Sola Scriptura? (From the Archives)

Sola Scriptura? (From the Archives) June 12, 2011

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 the Bible. 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 (or the table of contents that indicated what the contents should be) 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. [UPDATE: To clarify, I did not mean that we should be “intolerant” or violent but that we should not stand idly and silently by when people do this]. 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.

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