Two Things to Consider Regarding Sola Scriptura

Nick responded to my last post, and pointed me to his blog post on the subject. There were two parts which I liked enough that I think that they’re worth mentioning here.

1. Sola Scriptura Wasn’t True When the Bible Was Written.

These aren’t Nick’s words, these are James White’s. White, if you’re not familiar, is a controversial Calvinist apologist. In response to an article for This Rock by Baptist-turned-Catholic Steve Ray, White claims that Ray is straw-manning the Protestant position, saying:

One will search high and low for any reference in any standard Protestant confession of faith that says, “There has never been a time when God’s Word was proclaimed and transmitted orally.” You will never find anyone saying, “During times of enscripturation—that is, when new revelation was being given—sola scriptura was operational.” Protestants do not assert that sola scriptura is a valid concept during times of revelation. How could it be, since the rule of faith to which it points was at that very time coming into being? One must have an existing rule of faith to say it is “sufficient.” It is a canard to point to times of revelation and say, “See, sola scriptura doesn’t work there!” Of course it doesn’t. Who said it did?

White’s concession here should make something immediately clear:

  1. All Scripture is written during times of revelation.
  2. The Scriptures in question were written immediately for existing recipients, and aren’t prophetic in nature. (That is, no one’s writing about how in the days to come, Tradition will fade away and there will be only the Book, in the way that they did write about a coming Messiah or a coming destruction of the Temple).
  3. During times of revelation, sola Scriptura isn’t true.
  4. Therefore, no passage of Scripture affirms sola Scriptura.
  5. # 4 would be enough to invalidate sola Scriptura, but at least some passages deny sola Scriptura: 2 Thessalonians 2:15 suffices here.

Without Scriptural support (and indeed, in the face of Scripture), sola Scriptura must be (ironically) propped up by appeals to binding extra-Scriptural traditions, personal revelation, or the corporate work of the Holy Spirit within the Church. All of these appeals are self-refuting, since sola Scriptura denies that extra-Scriptural tradition, personal revelation, or Church teachings can ever be binding. (“Tradition 0” rejects Tradition outright; “Tradition 1,” while recognizing a role for Tradition and some sort of Magisterium, says Tradition and Church teachings are subordinate to Scripture, can’t nullify Scripture, and can’t be binding on extra-scriptural claims).

Also worth considering: White is conceding that 2 Timothy 3:14-17 didn’t mean sola Scriptura at the time it was written. The letters on the page haven’t changed since Paul wrote it. If it didn’t mean sola Scriptura then, it doesn’t mean it now.

2. 2nd Timothy 3:15-17 Doesn’t Say What People Think it Says.

The critical passage in the sola Scriptura debate is 2 Timothy 3:14-17, which is rendered by the NIV:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
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.

Proponents of sola Scriptura try to argue that this passage means Scripture is all you need in two ways: first, Paul says that Scripture can “make you wise for salvation.” If Scripture leads you to salvation, they argue, what else do you need? Second, Scripture makes you “thoroughly equipped for every good work.” If you’re thoroughly equipped, what else do you need?

The first of these claims is easily disproven. The first sentence is specific to Scriptures Timothy grew up on: the Old Testament. Paul is saying that a thorough Old Testament understanding will help Timothy’s walk in faith: he’ll be able to see the various ways that Christ Jesus was foreshadowed and prophesied, and that will help make him “wise for salvation.” If Paul were saying that these Scriptures were all you need, there would be no need for the New Testament, including 2 Timothy itself.

The second of these claims is grammatically and logically unsound, as Nick points out:

They are falsely jumping to conclusions, saying Scripture fully equips Man of God. Consider this example: Water is profitable towards muscle growth, good metabolism, and healthy blood, so that the athlete will be fully quipped for every sport. To take this as saying “water fully equips the athlete” is not only false scientifically, it’s misreading the passage. It is a good metabolism, strong muscles, and healthy blood that equip the athlete, and water is “profitable” towards those three factors. It’s false to say water is sufficient for muscle growth, good metabolism, and healthy blood, just as it’s false to read the text as saying Scripture is sufficient towards those Four Ends.

He’s right. To be thoroughly equipped, you need “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” the Four Ends. And Scripture is “useful” (other translations: “helpful”) in getting you to those ends. It doesn’t operate alone. In fact, the Church has been given the primary task of teaching (Matthew 28:19-20; see also 1 Timothy 3:2), rebuking (Matthew 18:17; 1 Corinthians 5:4-5), correcting (2 Corinthians 2:5-8), and training in righteousness (1 Timothy 3:15). At each step of the way, Scriptures serve as a useful tool to help the Church achieve Her goals, but these Four Ends are still commissioned to the Church. (Of course, the mere fact that they’re commissioned to the Church states the obvious: Scripture alone isn’t enough to achieve these goals. It’s simply helpful in getting Her there).


  1. I’m glad you liked my article. I’d like to note that most of these ideas I didn’t come up with myself, I’ve learned them from other Catholics. What I try to do is to put them down in a way that is short and to the point. (That’s why I deliberately kept my article only about 2 pages long)

    Once you’re aware of the “Sola Scriptura isn’t valid during times of enscripturation” argument, you’ll start to notice it more and more when Protestants explain the doctrine, though often they do it very subtly – in my experience I’ve yet to find anyone who is as frank as White is on this subject.

    For example:

    (1) The Westminster Confession of Faith’s teaching on SS says:
    “it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.”

    In other words, what the Confession is going to go onto say only applies to the post-Apostolic dispensation. Thus Jesus nor the Apostolic age practiced SS.

    (2) Another popular apologist like White is a guy named Joe Mizzi, who runs a sight aimed specifically at Catholics. Look what his main SS apologetics page says:
    “Question: What is Sola Scriptura?
    Answer: Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) is the doctrine that the Holy Bible, being the Word of God, is the only infallible rule of faith and practice for Christians in the post-apostolic age.

    See, Mizzi included that detail as well, though throughout his answer he doesn’t focus on this factor.

    (3) Famous Reformed theologian A.A. Hodge says this in his famous theology textbook:
    “The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the only organs through which, during the present dispensation, God conveys to us a knowledge of his will about what we are to believe concerning himself, and what duties he requires of us.”

    Here Hodge is speaking from a systematic theology point of view and expressly says it only applies during this present dispensation.

    Similar examples abound, you just have to know what to look for and what to ask 😉
    Many Protestants don’t even know about this critical detail, but it’s a logical and accurate detail for the doctrine.

  2. You’ve really done your homework on this: I agree with you that all of the sources you quote to are implictly conceeding that during the time Scripture was written, sola Scriptura wasn’t true. And since none of the verses people cite to are prophetic (saying that while there are two sources of authoritative Truth now, that in the future there will be only one), this means that the Bible literally cannot teach sola Scriptura.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *