It needs to be re-stated first that the Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura has been built on the basis of Scripture alone. I think it is in some ways engaging and maybe it’s a rhetorical device to say “Can you prove it from Scripture alone?” This has always been the Protestant position and never been a difficulty. Perhaps a better question is “how do we know Jesus and the teachings of his apostles?” We all agree that the apostles were the authoritative spokesman for Jesus. There is no disagreement here. Here is a way to shortly phrase the Protestant Reformed thought:
- Jesus Christ is the supreme revelation of God
- Scripture is the only “authoritative” way to know of Christ today because (obviously) he is not ministering in the flesh nor are those original spokesman (the apostles).
Is there an assumption being made here that has yet to be demonstrated here? It could be said, the underlying assumption here is that the only way Jesus (God) speaks today is through Scripture. The Romanists (or person opposed to sola Scriptura) may say “Show me one Scripture verse where it says ‘God only speaks through Scripture today.’” However, this isn’t the premise of the argument. If you will notice, I didn’t say that God only speaks through Scripture. God has freedom and Jesus can speak however he wants. He spoke to Saul of Tarsus from heaven, Jesus spoke in the flesh during his earthly ministry and of course spoke through his prophets and apostles. So it is not the premise of the argument to say “the only way Jesus has spoken is through Scripture.” Christ can speak in any number of ways, but notice that I wrote the only authoritative way we can know of who Jesus is and what he teaches is in the Scriptures today. Obviously none of his apostles are alive teaching today and therefore what we have left are their writings.
But is there anything in the New Testament that says “The apostles are only going to speak through writings.” 2 Thessalonians 2 seems to say otherwise. Does Scripture teach anywhere that the teachings of the apostles is “alone” in the written Word of God? Rome says that the teachings of the apostles is in tradition as well citing 2 Thessalonians 2:15:
2 Thessalonians 2:15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.
First I was to speak about tradition. One of the difficulties is the understanding of the word “tradition”. There are many things that might be called traditions which Rome wouldn’t consider as either authoritative or tracing back to the apostles. For example, it may be a tradition to kiss the feet of Mary, or bending a knee prior to entering a pew, but this is not considered an authoritative nor binding teaching. In greek “tradition” means “that which is handed over, handed down, that which is entrusted.” The New Testament tells us that the apostles taught those things which are true and necessary for us as believers. These teaching were taught before they were written, and of this there is no dispute. There is no argument that the teachings of the apostles were first taught then written. The question is “How do we get back to that original apostolic teaching?” The Reformed answer is, “Only by Scripture.”
2 Thessalonians 2:15 is a common verse used to support the notion of tradition, specifically unbiblical traditions. Rome and the East thus argue that their traditions are as authoritative as Scripture. Here is a command from the Apostle Paul to pass on traditions that are oral or written. If a command from the Apostle is standing till it is revoked then we should continue to hold that this command is binding. It could be concluded that we must therefore pass on the Word of God both orally and written. However there is a problem with this line of reasoning.
First of all notice the equivocation. When the bible tells me to pass on this tradition, which is found in oral tradition and also in epistles/writings, that is to be done in writing, in oral presentation, in electronic communication. If the question is “Do Protestants believe we are to pass on, through every means possible, the pattern of apostolic teachings?” the answer is a resounding “yes”. But I would think the Romanist and EO already know that. Rather the real question is “Are we under obligation to pass on something that Rome or the East thinks the apostles taught but cannot be found in the bible?” And I’m saying we would not have any obligation to do that till first you could show that the Apostles taught it.