Monday, 9 November 2009
The Origin of Sola Scriptura
بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ
Muslims have a fascination with Christianity. In their engagement with Christians, they often times fail to understand the major difference in philosophy between the Catholics and Orthodox Churches which have an emphasis on church tradition, and the vast sections Protestant movement with their emphasis on sola scriptura, Scripture only. As such, in their engagement with the Catholics and Orthodox, the Bible is Divinely Inspired and there is a complementary body of works that shape the doctrine and rituals of the faith. The Protestant movement, in general, believes that the Bible is the Divine Word of God and there is no error. However, it must be pointed out that there are groups such as the Anglicans who hold positions very close to the Catholics when it comes to Biblical exegesis and hermeneutics.
Sola scriptura, a distinctive Protestant principle, is Latin for “by Scripture only.” The idea is that every teaching on faith or morals must be directly or indirectly based on the Scriptures. And that idea has been borrowed without credit by the Wahhabi sect. They believe that anybody can read refer to the Qur’an and ahadits. There is no respect for the works of the pious scholars.
The question is, where is that in the Bible? It is an important question. If every teaching on faith or morals has to be based on the Bible then sola scriptura must be based on the Bible. There are several passages Protestant Christians appeal to in support of sola scriptura. One that is sometimes cited deals with an incident that happened when Paul of Tarsus preached in the Jewish synagogue in the Greek city of Berea.
11 These were of a better breed than the Thessalonians; they welcomed the word with all eagerness, and examined the scriptures, day after day, to find out whether all this was true …
The Protestant community was inspired by this and their agenda to distance themselves from the Vatican to come up with sola scriptura. Some have even named their ministries after the Berean Jews. The idea is that all Christians should imitate the Berean Jews and take a skeptical attitude of theological ideas they are presented with. Instead of just accepting them, they should search the Scriptures daily to see if what they are being told is true or not. There is little emphasis on scholarship in most cases and they are “moved by the Spirit.” If it is not, then they should not accept it. On the surface, it appears as if the passage commends the Berean Jews for their skeptical attitude and refusal to believe a teaching unless it can be found in Scripture. That would make this evidence for sola scriptura. But it is not so.
It says above that the Berean Jews were nobler than those in Thessalonica. If that be the case, what were the Thessalonian Jews like then? If they are lesser people than the skeptical Berean Jews, were they credulous individuals who accepted what they were told without Scriptural proof? Thus, we return to the earlier lines of the text to understand the context of the passage.
1 They continued their journey through Amphipolis and Apollonia, and so reached Thessalonica. Here the Jews had a synagogue, 2 and Paul, as his custom was, paid them a visit there. Over a space of three Sabbaths he reasoned with them out of the Scriptures, 3 expounding these and bringing proofs from them that the sufferings of Christ and his rising from the dead were fore-ordained; “The Christ,” he said, “is none other than the Jesus whom I am preaching to you.” 4 Some of them were convinced, and threw in their lot with Paul and Silas; a great number, too, of those Gentiles who worshipped the true God, and not a few of the leading women. 5 The Jews were indignant at this, and they found confederates among the riff-raff of the market-place, to make a disturbance and throw the city into an uproar. Then they made a sudden descent on Jason’s house, in the hope of bringing Paul and Silas out into the presence of the people; 6 but, as they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brethren before the city council, crying out, “Here they are, the men who are turning the state upside down; they have come here too; 7 and Jason has given them hospitality. All these folk defy the edicts of Caesar; they say there is another king, one Jesus.” 8 Both the crowd and the city council took alarm at hearing this, 9 and they demanded bail from Jason and the others before they would let them go. 10 Thereupon, the brethren sent Paul and Silas away by night to Beroea; where, as soon as they arrived, they made their way to the Jewish synagogue.
In that context, we now return to the verse where it began. The real reason the Berean Jews were praised had nothing to do with sola scriptura. The contrast is not between the skeptical Berean Jews, who insisted on scriptural proof of what Paul of Tarsus was saying, and the credulous Thessalonians, who accepted it without question. The contrast is between the willingness of the Berean Jews to examine the scriptures versus the hostility of the Thessalonians.
This understanding is confirmed by the following verses:
12 … so that many of them learned to believe, as certain Greek women of fashion did, and not a few of the men as well. 13 But now some of the Thessalonian Jews, hearing that the word of God had been preached by Paul at Beroea too, came on there, to upset and disturb the minds of the multitude; 14 whereupon the brethren sent Paul away, to continue his journey up to the coast; Silas and Timothy remained there still.
The Thessalonians forced Paul of Tarsus to flee Berea, just as they had forced him to flee from their own town. It was not the Berean Jews who were skeptical. It was the Thessalonians.
Another reason why this passage is not a good proof text for sola scriptura is because the Christian faith contains doctrines that are not found in the Old Testament. Even those who favour sola scriptura, do not favour it using only the Old Testament. Whilst the Old Testament does contain prophecies that point toward Jesus (a.s.) as the Messiah, it does not contain much of the theology of the Christian faith. They do not base their Trinitarian ideas on it. Those innovations began with Paul of Tarsus.
The Berean Jews were willing to look at the Old Testament Scriptures to see if they confirmed Paul of Tarsus’ preaching that Jesus (a.s.) was the Messiah, and then go on to accept the rest of the innovated Christian revelation that Paul of Tarsus also imparted. And he imparted it by preaching because the books of the New Testament were mostly not written yet.
The example of the Berean Jews was to look at whether the scriptures they had support a particular message and, if they did, then be willing to accept further revelation not found in those scriptures. And this is an example of how a different reading of a passage can be the basis of an entirely new doctrine even though the text may be in common to both groups.