A Nutshell of “Scripture Alone”

August 25th, 2009

I’m still going to come back to Romans 9-11, but in the meantime, I have a quick comment on sola Scriptura.

“Scripture Alone”, or sola Scriptura, is the idea that Scripture is the only infallible, absolutely authoritative source of truth that we possess today.  (Or, depending on who’s saying it, you might say, “source of guidance & revelation for the Church”, or some variation.)  Catholics and Eastern Orthodox reject it.  Protestants stand on it.

I’m reading a debate that just started between Rhology, a Reformed Protestant, and David, an Orthodox.  So far the opening statements are up, and I want to comment on David’s.

He says, as Catholics and Orthodox often do,

Sola Scriptura is ultimately self-refuting. If only Scripture is a binding authority on matters of faith, and Scripture nowhere contains the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, then it cannot be true.

David’s missing two things.  The second is very important, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a Catholic or Orthodox who seemed to be addressing it.  (Not on the Internet, anyway.)  I completely understand how people miss it, and someone had to point it out to me–but once it’s pointed out, it’s pretty simple.  (And if you’re not Protestant, I would welcome your reply.)

Let’s grant that Scripture nowhere directly teaches, “Scripture is the only infallible authority.”

1.) That doesn’t mean sola Scriptura isn’t true. Sola Scriptura doesn’t mean, “All truth is in Scripture.”  There are many true things that Scripture doesn’t talk about.  Sola Scriptura wouldn’t have to be in the Bible for it to be true.

But David could rightly respond:  “You’re nitpicking.  The point is that sola Scriptura can’t be a binding doctrine for a Protestant, because the Bible doesn’t ever say ‘Scripture alone’.”  So, move on to #2.

2.) I only believe in one infallible authority today.  Not because Scripture says, “The Bible is the only infallible authority.”  But because the Bible only points us to one infallible authority.

Jesus & the apostles didn’t direct us to view “the Church” in general or the Pope or the Roman Catholic Magisterium as infallible authorities; that’s why I don’t accept Catholic & Orthodox claims about themselves.

It’s not that “Scripture is the only infallible authority” has been revealed.  It’s that nothing but Scripture has been revealed as an infallible authority.

—–

That’s it.

Actually, I would also argue that the Bible does say things about the Bible’s sufficiency, which would add support to sola Scriptura.  And David might argue that the Bible does teach us to look to “tradition” as infallible, too–which would prove sola Scriptura wrong.  We have to look at what the Bible says to settle it.  But I think it should be clear that “The Bible doesn’t say ‘Scripture alone,’ so it’s self-refuting!” is missing the point.

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8 Responses to “A Nutshell of “Scripture Alone””

  1. an says:

    great timing, since i’ve been pondering how i view the bible, the interpretation of the bible, and my theology (ever since the issue was lightly touched in a discussion with kevin on my FB page)
    and here’s my conclusion:  i have more faith in my search for God and in God’s desire and ability to reveal Himself than i have faith in the “infallilbilty of the bible” or people’s interpretation of it.
    if i were a theology professor or motivated by winning debates, i would have very little ground to stand on.  but since my primary motive is the truest understanding (and relationship) with God, i only have to convice myself .  i just need to self-check myself that i’m truly searching for Truth, and not blindly adhering to some theology or philosophy or person/people/church.
    i know that’s a really dangerous statement – and i know how i would react if someone said that to me (and honestly, i’m partially saying that because i know it’s going to cause a reaction, and i like drama).  but, so far, that how it’s really shaking out for me.
    so, practically, what is the bible to me?  i view is as the primary source for starting to know God.  where it’s meant to be historical, it’s accurate.  where it chronicles Jesus, it’s accurate.  and really, that’s the minimum it needs to be go from a generic philosophical theist to a christian (i just chronicled my development as a christian).  i do believe there’s alot more meat in there than history, but in a discussion/debate i wouldnt count on using the argument that it’s the “word of God”.
    if i were pondering something that seemlingly contradicted the bible, i would really think twice (and probably much more than 2 times) about it.  but it wouldn’t be off the table.  and quite honestly, if disingenous people can use the bible to justify anything (KKK?), ingenuous (is that a word?) people probably can show that any truth about God doesn’t contradict the bible.
    it’s kind of like the shroud of turin to me.  when the shroud would going to be carbon-tested to prove that it was a fake, there was alot of stir with some christians about fear of the outcome.  but some catholic priest said something like “if your faith hinges on the shroud, then you need to keep looking”.
    so the bible isn’t the cornerstone to my understanding of God.  it’s the majority of it, but not the foundation.  the foundation is relationship and the direct understanding of God (there’s christianese words that make that sound less scary – like spririt-led, revelation, communion with God, various gifts, etc).  but even if it’s scary, it is what is (for me)

  2. Tim says:

    An,

    I’m going to come back to this, and talk about what you’ve said.  (I’ve got some definite agreement, and some “well…” momentss, too.  :) )

    For now, I just want to point out that you’re going beyond the topic of my post.   I wasn’t actually attempting to demonstrate anything about the role that the Bible should actually play in our lives.  I wasn’t trying to prove that the Bible is infallible–or even that the Bible claims infallibility.  I was only trying to talk about what “Scripture alone” means, and why a common argument against it doesn’t really work.  (Even if you’re Catholic, I think you should be clear about what criticisms make sense and which don’t.  You won’t want to use bad arguments.)

    This is related to what you’ve been working through, and it’s fine for you to bring it up, and we can talk about it here.  (Though I might make a new entry, once I think about your comment some more.)  I just want to point out that you’re dealing with more questions than I was.

  3. Qohelet says:

    Not all protestants are sola scriptura. Others follow “prima scriptura”, scriptures first. The Weslayan Quadrilateral, which is more or less normative in Methodist/Nazarene/Holiness denominations, articulates a form of prima scriptura.

  4. Tim says:

    Qohelet,

    Thanks for stopping by.

    I’m curious–what do you understand the difference to be between “sola” and “prima”?

    1.) That there are other infallible sources of knowledge, or other infallible authorities?
    2.) That there are other authorities too–though they’re fallible, and
    correctable by scripture?
    3.) That scripture isn’t infallible?

    #1 is Catholicism, and I doubt that’s
    what you mean. #3 certainly exists among
    some Protestants, but I doubt that’s “prima”.

    I suspect you mean #2. But that’s actually exactly what sola scriptura says, too! It’s not “solo scriptura”, where scripture is the only authority. It’s that scripture is the only infallible source. Science, reason, etc still have some authority.

    So what’s your understanding of the difference?

  5. an says:

    assuming we’re all self-aware humans, aren’t we inherently prima-self? would we claim something to be true or live as if something were true if did not first decide it was true?

    even if a burning bush revealed great things to me, would i not first decide that i was lucid and that i could have been given a revelation before i declare and live by that revelation?

    to truly be sola or prima anything, we would have to blindly prescribe to it despite all logic, rationale, experience, etc… would that be good?

    relavant, but maybe tangent: what does “infallible” mean? the only thing that is infallible is reality itself. any description of it is probably going to fall short or be myopic. especially when it’s puny humans trying tying to describe reality.

    i’m not proposing that we should give up trying to understand reality. but we should be cautious when we try to drive stakes into the ground when describing something infinitely bigger and complex than ourselves.

  6. Rhology says:

    Rhology, a Reformed Protestant

    Whoa there! I’m not a card-carrying TR, you know. ;-)
    (Don’t know enough about cov theology to say that I hold that position, for one thing. But I am a Calvinist. And a Baptist.)

    Thanks for reading. I hope it’s profitable for all.

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