A portion of this essay by John H. Armstrong is available online here.
THE QUESTION IS NOT:
- Is all that Christ taught written in Scripture? Nor is it
- What is Scripture?
THE QUESTION IS:
- Should oral traditions, creeds, church fathers, or writings of an extrabiblical sort ever be allowed to stand alongside the Holy Scripture as equal authority?
Herman Ridderbos (Studies in Scripture and its Authority; Eerdmans) says:
"The authority of the Scriptures is the great presupposition of the whole of the Biblical preaching and doctrine."
Again, I want to define what "Sola Scriptura" actually is (and is not)
- Sola Scriptura is NOT the teaching that Scripture is the source of all truth. It is not a science text or a math text. There are sources of learning truth outside of Scripture.
- Sola Scriptura is NOT the teaching that the Written Word is the only form of God’s Word that has ever been brought to His people
- Sola Scriptura is NOT the teaching that the church (and her people) are not valuable in understanding the Word.
“The Protestant position, and my position, is that all things necessary for salvation and concerning faith and life are taught in the Bible clearly enough for the ordinary believer to find it there and understand.”
QUESTION: Does the Bible every claim authority?
The Bible writers claim, "The Lord says..." That claims authority.
Throughout the Bible the terms "the Scripture says" and "God says" mean the same thing. Scripture is written about as if it WERE God:
- Romans 9:17 "For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth."
- Galatians 3:8 "And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed."
The New Testament writes don't give the impression that they're giving their opinion!
- 2 Peter 3:2 "that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles..."
The apostles were given authority by Christ to preach the Gospel and from the earliest writings of the church fathers, the apostolic texts were placed on a par with the Old Testament writings - they were quoted as authoritative.
The authority of Scripture is not located in human witness. It is not found in the words of the apostles and prophets.
The authority of Scripture is found in God Himself!
It was Paul that wrote, "...what I am writing to you is the Lord's command."
- is both complete and final
- has its origin in God's will, not man's
The Christian conception of authority, however, is quite different from these [worldly] concepts. Here we encounter a divine authority, an authority inherent in the triune God Himself - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is revealed authority precisely because it has been given to us, finally and completely, in the Word of God. The Word of God is authoritative precisely because it is God's verbalized communication to His rational thinking creatures..."
All that I am asserting at the outset of this chapter is a simple, but very necessary, fact - what is final authority for a Christian must be the Word of God which comes from the Creator as the binding word of His covenant.
For centuries both theologians and church members have accepted the authority of Scripture as the authority of God And yet other authorities compete
- Oral tradition. Armstrong writes:
The argument is simple: What is written in Scripture was first spoken. Because it was first spoken, this oral tradition has a status equal to the written Word, since teachings and practices not written down had authority in the early church. If things written down had status equal to authority then, then they must do so now.
The timeline is not the issue. But oral communication is subject to change (remember playing "telephone"?) and it needed a standard - the written Scripture alone supplies that standard.
All oral tradition MUST rely faithfully on Scripture.
- The church. Armstrong writes:
The argument is as follows: the church itself is divinely instituted, and the church came before the Scripture. The church, it is argued, gave us the canon of Scripture, and the church, with its proper disciplinary function in every age, expounds and interprets the Word of God.
These arguments, on the face of it, are correct.
However, it is error to assume that the chronology means that the authority of the church is equal to or greater than the authority of Scripture itself. This error comes from a failure to understand the uniqueness of the apostolate.
Jesus told Peter, "upon this rock..." and Ephesians 2:19b-21 says "but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.
By definition, the foundation is what comes at the beginning. A builder does not lay foundation on top of foundation.
The foundation is laid and Christ is the cornerstone. Those who teach apostolic succession (foundation after foundation) are really saying that we need new foundations. Following the "builder" model, this would logically require a new cornerstone for each new foundation.
The apostles and prophets were the foundation - and they left us Scripture, God breathed.
- Creeds, church councils, and the fathers. It is correct that the church issues pronouncements on moral and doctrinal matters - BUT - these must all be grounded in the Word of God.
These doctrinal statements have real authority and we should read them and examine them against Scripture. But their authority is never final; the authority of creeds and councils are always relative to Scripture.
It is the conviction of the various contributors to this present volume that the sixteenth-century Reformation was fundamentally a recovery of the full and final authority of the Scripture. It provided a correct reply to the numerous challenges to the authority of Scripture that had arisen over several centuries.
If the church in our time would wholeheartedly, and with true understanding, return to the final authority of Scripture she would avoid numerous problems presently ignored or misunderstood.
- Without the guiding light of Scripture, the believer is in the dark.
- When another authority places itself in equality to Scripture, the final authority of Scripture is compromised
- Conversely, when Scripture has it proper place, it actually established the secondary authorities, which help us mature as believers.
- The secondary authorities have as their authority the Scriptures, which reminds all of us that we are not the final judges.