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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Sola Scriptura is Not Biblical

The first argument against the primary authority of Scripture is this very interesting argument. It is often misused, like, "The Trinity is not a valid doctrine because you won't find the word in the Bible." But in this case, the argument that "The Bible is the sole authority in matters of faith and doctrine" would actually seem to need to be found in Scripture in order to be valid. Else the naked claim is the first authority. So, is it true that the claim is not found in Scripture?

If you're looking for "This Word of God is the sole authority in matters of faith and practice", you can find it in the Old Testament in Hezekiah 7:13 and in the New Testament in 3 Peter 2:6. If you're paying attention, I just made a joke. The phrase doesn't exist. (If you didn't get the joke, perhaps arguing about the Bible as sole authority should come some time later ... after you've looked more closely at the Bible.) But because the sentence isn't there doesn't mean that the argument isn't there.

Note, for instance, Paul's words in his first letter to the church at Corinth. "Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sake, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other." (1 Cor 4:6) "Learn not to exceed what is written." That is precisely what the claim is. But, perhaps you will argue, "He's only talking about a specific letter" or something like it. Okay. How about this claim?
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)1
"That makes no such claim to authority or sole authority." Doesn't it? It says that all Scripture is breathed out by God. Nothing else -- not the Church nor Tradition nor your hunches, your "common sense", your experiences, nor your societal norms -- are classified as "God-breathed". It says that Scripture will make the man of God "equipped". The King James says "thoroughly furnished". The word is ἐξαρτίζω -- exartizō. It means to furnish fully, to equip, to finish. This passage claims that all Scripture will equip the man of God for ... what? "Every good work." Not some. Not most. Every. The Bible makes the claim that the Bible alone will equip/furnish/finish the man of God for good works.

If you want more, look at the approach of Scripture. How many times did Jesus refer people in His teachings to Scripture? How many times did He say, "It is written" or "Have you not read" or other references to Scripture as authority? How many times did other writers refer to the Scriptures as proof of their claim? Indeed, when the heretical Marcion who argued that the Old Testament was no longer valid assembled his own Bible, he ended up with stripped versions of the Gospel of Luke and Paul's writings because everything was predicated on the Scriptures.

Conversely, following tradition over Scripture is not a new problem. Jesus warned against it. He told the Pharisees, "You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition." (Mark 7:9) He pointed back to Isaiah when He said, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me; in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'" (Mark 7:6-7) Modern groups are doing it today -- Tradition over Scripture. On the other hand, the Bible commends the Bereans who "were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica" because they "received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so." (Acts 17:11) Was Paul's teachings as an Apostle of the Church authoritative? Yes, but only so far as they aligned with Scripture.

"So," you may ask, "you're saying that Tradition and the Church have no authority?" No, that's not what I'm saying because that's not what I believe. I understand sola scriptura to say that the ultimate authority, the final authority for all matters of faith and practice is found in Scripture. That does not mean that there is no other authority. For instance, Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica telling them, "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us." (2 Thess 3:6) Thus, "the tradition which you received from us" was considered normative, not extraneous. But it couldn't contradict Scripture. In a similar way, we are told, "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you." (Heb 13:17) As such, both tradition (lowercase "t") and the church have authority. I don't wish to argue that they don't. I'm just saying that their authority is subject to Scripture. And I'm just saying that I get that ... from Scripture.
1 Note: That's the ESV. It makes the point clear that we're not talking about "inspired writing", but "God-breathed". If you can point to anything else that is reliably classified as "God-breathed", you might have a contender for authority.

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