Reply to Mike Winger on Sola Scriptura

Reply to Mike Winger on Sola Scriptura April 30, 2022

Pastor Mike Winger is the featured teacher of BibleThinker online ministry. He graduated from the School of Ministry at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa and was ordained in 2006. He has since served in various ministries with a primary focus on being a pastor for the youth. Mike has since transitioned into laboring full time with BibleThinker to provide free teaching content worldwide. He also has a thriving YouTube channel called Learn to Think Biblically. Mike is strongly committed to a careful and thoughtful study of the Bible with a view toward answering skeptics’ challenges with reason and Scripture.

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This is my reply to Mike’s video, Sola Scriptura: why I believe it and how it works (10-29-19): my third reply in recent days on this topic. The other two are: Is Sola Scriptura Biblical? (vs. Jordan B. Cooper) [4-25-22] and Reply to Gavin Ortlund’s “Sola Scriptura Defended” [4-27-22]. I’ve written more on this topic than on any other (in my 4000+ articles and 50 books), maintain a huge web page devoted to it and related authority issues, and have written two books on the subject: 100 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura and Pillars of Sola Scriptura: Replies to Whitaker, Goode, & Biblical “Proofs” for “Bible Alone” (both published in 2012).

Mike’s words will be in blue. I am primarily interested in his arguments (as in my other two replies above) regarding whether sola Scriptura is taught in the Bible. I strongly maintain that it is not taught in the Bible, thus making the teaching viciously self-defeating and nonsensical from a Protestant perspective.

Sola Scriptura, in a nutshell, is saying that Scripture . . . alone is the final authority for Christians on what they believe and how they live. [1:17-1:36]

This already poses a problem, because Mike has defined sola Scriptura incorrectly, in terms of how Protestants have consistently and commonly defined it. Dr. Jordan Cooper and Dr. Gavin Ortlund both defined it in a more particular fashion. I cite their videos that I replied to:

Sola Scriptura . . . recognizes that there are many authorities, but Scripture is the sole infallible authority, so Scripture has preference over all other authorities we might have. (Jordan Cooper)

Sola Scriptura has always been maintained as the view that the Bible is the only infallible rule for theology. . . . There’s a big difference in saying that the Bible is the only source for theology, and  saying the Bible is the only infallible source for theology. But I hear this over and over again . . . If you [Catholics and Orthodox] hear nothing else in this entire video, hear this: don’t say that Protestants believe that the Bible is all you have or all you need; it’s just you and your Bible and that’s it. Thoughtful Protestants have always understood that tradition has an important place . . . all we’re saying is the Bible is the final court of appeal. . . . Calvin and Luther affirmed the early ecumenical creeds and councils. Thoughtful Protestants recognize that there is oral tradition mentioned in the Bible.  . . . The Scripture is is the final court of appeal: the norming norm that norms all other norms but is not normed itself. (Gavin Ortlund)

This means that there can possibly be other infallible authorities (the Church, tradition, ecumenical councils, popes). Protestants deny that and Catholics affirm it. But the proper definition qualifies the Bible as the “only infallible authority” so that it doesn’t — in and of itself — exclude other sources of authority in the Christian life. I agree with Jordan and Gavin, and have used their definition in my critiques for over thirty years.

He acknowledges that the local church has authority as well, but states:

But that doesn’t give the Church the authority of Jesus in declaring new words from the Lord and saying, “we agree, therefore this new thing is true.” We just don’t have that capability. [4:11-4:25]

This is true in the sense that there is no new public revelation or apostolic deposit. But the Church can clarify and develop doctrine, and I can think of two biblical proofs of that off the top of my head. The Jerusalem Council, described in Acts 15 did precisely what Mike just said the Church didn’t have the authority or capability  to do. Apostles (including Paul, Peter, and James) and elders got together to resolve a controversy over the place and function of circumcision, which foods were clean, and in a broader sense, how much Mosaic Law would apply to Christians. Here’s what it decided:

Acts 15:28-29 (RSV) For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: [29] that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.

Here is the authority that this letter had, as seen in how Paul viewed it:

Acts 16:4 As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem.

Mike talks about the “local church.” But this is the universal Church. A decision reached at Jerusalem was regarded as binding and in effect, “infallible” and was to be observed not just locally, but by Christians all through Asia Minor (Turkey), where Paul was preaching. This is essentially the equivalent of an ecumenical council.

My second argument is that the New Testament continues to refer to the existence of a continuing office of prophecy (Acts 13:1; 15:32; 19:6; 21:9; 1 Cor 11:4-5; 12:28-29; 14:29; Eph 3:4-5; 4:11; 1 Thess 5:20; 1 Tim 1:18; 4:14). Here is an instance of how this worked out, as described in Holy Scripture:

Acts 11:27-30 Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. [28] And one of them named Ag’abus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world; and this took place in the days of Claudius. [29] And the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brethren who lived in Judea; [30] and they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.
Acts 21:10-11 While we were staying for some days, a prophet named Ag’abus came down from Judea. [11] And coming to us he took Paul’s girdle and bound his own feet and hands, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, `So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this girdle and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’”
The authority of this prophet Agabus (backed up by “the Spirit”) was so acknowledged, that (in Acts 11) “the disciples” accepted it, as did Paul and Barnabas: through whom relief was sent, following the prophet’s prediction of famine. This was not Holy Scripture. It was an oral proclamation from a prophet, led by the Holy Spirit, which was accepted and acted upon. And this is after the Church had begun at Pentecost. He then prophesied to St. Paul himself, saying, “Thus says the Holy Spirit” and Paul fully accepts it. This is, again, non-biblical and non-apostolic (and oral, not written) infallibility: utterly contrary to sola Scriptura.
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I know of no another authority that is equal to Scripture, . . . and Scripture itself doesn’t give us one. [7:19-7:24]
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No other is inspired or infallible in toto, as the Bible is, but other authorities can be infallible under certain conditions, as I showed in my two biblical examples above. Earlier, he stated, “When God speaks, it’s authoritative.” [6:21-6:24] God speaks in other ways besides Scripture. He spoke through the Jerusalem Council, which made it decrees, not knowing that they would later be included in inspired Scripture. God spoke through the council because the texts says, “it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28). Prophets after Pentecost did the same thing. Agabus spoke “by the Spirit” (Acts 11:28) and gave a prophecy, preceded by “Thus says the Holy Spirit” (Acts 21:11). That’s God speaking, since the Holy Spirit is God. This is prophecy the same as it was throughout the Old Testament.
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Therefore, we have these two instances above of God speaking, but in ways other than the pages of Holy Scripture. And it was infallible when He did so through these men. Therefore, this proves that infallible authority other than the Bible exists, and it is testified to in the Bible itself. The Church can indeed (through prophets and councils of elders: exactly as ecumenical councils do) produce “words from the Lord”: the thing that Mike denied above. Let him explain these Bible passages differently, if he thinks otherwise.
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Contrary to the second part of Mike’s statement above, the Bible does indeed give us an authority (not an inspired one, but an infallible one) equal to itself: the Church:
1 Timothy 3:15 . . . the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.

This may not seem compelling at first: just seven words at the end. But I believe that if we analyze it more deeply and think through it, that it provides a rock-solid argument for the infallibility of the Church. Here’s how I myself did that in my book, 100 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura (pp. 104-107, #82):

Pillars and foundations support things and prevent them from collapsing. To be a “bulwark” of the truth, means to be a “safety net” against truth turning into falsity. If the Church could err, it could not be what Scripture says it is. God’s truth would be the house built on a foundation of sand in Jesus’ parable. For this passage of Scripture to be true, the Church could not err — it must be infallible. A similar passage may cast further light on 1 Timothy 3:15:

Ephesians 2:19-21 . . . you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, [20] built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, [21] in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord;

1 Timothy 3:15 defines “household of God” as “the church of the living God.” Therefore, we know that Ephesians 2:19-21 is also referring to the Church, even though that word is not present. Here the Church’s own “foundation” is “the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” The foundation of the Church itself is Jesus and apostles and prophets.

Prophets spoke “in the name of the Lord” (1 Chron 21:19; 2 Chron 33:18; Jer 26:9), and commonly introduced their utterances with “thus says the Lord” (Is 10:24; Jer 4:3; 26:4; Ezek 13:8; Amos 3:11-12; and many more). They spoke the “word of the Lord” (Is 1:10; 38:4; Jer 1:2; 13:3, 8; 14:1; Ezek 13:1-2; Hos 1:1; Joel 1:1; Jon 1:1; Mic 1:1, et cetera). These communications cannot contain any untruths insofar as they truly originate from God, with the prophet serving as a spokesman or intermediary of God (Jer 2:2; 26:8; Ezek 11:5; Zech 1:6; and many more). Likewise, apostles proclaimed truth unmixed with error (1 Cor 2:7-13; 1 Tim 2:7; 2 Tim 1:11-14; 2 Pet 1:12-21).

Does this foundation have any faults or cracks? Since Jesus is the cornerstone, he can hardly be a faulty foundation. Neither can the apostles or prophets err when teaching the inspired gospel message or proclaiming God’s word. In the way that apostles and prophets are infallible, so is the Church set up by our Lord Jesus Christ. We ourselves (all Christians) are incorporated into the Church (following the metaphor), on top of the foundation.

1 Peter 2:4-9 Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; [5] and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. [6] For it stands in scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and he who believes in him will not be put to shame.” [7] To you therefore who believe, he is precious, but for those who do not believe, “The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner,” [8] and “A stone that will make men stumble, a rock that will make them fall”; for they stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. [9] But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (cf. Isa 28:16)

Jesus is without fault or untruth, and he is the cornerstone of the Church. The Church is also more than once even identified with Jesus himself, by being called his “Body” (Acts 9:5 cf. with 22:4 and 26:11; 1 Cor 12:27; Eph 1:22-23; 4:12; 5:23, 30; Col 1:24). That the Church is so intimately connected with Jesus, who is infallible, is itself a strong argument that the Church is also infallible and without error.

Therefore, the Church is built on the foundation of Jesus (perfect in all knowledge), and the prophets and apostles (who spoke infallible truth, often recorded in inspired, infallible Scripture). Moreover, it is the very “Body of Christ.” It stands to reason that the Church herself is infallible, by the same token. In the Bible, nowhere is truth presented as anything less than pure truth, unmixed with error. That was certainly how Paul conceived his own “tradition” that he received and passed down.

Knowing what truth is, how can its own foundation or pillar be something less than total truth (since truth itself contains no falsehoods, untruths, lies, or errors)? It cannot. It is impossible. It is a straightforward matter of logic and plain observation. A stream cannot rise above its source. What is built upon a foundation cannot be greater than the foundation. If it were, the whole structure would collapse.

If an elephant stood on the shoulders of a man as its foundation, that foundation would collapse. The base of a skyscraper has to hold the weight above it. The foundations of a suspension bridge over a river have to be strong enough to support that bridge.

Therefore, we must conclude that if the Church is the foundation of truth, the Church must be infallible, since truth is infallible, and the foundation cannot be lesser than that which is built upon it. And since there is another infallible authority apart from Scripture, sola scriptura must be false.

There you have it: all from the Bible itself. I welcome any and all contrary replies and alternative interpretations. Have at it! Mike is talking about the Bible a lot. I am providing plenty of relevant passages from this inspired revelation: the Bible.
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It also doesn’t give us affirmations about the authority of the pope; nor does it even have the concept of a pope in the Scripture: Old or New Testament. [7:36-7:45]
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To the contrary, there is much about St. Peter’s leadership of the disciples (as virtually all Protestants would agree) and the early Church. He is the model for what popes were to be: 50 New Testament Proofs for Petrine Primacy & the Papacy. We see him as the central figure and leader of the Jerusalem Council (just as later Catholic popes presided over ecumenical councils). Protestants argue that James presided. This is my answer to that:
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From Acts 15, we learn that “after there was much debate, Peter rose” to address the assembly (15:7). The Bible records his speech, which goes on for five verses. Then it reports that “all the assembly kept silence” (15:12). Paul and Barnabas speak next, not making authoritative pronouncements, but confirming Peter’s exposition, speaking about “signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles” (15:12). Then when James speaks, he refers right back to what “Simeon [Peter] has related” (15:14). To me, this suggests that Peter’s talk was central and definitive. James speaking last could easily be explained by the fact that he was the bishop of Jerusalem and therefore the “host.”
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St. Peter indeed had already received a relevant revelation, related to the council. God gave him a vision of the cleanness of all foods (contrary to the Jewish Law: see Acts 10:9-16). St. Peter is already learning about the relaxation of Jewish dietary laws, and is eating with uncircumcised men, and is ready to proclaim the gospel widely to the Gentiles (Acts 10 and 11).
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The First Epistle of Peter is directed towards a wide audience, and reads like pastoral guidance of the leader of the Church to the whole Church. Peter humbly calls himself a “fellow elder.” But it doesn’t follow that he has no more authority than the other bishops. In fact, he assumes authority throughout his epistle: “gird up your minds” (1:13); “be holy yourselves in all your conduct” (1:15); “love one another earnestly from the heart” (1:22); “So put away all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander” (2:1); “long for the pure spiritual milk” (2:2); “abstain from the passions of the flesh” (2:11); “Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles” (2:12); “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” (2:13); “Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (2:17); ” wives, be submissive to your husbands” (3:1); “Likewise you husbands, live considerately with your wives, bestowing honor on the woman” (3:7); “have unity of spirit, sympathy, love of the brethren, a tender heart and a humble mind.” (3:8); “Do not return evil for evil or reviling for reviling” (3:9); “in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense” (3:15: apologetics!); ” keep your conscience clear” (3:16); “keep sane and sober for your prayers” (4:7); “hold unfailing your love for one another” (4:8); “Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another” (4:9); “As each has received a gift, employ it for one another” (4:10); “Tend the flock of God that is your charge” (5:2: addressed specifically to other bishops); “you that are younger be subject to the elders” (5:5); “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God” (5:6); “Be sober, be watchful” (5:8); and “Resist him, firm in your faith” (5:9).Are all these simply optional pseudo-commands? It’s authority! 1 Clement, which was written by St. Clement of Rome, an early pope, before 100 AD, is of the same nature. Strong central authority is expressed. St. Clement writes (I use the standard [Protestant] Schaff translation):

If, however, any shall disobey the words spoken by Him through us, let them know that they will involve themselves in transgression and serious danger; . . . (59, my bolding and italics)

Joy and gladness will you afford us, if you become obedient to the words written by us and through the Holy Spirit root out the lawless wrath of your jealousy according to the intercession which we have made for peace and unity in this letter. (63, my bolding and italics)

Clement definitely asserts his authority over the Corinthian church far away. Again, the question is: “why?” What sense does that make in a Protestant-type ecclesiology where every region is autonomous and there is supposedly no hierarchical authority in the Christian Church? Why must they obey the bishop from another region? Not only does Clement assert strong authority; he also claims that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are speaking “through” him.

That is extraordinary, and very similar to what we see in the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:28 (“For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things”: RSV) and in Scripture itself. It’s not strictly inspiration but it is sure something akin to infallibility (divine protection from error and the pope as a unique mouthpiece of, or representative of God).

Catholics maintain that the Jerusalem Council is an exercise of conciliar authority in conjunction with the pope (Peter), and that 1 Clement is analogous to a papal encyclical (a pope authoritatively acting on his own). I have many, many more biblical and historical arguments about the papacy, for those interested.

Mike produces the book of Jude, which refers to “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). He notes correctly that this referred to doctrinal content delivered to saints at a past point of time. Catholics totally agree! But this doctrine also develops over time; the most notable historical example being fine points of the Christological and trinitarian doctrine that were developed in the early councils in the first several centuries of the Church, over against heresies. Moreover, Paul equates “tradition” with “the faith” and “the gospel”:

1 Corinthians 11:2  Maintain the traditions . .  . . even as I have delivered them to you.

2 Thessalonians 2:15  Hold to the traditions . . . .  taught . . . by word of mouth or by letter.

2 Thessalonians 3:6  . . . the tradition that you received from us.

1 Corinthians 15:1  . . . the gospel, which you received . . .

Galatians 1:9  . . . the gospel . . . which you received.

1 Thessalonians 2:9  We preached to you the gospel of God.

Acts 8:14 Samaria had received the word of God.

1 Thessalonians 2:13 You received the word of God, which you heard from us, . . .

2 Peter 2:21  . . . the holy commandment delivered to them.

Jude 3  . . . the Faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.

It is obvious from the above biblical data that the concepts of tradition, gospel, and word of God (as well as other terms) are essentially synonymous. All are predominantly oral, and all are referred to as being delivered and received. Tradition is right in there with them, without distinction. In St. Paul’s two letters to the Thessalonians alone we see that three of the above terms are used interchangeably.

In 2 Thessalonians “gospel” is mentioned twice (1:8 and 2:14), “tradition” twice (2:15 and 3:6), but neither “Scripture” nor “Scriptures” appears. “Word of the Lord” appears once (3:1), but it appears not to refer to the Bible. Likewise, in 1 Thessalonians “Scripture” or “Scriptures” never appear. “Word,” “word of the Lord,” or “word of God” appear five times (1:6,8, 2:13 [twice], 4:15), but in each instance it is clearly in the sense of oral proclamation, not Scripture.

Clearly then, tradition is not a dirty word in the Bible, particularly for St. Paul. If, on the other hand, one wants to maintain that it is, then gospel and word of God are also bad words!

Mike states that the bodily Assumption of Mary is “not in Scripture.” I have addressed that doctrine many times and have made arguments for it derived solely from Scripture. Mike at this point of the video, is already sailing off into the territory of the gospel and the Marian doctrines, without having proven that sola Scriptura can be proven from the Bible (which was his first task and burden). That’s what one does when one has a weak case: quickly move to other topics.

But my point throughout this reply regarding sola Scriptura is that neither is that doctrine in Scripture. Therefore, by their own logic, if a Protestant rejects Mary’s Assumption because he sees no support for it in Scripture, he ought to also reject sola Scriptura on the same basis. It looks thus far like Mike will not prove that sola Scriptura is grounded in clear, undeniable Scriptural teaching, whereas I have provided many and various biblical evidences for non-biblical infallible authority from the Bible.
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I’d be absolutely delighted to debate whether there is such a thing as good, authoritative, infallible tradition taught in the Bible, but I thought this video was about biblical proofs for sola Scriptura. One thing at a time, in other words. Mike simply hasn’t produced those, and so it’s the same old story that I have recently observed also in Jordan Cooper‘s and Gavin Ortlund‘s videos on the same topic. None of these three men have adequately proven sola Scriptura from the Bible (or, I contend, even “gotten to first base”). Jordan Cooper practically admitted or conceded that it could not be found in Scripture. It seems to be a huge, massive example of the old folk take. “The Emperor is Naked.”
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The video about halfway through becomes primarily an extended polemic against Catholicism, rather than a defense of sola Scriptura from the Bible. I suggest that he re-name the video accordingly, to reflect what is in it. Later he answered questions. It may be that Mike eventually attempted to state such an alleged proof later in the tape. If someone notices that, please let me know where it is and I will address it in this article. I gave up after a while, due to his veering completely off-topic (according to the title of the video).
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Mike replied on Twitter (4-30-22):
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I got through the first few paragraphs and saw where you misconstrued me saying “final authority” with “only authority” and misrepresented my point, refuting a straw man. I also do offer biblical support for it. It seems my reasoning was dodged.
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I responded (5-1-22):
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You’re right. I shouldn’t have written: “He makes out or implies that it is the only authority in the Christian life.” I will remove that, & I apologize. The word “infallible” still ought to be in your definition. What Bible verses did you claim proved SS, & where in your video?
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[Mike Winger “liked” this comment]

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I also replied to him (5-1-22):

Everyone keeps liking (and now retweeting) your tweet, saying I misrepresented you. They should be made aware that I apologized. But it’s just one line. The rest of my reply is valid and can’t be dismissed because I made one mistake in one sentence.
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He wrote back (5-1-22):

I’m sorry that I don’t have time to go through your whole article and respond point by point. The two points (not just one) that you made in your initial post were incorrect in my estimation. But if you delete your original tweet I will delete my reply to honor your concern.

And I said (5-1-22):
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Sure, I can delete my original tweet about this. God bless. I will continue to offer critiques of your material. You can decide if you want to reply or not.
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He replied (5-1-22):
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I’ve always believed that is how the internet works. :)
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And I also asked him (5-1-22):

Can you at least answer my question: “What Bible verses did you claim proved SS, & where in your video?” I already said that I’d be happy to address those if someone pointed them out to me. But it has to be about the definition of SS, not Catholic tradition, etc. ad infinitum.

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Photo credit: Mike Winger, from his “About Bible Thinker” web page.

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Summary: Protestant pastor Mike Winger, in a video ostensibly devoted to sola Scriptura, repeatedly avoided proving or grounding that doctrine from or in the Bible itself.

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