The fallacy of Sola Scriptura

LutherbibelFirst, I want to make clear that I firmly believe all Scripture to be inspired by God, profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16). The fallacy is in the concept of Sola Scriptura (Latin for “Scripture alone”).  I believe it’s a fallacious argument because there’s no such thing in actual practice.

A fallacy is a mistaken belief, especially one based on unsound argument. What’s unsound about the Sola Scriptura argument is that no matter how you look at it, the final authority still comes from man. In the case of Sola Scriptura, our particular interpretation of the inspired Scripture.

Luther’s answer to finding an alternate source to Papal authority was to appeal to the Scripture text itself. I talked about this in my series titled, “The Jesus Hermeneutic,” so I won’t cover how we got there here.

Luther95thesesBut when Luther and the Protestants appealed to Scripture as their final authority, the question then became, “How does one know our interpretation of Scripture is the right one?” Their answer was to create systematic theology, build seminaries, learn the original languages, and create tools to help us understand the Bible.

And that’s a good thing, in and of itself. I love all the Bible tools available to us and use them myself. The ideal of Sola Scriptura is vastly superior to blindly following church leaders in total biblical ignorance.

We should read the Bible and use tools are available to us.

But my point is this: it doesn’t move us away from traditions and doctrines of men. They’re just “Bible believing” ones now. We’re still left with the problem of interpretation, which is why we’ve never been more divided in Church history! Case in point: there are at least 33,000 Protestant denominations and growing. (By some accounts, it more like 40,000).

Most of this divisiveness comes from doctrinal disagreement based on our reading of the Scripture we appeal to as our final authority. The Lutherans believe the Bible differently than the Methodists…who believed differently than the Anglicans….then you have the Presbyterians, the myriad of Baptist variations, Holiness churches, Pentecostal, and Charismatic varieties…et alad infinitum.

The problem with making Scripture text our final authority is that we risk following the text instead of Jesus. We can end up looking more like the Pharisees than Jesus (John 5:39-40). In effect, we make the text “God” instead of God. The Trinity becomes the Father, Son, and Holy Bible! And because there will always be disagreement on interpretation of the text, there is no corresponding unity in Christ’s body as there is between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Jesus_namesSo are we left with no standard? Nothing to which we can make our final appeal? As I pointed out in “The Jesus Hermeneutic,” certainly not! We have Jesus Christ, the Living Word! We have His interpretation of Scripture through His life and teachings, and we have the indwelling Spirit of Christ living in us now and forever.

Having a “Jesus hermeneutic” brings us into greater unity with one other than doctrinal agreement, for we are all in Christ.

This was Jesus’ promise with the coming of the Holy Spirit…

20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. (John 14:20 NIV)

This was Jesus’ prayer for unity (emphasis mine)…

23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:23 NIV)

Our final authority need not rest in bishops and popes, nor in the Bible text, but in the exact expression and revelation of God Himself—Jesus Christ (Heb.1:3). We no longer need to relate to one another (or split from one another) based on doctrinal agreement (which is mostly disagreement), but in this union in Christ (emphasis mine):

endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Eph.4:3-6 NKJV)

This works because Christ is God, and we are all in Christ in God!

There is only one “denomination” in the Kingdom of God—it’s called His body, His Church. And it’s Jesus who’s building His church. And when we find ourselves in Christ, we will find each other there, too. And there’s nothing fallacious about that.

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About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 36 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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11 Responses to The fallacy of Sola Scriptura

  1. Andy Oldham says:

    Great post Mel. My little brother is part of this thinking of Sola Scriptura and is always trying to preach it to me. Thanks for helping me understand this better.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Your welcome, Andy. And thanks for your comments. Unfortunately, many passionate believers use “Sola Scriptura” as a club to overrule any dissenting view from their particular interpretation of Scripture. It becomes divisive and even Pharisaical (Pharisee means “separatist”). The world that Jesus came to save ends up shaking their heads at our relational bickering. My prayer is that we can grow up in Christ, agree to disagree where it’s not critical, learn to appreciate the diversity of Christ’s Body without being divisive, so that the world will finally see Jesus in our love for one another. I think that was Jesus’ prayer, too! 🙂

  2. Jon says:

    It sounds like you support the infallibility of scripture outside of anything that would be construed to support the notion of a loving God and the inerrancy and infallability of scripture when it comes to the reporting on Jesus’ central message of love. Am I understanding you correctly? How do we discern that your suppositions are correct if they are based entirely upon the reported sayings and nature of Jesus in an otherwise potentially fallible and errant text?

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thank your for your comments and question, Jon. Much appreciated. Hopefully, I can clarify this for you, although it’s not a simple straightforward answer.

      First, I did not say I believed in the “infallibility” of the Scripture text. I said that I agree with the Bible that it’s inspired (2 Tim.3:16). There is a difference. In fact, I don’t believe the Bible itself makes a claim for its own infallibility (without fail) or inerrancy (without error) as the Reformers postulated. And don’t think the ancient people of God read it that way either. As Old Testament scholar, Walter Bruggermann, points out, Israel’s narrative is filled with “metaphor, hyperbole, and ambiguity—to which could be added irony, incongruity, and contradiction—are not marginal or incidental to the text.” Indeed, the Bible contains its own internal disputation of the testimonies given to us. I think an honest and open analysis would support this view. And this is what makes Scripture so rich and multi-layered.

      But to put my theological view in straightforward terms, ONLY Jesus Christ is the infallible expression of God (Matt.11:27; John 1:18; 14:7; Heb.1:3). Not that others in Scripture didn’t know Him; they didn’t know Him perfectly. For no one really knows God unless Jesus “explains” Him. And whatever contradicts how Jesus explains God, we must take as suspect, even if it’s in the scriptural text. This doesn’t take away from its inspired testimony, it reveals that the biblical text is telling us something else. It’s telling us about OUR experience with, and relationship to, God. It’s inspired because it perfectly reveals our human nature, how we interact with God and others, either out of fear (Adamic) or love (God). For God is not just loving; He IS love. The Bible text itself is not the “Word of God;” Jesus Christ Himself is the Word of God. The biblical text testifies of Jesus (John 5:39-40). So the text is a faithful witness of our (mankind’s) experience with God, including our flawed way of seeing Him and acting on His behalf. In that regard, it’s divinely inspired, not humanly invented, which is why we must go much deeper than a reductionist reading of the text. Faith means trust, and my ultimate trust is in Jesus Christ being the very nature and “exact expression” of God, rather than in an indiscriminate reading of the Bible text.
      I hope that explains my position a little more clearly. Thanks again and blessings to you.

    • Jon says:

      That makes sense. If you will allow me, I am still trying to understand what is the underlying argument to support the Jesus Hermeneutic. I am not enamored with the concepts of infallibility and inerrancy, but I don’t know what the basis is for applying them selectively to text beyond faith based on lived experience. Are we to believe that what the Bible reports about Jesus himself is, in fact, infallible (while not necessarily assigning that value to the rest of scripture) because it aligns with our own experience of Jesus’ love within our lives or because of something else? If so, is our own experience of his love somehow infallible? If something else, what is it?

    • Mel Wild says:

      My underlying hermeneutic is the testimony of Jesus (Matt.11:27; John 1:18; 14:7; Heb. 1:3, etc.). Jesus Himself is infallible (unfailing), not the text. But we don’t need the infallibility or inerrancy of the text to have faith. We read what is being said about Him and how He explained His Father, and the Holy Spirit confirms this (John 16:13-15), but there’s nothing infallible or inerrant about our experience or understanding of any of these things.

      This is why we should avoid dogmatic certitudes and reductionism (which is almost anathema in Western thought!). The simplest way to have faith is trust in Jesus more than an indiscriminate reading of the Bible. This helps us harmonize the apparent contradictions and troubling texts through the interpretative lens of Christ. We let the revelation of Jesus interpret the text for us, so to speak.

      I don’t think the Bible ever intends to completely resolve itself for us. It bids us to come and enter into the relationship and dialogue with God and with each other. This was the challenge the New Testament writers were facing. Their whole paradigm had been subverted by the revelation of Jesus Christ. We’re called into the same theological upheaval. 🙂

  3. Arkenaten says:

    Do you have any trouble regarding interpretation and personal honesty with such texts knowing that they are pseudoepigraphical( forgeries)?

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