Sola Scriptura

Dear hijas,

In keeping with this series on the differences between Protestants and Catholics then, let’s focus on this first sola, sola scriptura, or Scripture Alone. What is meant to be conveyed by this Latin phrase? We have to remember that these five sola’s are a summary of basic theological beliefs and emerged as a reaction to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church at the time. The five sola’s state five fundamental beliefs; strengths which the Reformers through their writings believed to be essentials of Christian life and practice. Implicitly rejecting or countering the teachings of the then-dominant Roman Catholic Church, of which the Reformers claimed had usurped divine attributes or qualities for the Church and its hierarchy ( especially its head, the Pope), all five sola’s need to be considered. We need also remember that these differences remain, and are just as important today as they were when they were first formulated.

So, what are Protestants protesting anyway?

One of the fundamental differences has to do with how we look at Scripture. The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) Chapter 1.2 says concerning all the books of the Old and New Testament:

‘All (of) which are given by inspiration of God to be the rule of faith and life.’

The issue is the sufficiency and authority of Scripture; that Scripture alone is the standard by which all Christian thought and behavior should be measured; that it alone is the sole source of God’s special revelation to mankind.

The WCF further states (Chap. 1.4):

‘The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not on the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God’ (See 1 John 5:9, 1 Thess. 2:13, 2 Tim. 3:16 and 2 Pet. 1: 19-21).

Catholics, on the other hand, reject the doctrine of sola scriptura, and don’t believe that Scripture alone is sufficient. They teach that both Scripture and Roman Catholic tradition are equally binding upon the Christian. Their insistence that both Scripture and sacred tradition are equal in authority undermine the sufficiency, authority, and completeness of Scripture. Their belief, for example, that the Pope as the Vicar of Christ (a vicar is an ‘earthly representative of God or Christ’), can speak ex cathedra (literally, ‘from the chair’) means that in matters of faith and practice when the Pope speaks on these issues, his teachings are infallible and binding upon all Christians. It is called the doctrine of  ‘Papal Infalliblity’ in Roman Catholicism, the “chair” referred to is not a literal chair, but refers metaphorically to the Pope’s position, or office, as the official teacher of Catholic doctrine.

Can you see a problem here? What happens if the Pope is wrong, or if one Pope 500 years ago said one thing, and the current Pope says something completely contrary? Which Pope is one to believe? There is an intrinsic confusion that arises from vesting authority (the authority of interpreting Scripture as infallible and binding upon all Christians) in one person or office. The Protestant Reformers saw this as a huge problem.

In contrast, Protestants believe that spiritual power and authority does not rest in the hands of a mere man or of his office, but in the very Word of God itself, to wit, sola scriptura. While Catholicism teaches that only the Catholic Church can properly, rightly, and correctly interpret Scripture, Protestants believe that Scripture itself teaches that God sent the Holy Spirit to indwell all born-again believers, enabling each of us to understand the message of Scripture (see John 16: 13-14, John 14:16-17, 14:26, 1 John 2: 20, 27). Protestants acknowledge the Scriptural doctrine of the priesthood of all believers (1 Pet. 2: 5, 9), enabling all believers to trust the Holy Spirit for guidance in reading, interpreting, and applying Scripture for themselves.

Many, I dare say, have said that the view of Scripture is at the root of many, if not all, of the differences between Protestants and Catholics.

With love, I remain,

Dear ol’ Dad

Vaya con Dios mis hijas

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4 thoughts on “Sola Scriptura”

  1. Hey Dad,
    So what if the defense that Catholics make is that the Pope (since he is the earthly representation for God) receives instructions from God telling them what to do? (Like the prophets in the old testastment who were told to engage in war and similar to this how different prophets have received seemingly contradictory instructions from God over time in the bible)? i.e. Peter being able to eat all animals instead of the “clean” ones. Have there been examples in history of popes contradicting one another? I guess the crusades is an example. Has there been a recent example of a pope inplementing this “ex cathedra”? Don’t know if that all makes sense. Let me know if it doesn’t!

    1. Dear hija,
      There are a number of assumptions in your question mi hija. For one, you are assuming the Catholic position that the Pope is the earthly representative of God. This is an assumption and is based on an incorrect interpretation of Scripture. Two, the Bible has a clear, concise, and uniform message from beginning to end. You would have to point out a specific instance in Scripture where one prophet contradicts another; I don’t see any. The example with Peter refers to the Old Covenant versus New Covenant. Jesus’ payment on the Cross initiated the New Covenant and the Old was abolished. Peter was still thinking and acting under the Old Covenant laws, and Jesus was reminding him that He had instituted a New Covenant, whereby all animals could be eaten and were clean.

      As to examples of Popes contradicting one another, there are many. And this goes to the heart of the problem of ‘assuming’ any man or woman, such as a Pope, is the one and only earthly representative of Christ on earth. It is a false assumption and not supported in Scripture.

      I encourage you to read some of the articles on the CARM website: http://www.carm.org, especially the series of articles on Roman Catholicism.

      Love,
      Dad

  2. Additionally, what about the extra books in the bible that the Catholics have? Why does the protestant bible not have them and what is the rationale/evidence behind that?

    1. Dear hija,

      I can say it no better than others to this question. Please see and study these links.

      http://carm.org/why-apocrypha-not-in-bible
      http://carm.org/apocrypha-it-scripture

      The Apocryphal books have never been seen as ‘inspired’ by the Protestant Church. The reasons are manifold. See the links. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be read for informational purposes. I think they can and should be read for this purpose, but because they are not ‘inspired’ should be read with that in mind and compared against the books that have been canonized by the Protestant Church; the 66 books that are currently part of our Bibles.

      Love,
      Dad

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