Here are the big questions to consider: who are you going to trust, and in what do you place your trust? For example, you will encounter people who claim to trust in the Bible alone as their sole authority. This teaching has a fancy Latin name: sola scriptura. People who believe this, without realizing it, rely on an outside authority who compiled the list of Biblical books infallibly. “Bible alone” theology would not exist except for this outside authority.
Think of this as a table of contents. It appears prior to and outside of Genesis 1:1 – Revelation 22:21. How was it compiled? What about the other letters mentioned in the New Testament (Col. 4:16, 1 Cor. 5:9-11, 2 Cor. 2:4)? How do we know that it’s OK that they aren’t included in that list above? Shouldn’t we find them and examine them to determine for ourselves? Why these 27 letters and not more or fewer?
Other problems I have with “Bible alone” theology:
- Jesus did not write a book, nor is it recorded that he commanded anybody to write anything down.
- There is no record of Jesus approving of the New Testament canon.
- When you look inside the Bible itself, it is not at all clear that it claims to be the final authority.
- Paul makes references to traditions in a positive manner, which means that there are legitimate Christian traditions (1 Cor. 11:2, 2 Thess. 2:15, 2 Thess. 3:6). What are they? How do we know what they are?
- “Bible alone” leaves the early Christians in the dark, since they didn’t have the New Testament canon.
Here’s how it looks: Jesus did not explicitly commission a collection of letters made by a variety of authors, nor did he physically contribute anything written. This collection was compiled infallibly, but other authority claims made by the people who compiled it can be safely ignored. We cannot challenge the collection itself. For example, Martin Luther was wrong to want to “throw Jimmy in the stove.” Even so, we are free to disagree with others regarding the teaching contained in the letters. If the disagreement is strong enough, we are free to start our own church. Jesus expects us to understand the teachings contained therein well enough on our own in order to be saved. If we receive help from people in understanding it, that’s just an added bonus but they might be wrong. We have to discern on our own whether or not this help is accurate. Jesus taught that all traditions are bad in Mark 7:8, so implicit teachings and practices in the pages of the canon are just somehow accurate apart from reliance on tradition (the Trinity, the divinity of the Holy Spirit, the Incarnation, requirement to worship on Sunday, the elements and order of Sunday worship services, Sunday school, grape juice instead of wine, asking Jesus into our hearts, celebrating Jesus’ birthday, celebrating it on Dec. 25, the date setting process for Easter each year, etc.).
You see the problem? Ultimately “Bible alone” means these things:
- Jesus did not commission a New Testament… but we know he wanted one
- we are not our own authority when it comes to which books are in the New Testament
- the people who codified the New Testament were not cooperating with grace
- we are our own authority when it comes to understanding the New Testament
- Jesus condemned traditions in Mark 7:8, so this means we can ignore other parts of the Bible (1 Cor. 11:2, 2 Thess. 2:15, 2 Thess. 3:6)
- implicit dogmas, teachings and practices are Biblical without being traditional.