By: Larryboy

Larryboy (hereafter just Larry) writes:
The doctrine of the sufficiency of the Scriptures for the establishment of doctrine is one which Reformation Christians cherish. It is also the one most often attacked and derided by Roman Catholic apologists. I am convinced that this is, primarily due to a false conception of the doctrine. Very often Roman Catholics and others will proceed with an erroneous idea about this key doctrine, thus falling into the use of what amounts to a straw man argument.

Scott responds:
Larry, Catholics do not deny the "sufficiency" of Scripture, we deny that the Scriptures are the "sole" source of knowledge and teaching. We challenge that the Scriptures are not the "sola regula fide" and if they were, then somewhere within the text of Scripture (by necessity) such a statement would be made. Since no such statement exists - sola scriptura becomes a self-refuting proposition.

Larry continues:
For example, the Canon is often brought forward as evidence that Sola Scriptura cannot be true. The argument runs like this: If the Scriptures are solely authoritative, and if they are infallible, they must be infallible in every respect. Thus the table of contents must be complete and authoritative as well. The problems with this kind of reasoning should be obvious. First of all, Sola Scriptura says nothing about the extent of Scripture. It speaks volumes about the content of Scripture, but it says nothing at all about the table of contents.

Scott responds:
Well, I understand the argument, and it is a valid one. How do you know what the Canon of Sacred Scripture even is? The Scriptures are silent about just which books should be included in the canon - so the very compilation of the books into one "Bible" is evidence of an extra scriptura authority. As for the Scriptures speaking volumes about the content of Scripture, do you have any sources? It's easy to make the claim, can you support it?

It might be helpful at this point to offer a working definition of this key doctrine:


Sola Scriptura is the essential Reformation doctrine that only the Scriptures have authority for the establishment of doctrine. The implication is that there is no comparable authority other than Holy Writ. This is in contradistinction to Roman Catholic claims that the teaching Magisterium of that Church, as well as it’s “Sacred Tradition” also have infallible authority.

Scott Responds:
You have stated it is "the" essential Reformation doctrine. Most if not all the Innovators* would agree with you, or at least include that as one of the "three legs" of their revolt. Again, the challenge exists, IF the Scriptures are to be the "only" authority for the establishment of doctrine, then where do we find that condition IN the Scriptures? If it is not there (and it isn't) then it is an extra scriptura doctrine itself - and by the statement of "sola scriptura" it must necessarily be rejected. So, unless you can come up with the verse that says there is to be no other source then you must reject sola scriptura.

*(I use this term because they did not "reform" the Church, for the Church they used to belong to still exists - rather, they formed "new" churches and preach a "different gospel").


Larry continues:
It might be helpful at this point to point out some of the things Sola Scriptura is not:


Sola Scriptura does not mean that the Bible contains, explicitly recorded, every essential doctrine of the Christian faith. In many cases interpretation is necessary. The Westminster Confession calls this "good and necessary inference". Doctrines like the Trinity and Sola Scriptura itself for example are not explicitly stated in the Bible. This does not mean that they are not true though. They are necessary deductions. There are numerous other examples, but for now these will suffice.

Scott responds:
Larry, you've already gone extra scriptura! You freely admit that the concept of "sola scriptura" is flawed! IF the Scriptures were the "sola regula fide" then why do you need the Westminster Confession? This talk of "necessary deductions" sounds a bit like doublespeak. It's like, "There is no other authoritive source besides the Bible, but the Westminster Confession is a necessary deduction." Huh?

Regarding the Trinity, that is in the Scriptures, not the name itself, but the teaching is there. A better example would be the Two Natures of Christ, or the Two Wills of Christ. We don't find those in Scripture at all, yet this is a "doctrine" that is widely accepted in Christianity, even by the Innovators.


Larry states:
This is in response to the common Roman charge that the Bible contains no explicit statement to the effect that it is solely authoritative, and for Sola Scriptura to be true, it would have to do so. Such an objection springs from a faulty understanding of the doctrine.

Scott responds:
If the Bible does not contain such a statement, and you're implying that there are other "outside" sources of understanding things (like the Two Wills of Christ, though your example was the Trinity). So, sola isn't sola anymore, there's something added to this "sola" - and what was/is that other source? For the definition of the Trinity and the Two Wills, we turn to the Church! The Church "canonized" or made "dogma" these teachings in the Councils of Nicea and Chalcedon.

The common Protestant answer is, "Catholics just don't understand the teaching of sola scriptura." Well, I'm dealing with your definition here Larry, and I have dealt with James White's definition on another web page (click on the preceding link).


Larry continues:
Sola Scriptura does not mean that the Bible is perfectly clear about everything it deals with to everyone who reads it. There is a related doctrine, the Perspicuity of Scripture, but even this one does not mean that the Bible is completely unobscure. The Bible contains many things which are difficult to understand, but what it is necessary to know in order to be in a right relationship with God is perfectly clear.

This is held in response to the Roman argument that those churches which hold to this principle must be false since so many of them differ in their interpretations of diverse passages. It is true that there are many points of doctrine disagreed upon by Protestants, but it does not follow that these churches are apostate. The Reformers, especially Luther, always distinguished between essential doctrines and adiaphora or disputable points. The doctrines which it is necessary to know and believe in order to be counted a member of the Body of Christ are few but they are stringent; about other things we have the right and wherewithal to disagree. The fact that we often do so with a lack of charity does not militate against the perspicuity or authority of Scripture so much as against the lack of love of some of those who subscribe to these beliefs.

Scott responds:
But that's precisely the point Larry! IF Scripture was so clear on vital points then we wouldn't have denominations that declare other denominations are wrong - to the point of even being unsaved! Even within denominations we have discrepencies. The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) will not accept fellow "Lutherans" from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to their Holy Communion. My own family switched from the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) and had to go through and "interview" with the WELS pastor before we would be admitted to Communion. Why? If Scripture is so "clear" on vital points, why would fellow "Lutherans" keep each other from Communion? Lutherans believe in baptismal regeneration - Baptists don't. Do you need more examples? The point is that even though Larry makes this claim of clarity on vital points, reality doesn't play out that way.


Sola Scriptura does not mean that every individual Christian should be free to interpret the Bible as he or she sees fit. This is a very common canard, that “private interpretation” creates ecclesial chaos and that the existing denominationalism rampant in Protestantism can be traced directly to this. The problem for evangelicals with this is that it is, to a very real degree, true. But it is true because even Protestants have not always been true to the principle. It is simply a case of our freedom getting the better of us. The fact remains that among Reformation Christians the principle of Sola Scriptura entails a certain intellectual submission to both history and to the called ministry. Christian laypeople ought not interpret the Bible for themselves. Somehow even saying this sounds heretical to my Protestant ears. This shows how ingrained the idea of “private interpretation” really is. The fact is that we educate, call, ordain and compensate the Pastorate for this task, it’s their job, not ours.

Scott interjects:
So, now we have Scriptures plus the ordained Pastorate. So much for "sola."

Larry continues:
None of this means that we don’t read, study and learn the Scriptures. Indeed, woe betide us if we should ever neglect this duty. But it should always be recalled that we are ever to do so within the bosom of the church and with an eye to her tradition.

Did I say “tradition”? I can hear the Protestants gasp as they read this. Yes, I said tradition, small “t” tradition. I do not mean an authority equal to Scripture, but rather an authority (if it can be called that) which is based solely in Scripture and which derives whatever usefulness it has therefrom.

Scott replies:
Well, I believe we're back to doublespeak again. But let's keep count here, now we have Scripture + ordained pastorate + tradition. So we're way beyond "sola." And of course, Larry's defintion here is completely in line with Catholic (big "T") Tradition. Catholics are free to read and even "interpret" Scripture, so long as their conclusions are in line with the Teaching Magisterium of the Church. This is where Luther went wrong, he went against the Magisterium.


Larry states:
Sola Scriptura is not only misunderstood by Catholics. Many Evangelicals have a defective conception of it. A lot of Protestant Christians hold a view of it which stems from a more wooden and literal view of inspiration than is held by most Confessional Protestants. Thus their view of Scripture’s inerrancy leads to a hermeneutic which admits of very little variance in interpretation. For some the idea that Scripture is verbally inspired is held without reference to linguistics. Thus, the AV1611 for many is given the practical status of being itself inspired.

Scott responds:
Like I mentioned earlier, and will assert here, "sola scriptura" is a moving target. Ask Larryboy what he believes it is, then ask another Protestant, then ask another - which definition is right? Will the real sola scriptura please stand up!?

Larry continues:
Along with this is the jettisoning of context as the guiding factor in the determination of the meaning assigned to any text. Thus passages which have to do with specific historical or personal events and entities are taken out of context and applied willy nilly to present day and current individuals. This is dangerous for many reasons, not the least of which is that the great doctrine of Sola Scriptura is obscured and twisted thereby.

Scott states:
Um, we agree! This "great doctrine" is obscured into oblivion.


Sola Scriptura can be simply defined, but it’s ramifications are far-reaching and it’s use can get a little complicated. One of the reasons Sola Scriptura is complicated in practice is that acceptance of this principle leads inevitably to acceptance of many others. You cannot, for example affirm Sola Scriptura without consequently taking position on the relation of Law to Gospel. You cannot affirm Sola Scriptura without also having a fairly detailed ecclesiology. So, it is not simply an affirmation. It is a doctrinal foundation, as the Reformers called it, the norming norm.

Scott replies:
What good is a foundation that is alone? Think about it for a moment. If you have the doctrine of sola scriptura equating to a foundation then essentially we could say "sola foundation." Now, does that make sense? A foundation is not used, shall we say useless, unless something is built on it... or "added" to it. Logic alone would demand that "scriptura alone" is not a tenable position.

We've added a couple more things to our count...
Scripture + ordained pastorate + tradition + detailed ecclesiology
Hang on, a "detailed ecclesiology?" Larry, that's a "Church" with "Structure!" So what is Luther's or Calvin's justification for leaving that "detailed ecclesiology?"


Larry concludes:
The importance of this doctrine cannot be overstated. It is absolutely key. It is the very foundation of all we believe, teach and confess as evangelicals.

Scott interjects:
The Scriptural foundation of the Church is not the Scriptures at all, but the Apostles (Rev. 21:14). Yes, "men" were the foundation, not a collection of books that would not be assembled the way you and I are familiar with for nearly 400 years. One would think if sola scriptura were the "foundational doctrine" of the Christian faith, it wouldn't have taken nearly half a millenia to come up with the canon of Scripture! And again, where did we get this "canon?" The Councils of Carthage and Hippo stated the canon that we now use today. Not one single Catholic Bible was produced after that time that varied from that canon. Yes, St. Jerome argued against the deuterocanonicals, (typically erroneously called "the Apocrypha" by many), but when push came to shove, they were included in his translation of the Vulgate.

Larry's conclusion continues:
It would serve well those Roman Catholics seeking dialogue with Protestants to learn what it really is and eschew the proliferation of caricatures which so often mars such dialogue.

Scott interjects again:
Again, it's hard to hit a moving target. Those of us seeking this dialog truly do our best to answer the definition of sola scriptura that is presented to us. It's just not the same everytime we answer because the Protestants we confront have different definitions (as even you affirm in this thesis).

Larry finishes with:
Correspondingly, it behooves those of us who would give the Scriptures authoritative supremacy today to have a right understanding of the doctrine, to endeavor always to use it correctly, and to teach it to others accurately.

And Scott concludes with:
So, we've added again to our count:
Scripture + ordained pastorate + tradition + detailed ecclesiology + teachers
On top of all the other things "necessary" for "sola" scriptura, we have to have teachers that teach others accurately. The Bible Alone is not sufficient to teach others accurately, we need teachers to do this.

So, what we have presented here from Larry is a "sola" that really isn't "sola."

I rest my case.