Skip to main content

Correcting the Severely Misunderstood View of Sola Scriptura

It's really something when various groups such as the Roman Catholic institution don't really know what Sola Scriptura or Bible alone means. First, we need to think about the difference between Sola Scriptura and Solo Scriptura. So what do the two mean? Here's a big distinction that we should be careful before we mistake them to be just one for the other:
Sola Scriptura: the Bible is the only "rulebook" that sets out Christian doctrine. Although we don’t need anything else to know God and be saved by him, God didn't deliver it in a hermetically-sealed chamber; rather, he put it in the middle of a vast library full of other sources that help us understand it better
Solo Scriptura: the Bible is the only "rulebook" that sets out Christian doctrine, and any attempt to nuance or finesse our understanding of it using other sources of knowledge is probably from the devil. We don’t need that malarky, we don’t want that malarky, and in fact, you should all probably split up and each go into a separate forest with your Authorized Version and read it alone for the rest of your lives like hermits.

The idea of Sola Scriptura means that the Bible is the final authority but not the sole authority but the final authority. The Bible teaches tradition. Tradition itself isn't evil unless it goes against the Word of God. The Old Testament records the tradition of keeping certain feasts and giving of tithes and offerings. Jesus taught the tradition of loving your enemies and doing good to others. I don't doubt that the Scriptures teach tradition. Paul taught in 1 Thessalonians 2:13-14 concerning tradition but warned not to follow it if it's not from his pen or the epistles.

Here's a good defense of what Sola Scriptura means which I got from the Gospel Coalition to discuss about how often people miss the point about Sola Scriptura:
Step #47 [in Smith’s 95 steps to move from evangelicalism to Catholicism] is to "realize that the doctrine of sola Scriptura is itself not biblical but, ironically, is received and believed as a sacred (Protestant) church tradition." A neat bit of jiu jitsu, but the next sentence makes one suspect that he’s played dirty: sola Scriptura is the belief that Christians have "the Bible alone and no other human tradition as authority." Later, he challenges his readers to find biblical passages that teach that "Scripture or the written word of God is the sole and sufficient authority for Christian faith."
Now, I imagine that there are people who believe sola Scriptura as Smith describes it, and Protestants have always insisted that Scripture is a sufficient revelation of God’s will for us (cf., e.g., WCF 1.6). But neither the Reformers nor their heirs concluded that Scripture is the "sole" authority, nor did they deny the relative authority of human teachers. (If Calvin believed the Bible was the "sole" authority, why so much effort and time devoted to reading Augustine and Chrysostom?) As Smith himself points out, the Scriptures themselves point to human teachers and leaders who are to be honored as authorities. Smith is also correct that the New Testament writers encourage Christians to honor apostolic traditions. No argument there, but that’s because Smith has missed the point.
The argument is not about "sole" authority but "final" authority.

So what does Sola Scriptura mean? It's all about adhering to the Bible as the final authority or filter to one's traditions and literature. When Paul mentioned tradition - some people miss the point that Paul used the epistles and Scriptures as the source of validating such tradition. Born again Christians have tradition but it's all based on the Bible. Let's consider that the honoring of apostolic tradition is found in their epistles and not in some "infallible magisterium" whose teachings do not comply with the apostolic traditions. We can have a lot of books but we should always make sure that they do not contradict the teachings of the Bible.

Why do born again Christians have pastors and not celibate priests? Ephesians 4:11 dictates the Church will have pastors to lead them. Why do born again Christians refuse to honor priestly celibacy? It's because 1 Corinthians 7:32-35 is not about priestly celibacy. Also, 1 Timothy 3:1-7 says that the bishop or overseer must be the husband of one wife and a family man - which is impossible to achieve in priestly celibacy. Why do born again Christians go out and do good works? It's because the Bible commands them to do so. 

Some may argue that "But the apostles didn't carry a Bible." but didn't they have copies of the Scripture or quoted from the Scriptures? That was their Bible back then and while they say, "The word Bible is not in the Bible." then neither is the word "Trinity". Bible is referred to as any authoritative source hence we get the word bibliography as an example. Whenever the apostles wrote their epistles they would cite "It is written." which served to defend their writings that they were appealing to Scriptures as the New Testament canon was completed. The apostles were very careful not to have any final authority but the Scripture. 

Paul also warned in Galatians 1:8-9 that even if an angel from Heaven preaches another gospel then that angel is accursed. In short, the Apostles were careful not to contradict their writings with the Gospel accounts as written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as well as the Old Testament canon. All these books had to appeal to each other. No new books were added into the Bible. Yes, I agree that the apostles compiled the Scriptures but not that they have even told priests to be celibate, people to pray to Mary or to ask for her intercession with Jesus, that people should pray the Rosary, the practice of not letting people read the Bible for themselves and such nonsense as opponents of Sola Scriptura would want us to believe.

It's all about using Scripture as a rule book and filter. If the tradition doesn't go against the Bible's laws and morals then by all means go. To further understand, born again Christians do have literature of great pastors and tradition. Every tradition done such as pastors should be a husband of one wife to baptism by immersion (in default, unless circumstances prove otherwise such as lack of water or being intensely sick) are commanded by Scriptures. This is that while the Bible is not the sole source of knowledge but it's the final authority in regards to whether a source of authority agrees with the Scripture or it does not agree with the Scripture.