Why Sola Scriptura Seems to Work (and Why It Really Doesn’t)

By pintswaquinas February 9, 2023

Protestants believe in sola scriptura — that Scripture alone is the final authority for the Christian faith and that its meaning is sufficiently clear to the reader.

For many Protestants, there is no binding tradition nor authoritative magisterium to interpret the sacred text. The Holy Spirit reveals to each reader what they need to believe to be saved.

Catholic apologists have pointed out numerous flaws with sola scriptura. Yet some Protestants assert that it works and actually provides a coherent interpretation of the Bible.

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Here’s why they’re wrong.

You can have a coherent belief system that’s also flawed.
Any true ideology will have coherency, even if that coherency is not immediately apparent. But flawed belief systems can also be coherent if their ideas fit together in a nice framework. Some people mistakenly think that if you start from false beliefs when reading Scripture, you’ll encounter contradictions. But this isn’t always the case.

When a Calvinist reads Scripture, he’ll find a lot of passages that seem to support his beliefs. Same with a Lutheran or any other branch of Protestantism.

How are we ever supposed to have a unified Church if contrary ideologies all claim to provide coherent interpretations of Scripture and many actually do?

The answer is simple: You can’t.

Coherency alone can’t justify believing in sola scriptura. Coherency alone does not guarantee truth. Truth corresponds to what is real.

But what is real in Scripture? God didn’t give us an infallible Bible dictionary to aid our reading. He gave us a Church. Yes, you do need a living authority to make the final call on contested passages of Scripture.

Ultimately, many Protestants go with tradition or church leaders to provide coherence to their reading of Scripture.
They may claim that Scripture is the final authority and its meaning is clear, but many Protestants don’t strictly adhere to this belief. Protestant communities often have institutional confessions of faith that they rigorously follow. If you point out that one of their beliefs goes against Scripture, they’ll often reflexively refer to the teaching of their denomination.

Scripture isn’t organized in a doctrinally clear way. It’s not a catechism. While some of its teachings are clear, others aren’t. You can’t interpret it correctly without the help of an authoritative tradition.

It’s worth repeating: Truth is coherent, but coherency alone doesn’t prove truth. We invite our Protestant brothers and sisters to rise above their own Biblical interpretations and notice the contradictions they have with other devout Christians. Clearly, Scripture alone doesn’t bring doctrinal unity.

Only a Church with a living magisterium can accomplish that.

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