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Sola Scriptura

Handout #8   11/2/14

I. There is much agreement we have with Roman Catholics (RC) and Eastern Orthodox (EO) over Scripture.
A. We all agree that it is the word of God.
II. But we also have disagreement over Scripture.
A. Primarily the disagreement is over how Scripture relates to tradition and to the church.
B. We believe in Sola Scriptura: that Scripture is the final authority for the Christian.
1. This is how the Reformation believers thought about the Bible: All men are corrupt. All churches are corrupt. Only God can be trusted. Only His Word can be trusted. Only the Bible can be trusted. Therefore, be wary of human ideas. Be wary of church traditions. Trust what God has spoken in His word.
2. This is in contrast with RC&EO.
a. Many copies of the Bible say Holy Bible. That distinguishes it from any other book.
b. Well, the RC/EO, likewise, believe in something they call Holy Tradition, which they think is on the same level of authority and infallibility as Scripture.
c. We will talk about tradition next week.
III. For today, we will talk about Sola Scriptura, and particularly what some of the RC/EO objections are to it:
A. “Almost all heresy in the early church (and today) was deduced from the Scriptures. The Scriptures were claimed by the heretic to be the source of his doctrine; it was the Scripture that the heretic appealed to for his authority.” (Father Patrick)
1. It is certainly true that every heretic has his Bible verse. But just because heretics sometimes use the Bible doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with using the Bible. Satan quoted Scripture but that doesn’t make quoting Scripture evil.
2. The RC/EO have a reasonable concern about individual interpretation. If everybody comes to their own conclusion, there is no unity, no consistency, no stability, and far too many crazy conclusions.
3. The Reformation did not teach that only ‘me and my Bible’ are needed for doing theology.
4. Theology needs to be done in light of the teaching of the church down through the ages, and it needs to be done in the context of the Christian community.
B. “There is no such thing as pure Sola Scriptura. As soon as the passage is read it must be interpreted so you always have Scripture plus interpretation which amounts to somebody’s tradition.” (Father Patrick)
1. Here’s their point: The issue is not Scripture versus church interpretation. It is church tradition versus individual interpretation.
2. Here’s the problem with this point: The same holds true re: Holy Tradition. That requires interpretation as well. You could say it this way: the issue isn’t church tradition versus individual interpretation, but individual interpretation of church tradition or individual interpretation of the Bible.
3. We don’t claim all Scripture is obvious as to its true meaning, but there are many verses about how God expects us to listen to and be able to understand Scripture.
4. And the RC/EO handle Scripture this way as well. They often argue by quoting Scripture as if its meaning is self-evident, and doesn’t need some holy interpretation in order to be understood.
C. The Church fathers didn’t believe in Sola Scriptura.
1. This is a disputed question. RC and EO may claim this, but Protestant scholars disagree.
2. I own a three volume series on Sola Scriptura. The first volume is a case for Sola Scriptura from Scripture. The second volume is an historical defense of Sola Scriptura. Here’s the first three sentences:
a. “It is in the mid-second century in the writings of Irenaeus and Tertullian that we encounter the first clear articulation of the concept of tradition. Prior to this, we find little use of the word by the earliest fathers, known as the Apostolic fathers, and the Apologists such as Justin Martyr, Theophilus of Antioch, and Athenagoras. Rather, we find a constant appeal to the Old Testament and New Testaments as authoritative sources of doctrine.”
b. The third volume in its entirety is quotes from the early church fathers about the Scripture as our authority.
D. The Bible itself condemns it in 2Peter 1:20–21 “knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
1. This passage is obviously not saying that it’s wrong for us to interpret Scripture. It’s about how prophecy is not a matter of human interpretation but of divine revelation. In other words, it’s His word, not ours.
E. The Bible itself shows it’s not true in the story of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:30-35), who was reading Isaiah 53 but needed help to understand what the Scripture meant.
1. Of course, the NT (or the fulfilling reality of Jesus) is needed to understand OT prophecies. This does not prove that the Bible can never be understood without an infallible interpreter. This just shows how the NT is needed to understand the OT.
F. It’s not taught in the Bible.
1. One of the claims often leveled against the Reformation doctrine of Sola Scriptura is that it cannot be found in the Bible, and thus is self-contradictory. This claim must be addressed honestly and carefully, since it challenges the very foundation of the Reformation.
2. So, is Sola Scriptura in the Scriptura as Reformation believers claim?
3. The first thing to say is that Sola Scriptura is more of a denial than an affirmation. It is a claim that there is no other authoritative source of revelation for the church today other than Scripture. It is a claim that since the era of the apostles and prophets, the only infallible authoritative judge for matters of faith and life is the Word of God revealed in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. This conviction is based on two simple conclusions:
a. The Scriptures are clearly described in the Bible as authoritative. (The word of God, in whatever form it comes, is always authoritative and infallible.)
(1) "Thy word is truth" John 17:17
(2) Numbers 23:19 God is not a man, that he should lie.
(3) 1Samuel 15:29 He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie.
(4) Romans 3:4 Let God be true, and every man a liar.
(5) 2Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is God-breathed.
(6) 2Peter 1:20-21 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
(7) The Bible is our authority because it is the word of God. This is God speaking to us.
(8) Throughout the history of God's dealings with men, there have been a number of ways that He has revealed His word to His people. E.g. dreams, visions, prophets, donkeys, out of the sky, His own Son, apostles, as well as in written form in the Scriptures. And in each case His word is infallible and authoritative.
(9) The Scriptures are clearly described in the Bible as infallible and authoritative.
b. The Bible tells us of no other authoritative source of revelation for our day. (No one is arguing that the principle of Sola Scriptura was operative during the days of the apostles. It is the period since the apostles, the period in which we live now, that is at issue.)
4. The fact that there is no "proof-text" for Sola Scriptura is no proof that it is not in the Bible. If the two statements above are correct, then the Bible teaches Sola Scriptura, with or without a proof-text.
5. Isn’t it obvious that during those times in the Old Testament era when no prophet was around, the principle of Sola Scriptura was operative? There was no other infallible authoritative source of revelation at that time. So, during those times Sola Scriptura was true by default. E.g.
a. 1Samuel 3:1 “The word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.”
b. Psalm 74:9 “We do not see our signs; there is no longer any prophet.”
6. And if Sola Scriptura was true in the non-prophet periods of Old Testament history, where was the Scriptural proof-text? They didn't need a proof-text; there was simply no other infallible source of revelation. Why then must there be a proof-text? We must only be confident of the fact that the Bible tells us of no other authoritative source of divine revelation in our era.
7. In light of the fact that the Old Testament period is composed of prophetic times and prophet-less, Sola Scriptura times, it should not surprise us that the same holds true in the New Testament period, since we are not told otherwise.
8. So, the question then is whether or not we are now in a period of Sola Scriptura.
9. Sola Scriptura is the doctrine that teaches that right now in our present era, there is only one infallible authoritative source of God's revelation, the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and that they therefore must have the final say in matters of faith and life.
10. And if anyone thinks that there is another infallible authoritative source of revelation for us, let him show us from the Scriptures.
11. Of course, the EO/RC churches teach that there is another source: Church tradition. We’ll talk about that next week.