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September 9, 2007 / Daniel

Sola Scriptura?

So I’m taking a Christian theology on Tuesday nights.  This first section is on the doctrine of Scripture.  In preparation for next week, we had to read “Sola Scriptura: In the Vanity of Their Minds” by John Whiteford.  We also had to prepare an outline.  Foolishly, I decided to post part of my outline so that I can get some freeback before Tuesday.  Levi, where are you? 

     Thesis and Key Points

  • In light of the many diverse Protestant interpretations of the Bible, Scripture must be interpreted by Orthodox tradition. 


  • Whiteford draws our attention to many difficulties that we face when interpreting Scripture (i.e. human biases due to sin and preconceived ideas).  However, isn’t just as true that we face the same problems when seeking to interpret church history? 

  • Whiteford uses guilt by association.  If Jehovah Witnesses can deny that Jesus is God by the means of Sola Scriptura, doesn’t it mean that all uses of Sola Scriptura are flawed? 

  • The Catholic church believes that they are the real possessers of apostolic succession.  How do we know who’s right?  Catholics or the Orthodox? 

  • Whiteford is right in doubting the objectivity of “so-called scientific approaches” to understanding the Bible.  However, doesn’t mean that God can’t choose to reveal Himself through these methods?  The Bible does teach that God has revealed Himself through creation (Romans 1).  Even though science is imperfect, it can give us a better understanding of God.

  •  A literal interpretation of Scripture means that we seek to understand what the inspired human author was communicating to his original audience.  It doesn’t rule out use of metaphor and simile, etc. 

  • Whiteford does point out many problems with reading the Bible devoid of a knowledge of church history.  Heresy often does develop when we come up with new, “original” interpretions of Scripture. 

  • 2 Thess. 2:15 doesn’t refer to all oral traditions in church history.  It only refers to the oral traditions that were taught by the apostles during the 1st century. 

  • Jude 3-4 tells us that the faith has once for all been delivered to the saints.  That should make us suspect of traditions that developed later in church history. 

  • Whiteford does point out many problems with the Protestant understanding of Scripture. However, he fails to turn his critical eye back on the Orthodox interpretation of church history.      



Leave a Comment
  1. Levi Hadley / Sep 10 2007 3:56 pm

    I didn’t finish reading this article yet.
    A couple of thoughts:
    At the time of this article’s writing, Fr. John was a recent convert to the EOC and may overstate his case.
    The Orthodox Church would not raise church history to the level of another objective standard which we could interpret and manipulate as much as the text of Scripture.
    The Orthodox Church interprets Scripture and Tradition existentially, that is, in the life of the Church.

    While 2 Thess. 2:15 refers specifically to the first-century apostolic deposit of faith, there is no scriptural warrant to say that all of the oral tradition of the church was explicitly codified in the form of the written Scriptures.

  2. fiester25 / Sep 10 2007 4:06 pm

    What do you mean by the phrase “The Orthodox Church interprets Scripture and Tradition existentially, that is, in the life of the Church”?

  3. Levi Hadley / Sep 10 2007 4:28 pm

    How about this?
    Everyone interprets the Scriptures through an interpretive framework or tradition. The people who think they don’t probably do more than most people. The only question is which tradition/interpretive framework to use.

    What was the interpretive framework with which they early church interpreted the Scriptures? It was (a) the oral testimony of the Apostles (b) the way in which the oral testimony of the Apostles was fleshed in the eucharistic/liturgical/sacramental life of the Church.

    Remember the early church survived for at 20 years without any written tradition and around 3 centuries without a standardized New Testament canon.
    The point being that in order for the Scriptures to be interpreted today the way they were interpreted in the early church (a) the oral testimony/tradition of the church has to be passed down through apostolic succession and (b) the church has to have essentially the same eucharistic/liturgical/sacramental life.

    Why would anyone think that it makes sense that 16th century Europeans with an entirely different liturgical life and little or no continuity with the actual historical early church could interpret the Scriptures more faithfully than second generation disciples of the Apostles? Could the Apostles’ disciples get things wrong? Sure. Is it likely? Not as likely as it is that 16th century Europeans would mistakenly combine Christianity with 16th century philosophical ideas and arrive at new and alien interpretations of Scripture.

  4. Levi Hadley / Sep 10 2007 4:39 pm

    A few links to how the Orthodox Church views Holy Tradition:

    From the Greek Archdiocese website:

    From These Truths We Hold by a Monk of St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Monastery:

    From Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dean Emeritus of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary:

  5. Levi Michael / Sep 10 2007 4:48 pm

    Here are some Questions/Answers on Scripture and Tradition from the website of Holy Transfiguration Antiochian Orthodox Church in Warrenville:

    What do the Orthodox think about the Bible? Do you agree with Sola Scriptura?
    Much of the content of Orthodox worship services consists of readings from the Scriptures, especially the Psalms. Readings from the Gospel occur at most services, along with regular readings from the Epistles.

    There are not now, nor have there ever been, any restrictions on the laity with regard to reading the Scriptures — they are, and always have been, encouraged to read them.

    As for Sola Scriptura we believe that the Scriptures are the “canon” — the measuring stick — which must be applied to all doctrine, but it is not the only source doctrine. In other words, not all doctrine is found in the Scriptures, but no Orthodox doctrine contradicts the Scriptures.

    Does tradition override the Scriptures?
    Some place Scripture and Tradition in opposition to each other, but this is not the Orthodox position. Others place Scripture and Tradition on the same level and set them up as co-equal, but neither is this the Orthodox position. For Orthodoxy, there is but one deposit of faith that contains everything that God has given to the Church via the Holy Spirit. The Scriptures are part of this deposit of faith, and thus are part of Holy Tradition.

    The Scriptures are not “overridden” or “trumped” by tradition, but are the cornerstone of tradition. They are the “canon” – the measuring stick – by which all doctrine must be judged. No Orthodox teaching is in contradiction to the Scriptures, nor can it be, for if it is, it most certainly could not be part of the deposit of faith. The Holy Scriptures, as interpreted by the Church, have the final say over any and all matters of faith and practice. They do not have the only say. (see 2 Thessalonians 2:13, 3:6-7; 1 Corinthians 11:1-2; 2 Timothy 2:1-2; 1 Timothy 3:14-15).

    The Scriptures are themselves a product of the oral tradition of the early Church. The gospels were preached orally, later being written down by the leading of the Holy Spirit. Once can also see in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew usage of the Gospel of Mark – the use of prior tradition. The use of oral tradition in the Scriptures has precedents in both the Old and the New Testaments – the authors were simply following accepted practices. Similarly, both Luke and Matthew had access to some collection of sayings that they used in common which do not appear in Mark. This collection could have been oral, written or a combination of both.

  6. Levi Michael / Sep 10 2007 5:33 pm

    As far as SOLA Scriptura, you’re right that the arguments are usually against some extreme form like the Church of Christ, non-creedal Baptists and Jehovah’s Witnesses who essentially that if something isn’t in the Scripture it isn’t Christian and doesn’t belong in the Church.

    I believe Luther argued that while asking the saints for prayer and praying for the departed seemed consistent with the Scriptures, it wasn’t specifically commanded in Scripture and so should be avoided.

  7. Levi Michael / Sep 10 2007 5:45 pm

    The Catholic church believes that they are the real possessers of apostolic succession. How do we know who’s right? Catholics or the Orthodox?

    Most Orthodox theologians would say that the Roman Catholic Church also has Apostolic Succession, that is, the mechanical genealogy of ordinations/consecrations back to the Apostles. They would also say that the RCC has changed the Apostolic Faith in respect to at least 3 areas: Papal Supremacy and Infallibility, the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, and the dual procession of the Holy Spirit.

    Without Apostolic Succession there is no chance of the Faith’s being correctly transmitted. However, Apostolic Succession doesn’t guarantee that the Faith is transmitted correctly. After all, Arius and every other heretic of the Pre-Schism Church were in Apostolic Succession (their ordinations/consecrations were performed by canonical bishops). They changed the Apostolic Deposit of the Faith.

  8. asimplesinner / Jul 13 2008 6:10 am

    We have posted about this at The Black Cordelias… Most notably with “Sola Scriptura“…

    It isn’t that we who do NOT advocate Sola Scriptura are of the thinking that the Scriptures are failable or problematic. We are of the thinking that individual interpretations can be.

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