Sola Scriptura is the view that the that the Bible is the supreme authority in all matters of doctrine and practice. More specifically it means that all other sources of authority are subordinate to scripture. It does not deny the existence of other authorities. It really attempts to answer the following question:
How, and on what authority, do Christian believers discern between doctrinal differences today?
Scripture teaches that our convictions are not to be based on human wisdom. Human wisdom is not always wrong, but it should be rejected because it is 1: Fallible and 2: Not a sufficient foundation for believing anything about God because only God is adequate to witness to himself. We therefore should not depend upon human wisdom but God's own Revelation of himself instead of the conflicting opinions of man, or untrustworthy speculations of man. Notice in 1 Cor 2:4,5 Paul's conviction of how to resolve matters of doctrine for those in Corinth, and think about his conceptual scheme as we read verse 5.
4 and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,
5 so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. (1Co 2:4-5 NAU)
Notice how he separates the power of God and the wisdom of man into two categories and makes a complete contrast of the two. Paul then says explicitly that it is not persuasive words of men, or their own understandings of spiritual insight that our faith rests on. Instead it is the power or strength of God that our faith rests on. Notice also verses 10-13...
10 For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.
11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.
12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God,
13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. (1Co 2:10-13 NAU)
After laying out those categories Paul then draws a sharp contrast between the words which man's wisdom teaches and those which God reveals to us through the spirit. So on the one hand we have words taught by the wisdom of man, and on the other we have words that are revealed through the spirit. Paul has made the point in verse 4 that the apostolic message did not originate in the persuasive words of men, but rather the apostolic message originates from the power of God. Paul is saying the understanding itself comes from the wisdom of God's own spirit. Paul thanks God in 1 Thessalonians 2:13 that the Thessalonians did not receive his word as the wisdom of men, but as it is in truth; the word of God. Paul very clearly contrasts the words of men and the words of God. The wisdom of God and the wisdom of men. The spirit of the world and the spirit of God. It is unambiguous here that there is a clear demarcation.
Paul spoke of the Sacred writings which are which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. He says that all these writings known as scripture are literally God breathed "θεόπνευστος -Theopnustos" (2 Timothy 3:16). The bible then would have us beware of the uninspired words of men which are not θεόπνευστος. In other words it is only scripture which is theopnustos and all other authorities are not. In Jeremiah we read:
16 Thus says the LORD of hosts, "Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are leading you into futility; They speak a vision of their own imagination, Not from the mouth of the LORD. (Jer 23:16 NAU)
So even in the old testament we find this distinction drawn between words from the mouths of mere men and the mouth of God, with the prescription to not listen to the former. It is not as though human wisdom cannot ever attain truth, but human wisdom can never have absolute assurance except it come from the mouth of God himself. I reiterate that in scripture we find that only these "writings" or "scripture" are called God breathed. In Colossians 2:8 Paul warns God's people not to allow their faith to be compromised by any philosophy which is after the tradition of men rather than Christ. It is made clear again that there is a contrast between man's authority and Christ's authority. The tradition of man on one hand and the authority of Christ on the other.
In Matthew 15:6 our Lord Jesus himself condemned those who "make void the word of God" because of their tradition. God also warns that we are not to add or take away anything from his word (Deut. 4:2). This is such a serious issue that in Revelation God says that whoever does this will attain all the curses in the book and lose all the blessings in that book.
Many people will cite various verses about tradition in support of their views as if tradition is meant in the Eastern orthodox or Roman Catholic sense. This is of course circular but that is why we should examine these verses among the apostles. We will see that tradition in the NT is not the way either the EO or RC conceive of them. There are some verses that speak of tradition as authoritative so we must understand those correctly. In Hebrews 1:2 the author tells us that in the past God spoke to us in many ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his son. Christ then is the epitome or apex of all of God's soteriological revelatory manners and means. So much so that John declares him the word of God. But since we do not experience Christ the same way as the apostles where then did we get our information about Christ? The Gospels.
Jesus also commissioned certain men the right to speak for him in these Gospels. They had the power of attorney. This is very close to what the word apostle meant in the times of the NT. The apostle was considered the man himself. In John 14:26 we see that Christ inspired the apostles themselves with his very word. He did this so that they would not pass on their own wisdom,word, and insight, but rather HIS. We see this expressed in Matthew 10:40 and then culminate in the Great commission at the end of the Gospel of Matthew. Scripture then teaches that the apostles spoke God the father's, and God the son's revelation and not their own. All of which is revealed by the holy spirit. Think about this in light of Peter's own confession and how Christ told him flesh and blood did not reveal Christ but it was the father.
We can see another example in Galatians 1:11-12 where Paul is Jealous for the truth of the gospel and what he has taught precisely because it is not his words, but the words of Christ. This pattern is everywhere in the NT..not man, but God. The father and Jesus Christ revealed the word to the apostles who were taught by the holy spirit. It is then in virtue of this revelatory work of the Apostles as they reveal the father and the son and the power of the spirit that Christ builds his Church upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets.
Contrary to most opinions regarding Peter's confession the rock is not Peter's person because a few verses later Peter is called Satan. If the Romanist view of this verse were correct then we would have to conclude the church is built upon Satan. Some fellow protestants believe Christ to be speaking of himself but I think that view involves too many exegetical gymnastics to make any sense of the matter. I believe that Peter was speaking for all the apostles and so the rock was the confession of Peter speaking for all the apostles. Support for this view can be found in Ephesians 2:20.
20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, (Eph 2:20 NAU)
So the sense in which the church is built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets is in how they present the word of God faithfully, as they are the authorized spokesmen for Jesus words and not their own. If they do that then they provide the foundation for the Church. This teaching then was received as a body of truth which was a criteria for doctrine and for life in and outside the Church. But now we have to answer the next question. How did the church come to know this truth? How did the Church in it's early days come to know of this Apostolic body of truth from God?
Well we know that this body of truth was passed down to the church and through the church. Also, because the truth was passed down from the apostles to the church it was often called "that which was delivered" or the "deposit". So the body of truth gets passed down to the church. Because it is passed down or "handed over" the Greek word paradosis is used. Since this word broadly means to deposit, deliver, or that which is communicated to another, the English word for this is often rendered "tradition" or "the tradition". So the apostles have the truth of God and they hand it over or deliver it to the church, and that comes to be called "the tradition ". The tradition then is just the truth that the apostles teach as a revelation of God the father, son, and holy spirit which is delivered to the church. But what does the NT teach about this tradition?
13 Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.
14 Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.
(2Ti 1:13-14 NAU)
Here there is a network of sound words or a body of truth and doctrine that Paul calls a treasure or a "deposit". He says what was entrusted to him and passed on is in need of being guarded ...1 Timothy 6:20-21. So the apostolic deposit is this pattern of sound words or body of doctrinal truth. In 2 Thessalonians 3:6 we are told to depart from those persons who depart from this tradition which has been received through the apostles. In 2 Peter 2:21 it is said that "it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment delivered to them". So it is better to have never known the apostolic deposit than to have known it and turned away from it. These verses clearly show that this body of truth is the standard of sound living for the Christian. In 2 Timothy 2:2 this deposit is to be the standard for all future teaching in the church. So the apostles received a revelation of God which was entrusted to them as a deposit. This deposit is then delivered to the church to be guarded as the standard for all the Christian's sound teaching and living. Moreover the church is prescribed to depart from heretics who depart from this deposit of doctrinal truths that the church received from the apostles.
What is this tradition? Is it the Eastern Orthodox tradition or the Roman Catholic tradition? No, it is the apostolic tradition of sound words which they received by revelation from the father,son, and holy spirit. It is not church tradition, church father tradition, or papal succession. The next question to answer is "How was this tradition or deposit delivered to the church? In what forms? "
In 2 Thess. 2:15 we read that it was by word or epistle. The church then learned about this tradition by receiving it from the apostles orally or by writing. So in two ways this pattern of sound words or body of truth as a deposit came to the church. There is absolutely no hint in this verse that part of the truth came orally and part of it came in writing. Instead it is the whole truth that was transmitted in two forms. It is here just called "the traditions" as if it is one body of truth conveyed in two modes. Moreover Paul does not say here that one mode supplements the other and instead teaches the opposite here. This is important to remember because Roman Catholics and those in the Eastern Orthodox persuasion will use this verse and say that if we only use one of these modes we have not gotten all the truth. There is a huge logical fallacy in their reasoning that way because Paul does not say that. Instead Paul says hold to the traditions you were taught whether by word of mouth or epistle. The church did not receive two sets of truths from the apostles, and instead received one body of truth in two forms. So if you have this body of tradition in either form you have the apostolic traditions. The reason this was so was because of apostolic authority. Remember Christ's words "If they receive you they receive me". The apostles had the power of attorney when they delivered these teachings to many churches. Their word then binds the church. When the apostles speak they speak with divine authority received from God to the church. There are no apostles in the church today. There is absolutely no hint in this verse that this authority is passed on to other people either.
Instead the authority of the apostle's lives on through their teaching. That is to say through their deposit which was passed to the church. This means that the only way which we receive this body of truth now is in writing. The apostles are dead and gone and what they taught continues in their writings. These are in the scriptures which we take as the standard of our faith. In the new testament what the apostles wrote is considered to be the very word of God. For example in 1 Cor. 14:37 Paul says exactly that. Indeed what the apostles wrote even came to have the same authority in the church as what Peter called "the other scriptures" (2 Peter 3:16). Peter considered Paul's writings to be on par with the old testament scriptures. Since there are no more apostles, the authority extends only to the apostles in their 1st century writings.
What are the requirements to be an apostle? I ask this since merely having the contents of this tradition alone does not in any way mean that the authority is transferred. Scripture answers this question for us. In order to be an apostle one must be a witness of the resurrection of Christ (Acts 1:22; 1 Cor 9:1), be personally commissioned by Christ (Galatians 1:1), and be personally taught by Christ. Notice also that while Paul considered himself as the least or last of the apostles, his student Timothy is never referred to as an "apostle" at all. So in the very nature of the case apostolic authority and revelation ceased along with the apostolic generation. This is why when we look at Jude 3, it reads " the faith""which was "once for all delivered". The faith here is the teaching contents of the Christian faith. This is that body of truth or tradition that was received by the apostles and taught orally, and then committed to writing so that all generations can receive it by it's being deposited in the church.
Long before any reformer Paul, Jesus, Peter, and James give us examples of Sola Scriptura in many ways within holy writ. Jesus often held his audience accountable to the old testament scriptures. This would be strange for Christ himself to hold men accountable to a collection of literature they were unaware of. Christ would do this by asking his audience "Have you not read" or often times in a declarative manner "It is written". Paul similarly would string together sections of the OT for illustrative appeal to authority known to the Rabbi's as Halakh, or stringing pearls. These things are important to keep in mind because many arguments against Sola Scriptura are that what is meant in the passages supporting Sola Scriptura in the NT apply only to the OT. This is why I noted that if that was the case then Peter's putting Paul's words on par with the OT scripture is very significant. Moreover suppose I parallel that argument between Christ and Paul. Suppose I say Paul in 2 Corinthians 11 is not attesting to the Gospel accounts of communion since his account is later. You see this is exactly the point of Sola Scriptura that our testimony alone is not enough and requires the backing of the authority of scripture. So for example among the apostles how did they settle their differences? Not with Plato, Aristotle, or appealing to non-Apostles (Remember Christ is called an Apostle in scripture). Instead I will furnish an example in scripture where scripture is what settles tradition, councils, and personal experience.
In Acts 15 all three criteria were satisfied since all three apostles appealed to scripture as justification, with James' last appeal to Amos 9 closing the council and shaping his personal beliefs on the matter. I believe I have furnished enough information about this already but just in case I have three propositions which I believe firmly establish this doctrine in scripture.
1. We are to recognize only Scripture as what is θεόπνευστος (2Ti 3:16 BGT) God Breathed.
2. Only Scripture is sufficient ἄρτιος (2Ti 3:17) for equipping the Christian for every good work.
3. When we go beyond what is written we run the risk of leaning on mere human wisdom (1 Cor 4:6, 1 Cor 2:4,5).
1. There are many interpretations of scripture therefore you could be wrong about this belief in sola scriptura because you hold a fallible belief in an infallible source!
This objection is very easy to answer. It commits the logical fallacy of Hasty Generalization. It essentially says that because I may have provisional knowledge in one area then I could be wrong in all areas of my knowledge. This objection ignores the distinction of different kinds of knowledge. It focuses on one kind of knowledge and then makes the conflated leap that all other categories of knowledge are equally fallible, therefore committing a second fallacy known as a non-sequiter. Two points of contention here. Firstly, if all knowledge is fallible (known as fallibilism) then fallibilism must infallibly be fallible. The only way for the fallibilist to escape this glaring contradiction is to borrow from infallibilism the same distinctions it tries to avoid.
Secondly, operating on Sola Scriptura this question borrows propositional truths aforementioned in scripture itself (1 Cor. 2). Moreover it assumes the noetic effects of sin which is found in scripture (Romans 1:18-22), and just because I could be wrong in my exegesis it does not follow that Scripture is itself fallible. It should be noted as well via illustration that if there were something wrong with my car radio, it is more likely a problem on my end than on the end of the broadcaster. Similarly, just because my interpretation may falter it does not follow that the revelation, or transmission thereof falters.
We may just as well ask the Prima Scripturist and the Sola Ecclessia adherents how they can rest assured that the magisterium or consensus of church fathers avoids a fallibilist belief in an infallible source. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
2. Only a cessationist would be convinced of this argument since they would use it to support that view.
There may be some merit to this objection in a sense because many cessationists do utilize this argument. However it does not follow that in order to be consistent with this argument you should be a cessationist, because other reasons could be furnished for denying cessationism that would not apply to this argument. For example Sam Waldron and others who do argue in this fashion for cessationism never answer questions about their suppressed premises. For example Sam Waldron and Richard Gaffin presuppose in their similar arguments that if there is a new revelation it must be written in scripture. But nowhere in scripture do we find the "tongues" of Apostles recorded.
3. How do you know what books belong in the canon from scripture?
This objection takes more time to respond too because out of these three objections it is the most difficult. Basically only God and his word are infallible, and only he is our infallible ultimate authority. All attempts of justification on this matter via history, allegedly infallible churches and Popes, are impossible to establish apodictic certainty of the canon. It is God himself who is the Canon or standard. I shall work on that article and when it is ready it will be available HERE. In conclusion since none of those methods can establish apodictic certainty of the canon it is proven by the impossibility of the contrary. One may escape this by saying knowledge does not require certainty, but then two things follow. The question cannot be asked since it assumes infallibilism, and two we could then reason that Sola Scriptura does not require apodictic certainty.