Monday, March 3, 2008

Is Sola Scriptura Biblical?

Several weeks ago, a Protestant fellow who goes by the name HisMan left a comment on an entry I posted last year.

I had said:

[S]ola scriptura is a position that is itself not supported by Scripture (cf., for example, 2 Thess. 2:15, 2 Tim. 2:2, Luke 10:16, Rom. 10:17, 1 Pet. 1:25, 1 Cor. 11:2, 1 Cor. 15:3). which HisMan said:

The scriptures you list in fact support sola scriptura as they ALL point to the word. I don't suspect that Paul was saying anything different than what he inlcuded in his epistles.

In turn, I posted a comment telling HisMan I didn't have time to respond at the time, but that I'd try to do so in the near future.

Hence the reason for this post. If you're still poking around these parts, HisMan, this one's for you.

My first reaction is that this argument begs the question.

Beyond that, it's also worth pointing out that whenever one attempts to interpret Scripture in such a way as to justify belief in sola scriptura, he is ipso facto negating said belief.

Indeed, if sola scriptura were true, then the Bible would require exactly no interpretation by any person, since this interpretation would necessarily be derived from an extrabiblical source. In that case, Scripture would simply interpret itself.

As Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin has pointed out:

If you have the idea of sola scriptura as one of your founding theological principles and you don't give Tradition a normative role then you've got to derive your system from Scripture alone.

That's when you run into problems, because there are many questions that Christians need answers to (e.g., "Who is it okay to baptize and just how do you administer baptism?") that aren't answered in Scripture. Scripture thus points beyond itself to Tradition for these answers. In fact, Scripture itself is simply the written component of Tradition.

Without the extra-scriptural complement of Tradition, Scripture does not contain enough data to provide confident answers to all the questions that need confident answering (such as the ones mentioned above), and so one attempting to operate from the perspective of sola scriptura will inevitably have to propose some kind of system that can't be fully grounded in Scripture in order to answer those questions.

But if you reject the premise of sola scriptura and allow Tradition to fill in the missing pieces, you end up with enough data to build systematic theology--even if the result is a system that must, by definition, go beyond Scripture in the data it treats as normative.

Jimmy Akin has some other instructive posts dealing with different aspects of sola scriptura here, here, and here.

I wish I'd the time to write more on this topic, but I don't. Thus, I'll simply link to a couple of articles by some fellows who are much more knowledgeable about this subject than I:

This last one I found particularly fascinating. It begins:

I wondered: Is it really true that we Evangelicals never treat extrabiblical tradition as authoritative revelation? Is it really the case that all Evangelical belief is derived from the clear and unambiguous teaching of the Bible alone? Do we really speak forth only what Scripture speaks, keep silent where Scripture is silent, and never bind the conscience of the believer on those questions in which Scripture permits different interpretations?

I wondered. Especially since the living fossil of the Tradition of the Table of Contents still inexplicably swam like a coelacanth in the ocean of Evangelical faith precisely where we said tradition had gone extinct. What if there were other supposedly extinct extrabiblical coelacanths down there too?

To find out, I decided to try an experiment. I would look at Evangelical -- not Catholic -- belief and practice to see if there was any other evidence of tradition being treated like revelation. I would see if there were any other rock-bottom, non-negotiable, grade A, can't-do-without-'em beliefs which, like the Table of Contents, were not attested (or very weakly attested) in the Bible, yet which we orthodox Evangelicals treated like revelation. If I found such things, and if they had an ancient pedigree, it seemed to me this would be very strong evidence that the apostolic paradosis not only was larger than the Bible alone, but that it had -- somehow -- been handed down to the present.

So I started taking a good long look at non-negotiable Evangelical beliefs as they were actually lived out in my church and churches like it. To my surprise, I found several such weakly attested non-negotiables...

Read the rest here.

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