Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology
The Doctrine of Sola Scriptura:
Is It Really Biblical?
by Tony Warren
hat does sola scriptura mean, and is the doctrine Biblical? Actually, the phrase is Latin, and it was coined by the Reformation church during the 1500's. It means "Scripture solely" or "Scripture alone." By these words the faithful Christian church of this era took a stand for the Biblical principle that the Bible was God's wholey inspired and infallible Word, and as such was the sole ultimate rule of faith and practice for the church. It illustrated that by definition, the Word of God must be the supreme authority over the beliefs of men, and not (as some had supposed) the Roman Catholic church, its magisterium or the Pope. Since the position of the Roman church was mutually exclusive to both this and those faithful Christians who protested it (and thus were labeled, Protestants), both views obviously could not be correct. If the faithful Christian was going to stand on God's Word alone as the ultimate authority of the church, then there would have to be a "Reforming" of that church. There had to be a restoration of the position of the infallible law of God, that the church at the time had fallen away from. This Protestant Reformation is akin to a law breaker or criminal having seen the error of his ways and turned from them to reform, that he might obey those laws. They were laws that were always there, always in effect, but that he had previously neglected. In like manner, these faithful Christians understood that the church of Rome had erred, and thus had to return to its former obedience to the Word of God, rather than of men. Another good analogy for this faithful restoration is found in the Old Testament where Hilkiah the Priest brought the law of God (that had been previously disregarded) to King Josiah. Upon reading God's law that had been neglected by the people, Josiah's eyes were opened and he understood this principle of having to reform or restore the God's congregation to faithful adherence to God's laws.
2nd Kings 22:10-13
Likewise, these conscientious Reformers read God's law and understood that their church leaders had not harkened unto the words of the Book. And thus (for all intents and purposes) October 31, 1517 began the Reformation as a German Monk by the name of Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Roman Catholic church door in Wittenberg, Germany. It illustrated that the faithful would no longer sit back and watch the church forsake the laws of God's Holy Book in favor of the ideas of men and church traditions. They felt they had to return to the Biblical precepts of not leaning unto their own understanding (Proverbs 3:5), nor upon the understanding of their church leaders. They would lean upon the Scriptures alone (The doctrine of Sola Scriptura) as the ultimate authority that cannot be overruled by men.
- "And Shaphan the scribe shewed the king, saying, Hilkiah the priest hath delivered me a book. And Shaphan read it before the king.
- And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the book of the law, that he rent his clothes.
- And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Michaiah, and Shaphan the scribe, and Asahiah a servant of the king's, saying,
- Go ye, enquire of the LORD for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that is found: for great is the wrath of the LORD that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not harkened unto the words of this book, to do according unto all that which is written concerning us."
Actually, calling it the doctrine of Sola Scriptura might be construed as a bit of a misnomer in one sense. Because it is not a doctrine that teaches we believe that there are not other authorities, nor that they have no value or place. Rather, it means that all other authorities must be subordinate to the authority of the Word of God. In other words, the authority of the Word of God is not dependent upon, nor is it validated by the declarations of the church, as had been taught. Thus the phrase "Sola scriptura" truly implies several things. First, that the Scriptures are a direct revelation from God, and as such are God's Holy infallible and authoritative words. There is no word greater or more authoritative. It also delineates that the completed Holy Canon contains all that is necessary for Christian faith and practice today. And not only that the Scriptures are sufficient, but that they are also the ultimate and final court of appeal on all doctrinal matters. Because however good and faithful church leaders may be in giving guidance, all the Ministers, Pastors, Leaders, Teachers, Popes, and Councils, are still but fallible flesh. The only infallible "source" for truth is God. And beside God Himself, only His Holy words (the Scriptures alone) are infallible and preserved forever for man.
Man doesn't get the credit for preservation of the infallible pure words of God, it is the Lord who has made sure that we have the New Testament. Just as He had made sure that Israel had the Old Testament Scriptures to lean upon. The Reformation doctrine of Sola Scriptura ultimately pointed to the most basic concern of the faithful church of that day, which was expressed in their cry of Soli Deo Gloria, or, "to God alone be the Glory." This expresses true humility in the Christian perspective that God should receive all the Glory, and that this is accomplished by man keeping God's Word alone as his sole, supreme and infallible authority. Regardless of what man says, the truth is that the only infallible head of the church is Christ. And so the authority of the church must likewise be the infallible words out of His mouth, not words out of the mouths of men. No matter how faithful men might appear, their words are still mere words of men, and thus subordinate to God's Word. Indeed, as they always were, even in the Old Testament times. What is called the Reformed doctrine of Sola Scriptura both was, and is, and will be necessary and essential to true Christianity. For this is the obvious difference between God's divinely inspired traditions and ordinances, and man made traditions and ordinances.
- "The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.
- Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever."
What some groups call oral traditions of the church are subject to change, development, degeneration, and deviation. There is absolutely no guarantee given by God or by the Scriptures (His infallible word) that such an oral tradition would be either preserved, true or even needed. Indeed, 2nd Timothy chapter 3 strongly implies that such was not needed.
2nd Timothy 3:16-17
The Old Testament Scriptures thoroughly furnished man of that day unto all good works, and Christ continually referenced it to prove truths to the doubters of Old Testament Israel. Jesus and others read and quoted Scripture. They didn't defer to oral traditions, except to condemn them. That's not an insignificant fact or something that is not pertinent. Likewise, when Satan himself tested Jesus, the Lord gave us our example of righteous reproof by His steadfast reference to "the authority of Scripture" to prove Satan's thinking, tempting and declarations were fatally flawed.
- "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for Doctrine, for Reproof, for Correction, for Instruction in Righteousness;
- that the man of God may be thoroughly Furnished unto all good works."
What proceeds out of the mouth of Holy God is His wholely infallible word, and this was written in the Holy Scriptures as man's authority. This is what Christ quoted. These words are as the bread or sustenance of life that man was to live by. You'll note that Christ didn't reference oral traditions, He pointed to what was divinely inspired and written. Because no matter how faithful Christians may appear, they are mere men and their word must be subordinate to God's Word. Consider that Christ could have answered Satan in any way that He wanted, for He is Perfect God and an original perfect answer could have been spoken at any moment. But instead, Christ pointed to God's Word that was already written in the Scriptures as His reply to the adversary. i.e., that was the perfect authority where the answer would come from. And His yielding to what was written in the Scriptures is for an example and lesson for all faithful Christians about what authority we should defer to in coming to any Biblical truth. Christ answered this way not only to debunk un-Biblical assertions, but He also did it when He was presented with Scripture that was taken out of context. When this occurred, Christ didn't retort, "read what John Doe said in 634 B.C, rather Christ defers to additional Scripture that would "qualify" or shed more light on the Scripture in question. For example:
- "And when the tempter came to Him, he said, if Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.
- But He answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God."
In other words, Jesus replies to Scripture taken out of context, with an additional Scripture which "qualifies" or "clarifies" the Scripture given. Note it doesn't negate it, but clarifies it. For no Scripture contradicts another Scripture. And again, in doing this, Christ is demonstrating to us how we are to exegete Scripture. We are not to deny the the first Scripture the devil submits or use another Scripture to negate or contradict it, we present additional Scripture that clarifies or qualifies it. In the case of Christ and the Devil, Christ is illustrating that yes, it is true that God's messengers will watch over us. But the additional Scripture Christ submitted clarified how that didn't mean that we could test or tempt the Lord God knowing this. This is a perfect example of God illustrating the ultimate authority of Scripture, even in the face of those who present other Scriptures taken out of context deceitfully. The perfect answer by Christ to combat erroneous understanding of Scripture, was for Him to quote "additional Scripture" that shed more light on its true meaning. Thus we learn that the Scripture is still the ultimate authoritative judgment over whatever other Scriptures that anyone might misuse or misapply. Again:
- Then the Devil taketh Him up into the Holy City, and setteth Him on a pinnacle of the Temple,
- and saith unto Him, if Thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down; for it is written, He shall give His angels charge concerning Thee, and in their hands they shall bear Thee up, lest at any time Thou dash Thy foot against a stone.
- Jesus said unto him, It is Written AGAIN, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God."
Again, Jesus answers those proving or testing Him with infallible Scripture to counter such foolish ideas and visions of vain glory. He says, "It is written!" In other words, Jesus again defers to the authority of God's Holy word that declared we bow down to serve God alone. Christ never says, go ask the Priests because they rule over you, or go to your congregational leaders, or that in your oral tradition you will find the answer. No, Christ references the true and supreme authority declaring, "it is written" and "it is written again" or written more. This is a representative sample or model of the posture that we are to take in order to test the spirits to see if they are of God or of antichrist. We compare their words to "what is written," countering their church traditions with the authority of what God has inspired written. The same can be said about any debate of any doctrine of the church. The correct principle in faithful Hermeneutics is to always defer to a sound and ordered exegesis of Scripture, and not to popular consensus, tradition, leaders, or the ecclesiastical body. Indeed, if we didn't have the Bible to defer to, how could we even know if anything a Priest said was true, given that we have seen so many religious leaders (including in the Old Testament) be judged of God for forsaking Him. So it is clear that this doctrine is foundational to Christianity, and was instituted by God Himself. It makes no difference that those who don't like to be under God's rule feign not seeing it, without it we are at a loss to truly try the Spirits or test truth. This is precisely as Jesus demonstrated in His debates with the religious leaders of His day. He was God Himself, and yet He appealed to the authority of the written Scripture that we might be enlightened thereby.
- "Again, the Devil taketh Him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth Him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;
- and saith unto Him, all these things will I give Thee, if Thou wilt fall down and worship me.
- Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan; for it is written, thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve."
They were to understand that what He was declaring was written within their Scriptures, the supreme authority that furnished them unto all good works. Therefore, they should have searched God's Words that they would have known of the Spiritual nature of the coming Christ, the fall of the congregation and the rebuilding with Christ as the Chief corner stone. Likewise, when the New Testament was added to the Book, it Biblically follows this same principle of thoroughly furnishing us unto all Good works. The same principle would continue in the final Testament of God's Holy word. And once completed, the entire New Testament Scriptures (like the Old Testament before it) is the guidebook of truth for the church. It is now a "completed work," not a work in progress. It is not an incomplete book that needs additions or adjusting. We can't add to it or take away from it by oral tradition, by revelation, or divine inspiration. The Bible (N.T. and O.T.) is now one cohesive whole that is complete and thoroughly furnishing the entire body. And this is the truth that the doctrine of Sola Scriptura so humbly instructs the church in. That God's Bible is complete, and thus is not subject to addition or subtraction by man's utterings allegedly from God. Until Christ's return on the clouds of glory, the Bible alone is God's Holy infallible word.
- "Jesus said unto them, did ye never read in the Scriptures, the Stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner; this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our Eyes!"
Although there are some Roman Catholic church apologists that declare this doctrine was not even heard of until "The Reformation" of the 16th century, this is an untenable charge. It is an inaccurate and self-serving claim that can be proven false quite easily (even apart from Scripture). Read this quote from the 5th century, eleven hundred years before the Reformation and see if you can surmise who wrote it:
This Mediator (Jesus Christ), having spoken what He judged sufficient first by the prophets, then by His own lips, and afterwards by the apostles, has besides produced the Scripture which is called canonical, which has Paramount Authority, and to which we yield assent in all matters of which we ought not to be ignorant, and yet cannot know of ourselves.
Do you know who authored this affirmation of the Protestant doctrine? Can you tell who wrote this quote declaring Scripture the paramount authority to which the church must yield? The author is Augustine of Hippo. It's a quote taken directly from his book "City of God" (book 11, Chapter 3). This unambiguous declaration by Augustine is about as definitive a statement for Sola Scriptura as any Protestant declaration you're going to read. Indeed it wasn't until the Council of Trent declared that the revelation of God was not contained solely in the Scriptures in the 16th century that the church started going astray. The counsel declared that it was contained partly in the written Scriptures and partly in oral tradition and, therefore, the Scriptures were not sufficient. This became the view of Roman Catholic theologians anf church leaders after the Council of Trent. So this argument that the reformers invented this doctrine is proven false both by history, and the Bible. The Word of God both is now, and has always been the supreme authority of the church. Christ and His Apostles always appealed to the Scriptures as their base and rule of authority in declaring what was required of the church. As indeed we saw demonstrated even in the days of the Priest Hilkiah when he caused God's people to be refreshed by the holy Scriptures. So while the actual phrase "Sola Scriptura" is a relatively modern Latin term, obviously that doesn't mean that what it delineates was not church doctrine from the very beginning. It is clear that Christ Himself, the Apostles, and the early church, all deferred to authority of Scripture. Paul taught from the Scriptures as he tried to get his kinsmen to accept authority of Scripture rather than blindly accept what their congregational leaders said oor taught (e.g., The Bereans Acts 17:10-11). Did the Jews of Berea run to their Priests and see what they taught as leaders of the Congregation? No, they were more honest or noble and so deferred to the authority of the Scriptures on a daily basis, and because of that they believed Paul and were saved. had they continued to follow their congregation's traditions, or deferred to their Priests, they would have remained in unbelief. But because Scripture was their aithority, they searched it daily and so realized the Scriptures Paul spoke of indeed were of Christ. And in the faithful Bereans is a lesson for all of us. Follow church leaders, or follow the Word of God.
Can traditions contradict God's completed Word?
Can the Scriptures contradict what some allege is "oral apostolic tradition," and yet that tradition still be of God? Of course the answer is a resounding, no! Because God is not the author of disorder of doctrine in His church.
1st Corinthians 14:33
The undeniable fact is, two allegedly infallible God-breathed sources cannot contradict each other on doctrine. Else, at least one of them is not infallible. This is a conclusion that is unassailable. Yet God's Word and Roman Catholic church traditions constantly contradict each other. This should alert any "faithful" student of Scripture that one is not infallible, and it sure isn't the divinely inspired Word of God. The following is just a few of the myriad of examples:
- "For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints."Many faithful Christians of the Reformation could see the great chasm that had been created between church traditions and the Word of God, and understood that the words that our Saviour Jesus Christ spoke to the Pharisees, applied equally to congregation of their day:
- The Word of God teaches that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23; Ezekiel 18:4,20), and that all sin is purged as we were purified in Christ's death on the cross. Roman Catholic traditions teach that sin can be purged later, in a place called Purgatory (place of purifying). This is Heresy!
- The Word of God teaches that the office of bishop and presbyter are the same office (Titus 1) but Roman tradition declares them different offices.
- The Word of God teaches that Christ offered His sacrifice once for all (Hebrews 7:27, 9:28, 10:10), while Roman Catholic tradition dares correct this, claiming that the Priest actually sacrifices the body of Christ on the altar at mass.
- The Word of God teaches that we should not use vain repetitions in prayers (Matthew 6:7) thinking that we will be heard for our much speaking, while Roman Catholic traditions teach that repeating Hail Mary in prayer is penitence "as if" God indeed will hear us for our much repetition.
- The Word of God teaches that all have sinned except Jesus (Romans 3:10-12, Hebrews 4:15), while Roman Catholic tradition believes this untrue, because Mary was also sinless. This is also Heresy!
- The Word of God teaches that all Christians are Saints and Priests (Ephesians 1:1; 1 Peter 2:9), but Roman Catholic tradition has made Saints and Priests special cases or offices within the Christian community, dealt out by their church leadership.
- The Word of God teaches that we are not to bow down to graven images (Exodus 20:4-5) such as statues, but Roman Catholic tradition makes no such claim, nor rebukes Christians for this practice.
- The Word of God teaches that Jesus is the only Mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5), but Roman Catholic tradition declares that Mary is co-mediator with Christ. This also is heresy!
- The Word of God teaches that Jesus Christ is the Rock upon which the church rests, the foundation stone, and the Head of the church (Luke 6:48, 1st Peter 2:7-8, Matthew 16:18), But Roman Catholic tradition claims that the foundation Rock of the church is Pope Peter (Psalms 18:31), and that the pontiff is the head of the church, an aberration which in effect makes God's church, a two-headed church, with multiple authorities and starting foundation.
- The Word of God teaches that all Christians can and should know that they have eternal life (1 John 5:13), but Roman Catholic tradition says that Christians cannot and should not be assured that they have eternal life.
"..Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your traditions!" -Matthew 15:6
Comparing the examples of man-made traditions against God's Word, we see that, sadly, this practice of unrighteousness continues even today. The church simply cannot have tradition and Scripture contradicting each other, while claiming that both are the infallible teachings of God. It is abject instability, inconsistency and confusion. Any oral tradition passed down in the church is subject to the written Word of God. Even as it was subject to what was written for the Scribes and Pharisees. To deny this is "tortuous" of Scripture and of authority.
Clearly, congregational traditions must be in subjection to the law of God, and not the other way around. Moreover, if there was an ongoing oral tradition (which there is not), of necessity it still would require a standard point of reference to check itself against. A reference such as God speaking from the smoke on the Mountain, or talking out of a Burning Bush, or His unadulterated divinely inspired written word, the Scriptures. Surely true Christians (under God's direction), can readily realize the danger of oral tradition of churches becoming corrupted by fallible men (as had been the case with the Pharisees, and indeed throughout Biblical history), and so faithfulness requires an infallible scriptural check. That's why Christ always said, "it is written" or referenced the writings of the law and prophets. It is so that we will understand what the law book is, what the authority is, and where we should go to try the spirits. We search the Scriptures.
- "Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread.
- But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?"
We hear instruction through spiritual ears discerning the Scriptures that we are searching. The Reformation Christians led by the Spirit of God understood the need for a supreme "final" authoritative checkpoint to which every person must be subject. Thus the importance of maintaining God's authoritative word became of very great concern to them, even as it had previously with the Apostles, and even the Scribes maintaining the Old Testament books. If we were to totally ignore the facts of history, that there was no Roman church nor Pope making the claims they now do during the first three or four centuries (as the foremost church historians overwhelmingly attest), then we might fathom this. That is to say, provided we ignore the witness of Scripture. And even if we did assume there was such a church headed by an infallible pope (as the Roman church does), this would not even begin to explain the importance believers placed on maintaining the texts of the New Testament. For indeed there would have been no need to maintain them at all. One would only need to consult the infallible Pope, who, being under God's guidance would know the truth more certainly and accurately than the Apostle's written word. In 2nd Peter 1:19, where Peter said, "we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it," that would be worthless. How can we make the witness of the Apostles of non-effect, when it is the divinely inspired Word of God itself?
- "Now therefore hearken unto me, O ye children: for blessed are they that keep my ways.
- Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not.
- Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors."
2nd Timothy 3:16-17
All men are liars (Psalms 116:11), but God is true. Thus we do realize that 2nd Peter 1:19 is God's unadulterated truth. We do realize that oral doctrines and oral traditions are indeed subject to change or degeneration over time and therefore require a standard point of God breathed reference that it can be checked against. all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and has supplied, and continues to supply this check. Through the Spirit it is the only way we can try (test) the spirits to know whether they be of God or not (1st John 4:1). How would we do this without the authority of Scripture? How would the Old Testament Priest Hilkiah have brought this written truth to the King who had forsaken it? Tradition that proclaims what is non-scriptural cannot have absolute authority over Scripture. It may have the authority of age, antiquity, or large consent, but it does not have ultimate compulsion or necessity. So, in conclusion, there is absolutely no proof whatsoever that any church, any tradition, any pope or minister, is equal to God's written word. Therefore, Scripture is the final authority by which we try the spirits.
- All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
- That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works."
Can Tradition be on a par with God's Word?
Since the Bible "is" the Word of God (as even Roman Catholics whole heartily agree), then it's only rational, Biblical, and logical to profess that no "other" authority can either contradict it, be on a par with it, or be above it. i.e., there is no authority higher than God's Word (what word supersedes God's?) and no word that is on a par with it (what word is as good as God's?). Therefore, logically, Biblically, and rationally speaking, in order for someone's word to be on a par with God's Word, the one speaking it would have to either be God, or at the very least be equal to God. The only other alternatives are to be receiving revelations direct from God or to be "quoting" God, testifying or witnessing faithfully to it. Neither the Pope, a Priest, nor anyone else is equal to God that their words are on a par with His words. Nor is God giving new revelation to anyone today from the smoke on the mountain or out of a Burning Bush. The Bible is complete, not incomplete that it needs new oral additions. It needs no further traditions added, and condemns those who dare to do so.
If anyone adds words to the book of Revelation, he has added words to the Bible, and if anyone takes away from the revelation of God, he has taken away from the Bible. There is really no way to get around it because we do not have an incomplete book in the Bible. And anyone who adds to Revelation, has added to the Bible, and will come under condemnation of God. This of course is the tangled web in which the Roman Catholic church finds itself by placing new tradition on a par with God's Word. For unless something "is" God's Word, then it cannot be equal to God's Word. And simply declaring that God gave it is not sufficient for anyone to claim that his or her tradition is the word. Just as it wouldn't be for the vain traditions that the Pharisees held when Jesus condemned it saying, their traditions had made the Word of God of non-effect. Their traditions, like Roman Catholic traditions, were created in sophistry after the principles of the world, not after the precepts of the word.
- "For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are 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 the things which are written in this book."
Traditions of men patterned after the imaginations of self-justification, cannot be laid at the feet of God or put in His mouth as divine precepts. It is true that God breathed His word through the apostles that they spoke what God had divinely inspired them to speak. But unless God is continuing to write his book (the Bible) through the Roman church, then that giving of the law through those who penned Scripture has ended. And if it has not ended, then the Pope must rip out the page of Revelation where God says don not add to the book of this Revelation and throw it away. He should then proclaim the Bible incomplete, a work in progress, and write down every infallible word that he (supposedly) receives of God, and write it on the pages of the Bible. And he would be uncondemned for it, as it is the word direct from God "if" what Catholicism claims is true. If tradition were on the same level with God's Word, then it would be God's Word. In fact, afterward there would be no oral tradition, because it would join the written Word of God "as" the Word of God. God's Word is something He wants us to hear and to keep. That is why we have the written word and why Christ says, "it is written." But again, this is the tangled web that is woven by the un-Biblical dogma of the old Roman church.
- "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ."
Christ is discerned in the volume of the book. The Old Testament book, and the new Testament book is where the revelation of God will be found. There is no additional Roman Catholic Book of traditions. The Word of God is completed.
- "Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God."
More than that, tradition can become corrupt in the congregation of God (even as it certainly had with the Pharisees in Jesus' day -mark 7:9, and in King Josiah's day). And so even common sense dictates that it simply cannot and must not be trusted as the ultimate authority as the Word of God is. The words and doctrines of leaders of God's congregation are often unjustifiable by Scripture, and even contradictory to it. And so we shouldn't be surprised that Scripture bears out the truth that any tradition or ordinance must be subordinate to the word. Jesus made it quite clear that we simply cannot hold to any traditions which are not subordinate to Scripture, and that teaching such doctrines are contrary to the gospel of Christ. Consider wisely:
This was no slap on the wrist, it was the worst of judgment upon them that was meted out for setting aside the Word of God in order that they could keep their congregational traditions. This is the exact same error of the Roman Catholic church today. The error of the religious leaders was that they had put tradition on a par with the written Word of God. In fact, they had made it superior to Scripture, as the commandments of God were interpreted true or not "by their tradition," which makes Scripture subject to it instead of vice versa. Christ rebuked them in the strongest of terms illustrating that the tradition of their congregation was subject to the Scriptures, not Scripture to their tradition. Any argument that denies this (considering Scriptures such as this one), is indefensible. Jesus would not have condemned them for their traditions if the tradition of God's chosen people were to be on a par with the holy written word. It made no Biblical sense then, and it makes no Biblical sense now.
- "He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.
- howbeit in vain they do worship Me, teaching for Doctrines the commandments of men,
- for laying aside the commandments of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups, and many other such like things you do."
This is a solemn declaration that every Word of God is tried and pure and that we are not to add to His words, because that would make us liars. This law of God is an enduring restriction on God's revelation. Holy men of old who spoke as they were inspired of God, wrote Scripture. Those Scriptures are now finished or complete. This is not an ongoing book. As God's people, we have been commissioned and given the authority to go forth and witness of God's Word. There are no other supreme authorities, or institutions, or objects, that are so circumscribed. Note that in Ecclesiastes, after reflecting on the vanity of life, the Preacher summarizes our basic duty as to, "fear God and keep His commandments -Ecclesates 12:13." Keep means to guard from loss, don't take away from it, don't add to it, hold on to it faithfully. The church cannot add to God's Word by claiming that traditions are additionally, God's Word. Those who truly love God keep His word alone as the authority. i.e., the doctrine of Sola Scriptura!
- "Every Word of God is pure, He is a shield unto them that put their trust in Him.
- add thou not unto His words, lest He reprove thee, and thou be found a Liar!"
Understanding this, we conclude that those who reject the Scripture today as the only "infallible" rule of faith and practice for the church, ultimately are subordinating the Word of God to the traditions of men. They do so by making congregational tradition and leadership the final interpreter of God's Word. It sets the words of men in the church (no matter how faithful they may be) on a par with God's Word, and this is a very dangerous and un-Biblical thing to do. Every individual is ultimately responsible for what he believes, not the church, not his Priest, and not his leader. Each man is judged for his own sin, and we all are responsible to study the Bible, rather than leave that for others to do for us. And indeed Jesus Himself said:
No one practicing the Roman Catholic church doctrine of church authority, will righteously be able to stand before God at the judgment and plead, "..the Pope and the Magisterium told me to believe in this, or my Priest told me that I should believe this way." There are no such "excuses" that will free man from his own responsibility. We are to listen to God's Word rather than the words of mere men, and neglecting this, we will be judged for it. We therefore should carefully consider which authority is truly "infallible," and which authority we should follow. Is it God's Word (a given), or is it our church tradition?
- "He that rejecteth Me, and receiveth not My words, hath one that judgeth him; the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the Last day!"
Christ's title is the "Word of God" because He is God's faithful promise or oath, made flesh, that it be fulfilled in Him. And what is the voice of Christ? Is it church leadership, a Priest, the Magisterium or Ecclesiastical order? No, it is the Word of God delivered unto man. Certainly this is the crux of the matter. Will we receive the truth that God's Word alone should be the final authority in matters of faith, practice, and the doctrine of the church? Not that it is the only authority, but the final, supreme and ultimate Authority to which all others must surrender to. Being Christ's disciple requires this total surrender and submission to God.
- "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me."
Here Christ is explaining that the cost of discipleship is unconditional submission to the will of God, and that is only revealed by the Word of God. The Lord Jesus Christ, replete with allegories, parables and examples, taught us this basic principle. As when the Pharisees argued with Jesus the points of the law of God concerning the Sabbath. Did Jesus petition tradition to speak concerning this issue? Did He lean unto ecumenical counsels for direction? Did He say that they should go check with the High Priest? No, He deferred to Scripture and showed that we are to lean upon the written Word of God.
- "Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace.
- So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple."
Again, when they questioned him about the law of God concerning divorce..
- "but He said unto them, have ye not read what David did when he was an hungered, and they that were with Him?"
Or when the Sadducees questioned Him concerning doctrines of the resurrection. Did Jesus appeal to the leaders of God's congregation, to history, or to tradition? Not at all, He once again appeals to the written Word of God.
- "And He answered and said unto them, have ye not read that He which made them at the beginning made them male and female,
- and said, for this reason shall a man leave father and mother and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be one flesh."
Note Christ says "spoken to you by God," and "read from the Scriptures." There can be no doubt that the Scriptures are the divine Word of God that Christ is appealing to argue doctrine. And likewise when the man came to Jesus and asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. Did Jesus say, talk to the church fathers, get church absolution, or to follow the congregational traditions? No, He once again appealed to him to look to the Scriptures.
- "But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God saying,
- I AM the God of Abraham, Isaac, and the God of Jacob. God is not the God of the dead, but of the Living."
The written Word of God is where Jesus 'directed' them to find the answers to these questions. Their proofs would be found in the divinely inspired Scriptures. When the Sadducees denied the doctrine of the resurrection and tried to trap Jesus, Christ could have given them a legitimate and awe inspiring "NEW" answer right then and there without any appeal to written Scripture. It is not curious that He did not, but expected because it is typical for Christ to demonstrate that we must appeal to Scripture. Thus He tells them:
- "He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?"
Once again, Jesus rejects the ecclesiastical tradition of the Sadducees in favor of the doctrine of "Sola Scriptura" as the authority. He says that they were in error because they didn't really know the Scriptures. In other words, the Scriptures are what they should have known, which would have guided them into the truth. But they didn't know them, and that is why they were in error. It is not in the Congregational leaders and their traditions that man will find truth, it is where Jesus appeals to it. And that is in God's holy word of truth. And it, like Him, cannot lie.
- "..Ye do ERR, not knowing THE ScriptureS, nor the Power of God!"
Jesus is God, the Perfect teacher! And yet He is appealing Sola Scriptura to show everyone that He must do what is written. Even when the Jewish people sought to Kill Him (John 5:18) thinking that they were God's Chosen People and had Eternal life, Jesus once again directed them to the real authority, wherein they would find the truth of the matter.
- "The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born".
Why would Jesus be sending them to a non-authoritative source for truth? Or why would He be sending them to a lessor authority than God's Priests? It is self evident that He would not do that. He sent them to the ultimate authority. He directed them to Scriptures for the very same reason that the Bereans (acts 17:11) appealed to Scripture when the Apostle Paul told them of doctrines they were unsure of. Because it, not the leaders or their tradition, was the ultimate authority of God's people. He is saying search the inspired, divine, infallible Word of God for truth. Thus in the cry of "Sola Scriptura," the faithful of the Protestant Reformation were illustrating this ancient wisdom that has been evident throughout the teachings of Jesus.
- "Search the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of me."
Roman Catholic Objections
Most Roman Catholics object to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura from two distinct positions. They argue that:
(#1) The New Testament references to oral "tradition" (II Thess. 2:15; II Tim. 2:2; II Cor. 11:2) illustrate the unBiblical nature of this teaching, and that
(#2) The Scripture themselves nowhere teach the doctrine.
Isn't it "ironic" that in both cases they "appeal to Scripture" as the final proof or authority that their traditions are correct? So we see that when it suits their purpose, they can always appeal to Scripture (as in the keys of the kingdom, Peter the Rock, translations of words describing Mary's other Children, etc.) as the final say in matters. But when it doesn't suit their purpose, curiously, Scripture isn't really the final authority on doctrine.
Nevertheless, the first argument is based upon a simplistic and naive understanding of Sola Scriptura in that it presupposes the doctrine means there was never any oral tradition or teaching done. This of course would be ludicrous, as much of the New Testament was oral tradition or teaching of God before it was written down (see the Study on 'Traditions of men vs. Traditions of God'). The word traditions (as used in the Bible) is the Greek word [paradosis] meaning transmission, and by implication, an ordinance. I have yet to find anyone except Catholics themselves who believes that the doctrine of Sola Scriptura means what they purport it does. So this argument is the proverbial "Straw Man" argument. Things revealed to Peter, and which he was inspired of God to say (oral tradition or ordinances) became the written Word of God as they were penned. The Old Testament was created the very same way. By Prophets being given some type revelation from God, and someone penning it. But the Bible is complete today. i.e., there is no third Newest Testament book of Pope John, or Pope this or that, as there is a book of Peter, or John, or Jude, etc. Because the Word of God is finished, complete, and not to be added to.
In so far as the second argument is concerned, as I've been demonstrating throughout this document, from the beginning of it to the end of it, Scripture clearly teaches what has been labeled "Sola Scriptura." But it requires the Holy Spirit of God to discern this fundamental truth, just as any doctrine of Scripture does. To simply say Scripture doesn't teach it, despite the mountain of Scriptures supporting it, is to stick ones head in the proverbial sand. With Jesus, proving that what He says is true is directing us to the Scriptures, it would seem that the Roman church and Pope would likewise direct to the Scriptures. Instead, they claim the Pope has an infallible authority "over" the Scripture itself, alleging that only they can interpret it. What arrogance and vanity is this?
It would seem to me that given the abundance of examples and illustrations of God, the onus is on the Roman Catholic church to disprove the sufficiency of Scripture, rather than on the church to prove it's insufficiency. Because both sides agree Scripture "is" the Word of God, no other authority is above God, and the Bible is complete. How then is it insufficient? Indeed, they have constructed a mystery that is a riddle inside an enigma. How is no other authority above God's, while God's Word is made subject to church teachings? It makes no sense. How is Scripture not sufficient, and yet God declares that there cannot be added anything else to it?
- "LORD, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me."
In order to disprove sufficiency of Scripture, one would need to show us exactly where oral tradition differs from Scripture. If it doesn't differ, then what is the need of oral tradition, and why does God say Scripture thoroughly furnished them unto all good works? And If oral tradition is not found taught in the Scriptures (because it presumably differs from), one must then prove that the 'oral revelation' which was not found in Scripture, is apostolic and of divine origin. Despite claims of such proof by some, no such proof exists. Therefore, they cannot prove any oral tradition handed down through tradition of a church, is of God. While Scripture proves itself, interprets itself, and defines itself. All man has to do is diligently compare it with itself, and with the witness of Christ. It is through the word, not men, that faith and the knowledge of truth comes.
1st John 2:27
Christians depending entirely upon the men in the church to teach them are courting disaster. It is the holy Spirit that is the teacher, and He teaches through God's Word. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17). The fact is, the reason that the early churches of the second century were so diligent in collecting and preserving the New Testament writings of Paul, John, Peter, and others in the first place, was to guard against "oral teachings" which could not be checked for accuracy once the apostles had all died. i.e., it's God himself inspiring them to preserve His Holy word, as He did with the Old Testament manuscripts before the first advent of Christ. Sola Scriptura does not mean the rejection of every tradition, Sola Scriptura means that any form of tradition must be tested by the higher authority, and that authority can only be God (and thus God's inspired Holy word, the Bible).
- "But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him."
False Dichotomy between Scripture and Traditions of God
The Roman Catholic church is in error creating a dichotomy between two things that are not contrasted, and cannot be separated. And then they attempt to use that false dichotomy to deny the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.
1st Corinthians 11:2
2nd Timothy 1:13
- "Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you."
2nd Timothy 2:1-2
- "Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me in faith and Love which is in Christ Jesus."
2 Tim. 3:14-17
- "Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
- and the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also."
There is simply nothing in these passages to support the idea of a separate oral tradition different from what Paul was writing to the church. In order to deny Sola Scriptura, we must make the erroneous "assumption" that what Paul taught in the presence of many witnesses is different from what he wrote to entire church. Is such an idea founded in facts? The answer is no, of course not. What Paul wrote to Timothy, the Corinthians, etc., was the inspired Word of God explaining Old Testament mysteries in New Testament truths. To use his traditions/ordinances as proof is more a rationalization of oral traditions today, not proof of it.
- "But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them;
- and that from a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto Salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
- all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
- that the man of God may be thoroughly furnished unto all good works."
1st Thessalonians. 2:13
2nd Thessalonians 2:15
- "For this reason also we thank God without ceasing, because, when ye received the Word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in Truth, the Word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe."
There is nothing future about these passages at all. Does Paul say to stand firm and hold fast to traditions that "will be" delivered? Does Paul say to hold on to interpretations and understandings that have not yet developed? No, this oral tradition [paradosis] or ordinance that they have been taught has already been delivered to the entire church at Thessalonica. Now, what does oral refer to? We first note that the context of the passage is the Gospel and its work among the Thessalonians. The tradition/ordinances Paul speaks of are not traditions about Mary, Purgatory, and Repetitions of hail Mary. It wasn't the traditions of Papal Infallibility. Instead, the traditions Paul refers to have to do with a single topic. It was a topic that was close to his heart. He is encouraging these believers to stand firm--in what? Was it in oral traditions about subjects and doctrines not found in the Scriptures? God forbid! No, he is exhorting them to stand firm in what he has orally taught them of what is already in the gospel. The Old Testament concealed is the New Testament revealed. There is simply nothing in these passages to support the theory of a separate oral tradition "different" from what was written or what Paul taught concerning Old Testament prophecy. Note it says what Paul taught "whether by word, or our epistle (letter). He's stressing that whether they heard it in a sermon or testimony, or whether they read it in a letter. It's not oral versus word, it's the oral of the word. i.e., explaining the word orally. Likewise note that in passages like 1st Peter chapter 1, the consistency of his Peter's teaching with that of the prophets, and of the other Apostles is vividly stressed.
- "Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle."
1st Peter 1:10-11
The unity of the Old Testament with the apostolic teachings is self-evident. It's not new Oral Revelations of Purgatory, Mass and Meatless Fridays they are expounding upon, it is the revelation of the Old Testament Prophets.
- "Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you:
- Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow."
2nd Peter 3:1-2
Peter talked about a more sure word of prophecy (2nd Peter 1:19-21) that the church would do well to take heed of as unto a light that shines in a dark place. Roman Catholicism's idea of oral tradition of church doctrine is quite different from the picture we get when we actually read Scripture.
- "This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance:
- That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour:"
A good example of what has become known as Sola Scriptura is made plain in the picture of the Abrahamic Covenant. God again reveals Himself, apart from a divine expositor, and pledges Himself to fulfill His covenant (Gen. 15). When Abram seeks confirmation of God's Glorious Promises, the Lord confirms His divine Word by His divine Word.
No Pontiff or magisterium or sacred tradition is invoked to verify God's Word. That's an important point not to be missed. The supreme authority is the Lord's "own testimony" to His word. No further appeal is possible. He didn't swear by the Priests, He swore by Himself. Nothing else could confirm God's own word but God's Word alone. Other than Himself, His holy word stands alone as the supreme authority of man. Truly, what other authority is equal, higher, better, greater, from a better source or more trustworthy? What other source is infallible beside the Word of God? Hasn't even the history of the church revealed that there is none but God? Which is why Jesus always directed those with questions and objections to His teachings to the Scriptures. Both ancient theology endorses this, as well as the New Testament church. As in the past, God's people must discern truth and lies by going directly to the Scriptures. As God explained in the parable of the rich man, when confronted with the question of how they would believe, He directed them to the Scriptures.
- "For when God made promises to Abraham, because He could swear by no greater, He sware by Himself.."
God could have very easily said, they have the church, the church leaders, the magisterium, but He appealed to the Scriptures as the source of the authority to believe that they should listen to. Moses and the Prophets are a synonym for the written Scriptures. Christ even tells us why people get into errors in their doctrines, and it's not because they search the Scriptures to understand what is written. It's because they don't search the Scriptures to understand what God has really said.
- "...they have Moses and the prophets, Let them hear them!"
Did Christ say they were in error because they weren't paying attention to their congregational leaders, or because they didn't know the oral traditions of the Priests or Pharisees? No, they were in error because they had no real knowledge of the holy Scriptures, which explained this.
- "Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her.
- Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God."
Likewise, Christ did not direct anyone to secondary explications or extra-Biblical Hebrew traditions (though plentiful) as authoritative norms, but always directed them to examine the Word of God itself. He alternately declares, "read the Scriptures, it is written, search the Scriptures, have ye not read, as saith the Scriptures, that the Scriptures might be fulfilled, as saith Isaiah, etc., etc." While Roman Catholicism de-emphasizes the Scriptures, Christ our Saviour continually places more emphasis upon it.
And in the New testament, the exhortation to dependence upon the authority of Scripture continues, (Romans 15:4; Ephesians 6:17; 2nd Timothy 3:16; 2nd Peter 1:19; Revelation 1:3). Scripture commends those who examine the written revelation of God (as open minded, and more noble) and illustrates that Christians have the ability to rightly divide and interpret Scripture apart from any (supposed) infallible interpreter. And this is whether that be congregation, Priest or pontiff (2nd Timothy 2:15; Acts 17:11). Interpretation must come from the Word of God. As a little child humbly, honestly and simplistically asked:
- "And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself."
"..how do we know it's REALLY God's Word, if we don't get it from God's Word?"
And all God's people said, ...A M E N ! Out of the mouth of babes!
For knowing the nature of man, that indeed is a good question. Again, note the manner in which Christ refuted error. It was, "God said thus, but you say.. -Matthew 15:4-5; 10-11)." That was the manner in which He drew a clear, concise contrast between the written Word of God and the oral traditions and ordinances of men. And that should be an example and lesson to us.
1st Peter 2:21
We can readily understand the frustration of those who are indoctrinated and thus think Christians should listen to the Roman Catholic church instead of God, and how it's annoying to them when we won't bow to that church authority. But there is a very clear warning about making man the authority in the church, and it's found in 2nd Thessalonians chapter 2. We must never position man to sit and rule in the Temple of God "as if" he were the head of the church. We have but one Holy Father.
- "for even hereunto were ye called; because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps."
This is the "only" place that Holy father is mentioned in Scripture, and it is not describing a fleshly head of the church, but God. Only God can rule (have ultimate authority) over the church. And God's Word is the Bible.
- "And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are."
The fact is, the only way that man is going to stand with the righteous, overcoming in Christ, is if he has "kept" the Word of God as truth, and the word of man as error. That would be called the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. Belief in the Word of God over man's words of tradition is what separates true believers from false ones. It's what separates those who can and will be deceived, from the Elect who can never be deceived into false Gospels. We know what the truth is because we know "where" the truth is. It's in the Word of God alone, not in the men who lead the church. The faithful church is the witness of God's truth. They bear testimony to God's truth, and that's what makes the church the Pillar and ground of this truth. The foundation is Christ, THEE truth, the Rock upon which man stands wherein he can never be moved. Faithfulness to truth (which is God's Word, not man's word) makes us as a tree planted by the rivers of life. God's Word alone is true, man's word is not. Even "as it is written:"
The truth is in God's Word, not in the words of Pontiff J., or Pastor Brown, or church tradition #88, or in Tony Warren. And if we don't read it in God's Word, then it's not God's Word. In determining which word has the authority, let God be true, and every man a Liar.
- "For what if some did not believe? Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?
- God Forbid! Yea, Let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, that thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged."
In conclusion, let us therefore remember that Scripture declares that if we build upon a foundation that is not the Word of God, and will not hear God's Word, then we build upon a foundation which will crumble when the winds blow and the rains come (Luke 6:47-49). God likens us then to a foolish man. The wise in Christ will build upon God's Word alone as foundation, the supreme authority. A church built upon Sola Scriptura is a church built upon a firm foundation on the Word of God, which will never fall.
The effects of the distinctives of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura should be seen in the church manifested as Worship, Evangelism, Obedience, Witnessing, and a Godly lifestyle. As faithful Christians we cannot place our trust or confidence in men who are puffed up in their own delusions of infallibility. Rather we must stand with the divinely inspired Word of God, the authority that teaches us what to think of men. Even as the Apostle Paul cautioned.
1st Corinthians 4:6
Rather than agree with the magisterium of Catholicism, we agree with the Apostle Paul and learn from him not to think of men above that which is written. Again, this is the faithful going back to the Scriptures as the "authoritative" rule of faith. And can we do anything less than preach the same truths of the authority of the word that they did?
- "And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another."
2nd Timothy 4:2
May the Lord who is Gracious and merciful above all, give us the wisdom and understanding to come to the truth of His most Holy Word.
- "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine."
A m e n !
Copyright ©1998 Tony WarrenFeel free to copy, duplicate, display or distribute this publication to anyone who would like a copy, as long as the copyright notice remains intact and there are no changes made to the article. This publication can be distributed only in its original form, unedited, and without cost.
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