I confess the first time I’d ever heard this term was about a year ago in an email with Sean. As I was raised Catholic, accepted Christ while attending a lesser-known evangelistic church and have since joined a Baptist church, I lean toward the “bible is sufficient” philosophy. I am open, however, to additional teachings, but then I find myself rejecting them when they either contradict scripture or it’s not readily apparent to me why I should accept the additional teaching. When I think that the New Testament promises a freedom in Christ, it’s hard to voluntarily accept additional rules. The book of Romans, for example, warns against voluntarily subjecting oneself to Jewish law after accepting Christs. I’m still exploring this subject though; still open, still learning.
Doug over at Coffeeswirls is teaching a Sunday School class on this subject. Catch up on his first two posts here and here. And if you have an opinion on this subject, I’d love to hear it, but make sure it’s in agreement with scripture. 🙂
11 thoughts on “Sola Scriptura”
I suppose the first question I have to ask is
“Where in scripture does it say that scripture is the only (as in sola) teaching tool?”
(sound of crickets chirping……)
Well, I asked a few questions at Coffeeswirls, but did not have time to analyze each passage of scripture for “leaps” of logic or faith.
I agree with you that all answers must be scripturally based, that is it cannot contradict scripture, or read more into it than is there. Otherwise, we become like the Pharisees teaching the word of God to our own liking. Something Christ warned us against. Christ passed his authority onto the disciples at Pentecost, charging them with the great commission. Before the NT was written, before the books of the Bible were codified – and the disciples proceeded to establish churches and chastise them in The Way – without the benefit of the written New Testament Scriptures. This is seen in the many latters to churches that were experiencing moral difficulties, or downright heresies. The disciples stepped in to set things straight in their letters. From there, where does the authority to teach about Christianity go? From the disciples to their protege’s as seen in the letters to Timothy extolling him to rely on scripture and what he has learned from Paul. Since scripture was not finished in Paul’s lifetime, and even the Gospels were oral for several decades, then preaching the word relied upon the authority granted to the disciples and their proteges. This is the tradition that Catholics refer to. The Apostolic tradition seen in the early church.
So, I have another question that has plagued me – What exactly do Sola Scriptura people mean when objecting to “tradition” – what is tradition exactly?
If you look to the end of my notes, I mention a few examples of what Sola Scriptura is and is not saying. It is not a denial of all tradition or of the learning that can be gained in other places. It is a matter of who has the authority to speak on behalf of God.
I’ll answer more later in my own comment area, but it seems to me that you have not understood the emphasis I tried to convey. That is my fault, and I will answer as many questions as I have time for.
No, I believe that I have understood you and the point is exactly who as the authority to speak on account of God.
Where does the bible say that this authority is deposited? – and, of course scripture is unassailably (sp?) the word of God and can be relied upon, I am not arguing that. I will ask some more questions soon, this is a fascinating subject for me, and I hope that this thread continues.
I want you to know how much I’m enjoying the exchange over at Coffeeswirls. My opinion still leans towards Doug’s, but I do not think the two of you are as far apart as you think you are. 🙂
As for me, I do not think that we are far apart either. However, the topic was Sola Scriptura – and I hope that I was clear in my explanation of why I disagree with the initial statement by Luther.
If for nothing else, Luther’s reliance on scripture to reject the authority of “councils of men” does not address the fact that it was just such councils that gave him the Bible with which he dismisses these councils. If anything, Luther, out on a limb cuts the branch behind him, leaving him standing in the air….
Of course these councils to which he objects to were led by the Holy Spirit, which, according to our understanding of time took quite a while to do it. The fact is that the Holy Spirit guided the Catholic Church over centuries to recognize and determine the canon of the New and Old Testaments. It was only in the year 382 at the synod of Rome, under Pope Damasus I that the decision was ratified. It was again ratified at the councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397 and 419). Protestants accept exactly the same books of the New Testament that Pope Damasus decreed were canonical, and no others. (Note that the papal decree was not an individual action, but took a great many of church leaders in council, led by the Holy Spirit over centuries. Often Protestants think that Popes can change dogma at the drop of a hat. Witness the call in the press for women priests at the death of John Paul II.
We will get into the authority issue later this afternoon over at coffee swirls, I have not had time to collect my thoughts.
The interesting thing to me is the original Sola Scriptura argument, before it changed to authority, as Doug said. My confusion is this:
Why did the Reformation leaders cut out whole OT books of the scripture, when they held the scriptures as supreme? Did they simply throw away God’s word? If so, why, and by whose authority could they do such a thing?
The earliest example, of missing OT books is seen in a quote by the early Church fathers and references the Book of Sirach within 70 years of the crucifixtion:
“You shall not waver with regard to your decisions [Sir. 1:28]. Do not be someone who stretches out his hands to receive but withdraws them when it comes to giving [Sir. 4:31]” (Didache 4:5 [A.D. 70]).
In 70 AD there was no Reformation. There was one Church and the leaders of that Church referenced OT Holy Scripture in their works and letters (The Didache is one of these letters). This is historical proof that certain OT books missing from the Protestant Bible today existed for the early Church. The Reformers, then, while holding scripture so dear as to force schism, and claiming to rely soley on that revered scripture, then cut out whole books of OT scripture, that the Christian faith had accepted for 1,500 years. Gone. Poof. One could not relay on scripture to tell one what *is* scripture, it had to be revealed to man. Once revealed and accepted by the only Church then in existence,it should remain.
If you have any insight into why these books were removed, I would certainly like to know, I have not studied this aspect of the Reformation.
OK, sola scriptura.
Then letâ€™s do it, instead of wasting time with theory and useless quotations from Saint Paul. Letâ€™s take a book of the Sola Scriptura, such as Genesis, and letâ€˜s go to the first verse. I have read on Internet somebody telling that the Scripture is crystal clear by itself (sola) etc. We will see that.
But first of all, who tells us that the book of Genesis is part of the Scripture? Certainly not the Scripture. The Jews talked about the Law and the Prophets. By extension we accept all of Genesis under the heading â€œLawâ€œ. Quite a semantic jump. I donâ€™t know the scripture that well, but I am ready to bet that the Genesis as such is never quoted in the Bible. Single verses certainly are quoted, but what about the neighboring verses?
And, even if Genesis were quoted I am quite sure that the first line (or the second, or the third, or the fourth) is never quoted. It is obvious that all verses of the Bible cannot be quoted in the Bible, otherwise we would have a text at least twice as long. And then also the quotations should be quoted. Is it unimportant? The Mormons alter some verses of the Bible and we could have had some alterations made by some unknown sect in 300 BCE also in the text of the first chapter of Genesis. In fact, grant to me that it would be much better for Christianity (and orthodox Jews) if the first chapter of Genesis were recognized as non-inspired by God, because then we would not have in this time and age people telling us that the world was indeed created in six days, the trees before the Sun and so on – discrediting Christianity with such statements. It is too easy to say that the Sola Scriptura is not a textbook of paleontology. Fine if God is silent on some subjects, but why should God make wrong statements on others? There is no choice: either the text must be taken at its face value, or we must admit that there is a symbolism in it, and then we need an authority which explains the symbols. Disregarding the chapter altogether would put the Sola Scriptura theorists in worse problems: which authority would tell us which parts of the Sola Scriptura we can disregard? Sola Scriptura means Tota Scriptura (the whole Scripture), otherwise, the authority which you expelled from the door comes back from the window.
But letâ€™s grant for a moment that the first verse of the first chapter of Genesis is an authentic, God inspired line. Is Godâ€™s certificate also valid for all translations? Looks unlikely, although Genesis 1.1 is a fairly uncontroversial line. No no, God inspired the Hebrew text, He cannot have signed a blank check for all translations, especially if they disagree with one another. But, if so, which authority will tell us which translations are acceptable? The solution is obvious: we must refer only to the text in Hebrew. This takes the Bible a bit outside the reach of most people, but who cares? Sola Scriptura.
There we are:
Gen. 1.1 : V R (aleph) S Y Th V R (Aleph) (Aleph) L H Y Mfinal (Aleph) Th H S M Y M etc.
Sorry, but â€œSola Scripturaâ€ means only the consonants.
And where do the words split? Where are the dots etc which make a Hebrew text so cute? Where are the vowels?
The vowels, the dots and the word separations were added by the Massoretes with a work which started around the VI century AD and was concluded in the ninth century AD. Withouth vowels Adam could be called Edme. What is worse, vowels carry not only a lexical meaning but are also used for inflexion. Putting wovels into a text is not a difficult job if the language is a living language, but it is not that obvious if we are dealing with a dead language. Hebrew bibles are a puzzle to read. There is a delightful concept called â€œQere perpetuumâ€, not knowing which C.T. Russell, poor deluded soul, invented a new religion. I cannot resist from adding extra fun by telling that Massoretes means â€œtraditionalistâ€. Good Lord! almost one half of the Bible as we know it, i.e. all the vowels, come to us from tradition.
Thus, thanks to tradition (VI-IX century CE) the first verse is written:
â€œBereshyt baraâ€™ Elohim eth ha-shamayim etc. â€œ and translated. To get to this text, the Massoretes had to add 18 diacritical signs and 4 spaces, in a set of 21 consonants. And this was done no less than 1000 years after the Bible was written.
1. We accept that Genesis is part of the Bible because of tradition;
2. We accept that the first line is part of the Bible because of tradition;
3. All the vowels and other diacritical signs (a substantial part of the Bible) come from tradition.
And now get ready for item 4:
4. We can read the text (which otherwise would be far from being crystal clear, but would rather look like the texts of the pyramids before Champollion) only because tradition has sent us down through the centuries both the Grammar and the Dictionary of biblical Hebrew- independently of the Scripture. Hebrew was a dead language already before Jesus. Any translation you read is an approximation and in some cases a hypothesis. Words change meaning in 4000 years. Some words appear only once, or only in one book and then there is no cue to their meaning. E.g., the word qoheleth appears only in one book (not surprisingly, the book of Qoheleth) and nobody knows precisely what it means.
Not bad for the â€œsola scripturaâ€ thesis.
Hair splitting? Possibly, but if you want more fun, look at the third word: â€œElohimâ€. Surprise surprise, it is a plural. Thus the correct translation should be:
â€œIn the beginning the community of the Gods created â€œ and so on.
Why do we translate â€œGodâ€ and not â€œthe community of the Godsâ€œ? Because neither the Jews nor the Christians liked this translation and assure us that Elohim is a majestatic plural, in most cases (Oh yes? But which ones?). But if I donâ€™t have the help of a tradition and an authority which says otherwise, for me Elohim is a plural and the only way to accord a plural subject with a singular verb is to translate Elohim as a collective. (For support, please read Genesis 3.22 and take it at face value).
Maybe we have here a relic of an earlier tradition, in which many gods existed and at a certain point decided together to create the world. Maybe the Bible originally started with Abraham in Chapter 12 of Genesis, and all previous chapters were added later on the basis of other sources (and traditions).
Nothing to do: Some authority must tell us that the whole chapter is irrelevant, or that it is symbolic (and what do the symbols mean). Otherwise we must take it literally, six days, trees before the Sun and so on. And Elohim is a collective. So much for monotheism.
I point out that I cannot be accused of having selected a particularly thorny verse to serve my purpose, but I just selected the first line -first chapter- first book of the Bible, on whose translation there is little disagreement, to prove the point that the â€œSola Scripturaâ€ thesis does not work. Whether we like it or not, when we read a translation of that verse (any verse) we are accepting an enormous underlying work of the tradition and consequently are also accepting one or more authorities, more or less in disguise.
Thus we have to choose: either we prefer one single declared authority with a history of 2000 years, or we accept a plethora of authorities, more or less anonymous (or we turn to another religion, or we found a new one). Tradition, halas, is there in any case, and you cannot do anything about it.
In one word: the Sola Scriptura simply does not exist and discussing it is really â€œchasing the windâ€ (then , why did I write this lengthy comment?).
Be it clear that I am not making a case for the Catholic Church. That is your problem. I am just telling that a Scriptura which can be used â€œsolaâ€œ does not exist. But certainly it is interesting to see Christians who still bring up 500-years old arguments (disregarding all the progress made by textual criticism) to destroy the only loud voice (that of the Catholic Church) which still mentions Jesus Christ today. Lutheranism, High Church, Calvinism etc. are already all dead or in their death throes. Most other denominations are barely audible. There are no more than 30 million of Christians – mostly Catholics – left in Western Europe (less than 10%). With due respect, I believe that you have to discuss more important problems than â€œSola Scripturaâ€.
James, while I appreciate your advice on what I should blog about… no wait, that wouldn’t be true. I found no use for that advice whatsoever. On the other hand, if you would like advice on what posts to comment on, I would be happy to provide such to you.
You are obviously learned about the origins of the scriptures in a way that I am not – I mentioned so in the original post. I will, however, differ on your interpretation on how the scripture is “God-breathed,” that your description of the written text does not lend itself to widespread condemnation of the entire bible text. I do accept a single authority – the written scripture – that differs from your single authority.
In any event, I do not have a “problem” with the Catholic Church, nor do I seek to destroy them. On the contrary, I respect and appreciate the Catholic Church and agree with quite a lot of their teachings. Sean has taught me a lot about Catholics that I didn’t learn attending Catholic Church for 16 years. And I remain open at all times to question in a way that enhances my faith.
Do you have a source for your population statistics? I would expect that Anglicans are a larger percentage than you suggest.
I apologise if I offended you. I tend to be carried away by my bad English.
Secondly, I wrote nowhere that I am a Catholic, nor what is the authority I follow (two things you seem to know).
Thirdly, my statistics are a guestimate: I believe that much less than 10% of Europeans regularly attend a Christian Church, support it etc. Possibly 50% of the total are Catholics). I propose this estimate, because I would be curious to hear the right figures. Certainly, I am tired to read (e.g. http://www.adherents.com/largecom/com_christian.html) that there are 47 millions Catholics in Italy and 44 millions in France. My guestimate for France, where I live, is that there are no more than 2.5 millions active Catholics. Most probably less.
When men write, it is so easy to be misunderstood. Fortunately for us, scripture is much more clear.
– No offense take, think nothing more of it.
– I didn’t say you were a Catholic. By “your authority,” I was referring to your writings regarding the Catholic Church. I make no assumptions to as to your faith.
– 73% of all statistics are made up. Thanks for the clarification. 😛
I don’t pretend to be a theologian, but I would think your “community of Gods” could be easily addressed by Christian belief in the Trinity. One God, three persons. I also disagree with your position that we accept scripture because of tradition. The Word of God claims to be God-breathed, so I accept scripture because of scripture and faith. I understand what you’re trying to say; I just don’t agree.
Just to set statistics correct, today’s Crosswalk reports that the fastest growing denomination of Christianity is actually Redeemed Christian Church of God, a Pentacostal / Evangelist church.