“What is Truth?” – An Examination of Sola Scriptura
By Dwight Longenecker
Pontius Pilate asked the basic question for all humanity when he asked Jesus, “What is Truth?” The irony of the scene is powerful and poignant because the Eternal Truth stood before him incarnate as a human person. In John 14 Jesus had said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” Later in the gospel Peter said, “Where else shall we go Lord, but to you? You alone have the words of eternal life.” So the Christian answer is that Jesus himself is the Truth. If you want the Truth come to him.
That’s something all Christians agree on, but that answer raises more questions. The next question is—how do we come to know Jesus as truth? How do we get in touch with this Jesus who is truth? We need answers to specific questions—what should we believe? How shall we behave? How shall we run the church? Jesus may be the Truth, but how do we get hold of that truth? How do we know that what we believe is his truth?
In my evangelical days I was told the truth was to be found in the Bible and in the Bible alone. In my Bible lessons at Bob Jones I memorized a famous and important verse—2 Timothy 3.16-17: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is useful for doctrine, for instruction, for correction and training in righteousness so the man of God man be fully equipped for every good work.”
In other words—the Bible was where we turned to learn what to believe and how to behave. And we believe the Bible because it is inspired—it is God-breathed. But there are some problems with this view. A simple problem is that since 2 Timothy 3.16-17 is in the New Testament it can’t refer to the New Testament. Paul—in writing to Timothy—is only talking about the Old Testament Scriptures.
But let’s say for the sake of argument that it does refer to the New Testament too. While the verse certainly says the Scripture is inspired and that it should be used to determine doctrine and Christian behavior—it doesn’t say that Scripture is the ONLY authority for God’s truth. And in fact nowhere in the Bible do you find such a thing stated. In addition—if this is the only evidence for Biblical inspiration a problem arises as soon as you start to push things a little.
The problem is this: 2 Timothy 3.16 says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God…” And this is used to prove that Scripture is inspired. But how do we know that 2 Timothy 3.16 is itself inspired? The reasoning is circular. It goes like this:
We believe the Bible. OK—why is that? Because it is inspired. Why do we believe it is inspired? Because the Bible says it is inspired and we believe the Bible. OK, how do we know the Bible is inspired? Because the Bible says it is inspired and we believe the Bible because it is inspired. Too much of this type of reasoning makes you dizzy. There has to be a better answer.
If that was one problem I also had another difficulty by the time I got to Bible college. I had always been taught that the Bible was simple to understand, and the simple gospel message was straightforward. But this caused a problem. If the gospel message was simple and straightforward why were there so many different Christian denominations all in disagreement with each other?
When I asked a teacher I was told that the different denominations agreed on the basics—which were plain and simply understood from Scripture, but they disagreed on the extras. But when I examined what the different denominations taught they not only disagreed on little things like whether women should wear hats to church or whether you had to be baptized by immersion or sprinkling, but they also disagreed on important things like baptism, communion, how you should be saved, who was in charge of the church, who was going to heaven and many other things. If Scripture was the only source of authority shouldn’t the Church be united around one simple, clear teaching from Scripture?
Another verse I had to memorize was 2 Peter 1.20: “No scripture is of any private interpretation, but holy men of God spake as the Holy Spirit instructed them.” Obviously all the different Christian denominations disagreed because they all had different interpretations of the Bible, and they were all convinced that their interpretation was right. And if they all had different interpretations of the Bible then they must be interpreting them on their own—but 2 Peter 1.20 says that the Bible cannot be interpreted privately. Something was wrong here.
So I wound up with two basic problems:
1. If the Bible gave the only support for its own inspiration then it was proving itself and that didn’t seem to work. There had to be some other authority which could validate the inspiration of the Bible.
2. If the Bible was the only source of authority for Christians, then why were all the different churches so divided? There had to be some other authority which could decide how the Bible was to be understood. Continue Reading