Is the Bible the sole authority?
Vic Biorseth, Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Is the Bible the sole authority for teaching Christianity? And, if our Holy Scripture is the sole authority for Christian teaching, then, where does it say that in our Holy Scripture? In fact, how is it even possible, given that Christianity itself predates the Bible, which means that someone had to write the first Bible, without benefit of a Bible as a reference?
Of course, the Old Testament existed, and we know from nuances of language that the version quoted by our Lord and His Apostles and the Evangelists in the New Testament was the 73-book Septuagint, the first one-book Old Testament, written in Greek. But the New Testament did not exist yet. After the Crucifixion, the Resurrection and the Assumption, over time, letters (epistles) were penned by Paul (or his scribes,) Peter, John, James and Jude, written to various newly established Churches. Many of these were held and preserved, and would eventually be included in the Church’s canon to be part of the New Testament. Years after the events, the Gospels and Acts were written by the Evangelists, and finally, Revelation was written by St. John.
But even in those days, neither Christians nor Jews depended entirely or solely upon even the existing Old Testament for their salvation and enlightenment. That’s why they had teachers and rabbis. The Word of the Lord was handed on long before it was ever written. There was a very, very long oral tradition in Judaism. The Law – the first five books of the Old Testament – began with Moses. The keepers and protectors and teachers of The Law were the sons of Aaron and the sons of Levi. Everybody didn’t have his own copy, and those who did, did not exercise their own interpretation.
Many Catholics, Orthodox and Jews have participated in “inter-denominational” Bible study groups, which always seem to be Protestant controlled. Although we may be allowed to participate and even to argue, none of us may ever “facilitate” or lead a meeting or Biblical discussion, because of a prerequisite promise we cannot make. The oath or affirmation is of the form,
I recognize that the Bible is inerrant, inspired by God and is the sole authority here.
No Catholic or Orthodox or Jew can say that. Only Protestants can say that, because Sola Scriptura is a strictly Protestant dogma, invented by Martin Luther. Even those Protestants who call themselves non-denominational are still Protestants if they adhere to this strictly Protestant dogma. So, virtually all “inter-denominational” Bible study groups that I have ever heard of have rules to exclude us from any sort of leadership role in Scripture study.
The Bible is indeed inerrant and inspired by God. But, if the Bible is the sole authority of all theology and morality, then, by what authority is that claim even made? By the authority of Martin Luther? Luther alone? If so, that is an extra-Scriptural authority, and it defeats the rule that the Bible is the sole authority.
I submit for your consideration the argument that it is quite impossible for the Bible to be the sole authority of any denomination, form or variation of Judao-Christian theology if the Bible itself nowhere makes that claim.
The Basis for Sole Authority. The Lutheran / Protestant argument for Sola Scriptura (sole authority of Scripture) always seems to primarily revolve around 2 Tim 3:16-17, as follows:
 All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,  that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
… which says nothing whatsoever about sole authority. I don’t even see why these verses are even brought up in any discussion on the authority of correct teaching of Christian theology or doctrine. They are quite correct, of course, in what they say, but they say nothing whatsoever about sole authority.
Authority, yes, but not sole authority. Christianity stands on three pillars, and 2 Tim 3:16-17 establishes one of those pillars as Scripture. Then we have 1 Tim 3:14-15 that firmly establishes the Church as another pillar:
 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that,  if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.
… and then 2 Thess 2:15 establishes the third pillar, which is Tradition:
 So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.
Here we have the three pillars of Christian faith, all firmly established in Scripture, and they are:
Of course, our Lord selected his Apostles for a reason, and he gave them authority for a reason. We see in Matt 18:18 that he granted them to power to make and enforce rules of doctrine,
 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
… and that he granted the same power uniquely to Peter, and to Peter alone he gave the Keys to the Kingdom, in Matt 16:
 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
We discussed all this in more detail, including the meaning of the Keys, in the Infallibility Webpage, and I shouldn’t need to belabor those points again here.
Where does proper faith come from? Any good Protestant would answer that question with an immediate quote from 1 Rom 10:17, as follows:
 So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ.
Note well that the verb used is heard and not read. The Sacred Word was preached – not written – by specially chosen men who were moved by the Holy Ghost. And all of it was not written. We know this from the end of John, as we see in John 21:25:
 But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
Where did all that teaching go? Into what Catholics call large-T Tradition. And it is recalled by His Church with the aid of the Holy Ghost, as promised by our Lord Himself in John 14:26:
 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
He was speaking to His chosen Apostles, and to their successors: His Church.
All Catholics know, or should know, that blessed Peter gave us the First Rule of Scripture Study that we see in 2 Pet 1:19-21:
 And we have the prophetic word made more sure. You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.  First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation,  because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
… which takes Scripture interpretation completely out of the hands of the laity. We laymen are free to read, think about, discuss and argue all those points not officially settled by the Church, but we are not free to come up with new or personal interpretations at variance with settled doctrine. The unchanging Gospel is preserved unchanged and protected forever by the authority of His Church with the Holy Ghost.
This follows the ancient pattern set by the Jews, renewed after the return from the Babylonian exile, as we see in Nehemiah. There, Ezra read aloud and interpreted for the people, the Book of the Law, after the long exile, in Neh 8:5-8:
5] And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people; and when he opened it all the people stood.  And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God; and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands; and they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.  Also Jesh’ua, Bani, Sherebi’ah, Jamin, Akkub, Shab’bethai, Hodi’ah, Ma-asei’ah, Keli’ta, Azari’ah, Jo’zabad, Hanan, Pelai’ah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the law, while the people remained in their places.  And they read from the book, from the law of God, clearly; and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
… and continued by the Christians, as we see in Acts 8:26-40:
 But an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert road.  And he rose and went. And behold, an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a minister of the Can’dace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of all her treasure, had come to Jerusalem to worship  and was returning; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah.  And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.”  So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”  And he said, “How can I, unless some one guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.  Now the passage of the scripture which he was reading was this: “As a sheep led to the slaughter or a lamb before its shearer is dumb, so he opens not his mouth.  In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken up from the earth.”  And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, pray, does the prophet say this, about himself or about some one else?”  Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this scripture he told him the good news of Jesus.  And as they went along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What is to prevent my being baptized?”  And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.  And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught up Philip; and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.  But Philip was found at Azo’tus, and passing on he preached the gospel to all the towns till he came to Caesare’a.
Like the rest of us, the Ethiopian needed someone to correctly interpret what he was reading, lest he be led astray by his own imaginings. We cannot have every-man-for-himself Scripture interpretation, for that would mean every-man-for-himself theology and every-man-for-himself morality. The Gospel message is not random; it is fixed forever.
So the answer is no, the Bible is not the sole authority, although it is one of the three pillars of Christian faith. At least, that’s my answer to the question, and I am just a layman and no theologian; I simply base my answer on Scripture itself, since that’s what Protestantism claims for pure authority. I back my argument up with Scripture, as it has been taught to me by my Church.
What’s your answer, and what do you back it up with?
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