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Sola Scriptura vs. Catholic Tradition: Which is Biblical?

Sola Scriptura vs. Catholic Tradition: Which is Biblical?


Sola Scriptura: The Foundation of Christian Belief

Sola Scriptura, a fundamental principle of Protestant theology, asserts that the Bible alone is the ultimate authority in matters of faith and practice. This concept is derived from scriptures like 2 Timothy 3:16-17, which states that all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. This passage establishes the sufficiency of Scripture for every aspect of Christian life and doctrine.

Additionally, the Bereans in Acts 17:11 were commended for examining the Scriptures daily to check if what Paul taught was true, demonstrating the early church’s reliance on Scripture as the benchmark for truth. This implies that while church leaders and traditions are important, they are subject to the authority of Scripture. Furthermore, Jesus often criticized the Pharisees for placing their traditions above God’s commandments (Mark 7:8-9), warning against the elevation of human teachings to the level of divine authority.

In the Protestant view, Scripture, being divinely inspired, is infallible and inerrant, unlike human traditions, which are subject to error. This principle does not dismiss the importance of historical teachings or church fathers but views them through the lens of Scripture, testing all teachings against the biblical text. As such, Sola Scriptura is not a call to abandon tradition but to align it with the authoritative Word of God.


The Role of Tradition in the Church

While Sola Scriptura emphasizes the Bible as the ultimate authority, it does not imply that tradition has no place in the church. Historical practices and teachings, as long as they align with Scripture, can be valuable for understanding and applying biblical truths. 2 Thessalonians 2:15, for instance, urges believers to stand firm and hold to the teachings passed on by word of mouth or by letter. This indicates an acknowledgment of the role of apostolic tradition in the early church.

However, the key distinction lies in the authority level assigned to tradition. In the Protestant perspective, traditions are seen as subordinate to Scripture. They are beneficial for edification, instruction, and maintaining continuity within the church, but they do not possess the same level of authority as the Bible. The Westminster Confession of Faith, a key document in Reformed theology, acknowledges the church’s councils and ancient writers but asserts that they are not infallible and, thus, their declarations are only authoritative insofar as they align with Scripture.

This perspective values historical continuity and the wisdom of past generations but always tests these against the Bible. It upholds the principle that no church tradition, no matter how ancient or universally accepted, can supersede or contradict the teachings of Scripture.

Scripture’s Sufficiency for Salvation and Godly Living

A key aspect of Sola Scriptura is the belief in the sufficiency of Scripture for salvation

and godly living. This doctrine is based on the conviction that the Bible contains all the knowledge necessary for salvation and spiritual growth. In John 20:31, it is stated that the Scriptures are written so that one may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, one may have life in His name. This verse emphasizes that the essential truths for salvation are found in the Bible.

The concept of sufficiency also extends to the guidance for godly living. Psalm 119:105 describes God’s word as a lamp to the feet and a light to the path, indicating that Scripture provides the necessary guidance for living a life that pleases God. This belief negates the idea that additional revelations or traditions are needed for understanding the essentials of faith and Christian living.

In the Protestant tradition, the Bible is seen as complete and wholly adequate for instructing believers in all aspects of faith and conduct. While the church and its traditions can provide context and help in understanding the Bible, they are not seen as supplementary sources of revelation on par with Scripture. This view reinforces the idea that every teaching, no matter how widely accepted or traditional, must be examined in the light of Scripture and that Scripture alone is sufficient for knowing and serving God effectively.

The Balance Between Scripture and Tradition

While Sola Scriptura elevates Scripture as the supreme authority, it does not lead to the disregard of church tradition. Rather, it calls for a balance where tradition is respected and utilized but always subjected to the authority of Scripture. The Bereans in Acts 17:11 exemplify this balance by scrutinizing Paul’s teachings through the lens of Scripture. This approach values the role of tradition and the church’s teaching authority but maintains that they are not infallible and must be evaluated against the Bible.

In Reformed theology, there is an emphasis on the community’s role in interpreting Scripture. The principle of “priesthood of all believers,” based on 1 Peter 2:9, suggests that every Christian has the responsibility and privilege to study and interpret Scripture. This communal interpretation, done within the historical context of church teaching, provides a safeguard against individualistic or novel interpretations that deviate from orthodox Christian beliefs.

This balance is crucial in maintaining the integrity of the faith and ensuring that the church does not drift into error. It acknowledges that while God has given the church teachers and leaders to guide and instruct, their teachings must be in accordance with Scripture. As such, traditions, councils, and teachings are valuable, but they are not the ultimate authority. The final arbiter of all doctrinal disputes and the standard for truth remains the Bible.


In conclusion, the principle of Sola Scriptura asserts the supremacy of Scripture as the ultimate authority in all matters of faith and practice. It recognizes the value of church tradition but insists that it must always be subordinate to, and judged by, the Word of God. This approach ensures that the essential teachings for salvation and godly living are based on the infallible and sufficient Scripture, rather than on fallible human traditions.

Read More

  1. “The Roman Catholic Controversy” by James White
  2. “Knowing Scripture” by R.C. Sproul

This article offers a comprehensive understanding of the Sola Scriptura principle and its implications for the Christian faith, especially in distinguishing it from Catholic tradition.

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