Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Short Defense of Sola Scriptura

A Short Defense of Sola Scriptura
A Short Defense of Sola Scriptura
Stephen Wolfe has produced a blog post entitled “A Short Defense of Sola Scriptura” – a link to it has been posted on the front page of The Gospel Coalition (in case it leaves there soon, I’ve put a screen capture of it on the right).

He writes:

… the texts were received as scripture and later codified in the form of the canon. Sola Scriptura is simply the following: the sole rule of faith is contained in texts that have been received as scripture. It is only a consequence of this principle that one can say that all doctrine must come from the sixty-six book canon. The doctrine of sola scriptura is not about a list of books, but the principle that all doctrine must come from scripture. In other words, all doctrine must come from a certain type of revelation, namely, inscripturated divine communication. The codification of the canon as a list of books is subsequent to the receiving of texts as scripture, not prior to it; and saying that the rule of faith is contained in the sixty-six book canon of scripture presupposes this codification as subsequent.

Read the entire blogpost here.

See also: The Twenty-Seven-Book New Testament Before Athanasius.

See also: My series of articles on Michael Kruger’s “Canon Revisited”.


  1. It's my understanding and position that Sola Scriptura can be defended historically, theologically and logically as true irrespective of whether one has the correct canon. In other words, the truth of Sola Scriptura doesn't depend on one knowing the correct canon. So, for example, many of the Church Fathers tacitly (and sometimes explicitly) practiced and believed in Sola Scriptura even though 1. the canon wasn't yet settled, or 2. they didn't have the correct canon, or 3. weren't very confident which canon was correct. I believe that situations like that or holding to such a position isn't inconsistent. Sola Scriptura and the canon are two different topics.

    Also, DURING the time when fully inspired revelation was STILL being given by God, Summa Scriptura was in effect. Meaning that already then recognized Scripture had the highest authority. So, for example, a generation after Joshua when (I would assume) the only recognized Scripture they had at the time was the Pentateuch, all further alleged seers (or prophets), judges, verbal revelations or written revelations had to be judged by the highest authority of the Pentateuch. The rest of the OT and NT canon didn't yet exist. Only as the people of God as a whole and/or a proven prophet recognized a writing as inspired could it be included in the canon (e.g. a psalm, or 2 Samuel etc.).

    A "proven prophet" himself was considered proven in the eyes of the covenant people of God by his faithfulness to the current canon, holy life and fulfilled prophecies and/or miracles. And so, Scripture was used to test all alleged further prophets (i.e. Summa Scriptura). Even the Lord Jesus, who was God incarnate and could "pull rank," submitted and appealed to the OT as confirming His messianic claims and message. As Paul did for his apostolicity in Acts 17:11 before non-Christian Jews. Or as even professing apostles were to be tested by believing Christians (Rev. 2:2, Gal. 1:8-9).

    I do believe that the Protestant canon is the correct canon and can be defended historically. But I think it's important to be able to affirm Sola Scriptura to non-Protestant professing Christians and atheists even IF we might not have the correct canon. Since, a common attack by Catholics is to claim we're dependent on the Catholic church for the canon even though (they claim) Sola Scriptura depends on and makes no sense without the canon.

    Continued in next post.

    1. Atheists on the other hand like to point out that professing Christians disagree on the Canon. Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants and others have different canons. But the Lord Jesus Christ was able to condemn the Jews of His day even though there was some disagreement on the canon of the OT (Torah only, Palestinian canon, Alexandrian canon etc.). Since, the authority and convicting power of Scripture doesn't depend on the correct canon.

      The Lord Jesus was able and willing to address, judge and condemn the Sadducees based on their truncated canon (Torah only). They were accountable to what they believed. And Augustine was able to use the canonical Scripture along with the apocryphal scriptures to preach the gospel with power even though he was wrong in holding to the canonical status of the Deuterocanonicals. Non-Christians, like atheists are accountable to General Revelation. If they encountered the Christian message they are judged in light of that. Even without access to Scripture (since there have been times and places were believers didn't have a copy of Scripture or pieces of Scripture for themselves or to present non-believers).

      The Holy Spirit is not limited by the presence of Scripture or in believers having the correct canon of Scripture. Which means, that even in a situation where a genuine believer held to a wrong canon, was in prison without a copy of his canon, he could still preach the general message of the true gospel to an atheist inmate; and the atheist be accountable to that testimony. A similar example would be a Christian in the Middle Ages who couldn't read, didn't have a copy of Scripture, and believed in the wrong canon could still be a missionary to non-Christians.

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    3. I wrote that the Sadducees were accountable to what they believed. That's true at the very least. When additional books were added into the canon, it probably did so sometimes gradually and sometimes instantaneously. For example, many of the Psalms were sung for many years until they were eventually accepted as canonical after time by constant use without an official pronouncement or council. While other books were instantly added into the canon by its recognition as canonical by a proven prophet or because written by a proven prophet (like himself).

      There was a time when portions of the Nevi'im and the Ketuvim may have entered the canon by recognition in a gradual process like one of the psalms. During such a time the people of God in different places, situations, advantages and disadvantages may not have been as accountable to them as to the fully recognized canon until there was wider recognition by Israel. But that's no different regarding some New Testament books for the church. It took time for the books of the antilegomena to be recognized (e.g. 2 and 3 John, 2 Peter, Jude, and Revelation).

      The Sadducees by that time should have known that the canon was wider than the Torah even if they may not have been able to be sure how much wider. Since the Palestinian canon was generally the accepted canon and was smaller than other canons, they should have taken its additional books more seriously. Though, a good case could be made why the Palestinian canon was (back then) the correct canon and should have been undisputed by the Sadducees. I think the "grace period" was over. They should have known.

      The apostolic fathers who lived immediately after the Apostles lived during that grace period for the New Testament canon (e.g. Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch etc.). The church was still gathering in and sifting through the traditions regarding which books were truly apostolic and which weren't.

    4. Last post:

      It also seems to me (rightly or wrongly)......

      Regarding the teaching of non-canonical books which were considered canonical by some, those particular teachings are either true or false. If true then they would either be recording a non-revelational truth (e.g. a fact of history or science), or repeating a true revelation (most likely because it's either already in Scripture or by an unwritten orally transmitted revelation). At the very least it wouldn't be contradicting Scripture or history, and so may have been safely believed.

      If false, it was either an alleged fact that had serious moral implications or it didn't. If it did, then its morality was either in conflict with the true Scriptures' morality, or consistent with it.

      A false historical/scientific claim may not have a serious moral implication. If it was clearly unhistorical/unscientific, then that's an indication that the book as a whole is non-canonical and should have been rejected. This principle excludes core books which were never disputed by God's people like the book Genesis, even though it may appear to unbelieving modern man that it's "clearly unscientific." [The context of these statements regards those who were/are already believers in the true God or regenerated and seeking God, not unbelievers or those hostile to God.] If a teaching from a non-canonical book that was believed to be canonical wasn't clearly unhistorical/unscientific, the people/persons would have been bound to believe it because of the universal principle that whatever is not of faith is sin. This principle was true even before it was inscripturated in Rom. 14:23. Such a believer (or one leaning toward such a belief) would have been believing in the true God of Israel and falsely believing that that true God inspired a book to teach a certain fact. For example, an early Christian (or Christian community) who believed in the canonicity of 1st Clement would have been bound to believe what it teaches regarding the phoenix.

      If a teaching was consistent with the true Scripture's morality (and the work of the law written on the heart), they were to follow it for the same reason that whatever is not of faith is sin and the principle that "whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin" (James 4:17). In this case, it's not really the "right thing" (i.e. commanded thing) to do, but was nevertheless BELIEVED to be the right/commanded thing to do.

      If a teaching was inconsistent with (or worse) contradicted the true Scripture's morality, it may also contradict the work of the law in our hearts or our conscience. In either case, that should have lead people to question the canonicity of the book as a whole, to the degree that those people had access to canonical books to be able to make a comparison with the rest of what they believed to be canonical (some of which are truly canonical and others not). As I understand it, it's always been the case that the undisputed canonical books have always out numbered non-canonical books which were either wrongly believed to be canonical or were live candidates for canonization. So, in most real life cases communities/individuals would have more of the canonical books than spurious books. Ultimately, in the final analysis the Holy Spirit will lead and guide His elect to a growing recognition of truth and error. To take an extreme case, an elect person in prison, in solitary confinement, who only has the book of Mormon and a copy of the Gospel of John could theoretically be saved by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit because the person believed enough of the truth to be saved and didn't believe enough error to be damned. Some Catholics may be saved for the same reason even though Rome's official gospel contradicts the true Biblical Gospel.