Thursday, August 14, 2014

Why Sola Scriptura?

1. It is self-evident that the Bible did not record everything that Jesus said and did. John’s purpose in telling his readers this is not because he wants them to seek out “unwritten Tradition” to learn of these other things, but because he wants them to know that what he has recorded contains sufficient information to bring one to salvation. There is no reason to think that people need exhaustive knowledge of all that Christ said or did. The Bible is not exhaustive history, it is theological history.

2. The New Testament does speak of the importance of Tradition. But the Tradition that is referred to in these passages is the Gospel message that was eventually recorded in the New Testament (regula fidei). There is no reason to believe that the New Testament writers were speaking of some infallible “unwritten Tradition” that was separate from the message of the New Testament and that was to be passed on through an unbroken succession of bishops throughout the ages.

3. The belief in a lineage of apostolic succession that includes absolute authority and infallibility is untenable for many reasons:

• It is agreed that Peter and the apostles were given authority and the guidance to teach the truth. Their authority and teaching continues today, not through an unbroken lineage of succession, but through their teaching contained in the Scripture.

• The Scriptures presented concerning the authority of the apostles concerns them alone. There is nothing said either explicitly or implicitly concerning the passing on of this authority through apostolic succession.

• The theory of Papal infallibility cannot be found in the Church until the late Middle Ages. It was not declared dogma by the Catholic Church until Vatican I (1870).

If God wanted believers to see the Church as an institutional authority that houses infallibility, either through the unity of the bishops or the excathedra statements of the Pope, then it goes without saying that this would be a primary doctrine that the Bible should explicitly address. While the Scriptures contain many opportunities to teach this, either through example in the book of Acts or through explicit instruction in the Pastoral epistles, there is no such teaching. To rely solely upon unwritten Tradition begs the question and makes one wonder why such an important doctrine is unmentioned in Scripture. All attempts to find the doctrine of infallible apostolic succession in Scripture must be labeled as eisegetical theology (reading your theology into the text, rather than deriving one’s theology from the text).

4. It is true that there is no inspired table of contents in the Scripture. But it is equally true that the Scriptures do not teach Papal infallibility or the infallibility of tradition. When is comes to the issue of the canon, we must not look for a declaration producing absolute certainty (infallible certainty), but a recognition producing moral certainty (obligation imposed by the weight of the evidence). This evidence is substantial and morally binds the informed responsible thinker to submit to the evidence. The Roman Catholic solution of infallible Tradition does not resolve anything, since according to Roman Catholics Scripture was not infallibly declared until the Council of Trent (1545–1563).

5. The issue of unity needs to be answered in many different ways:

• The unity that Christ prayed for was not absolute creedal unity, but functional ontological unity. This was fulfilled at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit baptized all believers into one Body.

• There is, however, a basic creed of essential beliefs that has evidenced this ontological unity and the mutual indwelling of the Holy Spirit since the beginning of the Church, but this creed is functional, not exhaustive. The Church has never had absolute creedal unity on every doctrine, and we should not expect it to until Christ comes, since we all “see in a mirror dimly” (1 Cor. 13:12). In fact, it could be argued that God’s intentions have been to purposefully keep creedal tension within the Church so that comprehension would be maximized. Without tension and controversy caused by disagreements, people would become intellectually lazy. We see this in all traditions whose main source for doctrine is folk theology.

• It must also be stressed that from the outsider’s perspective, Catholicism is just one denomination among the many thousands. The Pope could very well be seen as a divider, rather than one who unites, since the Papacy was the primary cause of the Great Schism in 1054 and a major reason for the Reformation in the sixteenth century.

• Nevertheless, this does not excuse the Protestant church’s lack of practical unity. We should all strive to exemplify what we truly are (the unified body of Christ).

2 Tim. 3:14–17

Three things this passage teaches us:

1. Scriptures are sufficient for salvation.
2. Scriptures are sufficient for sanctification.
3. Scriptures are uniquely God-breathed (theopnoustos). Tradition is never given this designation or any similar designation.

Acts 17:10-11

Scripture explicitly states that no one is to add to or take away from the Word of God. These warnings would be meaningless if there was not some objective way for one to judge if he or she was adding to God’s Word, since unwritten Tradition is by nature beyond this type of examination. These commands are warnings against traditions that add to the complete and sufficient Word of God. They would only make sense if the Scriptures were sufficient and complete.

Deut. 4:2


Concerning the sufficiency of Scripture, the Westminster Catechism says:

“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” (1:6).
3. If the Roman pontiff, the “Vicar of Christ”, or the magisterium is going to speak on behalf of Christ, being successors to the apostles’ office, authority, and infallibility, they must show the signs of one who speaks for God as prescribed in Scripture.

2 Cor. 12:12

The Scriptures speak explicitly against the “traditions of men” as misleading and often in opposition to God’s written Word. Therefore, all traditions must submit to Scripture.


The early-medieval church supported an unarticulated and undeveloped doctrine of sola Scriptura.

Irenaeus (ca. 150) Against Heresies 3.1.1
“We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith.”
Clement of Alexandria (d. 215) The Stromata, 7:16
“But those who are ready to toil in the most excellent pursuits, will not desist from the search after truth, till they get the demonstration from the Scriptures themselves.”

Gregory of Nyssa (, 395) “On the Holy Trinity”, NPNF, pp. 327
“Let the inspired Scriptures then be our umpire, and the vote of truth will be given to those whose dogmas are found to agree with the Divine words.”

Athanasius (c. 296–373) Against the Heathen, 1:3
“The holy and inspired Scriptures are fully sufficient for the proclamation of the truth.”

Basil the Great (ca.329–379) On the Holy Spirit, 7.16
“We are not content simply because this is the tradition of the Fathers. What is important is that the Fathers followed the meaning of the Scripture.”

Ambrose (A.D.340–397) On the Duties of the Clergy, 1:23:102
“For how can we adopt those things which we do not find in the holy Scriptures?”

St. Augustine (A.D.354–430) De unitate ecclesiae, 10
“Neither dare one agree with catholic bishops if by chance they err in anything, but the result that their opinion is against the canonical Scriptures of God.”

Thomas Aquinas (A.D. 1225–1274) Summa Theologiae, Question 1, art. 8
“For our faith rests on the revelation made to the Prophets and Apostles who wrote the canonical books.”

By the process of elimination, one must come to the conclusion that Scripture is the final and only infallible authority available to us.

The Theology Program Bibliology and Hermeneutics Workbook 2005