Sola Scriptura – the scripture alone. This is the mantra that embodied the failed attempt of Protestants to reform the Roman Church and eventually led to the chaos of the thousands of denominations that we have today. It seems such a noble sentiment, as we have written before. However as is so often stated “the proof is in the puddin” – and in the case of Protestantism the “puddin” has outdone Baskin Robins’ with it’s numerous flavors.
The point of this article however is not to rib Protestants, but to take a look at the idea of Sola Scriptura. Sola Scriptura is not just an approach to the scripture, it is a philosophy. It is the framework of the Protestant world view. We could at this point take the time to look at just how this worldview has failed the West and left us on the brink of social and spiritual anarchy, but here I want to take a more practical approach to the subject. I want to essentially ask a very rational question: why should anyone believe the Bible to begin with?
I will allow you to wipe the saliva from your chin and close your mouth, and then revisit the question: why should anyone believe the Bible? Here we are in the rational West. Here, where we are given the catechism of empiricism. Here where we need evidence of everything, why is it that Protestants accept off-hand that the Bible is better than the Bhagavad Gita? “It is the inspired Word of God” you shout. But why do you believe that? I must admit that this was a perplexing question for me as a young Evangelical minister. I could tell you what I believed about the Bible and give the logical arguments for those beliefs, but I really had no reason to accept the Bible as having any authority. After all, who says that the Bible is the Bible? Who says what texts have spiritual authority and which texts do not?
Now to confuse the issue a bit more, a look at christian religious texts from the first centuries of the Christian era will reveal that there were many, many more texts that did not make it into the scripture than those which did. These range from very respected writing like the Didache (which nearly made into the canon), to the wild-eyed writings of Sethian Gnostics. We could fill a book shelf with Bibles if they all had been admitted. Yet only 27 books were chosen for the New Testament. The question remains why? When I was a child I remember the most angry my father ever got with me was when I tossed a Bible flippantly in the corner. I was told that the Bible was holy and should be respected. Yet where did we get that idea from?
There are times when Protestant Christians act as if the Bible floated down out of heaven on a cloud (perhaps somewhere in the mid-west). The Bible is a book with a history and a tradition. Christians venerate (honor) it because it has been handed down from one generation of Christians to the next from the days of the Apostles. We believe it is holy because those who gave us the Christian faith also gave us the Bible and told us that the Bible was holy. This however creates a problem for those who hold to Sola Scriptura. If you contend that one should abandon sacred tradition and hold only to what we can derive from the scripture alone, then we would have no reason to accept the scripture. It is after all sacred tradition that vindicates the Bible.
You cannot amputate the scripture from the tradition that handed it down to us. You cannot venerate the Bible and at the same time disparage the Christian Fathers that preserved its writings for us. You cannot suggest that the Church fell into apostasy and then use those very people to substantiate the sacred text. It is for this very reasons that the existence of the Bible makes Sola Scriptura untenable. We have a Bible because of sacred tradition, not in spite of it. The scriptures were never alone, and they never should be.