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Sola Scriptura Needs Sola Fide, and How to Refute Both

At the suggestion of Father Dave Nix, I recently read the short work by Joel Peters entitled “Scripture Alone? 21 Reasons to Reject Sola Scriptura.” It is a fast read and probably the most crushing blow to Protestantism I have ever read. You simply cannot argue with Peters’s logic and the historical facts he presents (it is well sourced), not to mention all of the Scripture he cites. Having been a Protestant before converting to the Catholic Church, I was not shocked by anything I read, but I was delighted to have such well researched reasons to back up what I knew to be true: sola scriptura is an intellectual joke created by a man too proud to submit to the Church.

The back of the booklet states that it “[t]otally devastates one of the two pillars of Protestantism.” I want to show that those two pillars, sola scriptura and sola fide, are dependent on each other in such a way that devastating one pillar actually devastates both.

To do this, I want to focus on how Scripture alone is dependent on the doctrine of faith alone; you can easily work the other way as well, but that is for another time. To do this, we need to look at one of the twenty-one reasons Peters gives and how it relates to sola fide, or the teaching that we are saved through faith alone. The booklet explains that without a valid authority — the existence of which would violate Sola Scriptura — to codify and to protect the canon of Scripture, we end up with thousands of versions of the Bible. Many of these versions contain serious theological errors, such as the Jehovah’s Witness Bible [1] and any number of translations that use Luther’s additions and retractions (think adding the word “alone” to Romans 3:28 or removing 1 and 2 Maccabees as well as several other books, whether partial or whole).

I proposed this problem to an intelligent, well read, and faithful Presbyterian friend of mine. This is not the kind of Christian who just goes to church on Sunday and speaks in platitudes about “being saved.” This is the kind of Christian who can quote the Westminster Confession and probably knows more about the early history of the Church than your typical Novus Ordo parish priest. After a long discussion with him, it dawned on me that the only way to refute Peters’s point about the necessity of an outside authority to approve the Bible is to acknowledge that different translations or interpretations and the theological differences that follow do not actually matter.

I proposed to my friend that how we interpret the Bible really does affect our salvation because, for example, if one Christian believes that contraception is acceptable and the other does not, only one of them is truly living according to Scripture. I presented Peters’s argument and said that we cannot leave this matter up to each person because it results in thousands of interpretations and denominations that teach different things about what actions are sinful and what actions are not. We need an authority to tell us which Bible is correct and how to interpret its contents so we can live according to God’s laws, not Luther’s or Zwingli’s or Joseph Smith’s.

His response is what gave me the thesis for this article: “So you have a different view of faith from mine. Outside faith in Jesus Christ (sola fide) by grace alone (sola gratia) there is no salvation. Whether you and I agree or disagree on contraception is not a matter that divides us into believer or non-believer. Could one of us be in error? Yes! Could both of us be in error? Yes! The question [of contraception] is outside of believing in the person and work of Jesus Christ; this is not fundamentally a divide we need to overcome to be saved.”

It hit me like a ton of bricks! Protestants — or at least this one Protestant — do not care if you have different ideas about the morality of certain actions, because to the Protestant, actions do not matter. You can insert any moral question in the place of contraception, and the answer would be the same. The Protestant needs the teaching of faith alone to justify the teaching of Scripture alone and to get around this particular refutation that an outside authority is needed. Sola scriptura is entirely dependent on sola fide. It is manifestly obvious to anyone and everyone that there are countless translations and interpretations of the Bible, so the Protestant has to say this does not matter and that each believer is free to interpret Scripture how they choose and then to live accordingly. And the only way to justify millions of people having different opinions on how to live and what constitutes sin and immorality is to say that their actions do not matter, only their faith in Christ. See how the defense of sola scriptura is just to resort to sola fide? One pillar depends on the other.

Obviously, sola scriptura falls flat and is gravely mistaken, but by destroying its merits so systematically, Joel Peters also destroyed the other pillar of Protestantism because of their inherent interdependence. The two pillars of Protestantism are illogical, and it is so much easier to prove than I ever imagined. The circle of defending one with the other fails, because they are both easily disprovable with Scripture and basic logic, as Mr. Peters aptly demonstrates in his other twenty reasons.

[1] From footnote 32 of the book, which concerns the Bible of the Jehovah’s Witnesses: “Of the numerous examples which could be cited, space considerations confine us to just a few to illustrate the point. In John 1:1, the NWT reads, “… and the Word was a god” rather than “and the Word was God,” because Witnesses deny the divinity of Jesus Christ. In Colossians 1:15-20, the NWT inserts the word “other” into the text four times because Witnesses believe that Jesus Christ Himself was created. In Matthew 26:26 the NWT reads “… this means my body…” instead of “This is my body,” because Witnesses deny the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist[.]”

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