Sola Scriptura is a Latin phrase that means "by Scripture alone." It is a slogan of Martin Luther's from the Protestant Schisms which denied the authority of the Magisterium.
- 1 No Magisterium, no canon
- 2 No science of Exegesis
- 3 "Sola Scriptura" is not Sola Scriptura
- 4 "Bible" is not a biblical word
- 5 Scripture verses
- 6 Questions that "sola scriptura" can't answer
- 7 The "No Verse in Scripture" Game
- 8 Protestant traditions not found in the Bible
- 9 References
- 10 Links
No Magisterium, no canon
"Sola scriptura" is a failure from the beginning.
No scripture lists the scriptures inspired by God.
No verse in the Bible tells us what books belong in the Bible.
It is an entirely extra-scriptural judgment that "these writings are the Word of the Lord" which, in turn, provides the canon of the scriptures.
If extra-scriptural judgments are banished by "sola scriptura," then we cannot tell which writings are sacred scripture and which are not. And if we do not know which works are "scripture," we can't apply the principle of "sola scriptura" to anything.
If the "not in the Bible" rule had been in place for the OT, there never could be a NT; if no NT, no "Bible."
The NT does not say "the canon is closed." Neither does the OT. Nowhere in the "Bible" does it say only books written in Hebrew may be admitted into the Old Testament. It is the judgment of the Church that the whole of the Septuagint is canonical and that the Deposit of Faith is closed after the death of the last apostle.
No science of Exegesis
There is no scientific method for reading texts. Exegesis is a human art, not a science. That is one reason why the doctrine of "sola scriptura" causes Bible Christians to reduce the faith to splinters.
"Sola Scriptura" is not Sola Scriptura
If every teaching must be based solely on what is written in scripture, the teaching that "every teaching must be based solely on what is written in scripture" is false. There is no verse in the Bible (however it is defined) that says every authentic teaching must come from "Scripture alone" or "from a verse in the Bible."
"Bible" is not a biblical word
Definition of the word "Bible"
For those Protestants who only accept the books of the TNK as inspired by God, there are 39 books in the Old Testament.
Roman Catholics accept 46 books of LXX as inspired by God.
The Eastern Orthodox accept another 2 books from the intertestamental period as inspired by God, for a total of 48 books in their version of the Old Testament.
Almost all Christians nowadays accept 27 books of the New Testament as inspired by God.
So the definition of the word "Bible" refers to three different collections of scripture, depending on whose Bible is being considered.
"Bible" in the Bible
Where variants of the word "bible" appear in the sacred scriptures, they never refers to the combination of the Old Testament and the New Testament as outlined above. The variants are only applied to components of those scriptures considered individually, such as "the book of the prophets" or "the book of Moses," or to other books such as the little scroll in the book of Revelation or the book of Revelation itself. Since the word "Bible" is not in the Bible, nowhere in the Bible does it say, "Every teaching of Christianity is to be found in the Bible."
In other words, those who repeatedly ask the question, "Where does it say that in the Bible?" are asking a non-Biblical question. Their conviction that everything knowable about Christianity is "said in the Bible" is a non-Biblical, human tradition.
Jesus left a Body, not a Book
When Jesus ascended into Heaven, none of the 27 books of the New Testament were written. The apostles preached Jesus from what they knew of Him personally. Jesus did not say, "Read this book, then invent a Church that fits your interpretation." He said to the members of His Body, "Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Mt 28:19-20).
The apostles did not hand out copies of the New Testament or tracts to converts; they spoke with them directly and personally about the faith.
Tradition came first and produced the Scriptures. Later, the Magisterium, the living voice of Tradition, identified 27 books as inspired by God. The declaration that "these books are the Word of God" is an action of the Church, not of the Bible.
- We must bear in mind that the Church does not teach something because it is in the New Testament; it is in the New Testament because the Church taught it.
- [Four teachings older than the canon of the NT: Mary's Perpetual Virginity, Intercession of the Saints, Real Presence of Christ in in the Eucharist, Trinity.]
The Bible is not a "book"
The temptation to think of the Bible as a "book" is understandable. The word "bible" comes from the Greek word for "book" (biblos). In our 1400 years of spiritual warfare with the Muslims, there has been a tendency to treat the Scriptures as if they constituted one "book" in contrast to the one and only book of Islam, the Koran. From the time of the Fathers, the three scrolls of the Jews (Torah, Nebi'im, and Kethub'im) were written out on papyrus or vellum and bound together with the books of the New Testament in one large volume. The invention of the printing press made this error even more likely because the Bible looks like a book, smells like a book, opens like a book, and sits next to other books on a bookshelf.
The Bible is not a "book" but two distinct collections of books: the scriptures of the Old Testament and the scriptures of the New Testament. Unlike the books with which we are so familiar nowadays, the materials in the Sacred Library were written and rewritten over a period of (perhaps) 1400 years. Different authors wrote in different languages at different times and in different places to different audiences with different needs, using different literary techniques, different genres, and different vocabulary to address different issues. God, the Holy Spirit, inspired all of these human authors, but He did not eradicate their humanity. It is a serious error to read the book of Jonah the same way we read the Gospel of John or to read the letters of St. Paul the same way we read Deuteronomy.
All scripture is inspired by God
This is the great text trotted out by Protestant apologists. There is no "sola scriptura" in the text at all. I concede that the sacred writings do instruct us in the truths necessary for salvation, that all of Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, and that anyone who ignores the Scriptures is incomplete, but not one syllable of these verses says that Scripture is the sole source of teaching authority. Many other verses in Scripture point elsewhere--to the living teachers of the living Body of Christ, the Magisterium.
15 From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
16 All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
The great question constantly on the lips of the proponents of Sola Scriptura is, "Where does it say that in the Bible?" They fail ask that question about their own method of interpreting the Scriptures. "Where in the Bible does it say that the right question to ask about every teaching is "Where does it say that in the Bible?"
Five hundred years of arguing about the Scriptures has poisoned the thinking of many Catholics, so that the non-Biblical assumption that every teaching of the Church must be taken from an explicit passage of the Bible seems to be a self-evident truth. The Bible does not say that the Church may teach only what the Bible says directly.
Jesus identifies with the teachers--not the text
"Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me" (Lk 10:16).
Binding and loosing
"Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Mt 18:17-18).
Make disciples by teaching
"Then Jesus approached and said to them, 'All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age'" (Mt 28:18-20).
"And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you.
"I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.
"In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.'
"Judas, not the Iscariot, said to him, 'Master, (then) what happened that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?'
"Jesus answered and said to him, 'Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; yet the word you hear is not mine but that of the Father who sent me.
"'I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name--he will teach you everything and remind you of all that (I) told you'" (Jn 14:16-26).
Hold fast to oral traditions
"Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours" (2 Thes 2:15).
Questions that "sola scriptura" can't answer
- John Martignoni, Bible Christian Society
- Where in the Bible does it say that we should go by the Bible alone when it comes to all matters pertaining to faith and morals? Scripture verse?
- Where in the Bible does it list the books which should be part of the Bible? Scripture verse?
- Where in the Bible does it say that public revelation ended with the death of the last apostle? Scripture verse?
- Do you believe the writer of the Gospel of Mark was inspired by the Holy Spirit? Yes or no?
- If yes, where in the Bible does it say that the writer of the Gospel of Mark was inspired by the Holy Spirit? Scripture verse?
- Who did write the Gospel of Mark, and how do you know?
- Do you believe the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews was inspired by the Holy Spirit?
- If yes, where in the Bible does it tell us that the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews was inspired by the Holy Spirit? Scripture verse?
- Where in the Bible does it tell us who the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews was? Scripture verse?
- If you don’t know who wrote the Letter to the Hebrews, then how do you know it is inspired?
We do not find the sentence, "Abortion is an unspeakably evil act that offends God, wounds the parents, destroys the conscience of medical personnel, and creates a culture of death with many catastrophic consequences." But that is the meaning of the Scriptures--"for those who have eyes to see."
The "No Verse in Scripture" Game
I hate calling the Sacred Scriptures "the Bible."
I have been playing this game with one of my former students. He said that there was no verse in Scripture that authorized the Catholic teaching that society is constructed out of families rather than out of isolated individuals. That is, of course, true.
- There is also no verse in Scripture that says every truth taught by the Church must be found in a verse in Scripture. "Sola scriptura" is not a scriptural teaching.
- There is no verse in Scripture that lists the writings that are to be called "Scripture."
- - No book in the Bible lists the books of the Bible.
- - No verse in Scripture says, "Only books written in Hebrew were inspired by God for the Israelites." That thought is a human tradition invented by Martin Luther in the 16th century.
- - No verse in Scripture says that "Christians must follow the decisions of the Pharisaic Council of Jamnia (if there was a "Council of Jamnia"!).
- There is no verse in Scripture that says we may call the writings of the Israelites "the Old Testament" nor the writings produced by the Body of Christ "the New Testament."
- There is no verse in the scriptures associated with the People of the Old Covenant that authorizes Christians to create and append the scriptures of the New Covenant to the first collection.
- There is no verse in Scripture that authorizes the reading of the Scriptures in translation. The Israelite Scriptures were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and (according to the Catholic Church) Greek; the Christian scriptures of the New Testament have only been found in Greek manuscripts to date.
- There is no verse in Scripture that authorized the composition or translation of the Christian scriptures in Greek. The sacred language of the Israelites was Hebrew; the language that Jesus spoke with His disciples was Aramaic.
- There is no verse in Scripture that tells us whether we are free to do anything not forbidden in the Scriptures (Luther's view; e.g., build church buildings, ornament them with icons, consecrate altars, light them with electricity, etc.) or whether we may only do what is positively commanded in the Scriptures (Calvin's view).
- There is no verse in Scripture that tells us what to do when there is no verse in Scripture that tells us what to do.
- There is no verse in Scripture that lists the writings that have been inspired by God and that must now be venerated as the Word of God.
- The Scriptures don't record the development of the Scriptures.
- They don't tell us how they were collected and identified as the Word of God.
- Early Church history was preserved by the fathers of the Church. They spoke in the mode of the first century. They were the living apostles, prophets, pastors, evangelists, and teachers from that day who protected the Body from every wind of doctrine and false philosophy. Their way of narrating events is very different from our modern journalism and history.
- There is no verse in Scripture that authorizes calling the entire collection of the Scriptures "the Bible." Therefore, there is no verse in the Bible that authorizes people to ask, "Where is that in the Bible?"
- There is no verse in the Bible that says the Bible is the only word of God or that there is no other vehicle of revelation. The Bible is the Word of God, but no verse in the Bible says that the Bible is the Word of God. This is a doctrine--a dogma--proposed by the Catholic Church. No Church, no Bible! The Church says more than the Scriptures say. She recognized the reality of the inspiration of the Scriptures by the Holy Spirit and that insight, in turn, led to the definition of the "canon of the New Testament." If the Church did not say more than the Scriptures say, we would not have "the Bible" at all.
- There is no verse in Scripture that says "every verse in Scripture must be read literally."
- There is no verse in Scripture that says "the whole of the New Testament, in all of its parts, is divinely inspired and must be treated as the Word of God."
- There is no verse in Scripture that says "No new scriptures may be added to the New Testament collection."
- There is no verse in Scripture that says we may change "The Day of the Lord" from Saturday to Sunday.
- There is no verse in Scripture that says, "The Deposit of Faith was closed with the death of the last apostle." The last apostle to die might not even have known that he was the last one alive of the original twelve. I doubt very much that he had the explicit concept of a "deposit of faith," either. That is something that developed out of subsequent reflection some time after the death of the last apostle when it was clear that the Church had to preach the gospel in the absence of the eyewitnesses.
- There is no verse in Scripture that says God no longer provides "apostles, prophets, pastors, evangelists, and teachers ... so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming" (Eph 4:11-16).
In addition, the Scriptures do not provide lessons in grammar or a theological dictionary as inspired books that would define the meaning of all terms used elsewhere in the Scriptures. Any interpretations based on linguistics and definitions are only as good as the non-biblical scholarship involved in the judgment.
Either the Body has the power to make these kinds of decisions or else there is no Bible; if the Body has the power to make these decisions, it is free from the obligation to back them up by a specific verse in Scripture.
Protestant traditions not found in the Bible
- "Where does the Bible say we are not purified of sin after death?"
- "Where does the Bible say we should make Jesus our personal Lord and Savior?"
- "Where does the Bible say all revelation ceased after the apostolic age?"
- "Where does the Bible say everything we believe as Christians must be found in the Bible?"