Sunday, August 16, 2009

2 Timothy 3:15-17 = "sola scriptura"? Are you sure?

I like to ask my Protestant friends about sola scriptura, or "scripture alone", a doctrine that attests that the Bible by itself is sufficient for anyone to learn about their faith and salvation. It sounds reasonable, and I personally believe that all Christians should get in to the habit of reading the Bible to learn about their faith and salvation, and how to live as a Christian. Yes, the Bible is the inspiried Word of God and is an authority on such matters, but it is not the sole authority; by scripture and tradition we learn of our faith, salvation and how to live the Christian lifestyle ("scripture and tradition" is a matter for another blog entry, so let's stay focussed on 2 Tim. 3:15-17).

When I ask my Protestant friends, "Can you show me the verse or reading in the Bible where it tells us scripture is the sole authority?" I'm usually met - very quickly, I might add - with this response, 2 Timothy 3:15-17...

"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."

It's a good response, but unfortunately it's not sufficient, and here are the problems with it:

1.) What scripture do you think they're talking about in 2 Timothy 3:15-17? There certainly wasn't a Bible around at that time nor had the New Testament been compiled. They were of course speaking of the Old Testament.

2.) Pay attention to the wording in 2 Tim 3:15-17, namely verse 16:

"All Scripture is God-breathed and is USEFUL for teaching..." (NIV)

"and is PROFITABLE for doctrine..." (KJV)

"For all scripture inspired of God is PROFITABLE to teach..." (Wycliffe NT)

2 Tim 3:15-17 proves nothing more than scripture (OT; written word that existed at the time) being "useful" or "profitable" in the DEVELOPMENT/TEACHING of doctrine.

There is nothing there that suggests or even implies "scripture alone" (sola scriptura). Scripture is not the only authority.

3.) 2 Tim 3:16 ("All scripture, inspired by God, is profitable to teach..." Latin Vulgate Douay-Rheims); the word from which "profitable" is translated from is "utilis", which means "useful, advantageous, helpful". It does NOT mean the following:

- essential;
- mandatory;
- binding;
- obligatory;
- irremmisible; etc.

4.) The Bible did not become the Bible until the fourth century when St. Jerome, by papal authority (Pope Damasus I) in 382AD, was given the order to translate the Gospels, epistles of St. Peter and St. Paul and other now New Testament books, from Greek and Hebrew into Latin. St. Jerome's translations became the definitive and official Latin version of the Bible of the Roman Catholic Church. The word "Bible" itself is derived from the Latin word "biblia" which means "book", so when one was speaking of the Bible (as in the sacred scriptures) back in those days, it was referred to as "biblia sacra" or "holy book".

5.) Even scripture itself tells us to pay heed to sacred traditions:

"I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the teachings, just as I passed them on to you." - 1 Corinthians 11:2

"So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter." - 2 Thessalonians 2:15

"if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth." - 1 Timothy 3:15

"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." - Acts 2:42

"Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation." - 2 Peter 1:20

"He [Paul] writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction." - 2 Peter 3:16

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding" - Proverbs 3:5

"In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us." - 2 Thessalonians 3:6

"I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them." - Romans 16:17

6.) Sola scriptura propagates division and confusion! It it were up to every single individual to interpret scripture, then how is the individual Christian supposed to know whose interpretation is right? What's stopping one from saying to another, "My interpretation is right and yours is wrong!"? From "fallible" men, who among them is right? Who can we go to for a reliable and unbiased interpretation of scripture (2 Peter 3:16)?

Further reading:

For me, the sola scriptura argument is a no brainer: if Christ's followers could learn about salvation, their faith, and growth in the Christian lifestyle without a Bible, then anyone can do the same. The difference is today, however, is that we have the advantage of a readily-available Bible and 2000 years of Christian sacrament and worship heavily steeped in tradition!

I'm a big fan of the Bible, so don't be mislead by the core arguments of this blog entry; I think, as I have already declared, all Christians should read the Bible, but it mightn't be wise to rely entirely on the Bible. We have a beautiful gift in the traditions that have been passed down from Christ to his disciples, and his disciples on to us. We can experience the fullness of the Christian faith by immersing ourselves in both!

Make mine sacred scripture and tradition!



  1. I love your new format! Way cool logo too. Good on ya Steve.

    Oh and the article makes sense too. It is logically coherent and you make some good points. I particularly like the 2 Thessalonians 2:15 - "whether by word of mouth or by letter", showing that what was written in Paul's letters was never intended to be the full story.

  2. Thank you so much for this article!

    I was just wondering, what do you think we could say if other Christians challenge us and say, "How do you know that what the priest or other people say is sacred tradition?"

    - Apologetic in the making...

  3. Great question! For your answer, I would highly recommend reading the following article over at -

    Scroll down to "What is Tradition?" and read on from there.

    I hope that helps.


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