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Sola scriptura is the foundational doctrine of most Protestant denominations. In essence, it teaches that the sole infallible rule of faith and practice is found in the Scriptures alone (sola scriptura actually means “by Scripture alone” in Latin). This, of course, does not necessarily rule out tradition in teaching or clarifying Christian doctrine, but, for many, sola scriptura often boils down to an individual’s subjective interpretation of the Scriptures becoming the infallible rule of faith, and so therefore tradition—since it is, at best, occasionally helpful and, at worst, untrustworthy—is often shunned for novel interpretations of Scripture that lack historical continuity and perspective.
But where in Sacred Scripture does it say that everything Jesus and the Apostles taught is in Scripture? Scripture, I would posit, teaches the opposite to the implied notions of sola scriptura. In the final chapter of John we read that not all of what Jesus said and did is recorded (John 21:25). The Apostle Paul very clearly states in his letter to the Thessalonians that we are to accept both written and oral tradition. Protestants, it would seem, only accept written tradition as infallible or meaningfully authoritative, which is ironically opposed to the written tradition!
“So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter” – 2 Thessalonians 2:15
If the infallible rule of faith and practice is found in the Scriptures alone, why would Paul command us to “stand firm” in the oral traditions? What are you “standing firm” for if oral tradition is—as sola scriptura adherents seem to see it—at best, a good guide, and, at worst, unreliable baggage that hinders the pure, basic essence of the Gospel (as they interpret it)?
Sola Scriptura Is Ahistorical
Another issue with the novel doctrine of sola scriptura is that no one believed it until Martin Luther—that’s 1500 years of silent history to account for and so, subsequently, must surely diminish the probability of sola scriptura being true. To summarise thus far: there are no elements of this doctrine to be found anywhere in Scripture or in the early Church. It must surely be a manmade tradition.
Protestants, when pressed on the issue, may quote 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness”. However, nowhere does that verse support the tenant of sola scriptura that says Scripture alone is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.
A Self-Refuting Argument
In reality, quoting, “All Scripture is breathed out by God” perpetuates another issue in that sola scriptura reduces the belief in the inspiration of Scripture to circular reasoning. This is because sola scriptura accepts that Scripture is inspired but does not accept the reason for its inspiration. The reason why we can know Scripture is inspired is that Christ’s established Church—whom Jesus said he would lead into all truth—declared that it was. However, the early Church believed other doctrines that many Protestant reject (e.g. the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, apostolic succession, prayers for the dead, a hierarchal structure consisting of a singular bishop, the veneration of saints, the primacy of Rome, the sacrament of penance, the Queenship of Mary, and other such Marian doctrines, etc.) So, with that in mind, how is it that someone could logically assert that apostolic succession or the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is false, yet the canon of Scripture is true? How can they arbitrarily decide what the early Church got right and what it got wrong? They may attempt to just pull out of thin air the arbitrary argument, “I trust the Holy Spirit on that”, yet they seem unaware of the irony that they seem incapable of trusting the very Church that Jesus promised to lead into all truth through the same Holy Spirit (Matthew 16:19, John 16:13, 1 Timothy 3:15). If they also tried to incorrectly assert, “Yes but Scripture argues against doctrines such as apostolic succession or the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist”, this also falls flat because, as I said earlier, they would be assuming that Scripture is indeed inspired without reasoning as to why. What I have come to realise is that the reason I trust Scripture is the same reason why I trust other Catholic doctrines such as the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and all the others; because the Catholic Church, which is guided by the Holy Spirit into all truth (John 16:13), declares it to be so. This is a much tidier logical framework than that of our Protestant brothers and is also connected to the past.
I will conclude by saying that Protestantism and “sola scriptura” was not the way of the early Apostles, but Catholicism was. They did really believe they were drinking Jesus’ blood and eating his flesh. They did believe Peter was the leader of the Apostles and the earthly head of the Church. They did believe that Mary remained a virgin all her life. The Apostles have told us this; some of it through written tradition, and others through oral tradition, just as it alludes to in Acts 2:42, 2 Thessalonians 2:15, 1 Corinthians 11:2, is taught by the Church Fathers, and is revealed through the typology of the Oral and Written Torah of the Old Testament (for more on that last point read this article: Who Gave Your Pastor Authority?)