Both Catholics and Protestants believe in the inerrancy and infallibility of God’s written Word (except the apocryphal writings, which are addressed here). However why do Protestants insist in Scripture alone, or sola scriptura? Does the Bible itself substantiate a belief in sola scriptura? Let’s explore and see.
First, it is important to understand the origin of Scripture. Mankind is not responsible for Scripture, and Scripture was not written without inspiration. The apostle Peter wrote:
“Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” – 2 Peter 1:20–21
Peter explains that the prophecy of Scripture was not a private interpretation of man, but rather an inspiration from God. God inspired men to write His words, and His words were received and recognized as such.
What does the Bible say about itself? Scripture is:
faithful (Titus 1:9)
good (Hebrews 6:5)
engrafted (James 1:21)
sure (2 Peter 1:19)
the Word of truth (Psalm 119:43; 2 Corinthians 6:7; Ephesians 1:13; 2 Timothy 2:15; James 1:18)
the Word of righteousness (Hebrews 5:13)
the Word of the kingdom (Matthew 13:19)
the Word of this salvation (Acts 13:26)
the Word of the gospel (Acts 15:7)
the Word of promise (Romans 9:9)
the Word of the oath (Hebrews 7:28)
the Word of faith (Romans 10:8)
the Word of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19)
the Word of life (Philippians 2:16)
the Word of exhortation (Hebrews 13:22)
of truth (Daniel 10:21)
of the prophets (Matthew 26:56; Romans 16:26)
the holy Scriptures (Romans 1:2; 2 Timothy 3:15)
a book (2 Chronicles 34:21; Isaiah 34:16)
fire (Jeremiah 5:14, 20:9, 23:29)
a hammer (Jeremiah 23:29)
honey (Psalm 19:10; 119:103; Ezekiel 3:3; Revelation 10:9)
a lamp and light (Psalm 119:105; Proverbs 6:23; 2 Peter 1:19)
meat (Hebrews 5:13-14)
milk (1 Peter 2:2)
seed (Luke 8:11; 1 Peter 1:23)
as silver (Psalm 12:6)
spirit and life (John 6:63)
a sword (Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12)
water (Ephesians 5:26)
The Bible uses incredibly powerful imagery to describe itself. But is the Bible alone sufficient to educate someone in the faith and fellowship of Christ? The apostle Paul wrote:
“And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” – 2 Timothy 3:14–16
This statement by Paul underscores the Protestant belief in the sufficiency of Scripture alone. There are several important points:
In verse 14, Paul told Timothy that the Scriptures are able to make him “wise unto salvation.” What is salvation? Salvation is the redemption of man from death to eternal life. Is there anything other than the Scripture that is needed for salvation? No, there is not. The wisdom of Scripture is the only wisdom one needs to be led unto eternal life.
In verse 15, Paul gives a list of attributes of the Scripture. He says it is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” Where do believers get their doctrine today? From the Scripture. The Scripture scolds, corrects, and instructs those in righteousness, therefore providing a system of “checks and balances” against falling into apostasy.
And lastly in verse 16, Paul writes the Scripture is given so that the man of God may be perfect and throughly furnished. If a man is perfect and throughly furnished, what more could one need? These terms clearly describe the sufficiency of Scripture alone.
The Roman Catholic church teaches the following:
“No one, relying on his own skill, shall,–in matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, –wresting the sacred Scripture to his own senses, presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church,–whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures,–hath held and doth hold.” – Council of Trent, Session 4, “Decree Concerning the Edition, and the Use, of the Sacred Books”
Why would Rome forbid someone from interpreting Scripture contrary to “holy mother Church”? Is it not possible for the layperson to read the Scripture and know what it says? For instance, take John 11:35:
“Jesus wept.” – John 11:35
Is it not possible for someone to read John 11:35 and determine its meaning? Of course they could, as it would be silly to think not. The fact is that the vast majority of God’s Word is not difficult to understand. Why would God have given His Word to the world to only be read and understood by a select few?
In Acts 17, we find the apostle Paul preaching to the Jews in Thessalonica. Paul was reasoning with them “out of the scriptures.”
“Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.” – Acts 17:1–3
If Paul was reasoning with laypeople out of the Scriptures, how does that fit into Rome’s claim that only “holy mother Church” is able to interpret it? This is indicative that the laypeople Paul was reasoning with were in fact reading and interpreting the Scripture. Later in Acts 17, we read that Paul was sent away from Thessalonica and came unto Berea. What did he have to say about the Bereans?
“These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” – Acts 17:11
The Bereans were considered to be more noble. Why? Because they checked Paul’s teachings against Scripture! Paul was pleased with the fact that the Bereans were fact-checking his teachings and not only believing him because he was an apostle of Christ. If fact-checking was noble in Paul’s day, why doesn’t Rome consider it noble today?
During the life of Jesus the Pharisees and Sadducees were considered experts on the Scripture, but they were still blind to the fact that Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah. They were the supposed experts, but still were incorrect. In fact, they could have argued with Jesus Himself saying they and their tradition were the ones that wrote the Old Testament! But what group of people recognized Jesus Christ as the prophesied Messiah written in the Scriptures? Not the Jewish leaders, but laypeople!
Paul wrote in Romans 14 the following:
“One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” – Romans 14:5
Paul is speaking about Christians that have disputes or disagreements about beliefs. What does he say? “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” Again, how does this fit into Rome’s claim that only it can interpret Scripture? Being fully persuaded in one’s mind involves reading Scripture, understanding it, and deciding what to believe. How else can one be persuaded, or convinced, in their own mind?
Cyril of Jerusalem
Cyril of Jerusalem (313 AD – 386 AD) wrote several lectures known as the Catechetical Lectures. These lectures were summaries of the Christian faith and were given to the catechumen, a group of individuals preparing to convert to Christianity. In his 5th Catechetical Lecture, Cyril of Jerusalem wrote:
“But in learning the Faith and in professing it, acquire and keep that only, which is now delivered to you by the Church, and which has been built up strongly out of all the Scriptures. For since all cannot read the Scriptures . . . we comprise the whole doctrine of the Faith in a few lines . . . So for the present listen while I simply say the Creed , and commit it to memory; but at the proper season expect the confirmation out of Holy Scripture of each part of the contents. For the articles of the Faith were not composed as seemed good to men; but the most important points collected out of all the Scripture make up one complete teaching of the Faith.” – Catechetical Lecture 5, para. 12
Notice how he says the faith has been “built up strongly out of all the Scriptures,” and for his listeners to “expect the confirmation out of Holy Scripture.” Wouldn’t this imply that his listeners would be reading the Bible to confirm what he had just told them?
Reading the Bible
It is so important to read the Scripture. Why? First, because it’s God’s written Word. Wouldn’t you want to know what God has to say?
Second, because we are commanded to study it:
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” – 2 Timothy 2:15
Jesus Himself told the Sadducees they erred not knowing the Scriptures:
“Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.” – Matthew 22:29
And most importantly, how would you know if you are being led astray into false teachings if you didn’t know the correct teaching to begin with? The Scripture is our source of doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:15). Be the noble Berean and search the Scriptures!