21 Reasons to Reject Sola Scriptura
What Is Sola Scriptura?
We believe in the Bible alone and the Bible in its entirety as the sole rule of faith for the Christian! You may have heard these words or something very similar to them from a Fundamentalist or Evangelical Protestant. They are, in essence, the meaning of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, or Scripture alone, which alleges that the Bible as interpreted by the individual believeris the only source of religious authority and is the Christians sole rule of faith or criterion regarding what is to be believed. By this doctrine, which is one of the foundational beliefs of Protestantism, a Protestant denies that there is any other source of religious authority or divine Revelation to humanity. The Catholic, on the other hand, holds that the immediate or direct rule of faith is the teaching of the Church; the Church in turn takes her teaching from divine Revelationboth the written Word, called Sacred Scripture, and the oral or unwritten Word, known as Tradition. The teaching authority or Magisterium of the Catholic Church (headed by the Pope), although not itself a source of divine Revelation, nevertheless has a God-given mission to interpret and teach both Scripture and Tradition. Scripture and Tradition are the sources of Christian doctrine, the Christians remote or indirect rule of faith. Obviously these two views on what constitutes the Christians rule of faith are opposed to each other, and anyone who sincerely seeks to follow Christ must be sure that he follows the one that is true.
The doctrine of Sola Scriptura originated with Martin Luther, the 16th-century German monk who broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and started the Protestant Reformation. In response to some abuses that had been occurring within the Catholic Church, Luther became a vocal opponent of certain practices. As far as these abuses were concerned, they were real and Luther was justified in reacting. However, as a series of confrontations between him and the Catholic hierarchy developed, the issues became more centered on the question of Church authority andfrom Luthers perspective whether or not the teaching of the Catholic Church was a legitimate rule of faith for Christians. As the confrontations between Luther and the Churchs hierarchy ensued and tensions mounted, Luther accused the Catholic Church of having corrupted Christian doctrine and having distorted Biblical truths, and he more and more came to believe that the Bible, as interpreted by the individual believer, was the only true religious authority for a Christian. He eventually rejected Tradition as well as the teaching authority of the Catholic Church (with the Pope at its head) as having legitimate religious authority.
An honest inquirer must ask, then, whether Luthers doctrine of Scripture
alone was a genuine restoration of a Biblical truth or rather the promulgation
of an individuals personal views on Christian authority. Luther was clearly
passionate about his beliefs, and he was successful in spreading them, but these
facts in and of themselves do not guarantee that what he taught was correct.
Since ones spiritual well-being, and even ones eternal destiny,
is at stake, the Christian believer needs to be absolutely sure in this matter.
Following are twenty-one considerations which will help the reader scrutinize
Luthers doctrine of
Sola Scriptura from Biblical, historical and logical bases and which show that it is not in fact a genuine Biblical truth, but rather a man-made doctrine.
1. The Doctrine of Sola Scriptura Is Not Taught Anywhere in the Bible.
Perhaps the most striking reason for rejecting this doctrine is that there is not one verse anywhere in the Bible in which it is taught, and it therefore becomes a self-refuting doctrine. Protestants often point to verses such as 2 Timothy 3:16-17 or The Apocalypse (Revelation) 22:18-19 in defense of Sola Scriptura, but close examination of these two passages easily demonstrates that they do not support the doctrine at all. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 we read, All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, that the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work. There are five considerations which undermine the Sola Scriptura interpretation of this passage:
1) The Greek word ophelimos (profitable)
used in verse 16 means useful and not sufficient. An example of this difference would be to say that water is useful for our existenceeven necessarybut it is not sufficient; that is, it is not the only thing we need to survive. We also need food, clothing, shelter, etc. Likewise, Scripture is useful in the life of the believer, but it was never meant to be the only source of Christian teaching, the only thing needed for believers.
2) The Greek word pasa, which is often rendered as all, actually means every, and it has the sense of referring to each and every one of the class denoted by the noun connected with it. 2 In other words, the Greek reads in a way which indicates that each and every Scripture is profitable. If the doctrine of Sola Scriptura were true, then based on the Greek in verse 16, each and every book of the Bible could stand on its own as the sole rule of faith, a position which is obviously absurd.
3) The Scripture that St. Paul is referring to here is the Old Testament, a fact which is made plain by his reference to the Scriptures being known by Timothy from infancy (verse 15). The New Testament as we know it did not yet exist, or at best it was incomplete, so it simply could not have been included in St. Pauls understanding of what was meant by the term scripture. If we take St. Pauls words at face value, Sola Scriptura would therefore mean that the Old Testament is the Christians sole rule of faith. This is a premise that all Christians would reject. Protestants may respond to this issue by arguing that St. Paul is not here discussing the canon of the Bible (the authoritative list of which books are included in the Bible), but rather the nature of Scripture. While there is some validity to this assertion, the issue of canon is also relevant here, for the following reason: Before we can talk about the nature of Scripture as being theopneustos or inspired (literally, God-breathed), it is imperative that we identify with certainty those books we mean when we say Scripture; otherwise, the wrong writings may be labeled as inspired. St. Pauls words here obviously took on a new dimension when the New Testament was completed, as Christians eventually considered it, too, to be Scripture. It can be argued, then, that the Biblical canon is also the issue here, as St. Paul writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit emphasizes the fact that all (and not just some) Scripture is inspired. The question that begs to be asked, however, is this: How can we be sure we have all the correct writings? Obviously, we can only know the answer if we know what the canon of the Bible is. Such a question poses a problem for the Protestant, but not for the Catholic, as the latter has an infallible authority to answer it.
4) The Greek word artios, here translated perfect, may at first glance make it seem that the Scriptures are indeed all that is needed. After all, one may ask, if the Scriptures make the man of God perfect, what else could be needed? Doesnt the very word perfect imply that nothing is lacking? Well, the difficulty with such an interpretation is that the text here does not say that it is solely by means of the Scriptures that the man of God is made perfect. The textif anythingindicates precisely the opposite to be true, namely, that the Scriptures operate in conjunction with other things. Notice that it is not just anyone who is made perfect, but rather the man of God which means a minister of Christ (cf. 1 Tim. 6:11), a clergyman. The fact that this individual is a minister of Christ presupposes that he has already had training and teaching which prepared him to assume his office. This being the case, the Scriptures would be merely one item in a series of items which make this man of God perfect. The Scriptures may complete his list of necessary items or they may be one prominent item on the list, but surely they are not the only item on his list nor intended to be all that he needs.
By way of analogy, consider a medical doctor. In this context we might say something like, The Physicians Desk Reference [a standard medical reference book] makes our General Practitioner perfect, so that he may be ready to treat any medical situation. Obviously such a statement does not mean that all a doctor needs is his PDR. It is either the last item on his list or just one prominent item. The doctor also needs his stethoscope, his blood pressure gauge, his training, etc. These other items are presupposed by the fact that we are talking about a doctor rather than a non-medical person. So it would be incorrect to assume that if the PDR makes the doctor perfect, it is the only thing which makes him so. Also, taking this word perfect as meaning the only necessary item results in a biblical contradiction, for in James 1:4 we read that patiencerather than the Scripturesmakes one perfect: And patience hath a perfect work; that you may be perfect and entire, failing in nothing.
Now it is true that a different Greek word (teleios) is used here for perfect, but the fact remains that the basic meaning is the same. Now, if one rightly acknowledges that patience is clearly not the only thing a Christian needs in order to be perfect, then a consistent interpretive method would compel one to acknowledge likewise that the Scriptures are not the only thing a man of God needs in order to be perfect.
5) The Greek word exartizo in verse 17, here translated furnished
(other Bible versions read something like fully equipped or thoroughly
furnished) is referred to by Protestants as proof of Sola
Scriptura, since this word againmay be taken as implying that nothing
else is needed for the man of God. However, even though the man
of God may be furnished or thoroughly equipped, this
fact in and of itself does not guarantee that he knows how to interpret correctly
and apply any given Scripture passage. The clergyman must also be taught how
to correctly use the Scriptures, even though he may
already be furnished with them. Consider again a medical analogy. Picture a medical student at the beginning of an internship. He might have at his disposal all the equipment necessary to perform an operation (i.e., he is thoroughly equipped or furnished for a surgical procedure), but until he spends time with the doctors, who are the resident authorities, observing their techniques, learning their skills, and practicing some procedures of his own, the surgical instruments at his disposal are essentially useless. In fact, if he does not learn how to use these instruments properly, they can actually become dangerous in his hands. So it is with the man of God and the Scriptures. The Scriptures, like the surgical instruments, are life-giving only when properly used. When improperly used, the exact opposite results can occur. In one case they could bring physical ruin or even death; in the other case they could bring spiritual ruin or even spiritual death. Since the Bible admonishes us to handle rightly or rightly divide the word of truth (cf. 2 Tim. 2:15), it is therefore possible to handle incorrectly or wrongly divide itmuch like an untrained medical student who incorrectly wields his surgical
Regarding The Apocalypse (Revelation) 22:18- 19, there are two considerations which undermine the Sola Scriptura interpretation of these verses. The passagealmost the very last in the Bible reads: For I testify to every one that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book: If any man shall add to these things, God shall add unto him the plagues written in this book. And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from these things that are written in this book.
1) When these verses say that nothing is to be added to or taken from the words
of the prophecy of this book, they are not referring to Sacred Tradition
being added to Sacred Scripture. It is obvious from the context
that the book being referred to here is Revelation or The Apocalypse
and not the whole Bible. We know this because St. John says that anyone who
is guilty of adding to this book will be cursed with the plagues
written in this book, namely the plagues he described earlier in
his own book, Revelation. To assert otherwise is to do violence to the text
and to distort its plain meaning, specially
since the Bible as we know it did not exist when this passage was written and therefore could not be what was meant. In defense of their interpretation of these verses, Protestants will often contend that God knew in advance what the canon of Scripture would be, with Revelation being the last book of the Bible, and thus He sealed that canon with the words of verses 18-19. But this interpretation involves reading a meaning into the text. Furthermore, if such an assertion were true, how is it that the Christian knows unmistakably that Revelation 22:18-19 is sealing the canon unless an infallible teaching authority assures him that this is the correct interpretation of that verse? But if such an infallible authority exists, then the Sola Scriptura doctrine becomes ipso facto null and void.
2) The same admonition not to add or subtract words is used in Deuteronomy 4:2, which says, You shall not add to the word that I speak to you, neither shall you take away from it: keep the commandment of the Lord your God which I command you. If we were to apply a parallel interpretation to this verse, then anything in the Bible beyond the decrees of the Old Testament law would be considered non-canonical or not authentic Scriptureincluding the New Testament! Once again, all Christians would reject this conclusion in no uncertain terms. The prohibition in Revelation 22:18-19 against adding, therefore, cannot mean that Christians are forbidden to look to anything outside the Bible for guidance.
2. The Bible Indicates that in Addition to the Written Word, We Are to Accept Oral Tradition.
St. Paul both commends and commands the keeping of oral tradition. In 1 Corinthians 11:2, for instance, we read, Now I praise you, brethren, that in all things you are mindful of me: and keep my ordinances as I have delivered them to you. St. Paul is obviously commending the keeping of oral tradition here, and it should be noted in particular that he extols the believers for having done so (I praise you . . .). Explicit in this passage is also the fact that the integrity of this Apostolic oral tradition has clearly been maintained, just as Our Lord promised it would be, through the safeguarding of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 16:13). Perhaps the clearest Biblical support for oral tradition can be found in 2 Thessalonians 2:14(15), where Christians are actually commanded: Therefore, brethren, stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle. This passage is significant in that a) it shows the existence of living traditions within the Apostolic teaching, b) it tells us unequivocally that believers are firmly grounded in the Faith by adhering to these traditions, and c) it clearly states that these traditions were both written and oral. Since the Bible distinctly states here that oral traditionsauthentic and Apostolic in originare to be held as a valid component of the Deposit of Faith, by what reasoning or excuse do Protestants dismiss them? By what authority do they reject a clear-cut injunction of St. Paul?
Moreover, we must consider the text in this passage. The Greek word krateite, here translated hold, means to be strong, mighty, to prevail. This language is rather emphatic, and it demonstrates the importance of maintaining these traditions. Of course one must differentiate between Tradition (upper-case T) that is part of divine Revelation, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, Church traditions (lower-case t) that, although good, have developed in the Church later and are not part of the Deposit of Faith. An example of something that is part of Tradition would be infant Baptism; an example of a Church tradition would be the Churchs calendar of feast days of Saints. Anything that is part of Tradition is of divine origin and hence unchangeable, while Church traditions are changeable by the Church. Sacred Tradition serves as a rule of faith by showing what the Church has believed consistently through the centuries and how it has always understood any given portion of the Bible. One of the main ways in which Tradition has been passed down to us is in the doctrine contained in the ancient texts of the liturgy, the Churchs public worship.
It should be noted that Protestants accuse Catholics of promoting unbiblical or novel doctrines based on Tradition, asserting that such Tradition contains doctrines which are foreign to the Bible. However, this assertion is wholly untrue. The Catholic Church teaches that Sacred Tradition contains nothing whatsoever that is contrary to the Bible. Some Catholic thinkers would even say that there is nothing in Sacred Tradition which is not also found in Scripture, at least implicitly or in seminal form. Certainly the two are at least in perfect harmony and always support each other. For some doctrines, the Church draws more from Tradition than from Scripture for its understanding, but even those doctrines are often implied or hinted at in Sacred Scripture. For example, the following are largely based on Sacred Tradition: infant Baptism, the canon of Scripture, the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Sunday (rather than Saturday) as the Lords Day, and the Assumption of Our Lady. Sacred Tradition complements our understanding of the Bible and is therefore not some extraneous source of Revelation which contains doctrines that are foreign to it. Quite the contrary: Sacred Tradition serves as the Churchs living memory, reminding her of what the faithful have constantly and consistently believed and how to properly understand and interpret the meaning of Biblical passages. In a certain way, it is Sacred Tradition which says to the reader of the Bible, You have been reading a very important book which contains Gods revelation to man. Now let me explain to you how it has always been understood and practiced by believers from the very beginning.
3. The Bible Calls the Church and Not the Bible the Pillar and Ground of the Truth.
It is very interesting to note that in 1 Timothy 3:15 we see, not the Bible, but the Churchthat is, the living community of believers founded upon St. Peter and the Apostles and headed by their successorscalled the pillar and ground of the truth. Of course, this passage is not meant in any way to diminish the importance of the Bible, but it is intending to show that Jesus Christ did establish an authoritative teaching Church which was commissioned to teach all nations. (Matt. 28:19). Elsewhere this same Church received Christs promise that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18), that He would always be with it (Matt. 28:20), and that He would give it the Holy Spirit to teach it all truth. (John 16:13). To the visible head of His Church, St. Peter, Our Lord said: And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and, whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven. (Matt. 16:19). It is plainly evident from these passages that Our Lord emphasized the authority of His Church and the role it would have in safeguarding and defining the Deposit of Faith. It is also evident from these passages that this same Church would be infallible, for if at any time in its history it would definitively teach error to the Church as a whole in matters of faith or moralseven temporarilyit would cease being this pillar and ground of the truth. Since a ground or foundation by its very nature is meant to be a permanent support, and since the above-mentioned passages do not allow for the possibility of the Church ever definitively teaching doctrinal or moral error, the only plausible conclusion is that Our Lord was very deliberate in establishing His Church and that He was referring to its infallibility when He called it the pillar and ground of the truth.
The Protestant, however, has a dilemma here by asserting the Bible to be the sole rule of faith for believers. In what capacity, then, is the Church the pillar and ground of the truth if it is not to serve as an infallible authority established by Christ? How can the Church be this pillar and ground if it has no tangible, practical ability to serve as an authority in the life of a Christian? The Protestant would effectively deny that the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth by denying that the Church has the authority to teach. Also, Protestants understand the term church to mean something different from what the Catholic Church understands it to mean. Protestants see the church as an invisible entity, and for them it refers collectively to all Christian believers around the world who are united by faith in Christ, despite major variations in doctrine and denominational allegiance. Catholics, on the other hand, understand it to mean not only those true believers who are united as Christs Mystical Body, but we simultaneously understand it to refer to a visible, historical entity as well, namely, that oneand only that oneorganization which can trace its lineage in an unbroken line back to the Apostles themselves: the Catholic Church. It is this Church and this Church alone which was established by Christ and which has maintained an absolute consistency in doctrine throughout its existence, and it is therefore this Church alone which can claim to be that very pillar and ground of the truth.
Protestantism, by comparison, has known a history of doctrinal vacillations and changes, and no two denominations completely agreeeven on major doctrinal issues. Such shifting and changing could not possibly be considered a foundation or ground of the truth. When the foundation of a structure shifts or is improperly set, that structures very support is unreliable (cf. Matt. 7:26- 27). Since in practice the beliefs of Protestantism have undergone change both within denominations and through the continued appearance of new denominations, these beliefs are like a foundation which shifts and moves. Such beliefs therefore cease to provide the support necessary to maintain the structure they uphold, and the integrity of that structure becomes compromised. Our Lord clearly did not intend for His followers to build their spiritual houses on such an unreliable foundation.
4. Christ Tells Us to Submit to the Authority of the Church.
In Matthew 18:15-18 we see Christ instructing His disciples on how to correct a fellow believer. It is extremely telling in this instance that Our Lord identifies the Church rather than Scripture as the final authority to be appealed to. He Himself says that if an offending brother will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican (Matt. 18:17)that is, as an outsider who is lost. Moreover, Our Lord then solemnly re-emphasizes the Churchs infallible teaching authority in verse 18 by repeating His earlier statement about the power to bind and loose (Matt. 16:18-19), directing it this time to the Apostles as a group7 rather than just to Peter: Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven. (Matt. 18:18). Of course there are instances in the Bible where Our Lord does appeal to Scripture, but in these cases He, as one having authority, was teaching the Scriptures; He was not allowing the Scriptures to teach themselves. For example, He would respond to the Scribes and the Pharisees by using Scripture precisely because they often tried to trip Him up by using Scripture. In these instances, Our Lord often demonstrates how the Scribes and Pharisees had wrong interpretations, and hence He corrects them by properly interpreting Scripture. His actions do not argue that Scripture should be sola, or an authority in itself and, in fact, the only Christian authority. Quite the contrary; whenever Christ refers His hearers to the Scriptures, He also provides His infallible, authoritative interpretation of them, demonstrating that the Scriptures do not interpret themselves.
The Catholic Church readily acknowledges the inerrancy and authority of Scripture. But the Catholic doctrine is that the immediate rule of faith for the Christian is the teaching authority of the Churchan authority to teach and interpret both Scripture and Tradition, as Matt. 18:17-18 shows. It should also be noted that implicit (perhaps even explicit) in this passage from Matthew is the fact that the Church must have been a visible, tangible entity established in a hierarchical fashion. Otherwise, how would anyone have known to whom the wrongdoer should be referred? If the Protestant definition of church were correct, then the wrongdoer would have to hear each and every believer who existed, hoping that there would be unanimity among them regarding the issue at hand. The inherent absurdity of this scenario is readily apparent. The only way we can make sense of Our Lords statement here is to acknowledge that there was a definite organization, with positions of authority readily identifiable, to which an appeal could be made and from which a decisive judgment could be had.
5. Scripture Itself States that It Is Insufficient of Itself as a Teacher, but Rather Needs an Interpreter.
The Bible says in 2 Tim. 3:17 that the man of God is perfect, furnished to every good work. As we noted above, this verse means only that the man of God is fully supplied with Scripture; it is not a guarantee that he automatically knows how to interpret it properly. This verse at most argues only for the material sufficiency of Scripture, a position which is held by some Catholic thinkers today. Material sufficiency would mean that the Bible in some way contains all the truths that are necessary for the believer to know; in other words, the materials would thus be all present or at least implied. Formal sufficiency, on the other hand, would mean that the Bible would not only contain all the truths that are necessary, but that it would also present those truths in a perfectly clear and complete and readily understandable fashion. In other words, these truths would be in a useable form, and consequently there would be no need for Sacred Tradition to clarify and complete them or for an infallible teaching authority to interpret correctly or rightly divide Gods word. Since the Catholic Church holds that the Bible is not sufficient in itself, it naturally teaches that the Bible needs an interpreter. The reason the Catholic Church so teaches is twofold: first, because Christ established a living Church to teach with His authority. He did not simply give His disciples a Bible, whole and entire, and tell them to go out and make copies of it for mass distribution and allow people to come to whatever interpretation they may. Second, the Bible itself states that it needs an interpreter.
Regarding the second point, we read in 2 Peter 3:16 that in St. Pauls epistles there are certain things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable wrest [distort], as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction. In this one verse we note three very important things about the Bible and its interpretation: a) the Bible contains passages which are not readily understandable or clear, a fact which demonstrates the need for an authoritative and infallible teacher to make the passages clear and understandable; b) it is not only possible that people could wrest or distort the meaning of Scripture, but this was, in fact, being done from the very earliest days of the Church; and c) to distort the meaning of Scripture can result in ones destruction, a disastrous fate indeed. It is obvious from these considerations that St. Peter did not believe the Bible to be the sole rule of faith. But there is more. In Acts 8:26-40 we read the account of the deacon St. Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. In this scenario, the Holy Spirit leads Philip to approach the Ethiopian. When Philip learns that the Ethiopian is reading from the prophet Isaias, he asks him a very telling question: Thinkest thou that thou understandest what thou readest? Even more telling is the answer given by the Ethiopian: And how can I, unless some man show me? Whereas this St. Philip (known as the Evangelist) is not one of the twelve Apostles, he was nonetheless someone who was commissioned by the Apostles (cf. Acts 6:6) and who preached the Gospel with authority (cf. Acts 8:4-8). Consequently, his preaching would reflect legitimate Apostolic teaching. The point here is that the Ethiopians statement verifies the fact that the Bible is not sufficient in itself as a teacher of Christian doctrine, and people who hear the Word do need an authority to instruct them properly so that they may understand what the Bible says. If the Bible were indeed sufficient of itself, then the eunuch would not have been ignorant of the meaning of the passage from Isaias.
There is also 2 Peter 1:20, which states that no prophecy of scripture is made by private interpretation. Here we see the Bible itself stating in no uncertain terms that its prophecies are not a matter for which the individual is to arrive at his own interpretation. It is also most telling that this verse is preceded by a section on the Apostolic witness (verses 12-18) and followed by a section on false teachers (chapter 2, verses 1-10). St. Peter is obviously contrasting genuine, Apostolic teaching with false prophets and false teachers, and he makes reference to private interpretation as the pivotal point between the two. The clear implication is that private interpretation is one pathway whereby an individual turns from authentic teaching and begins to follow erroneous teaching.
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