Some discussions, on this site and elsewhere, are different variants of reflecting on what the Bible is for Christians.
In the midst of some people’s tub-thumping of the term sola scriptura (belief in the Bible alone) some people can
- give the impression that those who do not use the term sola scriptura somehow do not accept the Bible as the Word of God
- not acknowledge the variety of understandings and usages of the term sola scriptura itself
For Christians the Bible is God’s Word written; it is inspired; it has authority. This is just as true for Orthodox, Catholics, and others who do not use the term sola scriptura.
For Orthodox, the Bible has authority within the Church, within the Tradition.
Roman Catholics don’t accept sola scriptura. They form half the Christian faith. For them “Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church.” (Dei Verbum 10)
Here is one of the formal Roman Catholic statements about the Bible:
Like the Christian religion itself, all the preaching of the Church must be nourished and regulated by Sacred Scripture. For in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them; and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life. Consequently these words are perfectly applicable to Sacred Scripture: “For the word of God is living and active” (Heb. 4:12) and “it has power to build you up and give you your heritage among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32; see 1 Thess. 2:13).
The accusations of many sola-scriptura declarers against those who do not use this language give the impression that those who do not hold to sola scriptura somehow use scripture less, or reverence it less, or do not accept its authority. Nothing is further from the truth.
Staying with Roman Catholics as the most obvious example of those who do not refer to sola scriptura, they proclaim the heart of the Bible every three years at Sunday Mass. Weekday Mass-goers reflect on more scripture together over a two year cycle. The liturgy is replete with scripture and scriptural allusions. The Daily Office, a requirement for clergy and religious, is essentially wholly praying and reflecting on scripture. Many laity share in this. Lectio Divina, the prayerful reading of scripture to encounter God’s Word, is a growing practice. Formal teaching documents brim with scriptural quotes and allusions.
Many wanting to (needing to?) argue for sola scriptura from the Bible turn to 2 Timothy 3:16 “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness”*. As if that settles it. As if sola scriptura is identical with accepting the Bible is inspired; and useful. Those who do not accept sola scriptura have no difficulty with the Timothy text. In fact they relish it at least as much as the sola-scriptura factions.
Those who harangue about sola-scriptura cannot agree amongst themselves even what the term means, thereby draining the term of any usefulness.
There are those who use the term sola-scriptura
- simply to mean the belief that the Bible is inspired and has authority for Christians
- as shorthand for Article 6 of the 39 Articles of Religion that “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation”
- as limiting what can be believed and practised by Christians (all is allowed unless explicitly forbidden by the Bible)
- as determining what can be believed and practised by Christians (only what the Bible teaches can be believed and practised) [The inability of ever-fragmenting groupings to agree what the Bible actually teaches makes these last two positions blatantly untenable – yet an ever-increasing number of groups continue to tout this foolishness]
- to refer to using the Bible as the primary evidential material about God (what others would now, possibly more fairly, refer to as prima scriptura – see here and here and here)
- to diferentiate it from the apparently “Revisionist Doctrine” of solo scriptura. And then there are those who argue passionately that there is no difference.
Reverence for the Bible, using it to hear what God is saying to us, turning to it as an authority – all these things are not dependent on holding to sola scriptura.
All appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture. The only real question is: whose interpretation?
I want to conclude this post positively. I do so by quoting a section about Sacred Scripture from the Catechism of the Catholic Church
In order to reveal himself to [us], in the condescension of his goodness God speaks to [us] in human words: “Indeed the words of God, expressed in [human] words, are in every way like human language, just as the Word of the eternal Father, when he took on himself the flesh of human weakness, became like [us].”
Through all the words of Sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single Word, his one Utterance in whom he expresses himself completely:
“You recall that one and the same Word of God extends throughout Scripture, that it is one and the same Utterance that resounds in the mouths of all the sacred writers, since he who was in the beginning God with God has no need of separate syllables; for he is not subject to time.” (Augustine)
For this reason, the Church has always venerated the Scriptures as she venerates the Lord’s Body. She never ceases to present to the faithful the bread of life, taken from the one table of God’s Word and Christ’s Body.
In Sacred Scripture, the Church constantly finds her nourishment and her strength, for she welcomes it not as a human word, “but as what it really is, the word of God”. “In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them.”…
“And such is the force and power of the Word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigor, and the children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting fount of spiritual life.” Hence “access to Sacred Scripture ought to be open wide to the Christian faithful.”
“Therefore, the study of the sacred page should be the very soul of sacred theology. The ministry of the Word, too – pastoral preaching, catechetics and all forms of Christian instruction, among which the liturgical homily should hold pride of place – is healthily nourished and thrives in holiness through the Word of Scripture.”
The Church “forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful. . . to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.
Rob Bell has been running a series: What is the Bible?
*Let’s leave to one side the ambiguity in the Greek of 2 Tim 3:16 (“All inspired scripture…”)