I got a fair amount of feedback via email, and I’ve read a couple other things in the past couple weeks, so it’s time to give this another go. First, a sampling of responses:
- there are somethings that simply require clarification or explanation to someone less experienced/well read. But there are deeper topics that require scholars to interpret (however, my take on this is that if it requires a great deal of study it is not core to the faith as it would limit access to God’s word). – Colin
- I suppose sola scriptura means that every spiritual idea that I take in must line up with the Bible (and make sense according to the verse(s) used to back it up) or it’s not really true. So I suppose while the phrase may not be in the Bible, the indication and acceptance of the Bible as our measuring stick is. We all need something we can line up the things we hear with, to determine if they’re true. – Rachel
- while I have an extraordinarily high view of Scripture, my Christology is even higher – it is, after all, Christ who is God – not Scripture… To me this means we must not say that God has said everything that God intends to say to humanity in Scripture (although we can affirm that everything in Scripture IS something God intended to say to humanity) – to do so would be to put Scripture on the same level as Christ Himself thus ascribing salvific power to Scripture itself, which I think would be a mistake… That being said, I do also believe that the Word of God (Christ Himself) is present in the words of Scripture… I tend to look at Scripture as the Ark of the New Covenant. Just as it is Christ’s sacramental presence in the Bread and Wine during the Eucharist that makes it a communication of grace to human beings, Scripture also contains within itself “all matters of doctrine necessary unto salvation”. – Jim
- I don’t like the phrase Sola Scriptura, because I don’t believe that Scripture can rightly be understood apart from Holy Tradition, the proclamation of the gospel made by the Church always, everywhere, and by all. While I believe that we should not hold up articles of faith that can not be traced to the Scriptures, I also believe that those Scriptures must always be read in light of Tradition as defined in Vincent’s canon. – Brian
- Sola scriptura, to me, means the idea that God can speak to me personally through scripture. I don’t need a priest to interpret it for me, but under God’s guidance I can read and understand it for myself. The principles of scripture should govern our leaders in the faith, and if they do not we should question their leadership. Finally, it means that scripture is the very word of God. This means we should take the Bible *seriously*. – Ben
The Canon of St. Vincent is a very interesting document. It identifies two sources of authority: first the Bible, and second, the witness of Tradition. The purpose of Tradition is to combat the tendency of individuals to come up with unique interpretations (Vincent names a number of heretics as examples of this). Then he moves on to point out that if the universal Church agrees on a point of doctrine, then it is a good and reliable witness. The same goes for looking at the Early Church writings to balance out modern-day teachings. But all this is a matter of how to interpret what the Bible says correctly. So while Early Church stuff like this spends a lot of time talking about Tradition and universal witness, it’s doing so as the instrument for upholding the primacy of the scriptures. So perhaps we could call this approach prima scriptura (scripture first).
Let us also look at what the Bible has to say about how it’s to be read.
Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
– 2 Timothy 4:2-5
Elsewhere, Paul reminded Timothy of his ordination by himself and other elders, and these verses elaborate the teaching aspect of Timothy’s ministry. “Preach the word” is the basic summary. To Paul, “the word” is almost undoubtedly the Scriptures, so a Biblical basis is the key to continued apostolic teaching. False doctrines are expected to arise, and thus Biblical-Apostolic teaching are given to combat these. In other words, there is a biblical precedent for scripture as the primary source of authority and having official teachers to make sure it is taught accurately.
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.
– 2 Timothy 3:14-15
This is the strongest statement, I think, that we can find in the Bible about its own authority. Granted, the Scriptures to which Paul is referring is arguably just the Old Testament, but Peter clearly affirms that Paul’s letters are also considerable as Scripture. So there’s no reason to discern between the OT and the NT with regards to authority anymore. But even still, the authority the Bible attributes to itself is simply that which makes us wise towards salvation. To state this another way, the Bible on its own must, therefore, contain all that is necessary for salvation. Beyond that, it does not promise to be a complete source of information for theology, nor does it restrict us to limit the scope of our knowledge to what the Bible addresses specifically, but it does uphold the Bible as the basic underlying requirement for Christian belief.
To sum this up, it seems right to uphold the concept of sola scriptura, understanding that it means that Scripture alone is required. But it does not mean that Scripture is the only source of authority. It is the primary source of authority for all Christian doctrine, tempered by the witness of Christian Tradition. And the Bible is a sufficient source for our knowledge of salvation. Thus, I recognize that the phrase sola scriptura may be good to step away from, because it has been misconstrued by so many people in the past couple centuries. So for now, I think I’ll define my position on this matter as prima scriptura, Scripture first. Sola Scriptura I will reserve for the more specific nuance of knowledge of salvation.