Scripture Only Is a Myth

One of the sects of Christianity that is on the rise, especially within the Evangelical branch, claims that the sole religious authority comes from Scripture, and the traditions, doctrines, and interpretations of man have no authority. Martin Luther was perhaps the most famous person to preach sola scriptura, the idea that the Bible is the sole source of religious truth. However, I argue that it is impossible to hold to the idea of scripture only with logical consistency. The reason is simple; the determination of what the sacred writings make up the Bible is wholly extra-scriptural and based on church tradition, doctrine, and politics. In order to logically hold to scripture only, one of the writings in the Bible would have to have a list of all of the books of holy writings, including itself; otherwise, one must go outside of the scriptures themselves to determine the which writings should be in the Bible, which renders the claim of "scripture only" false. Since this list does not appear in the Bible, any claim of authority based on scripture alone is facially false as the identity of scripture itself is based merely on tradition, doctrine, and church politics, which are the works of humankind. In order to support scripture, Christians must appeal to doctrine, thereby abondoning their imagined authority of God-breathed scripture.


Brother Crow said...

Shy, right on, right on! You have delivered a good opening salvo in this issue. As you know, my position is that debunking the authority of scripture is the best opening shot we have in debunking christianity. I would only say...sola scriptura is not just recently emerging in has been there all along as the de facto authority of christianity (well, that and the blessing of the emperor). Christians have never claimed any thing other than the purity of biblical documentation to justify their doctrine. On the other hand, it is a careful avoidance of the fact that the bible is defined by doctrine and "apostolic" councils that keeps christians postulating that the bible is inerrant/infallible. I appreciate your comments earlier that the bible was not formed by inspiration, but by councils who agreed on what and would not be admitted to canon...and those were motivated by power politics and money. Good job!

akakiwibear said...

Hi Shygetz, what a surprise, to be in agreement!
"In order to support scripture, Christians must appeal to doctrine" and indeed the largest denomination does. Like you I am surprised by the growth among literalist sects in western countries – interesting though that world wide greatest growth is among Catholics. Perhaps the obvious emphasis on evangelisation by the literalists is the reason, the traditional churches have certainly seem to have become complacent and self satisfied assemblies of the baby boomers and older.

Your circular argument that the scriptures don't define their content, rather it has been councils that have done so works.

Equally the need for interpretation of the scriptures would seem to be a self evident reason to rely on tradition as well. The advantage of not being sola scriptura is that the doctrine is not set in concrete and can evolve with society.

I wonder at the emotional stress faced by bible literalists who have to ignore some passages of scripture to support their position, but use those passages later to support a different point. Hardly surprising that some many from that fold fall for the seduction of atheism.

Pity though that brother crow is happy to use the generic "Christians" when the opening sentence of your post clearly highlights the error in that type of thinking.

Brother Crow said...

I probably disagree with shy about that statement. Inerrancy and infallibility are constructs that have been around a long time, even though they have not been called that. Indeed, those terms are responses to biblical criticism using redaction studies that arose in the 19th century. It isimportant for CHRISTIANS to realize that - by most of the world - they are viewed as a homogenous group. Since I have left the fold, I see one large group of SHEEP, not a multi-faceted entity that you claim exists. (And indeed, doesn't the creed profess "one holy, universal - or catholic - church - one body, one faith, one baptism"). Literalist schmiteralist...the issue is still the same...christianity as a whole, historically, has viewed scriptural documents as THE FOUNDATIONAL SOURCE of all of its theology, proposed doctrine, faith statements, etc. Christians have not referred to extra-biblical documents, nature, significant world events, political systems, philosophies to arrive at their CREEDS (at least, by their own profession). Now, I happen to BELIEVE that all that stuff mentioned above has had as much influence if not more influence than biblical documents to form doctrine (and I agree with Shy that doctrine formed scripture, along with councils of men)...but the point remains...there is no other foundation to christian religion, faith, belief systems, creed, doctrine than the bible. That applies to christians of any and every stripe...literal, fundamental, liberal, gnostic, fried, broiled, baked or pentecostal. Doesn't matter...the bible is the foundation of that belief, and it is a flawed document.

Joseph said...

akakiwibear, don't be too smug. The Catholic church has just as much difficulty establishing its own credibility as the authentic and exclusive mouthpiece of God.

Caleb Wimble said...

"akakiwibear, don't be too smug. The Catholic church has just as much difficulty establishing its own credibility as the authentic and exclusive mouthpiece of God."

If not more. The popes haven't exactly had a pristine history of moral character.

Brother Crow said...

A bit more...literalist is a red herring, a straw man. If a christian would say "I am not a literalist in biblical interpretation" then what becomes your standard of interpretation, and what determines what is legitimate scripture to form doctrine? One may say...the story of Job is not to be taken literally. Why? Because of its age, its authorship, its moral? And if that can be said, then why not say...the story of Jesus is not to be taken literally? Yes, the research of biblical scholars sheds light on the some of the validation arguments, but...does that not then place biblical authority and its merits in the hands of mere men, mortals? How then can the bible be divinely inspired, if parts of it are judged to be errant or irrelevant to doctrine?

So don't hand me dat ole "literalist" BS. If the bible is the FOUNDATION DOCUMENT of christian belief, then you christians open the door for slamdunking (beyond debunking)when you try to admit to techniques of biblical criticism to justify inconsistencies or inaccuracies or downright wrong stuff.

Ben said...

The reason is simple; the determination of what the sacred writings make up the Bible is wholly extra-scriptural and based on church tradition, doctrine, and politics

I enjoy the irony. An argument against Christianity that was originally developed by Catholic Christians against Protestant Christianity.

keep up the good work!

Spirula said...

Along these lines (from an ex-Fundy Christian POV), I never really got this "okay it's not inerrant or infallible but still true" kind of argument. It just ends up sounding like God was sort of careless and sloppy with these alleged life and death truths.

Then again, he went to the trouble of giving us a useless appendix, but didn't bother giving us a self-cleaning anus. So I guess sloppy is just how he rolls.

Shygetz said...

I didn't mean to imply that scripture only was a new phenomenon. Like I mentioned, it was the main reason Martin Luther broke from the Catholic church. What I was trying to point out was the recent resugrence of scripture only philosophy within Protestant faiths.

I never really got this "okay it's not inerrant or infallible but still true" kind of argument.

As someone who was brought up in a liberal church, it's easier for me to grasp that. Essentially, they view it like a physicist views Newton's classical mechanics--if you poke around at the details, you'll find that it's just not true; however, it's definitely close enough for most day-to-day uses. They explain the carelessness away with man's free will; maybe what God told the author was absolutely true, but the author (or transcriber, or interpreter, or re-interpreter, etc.) screwed it up, and God for chose not to correct their mistakes so as not to interefere with free will.

John W. Loftus said...

Christian thinkers claim there were some precise objective criteria that the early church used to establish canonicity, like whether it was written by an apostle, widely recognized as authentic, and conformed to what Christians believe, called the “rule of faith.” But apart from Paul, whose apostolic credentials were questioned by the people in Corinthians (II Corinthians), the apostles wrote little or nothing in the New Testament itself. If being widely recognized as authentic was important, then the issue of canonicity was settled by the majority. Is the majority always correct? Should we trust the majority to settle this issue? If conformity to the “rule of faith” was important to canonicity, then what exactly is this “rule of faith” such that the church can determine which books conform to it? Isn’t this arguing in a circle, since what Christians believed was based upon the texts they thought were authentic?

The truth is, according to James Barr, “we seldom know very well the grounds on which decisions about canonical questions were reached, and even when some grounds are mentioned it is often difficult to know whether they were the ones that were really effective.” “[I]n so far as such things existed [they] existed in the form of the different opinions of different groups; and a settlement was eventually reached not through a ‘decision’ but through the fact that one group became dominant, its opinion became more powerful and important, and that other views simply faded away with the fading of the groups which had maintained them.” Barr goes on to say, “Arguments for and against the canonicity of books may in many cases be reasons after the fact, arguments for what has been done after it had already been done. A good example is Irenaeus’ famous argument over the necessity that there should be precisely four Gospels, as there are four regions of the world, four winds, four faces of the cherubim: if, however, there had been three Gospels, e.g. if Mark had dropped out, one could (and no doubt would) have argued decisively that there could in the nature of things only be three gospels, since three is the number of the Holy Trinity, the number of the basic cosmic elements (heaven, earth, and sea)---who knows?”
This whole five stage process looks entirely like a human not a divine endeavor, as Bart Ehrman suggests. It really does!

Christians must believe God guided this whole process from start to finish when it involved so many uninspired people (the original stories; Q; other compositions:; the many gospels, including the gospels of Judas and Peter; scribal copyists; and church canonical pronouncements). The funny thing about this, to me anyway, is that while Christians believe God guided this whole process perfectly, which involved controlling free willed uninspired people, Christians also deny God controls (or restrains) the free will of evil people intent on doing harm. Why would God do one thing and not do another?

Jon Curry said...

This is a great topic, because I think an understanding of some of the controversies that arise between Christians themselves is key to debunking Christianity.

Shy, your argument here is basically the Roman Catholic view. But I disagree that the Protestant is acting illogically here. It's only illogical if you buy off on the Roman Catholic caricature of the Protestant position.

The Catholic says what you say. A Protestant says that only those truths relating to the faith found in Scripture are knowable. This is not the Protestant view.

The Protestant says you can know all kinds of things not in the Bible. You can use standard historical methods to learn things. You can learn there was a person named Paul. You can learn that he performed miracles. You can learn that he wrote books, and logically you can infer that since he was a miracle worker and spoke for God, the things he wrote were true.

Do that with all texts of the Bible and you have a set of books that contain infallibly true information. Since they are infallibly true, they are binding on your conscience.

What about other sources of infallible information? What about other traditions from apostolic miracle workers outside of Scripture (2 Thess 2:15)? Sure. Those are great. Provide evidence of apostolic traditions that are not contained in Scripture and I'll add them to the list of infallible sources of information at my disposal. Unfortunately RC's do not have evidence of non-Scriptural apostolic traditions, so I don't feel bound by their claims regarding the Eucharist or baptism.

Sola Scriptura for me when I was a Protestant was a statement about what infallible sources of information are knowable to me. The Protestant says only Scripture. The RC says Scripture plus magesterial documents and the Pope. I thought the evidence for Scripture was there, but the evidence for the Pope and magisterium wasn't.

I see this as logical. Is it sound? No, for reasons John mentioned. The evidence that Mt was written by the disciple or that Paul wrote 2 Thess really isn't there. If it were, I think the Protestant would have a case.

WoundedEgo said...

The Bible itself is only a myth. That is, it does not really exist in time and space. People readily say "the Bible says" but there is no Bible to say anything. We have "translations" of the Bible, but no original. How is that possible?

The Bible is merely a list of approved books. Protestants since 1640 say 66 books. Prior to that, for many, many centuries, there were many other books. Even Luther's Bible had the Apocrypha, which he put between the "testaments" (and thus they became "inter-testamental books.") He put the NT books he disputed at the back of the NT, hence James, Jude, Hebrews, Revelation, etc, are at the back of the NT.

But you can't find an original, authoritative Bible on this planet.

Bill Ross

akakiwibear said...

BC your limited view of Christians as all the same helps me to understand your position. I suspect most Christians wish you were right and that a shared creed did indeed reflect Christian unity.

Joseph – not smug, I certainly acknowledge the flaws in the Catholic Church, my reference was to them was limited to the context of shy’s post.

BC “ Doesn't matter...the bible is the foundation of that belief, and it is a flawed document.”. I agree with Shygetz’s answer (again we agree!) – Shy, I like your classical mechanics analogy!

JWL, “ The funny thing about this, to me anyway, is that while Christians believe God guided this whole process perfectly, which involved controlling free willed uninspired people, Christians also deny God controls (or restrains) the free will of evil people intent on doing harm.” The flaw in your reasoning is in the word “perfectly” and the subsequent implication of control and loss of free will – I am not sure what your source on loss of free will is, but a check might be worth while. The key word is perhaps “guided”, and then with free will we got what we got.

Shygetz said...

I want to make sure that people are not misunderstanding me. I am not attacking the whole of Protestant thought. It has evolved (yeah, I said evolved; suck it, creationists!) since the time of Luther, and many denominations now take various extra-scriptural creeds, doctrines, and traditions as authoritative; for example, the Methodist church (my particular flavor of Christianity during my younger years) explicitly recognized the tradition of the church as the authoritative lens through which to interpret scripture. I am specifically attacking the emerging Evangelical branches that claim to be wholly and solely scripture only, going back to their Reformationist roots. Those denominations that do not claim sola scriptura in a strict sense are immune to this criticism (I'll get 'em later!)

John, even if these Christian thinkers are right, an objective criteria for selecting books of the Bible would be extra-scriptural, as the Bible itself does not set out these objective criteria nor does it grant authority to anyone to make these decisions for the church. In for a penny, in for a pound--if you're going outside scripture for authority, you can't be scripture only.

Joseph said...

John made a very apt observation that I hope won't be lost in all the other points beings discussed:

"The funny thing about this, to me anyway, is that while Christians believe God guided this whole process perfectly, which involved controlling free willed uninspired people, Christians also deny God controls (or restrains) the free will of evil people intent on doing harm. Why would God do one thing and not do another?"

Jason said...

Rom 9:17-18 "For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth."

Shygetz said...

So Jason you agree that God does not hold free will sacrosanct. It says so right in the Bible; when he wants to, he will set aside free will readily.

I suggest that you take that verse over to the PoE threads and correct the theists who are claiming that God would NEVER interfere with our free will.

GordonBlood said...

Well I certainly agree that reading scripture alone as the rule of faith is more than alittle narrow. Personally I think Tom Wright has done more than anyone else to make people realize that when Paul is talking about scripture being "inspired" he was not talking about it being inerranct or infallible in the way that so many American evangelicals do.

Manifesting Mini Me (MMM) said...

When people rely solely on religion/scripture for salvation then that is idolotry and that should be debunked. Jesus said salvation is by a pure spirit of love that forms faith in us and is expressed in acts of love.

Jason said...


I quoted a verse from Scripture. I didn't write Scripture. If you have a problem with it, I'm not the person you should be talking to.

Shygetz said...

jason, I have no problem with it. Your scripture verse makes my point. I suggested that you go over to the PoE threads (which this is not) and tell them about it. They seem not to know, what with all the claims that Evil must exist because God would never mess with our free will.

This is not a PoE thread. Take it outside.

Jason said...

You're trying to debunk Christianity, right? Go tell them yourself.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Jason, Shygetz,
don't worry about it, I'll take it over to the PoE threads.

once again, thanks for the help.

Jason said...

No problem, Lee. Let me know how it turns out.


Whew! what a lot of mental gymnastics is going on!