Saturday, December 24, 2016

“SOLA SCRIPTURA”: IS IT SCRIPTURAL?





From the very beginning, we find evidence of “Sola Scriptura,” only Scripture (OS), God’s Word, in God’s directions to Adam:

·       And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)

The first couple’s welfare depended on whether or not they would put God’s Word above everything else, above every temptation and every fear. This doctrine didn’t mean that they couldn’t learn from other sources, like their observations and feelings, but God’s Word would have to take precedence over everything else.

Abraham passed this test when he placed God’s Word even above the life of his son, Isaac, and was ready to sacrifice him, according to God’s commands. And God rewarded him for his obedience (Genesis 22:15-18).

Nevertheless, some take issue with OS. A Catholic apologetics brochure reads:

·       It is the Church that produced Sacred Scripture, not the other way around, and therefore Scripture cannot be greater than the Church, which produced it… It is the Church that, under its teaching authority given by Christ, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, determined which writings constitute Sacred Scripture.

There are several points here, all highly problematic. First of all, there is the assumption that the RCC is the one Biblically ordained Apostolic Church. However, there is no proof of this, certainly not even Scriptural proof.

Next, even though the Church was instrumental in the writing and selection of the Books of the Canon, even the RCC acknowledges that both of these activities had been the work of the Holy Spirit. In fact, there are many verses that claim that the primary Author of Scripture is the Spirit:

·       Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21)

However, the RCC does not deny this. Nevertheless, they unbiblically claim that the RCC is somehow, as its author, above Scripture. As a result they claim that they also have the authoritative interpretation of Scripture.

However, if the RCC is to be consistent with their reasoning, they would also have to say that the “Scripture cannot be greater than … [Israel], which produced it.” This would mean that the rabbis are supposed to have the authoritative interpretation of their Hebrew Scriptures. However, if they do not, then the RCC does not.

Instead, Scripture teaches against this kind of thinking:

1.    Scripture is fundamentally acknowledged to be the Word of God and not the Word of the Church. Although Paul had referred to the Gospel as “My Gospel,” this was merely a way of distinguishing the Word that he preached from the erroneous message of others. Instead, he writes: “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe” (1 Thess. 2:13).

  1. God designed His gracious salvation in such a way so that no one could have any basis on which to boast (Eph. 2:8-9; 1 Cor. 1:26-30). Any institution that claims that it possesses the authoritative key to interpretation has created for itself a basis for boasting, even if this isn’t its intention.

  1. Trusting in an institution or a person is something that is prohibited: "Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord…But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him” (Jeremiah 17:5-7). Our trust must be in Him alone: Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken” (Psalm 62:5-6).

  1. Our Lord explicitly states that He will not share His glory with another (Isaiah 42:8). This would seem to include the Church. If a church claims that it has exclusive authority to save or interpret Scripture, then it has exalted itself in an unbiblical way. Ultimately, our faith has to be between ourselves and God, not ourselves and our pastor or our church (Romans 14:22-23).

  1. Paul castigated the Corinthian church for making an issue of who baptized whom. He responded, Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?” (1 Cor. 1:13). In other words, “Quit arguing about this! It doesn’t matter who baptized you (even if it was by false brethren!).” However, if RCC thinking is correct, then Paul had dismissed a very important distinction – which church, people or lineage could effectively perform baptism.

  1. Although the early Church was intimately involved in the formation of the Canon, it shouldn’t get the credit, nor arrogate for itself a stature surpassing that of Scripture. God gets all the credit. Paul stated that he couldn’t even take credit for any of his works: But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them--yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (1 Cor. 15:10). Even though God had placed him in a privileged role, he declared himself to be “nothing” (2 Cor. 12:11), let alone as necessary for salvation.

  1. The RCC cannot make the claim to be THE Church. For one thing, this would mean that Catholics are the only ones saved, since the rest of us aren’t within the saving embrace of the RCC. Rather than creating unity, this claim further divides the already fractious Christian world. For another thing, the Orthodox Church can also make this claim. Who’s right? Such a claim only breeds contention. It’s better to acknowledge that there is no one right church, but only those who trust in Jesus.

8.    Jesus made a sharp distinction between the teachings of men (church traditions) and the teachings of God, claiming that the former constituted vain worship (Matthew 15:3-9).

Meanwhile, the RCC places their teachings above Scripture. The RCC brochure claims:

·       The ultimate criterion of what one must believe and do is the authoritative teaching of the Church, whose task it is to interpret the word of God, handed down to us by either Scripture or Tradition.

In “Crossing the Tiber: Evangelical Protestants Discover the Historical Church,” Stephen K. Ray adds:

·       “Protestants must trust the declaration of the infallible Church to know which books make up their infallible New Testament. This is a great irony. It was the tradition and the authority of the Catholic Church that established their canon. However, while rejecting all the other decrees of the councils as nonauthoritative, Protestants arbitrarily accept without question the tradition establishing the canon of the New Testament.” (54-55)

Once again, the RCC cannot be consistent with the teaching of the RCC’s infallibility. If the RCC is infallible, then the RCC must also regard Israel as infallible in “establishing the Canon of the” Hebrew Scriptures.

Instead, there is no reason to believe in the infallibility of the Church. Besides, we mustn’t place our trust in any church or leader:

  • Stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he? (Isaiah 2:22)

Instead, we have to be like the Bereans, who, after hearing Paul preach, didn’t trust him, but instead checked everything he taught against Scripture. Interestingly, Scripture declares that they were “more noble” (Acts 17:11).

The Concept of the “Infallibility of the Church” is unnecessary. As always, God can work infallibly through very fallible people and institutions. He was able to infallibly demonstrate to the Church who was to be believed and what writings to be received:

·       This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (Hebrews 2:3-4)

He was able to validate the authority of the Apostles through miracles:

·        God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them. (Acts 19:11-12; 2:43)

The Holy Spirit guided their teaching:

·       But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:26-27; 15:26; 16:13; 1 Cor. 2:10)

Consequently, Scripture was to reign supreme over all human proclamations and traditions:

·       All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

Nothing else was to assume the stature of Scripture:

·       Rev. 22:18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book.

Scripture had to sit in judgment over all other truth claims:

  • The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Cor. 10:4-5)

All arguments opposed to Scripture had to be critiqued in its light and taken “captive” according to the revelation of Christ. There was nothing higher or more authoritative. Scripture was the Supreme Court where the buck stopped:

  • When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. (Isaiah 8:19-20)

In regards to the things that Scripture taught, it was the supreme light. God’s word, “God’s instructions and the testimony of warning,” was above all else and without competition – sola scriptura! It was the source of blessing in a way that nothing else was:

  • Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.  Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. (Joshua 1:7-8)

God warned Joshua that his response to His Word would determine blessing and curse. If he failed to follow it, he and Israel would suffer, if he meditated on it to do it, he would prosper. There was no other activity that could compete in importance with Israel’s response to the word of God. It occupied an unrivaled position. No amount of philosophizing, painting, poetry writing, or practicing spiritual disciplines could even come close. Scripture was in a league of its own. This was the uniform teaching of Scripture, not just a handful of verses.

All the Apostles recognized that God worked through the understanding of His word to accomplish great things (Psalm 1). Paul therefore recited this benediction over the Ephesian elders:

  • “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32)

God would use Scripture to bless and transform. Conversely, when Christians strayed from the word, they would suffer, as Paul had warned:

  • Learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other.  For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? (1 Cor. 4:6-7)

Many in the Corinthian Church went “beyond what is written” and became proud to the hurt of themselves and their church. Instead, Scripture had to serve as their highest authority – sola scriptura.

How do we please God? We abide in His word above all else. Peter insisted that:

  • If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God... so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 4:11).

Our church traditions should never be in competition with God’s word. This was the problem with the religious leadership of Jesus’ day. They valued their own traditions above Scripture. Against this lethal tendency:

  • Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?... Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’” (Matthew 15:3-9)

Our traditions or institutions cannot be placed on par with Scripture. The resulting worship is of no value! God intends Scripture to rule over all else – sola scriptura.

Jesus had the highest regard for Scripture, claiming that it could “not be broken” (John 10:35). Everything else could be changed but not Scripture (Matthew 24:35). It stood over everything else – sola scriptura! Even Jesus would not do away with Scripture:

  • “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.  Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-19)

Because Scripture came from God, it could not just be set aside. Instead, our standing in the Kingdom depended upon our response to Scripture. However, Jesus would fulfill it, according to Divine intention.

The deceased, ex-evangelical scholar, Clark Pinnock, decided that the Bible was merely a human text:

  • It is important to insist that the Bible is a merely human text – written, copied, translated, and interpreted by fallible people. It contains all manner of internal contradictions, moral blemishes, legend and saga, inaccuracies, and the like. It is a collection of intensely human documents and is not an authority beyond criticism or correction. To regard it as God’s written Word is an idolatrous perversion of belief which must be dethroned.

However, Pinnock’s opinion was diametrically opposed to Jesus’!

  • Jesus answered [Satan], “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

According to Jesus, life is about imbibing “every word that comes from the mouth of God” – Scripture! This means that we can’t sit in judgment over God’s word, selecting what we like or think inspired. Instead, every one of God’s words must judge us! Scripture must reign supreme!

Jesus had such a high regard for Scripture that He continually brought His disciples back to this wellspring of blessing. When Jesus encountered His disheartened disciples after His crucifixion, He could have spoken His own words to encourage them, but instead, He pointed them back to Scripture:

  • “Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”  And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:26-27)

Scripture is so central to our lives that Jesus opened their minds to understand it:

  • He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. (Luke 24:44-45)

Never once do we see any indication that Jesus regarded Scripture as merely a human document. Instead, He copiously quoted Scripture, always as maximally authoritative. Consequently, if we want to call ourselves “Christian,” we should regard Scripture as did Jesus!

Besides, because Scripture is God’s authoritative word, we are not free to interpret it in any manner we choose:

  • Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21)

Although Scripture comes through the hand and sometimes even the vocabulary of man, it is still God-given. As such, it is above our own thoughts and philosophies. Therefore, we are not free to interpret it as we please. It is God-breathed in its entirety, as Paul revealed (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Only about Scripture can it be said that it can make us “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17) Clearly, the Word that God has breathed out transcends all other forms of knowledge – sola scriptura!

Pinnock insisted that “the Apostles never thought that they were writing Scripture.” However, this is obviously wrong. Only one example should suffice:

  • And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. (1 Thess. 2:13)

There is nothing higher than Scripture. Consequently, we never are free to not obey it:

·       Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. (John 14:23-24)

To love Him is to place His Word above all else. This is the message of “Sola Scriptura.”

2 comments:

  1. Daniel, Thank you for your excellent article! I have myself used the argument about the Jews having jurisdiction over the Hebrew scriptures, and being the ones who recognized the Hebrew canon, yet Jesus held them to the authority of Scripture as over their tradition, and have yet to receive a good answer from any Roman Catholic!I also met a priest shortly after I became aware of these kinds of arguments, and asked him, if the Roman Church is infallible in matters of dogma and morals, when the Pope pronounces *ex cathedra,* why do we even need the Scriptures? And if the Scriptures are indeed inspired by God, as Rome teaches, then why doesn't Rome honor them as the supreme authority over all other tradition, and obey them? He admitted that these questions were difficult to answer, but I also realized he was no full fledged theologian or apologist. I still think they are good and ultimately unanswerable arguments for the Roman position. If Rome is the living, breathing voice of God, why would we need written oracles of God, if their purpose is not to correct even the Church itself?

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  2. Kenneth, Thanks for your response. Please let me know if you find any satisfying answers from the RCC priests. I would be glad to respond.

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