Is There Support for Sola Scriptura in the Church Fathers?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Indeed there is.  Here are just a handful of quotes from church fathers that seem to support the supremacy of the Scriptures over all other sources.

Athanasius: “The holy and inspired Scriptures are fully sufficient for the proclamation of the truth.”

Cyril of Jerusalem: “With regard to the divine and saving mysteries of faith no doctrine, however trivial, may be taught without the backing of the divine Scriptures. . . . for our saving faith derives its force, not from capricious reasoning, but from what may be proved out of the Bible.”

John Chrysostom: (as paraphrased by J. N. D. Kelley) “[Chrysostom] bade his congregation seek no other teacher than the oracles of God; everything was straightforward and clear in the Bible, and the sum of necessary knowledge could be extracted from it.”

Augustine: “It is to the canonical Scriptures alone that I am bound to yield such implicit subjection as to follow their teaching, without admitting the slightest suspicion that in them any mistake or any statement intended to mislead could find a place.” (emphasis added)

Augustine: “He [God] also inspired the Scripture, which is regarded as canonical and of supreme authority and to which we give credence concerning all the truths we ought to know and yet, of ourselves, are unable to learn.”

Augustine: “Scripture has a sacredness peculiar to itself. . . . But in consequence of the sacred writing, we are bound to receive as true whatever the canon shows to have been said by even one prophet, or apostle, or evangelist.”

Augustine: “There is a distinct boundary line separating all productions subsequent to apostolic times from the authoritative canonical books of the Old and New Testaments, . . .  [for] the authority of these books has come down to us from the apostles . . . and, from a position of lofty supremacy, claims the submission of every faithful and pious mind. . . . In the innumerable books that have been written latterly we may sometimes find the same truth as in Scripture, but there is not the same authority. Scripture has a sacredness peculiar to itself.”

Aquinas: “We believe the successors of the apostles and prophets only in so far as they tell us those things which the apostles and prophets have left in their writings,” and “it is heretical to say that any falsehood whatsoever is contained either in the gospels or in any canonical Scripture.” (emphasis added)

From these few quotes, we can see that at least some of the tradition seems to support the idea that the tradition is subordinate to Scripture.  The Reformers, therefore, were not merely inventing a new doctrine that had no support from the church fathers themselves.  I think this is an important point.

  • ggodat

    For uI would have you know, brothers, that vthe gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.3 12 wFor I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it xthrough a revelation of Jesus Christ.
    If Jesus revealed the truths of God to Paul directly why would he not do the same for us today via the Holy Spirit?

  • darrellboan

    Greg,
    I don’t doubt that the Holy Spirit can and does speak to people today. However, determining when one is hearing from the Holy Spirit and when one is not is another story.

  • darrellboan

    Billy,
    Thanks for the post. This could be a launching point for a discussion similar to the one we are having on the other post. . . yet coming at it from a different angle.

    Take a look at these quotes and let me know your thoughts.

    Saint Papias – “Whenever anyone came my way, who had been a follower of my seniors, I would ask for the accounts of our seniors: What did Andrew or Peter say? Or Phillip or Thomas or James or John or Matthew, or any of the Lord’s disciples? I also asked: What did Aristion and John the Presbyter, disciples of the Lord say. For, as I see it, it is not so much from books as from the living and permanent voice that I must draw profit” (The Sayings of the Lord [between A.D. 115 and 140] as recorded by Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3:39 [A.D. 325]).

    Saint Irenaeus – “True knowledge is the doctrine of the Apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved, without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither addition nor curtailment [in truths which she believes]; and [it consists in] reading [the Word of God] without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy…” (Against Heresies 2:9 [A.D. 189])

    Origen – “Seeing there are many who think they hold the opinions of Christ, and yet some of these think differently from their predecessors, yet as the teaching of the Church, transmitted in orderly succession from the Apostles, and remaining in the churches to the present day, is still preserved, that alone is to be accepted as truth which differs in no respect from ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition.” (On First Principles Bk. 1 Preface 2 [circa A.D. 225])

    Saint Basil – “Of the beliefs and practices whether generally accepted or publicly enjoined which are preserved in the Church some we possess derived from written teaching; others we have received delivered to us “in mystery” by the tradition of the Apostles; and both of these in relation to true religion have the same force. And these no one will contradict; – no one, at all events, who is even moderately versed in the institutions of the Church. For were we to attempt to reject such customs as have no written authority, on the ground that the importance they possess is small, we should unintentionally injure the Gospel in these matters…” (On the Holy Spirit 27 [A.D. 375])

    Saint John Chrysostom – “”So then brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word, or by epistle of ours” (2 Thessalonians 2:15). Hence it is manifest, that they did not deliver all things by epistle, but many things also unwritten, and in like manner both the one and the other are worthy of credit. Therefore let us think the tradition of the Church also worthy of credit. It is a tradition, seek no farther.” (Homilies on Second Thessalonians [circa A.D. 400]).

    Saint Vincent of Lerins – “I have often then inquired earnestly and attentively of very many men eminent for sanctity and learning, how and by what sure and so to speak universal rule I may be able to distinguish the truth of Catholic faith from the falsehood of heretical pravity; and I have always, and in almost every instance, received an answer to this effect: That whether I or any one else should wish to detect the frauds and avoid the snares of heretics as they rise, and to continue sound and complete in the Catholic faith, we must, the Lord helping, fortify our own belief in two ways: first, by the authority of the Divine Law, and then, by the Tradition of the Catholic Church.” (Commonitory 2 [A.D. 434])

    Also, take a look at this blog post (I e-mailed a copy of it to you yesterday). He does a fairly thorough analysis of Canon formation and touches on the doctrine of Sola Scriptura in light of the ecclesiology of early Church and the understanding of Church authority.

    http://orthodoxbridge.com/holy-traditions-importance-to-canon-formation/

  • ggodat

    When one hears things that agree with scripture and work for the glorification of God, then they are from the Holy Spirit. When we hear things that contradict scripture the bible teaches they are not from God. It is very clear to me when I am being spoken to by the Holy Spirit.

  • ggodat

    I guess the last point I would make is, given God’s perfect nature, why would we need anything other than his word? Not that we don’t need preachers or theologians but I believe God’s word is perfect enough that thru the revelation of the HS we can know and understand scripture based solely on the scriptures.
    If not, then how did someone from 400AD come to this special revelation and why would that method not be available to me today?

  • darrellboan

    Who said it is not available to you, Greg?
    So, if you can tell when the Holy Spirit is guiding you based upon what you read in Scripture, am I correct in assuming that if someone disagrees with what you read and understand Scripture as saying, you believe that they are not being guided by the Holy Spirit?

  • ggodat

    Darrell,
    I believe I can understand the scriptures because of the promise that Jesus gave us in that the Holy Spirit will teach us all things. So, if a scripture says that unbelievers are storing up wrath against themselves for the day of God’s wrath and someone tells me that Jesus didn’t die to appease this same wrath, then in turn I believe that belief is not guided by the Holy Spirit. Same as the scripture in Eph 1.

  • darrellboan

    So let’s say that you read a passage of scripture that you believe you are interpreting according to the Holy Spirit and you come to position “x”. What do you say to the person who reads the same passage of scripture and comes to position “y” when they say that their interpretation is according to the Holy Spirit?

  • Darrell,

    Thanks for the quotes and blog post link. Check out this link to the first of a series of blog posts that defend sola Scriptura. The first post is especially interesting because it lays out 5 different views of authority in the church.

  • Anon

    To be candid trying to impute sola scriptura to the ante nicean period is wildly anachronistic – their “exegesis” was christological and Eucharistic. That in no way lessons the value or centrality of Scripture but grounds it in Christ and the Church. Check out Behr’s Mystery of Christ if you want to take the first Christians on their own terms and not ours.

  • darrellboan

    John Behr’s book is great. Thanks for sharing. I assume you are Eastern Orthodox? My family and I were Chrismated this past Pascha. Glory to God!

  • ggodat

    Please apply this same logic to the fact that Billy has presented many “ECF’s” that say scripture alone and you have presented others that give equal importance to what someone 400yrs removed from Christ said….

    How do we know who is correct in their teachings??

  • darrellboan

    Greg,

    Good question, but it comes from a misunderstanding as to what Eastern Orthodox believe. Our theology and understanding of Holy Tradition is not embodied in what any one Early Church Father said. Honestly, in Orthodoxy there is no such thing as an “Early Church Father”. There are only Church Fathers, and they are not limited to one specific period of time, for we do not hold a difference between “the early Church” and “the Church today”. . . Instead, there is only “the Church” and it transcends ones time and place. As such, our understanding and theology is embodied in the Life of the Church, which maintains an unbroken consistent witness from Christ until today. The witness is not confined to what one person said long ago. It is present in the overall Life of the Church, which is living and ever moving.

    Back to my question. . . what do you say to someone who presents you with the response I mentioned?

  • darrellboan

    Just a heads up as well. . .the people I presented were not all “400 years removed from Christ”. (Sidenote: We could always look at Saint Ignatius if you’d like. He was a disciple of the Apostle John and wrote in 105 AD.)

    Even if they were, I’m confused as to why you think that helps your cause. You are nearly 2000 years removed from Christ.

  • ggodat

    That’s a great way of not answering the question I asked you which is exactly the same question you asked me.
    If there are church fathers that say scripture alone is suffucient and ones that place the same emphasis on what man said as the scripture, how do we know who is correct?

  • darrellboan

    Greg,

    It is answering your question, because your question is based on a mistaken assumption about our theology. Anybody can be *wrong* in believing they are being guided by the Holy Spirit – you, me, Billy, and even a Church Father. Therefore, we don’t base our theology on the teachings of any one Church Father, nor do we base it upon what *we individually interpret* Scripture to say. We base it on the conciliar teachings of the Church for the last 2000 years and these teachings are embodied in the Life of the Church. It is not a stagnent theology that one must find and mentally understand. It is a theology that is living and breathing and that one enters into. The basis is quite different from Western Scholasticism.

    Think about this for a second. . . Could you be wrong in your interpretation? If so, how do you know you are right? You say the Holy Spirit is guiding you, but how do you answer someone who reads the same scripture and believes, just as strongly as you do, that the Holy Spirit is guiding them? Sure, they could be wrong, but so could you. Ultimately, what you have done is make *yourself* your own Pope. You say you are relying on the Spirit, but you cannot be positive that you are following the Spirit because you are interpreting the whisperings of the Spirit through your own *individual* interpretation of Scripture.

    The bottom line is, Sola Scriptura ultimately leads back, in virtually every case, to the individual. It is completely *I* based – “I think” – “I believe” – “I am following the Spirit” – and those who disagree with “me” are wrong.

  • ggodat

    So again I ask, 50 church fathers say Sola Scriptura and 50 say what we say and scripture,
    How do YOU know who is right? You are not answering the question.

  • darrellboan

    Greg,
    Go back and read my previous comment. I answered your question – twice. The Life of the Church is the embodiment of the breath of the Holy Spirit. It is this to which we point and in which we live.

  • ggodat

    that’s not an answer! Are the 50 church fathers that disagree with your position (or the Life of the church) not embodied in the Holy Spirit and if so how can YOU be sure?

  • Hey Darrell,
    I really don’t think this characterization of sola Scriptura being “I based” makes the argument you want it to make. You also have to personally decide whether you will agree with the Holy Tradition or the Life of the Church. There is no escaping each person making an individual choice.

    On a side note, a Protestant follower of sola Scriptura should be deeply troubled if they are interpreting Scripture in ways that are counter to the consensus of the early church councils and creeds. I know I would be.

  • darrellboan

    Greg,

    There are not “50 Church Fathers” that teach Sola Scriptura. The quotes that Billy used are pretty much the standard ones that are mined in order to try to support the Protestant Doctrine. However, when we look at what these *very same Fathers* had to say about Tradition, we find that viewing them through our modern enlightenment minded scholastic lens is faulty. They did not view Scripture in bifurcation with Holy Tradition. It does not line up with their ecclesiology or their sacramental approach to life. It is anachronistic.

    Nevertheless, since you don’t understand what I was saying earlier, I will say it a little more straighforwardly. The Life of the Church is the embodiment of the Holy Spirit and, as a result, if someone disagrees with it – be it you, me, or anyone else – then by default they are disagreeing with the breath of the Holy Spirit.

  • darrellboan

    Billy,

    I understand what you are getting at, but there is a difference. If the Church is literally the Body of Christ, i.e., Christ on earth, then submitting to the Life of the Church is simply a matter of saying yes. It is a matter of acknowledging authority. Beyond that, our obligation is to enter into participation with God and follow.

    Sola Scriptura, on the other hand, acknowledges authority in principle, e.g., the Scriptures, but in all practicality places the real authority on each and every single issue with “us”. . . for we decide what we personally think Scripture teaches. If one does not personally believe in the Doctrine of the Real Presence, which was the universal teaching of greater Christendom for 1600 years (and those who rejected it were called heretics), then one can start their own Church and claim to be following the Bible and the Holy Spirit despite what the Church has taught from the beginning. This is precisely what has lead to the cacophony of modern day Protestantism.

  • ggodat

    So you disagree with scripture where Jesus said (Jn 14:26) the Holy Spirit would come to teach us all things? I guess he did not mean that for future Christians…
    last question for you (from a simple minded confused Christian), did the Holy Spirit lead you and your family to worship the living Christ at Cornerstone?

  • darrellboan

    Greg,

    I think it might just be best for us to end our discussion. I don’t mind talking with you (or anybody else) about Orthodox beliefs, and I do enjoy engaging in a “spirited debate”, but I don’t want things to get heated and your last couple of responses to me are tending towards that. I can’t discuss things if you simply seeking to build a straw-man to tear down.

    In regards to your question about God leading my family to Cornerstone, I have answered it for you iin the past via Facebook discussion. The fact that you are bringing it up again in such a taunting manner speaks directly to your motive.

    God bless!

  • ggodat

    Darrell, it is silly for you to say that I am taunting you. You are the one implying that anyone not adhering to EO beliefs are not being lead by the Holy Spirit. My posts are not heated I just would like an answer? Did Jesus leave the Holy Spirit to all Christians to guide and teach us all things?

    If I can’t rely on the seeming plain and straight forward scriptures then I really can’t rely on any of them.

    No harm, no foul.