Those who believe in sola scriptura (“Scripture alone”) cannot agree amongst themselves what this concept actually means.
For some the Bible does not just point to God’s revelation, or tell the story of God’s revelation – the Bible is God’s revelation. “Tradition” for these people is nothing more than the history of interpreting the Bible.
For others only that which the Bible enjoins is allowed in faith and practice. For others still, the Bible is the final arbiter of faith and practice. For yet others, the Bible contains all that is required for salvation.
Then there are those who interpret Scripture apart from its historical and theological context.
All these claim the term sola scriptura, a term, of course, not found in the Bible.
Yet others make the term so broad that all fall under its aegis. For them sola scriptura is merely the term used for Christians using the Bible. For them Protestants, Eastern Orthodox, and Roman Catholics have all always adhered to sola scriptura.
The Bible, of course, does not list what is in the Bible and what is not – a point lost on many who use the term sola scriptura. The Bible alone is not enough to determine the question, are the Books of Maccabees in the Bible or not?
The fact is well known that using the Bible alone leads to ever-multiplying divisions within Christianity, divisions of people often strongly (and sometimes violently) opposed to each other. Fundamental basic Christian doctrines such as who to baptise and how one joins the church are disputed (not to even mention the nature of God or Jesus…).
Furthermore, the Bible has been used to justify apartheid, slavery, sexism, and other inhumane practices. The regular response is that the Bible is perfect, but it is we sinful, imperfect humans who misinterpret its clear message. Such a Bibliodicy seems to believe in a rather second-rate god. Anyone running a website knows that one needs to design it from the user’s perspective – if the purpose of the Bible is to be the sole source for faith and practice of sinful, imperfect humans, then, in order to be fit for that purpose, it should be produced in such a way as to be usable.
Martin Luther is not as sola scriptura as some:
Unless I am convinced by the testimony from scripture or by evident reason—for I confide neither in the Pope nor in a Council alone, since it is certain they have often erred and contradicted themselves—I am held fast by the scriptures adduced by me, and my conscience is held captive by God’s Word, and I neither can nor will revoke anything, seeing it is not safe or right to act against conscience. God help me. Amen.
Luther did confide in Popes and councils – but not alone. “Evident reason” is an authority for Luther. Conscience holds authority, “it is not safe or right to act against conscience”.
So many holders of sola scriptura would differ from Luther’s.
‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
An important final point: Those who proclaim loud and strong that they hold to sola scriptura do not necessarily read more of the Bible, nor uphold more Biblical teaching, or live more Biblically. Many who do not use “sola scriptura” to describe their approach to the Bible, or who even oppose using the term, read more of the scriptures, alone and aloud in the Christian assembly, treat it with the greatest devotion as the inspired Word of God, and live reverently according to what they understand it teaches.