Hello there dear Rosary lovers! In this post, I would like to answer the question: is sola scriptura true?
We also have a post entitled ‘Is the Bible a Catholic Book?‘ which reveals all of the many ‘Catholic-looking’ verses in the Bible. Please check these out if you’re interested!
We love the Bible, and the Protestants ought to be commended for upholding the glory of the Bible. Truly, it is an absolutely glorious and wonderful Book. It is supreme and ought to be treated as the very Word of the living God.
I would like to begin by stating that this single issue, and my intellectual wrestling with it, was one of the main reasons I ended up joining the Catholic Church. It was certainly the ONLY intellectual reason why I felt I had to leave Protestant Christianity.
For your own research, I found this Orthodox resource extremely helpful in thinking through this issue when I was Protestant.
I hope you enjoy the read 🙂
What is Sola Scriptura?
First off, we need to define sola scriptura. There are different ways to do this, but the essential point is that those who believe in sola scriptura believe that the Protestant Bible of 66 books is the ONLY INFALLIBLE AUTHORITY on God’s earth.
Now, many Protestants believe also in various traditions, such as the Book of Concord for Lutherans, and the Anglican traditions for Anglicans, and the Westminister Confession of Faith for the Reformed.
Some Protestants don’t believe in tradition at all, and claim that only the Bible is worth listening to.
It doesn’t really matter, because at the end of the day, both of these positions are cut from the same cloth: which is the view that ONLY THE BIBLE IS INFALLIBLE. Nothing else at all is infallible.
Yes, Confessions and Creeds may (or may not) be very useful, but ultimately, ONLY THE BIBLE is of supreme authority.
Why Sola Scriptura is Illogical
Now, this position is impossible to really hold to consistently. It is impossible to hold to because it is illogical. It contradicts reason and even contradicts itself.
The self-refuting nature of sola scriptura is the single most important reason why it isn’t true. This is also the single most important reason why I realised I needed to leave Protestant Christianity.
So how is sola scriptura self-contradictory?
1. Which ‘Bible’ are we talking about?
The first major issue with sola scriptura is that there are a variety of Bibles in existence. The Protestants may have a Bible of 66 books, believing it to be the only kind of Bible there is.
But the Catholics have a Bible of 73 books. Eastern Orthodox Christians have a larger Bible still, and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has a Bible with more than 80 books.
And beyond these groups of Christians, there were Christians historically who used very different Bibles and very different books. In fact, many today are questioning whether the Bible has books missing, such as the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Judas. And perhaps some people wonder whether there are some books or sections of the Bible which should just be cut out of the Bible entirely.
So who is correct, and which Bible is correct? How does a Protestant deal with this problem when asked to deal with it solely according to the principle of sola sciptura?
The Bible NOWHERE settles this issue. And that’s why a Protestant cannot give a definitive answer to this question: which of these Bibles is correct.
So where do we turn to discover the answer?
If we cannot turn to the Bible – the ONLY INFALLIBLE AUTHORITY (for Protestants) – to settle this issue, then any other ‘authority’ we turn to to help us with this giant issue is going to be something which is not Scripture.
But how can we know for sure that this ‘something’ which is not Scripture is guiding us in the right direction?
We NEED to have the right Bible, do we not? Otherwise, how can we believe in sola scriptura? How can we believe the Bible is infallible if we don’t know which Bible is infallible? Does it contain 66 books, or 73, or 80 +?
Should the gnostic Gospels be included in the Bible, such as the Gospel of Thomas? Many scholars say this Gospel has a very early origin, perhaps as early as the 50s AD. So why shouldn’t it be accepted as Scripture?
Where does the Bible ever teach ‘Thou shalt not include Tobit or Wisdom of Solomon’?
If we turn to any other authority other than the Bible to settle this issue for us, then we are NOT trusting the principle of sola scriptura. Because, really, ONLY the Bible should be settling this issue for us. But it doesn’t and indeed it cannot.
Sure, we can turn to tradition and Church history, and our local church, and confessions, and all the rest, for help in this matter.
But that’s missing the point. The point is: as someone who believes in the Bible alone as the only infallible authority on God’s earth, you NEED to know FOR SURE and WITH ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY that the Bible you hold in your hand is the correct one and that you have all the correct books and that none are missing.
You need an infallible decision and judgment on this issue. Which, according to the principle of sola scriptura, can only be carried out by the only infallible judge in the world for Protestants: the Bible.
If you don’t have an infallible judgment on this issue, how can you believe that your Bible is infallible? You may have the wrong Bible.
The truth of the matter is that we didn’t get the selection of Bible books from the Bible. We got them from the Catholic Church historically.
The Catholic Church sealed the issue – with a firm and final judgment – about which books are in and which are out. For the most part, Protestants accept this decision, at least with regards to the New Testament.
To accept the Catholic Church’s decision on this matter is to really be a crypto-Catholic. It’s to live off the borrowed capital of the Catholic Church.
And if you believe that the New Testament is an infallible collection, and that the Bible books were all infallibly selected, and that all the right books are in and all the wrong ones are out, and that none are missing, then:
You DON’T believe in sola scriptura.
Because you really believe deep down that the CHURCH can settle an issue – about the Bible itself – with finality and full authority. An issue the Bible can’t help you with.
The Bible could have come with a special and inspired contents page: ‘This Holy Scripture contains the following books: Genesis, Exodus …’ etc.
But no such scripture exists. We are left with only the Church and her infallible tradition to settle this issue for us.
In other words, to believe in sola scriptura, you ABSOLUTELY NEED in the first place an authentic Scripture.
And this we ONLY get from the Catholic Church, not the Bible.
If the way I have parsed this problem is accurate, then sola scriptura has to be illogical and self-contradictory.
Some Protestants can see this problem, and some of them now believe that the only way out of this problem is to disbelieve that the selection of books in the Bible is infallible. As R. C. Sproul famously puts it: the Bible is ‘a fallible collection of infallible books.’
But this, to my mind, is nonsensical. If the collection is fallible, then the Book itself – which is nothing other than the fallible collection – is also fallible.
In which case, how can I believe that the Bible alone is infallible? How can I still believe in sola scriptura?
What is Scripture if not the Collection of Books?
Either way, sola scriptura proves illogical and meaningless.
2. Sola Scriptura isn’t taught in the Bible
Here’s the second Achilles’ heel. The Protestant dogma – yes it is a DOGMA, it must be believed – of sola scriptura isn’t anywhere clearly taught in Scripture.
Let me explain this. Protestants insist that sola scriptura is the founding principle of Protestantism. This is the principle of all principles. This is why – and it’s the main reason why – Protestants are not Catholics. Without sola scriptura, Protestants would still be part of the Catholic Church.
So sola scriptura is a dogma in Protestantism. It’s what Protestantism is all about. Every Protestant must or should believe in it.
And yet, as some Protestant scholars themselves admit, sola scriptura is not clearly taught anywhere in Scripture.
There are indeed many passages which exalt the Word of God and how the Word is a light to my feet and how ‘all Scripture is God-breathed and useful … able to completely equip the man of God for every good work.’
Sure, even Catholics believe this. We believe the Scriptures are a light to our feet. We believe Scripture is vital. We believe the Scriptures are the Word of Almighty God, and of great, great use for making us perfect.
But what Paul isn’t teaching is sola scriptura. Where does the Bible ever teach: ‘over and above all traditions, you must heed to the written Word, which alone is infallible’?
We don’t find this. Instead, we find verses like this one from the apostle Paul: ‘Therefore, stand firm and hold to the traditions you received from us, whether you received them orally from us or by writing.’ (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
Paul puts his own oral words and traditions on exactly the same footing as his written letters, which are Holy Scripture. Paul did not tell Christians to prioritise his writings or any of the scriptures over the traditions and oral teachings that the Christians were taught by the apostles.
Paul did not believe in sola scriptura. So why should I?
So sola scriptura isn’t taught in the Bible.
Like I said, some Protestants scholars admit this. Others want to use 2 Timothy 3:16-17 to settle the matter. But 2 Timothy 3:16-17 doesn’t at all settle this matter. Paul isn’t clearly teaching sola scriptura there. On the face of it, he may be teachings sola scriptura, but he may also not be. The text is not clear. And when we bring in the context, it becomes clear that Paul could not have been teaching sola Scriptura (see 2 Timothy 3:10 onwards).
Effectively, all that Paul is saying in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is that the Old Testament (which is the Scripture he is referring to) is awesome and really useful, and if you meditate on it as a Pastor of the Church it will make you exceptionally wise and set you up for doing all that is pleasing to God.
But Catholics believe that. What’s the issue then? Paul is not saying, ‘All you really need is the Bible, only this is infallible because it happens to be written down.’
So my Conclusion is:
How can Protestants uphold a dogma – sola scriptura – about the Bible that isn’t even taught in the Bible?
This is illogical.
And how can Protestants tell me to believe only in the infallibility of the Bible when it cannot be demonstrated from the priniciple of sola scriptura which Bible it is that is the only infallible Bible in the world? (Remember, there’s more than one Bible in existence.)
This is illogical.
If sola scripura isn’t clearly taught in the Bible, then I don’t have to believe in it, do I?
If sola scriptura doesn’t answer the question of which Bible is infallible, then how can I know which Bible to turn to? The Catholic one, the Protestant one, the Ethiopian one, etc.
So, if there are these very telling contradictions at the basis of Protestant ideology, then I don’t have to be a Protestant, do I?
God is not the author of what’s irrational or illogical. As Christians, we are called to believe in things that surpass reason, or things that reason cannot explain. But we are never asked to believe in things that are self-contradictory. God is not happy when we blindly affirm that 2 + 2 = 5 in the face of what is logical and what is illogical.
So the Catholic Church may be true after all, and the Reformation may have been a terrible, terrible mistake, brought about perhaps more by a deep personal enmity against the Church within the Reformers than by anything sensible, objective and logical.
That was my conclusion a few years ago, and I have never seen anything offered to me by my Protestant brothers and sisters which in any way comes close to adequately answering these problems.
I hope you’ve found this post helpful, and God bless you.
If you want to look into this issue further, check out this wonderful Catholic resource.