements of the Bible.

Inerrancy

Related article: Inerrancy

Protestants consider the Bible to be the inerrant word of God — and rightly so. Yet as the previous section demonstrates, many rely on the creedal statements and the writings of the Church Fathers over the clear statements of the Bible. They do this because they believe that these extra-biblical writings are more authoritative than the words of the Bible itself (but they are not aware that they are doing this).

How do we know that the Bible is inerrant? And how do we know that the Bible is uniquely inspired by God in a manner unique to any other body of writings? The answer is surprising.

We believe that the Bible is inerrant because the Early Church Fathers and the early church leaders have said so. The issue is one of trust. Who do we trust in formulating our basic ideas about God and Truth? The Catholics have thought this issue through and have some interesting perspectives which Protestants should consider.

The Process of Determining Biblical Inerrancy

See also How to know what is true

The steps we must follow are:

  1. The Early Church Fathers affirm that the books of the canon (the New Testament) are authoritative and were commonly in use by the early church.
  2. In reading the New Testament we learn many amazing things about God, Jesus and humankind. We also learn that the Apostles of Jesus are the authoritative messengers of Truth — that their writings are to be trusted (this hints at the doctrine of inerrancy).
  3. The Early Church Fathers affirm that, yes, the New Testament is inerrant and that we can and should trust it.
  4. Throughout church history, as the Church Fathers battled against heretical teachings, they defined and clarified important doctrines. One of these was the doctrine of inerrancy and the related doctrine of the inspiration of scripture.
  5. But this is not enough. We must also have a way to determine which of the writings and doctrines of the Church Fathers are correct and which are in error. Up until the time of the Protestant Reformation only the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches determined this (but they did not always agree).

Thus, we depend on both the Church Fathers and the early church in understanding the inerrancy of the Bible. We believe their testimony just as we believe the testimony of the Apostles who wrote the New Testament. In short:

  • The Church Fathers and the early church testify to (1) the Canon, (2) the inerrancy of the Canon, and (3) they formulate creeds and doctrines in the fight against heresy.
  • The writers of the New Testament — (1) wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and therefore, (2) the New Testament is inerrant.

Conclusions Regarding Inerrancy

  1. We should refer to the writings of the Church Fathers but recognize that their writings are not inerrant.
  2. The Bible (both New Testament and Old Testament) are inerrant.
  3. We depend on the writings of the Church Fathers to understand that the Bible is inerrant.
  4. We must rely on the testimony of orthodox Christians over the centuries to tell us (1) which particular writings of the Church Fathers are correct and which are merely man's opinions, (2) that the Bible is inerrant, and (3) the proper way to interpret the Bible.

Role of Church Fathers

The previous sections suggest that the Church Fathers have an important role in our understanding of the Bible and its doctrines. Specifically, we depend on the Church Fathers in three ways:

  • The Early Church Fathers confirmed which books properly belong in the Canon.
  • The Church Fathers confirmed that the Bible is inerrant.
  • The Church Fathers formulated doctrinal and creedal statements as they fought against heresy. We should refer to these statements so that we can learn from their experience.

The Catholic Church claims that the Church Fathers played a key role in determining correct doctrine because the Church inaugurated by Christ is the ultimate authority in matters of faith, doctrine, practice and morals, and this Church includes people. The writings of the Church Fathers are to be used as a guide to assist us in avoiding the errors that others have made.

When we read and study the writings of the Church Fathers as they fought against heresy we have to consider the key issues just as they did. Doing this keeps us from falling into the same errors that others did. And thinking about things from the point of view of the Church Fathers helps us avoid heretical views on modern issues as they come up.

This is, of course, the role that the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches claim to have provided for nearly 2,000 years; that only a divinely-inspired interpretation authoritycan possibly correctly determine which writings of the Church Fathers are true and which are merely man's opinions.

The writings of the Church Fathers are not inerrant. Because of this we must judge what they say by comparing it (1) with the Bible, (2) with reality, and (3) with the teachings of the early Church.Just because the writings of the Church Fathers are not inerrant is not to say their writings are not valuable — to the contrary, they are very valuable and useful for the reasons already stated.


The Alternative

The alternative to Sola Scriptura. The question is, "What is the final authority for Christian truth, doctrine, faith, and moral teaching?" The answer: A Holy Spirit-inspired teaching authority is required, which teaches:

  • The Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God. It contains truth and is free from error, but must be interpreted by the Holy Spirit-inspired teaching authority to guarantee correct interpretation. Not all truths are in the Bible.
  • The only path to salvation is through Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity. There is no salvation outside of His sacrifice on the cross.
  • We are saved by faith which works, because faith without works is dead faith. (James 2:17)

Bible is Incomplete

There are many important issues in church life about which the Bible is silent. There is no good reason to assume that this means that we can invent whatever information we wish to fill these gaps. Rather, it is more reasonable to assume that the validly-ordained church leaders are guided by the Holy Spirit to provide this information. There is also the precedent from the Old Testament. It would be more reasonable to model church life and practice based on Old Testament Israel in the absence of clear biblical instruction to the contrary.

Many important topics are simply missing in the New Testament (for example, the specifications for how to conduct church community worship services). Do we really have complete freedom to do whatever we choose in these areas? And shouldn't we consult early church teaching and practice?

The writers of the New Testament didn't feel they needed to address every topic in writing because the church leaders were addressing them in person. These biblical writers didn't know yet about the doctrine of Sola Scriptura and they did not do a very good job of providing support for Sola Scriptura in their writings.

An example of the problems with Sola Scriptura is that the Bible nowhere teaches what a worship service should be like. But rather than conclude from this fact that the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is false, Protestants instead assume that they have complete freedom to do whatever they want concerning topics which are not mentioned in the Bible (But the Bible doesn't teach this). This is madness!


"I believe it because I believe it" ...

A thoughtful Protestant friend admitted that he couldn't prove Sola Scriptura, but merely assumed it to be true. If Protestants considered the implications of Sola Scriptura, they would discover that it is a troubling doctrine.

There are serious flaws with Sola Scriptura ...


What Protestants mean by Sola Scriptura ...

QuotesMy comments

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: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.

Chap. 1, Para. 6, The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646)

This quote states that the Bible contains everything necessary for salvation. These things are ...

  • expressly set down in Scripture
  • may be deduced from Scripture

But, the Bible states ...

  • Good works (and faith) are necessary for salvation.
  • Ordination must be by unbroken succession from the apostles (no "self-ordination").
  • The bread and wine of communion are the body and blood of Christ, they are not merely symbols.
  • Those in heaven (Saints) intercede for us on earth, and we can pray to them.
  • There is only one church and it is a human (and divine) institution.
  • The church is "round 2" of the first covenant. Therefore, worship should have priests, a high priest (pope), sacrifice, liturgy, and a liturgical calendar.
  • Consecrated virginity is desirable.
  • The church is the foundation of truth.
  • Mary has a special role.
  • Purgatory is in the Bible.
  • Christ's church would never fail (no need for a Protestant "reformation").
  • No rapture, no literal 1,000 yearearthly kingdom.

The Catholic Church and Orthodox Churches are the only churches which teach these Biblical doctrines.

Nevertheless we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word

Chap. 1, Para. 6, The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646)

This quote states that the Holy Spirit illuminates our understanding.


But what to do when the Holy Spirit illuminates me by providing one interpretation which contradicts the interpretation of another who is also illuminated by the Holy Spirit? There must be a single Holy Spirit-inspired interpretation authority such as that of the Teaching Magisteriumof the Catholic Church.

There are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and the government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.

Chap. 1, Para. 6, The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646)

This quote states that there are areas of spiritual life which are outside of the Bible ...

  • worship of God
  • church governance

This statement in the Westminster Confession of Faith seems arbitrary to me. It provides a loophole to get around the fact that there are topics which are not addressed in the Bible. The reason certain topics are not in the Bible is because these topics were addressed by the church and the liturgy.

Also, where in the Bible does it state that we are to derive principles which we then use in ordering our lives?

All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.

Chap. 1, Para. 7, The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646)

This quote states that everybody can understand the Bible when it comes to issues of salvation. Only certain people can interpret the Bible in other areas.


But who decides which passages are easy to understand and which are difficult (and require interpretation by experts?) I noticed that the difficult passages are actually easy to understand — but they contradict cherished Protestant doctrines (heretical doctrines which were invented during the Protestant "reformation").

The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture, is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it may be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.

Chap. 1, Para. 9, The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646)

This quote states that the clear passages should be used to illuminate the difficult passages.


But the so-called difficult passages are actually clear if you are willing to believe what they say.

By sola Scriptura Protestants mean that Scripture alone is the primary and absolute source for all doctrine and practice (faith and morals).

Norman L. Geisler and Ralph E. MacKenzie, Protestant Understanding of Sola Scriptura

This quote states that scripture alone is the source for all doctrine and practice.

Sola Scriptura implies several things. First, the Bible is a direct revelation from God. As such, it has divine authority. For what the Bible says, God says.

Norman L. Geisler and Ralph E. MacKenzie, Protestant Understanding of Sola Scriptura

Catholics believe this.

Second, the Bible is sufficient: it is all that is necessary for faith and practice. For Protestants "the Bible alone" means "the Bible only" is the final authority for our faith.

Norman L. Geisler and Ralph E. MacKenzie, Protestant Understanding of Sola Scriptura

This quote states that nothing is needed except the Bible.

Third, the Scriptures not only have sufficiency but they also possess final authority. They are the final court of appeal on all doctrinal and moral matters. However good they may be in giving guidance, all the fathers, Popes, and Councils are fallible. Only the Bible is infallible.

Norman L. Geisler and Ralph E. MacKenzie, Protestant Understanding of Sola Scriptura

This quote states that there is no final authority except the Bible. This includes Protestant theologians, scholars, preachers, and teachers.

Fourth, the Bible is perspicuous (clear). The perspicuity of Scripture does not mean that everything in the Bible is perfectly clear, but rather the essential teachings are. Popularly put, in the Bible the main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things. This does not mean — as Catholics often assume — that Protestants obtain no help from the fathers and early Councils. Indeed, Protestants accept the great theological and Christological pronouncements of the first four ecumenical Councils. What is more, most Protestants have high regard for the teachings of the early fathers, though obviously they do not believe they are infallible. So this is not to say there is no usefulness to Christian tradition, but only that it is of secondary importance.

Norman L. Geisler and Ralph E. MacKenzie, Protestant Understanding of Sola Scriptura

This quote states that anyone can understand the essential teachings of the Bible.

Fifth, Scripture interprets Scripture. This is known as the analogy of faith principle. When we have difficulty in understanding an unclear text of Scripture, we turn to other biblical texts. For the Bible is the best interpreter of the Bible. In the Scriptures, clear texts should be used to interpret the unclear ones.

Norman L. Geisler and Ralph E. MacKenzie, Protestant Understanding of Sola Scriptura

This quote states that clear passages are used to interpret difficult passages.


I became Catholic because, as a fundamentalist, evangelical Protestant, I took these ideas to heart. But ...


The early church didn't have a Bible for centuries ...

Therefore, according to Sola Scriptura, there must be two categories of Christians ...

But the Bible doesn't teach this.

QuotesMy comments

Pope Innocent I, in 405, sending a list of the Sacred Books to . . . Exsuperius of Toulouse.

Catholic Encyclopedia,
Canon of the New Testament

On February 20, 405 A.D., Pope Innocent I wrote to Bishop Exuperius of Toulouse, and sent him at his request, a list of the books that are part of the Bible

William G. Most, Salvation History

Council of Carthage (397) and a subsequent decree by Pope Innocent I that Christendom had a fixed New Testament canon.

catholic.net, Protestants and Sola Scriptura

It wasn't until about 400 A.D. that the canon of scripture was finally settled. I should note that this canon included the so-called Apocrypha, books of the Old Testament which were rejected by the Protestant Reformers.

Canon 24. Besides the canonical Scriptures, nothing shall be read in church under the name of divine Scriptures. Moreover, the canonical Scriptures are these: . . . On the anniversaries of martyrs, their acts shall also be read.

A.D. 397, Third Council of Carthage

Notice that the primary purpose of the Bible is that it be read in church. This could only occur in liturgical churches (such as Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, Episcopalian) which have Bible readings (as opposed to long sermons instead of readings as in many Protestant churches).

Notice also that the church celebrated the anniversaries of martyrs.



Protestants have spiritual authority other than the Bible ...

A few examples ...

  • The canon of scripture. The list of books in the Bible is not specified in the Bible (church councils and the popes determined it).
  • The doctrine of Sola Scriptura is not in the Bible (except by way of interpretation).

These facts don't disprove Sola Scriptura, they merely demonstrate that Protestants don't really wholeheartedly believe it.


It results in a fragmented church ...

QuotesMy comments

Adherents of sola scriptura, by necessity, are forced to not only admit diversity of belief and opinion but to affirm it and celebrate it. They must do so because sola scriptura necessarily results in divergent, contradictory and mutable doctrines, doctrines which not only contradict contemporaneous beliefs but historical ones as well.

The Problems of Biblical Reductionism

The contradictions of various Bible teachers and theologians were very troubling to me.

Christ doesn't want His body to be broken up into thousands of competing and contradictory sects.

Ken Hensley, Sola Scriptura

The doctrine of Sola Scriptura results, of necessity, in a fragmented and disunified church. Everyone interprets the Bible as they see fit and they all come up with contradictory doctrines.

Sola scriptura may be summarized by saying that sola scriptura is unhistorical, unbiblical and unworkable.

catholic.net, Sola Scriptura

A nice summary.



Links ...

The change of attitude toward the Bible, by Joseph Henry Thayer