Scripture vs. Tradition
We’re spending so much time on sola Scriptura, because it is from Rome’s rejection of this that their other errors spring. When last we visited this subject, we saw that Rome does, indeed, deny the doctrine of sola Scriptura. This was not hard to do, since Rome makes no bones about denying sola Scriptura. In fact, Rome considers sola Scriptura to be a false doctrine, and the chief source of doctrinal confusion, not only between Roman Catholics and Protestants, but within the Protestant camp as well.
So, just what is sola Scriptura?
To hear many Roman Catholics talk, sola Scriptura is a person sitting alone on an island somewhere with a Bible, but with no access to Godly pastors, teachers, history books, lexicographies and grammars, archaeology, or anything else that would help put the words of the Scripture into context. That is not the Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura! (I will say this, though. If you did have someone alone on an island, with nothing but a Bible, they would never, ever, from the Bible, not in a million years, come up with what we know as Roman Catholicism!)
Sola Scriptura is the doctrine that the 66 canonical books of the Bible are the only infallible authority for all matters of faith (what a Christian believes) and practice (how a Christian worships God.) Our understanding of Scripture is informed by Godly men who spend their lives studying the Bible, by history, by archaeology, by language study, and a whole host of other disciplines, but it is the Scripture which has the final word. Nor is sola Scriptura a wholesale rejection of all tradition, but sola Scriptura does say that all teachings and traditions must be measured against Scripture, and anything which contradicts Scripture must be rejected.
Does the Bible teach sola Scriptura?
The short answer is yes, and I will support that by looking briefly at three passages.
The first is 2 Timothy 3:14-17:
You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
Here Paul points Timothy to the written Word of God, called “the sacred writings” in verse 15, and Scripture in verse 16. It is the written Word, breathed out by God, which is sufficient for teaching what is true, for identifying what is false, for the restoration to truth from error, and for the teaching of what should be taught. The Scriptures are enough to supply the doctrines of the Christian faith, no extra-Biblical traditions are needed.
The second is Acts 17:10-11:
The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.
Regarding this passage, John MacArthur writes, “It is highly significant that the Bereans are explicitly commended for examining the apostolic message in light of Scripture. They had the priority right: Scripture is the supreme rule of faith, by which everything else is to be tested.” If even an actually apostle’s teachings were to be checked against Scripture, should not the Pope and the Cardinals be held to the same standard?
The last passage I would like to look at today is Mark 7:1-9:
The Pharisees and some of the scribes gathered around Him when they had come from Jerusalem, and had seen that some of His disciples were eating their bread with impure hands, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.) The Pharisees and the scribes *asked Him, "Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?" And He said to them, "Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: 'THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. 'BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.' "Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men." He was also saying to them, "You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.
Here, Jesus deals with the Pharisees’ adherence to tradition in direct contradiction to the written words of Scripture. I believe that this speaks clearly to the exact same situation in the Roman Catholic Church.
When we return to this subject, I would like to look at some of the consequences of Rome’s rejection of sola Scriptura.