Sola Scriptura – Is it Self-Defeating? by Justin Day
February 26, 2009, 8:00 am
Filed under: Thought Initiative


by Justin Day

So you’re sitting there in English class waiting for class to start. Sitting there all by your lonesome, you just happen to hear a conversation taking place beside you. “Well that might be true for you,” he says, “but it’s not for me. There is no such thing as absolute truth.”  Did you catch what was just said?

Our postmodern friend just said that it’s objectively true that there are no objective truths.  Hmm…It seems like his argument is self-defeating. It cannot even keep its own standards. As Christians we can humbly disregard such nonsense as postmodern gibberish, but do we commit the same fallacy of holding a self-defeating belief?

Sola Scriptura, one of the main proclamations of the Reformation, teaches that all authority in forming doctrine is given (in totality) to Holy Scripture. We form and understand church doctrine by the Bible and the Bible alone.

My question is this, does the Bible teach that we should follow Sola Scriptura? If it does not, then Sola Scriptura is self-defeating because it does not meet its own standards. If it is not explicitly found in scripture, then we have formed this doctrine by reason, and have abandoned our “Bible alone” philosophy.

(1) Is Sola Scriptura self-defeating?

(2) If yes, does it matter? If no, where is it found in scripture?


44 Comments so far
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“Sola Scriptura, one of the main proclamations of the Reformation, teaches that all authority in forming doctrine is given (in totality) to Holy Scripture. We form and understand church doctrine by the Bible and the Bible alone.”

That’s actually nuda scriptura… sola scripture holds that the FINAL authority is Scripture – Sola Scriptura isn’t a matter of sole authority. It leaves room for subordinate authorities such as teachers, etc. who are given authority and are instrumental in formulating doctrine based on Scripture.

Sola scriptura holds that the Scriptures are the only infallible source of truth. There is a difference between authority and truthfulness, and there might be some confusion of categories at this point. The Scriptures are authoritative because they are the only infallible source of truth. Teachers are authoritative insofar as they are truthful, which means that they have to rest in their authority on the only infallible source of truth. It is the truthfulness of the Scriptures that is important here, and their authority is inseparable from their truthfulness. Indeed, if they weren’t truthful, then they wouldn’t be from God.

“”“If it ain’t in the Bible, I don’t believe it.” Have you ever heard said that? How about this one: “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” You might have that bumper sticker. Why not? Doesn’t this represent the glory of the Protestant Reformation’s elevation of Scripture to a position of the sole source of authority in the Christian’s life? Don’t these pithy statements represent the best of what it means to adhere to the doctrine of sola Scriptura? No, they don’t. In fact they unfortunately represent a common misunderstanding of what sola Scriptura means.”

Sola Scriptura: “Belief that Scripture is the final and only infallible authority for the Christian in all matters of faith and practice. While there are other authorities, they are always fallible and the must always be tested by and submit to the Scriptures.”

Solo Scriptura or Nuda Scriptura: “Belief that Scripture is the sole basis and authority in the life of the Christian. Tradition is useless and misleading, and creeds and confessions are the result of man-made traditions.”

Comment by Mike J

“If it is not explicitly found in scripture”

We might add that we believe things that are implicit in Scripture as well. Even if sola scriptura were merely implicit we could still believe it.


WCF 1.4 The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon 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 as the Word of God.(1)

(1) 2 Pet. 1:19,21; 2 Tim. 3:16; 1 John 5:9; 1 Thess. 2:13.

WCF 1.6 The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.(1) Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the word;(2) and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the word, which are always to be observed.(3)

(1) 2 Tim. 3:15,16,17; Gal. 1:8,9; 2 Thess. 2:2.
(2) John 6:45; 1 Cor. 2:9,10,11,12.
(3) 1 Cor. 11:13,14; 1 Cor. 14:26,40.

WCF 1.7 All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all;(1) yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.(2)

(1) 2 Pet. 3:16.
(2) Ps. 119:105,130.

WCF 1.10 The supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.(1)

(1) Matt. 22:29,31; Eph. 2:20; Acts 28:25.

Comment by Mike J

Well discerned Mike.

There is a tremendous difference between Sola and Nuda Scriptura.

Most people tend to believe that scripture is the final authority, but it does not interpret itself. The art of hermenutics has been developed around such topics as the perspicuity, interpretation, and authority of scripture (amongst many other similar topics) and I think that it is a necessary art. I also think that it is biblical to submit oneself to the authority of leaders that God has placed in our lives. Therefore, whereas scripture is the final authority, there are other lesser authorities placed in our lives to help is in loving God more and living out the Christian life.

In the process of reading your article, I do want to criticize your usage of the Westminster Confession of Faith as it comes off as proof texting. If you really want to dive deeper into the issues check out “Disputations on Holy Scripture,” by William Whittaker. This is the guy from which the WCF was written from and tends to be a nearly pan-ultimate view of this doctrine. He is one of the smartest, most scholarly men that I have ever read or even heard of. With much brotherly love and respect, if you took his ideas and applied it here, you probably would not sound like you are preaching to the choir (as that is the only audience that your argument would probably be effective with) and you probably would not be proof-texting (of which the WCF is pretty much one long series of proof-texts).

Justin: Sola Scriptura is a much larger doctrine than I think that you are making it out to be.

I am in the process of reading DHS, so I am still formulating my views. So, let me first state that I reserve the right to change my mind (as I am a sinner) and that I really do not know exactly what I am talking about. So, instead of positing a silly, or even stupid, response, I want to challenge this both you and blog’s reader with some ideas concerning scripture because I think that people take an enormous amount of doctrine concerning scripture for granted. Whittaker structures his book like this and it leaves virtually no stone unturned:

1) On the qualia and quantity of the Canonical Books of Scripture.
2) On the authentic edition and versions of Scripture.
3) On the authority of Scripture
4) On the perspicuity of Scripture.
5) On the interpretation of Scripture.
6) On the perfection of Scripture against unwritten traditions.

First, note how large the diaspora is that is Sola Scriptura with all of which being derived from each other. The question that you are positing is very difficult to answer in the course of a blog, much less in a mere comment. It is easy for one to proof-text one’s way through various theological doctrines and to oversimplify things, but, it is another to actually study it and to understand what scripture actually has to say about it. So, Justin, as an introduction to Sola Scriptura, here are some of the outlying questions of the doctrine the think about:

1) Which versions/editions of scripture are authentic? Why?
2) From where and from whom is the authority of scripture derived? To what degree is that authority? Why?
3) Who is fit to read scripture and is it understandable? Why?
4) How does one interpret scripture? Why?

In Love,

Jonathan Kelfer

Comment by Jonathan Kelfer

“In the process of reading your article, I do want to criticize your usage of the Westminster Confession of Faith as it comes off as proof texting. If you really want to dive deeper into the issues check out “Disputations on Holy Scripture,” by William Whittaker. This is the guy from which the WCF was written from and tends to be a nearly pan-ultimate view of this doctrine. ”

I think you missed my point. The “proof-texting” from the confession isn’t to prove the doctrine of sola scriptura. I’d go directly to the Scriptures for that. I wasn’t trying to dive deeper into the BASIS for sola scriptura in those posts, but rather to get to the point where the issue is reframed so that, if some wish, they could do just that – so your implication that my treatment is shallow misses the mark.

The reason I cited WCF was to show the principle difference between sola/nuda scriptura from a Reformed confession. My citation is aimed more at addressing the connection between what is really nuda scriptura and the Reformation made in the statement, “… main proclamations of the Reformation …” Thus my interest in citing is historical, not to prove the doctrine. Just to show the historical misstep in a quick way.

I don’t, btw, subscribe to the WCF in full. I’m a baptist.

Comment by Mike J

I re-read my post and I can see where the confusion could have come in… I can see how my statement “We might add that we believe things that are implicit in Scripture as well. Even if sola scriptura were merely implicit we could still believe it,” could lead a reader to think that I was going into the basis for sola scriptura, when I was actually making a side comment related to the definition of sola scriptura again, when contrasted with nuda scriptura.

My apologies for not being clear.

Comment by Mike J

Well said friend.

I indeed missed your intention, it could have been due to the duel postings, but I did not clearly get that impression from your post. I am glad that you provided the historical context for the doctrine. Next time, you may want to state your intentions so that they are not misinterpreted by silly people like me.

Thanks for posting and I look forward to more from you!

Comment by Jonathan Kelfer

Hey guys, thanks for the comments.

Although you both articulated your views well, I don’t really see a difference between “nuda” and “sola” in the “long run”. In the end, they’re both going to reach the same conclusion. Whatever opinion we reach by reason or tradition must be thrown away if it does not jive with how we interpret scripture. This would be the long run game I’m speaking about.

Believers in sola scriptura might use the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed, but they are really only summaries of doctrine. It has the same authority, in the long run, as any book written by any theologian or pastor. Which, in the long run, is nil.

Whichever version you believe, I don’t really thing it matter in the least to the thesis of my post. If sola scriptura is not taught in scripture, then it is self-defeating. Because you are forming the doctrine with human reason and not letting the Bible (which has “final” authority) speak for itself. Or in other words, God never wrote anything about sola scriptura in the Bible and protestants (myself included) are just making it up.

I looked at the scripture used in the WCF and it was nowhere near close to establishing sola scriptura. If you think I’m wrong then please show me, but I think protestants have made a big error here.

Comment by Justin Day

Hey guys, thanks for posting, but I will have to admit, most of it went over my head, lol. Apparently I am not as smart as I once thought. Uhh…but I will give a stab at it by calling attention to specifically how Jesus and the writers treated scripture to give a reasonable basis for the sola scriptura doctrine, or should I say ideal.

I don’t think that sola scriptura is “self-defeating.” Does the phrase actually undermine itself? I don’t know for sure, I am not a philosophy major. I would agree that I can’t recall anywhere in the bible that is says, directly, that it is the final authority. So credit given.

First, Jesus regarded the scriptures, essentially, as the final authority on all things fulfillment during his ministry.

***Matthew 26:56 “But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.”

***Mark 12:24 “Jesus said to them, ‘Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?”
[Jesus, seems to be making a connection here]

***Mark 14:49 “But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.”
[May I recount that Christ asserted two main things through out his trials: 1) let Scripture be fulfilled. 2)Let the Father’s will be done and not his fleshly will.]

***Luke 22:37 Jesus says, “For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me”
[Again Jesus making another connection to himself as the perfecter and fulfiller of scripture, essentially the power of Scripture is found within Christ himself.]

***Luke 24:45 “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures…”
[Context: Jesus sending the disciples out preach the gospel. Two things are given the disciples 1)The Holy Spirit as helper 2)Understanding of the Scriptures]

***John 7:38 “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
[These words from Jesus, seem to also sum up Scriptures authority pretty well. Even Jesus accredited the promise to Scripture.”]

***Matthew 7:29 “for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” [Christ had authority]

As we can quickly begin to see, Scripture carries a lot of weight with it in our bible. I specifically tried to stay with Jesus’ understanding and sayings about scripture, because I truly think we all would agree that God would count as the final authority on things. Jesus constantly pointed people to the scriptures, because it was them that He came to fulfill, nothing else, and he “finished” it by the Cross, with authority.

Let’s take it one more step, really quick.

Christ is often referred to as the Word. And we often equate the Word, somewhat, to scripture. There is a slight mystery involved here.

***John 1:1-4 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”

When coupled with the following verses,these become one of my favorite scripture trios….

***2 Timothy 3:16 “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…”
[This verse alone has some heavy weight that I would say contends and champions “sola scriptura.”]

***Isaiah 55:11 “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which i purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

Between John, 2 Timothy, and Isaiah we see that Christ is the Word, God has revealed himself to us through Christ, i.e. the Word, through scripture. We follow that with the understanding that scripture is profitable and it is good for reproof and correction, not our understanding. And then in Isaiah we find that the words of God (scripture is the word of God and is breathed out by him–2 Tim.) go out and do not return void. His words accomplish.

If you take that trio and line them up with the fact that Jesus regarded scripture highly, considered them worthy of fulfillment, and Jesus had authority himself, I think we have a pretty strong basis for the final authority of scripture. Yes, it is not necessarily stated “directly,” but more importantly, it is stated powerfully. Scripture is the living, breathed word of God, it is Christ revealed, I think “sola scriptura” does a good job at summarizing and defining the role of scripture. Perhaps, though, sola scriptura was really meant to be understood together with, and not separate from, the other solas:

Sola Scriptura
Sola fide
Sola gratia
Solus Christus
Soli Deo gloria

I would have to disagree with you Justin, I don’t think protestants made a big error. I think Luther was making a resolve not to separate from the very power of God. The gospel is found within the Scripture texts, and as Romans 1:16 puts it, “the gospel is the power of God to save.” If you ask me, scripture does prove itself authoritative, but it must be looked at in whole.

Comment by Tyler Thayer

I tend to take scripture as the one and only rule for faith. I think the doctrine of being bound to our consciences when it comes to interpretation of the Bible is also relevant. It is spelled out in WCF to. Furthermore, it falls within Romans 14. The matter about vegetables vs. meat is no small one either for Judiazers. (It is actually a question about following OT law that is thinly veiled.)

Second, there are no other authorities (not even church leaders.) when they act outside of the Bible’s authority. Christian unity isn’t based on eclessiology but freedom. Our unity is based on the spirit. It flows from charity towards others. It also gives up rights and disagreements for one another to.

Comment by Dave M

I know it is a little postmodern but contrary practices glorify God as in Romans 14. The faith we hold, we hold with God as someone who will give an account. I think Christian liberty and practice may be postmodern to some degree, even if the absolute truth isn’t.

Comment by Dave M

To bring it full circle, I don’t think we can reach truth unaided. Total depravity says this much. Furthermore, all doctrines of men will have a mixture of truth and error. To think other wise is pride. It must be the Spirit that enlightens our hearts to truth or we will not have a foundation to believe in the necessary absolute truths for salvation. Neocalvinists Unite.

Comment by Dave M

Isn’t the context of the “solas” critical here? The reformers were stating their position… especially in light of the Roman Catholic traditions. By claiming that all authority for my faith and practice are based on scripture does not negate sola scriptura… it simply draws the line. You cannot remove the solas from context. They were proclaiming truth that scripture is the “only” source that true salvation and Christian doctrine could flow from. It was intended for those who disagreed, namely the Roman Catholic Church.

Technically though… sola scriptura is neither supported nor denied by scripture.

My humbler perspective…

Comment by Norm

P.S. Thanks for this blog. I have enjoyed most of your perspectives and I admire the deeper thinking I see going on here. My buddy Trump pointed me to this fellowship of men. It is yet another avenue of blessing through CCK for me and ultimately my family. Speak on men!

BTW… appropriate that I mispelled “humble” on my first post here.

Comment by Norm

I love the Trump family! I used to be in their CareGroup 2 years ago.

Comment by Tyler Thayer

Great scriptures and nice use of the WCF. This reminded me of question I had in college so I searched through my homework (gotta love googledocs) and found the question. It doesn’t necessarily answer your question directly, but it does, imho, add a little to the conversation:

4. Does the Bible teach that it is itself inerrant or infallible? Where? How important is this doctrine? What would be lost if the Bible were merely reliable in general but not infallible?

Working backwards through this question one can logically derive that nothing is lost if the Bible is considered to be reliable in general and indeed the “Classical Method” for establishing it as infallible rests on that premise. On the basis of its trustworthiness, there is sufficient evidence to believe confidently that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Jesus Christ being the Son of God is an infallible authority. He teaches that Scripture is more than generally reliable but that it is the very Word of God. Because the word comes from God it is utterly trustworthy because God is utterly trustworthy. The church believes the Bible is utterly trustworthy or infallible based on the infallible authority of Jesus Christ.

This is an important doctrine for if denied several problems arise. If we deny inerrancy we must wonder if we can really trust anything God says, and we must also use our own judgment as to what is trustworthy and what isn’t, making our intellect and reason the standard of truth rather than God’s Word.

I actually prefer the “Presuppositional Method” that starts with the premise that the Bible is the infallible Word of God and moves to the same conclusion based the Bible’s self-attestation to its own infallibility (the self-attestation of Scripture being an infallible attestation). This self-attestation can be found throughout the Bible but is perhaps most clearly demonstrated in 2 Timothy 3:16 – “All Scripture is breathed out by God…”

Comment by Bill S

Well said Bill! I am in total agreement, especially with the application of Presuppositional Appologetics to the situation (although I do not think that it is appropriate for all or even most of the other applications that it is used for).

Concerning Sola vs Nuda Scriptura, a large difference is also yielded, both in the short and long term. Historically, the difference can be seen in the difference between the Emergent (who more often than not subscribes to this doctrine) and the majority of the Reformed traditions. The main difference is that Sola Scriptura allows teachers, pastors, and older men/women to have some kind of authority above you (as well as government) whereas Nuda Scriptura typically does not allow for such. Nuda Scriptura tends to leave a Christian on an doctrinal and spiritual island and often leans towards the bent to ignore wise council and wise people simply because they are not God or scripture. It can make a very large difference.

I think that Sola Scriptura is supported by scripture, but I am not smart enough to articulate that at this point in my life either intelligently or concisely. Regardless, one cannot lean on doctrine to protect themselves from sinning, that is what the Gospel and God’s grace and mercy are for. In the end, one has to simply have faith in God that He is who He says He is, that Scripture is the Word of God, and that His Word will never return void.

Comment by Jonathan Kelfer

However you come to that conclusion is up to you. To God be all the glory!

Comment by Jonathan Kelfer


It appears we have fundamentally different foundations. So here are some questions for which I need answers from you if we are to continue any discussion…

i) What is your alternative to Scripture as the final authority and the only infallible source of truth?

ii) Why do you think there is a dichotomy between human reason and Scripture? How do you define ‘human reason’? Is this a Cartesian foundationalism? Some other foundationalism? Logical positivism? The laws of logic? …

iii) What is the difference between the ‘short run’ and the ‘long run’? Does the authority of a truthful document have a half life?

Comment by Mike J

Since you don’t really know me personally MikeJ, let me just say a few things to preface my comment. My job on this blog is just to initiate a thought and spur discussion about that thought. I’m often sympathetic to the views that I advocate on the blog, but that doesn’t mean that I actually accept the views.

I’m a Calvinist Protestant who is trying to use his college years to figure out what he believes and why he believes it. I’m currently corresponding with a lot of smart Arminian Protestants and Roman Catholics who are challenging my views and making me rethink my positions. A lot of the things I post on this blog are just topics that I’m currently thinking about. I usually do this to see what other Christians, who I might not get to talk to in another setting, think about the topic.

Now to your comment:
(1) I don’t really have an alternative. My view is this: There are 3 authorities we should use to figure out doctrine: scripture, reason, and tradition. At the moment, I think that all 3 should be given equal authority. I know it’s hard to accomplish, but I think it’s the best way to do it. I think Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox get it wrong by promoting tradition too high over the others. Likewise, I think that many protestants get it wrong by promoting scripture so high and neglecting reason and tradition (but specifically reason).

(2) I would understand reason to be the cognitive process of trying to understand things. I’m not really certain what that has to do with foundationalism or positivism.

(3) When I say “short run” and “long run” I just mean that the means used (short run) might look different, but the conclusions (long run) will be the same.

Comment by Justin Day

And thanks for all the comments guys. There have been some really goods ones thus far.

Comment by Justin Day

My view on Scripture stems on one (two?) verse, “The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of the Lord endures forever” (Isaiah 40:8, 1 Peter 1:25). This statements is pretty straightforward, for the in verse before that, Isaiah says that man is like grass. With that, I think both our reason and our tradition stem from Scripture. If our reason and our tradition are not based in Scripture, then we are cut down like a flower (Job 14:2a, KJV). So, in essence, I believe that whether you call it Sola or Nuda Scriptura, we all have to agree that what has the last say is the Word of God, which shall never pass away (Matthew 24:35).

I think it is pretty clear Scripture says we should follow Scripture. The question is, what role should reason and tradition have?

Comment by David Wells

I would be cautious of classifying reason as an authority. Reason is faulty and it can be deceitful. I think it is helpful to practice reason, but all reason must be informed by scripture and guided by the Holy Spirit, if not, and even if it is, it can be very deceitful. Our hearts are easily deceived, and our minds will often follow our hearts, and thus I would submit that reason has a flaw based on the our human nature. However, I also think that as our hearts can be regenerated, so can our reason and cognitive abilities be redeemed.

Secondly, I would switch “tradition” with orthodoxy. The comment you made about the Catholics and Orthodoxs is because of the result of tradition. I don’t think tradition is the same as orthodoxy. Tradition is built from practice, while orthodoxy is informed and built on scripture as understood by the original authors of scripture.

Of course, we need reason to some degree to understand and work through our understanding, but as Philip 2 suggest, we must do it with fear and trembling. Key is the fear of God.

Comment by Tyler Thayer

“but neglecting specifically reason…”

Check out the former Dutch Reformed tradition, you would probably like the lineup (Brakel, Bavink, Kuyper, Vos, Van Til, Turretin, Berkhof, Van Mastricht, etc). This sect of Reformed theology partially lives on in America today (in the form of presuppositional appologetics), but actually died off due to succumbing to their bent towards rationalistic epistemic justification which eventually replaced faith in their theology.

You may enjoy reading them, I certainly am (currently reading Bavink, Brakel, and Vos)!

Comment by Jonathan Kelfer

“Likewise, I think that many protestants get it wrong by promoting scripture so high and neglecting reason and tradition (but specifically reason).”

Many of the original protestants had a Catholic education. They were well aquanted with tradition, the deutrocannon (apocrypha), and the early church fathers. I think it is largerly modern Protestants that have an issue. Protestants have as much of a claim on the early church as catholics.

Comment by Dave M

True. Luther kept a lot of the tradition found in the Catholic church. He merely placed a higher value on scripture and the faith alone aspect of salvation. But as far as his church services, he kept a lot of things, though he did write new worship songs to reflect his new found convictions.

Comment by Tyler Thayer


You stated that
“I looked at the scripture used in the WCF and it was nowhere near close to establishing sola scriptura. If you think I’m wrong then please show me, but I think protestants have made a big error here.”

But I would contend that the WCF’s use of 2 Timothy 3:16 indeed comes more than close to establishing the doctrine of Sola Scriptura as defined above. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction…” Paul and God the Holy Spirit seem to think that the writings or Scripture is partially purposed to “correct.” Does this not denote final authority?

Furthermore, doesn’t your very question negate your subsequent comment? You state that “reason” should be given equal authority with Scripture. Yet your initial question is asking for circular reasoning. One, with one’s sharp reason, could conclude that if the Bible promotes sola scriptura then the argument fails because of circular reasoning which is contra-reason and indeed a logical fallacy.

Also, I would contend that the Bible supposes that your reason is grossly marred by sin. Why would you trust your reason (or for that matter the traditions of men) as much as you trust the very Word of God?


Scott E

Comment by Scott E

Scott E, thanks for commenting.

I definitely 2 Timothy is meant to correct, but I’m not so sure that “correction” is analogous with final authority. For instance, I think my pastors, elders, conscience, and brothers and sisters in Christ can correct me in a Godly manner, but that does not give them final authority.

I would guess that 2 Timothy establishes scripture as being a pillar of authority, but I would be fairly skeptical about it establishing scripture as the final authority.

As for reason and tradition having equal authority, let me tell you how this thought even came up to me. I was approached by a Catholic and asked this: If I trust the church father’s enough to use the scripture that they put together, why would I not trust them on matters of doctrine also?

Think about that for a second, because I think it’s a pretty powerful claim. Now obviously it doesn’t establish primacy of the Pope or anything crazy like that, but it does seem to push one towards giving church tradition more authority.

We trust church tradition with the Bible. We cannot go back and check which documents were included and excluded from scripture. We just have to trust them.

This being the case, why would we trust them so deeply with forming the scripture but not doctrine? In my mind, the second you question one of them, you have to question the other almost.

I don’t know, maybe I’m completely wrong on this. What do you guys think?

Comment by Justin Day


Thank you for your prompt and candid reply. I would like to discuss some of your comments.

First, your “my pastors, elders, conscience, and brothers and sisters in Christ” can correct you because the Bible gives them authority to do so (this is particularly applicable in the case of Pastors and Elders). Their correction is appropriate becuase the Bible gives them such authority. Also, any of those can correct you in a “Godly manner” matter only as they correct you in a Biblical manner. Your contention that they can not correct you as a final authority comes quite close to proving my point. They (as part of church tradition perhaps) are not a final authority and are not on par with scripture.

Secondly, I would dare say this idea that came to you is certainly not unique to you. I have asked that same question in the past. There is, however, a foundational difference in accepting the judgment of the early church fathers as they examined and agreed as to which books would be accepted as canonical, and thinking that the church fathers “put together” the Bible. (I would suggest reading some books on this issue, perhaps “How We Got the Bible.”) Their decisions are only correct as they followed the direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit (which I find odd that you neglect to mention God the Holy Spirit in your list of authorities.)

My point is this. I believe that church tradition carries some weight of authority. I think it severly unwise to neglect or disregard the thoughts, opinions, or traditions of the church, especially the early church fathers. However, this measure of authority is not on the same plane as the Scriptures. The Bible is God’s word, not man’s words. I am also not saying to neglect to study or be well aware of biblical criticism…we should know how the Bible came to be and why some books were rejected as false and others have been accepted as divine.

Two last thoughts (and thanks for putting up with my long-windedness!)

1. When the Bible and church tradition conflict or even contradict, how should we decide what is right and wrong. If both have equal authority, they could never contradict.

2. This topic is very dangerous. I am actually shocked to read this on this particular blog. I am not saying there is no place for consideration or discussion, but this blog is read by people all over the world with varying degrees of Spiritual maturity and discernment. I know that you are a young man who is honestly seeking answers to honest questions. My humble (and unsolicited) advice is to be careful of posting such questions in this fashion when you are exploring. Think about them. Discuss with friends and Pastors. Email me if you wish (I’d be happy to discuss this at length if you’d like.) But please, consider my advice…even though you don’t know me from Adam.

Thanks again,

Scott E

Comment by Scott E


I also failed to say this. The “correction” in 2 Timothy 3 is specifically referencing the Scriptures, not conscience or others as you related to. The Holy Spirit appears to be saying through Paul, that the Bible is to be used to correct. If someone or something is wrong or is doing wrong, the Bible serves as a corrector. That is why I find authority and “final authority” readily apparent in 2 Timothy 3.

Comment by Scott E

Hey Scott, thanks for the comment. I really appreciate your input. It’s important to know how non-VFC people view it.

When you say that you don’t think this post is appropriate for the blog, what do you mean? Is it the content itself or the way that I’m presenting the content that is inappropriate?

Comment by Justin Day

First of all, be encouraged that God is at work in your life Justin. You seem to be asking appropriately hard questions and seeking the answers for the purpose of loving God more.

I do think that this post was highly inappropriate. This is not true with most of your posts, but it is for this one for severawl reasons.

1) This topic seems inappropriate due to the potential for other people to stumble due to this due to the varied viewership of the internet and varied backgrounds and maturity levels of various peoples.

2) This topic seems inapproriate considering its target audience. It is far too large/broad and too intellectually deep for a blog post followed by a series of comments to actually have a worthwhile conversation (which it really hasn’t been worthwhile unless it caused someone to worship God more, which I would tend to doubt in this case since neither God nor the Gospel were not even really mentioned except in passing). It is my understanding that this blog is meant for college-age students of all backgrounds (who speak/can read English and have access to the internet) of various backgrounds, spiritual beliefs (although this blog targets primarily Christians at VFC), and various maturity levels. This topic is for the 0.1 percent of the population that has a ph.D in Textual Critisism and Chruch History. Nobody in their right minds could even come close to answering this question or even really furthering any argument in any direction without looking either ignorant or stupidly-brave (which I volunteer to do on a regular basis :D).

3) This topic is on a VFC sanctioned blog. What is said here is representative of VFC as a whole even if it was not intended to be or even if it was not ‘officially’ endorsed by VFC (which it is endorsed by VFC to my understanding). If you tend to state that you believe something, it is very easily misunderstood that all of VFC holds your views. People outside of our church don’t know who goes to VFC or not other than you. To further this, VFC is a representative of Cornerstone Church of Knoxville, which is a representative of Sovereign Grace, which is a representative of Christ’s bridegroom, which is a representative of Christ and, ultimately, the totality of the Godhead. In light of this, if I read this topic and I was a young Christian or even an unbeliever, there is a good chance that I would be turned off immediately from VFC or anything that it was releated to. To reinforce this, how many non-Christians posted on this topic? Zero. How many non-theologically savy Christians posted on this blog? Zero. How many people advanced the argument in any given direction? Zero (both of us included).

There are many mediums of discussion, please recognize that the internet is one of the lowest forms of communication, so perhaps this would be more appropriate for a select group of friends either individually or as a small ‘discussion group.’ You can talk to most of us who posted on the blog here face-to-face and you probably have access to people that are much smarter than all of us combined.

In the end, this should be a relatively private conversation whereas you sit down and talk with people under the humble conviction that these are your views; they could be and probably are wrong; and you are seeking council and inquiry upon them to further the quality and quantity of your love for God.

To state what is worth posting (which you do well most of the time, to encourage you): The only thing worth discussing (particularly in the limited context of the internet) is something that directly encourages and points someone towards God and encourages to love God more. If you think that a post does not meet this requirement for at least 50% of the readership of this blog, then you probably should not post it. The 0.1% questions should be out of the picture in this immediate context.

I say this out of a great love for God and therefore a great love for you. Be encouraged, I enjoy reading this blog and placing my idiotic opinions therein and this post is the exception and not the rule. This is God’s work in your life to see the Gospel spread.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Comment by Jonathan Kelfer

Thanks for your thoughts, Kelfer.

Comment by Justin Day


In responding to your question to me, namely,

“Hey Scott, thanks for the comment. I really appreciate your input. It’s important to know how non-VFC people view it.

When you say that you don’t think this post is appropriate for the blog, what do you mean? Is it the content itself or the way that I’m presenting the content that is inappropriate?”

Let me answer you like this. I am not saying that your post is inappropriate. The appropriateness of the posts on this blog are not left to my discretion (I have no authority 🙂 ). I am saying that you might wish to rethink posting this type of blog on this blog. So to answer the gist of your question, my issue is with the way in which you are presenting the question. I think the question is a valid question to ask and one that all thinking Christians will probably ask…at some point.

Furthermore, my issue is not really with the question but with your assertion of your opinion answering your own question:
“There are 3 authorities we should use to figure out doctrine: scripture, reason, and tradition. At the moment, I think that all 3 should be given equal authority.”

I firmly believe that this is a dangerous opinion for you to hold to, yet I think it far more dangerous to post your opinion in (on) this blog. Again, I have no authority over this blog and, for that matter, no authority over you and you posts. I am simply pleading, as a brother in Christ, to reconsider such posts.

I also agree much with Kelfer’s most recent comment…especially his commendations regarding your maturity.

I do not wish to drag this out in a public forum, but again, would gladly discuss this with you in a more private mode if you so desire.

God bless,

Scott E

ps, I am not a VFC member (as you say), yet I am certainly a VOL and by all means I am for Christ 🙂

Comment by Scott E

Scott E,

I think Justin giving his opinion adds something. I’ve discussed things with him before and I rather greatly enjoy it. I think it is rather dangerous to interpret scripture with nothing but scripture. Justin’s 3 authorities are much more cautious and gives great checks and balances.

This doesn’t necessarily mean I agree.

Comment by James Baby

“I think it is rather dangerous to interpret scripture with nothing but scripture.”

What do you mean by that? What are the dangers?

Comment by Tyler Thayer

Here is one major worry that I have and I’ve never really seen addressed by any scholar. If you actually believe in sola scriptura, why do you not believe that the sun rises or falls or that the earth isn’t fixed in place?

I don’t find it very consistent to say that you believe in sola scriptura and believe in a heliocentric universe. I’m not aware of a reason that you should reject the belief that the sun rises and falls if you use the bible as your final authority.

And there are other things the Bible says, or doesn’t say, about nature that we know are not literal, but are something different. They might poetic or imagery from the point of view of a ancient scribe. But whatever they are, they aren’t literal and we would have no clue about that if we practiced sola scriptura consistently.

What do you think?

Comment by Justin Day

Gravity is not described in scripture, but we are certainly subject to it. For that matter, 2 plus 2 adding to 4 is not in scripture, but I trust the results. Sola scriptura, from my humble perspective, is specifically referring to Christian salvation and doctrine (aka practice). Sola scriptura was not intended to defend whether water boils at 100C or slightly below at elevations above sea level.

Call me simple, but is not sola scriptura ultimately a product of faith? It is a declaration by man (men) who were passionately pursuing truth in matters of faith. It is a “there is only one name under heaven by which men can be saved” kind of statement. I believe intrpetation is a product of faith endowed and lead by the Holy Spirit.

Comment by Norm

Justin: I actually heard Todd Howell say the other day that the sun was going to rise at a certain time and then, later that day, set at a certain time. I’m sure he doesn’t believe the sun is actually moving around the earth. When scripture speaks like that, its a lot like we understand everybody else using “plain” speak. So, yes the Bible often times uses poetry, hyperbole, anthropomorphic language, methaphor, and so forth. And lots of biblical scholars address this. I would reccomend Bob Stein’s book “A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible: Playing by the Rules.” Its a good book and addresses some of the issues you bring up.

James Baby:

I am not saying that Justin can not have nor give opinions. Yet, the outright denial of Sola Scriptura is quite dangerous as I have said. A well thought out opinion is different from a “searching” opinion…especially in a public forum. But I have already said that. My question to you is the same as Tyler’s. Also, why does God’s word need checks and balances…especially by fallen, sinful, fallible, humans? Perhaps the issue here is not Sola Scriptura, but the writing, transmission, and sufficiency of the Word of God…

Comment by Scott E

I have already listed my thoughts on Scripture being the final authority or the authority from which all other teachers may speak. But in regards to the Sun rising and setting and falling, I have never read Scripture and thought that to be literal anymore than I have thought I was literally salt or light.

Let’s be honest here. Without Scripture, none of us would believe in Christ and Him crucified. No reason or tradition spoke to me in my room the night I was saved. I opened up Matthew, read and believed. Until I came to VFC, I knew nothing about theological reasoning and tradition. You can get along fine without knowing what hermeneutics are or which council canonized which books of the Bible and their dissertation. Luther, Calvin, Augustine of Hippo, Francis of Assise, Justin Martyr, early Catholic bishops, the Puritans, our pastor and we have this in common-we read Scripture.

If tradition was any reliable authority, there would have been no need for the Reformation.

Comment by David Wells

By the way, I think that the notion that we would not know whether those passages were poetic or not if sola scriptura were true is complete crap (and I really want to use a stronger word). Romans 1:20, the verse I use to defend my position on evolution and science, says that we can know about God from Creation. Thus, if we studied the movements of the stars and the earth, we would be discovering what God said we’d discover–how He created the universe.

And Justin, the solar system may be heliocentric, but the universe sure isn’t. You may want to brush up on your astronomy next time 😛

Comment by David Wells

“What do you mean by that? What are the dangers?”

For the same reason we don’t just take a bible verse without reading the surrounding ones too. In the same way, it is unwise to read the bible without consulting its context. I don’t prescribe to Justin’s “authority” word usage. I don’t see rationale as an authority, neither tradition. Rather, both of those are checks and balances, they are useful for keeping your interpretation of the bible in check and balanced.

I would add historicity, and scientific findings to the list of checks and balances.

I see the bible as the final written word on things, and God Himself as the final authority on everything.

Comment by James Baby

JESUS never said the Scriptures were the final Authority on HIS HUMAN Life, but that things written in them were fulfilled by HIM, or that the things recorded of Commandments in the Torah, following Genesis, were perfectly fulfilled. (Of course, HE also fulfilled Chanukkah, as per the Maccabean legacy!)

Comment by Petros

I do not find in Scripture that man need continue on “fallible”. As it says in the Shepherd of Hermas, if one believes he will fail to keep the Faith, he will. I see the infallible Doctrine of Perfection in Scripture, and see that Peter was perfected by the time he began to function as an Apostle. The best Manuscripts show two names, “Peter” and “Kephas”, in Galatians, and the statements about the two named are unalike, and make sense of Luke’s Narrative in Acts of the Apostles. Paul never rebuked the Rock whose name was translated into Greek literally, but one of the Seventy-two whose name never translated, because it was simply his given name, and not a statement of his function in the building of the Church, as with Simon named “Peter/Kephas”, as being called that very thing.

If fallible writers penned Scripture, why doubt, then, that Popes don’t become momentarily infallible to declare Dogmas? Was it fallible Bishops and Councils that decalred 1 and 2 Peter Canonical? (By the way, that meant they were universally authorized for Readings at the Mass, and did not mean that further Writings were not GOD-breathed, if left only to personal study.)

Comment by Petros

And as for the protestant “Old Testament”:
it is based on no Church Canon, but on a list Melito collected from non-Christian Jews for a friend interested in Jewish customs. That list was never associated with Christians, nor with pre-Jamnian council Jews.

Jerome did an excellent job on most Scriptures he covered in the Vulgate translation, but was rushed on the so-called “Apocryphal” Writings. He had mastered Hebrew well, and not found the hidden Hebrew originals of those few Books, which, for the obscurity about the original Manuscripts, he called “Apocrypha”, and placed in an appendix, as translated from Aramaic, which he knew about half as well as Hebrew, translating Tobias and Judith in about a day and night’s worth of hours.

We have portions of much earlier Hebrew manuscripts than Jerome’s day, of which he could then find no trace.

Comment by Petros

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