This is the first in a series of articles pertaining to the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura.
First, let’s clear this up a bit: The Church of Jesus Christ is a not a Protestant denomination. We were founded on the day of Pentecost, some 2000 years ago and have not deviated from the truth since. To be a Protestant, you have to first protest against something, namely the Catholic Church, but since we do not recognize the Catholic Church as having any authority or being a part of the True Church, we cannot necessarily protest them.
Sola Scriptura is a Latin phrase meaning, ‘Scripture alone’, contrasting the Catholic Doctrine of sola verbum Dei, by the Word of God. Rome considers doctrine to be formed by traditions and scripture, and both are by the Word of God. This allowed Rome to completely ignore the actual teachings of the scripture in favor of man-made traditions.
In the 18th century John Wesley said that it is the Church that is judged by the scripture and not the other way around. Martin Luther, in the 16th century, clarified it this way: “The true rule is this: God’s Word shall establish articles of faith, and no one else, not even an angel can do so.” (Smalcald Article II, 15 – Martin Luther). (See Galatians 1:8). It exists as part of the Five Sola‘s that are the theological pillars of the Reformation movement. Accordingly, because the Scriptures are the single source of information pertaining to doctrine, the effort to translate the bible into the vernacular languages became the great fight that led so many, including one William Tyndale to be murdered by Rome. Sola scriptura, however, is a doctrine that is not, in the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith 1.6 “expressly set down in scripture”. However, the Confession claims that it passes the second test of being part of “the whole counsel of God” because it is “deduced from scripture” “by good and necessary consequence”, citing passages such as Isaiah 8:20: “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”.
Rome, fought back against the Reformers by issuing their own doctrinal stances by siting verses in scripture by stating that the Church is the deposit of the Faith. (see 2 The 2:15, 2 Tim 2:2) The Orthodox usually take this position as well, or something very similar. They also argue that relying upon the Bible alone is unhistorical and disruptive, pointing to the various groups that have arose throughout history based on private interpretations. According to Rome, Tradition and Scripture are cohesive, since both are seen as the verbum Dei, so tradition interprets scripture. Some Catholic bibles note that Matthew 28:19 as a later interpolation by the Matthean community, but since tradition has existed with the triad formula for baptism, then an insertion into text is compatible because both are verbum Dei.
Below are come quotes from the early Church fathers:
“Regarding the things I say, I should supply even the proofs, so I will not seem to rely on my own opinions, but rather, prove them with Scripture, so that the matter will remain certain and steadfast.” St. John Chrysostom (Homily 8 On Repentance and the Church, p. 118, vol. 96 TFOTC)
“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.” St. Gregory of Nyssa (On the Holy Trinity, NPNF, p. 327).
“We are not entitled to such license, I mean that of affirming what we please; we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those writings.” St. Gregory of Nyssa (On the Soul and the Resurrection NPNF II, V:439)
“What is the mark of a faithful soul? To be in these dispositions of full acceptance on the authority of the words of Scripture, not venturing to reject anything nor making additions. For, if ‘all that is not of faith is sin’ as the Apostle says, and ‘faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God,’ everything outside Holy Scripture, not being of faith, is sin.” Basil the Great (The Morals, p. 204, vol 9 TFOTC).
“For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell you these things, give not absolute credence, unless you receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures.” St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lectures, IV:17, in NPNF, Volume VII, p. 23.)
“It is impossible either to say or fully to understand anything about God beyond what has been divinely proclaimed to us, whether told or revealed, by the sacred declarations of the Old and New Testaments.” St. John of Damascus, On the Orthodox Faith, Book I, Chapter 2
“Nevertheless, sacred doctrine makes use of these authorities as extrinsic and probable arguments; but properly uses the authority of the canonical Scriptures as an incontrovertible proof, and the authority of the doctors of the Church as one that may properly be used, yet merely as probable. For our faith rests upon the revelation made to the apostles and prophets who wrote the canonical books, and not on the revelations (if any such there are) made to other doctors. Hence Augustine says (Epis. ad Hieron. xix, 1): “Only those books of Scripture which are called canonical have I learned to hold in such honor as to believe their authors have not erred in any way in writing them. But other authors I so read as not to deem everything in their works to be true, merely on account of their having so thought and written, whatever may have been their holiness and learning.”–St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologia, Part 1, Question 1, Article 8
According to James Akin:
A necessarily corollary of the doctrine of sola scriptura is, therefore, the idea of an absolute right of private judgment in the interpretation of the Scriptures. Each individual has the final prerogative to decide for himself what the correct interpretation of a given passage of Scripture means, irrespective of what anyone-or everyone-else says.
If anyone or even everyone else together could tell the believer what to believe, Scripture would not be his sole authority; something else would have binding authority. Thus, according to sola scriptura, any role Tradition, a Magisterium, Bible commentaries, or anything else may play in theology is simply to suggest interpretations and evidence to the believer as he makes his decision. Each individual Christian is thus put in the position of being his own theologian.
At the Sola Scriptura Project webpage, the reader is greeted with this: Welcome to the Sola Scriptura Project. A website focused on the Word of God and the Word only. Then, further, it comments that when God speaks, man should listen.
In 1860, A.A. Hodge wrote:
Whatever God teaches or commands is of sovereign authority. Whatever conveys to us an infallible knowledge of his teachings and commands is an infallible rule. The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the only organs through which, during the present dispensation, God conveys to us a knowledge of his will about what we are to believe concerning himself, and what duties he requires of us.
And there are many other theologians and commentators that have spoken there peace for the past few hundred years that we could refer to.
The question that I have come to ask myself is something that the Westminster Confession tried to answer: Is Sola Scriptura actually found in the Scriptures themselves? If it is not, to what exant does that allow the Church to decide doctrine? Is Rome, or for that matter, Athens, Antioch, and Istanbul correct when they point to Tradition and Scripture as being verbum Dei?
One the glaring paradoxes to the Sola Scriptura debate are that those who support this doctrine completely readily point to the tradition of Sola Scriptura! They will point to the Reformers and if that does not work, then they will point to the early Church writers, but again, all based on tradition. Can we really protest doctrine based on tradition if we rely upon tradition to determine our charges?
The next article will be exploring what Scriptures say about themselves and if we can justify Sola Scriptura by using the bible.