10 Arguments Against Sola Scriptura
Before we make arguments refuting Sola Scriptura, it would be best to define it as many people have defined it in different ways. We are going to use the definition given by Wikipedia
Sola Scriptura (Latin ablative, “by Scripture alone”) is the Protestant Christian doctrine that the Bible is the supreme authority in all matters of doctrine and practice. Sola scriptura does not deny that other authorities govern Christian life and devotion, but sees them all as subordinate to and corrected by the written word of God. It was a foundational doctrinal principle of the Protestant Reformation held by the Reformers, who taught that authentication of Scripture is governed by the discernible excellence of the text as well as the personal witness of the Holy Spirit to the heart of each man. Scripture is self-authentication, clear to the rational reader, it own interpreter, and sufficient of itself to be the final authority of Christian doctrine.
We can go in more depth of what Sola scriptura means, who and how it was developed, but this is a good starting point.
Now on to the 10 arguments against Sola scriptura:
- The Bible contains much information on Scared Tradition – Scripture is unique, but it refers to an authoritative apostolic tradition apart from itself.
When Paul spoke of receiving and delivering such traditions, he gave no indication that they were fallible or that he questioned any of them because they came through oral transmission rather than the written word. Thus, he appears to take for granted that which many Protestants have the hardest time grasping and accepting.
- 1 Corinthians 11:2 –
I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you.
- 2 Thessalonians 2:15 –
So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.
- 2 Thessalonians 3:6 –
Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.
- 2 Peter 2:21 –
For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.
- 1 Corinthians 11:2 –
- In the Bible, good (apostolic) Tradition is contrasted with bad traditions of men – The bottom (biblical) line is not “tradition versus no tradition,” but rather, “true apostolic tradition versus false traditions of men.” The Bible often expressly distinguishes between the 2. To help see this I will bold true tradition and italicize false tradition.
- Matthew 15:3 –
He answered them, “And why do you transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?”
- Matthew 15:6 –
So, for the sake of your tradition, you have made void the word of God.
- Matthew 15:9 –
In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”
- Matthew 16:23 –
But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men” (cf. Mark 8:33).
- Mark 7:8-9, 13 –
“You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God, in order to keep your tradition!… thus making void the word of God through your tradition which you hand on.”
- 1 Corinthians 2:13 –
And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit.
- Galatians 1:9-12 –
As we have said before, so now I say again, If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed. Am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ. For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
- Colossians 2:8 –
See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.
- 1 Thessalonians 2:13 –
And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.
- 1 Timothy 4:1, 6-7 –
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons … If you put these instructions before the brethren, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the good doctrine which you have followed. Have nothing to do with godless and silly myths. Train yourself in godliness.
- Matthew 15:3 –
- Peter exercises apostolic authority in Acts Chapter 2:
In his sermon in the upper room (Acts 2) and in other recorded sermons, St. Peter gives an authoritative New Covenant interpretation of salvation history, interpreting the Old Testament messianically and “Christianly.” It was binding and equally authoritative and inspired before it became “inscripturated” because it was from an apostle. Throughout the book of Acts we see Peter and Paul exercising apostolic authority and preaching—not merely handing out Bibles or mouthing (Old Testament) Scripture.
- The Bible explicitly teaches about a true and unchangeable apostolic Tradition. Tradition, like the Bible or the Word of God, is presented as immutable in Scripture: delivered “once for all” to the saints. This preached gospel stood forever as truth before it was ever encapsulated in the Bible
- Acts 2:42 –
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
- Jude 3 –
I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.
- Acts 2:42 –
- Tradition is an inevitable reality for all Christians.
It should be noted that all Christian groups have some traditions, whether or not they acknowledge it. (Sola scriptura is one of them.) If a Calvinist, for example, were to start interpreting certain Scripture passages about falling away from grace and from the faith as suggesting something other than perseverance of the saints or eternal security, he would be suspect in the eyes of his Calvinist comrades. He would not be allowed to interpret the Bible in such a way within his circle of fellow Calvinist believers—sola scriptura or no, perspicuity of Scripture or no, supremacy of conscience and private judgment or no. Thus, there is a limit to how far a Calvinist can go in interpreting Scripture, and that limit is set by Calvinist tradition.
If a Lutheran (Missouri Synod) pastor started asserting that the Eucharist and baptism were purely symbolic, he would be in big trouble, since confessional, orthodox Lutheranism holds to the Real Presence—consubstantiation—and baptismal regeneration. If a Baptist pastor or theologian adopted a belief in infant baptism, he would be told that he doesn’t see the clear evidence of Scripture for an adult, believer’s baptism, and would probably soon be out of a job—and so on.
The Catholic Church, too, has parameters of orthodoxy beyond which a Catholic may not go. There may be relatively more of these, but the restrictions are not different in kind from Protestant restrictions on dogma, hermeneutics, and exegesis. Thus, all Christian groups, not just the Catholic Church, employ tradition to shape and curb the way their followers interpret Scripture.
- “Not in the Bible” does NOT mean “anti-biblical”
That a tradition is extra-biblical does not mean that it is non-biblical or unbiblical or contrary to the Bible. It simply means that it is not explicitly contained within the letter of the Bible, though it might well be in harmony with it. But a certain kind of Protestant hears “extra-biblical” and immediately equates that with “fallible traditions of men that are obviously contrary to Scripture.” And yet it is this idea that is contrary to Scripture, not the notion of tradition per se.
It is absurd to presume that because a particular oral or Church tradition is not explicitly taught in the Bible it is false, and that the apostles intended for all Christian teaching after their deaths to be located in the written word of the Bible alone. It is the fallacy of “argument from silence”—asserting a conclusion based on lack of evidence to the contrary. It is also self-defeating, for if sola scriptura were true, it would have to be explicitly spelled out in Scripture itself. Yet it is not.
- Covenants and Sacred Tradition are perpetually binding.
The ancient Jews had the Mosaic Law and the Davidic Covenant: a clear, identifiable tradition that didn’t change when corruption occurred, as it did cyclically. They kept discovering the Law and their God again and again, and (in their better moments) cooperated with God’s revival of their hearts and behavior. Corruption didn’t wipe out the Law anymore than David’s sin wiped out the Davidic Covenant, or Paul’s or Moses’ or Peter’s sin made them incapable of writing inspired Scripture and being leaders of their people.
- Apostolic Tradition is in harmony with Scripture.
The apostolic deposit—the body of theological and moral doctrine received from Jesus, passed on to the apostles, and passed down by them—is not “secondary” material. It expands upon what we know from Scripture, and though it is not inspired like the Bible, its truths are every bit as revealed and infallible.
Truth doesn’t have to be in the Bible to be authoritative (see biblical references to teachings and acts not recorded: Matt. 13:3; Mark 4:2, 33; 6:34; Luke 11:53; 24:15–16, 25–27; John 16:12; 20:30; 21:25; Acts 1:2–3). It has to be apostolic and to have always been held implicitly or explicitly by the Church universal:
Jude 3: I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.
What is apostolic will always be harmonious with biblical teachings, since the truths Jesus taught the apostles and the truths recorded in Scripture proceed from the same body of God’s revelation.
- Authoritative interpretation of the Law was required in ancient Israel.
Moses certainly gave definitive interpretation of doctrine, as did the priesthood in Israel. What they read from “the book” did not interpret itself.
Nehemiah 8:7–8: Also Jesh’ua, Bani, Sherebi’ah, Jamin, Akkub, Shab’bethai, Hodi’ah, Ma-asei’ah, Keli’ta, Azari’ah, Jo’zabad, Hanan, Pelai’ah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the law, while the people remained in their places. And they read from the book, from the law of God, clearly; and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
- In Scripture, the infallible nature of Pauline tradition is taken for granted.
Paul assumed that his passed-down tradition was binding and therefore infallible. Were Paul not assuming that, he would have been commanding his followers to adhere to a mistaken doctrine.
2 Thessalonians 3:14: If any one refuses to obey what we say in this letter, note that man, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.
Romans 16:17: Take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them.
10 Arguments against Sola Scriptura! There are many more that we didn’t point out. In fact, Dave Armstrong and Catholic Answers Press gives 90 more arguments in the book, “100 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura“. You can buy that book here to read all 100!