Doctrine of Sola Scriptura

Between 200-300AD, prior to the canonization of the Bible, and the reign of emperor Constantine the earliest and fiercest divisions in the Church did not pit “scriptural” Christians against “extra-biblical” innovators. They arose, rather, from disagreements over what the Scriptures meant. Tertullian complained that “heretics make use of the scriptures and…find support for their blasphemies from precedents [God] has provided.” Indeed, he moaned about “that sentence” they always “bring forward to justify” their restless speculation: “It is written.” Deemed a heretic by the First Council of Nicaea of 325, Arius and his opponents drew many of their proof-texts from the same Gospel: The Gospel According to John. Arius cited John 3:35, 14:28, and other passages to argue that Jesus is subordinate to the Father. Saint Athanasius invoked John 1:1-2,20:28, and others to establish the eternal deity of Jesus Christ.

The Church sought the truth in the apostolic tradition: the rule of faith, the scriptures, the words of liturgical worship and the authority of the bishops who held legitimate succession. These were the sure measures of biblical interpretation. Christians lived in an interpretive community that transcended their current historical moment, with its fads and intellectual fashions. They interpreted the Bible from within the communion of saints. Since Christ gave both Scripture and Tradition to the Apostles, these two streams of revelation were mutually illuminating, mutually confirming. The opponents of Arius, for example, could demonstrate that Christians in every age (for the previous 300yrs) had worshipped Christ as God.

Tertullian observed: “We do not take our scriptural doctrine from the parables, but we interpret the parables according to our doctrine. Nor do we labor hard to twist all things to avoid contradictions.” Our spiritual ancestors recognized the limits of their own understanding, and they trusted God to be consistent, even if his reasons eluded them from time to time.

Introduction

My desire with this post is to document the questions I asked myself while researching and studying the topic of the Doctrine of Sola Scriptura. Many sources were used but I tried to lean heavily on scripture and not use Catholic Church teachings.

My thoughts touched on many areas and I used scripture, history, and biographical information to draw from while answering the questions. I broke the questions out into sections to help organize my thoughts. I will provide a conclusion and appendix of materials at the end.

Happy reading….

The Beginning

Q: What is Sola Scriptura?

A: It literally means in latin: “by scripture alone”. This doctrine that started with and was proposed by Martin Luther means “scripture alone” is the formal principle of the faith, the final authority for all matters of faith and morals because of its inspiration, authority, clarity, efficacy, and sufficiency.

A Little About Martin Luther.

Q: What did Martin Luther actually say?

A: As a Catholic priest in 1521 Martin Luther was called upon to answer for his previous writings against papal abuses of power at the Diet of Worms, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me.” (http://www.luther.de/en/worms.html)

Q: Did Martin Luther work from within the Church as a reformer?

A: No, in October of 1517 Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. He then decided only 3 years later to not abide by the request of the general assembly of the Diet or Worms and under the threat of excommunication left the Church. On 15 June 1520, the Pope warned Luther with the papal bull (edict) Exsurge Domine that he risked excommunication unless he recanted 41 sentences drawn from his writings, including the 95 Theses, within 60 days.

Q: Was Martin Luther the first person to translate the Bible into German?

A: No, The first translation of the Bible into Teutonic (old German) was apparently by Raban Maur, who was born in 776. Actually, by 1522 (the year Martin Luther’s translation came out) there were at least 14 versions of the Bible in High German and 3 in Low German. So it was earlier available in the common language but the general population of this time and earlier ages tended to be illiterate.

Q: So did Luther take the Bible and literally and plainly follow only what it said?

A: No. He took out books, added words, re-interpreted straightforward statements, and promoted scripture that supported his doctrine. The list of quotes and actions below are not exhaustive but are enough to demonstrate Martin Luther’s actions taken in support of his own agenda and in denial of the basic Doctrine of Sola Scriptura. It shows a single man, merely fallible and fighting his own demons, whose human individual opinion changed the Christian world forever, an independent unsustainable disunity of division and ultimately personal relativism that has resulted in currently over 40,000 denominations and growing.

He added words to the Scriptures in his German translation:

  • Martin Luther, in his German translation of the Bible, specifically added the word “allein” (English ‘alone’) to Romans 3:28-a word that is not in the original Greek. Notice what Protestant scholars have admitted:
    • …Martin Luther would once again emphasize…that we are “justified by faith alone”, apart from the works of the Law” (Rom. 3:28), adding the German word allein (“alone”) in his translation of the Greek text. There is certainly a trace of Marcion in Luther’s move (Brown HOJ. Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church. Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody (MA), 1988, pp. 64-65).
    • Martin Luther himself said, “You tell me what a great fuss the Papists are making because the word alone in not in the text of Paul…say right out to him: ‘Dr. Martin Luther will have it so,’…I will have it so, and I order it to be so, and my will is reason enough. I know very well that the word ‘alone’ is not in the Latin or the Greek text” (Stoddard J. Rebuilding a Lost Faith. 1922, pp. 101-102; see also Luther M. Amic. Discussion, 1, 127)
    • It appears that Martin Luther may have intentionally mistranslated Romans 3:28 for the pretence of supposedly having scriptural justification for his sola fide doctrine.
  • He also made another change in Romans.
    • Romans 4:15 states, “…because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.
    • Yet in his German translation, Martin Luther added the word ‘only’ before the term ‘wrath’ to Romans 4:15 (O’Hare, p. 201).
    • This presumably was to attempt to justify his position to discredit the law.

He mistranslated:

  • Martin Luther has also been charged with intentionally mistranslating Matthew 3:2, Acts 19:18, and many other scriptures.
    • Matthew 3:2 states, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!
    • Martin Luther, in his German translation changed the word ‘repent’ to ‘mend’ or ‘do better’.
    • Martin Luther said, “Be a sinner, and sin boldly, but believe more boldly still. Sin shall not drag us away from Him, even should we commit fornication or murder thousands and thousands of times a day “(Luther, M. Letter of August 1, 1521 as quoted in Stoddard, p.93).
  • He also changed translations of Acts 19:18 and John 1:14 in support of his doctrines.

He re-interpreted straight forward statements:

  • Martin Luther retranslated what Jesus said in Luke 10:28 which states, “And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live”. Matt 19:16 also says, “But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments”
    • Luther taught, “To do means to believe-to keep the law by faith. The passage in Matthew: Do this and thou shalt live, signifies Believe this and thou shalt live. The words Do this, have ironical sense, as if our Lord should say: Thou wilt do it tomorrow, but not today; only make an attempt to keep the Commandments, and the trial will teach thee the ignominy of thy failure.”

He held his own opinion/interpretations to be prima:

  • Although Martin Luther stated that he looked upon the Bible “as if God Himself spoke therein” he also stated, “My word is the word of Christ; my mouth is the mouth of Christ” (O’Hare PF. The Facts About Luther, 1916–1987 reprint ed., pp. 203-204).
  • [Specifically, what Martin Luther wrote in German was “”Ich bin sehr gewiss, dass mein Wort nitt mein, sondern Christus Wort sei, so muss mein Mund auch des sein, des Wort er redet” (Luther, 682) – also translated as “I am confident that it is not my word, but Christ’s word, so my mouth is His who utters the words”(God’s words – the violence of representation. Universitatea din Bucuresti, 2002. http://www.unibuc.ro/eBooks/filologie/meanings/1.htm, September 25, 2003).]

He held books of the New Testament in question and removed 7 Old Testament (Dueterocanonical) books and called them Apocryphal (non-canonical) that had been canonized for 12oo yrs:

  • He declared the 7 Old Testament books to be non-canonical
    • Tobias, Judith, Ecclesiasticus/Sirach, Wisdom of Solomon, Baruch, I Maccabees, and II Maccabees
    • The large majority of Old Testament references in the New Testament are taken from the Greek Septuagint used and read by Jesus, His disciples, and the Jews of the time and known regions.
    • How can a single man declare for time evermore that 7 books of the Bible of 1500 yrs are no longer canonical?
  • For over a century the followers of Luther excluded Hebrews, James, Jude, and Apocalypse. Martin Luther himself said…
    • “Up to this point we have had the true and certain chief books of the New Testament. The four which follow have from ancient times had a different reputation. In the first place, the fact that Hebrews is not an epistle of St. Paul, or of any other apostle “(Luther, M. Prefaces to the Epistle of the Hebrews, 1546)
    • Book of Hebrews, “It need not surprise one to find here bits of wood, hay, and straw”
    • “St. James’ epistle is really an epistle of straw…for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it”(Luther, M. Preface to the New Testament, 1546).“In the first place it is flatly against St. Paul and all the rest of Scripture in ascribing justification to works…Besides, he throws things together so chaotically that it seems to me he must have been some good, pious man, who took a few sayings from the disciples of the apostles and thus tossed them off on paper. Or it may perhaps have been written by someone on the basis of his preaching” (Luther, M. Preface to the Epistles of St. James and St. Jude, 1546). One would have to assume that the fact that James 2:24 contradicted Martin Luther’s sola fide teaching would have been a major reason that he discounted this book of the Bible.
    • “Concerning the epistle of St. Jude, no one can deny that it is an extract or copy of St. Peter’s second epistle…Therefore, although I value this book, it is an epistle that need not be counted among the chief books which are supposed to lay the foundations of faith” (Luther, M. Preface to the Epistles of St. James and St. Jude, 1546).
    • “About this book of the Revelation of John…I miss more than one thing in this book, and it makes me consider it to be neither apostolic nor prophetic…I can in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced it. Moreover he seems to me to be going much too far when he commends his own book so highly-indeed, more than any of the other sacred books do, though they are much more important-and threatens that if anyone takes away anything from it, God will take away from him, etc. Again, they are supposed to be blessed who keep what is written in this book; and yet no one knows what that is, to say nothing of keeping it. This is just the same as if we did not have the book at all. And there are many far better books available for us to keep…My spirit cannot accommodate itself to this book. For me this is reason enough not to think highly of it: Christ is neither taught nor known in it” (Luther, M. Preface to the Revelation of St. John, 1522).

He diminished the value of the Old Testament:

  • “Job spoke not as it stands written in his book, but only had such thoughts. It is merely the argument of a fable. It is probable that Solomon wrote and made this book.”…,
  • “Ecclesiastes ought to have been more complete. There is too much incoherent matter in it…Solomon did not, therefore, write this book.”…,
  • “The book of Esther I toss into the Elbe. I am such an enemy to the book of Esther that I wish it did not exist, for it Judaizes too much…”,
  • “The history of Jonah is so monstrous that it is absolutely incredible.”, Of the Pentateuch he says: “We have no wish either to see or hear Moses”
  • Martin Luther seemed to believe that the Sabbath command had to do with learning about God’s word, as opposed to rest, as he wrote about it.
    • “What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it (Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation)
    • “We sin against the Third Commandment when we despise preaching and the Word of God…What does God require of us in the Third Commandment? A. We should hold preaching and the Word of God sacred”
    • As we study Luther’s expositions of the Decalog, or the Ten Commandments, we find that he does not quote the Third Commandment in its Old Testament form: ‘Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy’, but rather in the spirit of the New Testament: ‘Thou shalt sanctify the holy day’”

He did not value all scripture equally:

  • “The first three speak of the works of our Lord, rather than His oral teachings; that of St. John is the only sympathetic, the only true Gospel and should undoubtedly be preferred above the others. In like manner the Epistles of St. Peter and St. Paul are superior to the first three Gospels”
  • He taught doctrines that are not specifically supported in the Scriptures.
    • On the Trinity: for Luther, as for the German mystics, God is Deus absconditus, the “hidden God,” inaccessible to human reason…
    • By emphasizing the sole authority of Scripture and downgrading the work of the church fathers and the decisions of the ecumenical councils, Luther created a problem for his followers. On the one hand, Luther wanted to affirm traditional theology with respect to the doctrine of the Trinity and Christ, but on the other those doctrines are not explicit in Scripture. They are the product of church fathers and the councils (Brown HOJ. Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church.)

Luther has no fixed theory of inspiration: if all his works suppose the inspiration of the Sacred Writings, all his conduct shows that he makes himself the supreme judge of it (Rabaud, Histoire de la doctrine de l inspriaation dans les pays de langue francaise depuis la Reforme jusqu a nos jours Paris, 1883, p.42)

Q: Was Luther anti-Semitic?

A: Yes, and grew more open with his opinions as he grew in influence.

  • Luther said, “Whoever would like to cherish such adders and puny devils — who are the worst enemies of Christ and us all — to befriend them and to do them honour simply in order to be cheated, plundered, robbed, disgraced, and forced to howl and curse and suffer every kind of evil, to him I would commend the Jews. And if this is not enough, let him tell the Jews to use his mouth as a privy, or else crawl into the Jew’s hind parts, and there worship the holy thing, so as afterwards to be able to boast of having been merciful, and of having helped the Devil and his progeny to blaspheme our dear Lord.”
  • I will not list any other quotes because of the extent of their hatred and vulgarity but know that many can be found and are contained in his book called “On the Jews and Their Lies”. Much of his writings against the Jews were also used by the Third Reich.
  • It is hard not to understand his comments about the Old Testament in light of his clear and constant diminishment of the Jewish faith. It might be convenient to say that this was common but for someone who is held up as the Father of the Protestant movement his extreme opinions shed doubt on his abilities to act with a level head towards the Bible.

Is the Doctrine of Sola Scriptura Scriptural?

Q: If ALL essential truths are to be found in the Bible “alone” as Luther proposed should the doctrine of Sola Scriptura be found in the bible to be accepted?

A: Yes, and it should be something we see in the Old and New Testament. It should be something we see Jesus and the Apostles speak about and practice.

Q: What scripture is normally used to prove Sola Scriptura?

A: 2 Tim 3:14-17 “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

  • Profitable is good but doesn’t mean Sufficient.
    • Many things are called profitable in the scriptures such as patience (James 1:4) but that doesn’t mean that is all we have or use.
    • 2 Tim 2:19-21 says that cleansing himself is profitable to the Lord.
    • The only thing that is called sufficient in the New Testament is God’s Grace.
    • A wider reading of 2 Tim highlights the fact that:
      • The scriptures mentioned refer to what Timothy learned in his youth thus it means the Old Testament. This scripture then says to much and proves the sufficiency of the Old Testament.
      • The letter is written by Paul to the new authorized teacher Timothy. This section lists what a “teacher” needs to do his job right. The phrase “man of God” is only used in the Old and New Testament for Prophets, Moses, David, and any special teachers selected by God. If anything this scripture highlights the need of authoritative teaching. Interesting the vary scripture that is used to deny authoritative teaching is the very one that supports it.
      • Man of God”: this expression was used in the Old Testament of men who performed some special God-given mission — for example, Moses (Deut 33:1; Ps 40:1), Samuel (1 Sam 9:6–7); Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 17:18; 2 Kings 4:7, 27, 42). In the Pastoral Epistles (cf. also 2 Tim 3:17) it is applied to Timothy insofar as ordination has conferred on him a ministry in the Church. It is a designation for early prophets in Israel . . . The term is used of unnamed prophets (1 Sam. 2:27; 1 Kgs. 13; 2 Chr. 25:7, 9), Moses (Deut. 33:1; Josh. 14:6; 1 Chr. 23:14; 2 Chr. 30:1; Ezra 3:2), the angel of the Lord — thought to be a prophet (Judg. 13:6, 8), Samuel (1 Sam. 9:6-10), . . . Elijah (1 Kgs. 17:18, 24), and Elisha (e.g., 2 Kgs. 1:9-13; 5:8-15). In later periods the term apparently came to be applied to some, other than prophets, who were thought of as bearing some special relationship to God, such as David (Neh. 12:24, 36; cf. Jer. 35:4).
      • “. . . it is manifest that St. Paul is speaking of the Scriptures here used, not as it has to be read and used for the individual instruction and edification of all the faithful, but as it is to be observed by pastors—for observe what he says; he says, expressly, it is profitable for those purposes which are the exclusive function of the ministry, and not of others, for the learners, for the subjects of the Church of Christ; for he says, it is “profitable for doctrine,” that is, as the word means in its proper native sense, “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” Therefore, he is to hold fast the doctrines which St. Paul taught, remembering upon whose authority he received them— that is, the authority of the Apostles. . . . he is to know besides, that this Scripture is profitable for the practice of his ministry, for correcting, for reproving, for instructing. These are points not for individual improvement, not for each one’s edification; but they are essentially acts for the ministry of the priesthood, for those who have to teach others; and, consequently, if this text prove anything regarding Scripture, it only goes to prove that the pastors of the church should be familiar with it, and make use of it for the purpose of correcting, and edifying their flocks.”
      • “…we see clear reference to apostolic tradition (“continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it“). St. Paul is talking about himself and how he passed on the Christian tradition to Timothy (compare his language about receiving and delivering tradition — including oral tradition — in 1 Cor 11:2, 23; 15:1-3; Gal 1:9; 1 Thess 2:13; 2 Thess 2:15; 3:6; 2 Tim 1:13-14; 2:2).”
      • Paul didn’t say this letter to Timothy was “God breathed” he said the scriptures or Old Testament were God breathed.

Q: Is Sola Scriptura self-contradictory? Does the Bible teach and exemplify something different?

A: Yes

  • Christ founded a living teaching church with divine authority from Him. Matt 16:18-20, Matt 18:18, Luke 10:16 this living church would last until the end of time.
  • Living scripture needs also the apostolic oral tradition. From Jesus to the Apostles, from the Apostles preached to the Church down through time. I Cor 11:2, I Pet 1:25
  • The scriptures can be difficult to understand and thus we need teachers. 2 Pet 3:16 (difficult to interpret…need for authoritative interpreter). Ethiopian eunuch who couldn’t understand unless some man show him. Acts 8:27-40
  • I Tim 3:15 What is the pillar and foundation of our faith?…the church not scripture. Word was preached to men through a divinely guided church. Some written and some spoken and held in tradition.
  • John 21:25 Not everything that Jesus said was written down but it was spoken and remembered and passed along from teacher to teacher.
    • Acts 2:22 – Devotion to the teaching of the apostles, the Eucharist and prayer. Not devoted to scripture or letters or gospels. Only oral proclamation and apostolic tradition. Most letters in the Bible weren’t written yet at the time of Acts 2:22. What is interesting is they were devoted to what Luther says isn’t important. This is early Catholic not early Protestant church.
    • The Bible doesn’t list within itself what books are from God. You need an authoritative interpreter outside the Bible to determine that.
    • The authority which defined the canon should have the authority to interpret it.
    • Even the founding fathers which created the US Constitution understood that you couldn’t just give it out to all the people and expect them to interpret it. This is why they created an authoritative body the Supreme Court to be the living interpreter of the document. God understands people better than the founding fathers.
  • I&II Kings and Chronicles mention non-canonical sources and Paul quotes Greek poets but we don’t expect these sources to be added to the canon. This is because we have a living Church who determined they were not to be part of the Bible.
  • Luther removed the 7 Old Testament books and called others into question (Hebrews, James, and Ruth) but left them in. Who gave him the authority to do that and how do you know he was right if God kept the Church in unity and from harm for 1500yrs.
  • I Maccabeus says to pray and make sacrifices for the dead. If Luther removed this book because he didn’t believe in a Church doctrine of praying for those in purgatory who is he to remove the word of God?

Q: Do we see the laity “learning” or “teaching others”? Are they “taught” or “teaching”?

A: Every reference I could find shows the laity being taught not teaching or learning on their own interpreting the scriptures. Galatians 6:6 “Let him who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches.” Titus 1:7-9 “For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of goodness, master of himself, upright, holy, and self-controlled; he must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it. “

Q: If all the apostles were Jewish, how did the Jewish Rabbis interpret the Bible? How would the early church have started out?

A: The Old Testament doesn’t say the Torah “alone”. Many Old Testament passages mention the need to abide by the living authority of the Levitical priests. Those who sat on the chair of Moses had the teaching authority. The scribes and Pharisees. Jesus himself said to listen and follow what the priests said but don’t to do what they do (Matt 23:1-3). A living teaching authority goes all the way back to the Old Testament. The Jews would not form an interpretation on scripture alone. They use rabbinic commentaries. They had scripture, teaching authority, and tradition. What God did in the Old Testament are fulfilled and continued in the New Testament.

Q: Did Jesus profess and use the oral or Sola Scriptura method?

A: He used the oral method and asked the apostles to do the same. John 8:2, 28; Luke 4:31; Mark 2:13, 10:1; Matt 13:54;

Q: What books of the Bible mention not to add or delete what is written?

A: Duet 4:2 and Rev 22:18 but these are speaking only about themselves and not the whole Bible. If they were to mean the whole Bible then Duet would mean only the Torah is needed.

Q: Did all the Apostles write letters that are in the Bible?

A: No, less than half of the Apostles wrote letters or Gospels that are part of the Bibles canon.

Q: Where in the Bible does it say you can remove books if they don’t fit your personal interpretation or opinion?

A: No where. Luther had no authority to harm Gods Word and strip it from the Church.

What Happened and What About that Canon thing?

Q: If everyone is using the Bible and its self-interpreting why aren’t they in agreement?

A: Is God weak or forgetful? Is He not all powerful and given us the Holy Spirit? Then we must point the finger at ourselves and the choices the reformers made in 1520AD as the cause of division and over 30,000 denominations.

Q: Did God from the beginning mean for the Bible (which wasn’t even organized until 400AD) to be read and interpreted by each disciple?

A: No, general literacy didn’t expand until the 17th century. For over 1700yrs the laity required teachers/priests/apostles to teach them orally the Word of God. Historical fact.

Q: Why were the books of the Bible canonized?

A: To establish a legitimate set of writings that should be consistently used within the Church for liturgy/Mass, catechesis (teaching) of new converts (catechumens), and to defend against the growing spread of heresies attaching the Church and it’s laity. To defend against the growing list of Apocryphal writings (stories of the life of the Holy family and apostles, apocryphal gospels). To establish the canon from which authoritative teaching should be based on. To be common it was to determine what books priests had as source material…what they should use as a teaching manual…what was approved or not approved by the Church.

Q: Was the canonization process needed by the laity? Why?

A: Yes, In 303 A.D. the Roman Emperor, Diocletian, issued a royal edict which demanded that every copy of scripture be surrendered and destroyed by fire. Over burned scripture, Diocletian built a monument with these words, “The name Christian is extinguished”. During this time Catholic priests were rounded up and killed and Church property taken throughout the Empire. Laity who put their lives on the line and became martyrs to protect scripture needed to know which were true and which were not.

Q: Who canonized the Bible and how?

A: For the New Testament, the process of the recognition and collection began in the first centuries of the Christian church. Very early on, some of the New Testament books were being recognized. Paul considered Luke’s writings to be as authoritative as the Old Testament (1 Timothy 5:18; see also Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7). Peter recognized Paul’s writings as Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). Some of the books of the New Testament were being circulated among the churches (Colossians 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:27). Clement of Rome mentioned at least eight New Testament books (A.D. 95). Ignatius of Antioch acknowledged about seven books (A.D. 115). Polycarp, a disciple of John the apostle, acknowledged 15 books (A.D. 108). Later, Irenaeus mentioned 21 books (A.D. 185). Hippolytus recognized 22 books (A.D. 170-235). The New Testament books receiving the most controversy were Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 John, and 3 John.

The first “canon” was the Muratorian Canon, which was compiled in A.D. 170. The Muratorian Canon included all of the New Testament books except Hebrews, James, and 3 John. In A.D. 363, the Council of Laodicea stated that only the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament were to be read in the churches. The Council of Hippo (A.D. 393) and the Council of Carthage (A.D. 397) also affirmed the same 27 books as authoritative.

The councils followed something similar to the following principles to determine whether a New Testament book was truly inspired by the Holy Spirit: 1) Was the author an apostle or have a close connection with an apostle? 2) Was the book accepted by the Church universal at large? 3) Did the book contain consistency of doctrine and orthodox Church teaching and tradition? 4) Did the book bear evidence of high moral and spiritual values that would reflect a work of the Holy Spirit?

Who can tell me, “Who’s in Charge?”

Q: Was the Bible considered the sole source of teaching authority for the laity for the first 1500yrs of the Churches existence?

A: No, Church writings from shortly after Pentecost, Church Fathers, martyrs, the letters and Gospels that were eventually canonized near 400AD, and every document there after until the Protestant schism of 1520AD did not hold this doctrine.

Q: What was held or considered as our fundamental authority? Was it Bible alone plus personal interpretation or Bible/Scripture and Apostolic Tradition interpreted by the living teaching of the Church established by Christ?

A: From 33AD to 2012AD the Catholic Church has held the primacy of the scriptures in conjunction with sacred tradition understood and interpreted through the teaching authority of the Church. Only after 1520AD did those in schism with the Church turn to the Bible alone doctrine.

Q: Were the laity/disciples of Christ taught and led by leadership established by Christ before his ascension or by themselves?

A: They were taught by authoritative teachers. Acts 2:22

Q: Does the Bible alone doctrine ultimately lead to the doctrine of personal interpretation alone? Does it ultimately diminish or remove the need or value of teaching?

A: Yes, if the Bible is all you need and self-interpretive than the only thing a person needs is his own mind and the Bible. It might be argued that the laity might not even need the Holy Spirit.

Q: Did the Bible alone doctrine lead to division and disunity in Christ’s physical body?

A: Yes, within 50yrs of Luther’s schism 3 major splinters happened in the Protestant movement. This growth of splinter denominations has now led to over 30,000 unique denominations.

Q: Did Martin Luther need the doctrine of Sola Scriptura to start his movement?

A: Yes, without this fundamental doctrine he could not cut the ties with the teachings and authority of the Catholic Church. This was a lynch pin concept that had to stick.

Q: Did Luther and Calvin really support private interpretation?

A: No, within a few years they both saw the destructive effects of opening Pandora’s box of private interpretation.

  • “Luther had strangely assumed that those who followed him into revolt would use their right of private judgment only to affirm their entire agreement with his own opinions, for which he claimed the sanction of an inspiration received from God that equaled him with the Prophets of old. But he was soon to learn that his followers attached as high a value to their own interpretations of the Bible as he did to his, and were quite prepared to act upon their own conclusions instead of upon his. The result was that as early as the beginning of 1525 — only eight years after he first propounded his heresies — we find him acknowledging, in his “Letter to the Christians of Antwerp” (de Wette, III, 61), that “there are as many sects and creeds in Germany as heads. One will have no baptism; another denies the sacrament, another asserts that there is another world between this and the last day, some teach that Christ is not God, some say this, some say that. No lout is so boorish but, if a fancy enters his head, he must think that the Holy Ghost has entered into him, and that he is to be a prophet”
  • “If the world lasts for a long time, it will again be necessary, on account of the many interpretations which are now given to the Scriptures, to receive the decrees of the councils, and take refuge in them, in order to preserve the unity of the faith” – Martin Luther
  • John Calvin stated, “Every state [of life] has its own Gospel, which they forge for themselves according to their appetites, so that there is as great a diversity between the Gospel of the court, and the Gospel of the justices and lawyers, and the Gospel of merchants, as there is between coins of different denominations.”

Q: What is a more normal method of teaching to the early church all the way through the middle ages, oral proclamation or reading?

A: Oral proclamation. Oral method was extremely powerful in these cultures, Romans, Greeks, Hebrews, etc. They didn’t say if it wasn’t written down it wasn’t true. They had amazing memories and fidelity to the exactness of the message.

Q: Do most of those who support Sola Scriptura really follow it? Do they just read everything for themselves and make up their own mind?

A: No, today’s TV, DVD, and book sales show that people are buying more self help material than ever. More people are flocking to churches with messages that fit their opinions. Sola Scriptura is only an excuse to not listen to anyone who has a differing opinion. A convenient excuse to hold their own opinion as the only authority. To hold themselves up as a pope. Today we have millions of popes behind every pulpit in every church. It is said that Luther denied one Pope and created millions.

Conclusion

I honestly can’t find a single plain and simple statement of the sufficiency of the scriptures and the only authority in the area of faith and morals. I believe, as does the Church, in the prima authority of the scriptures when resolving conflicts in interpretation. The primacy of Sacred Scripture is always to be in unity with Sacred Tradition as authoritatively interpreted by God’s Church. This idea is constantly spoken of and exemplified both in the Old and New Testament , in the words of Jesus and the Apostles, and the life and history of the Church.

I can see no reasonable argument in support of the schism caused by Luther and it’s eventual results today. This was not the action’s of a true reformer who loved God and His Church and tried to change it from within. It was the personal actions of someone who thought, “my mouth is the mouth of Christ” and was willing to break his own rules to excuse and work around doctrinal difficulties even if it meant harming God’s written word.

I have found that the early Church and that found in 1520AD are the same in regards to its understanding of scripture, tradition, and authoritative interpretation. This understanding is reasonable, culturally and historically correct, and the most unifying understanding of God’s love and mercy for his Church Militant while we wait for His return. This understanding also shows the continuation of God’s plan and direction through the Old and New Testament, His use of the priesthood, and method exemplified by Jesus to teach and send his Apostles.

Unity of His Church was Jesus’ most earnest prayer and we know he wouldn’t have wanted a system that led to disunity and division. We know that God did, has, and will continue to answer this prayer. As always we need participate in His will.

John 17:9-19 “I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled. I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

Appendix

AUTHORITATIVE ORAL TRADITION (INCLUDING “WORD” AND “WORD OF GOD”)

Matthew 13:19 When any one hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in his heart; this is what was sown along the path.

Matthew 13:20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; (other instances of “the word”: Matt 13:21-23; Mk 2:2; 4:14-20,33; Lk 1:2; 8:12-13,15; Jn 1:1,14 [of Jesus]; Jn 14:24; Acts 6:4; 8:4; 11:19; 14:25; 16:6; Gal 6:6; Eph 5:26; Col 4:3; 1 Pet 3:1)

Luke 5:1 While the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennes’aret. (other instances of “word of God”: Lk 3:2; 8:11,21; Acts 6:2; 13:5,7,44,48; 17:13; 18:11; Rom 9:6; 1 Cor 14:36; Eph 6:17; Phil 1:14; Col 1:25; 1 Tim 4:5; 2 Tim 2:9; Titus 2:5; Heb 6:5; 13:7; 1 Jn 2:14; Rev 1:9; 20:4)

Luke 11:28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

Acts 4:4 But many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to about five thousand.

Acts 4:31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.

Acts 6:7 And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.

Acts 8:14 . . . Sama’ria had received the word of God . . .

Acts 8:25 Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans. (other instances of “word of the Lord”: Acts 15:36; 16:32; 19:10,20; 1 Thess 1:8; 4:15)

Acts 10:36-44 You know the word which he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace by Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), the word which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses to all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and made him manifest; not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that he is the one ordained by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that every one who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. While Peter was still saying this, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word.

Acts 11:1 Now the apostles and the brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.

Acts 12:24 But the word of God grew and multiplied.

Acts 13:46 And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.”

Acts 13:49 And the word of the Lord spread throughout all the region.

Acts 14:3 So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. (cf. Acts 20:32: “word of his grace”)

Acts 15:7 And after there had been much debate, Peter rose and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.”

Acts 15:27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth.

Acts 15:35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also

Acts 17:11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessaloni’ca, for they received the word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so.

Romans 10:8 But what does it say? The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach);

Romans 16:25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret for long ages

1 Corinthians 1:18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1 Corinthians 14:29-30 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting by, let the first be silent.

2 Corinthians 3:6 who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Ephesians 1:13 In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, (cf. 2 Tim 2:15: “word of truth”)

Philippians 2:16 holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. (cf. 1 John 1:1: “word of life”)

Colossians 1:5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel

Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

1 Thessalonians 1:6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit;

1 Thessalonians 2:13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

In 1 Thessalonians “Scripture” or “Scriptures” never appear. “Word,” “word of the Lord,” or “word of God” appear five times (1:6,8, 2:13 [twice], 4:15), but in each instance it is clearly in the sense of oral proclamation, not Scripture.

2 Thessalonians 2:15 . . . stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth, or by letter.

2 Thessalonians 3:1 Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed on and triumph, as it did among you,

2 Timothy 1:13-14 Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me . . . guard the truth which has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.

2 Timothy 2:2 And what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

2 Timothy 4:2 preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching.

Hebrews 1:7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith.

Hebrews 2:1-4 Therefore we must pay the closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For if the message declared by angels was valid and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his own will.

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Hebrews 5:13 for every one who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a child.

James 1:18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

James 1:22-23 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror;

1 Peter 1:23 You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;

1 Peter 1:25 “but the word of the Lord abides for ever.” That word is the good news which was preached to you.

1 Peter 2:8 . . . they stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

2 Peter 1:19,21 And we have the prophetic word made more sure. You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. . . . no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

1 John 1:5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all.

1 John 2:7 Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment which you had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard.

1 John 2:24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father.

1 John 3:11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another,

2 John 1:6 And this is love, that we follow his commandments; this is the commandment, as you have heard from the beginning, that you follow love.

Revelation 1:2 who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.

Revelation 3:10 Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial which is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell upon the earth.

Revelation 6:9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne;

NEW TESTAMENT ALLUSIONS TO AUTHORITATIVE ORAL TEACHING NOT RECORDED IN SCRIPTURE

Matthew 13:3 And he told them many things in parables, . . .

Matthew 28:20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.

Mark 4:2 And he taught them many things in parables, . . . . .

Mark 4:33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it;

Mark 6:34 As he went ashore he saw a great throng, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

Luke 11:53 As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard, and to provoke him to speak of many things,

Luke 24:15-16,25-27 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. . . . And he said to them, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

John 16:12 I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now

John 20:30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; (cf. Jn 21:25: “many other things which Jesus did”)

Acts 1:2-3 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God.

NEW TESTAMENT CITATIONS OF OLDER NON-BIBLICAL ORAL TRADITIONS

Matthew 2:23 And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

This notion cannot be found in the Old Testament, yet it was passed down “by the prophets.” Thus, a prophecy, which is considered to be “God’s Word” was passed down orally, rather than through Scripture.

Matthew 7:12 So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.

Matthew 23:2 The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat;

The phrase or idea of Moses’ seat cannot be found anywhere in the Old Testament. It is found in the (originally oral) Mishna, where a sort of “teaching succession” from Moses on down is taught.

1 Corinthians 10:4 and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ.

The Old Testament says nothing about such miraculous movement, in the related passages about Moses striking the rock to produce water (Exodus 17:1-7; Numbers 20:2-13). But rabbinic tradition does.

2 Timothy 3:8 As Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith;

These two men cannot be found in the related Old Testament passage (Exodus 7:8 ff.), or anywhere else in the Old Testament.

James 5:17 Eli’jah was a man of like nature with ourselves and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.

The reference to a lack of rain for three years is absent from the relevant Old Testament passage in 1 Kings 17.

1 Peter 3:19 in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison,

This is drawn from the Jewish apocalyptic book 1 Enoch (12-16).

Jude 9 But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, disputed about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a reviling judgment upon him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.”

Jude 14-15 It was of these also that Enoch in the seventh generation from Adam prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with his holy myriads, to execute judgment on all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness which they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”

Direct quotation of 1 Enoch 1:9.

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About Rob Brock

A Catholic convert with a fire for discipleship, catechesis, and formation that leads to transformed lives in Christ. View all posts by Rob Brock

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