Sola scriptura, meaning the Bible alone is the authoritative source of the Christian truth, is one of the pillars of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther said “The true rule is this: God’s Word shall establish articles of faith, and no one else, not even an angel can do so.” (Martin Luther, Smalcald Articles II, 15).
If sola scriptura is true, then the Bible alone is the sole inerrant rule of faith. This means that no person or group of people can be trusted to also be protected from error by God when interpreting Scripture. The conclusion is that every Protestant is his own ultimate authority. Dear Protestant, if you believe what Martin Luther believes about the Scripture, you can not trust your pastor, or any preacher, or even your self to correctly interpret the Scriptures. Your interpretation is as good as the interpretation of any one else.
If sola scriptura is true, it is logical that everyone would have to spend a few years of studying the Bible alone (on an island!) to avoid being influenced by another’s, possibly erroneous, interpretation. After rethinking our doctrine from the ground up, we would theoretically all come to the same conclusions. The Bible’s teachings are clear, correct? Martin Luther and John Calvin agreed that the true meaning in the verses of the Bible would be clear to all true Christians. They argued that the Holy Spirit would guide Christians to the fullest understanding of Scripture.
But, how can this be true based on the thousands upon thousands of Protestant denominations, each with their individual set of beliefs? This seems contradictory. Many Reformers over the last couple centuries (including Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, etc.) have been thoroughly educated in the Scriptures, yet somehow have come to different conclusions on the teachings of the Bible. These men and many others disagree on important, essential topics such as baptism, justification, communion, salvation, etc.
Protestants have suggested that if we possess the inspired and inerrant word of God in Scripture, then what more could we possibly need? Ever since the Protestant Reformation, over twenty-five thousand different Protestant denominations have come into existence, with new ones being formed every week! Each and every one of these denominations are claiming to be following the Holy Spirit and the plain meaning of Scripture. Yet, they all believe something a little bit different, in some cases, they believe the complete opposite of another church. For example, some of these churches believe baptism is essential to our salvation, while other churches believe that baptism is not needed at all. Which one is true? I seriously doubt God is saying, “It’s okay! Believe what you feel/think is the best interpretation, for there are many roads leading to heaven!”
God knows we must need something more than just the Bible alone.
For instance, where in Scripture is the principle or doctrine of sola scriptura found? If sola scriptura is true, then we would expect to find explicit mention of itself within the pages of the Bible.
2 Thessalonians 2:15 says “So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or letter.” Paul is saying that the teachings that are passed on by word of mouth are just as valid as the written teachings. This verse, even if it were the only one on this topic, which it’s not, mortally wounds the Protestant view that Scripture is all we need to know of the will of God for our salvation. (Currie 55)
1 Peter 1:25 says “but the word of the Lord endures forever. And this is the word that was preached to you.” Here Peter did NOT say the word that was ‘written’ to you. He said preached. Not all words that were preached by the apostles were written down, and even then, not all that was written down was considered inspired by the Councils of Hippo and Carthage of 393 and 397 respectively, which issued the canon of Scripture. This verse is in the contexts of the word of the Lord lasting forever. The oral teaching of Christ will endure for all time.
2 Timothy 2:1-2 says “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Paul is instructing Timothy to pass on the oral teachings of Christ.
Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ.”
If Protestants reject an authoritative interpreter outside of Scripture, that must include the Protestant himself. Why do Protestants believe they each, individually, have the authority to interpret scripture? (Rose, chapter 17)
The apostle Paul says in his second letter to Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
The Bible says that the Bible is good for teaching. It does not say that it is the only source of good teaching. Besides, when Paul was writing this to Timothy, the “All Scripture” he was referring to did not include the New Testament for not all of it was written yet, much less canonized as Scripture. Protestants often like to use this verse in support of sola scriptura. But to do so, means the Protestant can only consider the Old Testament, for the New Testament was something that was added to (canonized as) Scripture over 300 years after this letter to Timothy was written.
It certainly does not sound like the apostles are teaching the principle of sola scriptura in the above verses. In fact, we have to look outside the pages of the Bible just to find what books make up the Bible. The Bible does not say that it is our only foundation for truth.
Thankfully, the Bible does indeed tell us exactly what the foundation of truth is. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul says, “If I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15)
So, Paul tells Timothy that the pillar and foundation of truth is Scripture alone? No, he in fact told Timothy that the pillar and foundation of truth is the church of the living God. The principle of sola scriptura does not make sense. More importantly, it is not preached from the Bible.
I do not believe sola scriptura. Honestly, I did not fully understand what it meant, until I learned about it from the Catholic point of view, and almost as soon as I did understand sola scriptura, I turned it down. Having rejected one of the pillars of the Reformation, I had little reason left to be a Protestant.
Protestants believe that only those doctrines taught in the Bible are to be trusted for our theology.
Look at the above statement a little closer. That statement is logically self-destructive. The simple fact is that, according to the principle of sola scriptura, that statement cannot be trusted, because it is not taught in the Bible. (Currie 56)
The Protestant view of the Bible is unbiblical.
When I understood that intellectually, and believed it emotionally, I didn’t know what I was, but I was certain I was not a Protestant.
(Originally written July 2015)
Read next: Sola scriptura part 2 – History of the Bible
If you’re interested in reading more, here are my sources:
Currie, David. Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996. Book. (order it on amazon)
Rose, Devin. The Protestants Dilemma: How the Reformations shocking consequences points to the truth of Catholicism. Catholic Answers, 2014. Book. (order it on amazon)
Hahn, Scott & Kimberly. Rome Sweet Home, Our Journey to Catholicism. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993. Book. (order it on amazon)
Gibbons, James. The Faith of our Fathers. (Free on Project Gutenberg)