One of the pillars of the Protestant Reformation is the doctrine of “Sola Scriptura,” or “Scripture alone.” The reformers taught that the Bible was the sole rule of faith, and that there was no need for an authoritative church. Now if this were a true teaching, as some still contend, we would expect to find it in the Bible, but we don’t. The verse usually used to justify Sola Scriptura is 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
Note that this passage nowhere says that Scripture is the sole rule of faith. It says that it is profitable, and that is true. But that doesn’t make it the sole rule of faith. It says that it can make you complete, and that is also true. However, in order for Scripture to make us complete, we must accept all that it teaches. And Scripture teaches that Christ established an authoritative church. That is why Paul tells Titus, who headed the church at Crete, to “Exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you” (Titus 2:15). Indeed an authoritative church is necessary in light of 2 Peter 1:20: “You must understand this, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation.” So Scripture makes us complete by showing us that we need it and that we need the Church to teach us what it means. Only a church whose teachings are authoritative and unchanging can qualify as “The Church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).
Cardinal Newman noted some years ago that 2 Timothy could not support the doctrine of Sola Scriptura because Paul’s statement to Timothy would have to apply to him at that time. At that time there was only an Old Testament. If 2 Timothy were true in the sense that Bible Christians claim it is, it would rule out the New Testament, something that no Bible believing Christian would ever do.
Bible Christians claim that the Holy Spirit teaches them directly. They would point to 1 John 2:26-27, which says, “I write this to you about those who would deceive you, but the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you, as His anointing teaches you about everything.” At first glance, this might appear to support their argument. However, putting it in context reveals something quite different. Note that John begins by saying, “I write this to you about those who would deceive you.” These are the teachers that John tells us we have no need of. Read verses 21-25, and the context becomes even clearer. “I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it;Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is what He has promised us, eternal life.”
The anointing that John speaks of is an anointing that we posses by virtue of our Christianity. It is an anointing by which we receive grace ‚Äì grace that enables us to do just what John asks us to do, to hold on to what we were taught from the beginning despite the enticements of the deceivers. He speaks of the truth as something that was received from the Church and not something that was personally received from the Holy Spirit.
While it is true that the Holy Spirit can and oftentimes does guide us personally, it is equally true that we are not always listening. Sometimes our own thoughts or the deceptions of others can be mistaken for the Holy Spirit. That is why God wouldn’t choose this as the way to present the faith. After all, if we are to make a choice for Christ, we must KNOW and not IMAGINE what that choice entails.
The book of Ephesians addresses 2 Timothy and 1 John beautifully, “And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the equipment of the saints;so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (4:11-12, 14). Remember earlier in 2 Timothy, we found the phrase, (concerning Scripture) “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” First Paul tells us that we need Scripture to be equipped, and then he tells us that we need teachers to be equipped. Is there a contradiction here? Not at all as Scripture without the proper interpretation is of no value. That is why the Ethiopian Eunuch, despite his genuine desire for God, needed the Apostle Philip to explain the Scriptures to him (Acts 8:26-40). Note that it was God who sent Philip to the eunuch. Why do you suppose He did that?
The claim that we don’t need teachers fails not only on the theological level, but in its practical application as well.