Sola Scriptura is problematic. Firstly, it is misunderstood by many of its adherents, and secondly, Scripture does not teach it. Whether Scripture or tradition teaches Sola Scriptura, either way, there are logical problems. Is there another way to uphold the principles of Sola Scriptura without succumbing to a logical muddle and continue to promote faithfulness to sacred Scripture? I believe there is, but let’s first consider the problems.

Sola Scriptura is Latin for ‘Scripture alone’ and is one of the five solea of the Reformation. The Reformers promoted the idea that the Christian creeds, and the church’s traditions and teachings must be found to be in unity with Scripture for it is the inspired word of God. It also holds that the Bible is the only infallible source of authority for Christian faith and practice. I do not see any reason why we should abandon this principle.

Sadly, many Christians have taken Sola Scriptura to mean Solo Scriptura (Scripture only). ‘Alone’ and ‘only’ are almost synonymous, so the muddle is not surprising. Regrettably, it has been taken to mean Scripture only, without tradition, reason, or experience. Evidently, Sola Scriptura has been misunderstood and misapplied, often creating a bland Christianity void of tradition, beauty, and reason. Using American imagery, it’s akin to eating a turkey sandwich, where in the next room there is a full joyous Thanksgiving feast with a whole roasted turkey, and all the side extras. The roasted turkey is central to everything, and the delicious smell fills the room. Both the sandwich and the Thanksgiving feast have turkey, likewise, both scenarios have Scripture and the gospel. But truth be told, I want to be in the room where the Thanksgiving feast is happening.

While writing this blog I googled, “Bible verses that teach Sola Scriptura” and found a website that lists 100 bible verses, yet none of them say anything about Scripture alone. One of the most quoted verses in support of Sola Scriptura is 1 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” But even Roman Catholics who hold that Scripture and Tradition are equal in authority and denounce Sola Scriptura, don’t see any problem with teaching that all of Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, and so on. It simply does not teach Scripture alone; it merely defines important characteristics of Scripture. And 1 Corinthians 4:6, “that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written” seems to refer only to the literary context of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church. 1 Thessalonians 2:13 might seem to suggest Sola Scripture, but ‘the word of God’ refers to Paul’s gospel teaching, not specifically to Scripture. We all know what Revelation 22:18–19 says, that there will be judgement for anyone who “takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy.” However, John was referring only to his book of Revelation, and while I argue that this ought to be applied to all of Scripture, again, it does not teach Sola Scriptura.

Further, there is the problem of canonization. For argument’s sake, if Paul taught Scripture alone in 1 Thessalonians written between AD 52–53, surely this would disqualify other writings that came afterward in the New Testament canon because anything else that comes later would be adding. Further, isn’t it circular reasoning if we were to suggest that (Reformation) tradition imposes Sola Scriptura if it is not taught in the Bible. However, we do need to affirm, along with the 39 Articles of Religion, article 6: The Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation, which says that the “Holy Scripture contains all we need for salvation, so that whatever is not found to be in Scripture or proved by it, is not required of anyone neither to do or to believe.” (paraphrased). This is evident in John 5:39; 20:30–31, 1 John 5:13, and 2 Timothy 3:15.

To be sure, Scripture does talk about tradition. Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for putting their man-made traditions (παράδοσις) over and above the Torah and burdening the people with their traditions, thus making the word of God void (Matt 15:6 and Mark 7:13). The Apostle Paul makes a similar rebuke in Colossians 2:8. This is not to say that Jesus and Paul disregarded religious tradition, indeed they upheld it and were shaped by it, but not when it conflicted with Scripture and the gospel. Paul promoted Christian tradition (παράδοσις) when he wrote, “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” (2 Thess 2:15; see also 1 Cor 11:2 and 2 Thess 3:6).

So, how do we uphold the reformational principle of Sola Scriptura while acknowledging that Scripture does not teach it, and overcome the contradictory hurdle that it’s taught by tradition? I propose we look to Prima Scriptura, not as the unhelpful 3-legged stool imagery, where Scripture, tradition, and reason appear to be equal, but where sacred Scripture is primary and above all other sources of revelation, like tradition and reason. These should be celebrated as secondary, and as helpful instruments and guides as we seek to obey Scripture wholeheartedly and worship God faithfully.

Short Bio: Dr. Robert Falconer ([email protected]) is the Masters and Doctoral Research Coordinator overseeing all aspects of student research at the MTh and PhD level.