What Does Sola Scriptura Mean?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

If you call yourself a Protestant Christian, then you’ve probably been taught at some point that Protestants believe in the principle of sola Scriptura.  If you are Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, then you have been taught that you deny the principle of sola Scriptura.

If we are going to have this intramural disagreement, we might as well all get straight on what we are disagreeing over.  So what does sola Scriptura mean anyway?

According to Norman Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie in Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences,

By sola Scriptura orthodox Protestants mean that Scripture alone is the primary and absolute source of authority, the final court of appeal, for all doctrine and practice (faith and morals). . . . What Protestants mean by sola Scriptura is that the Bible alone is the infallible written authority for faith and morals.

Geisler and MacKenzie claim that sola Scriptura implies several things:

First, the Bible is a direct revelation from God. As such, it has divine authority, for what the Bible says, God says.

Second, Scripture is the sufficient and final written authority of God. As to sufficiency, the Bible—nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else—is all that is necessary for faith and practice. In short, “the Bible alone” means “the Bible only” is the final authority for our faith. Further, the Scriptures not only have sufficiency but they also possess final authority. They are the final court of appeal on all doctrinal and moral matters. However good they may be in giving guidance, all the church fathers, popes, and councils are fallible. Only the Bible is infallible.

Third, the Bible is clear (perspicuous). The perspicuity of Scripture does not mean that everything in the Bible is perfectly clear, but rather the essential teachings are. Popularly put, in the Bible the main things are the plain things and the plain things are the main things.

Fourth, Scripture interprets Scripture. This is known as the analogy of faith principle. When we have difficulty in understanding an unclear text of Scripture, we turn to other biblical texts, since the Bible is the best interpreter of the Bible. In the Scriptures, clear texts should be used to interpret the unclear ones.

There are several misconceptions about sola Scriptura that can be cleared up with Q&A.

1. Does sola Scriptura exclude all truth outside of the Bible?  No.  Geisler and MacKenzie write:

This, of course, is untrue, as is revealed by Luther’s famous quote about being “convinced by the testimonies of Scripture or evident reason” (emphasis added). Most Protestants accept the general revelation declared in the heavens (Ps. 19:1) and inscribed on the human heart (Rom. 2:12–15). However, classical Protestantism denies any salvific value of natural (general) revelation, believing one can only come to salvation through special revelation.

2. Does the sola Scriptura idea of perspicuity mean that the whole Bible is clear? No.  Only the teachings essential to salvation.

3. Does sola Scriptura mean that all church traditions – creeds, councils, church father writings – should be ignored?  No. Geisler and MacKenzie explain the role these things play for Protestants:

This is not to say that Protestants obtain no help from the Fathers and early councils. Indeed, Protestants accept the pronouncements of the first four ecumenical councils as helpful but not infallible. What is more, most Protestants have high regard for the teachings of the early Fathers, though obviously they do not believe they are without error. So this is not to say that there is no usefulness to Christian tradition, but only that it is of secondary importance. As John Jefferson Davis notes, “Sola Scriptura meant the primacy of Scripture as a theological norm over all tradition rather than the total rejection of tradition.”

Hopefully we have cleared up some of the more popular misconceptions about sola Scriptura. Now we can focus on disagreeing on what we really disagree on!

  • Brad

    Billy, nice piece and well written, but I have a few questions:
    1) What do you do when 2 people, both of whom claim a “Sola Scriptura” viewpoint and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, come to opposite conclusions about a common verse or section of Scripture? They both claim the same source (HS) and viewpoint (SS), and they both indeed may have studied the passages in depth, yet still come to opposite conclusions, both of which (logically) couldn’t be right at the same time. What then? How is that situation arbitrated?
    2) To the 4 points from Geisler & McKenzie, they are all based on the reader of the Scripture correctly interpreting it. In other words, while the 4 points sound great, they only work if the “correct” interpretation is used (see my previous #1 above). Since it’s obvious that not everyone uses the same interpretational lens – even among Evangelicals who hold to Sola Scriptura – we really seem to have a case of circular reasoning, b/c to say “Scripture interprets Scripture” is true, but once you start with “an” interpretational lens, that lens will dictate how you view the rest of Scripture. Seems it still comes down to an interpretation, doesn’t it – which puts us back at #1?
    Look forward to your answers.

  • Hey Brad,

    Good questions. I’ll do my best to answer them.

    1. The first thing I need to make clear is that sola Scriptura is referring to the meaning of a biblical text, not its significance or application. There can be only one meaning to a text, but there can be multiple applications of that meaning to our lives.

    So, if your question is what to do about two people who claim to have found logically opposite meanings of the same verse, then we know one of them is wrong. One of them has incorrectly interpreted the meaning of the verse. This is the same case for any written text.

    Any time two people read a sentence and come away with logically opposite meanings, we know that one of them is wrong. How? Because of the law of the excluded middle (Either A is true or not A is true).

    The way we arbitrate is the same way we arbitrate with any other text. We ask each person to provide evidence and arguments for their interpretation. Whoever has the best evidence and arguments wins.

    2. It is true that everyone comes to a text with their own set of presuppositions, but this hardly precludes us from finding the correct interpretation of the text. After all, the laws of logic apply to everyone, and we frequently share other presuppositions in common as well.

    In addition, appealing to tradition does not help you escape presuppositions. Why? Because you are bringing your same presuppositions to the texts of tradition, so you haven’t escaped at all. In fact, it’s worse than that. The authors of tradition brought their presuppositions to the biblical texts when they read them originally, so they weren’t able to escape either. Appealing to tradition as the ultimate arbiter of the meaning of biblical texts is also a reflection of your presuppositions.

    The solution to differing interpretations is not, ultimately, to merely appeal to a tradition which authoritatively interprets the meaning of Scripture. The solution is to read the texts and do the best we can to find the correct interpretation, the meaning placed in the text by the original author, using knowledge of the original languages, grammar, and historical context (which could include tradition).

    That’s a long answer, but I felt like I needed to explain all of that as clearly as I could. I look forward to your response.

  • tildeb

    Any time two people read a sentence and come away with logically opposite meanings, we know that one of them is wrong.

    It need to be said that there is also an equivalent possibility that,

    1) both are wrong.
    2) the text is wrong.

  • No, both cannot be wrong, as long as they are logical opposites. The text either means X or it does not mean X. There is not another possibility.

  • tildeb

    Your subject was the two people and not the meaning of the text alone. The two people can both be wrong in their interpretation, and the meaning of the text can also be factually wrong (even if comprehended accurately). These are very important considerations of any text held to be authoritative.

  • Brad

    Billy, I’ll try to be brief, so we don’t get bogged down in countless details, but try to get to the heart of the matter!
    By *interpretation*, I would assume meaning. I suppose it’s possible for someone to take an incorrect meaning and apply it to their life in a way that doesn’t harm them, or to take a correct meaning and apply it to their life in a way that doesn’t benefit them. But yes, I’m focused on the meaning, which I would pretty commonly call the *interpretation* of the passage.
    Yes, I would say that *at least* one of them is wrong, b/c the 3rd option is that *neither* of them has come to the correct meaning. So I’d say we agree on the difficulty of the situation. Let’s get to the arbitration of it. You offered what seems like a fairly simple solution (“ask each person to provide evidence and arguments for their interpretation, whoever has the best evidence and arguments wins”). Here’s a problem I see, however – who is the ultimate arbiter of who “won” the contest, so to speak? B/c person A, who offers his evidence and arguments (which he believes are fully sound, else A wouldn’t believe them), would not believe that person B’s evidence and arguments (which B believes to also be sound, else B wouldn’t believe them) are any better, so between A & B, there would be no declared “winner” – they’d each have won, in their own minds. Further, to say that person C or D or Z should be the decider, would be imperfect, b/c each of those people would naturally lean to the interpretation that they most closely associate with. So I say there’s no real way to declare a “winner”, by any stretch, using simply “evidence and arguments”.
    So let’s move to presuppositions, which I agree, we all have. Geisler has his own presuppositions anytime he writes something – he presupposes that he’s right – or else he wouldn’t be writing what he does. That’s natural for anyone, I’d say.
    You mentioned that “appealing to tradition as the ultimate arbiter of the meaning of biblical texts is also a reflection of your presuppositions.” Maybe so, if by that you mean that a person would “presuppose” to believe that that is the best way to correctly interpret the Bible. But, in reality, that is no different than saying “the solution is to read the texts and do the best we can to find the correct interpretation”, b/c that ALSO “presupposes” that that is the best method, which would go against someone else’s presuppositions that appealing to Tradition (including how that Tradition developed, who developed it, etc.) is the best method. In the end, all that’s been done is to move the argument from “whose interpretation is correct?” to “whose presupposition is correct?”, which hasn’t really solved anything at all, and certainly isn’t a definitive answer.
    Since EVERYONE brings “presuppositions” to textual interpretation, it would be incorrect to say that presuppositions would prevent you from ever reaching a correct interpretation, b/c if that were the case, then NOBODY could ever reach a correct interpretation. I certainly don’t think that’s true, and I suspect you wouldn’t either.
    You also said “the solution to differing interpretations is not, ultimately, to merely appeal to a tradition which authoritatively interprets the meaning of Scripture. The solution is to read the texts and do the best we can to find the correct interpretation, the meaning placed in the text by the original author, using knowledge of the original languages, grammar, and historical context (which could include tradition).” While this sounds good, who’s to say it’s a correct statement? You? Me? An unrelated arbiter? Of course you would believe it, b/c it’s your “presupposition”, and you wouldn’t say it if you didn’t believe it to be true. I understand that. However, it’s not the “presupposition” of millions of others. Again, we’re back to the original question, which really hasn’t been answered definitively, at least in my opinion. Of course, yes, that’s my own “presupposition” 🙂
    I think we need to look much deeper, to take interpretation backwards in time, and look at where it started. The Bible, the written collection of books we have today, hasn’t always existed. It was put together and agreed to over several councils by conciliar agreement, let’s say by the late 300’s. Christians today all use at least some form of the Bible, and agree that it’s the books that God wanted us to have. Why? Did we just get lucky? Jesus never produced a bound, KJV, red-letter edition of the Bible and gave it to John or Peter or Paul, saying “use this one, it’s right”. Boy, that sure would have been easier, but unfortunately, it didn’t happen.
    So why do we trust that the Bible we have is correct? B/c we DO trust it. But why? Once I answered THAT question for myself, a lot of barriers to “how do we know which interpretation is right” came instantly flooding down…
    It’s a pretty key question, I believe, which when answered, leads to other questions, that, in my opinion, ultimately lead us to the answer for the above.

  • Brad

    If “x” is a possibility, as is “not x”, then I think u ha e to look at what all “not x” entails. If “not x” can be “y”, “z”, or other possibilities, then its certainly possible me that 2 people have come up with “y” and “z” as their interpretations, which if “x” is actually the correct interpretation, then both “y” and”z” are indeed wrong, even if they’re both logically possible.

  • I am using very exact and technical language when I say that when two logically opposite statements are made, one of them must be true and one of them must be false. I thought that was what you were asking me.

    If you were just asking me about two people who give two different interpretations of a text, but they are not logically opposite of each other, then of course, they could both be wrong. For example, if I say, “The ceiling in my office is red,” and you say, “The ceiling is blue,” it is possible that both of us are wrong.

    But if I say, “The ceiling in my office is red,” and you say, “The ceiling is not red,” then one of us is right and one of us is wrong. This is what I thought you were asking me in your original question.

  • darrellboan

    Is the determination of the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople, i.e., The Nicene Constantinopolitan Creed, an authoritative decleration on the nature of the Holy Trinity?

  • I agree with the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed’s view on the nature of the Trinity. It is authoritative in the sense that it is a correct summary of Scripture’s description of the nature of God.

  • Hey Brad,
    Lots to say, but hang in there with me. It seems like the central issue for you is that you want a definitive, or 100%, guarantee that you can arrive at the correct meaning of all of Scripture. I don’t think that is possible and I can live with that. Here’s my thinking:

    In every other part of your life, you are satisfied with the method I advocate (gather evidence, make an argument), I’m betting. When you disagree with someone on any issue, you study the topic, including relevant evidence, and you make an argument. In fact, you are exactly doing that while you debate with me over the topic of sola Scriptura. You are offering me evidence and arguments because you think your viewpoint is correct and mine is not. I have also seen you present evidence and make arguments on a wide variety of other topics.

    So why do you suddenly poo-poo that approach, which you use all the time, when it comes to interpreting Scripture? I grant this method does not give definitive interpretations to all of Scripture, but it does give highly probable interpretations of much of Scripture, and definitive interpretations of the central teachings of Scripture. This is the human condition. We are finite and fallible creatures and we can not have definitive knowledge about everything we would like to.

    We know this approach has worked by interpreters of Scripture because the vast majority of the 2 billion self-proclaimed Christians in the world agree on the central teachings of Scripture. These people all draw from numerous traditions, so appeal to tradition cannot be the reason there is agreement. It must be because the texts of the Bible are objectively interpretable on their own.

    Let me be clear. I am not saying that the councils, the creeds, and the church fathers are to be ignored. They are fantastic sources of information for Christians. They provide concise and understandable summaries and explanations of biblical data. The councils and creeds are especially important because they represent the consensus position of wise and learned Christian men who had gone through a long process of arguing their positions from biblical texts. In other words, they used the same method I am advocating.

    One final note. I trust the Bible because history tells me that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God and performed miracles to prove it. As the Son of God, Jesus affirmed the Old Testament as the Word of God, and he promised that the Holy Spirit would inspire the authors of the New Testament. Those authors were confirmed by their apostolicity (they were apostles or companions of the apostles of Jesus).

  • darrellboan

    Arius made a faily compelling argument from the Scriptures. So much so that he carried a large following and threw Christendom into disarray for several years following Nicea. Trinitarian Bishops had to go into hiding because of Roman support for the Arian view, and, practically speaking, the issue wasn’t settled until just before Constantinople.

    Bear in mind that the Nicene/Constantinopolitan Fathers did not settle the issue by appealing purely to Scripture. They settled it by appealing to the teaching of the Church from the beginning – Tradition. If anything, these councils are a testimony against the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, not for it.

    The Councils not only appealed to Tradition, but they went beyond Scripture in their formulation, using Greek Philosophy to codify an understanding of the Trinity that is not found in the Scriptures. No where does Scripture declare Father, Son, and Spirit to be separate Hypostases or a unified Ousia – in word or in meaning.

    If one holds thiese words and their philosophical and theological application to God’s Nature to be correct, Sola Scriptura, for all intents and purposes, becomes somewhat untenable.

  • darrellboan

    Just a few thoughts on this.

    The claim that the vast majority of Christendom agrees on the essential Christian doctrines is based upon a huge assumption. . . that what you hold to be the central doctrines are actually the correct ones.
    Let me explain.
    Under your paradigm, baptism is not necessary for salvation. Sure, it is a commandment and a good thing to do, but doing it is not “essential” for salvation. So, in your understanding, if one believes it is necessary and essential, there is no problem so long as they agree with all the other items on your list of essentials. You would count them as part of the “majority of 2 billion Christians” who agree on the essentials. They disagree with you in the fact that they have one *more* item on their list of essentials, but this will belief will in no way have a detrimental affect on their salvation.
    Now, if you are correct in your understanding, that is fine. However, what if the opposite is true? What if *their* understanding is correct? The Church of Christ, a fellow Sola Scriptura believing denomination, reads Scripture and disagrees with you. They believe Baptism *is* essential to salvation. If *they* are right. . . if baptism *is* essential to salvation, then your claim that as long as one holds to your list of essentials they are golden, becomes very problematic Holding to your list could end up in their eternal damnation, for if someone fails to get baptized, they very well might end up in hell.
    This same scenario can be laid out for any number of things: baptism, speaking in tongues, Sacraments, etc.

  • Hi Darrell,
    I would not say that the Church of Christ is “golden.” I would say that they are a truly Christian denomination, but one that also holds erroneous doctrines.

    My point is that for the word “Christian” to mean anything, as applied to a denomination, it has to be defined. The definition of Christian, then, is a denomination who holds to the essential salvific doctrines, derived from Scripture, and summarized in the historic creeds of the Church.

    Notice I am not talking about whether a single person is saved, or a true believer, or anything like that. That is a different question.

    Thus I have no problem calling the Eastern Orthodox Churches Christian, the Roman Catholic Church Christian, and any orthodox Protestant denominations Christian.

  • Hi Darrell,
    My understanding of the Arian controversy is that all sides of the debate were using Scripture to back up their positions, and that the non-Arians prevailed because their position better explained the data from Scripture.

    In addition, Arius was also drawing from traditions that had existed in Christian circles for hundreds of years, as were his opponents. There were multiple competing traditions feeding into the debate. The ultimate decision between positions came down to who had the the best arguments from Scripture and from reason. Arius and his followers failed on both fronts to make the better case.

  • darrellboan

    Billy,

    They appealed to Scripture, but each time they did, Arius provided a new and unique way of interpretting Scripture. In the end, they ended up countering Arius by claiming that his view was wrong because it was new.

    One of the key players at Nicea, Saint Athanasius, said, “But concerning matters of faith, they [the bishops assembled at Nicea] did not write: ‘It has been decided,’ but ‘Thus the Catholic Church believes.’ And thereupon confessed how they believed. This they did to show that their judgement was not of more recent origin, but was in fact of Apostolic times…” Athanasius also said, rather rhetorically of Arius, “… how many fathers [in other words, the writings of the early Christians] can you cite for your phrases?” (Volume 1, Faith of the Early Fathers).
    In this, we see the key role of Tradition being the correct lens for interpretting Scripture. Arius appealed to Scripture, very adeptly mind you, and the Fathers of the Council ended up countering him by saying, “Yes, but your interpretation differs from that which has always been believed.”

  • darrellboan

    Billy,

    Maybe I misunderstood what you meant when you said the vast majority of the 2 billion Christians agree on the essential christian doctrines. By essential doctrines are you not referring to their being essential “for salvation”?

  • Hey Darrell,

    I think your summary of the controversy is too simplistic. Arius was not the first person to deny the full divinity of Jesus. In fact, this belief had been rattling around for centuries in one form or another (e.g., subordinationism).

    Here’s an interesting quote from the wikipedia article:

    “Controversy over Arianism arose in the late 3rd century and persisted throughout most of the 4th century. It involved most church members—from simple believers, priests and monks to bishops, emperors and members of Rome’s imperial family. Such a deep controversy within the Church during this period of its development could not have materialized without significant historical influences providing a basis for the Arian doctrines.”

    In other words, there were competing traditions from the very beginning of Christianity. The orthodox tradition that came out of Nicea won out because 1) it drew support from apostolic traditions, 2) it explained the biblical data better, and 3) it was philosophically better supported. The opponents of Arianism did not just cite tradition for their argument. They cited tradition plus Scripture plus reason.

    The formation of the orthodox tradition (as we know it today) was still in process while Arianism was around. Athanasius and his supporters did not merely say, “There is only one tradition and that’s the end of the debate.” They argued from Scripture and from reason, in addition to appealing to a tradition.

  • They are doctrines that are essential for salvation to be possible. Check out my post entitled “What Are the Essential Beliefs of Christians?” Then it will make more sense what I’m saying.

  • One other quick point. From what I have read, Arius argued for many biblical texts to be taken figuratively (texts that equate Jesus to God) when the context clearly indicated that they should be taken literally.

  • darrellboan

    Billy,

    My analysis is anything but “too simplistic”. It is actually fairly nuanced, especially when compared to the view that they simply argued from scripture and the best view won. Unfortunately, that understanding simply does not accord with history.

    Further evidence of this fact can be seen in their choice of an Ancient Bapstismal Creed as the body of the Creedal Confession of Nicea. They did not write an entirely new Creed, but worked off of one that was already generally understood and accepted. The only real sticking point was the choice of “homoousios”.

    I think you are getting confused by the fact that heresies had existed since the beginning. No one is saying that they didn’t. Heresies have always been around to counter and fight against the Apostolic Deposit. However, it is the very fact that we “have” an Apostolic Deposit that enables us to determine what those heresies are, and, as Nicea demonstrates, this Apostolic Deposit is not simply defined based upon “Scripture”. It is defined by that which has been handed down from the beginning. . . up to and included the *understanding* of Scripture. It is to this Apostolic Deposit that Athanasius referred to when he said their “judgement was not of more recent origin, but was in fact of Apostolic times…”

  • darrellboan

    If they are the doctrines that are essential for salvation to be possible, then the point of my post is still valid.

  • If I understand the Church of Christ correctly, which is questionable, they affirm all of the same essential doctrines that you and I affirm. But, they add at least one more doctrine to the list: baptism.

    That is why I say they are a truly Christian denomination, but with significant error (because they add this extra doctrine which is not orthodox).

    If we require that every denomination (including RC, EO, and everyone within Protestantantism) agree on every single doctrinal point, above and beyond those that are essential for salvation to be possible, then there is no meaningful definition of what it means to be Christian. Ecumenicism is dead and there is no universal Body of Christ. This view goes very much against RC teaching, and much of Protestantism.

    Do you believe that Protestants and RCs are not Christian?

  • With regard to the hundred-or-so-year controversy surrounding Arianism (not just the council of Nicea), maybe we are saying the same thing. I think we agree on these points:

    1. Arius and his followers used Scripture to defend their position.

    2. Athanasius and his followers used Scripture to defend their position.

    3. Arius and his followers appealed to earlier traditions which supported their position.

    4. Athanasius and his followers appealed to earlier traditions which supported their position.

    5. Arius and his followers appealed to philosophical reasoning to support their position.

    6. Athanasius and his followers appealed to philosophical reasoning to support their position.

    7. Ultimately the Athanasian position won because it had better support from tradition, better support from Scripture, and better support from philosophical reasoning.

  • darrellboan

    Billy,

    Thanks for laying it out that way. I think we are agreeing on some points. Both sides appealed to Scripture, reasoning, and philosphy. Personally, I am not aware of Arius appealing to any Fathers for support of his position. It is my understanding that *his particular nuance* on the nature of the Son originated with him.

    I think our point of disagreement lies in the role that Tradition played in settling the dispute. Both sides argued very proficiently from both a philosophical and scriptural standpoint, but, ultimately, the settling point was which position lined up with the Apostolic Deposit, and, contrary to the modern Sola Scriptura position, the Apostolic Deposit that they referred to was not confined to Scripture. It was incarnate in the Life of the Church.

    IMO, this gives us very good insight into the role that Tradition has historically played in the Church. It goes without saying that it is possible to make a compelling argument from Scripture for any number of things. Such is the reason there are so many different Sola Scriptura denominations. What Arius and his followers did has been done time and time again – they read Scripture and came away from it with a new and strange theological view. Did they do this because they were dumb, or because they wanted to pervert doctrine? Personally, I doubt it. I think the majority of those who do this are sincere in their convictions.

    So, since it is possible to be sincere, be intelligent, and read scripture and come up with strange doctrines, wouldn’t it make sense that the Apostolic Deposit would be a little more involved than simply a written book? Think about this for a second. . . do the words on the page of the Bible save? Or, is it the *meaning* and the *Person* to whom that meaning leads one that saves?

  • darrellboan

    We are talking past each other. When I am talking about “essential doctrines”, I am talking from the perspective of them being “essential for salvation”. The Church of Christ holds that salvation is essential for salvation. However, your list of essentials does not include this. Given that, if your list is correct, then one who does not get baptized may very well be fine. However, if their list is correct, and one does not get baptized. . . . well, not good.

    Again, this only one of numerous “essentials” about which there is disagreement in the Sola Scriptura world. This speaks right to the heart of the inherent problems with SS.

  • When you say that the Apostolic Deposit, and only the Apostolic Deposit, is what ultimately settled the dispute, I wonder how you could possibly know that. The historical records over that one hundred year period mention tradition, Scripture, and philosophy. There were multiple people involved, not just two.

    I can’t imagine how we could ever know that tradition, and tradition only, settled the issue. Has somebody done an exhaustive historical analysis where all of the numerous historical accounts of the controversy were analyzed, and the conclusion was that there were 37 arguments from tradition, 24 from Scripture, and 13 from philosophy?

    Remember that the Council of Nicea did not settle the issue. The debate raged on for decades later, so the historical analysis would have to encompass everything leading up to the Council and everything that occurred until the debate was finally put to rest decades later.

    I really don’t think tradition is the main difference between EO and EV. I think it is church government and authority. We will discuss that Wed. night!

  • We should discuss the “numerous” essentials you claim that orthodox Protestants disagree over. I am aware of very few.

    For several years, when I worked at RF Micro Devices, I participated in a Christian Bible study that included Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and many different Protestant denominations (even Church of Christ was there). We agreed on most things and had fantastic fellowship. I loved those lunch meetings, as to me it represented what Heaven is going to be like.

    Pastor Rick also used to speak at weekly luncheons at the Cardinal country club, and again we would have Christians from RC, EO, and various Protestant denominations. This went on for years.

    We all agreed on human depravity,Christ’s virgin birth, Christ’s sinlessness, Christ’s deity,
    Christ’s humanity, God’s unity, God’s triunity,
    the necessity of God’s grace, the necessity of faith, Christ’s atoning death, Christ’s bodily resurrection, Christ’s bodily ascension, Christ’s present high priestly service, Christ’s second coming, final judgment, and reign.

    Did we disagree about some important things? Yes, we did. But they were not about the essentials.

  • darrellboan

    Billy,

    I look forward to our getting together.

    There has been much written about the Nicean/Arian controversy. Yes, the ultimate settling of the issue took several years, basically occuring just prior to the Second Ecumenical Council, which finished the Creed out. The continuation of the controversy post Nicea was mostly due to govenrmental meddling in Church activities, promulgated by none other than Arius himself.

    Just to be clear, however, I am not saying that they only appealed to Tradition. Remember, from an Orthodox perspective, Scripture is not separate from Tradition. . . it is at the very center of it. . . Scripture *is* Tradition.

    Yes, they appealed to Scripture. However, when appealing to it, Arius did what many today do. . . he provided a new and unique way of “interpreting the Scripture”. His interpretations were very different from what had been handed down from the beginning. Therefore, Arius’ interpretations were countered by referring to that which had been handed down, i.e., the Apostolic Deposit/Holy Tradition. As I mentioned earlier, we can see this by what Athanaisus, who was the leader of the Trinitarian position, serving as a Deacon under Bishop Alexander from Alexandria, had to say about the Council.

    Also, one must keep in mind that at this time Scripture was not delivered in a leather bound NIV that one studied in their home. It was generally delivered in separate, handwritten copies and was, for the most part, confined to the copies that were kept in the Church. Scripture was not “studied” on its own in ones house. The reading of Scripture was Liturgical. . . it was part of the Life of the Church and was understood in the context of the Liturgy. As a result, holding that they separated the meaning of Scripture from the Ecclesiastical Structure of the Church, through which it had been handed down, understood, and interpreted is anachronistic. Scripture in the fourth century cannot be separated from Ecclesiology, Liturgy, and Church Life. In many ways, this is one of the major issues that those of us who reject have with Sola Scriptura, for it does just that today.

  • Hey Darrell,

    Do you have evidence that church fathers, bishops, and other church leaders did not read Scripture in their homes, or at least by themselves, in order to study them? Is there evidence that Scripture was only ever read during Liturgy?

    Perhaps you’re right, but this is a strange idea, that church leaders did not read Scripture except as part of Liturgy, and I would think it would be almost impossible to prove.

    There is no doubt that there were far fewer copies of Scripture available in the fourth century than today, but I would not then draw the conclusion that nobody was studying it outside of liturgical services.

    Would you urge against Christians today reading Bibles in their homes, outside of church services?

  • darrellboan

    Billy,
    I apologize if I did not make myself clear. No, I am not saying that Christians should not “read their Bibles”.

    My point was that the people we generally talk about from the Early Church, e.g., Saint Athanasius, Saint Basil, Saint Augustine, etc., were *Bishops*. They were the leaders of the Church. Thus, their interpretation of Scripture cannot be disconnected from the Ecclesiology of the Church of their time and the manifestation of that in the Liturgical Life of the Church. Your average every day Church goer in the 4th Century did not march around with a bound NIV Bible. Most did not even own one letter of Scripture. They couldn’t afford to and at the timeframe that we are talking about, Scripture did not exist as a codified book. What was and was not Scripture was still being discussed and debated and wasn’t completely settled until the 7th Century. Thus, dogmatic Theology and Scripture interpretation in the early Church was understood in light of what read, taught, and understood in the Liturgical Life of the Church. This is the very reason that that the Nicene Council chose an already existing Baptismal Creedal Confession for the body of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. The confession was, in many respects, already part of the Life of the Church.