I first got into internet apologetics five years ago after a stranger contacted me privately about how he claimed to have a vision from God claiming that Catholicism is pagan and a false gospel. So today I decided to write about Sola Scriptura.
Sola Scriptura is one of the two major Sola doctrines of Reformed theology. It is defined as the “teaching that the Scriptures contain all that is necessary for salvation and proper living before God” and that “the Old and New Testaments are the final authority in all that they address” (CARM). Here are some things to think about.
*If the Bible is the final or sole authority, then why did it take the Church to formalize a set Canon of Scriptures, since the Bible is silent on such a thing? The statement that the Canon is made simply by Christ and the Apostles quoting from books is a fallible one, because some that they do not quote directly from with “It is written” are Esther, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes. Yet some apocryphal books are mentioned or quoted: the Book of Enoch (Jude 14-15), the Assumption of Moses (Jude 9), and the Epistle to the Laodiceans (Colossians 4:16).
*Sola Scriptura is very different among different churches. For Lutherans, Sola Scriptura is radically different from what it is to Baptists. For Baptists, it is a bit different from what it is to Pentecostals. For Pentecostals, it is very different from what it is to Methodists. On top of that, Sola Scriptura can be used both by conservative and liberal churches, each claiming they go by what the Bible literally says. In my conversations with Fundamentalists, the have told me there is no such thing as a true or infallible Church, but only what the Bible says and does not say; hence, the status of a person or church being doctrinally sound depends on their interpretation of the Bible. So, can a church go from doctrinally sound to unsound or vice versa? Apparently so; many churches become ‘pro-choice’ while many other become pro-life; others go from low church liturgy to high church liturgy. There are over 33,000 denominations claiming they interpret the Bible infallibly and cling to Sola Scriptura. I ask many, which is the true biblical church? Not one has answered me this; one answered, “I personally think…” Unfortunately, when we explain that we disagree with Sola Scriptura, many get the assumption that we hate the Bible and do not believe that the Bible has everything we need for edification in the faith. The reason we disagree with Sola Scriptura is because it is an attempt to interpret the Bible for oneself independent of the authority of the Church; it is because this doctrine allows for one to interpret what they say is or is not in the Bible instead of what necessarily is or is not in the Bible.
*Quoting from the Bible is useful, since the Bible is an extremely sourceful and reliable book — and is inspired or “breathed by God” [theopneustos] (2 Timothy 3:16) — but that does not mean the Bible alone (Sola Scriptura) is authoritative. They do not mention that the Bible itself does not give itself sole authority, yet it says that the Church is the “pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Our Lord told His Apostles that one should “tell the Church” and “if he refuses to listen even to the Church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or tax collector” (Matthew 18:17). This verse indicates the authority of the Church as given by Christ Himself, who is the husband of the Church (Ephesians 5:23) and has founded His Church upon the Apostles (Ephesians 2:20). The foundation of the Church upon the Apostles means that this power is transfered from the Apostles to their successors: priests, bishops and popes. They have the power of ‘binding and loosing’ (Matthew 18:18), meaning they have the power of excommunication and absolution, but also of interpreting Scriptures according to the authority of the Church. Jesus told the disciples and Apostles everything that the Old Testament that spoke about Jesus, then this was transfered through oral tradition from the Apostles to the other Christians: e.g. Saint Philip was ordained as a deacon of Jerusalem by the Apostles (Acts 6:5-7), they taught Philip the word of God [orally], who taught it orally to the Ethiopian eunuch and he interpreted Isaiah 53 for him (Acts 8:26-35). This expresses the authority of the early Church in the apostles, presbyters, bishops and evangelists; this power is transfered from them to today’s clergy; something called Apostolic Succession [see more later].
*If there was not an official Canon of Scriptures until the late 4th century, then how could the Church go by the Bible alone? The books now called divinely inspired are authentic books: the Holy Spirit has guided the Church since the beginning to determine this, yet the Church highly relied on Apostolic Tradition [see more later]. We are told to hold fast to the traditions we were taught “either by oral statement or by a letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15). One may use many Scripture verses [as I do], but as long as one’s interpretation does not contradict that of the Church.
*It is said, “In them [letters] there are some things hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable distort as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16). That is a major reason why the Church — buided by the Holy Spirit and Apostolic Tradition — is necessary for interpretation. In Haydock’s Commentary, George Leo Haydock speaks on 2 Timothy 3:16: “As to the first, does this follow; the Scriptures must be read by Timothy, a priest, a bishop, a man of God, a minister of the gospel, whose office it is to instruct and convert others, therefore they are proper to be read and expounded by every ignorant man or woman? Does not St. Paul say elsewhere, (2 Corinthians 2:17) that many adulterate and corrupt the word of God…But if we would have the whole rule of Christian faith and practice, we must not be content with those Scriptures which Timothy knew from his infancy, (that is, with the Old Testament alone) nor yet with the New Testament, without taking along with it the traditions of the apostles and the interpretation of the Church, to which the apostles delivered both the book and the true meaning of it (Challoner).” By the time that the Second Epistle to Saint Timothy was written, the Church used only the Old Testament, which prophesied about Our Lord. How do we even know the New Testament is divinely inspired? We know because the Church, as moved by the Spirit, has declared such.
The Catechism greatly explains the relationship between Sacred Scriptures and Sacred Tradition: “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal.” Each of them makes present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ, who promised to remain with his own ‘always, to the close of the age'” (no. 80).
In Catholic theology the word of God consists of Scripture and Tradition and is the deposit of faith (rf. Dei Verbum, no. 10). This means the Church believes in Solo Verbo Dei or ‘the word of God alone’ although critics claim we believe in Sola Ecclesia or ‘Church alone’ as if that implied the Church claims authority devoid of Scripture. To be technical fundamentalism in Christianity is very new, only dating back to the 19th century; even mainstream Protestantism accepts extra-biblical sources as authoritative: e.g. the Book of Concord for Lutherans or the Articles of Faith for Anglicans and the first few Ecumenical Councils for mainstream Protestants. This gives us even more reason to question Sola Scriptura.