Crossfunction: January 2011

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Is "sola scriptura" scriptural?

A friend wrote me last week in favor of the doctrine of sola scriptura, held by many (if not most) Protestants.  Sola scriptura is the belief that the Bible contains everything we need to know, for the purpose of salvation and holiness.  My friend wrote:

I recently came across a verse that makes the case for Sola scriptura pretty plain.  "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:16-17

I really don't see how this could be taken any way other than the scriptures provide all you need.

-Ian K., letter of January 18, 2011 (reprinted with permission)

Ian, I appreciate and share Your love for Scripture as the written Word of God.  It's a measureless treasure of God's revelation to us, and it deserves not only our love, but our respect and study.  It's terribly important that we "rightly divide" the word of truth.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 is perhaps the most commonly cited passage in defense of sola scriptura.  However, a careful reading of the passage reveals that it does not in fact support the belief.  Let's take a look:

All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
-2 Timothy 3:16-17 RSV
Is "profitable" sufficient?

In this passage the Greek word translated as "profitable" is "ƍphelimos".  Strong's Concordance translates this as "profitable".  Notice that Strong's does not translate this as "sufficient".  There are other Greek words in the New Testament which are translated "sufficient", but not this one.  Some other translations of this passage use the words, "valuable" or "useful", but not "sufficient".

There's an important difference between profitable and sufficient.  Something that is sufficient means nothing more is needed.  Something that is profitable or useful is helpful, potentially even necessary, but You may need other things in addition to achieve Your goal.  If You're going to hike across a desert, a good supply of water is going to be very valuable -perhaps necessary- to You.  A map and a GPS unit could be very useful as well.  But as useful as water, a map, and GPS unit may be, they may not be sufficient.  You may need to bring food as well. You may need sunglasses, a hat, and proper clothing.

My point is that this passage from 2 Timothy stresses that Scripture has great value to us.  It can teach us, correct us, and train us for good works.  But Timothy certainly does not say we need nothing else.  In fact, it positively teaches that there are other things that we do need.

"...complete, equipped for every good work"
You may point that Timothy does say that Scripture makes us "complete, equipped for every good work".  But Timothy does not actually say that.  He does not say that Scripture itself will make us complete.  Briefly, the passage simply says that Scripture is inspired and very useful toward the goal of helping us become trained and fully equipped for every good work.  But salvation is more than our good works.

This passage doesn't mention faith.  Is faith not needed?  It doesn't mention love.  Is love not required?  It doesn't mention repenting of our sins, or picking up our cross, or confessing Jesus Christ as our savior.  Are these not required?  2 Timothy doesn't address every thing of importance to believers, but this doesn't mean that these things aren't needed.

Further, Scripture clearly teaches things that blow sola scriptura out of the water entirely.  This is because Scripture clearly teaches things rejected by protestant theology. For example, Jesus has given His apostles and their successors certain specific powers: the power to interpret Scripture in a binding manner; the existence and necessity of apostolic tradition; the power to absolve from sin; the power to appoint other men to the apostolic ministry; the power to celebrate the Eucharist and other sacraments... and more. 

In particular, sola scriptura is completely at odds with Scripture because Scripture affirms that the apostles have handed down a body of teaching that is not explicitly and completely contained within Scripture, but which is necessary for us to properly understand and interpret Scripture.  There are a number of passages that clearly prove this, but I'll wrap up this letter with just these two from Paul:
"I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you." -1 Corinthians 11:2 RSV

"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 2:15 RSV

Ian, there's more scriptural evidence that shows sola scriptura to be a false teaching, but perhaps You can already see that the teaching is non-scriptural.

What do You think?