Sola Scriptura?

Although I am a Protestant, I must confess that the idea of ‘sola Scriptura’, of ‘Scripture alone’, doesn’t work. It could perhaps theoretically work in Islam, where one can (assuming one doesn’t take a critical approach to the text) assume the unity of the book as a given. In the case of the Bible, such assumptions are impossible. In order to speak of ‘Scripture’, one has to accept the authority not only of those Jews and Christians who made the decisions about what books would be included in the canon, but also the authority of those who produced the critical editions of the Hebrew and Greek texts and the judgment of the translators.

In order to treat the Bible as ‘inerrant’ one has to attribute inerrancy to not only those who made these judgments, but also to the authors (at least while they were writing). But of course, Protestants have a certain aversion to the idea of church leaders who can make infallible pronouncements but the rest of the time are fallible human beings, so this view shouldn’t appeal to as many Protestants as it apparently does.

Ultimately, one has to attribute inerrancy to someone or something other than God in order to take this sort of view of Scripture. But the real aim is not to connect ourselves with the inerrancy of God, but to be able to claim the inerrancy of our own views about God, claiming that they are just the teachings of the inerrant Scriptures. Any doctrine that ultimately serves the interests of individuals claiming their own certainty must be criticially evaluated.

“Sola Scriptura” still has a certain potentially valid meaning – one can still value these writings as our earliest Christian sources. But not studying them critically, or pretending they dropped down from heaven in a single package, is not an option. The time has come for us to stop speaking nonsense in the name of God, and to stop tolerating others who do the same. Those whose views are expressed in the public sphere are open to rational discussion and evaluation – whether they are about science, the environment, the Bible, religion or anything else.

Stay in touch! Like Religion Prof on Facebook:
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07197966260266886933 Michael Samson

    Amen! It was the history of the text that first shook me out of my narrow-mindedness. There was no official canon the Scriptures until the Councils of Hippo and Carthage, 393, 397 AD. What did people do for 350 years? Gather up their pile of scrolls and head off to church? (lol).The issues involved and the problems the scholastic community faces when it comes to the text of Scripture simply cannot and should not be ignored. Although I guess when you need the Bible to say everything about all things, then the fundamentalist approach is what you end up with.For me sola-scriptura was a straight jacket that put nailed the lid shut on the God I crammed into the box. I love what Kalistos Ware said, “We see that it is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much the object of our kowledge as the cause of our wonder.”THANK-YOU for visiting my blog, you honour me. I’ll be visiting this one regularly…Mikie

  • http://soundandsilence.wordpress.com/ soundandsilence

    Hi JamesThanks for dropping by by blog.You make a very good point here, that Sola scriptura is not an option for a multi-authored library like the Bible, but may just be for the Koran.I’m sure you have seen “Religulous” – here we have the fruit of the vine of Sola scriptura (meets Strip Malls meets Republicanism etc etc)

  • Emily

    It sounds like you’re on your way Home to Rome! God Bless you on your journey!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Alas, I do not find papal inerrancy more plausible or more appealing than biblical inerrancy. But thank you for the invitation! :-)

      • Emily

        Well it might interest you to know that Catholics believe the pope has only spoken infallibly twice since the founding of Christ’s church.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          Yes, but I am not persuaded that we have some other evidentiary basis for either the immaculate conception or the assumption of Mary.

          • Emily

            Well, this is not theological in any way/shape/or form, but I find it fascinating that no one “claims” to have the body of Mary or know where she is buried. Makes me wonder…..wouldn’t people have *marked* the tomb of the Mother of Jesus? Of course, this is just a secular wondering, but I find it very interesting. I mean, people claim to *know* where everything from Noah’s ark to the bones of all the apostles are, but nada on the Blessed Mother?

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

            Historically Christians, including Catholics, did mark the tomb of Mary in the Kidron Valley. http://www.seetheholyland.net/tomb-of-mary/

          • Emily

            Very interesting! I will be excited to read about that! Well, like I said, not a theological argument for the assumption in any way/shape/or form.

            I wonder, if you do not believe in Sola Scriptura, then who’s authority do you follow when interpreting God’s Word?

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

            What do you mean by “God’s Word”? I view the Bible as a collection of writings by human beings, and while they have authority and importance for me as a Christian, they are not infallible and I cannot simply shift the burden onto their shoulders, but must accept the responsibility to figure things out, discern, and evaluate as a fallible human being myself.

          • Emily

            very interesting! So do you believe there is a way to know definitively God’s will?

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

            If by “definitively know” you mean a way that we as fallible human beings can achieve a total certainty which means there is no possibility that we are wrong, and thus no need to listen any longer to challenges and criticisms from others, then no, I don’t.

          • Emily

            Very interesting in deed! Well best of luck to you on your journey! God Bless