Sola Scriptura and Tradition

I recently received a question via email that I thought would be best answered in the form of a new blog post.  The question reads as follows:

For many years after Christianity got its first century beginning, there was no written New Testament.  Teaching was verbal and was initially by the apostles who had lived with Jesus for three years.  No sola scriptura there and yet the new faith flourished.

This is why the Roman Catholics, I suppose, have two foundations for their faith, Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. What is the your view regarding Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture as both being foundations of the Christian church?  Paul wrote in 2 Thessalonians 2:15
“Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.”
What say you Joe?  Please know that I am not trying to win you over to a particular belief at all.  In fact, have heard it said that the Catholics worship the Church, while the Protestants worship the Bible when in fact, our religion is Jesus the Christ.  

When I first began to gather my thoughts regarding this question, I quickly realized this is a fairly deep subject.  I also quickly realized that I will never be able to address it as well as some of the fine teachers who are out there.  So, what I decided to do was to throw out some of my thoughts on the subject and then provide a few links to some good material.

So first, my 2 cents worth (which in this case gets you 4 points to ponder):

1) First off, I must first inform you that it is my strong opinion that the Apostles knew they were writing Scripture, and those receiving their letters knew they were receiving Scripture.  If you would like to know why I believe this, you can read some various Scripture passages and quotes of church fathers that have convinced me of this by scrolling down to the end of this article where I have placed them.  Just look for the sections with Bold red titles.  It is important to understand this.  So, now that you know this is my view, let me press on.

 It was shortly before A.D. 70 that the last book of the canon was finished.  And in A.D. 367 we find the first record of all 27 books of today’s NT being listed as accepted Scripture (by Athanasius).  By this time, all the churches in that area had already come to an agreement and acceptance of the books.  When you realize that those who received the documents were clear that they were Scripture, and they passed them along as such, we see it was only a couple of generations from authorship before we have recorded proof of their acceptance as a gathered group.  With their intention being made clear upon delivery, and the fact that the books were circulated as Scripture during those generations (which they obviously did in order for all to be in agreement by A.D. 367) combined with the guidance of the Holy Spirit,  I see little room for doubting that they were accepted and revered in pre-canon times.  In one of his letters (in A.D.110), Ignatius made the statement “I do not order you like Peter and Paul, they were Apostles” clearly demonstrating the acceptance of the Apostles writings as Scripture, and the fact that other authors knew their own writings were not to be considered Scripture.  In fact, I would regard this statement as an affirmation of sola scriptura before the canon was officially recognized.

2) Please read the following passage:

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”   Hebrews 1:1-2

Consistently, “the last days” is referred to as the time between the two comings of Christ (the time in which we now live).  This seems to strongly suggest that the final revelation of the plan of salvation is the final revelation.  Christ’s death on the Cross is the culmination both of his plan to save mankind and to make His glory known.  It is behind everything that is taught in the New Testament.  What would need to be added?

We must also accept that our sovereign Lord had His hand not only on the gathering of documents to be included, but also the order they were placed in the canon.  There is much symbology in Genesis (the beginning) that finds its’ closure in Revelation (the ending).  Also, take a look at Revelation 22:18-19:

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”

While the immediate application of this warning pertains to the book of Revelation itself, I find the placement in the canon to be no small coincidence, especially when keeping in view that the true Biblical meaning of the word “prophecy” is to be speaking the words of God.  It is a modern misconception that the word applies only to the foretelling of future events.

So if no new material is to be added… why go looking for new material?  Why accept other material?  It can only lead to trouble.  By “material” I do not mean sound teachings expounding the written Word, but rather teachings which would try to add on to the written Word, or change its’ clear meaning.  There are many people trying to teach “new and deeper truths” or change the Christian faith to meet their generation in a way that makes everybody comfortable.  Often times these get picked up and turned into traditions with no Scriptural foundation.  We must accept that as soon as something is added or changed to the Word, it is no longer the word of God, no matter how long the doctrine or practice has been upheld.   A closed canon delivered “once and for all to the saints” (see Jude 1:3) is safe, whereas nothing else is.

3) Absolutely nowhere in Scripture do we see tradition itself being taught as authoritative or infallible.  Let’s look at 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15 carefully for a moment:

“But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.  To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.  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.”

It is an encouragement to hold firmly to the truth of the Gospel message itself whether they heard about it orally directly from an apostle or through one of the apostolic letters.  I think to hold this as a directive to consider adherence to all traditions put forward by various faiths claiming Christianity to be a dangerous thing.  There are even several instances where Jesus condemns people for their traditions which had become an authority over God’s Word in the minds of  their adherents.

Our Lord gives no mandate nor even a suggestion that we should follow traditions.  Myself, I do not frown on traditions that are a comfortable method of worship as long as they do not contradict the teachings of Scripture.  ALL traditions and practices MUST be held up to the light of Scripture to test their purity.  Sadly, most Roman Catholic traditions seem to be in direct contradiction to clearly outlined Scriptural teachings (their use of statues, celibacy of priests, papal authority, etc).  This is the real heart of the matter.  If a tradition brings you closer to God, is in no way an idol, and is in full alignment with Scripture, how could it be wrong?  But if a tradition clearly violates Scripture, or has become an idolatrous way of  “reaching up to God” how can it be right?

4) Finally, I myself stick to the written Word because I don’t like to take deadly risks.  Let me explain what I mean:  We have a book that details absolutely everything relevant to the creation, fall, redemption and future of the entire human race in a book we know to be infallible and given to us directly from God.  Why in the world would I go driving around the religious landscape (tradition, mystics, etc.) looking for some crumb of truth to ingest when I have a bountiful resource of pure spiritual food already in my hands?  Why would I risk poison and death for a crumb, when a feast protected and ordained by my Lord is already on my table?  A teaching might “feel right” but since the Bible teaches us our hearts are deceitfully wicked, trusting our feelings is the last thing we should be doing.  To take deadly risks makes absolutely no sense to me…

Some good places to visit regarding these things:

 A Concoction? – A really, really good article regarding Sola Scriptura.

The Early Church – Sola Scriptura and the early church.

Fighting for the Faith – Sufficiency – Pirate Christian Radio program discussing the Sufficiency of Scripture.

Why I believe both the authors of NT letters as well as those who received NT letters believed the letters to be Scripture:

Paul quotes Luke as Scripture:
For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”  1 Timothy 5:18

“You shall not muzzle…” is from Deuteronomy 25:4, but “The Laborer deserves…” is from Luke 10:7 which means Paul recognized Luke’s Gospel as Scripture.

Peter recognizes Paul’s writings as Scripture:

“And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.”   2 Peter 3.16

Peter taught others that the Apostles were speaking for the Lord:

“I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles”   2 Peter 3:1-3

John knows he is writing Scripture:

“They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them.  We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”   1 John 4:5-6


Paul knows he is writing Scripture:

And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us,”    1 Thessalonians 2:13

Did the recipients of the New Testament documents believe they were Scripture?

Isaiah 8:14-18  – “And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.  And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”  Bind up the testimony; seal the teaching among my disciples.  I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him. Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion.”

Verse 15 is quoted in the New Testament in reference to Christ.  Likewise, verse 18 is specifically quoted in the New Testament and applied to the apostles of Christ.  Therefore, when Isaiah says “among my disciples” in verse 16, this is ultimately fulfilled when the disciples finish the Scriptural canon.  Isaiah was a well-known and revered book at the time of the disciples.  In light of this passage, as well as all the NT Scriptures pointing to the fact the disciples (apostles) were well aware they were writing Scripture, it seems obvious that the people they were teaching were made well aware as to the nature of their writings.   It also seems obvious that since these same letters recognized by the Apostles to be Scripture were eventually placed in the canon, that they must have been circulated as Scripture throughout the church between the time of authorship and the closing of the canon.

Can the New Testament writings be trusted as accurate?

At some point, one must recognize that it is a sovereign God that created the entire Earth (and everything else), put the solar system into motion, and established a plan of redemption for sinful mankind (before there was a mankind).  Can we truly suggest that a God of such power, control, knowledge and forethought was completely unable to accurately record the very Scriptures He repeatedly stresses as being so important?

In John 14:6, our Lord makes it clear His hand will be in the writing of the Scriptures:

“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you.  But the Helper, 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.”


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One Comment on “Sola Scriptura and Tradition”

  1. revivalandreformation Says:

    Nice job ChurchSalt on this post. It is a hard thing to defend the inerrancy of the Bible because we must use the Bible to do so. To convince someone that the Bible is perfect, God-breathed and needs nothing, can only come by God opening that person’s eyes. We cannot safely go to secular sources to prove the Bible perfect, this is a great oxymoron and leads to all sorts of problems. The Bible is foolishness to the perishing, to us it is beautiful and life. To say that Jesus is THE way, THE Truth and THE life is foolish to the world. To us, everything is held up for inspection through God’s word. Everything. Traditions, celebrations, wants, needs, ideas, etc., have to be filtered through the Word of God.

    I have a book that, even though I do not endorse the author (Grant Jeffrey), his work on the statistical probabilities of the Bible and its prophecies concerning Christ coming to earth, His birth, His life, death and resurrection are remarkable. It is the book ‘Signature of God’. After reading about the massive improbability of all of the prophecies concerning Christ coming to pass by chance, one cannot help but look at the Bible differently. I recommend this book just for that part.

    Voddie Baucham has a good sermon on why he believes that Bible is true:

    I believe that if someone wants to know the truth, they must personally go to God, ask Him to reveal the truth to their heart. This I believe has to be a one on one journey with Bible in hand. We make the mistake of falling back on man’s teachings because it’s easier just to listen to a sermon or read an article because all the work’s done for us. If your readers question the validity and inerrancy of Scripture, in the end it will be between them and the Author of that Scripture.


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