Category Archives: Scripture alone

Is there no ‘Scripture alone’ in early church fathers?

(courtesy Reformed on Pinterest)

By Spencer Gear PhD

‘Sola Scriptura’ is the teaching that the Bible alone is the only supreme source of authority in spiritual matters for the Christian. This has been a contentious issue between Protestants and Roman Catholics since the time of the Reformation. Generally, historians date the Protestant Reformation to 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his ’95 Theses’ to the All Saints Church door in Wittenberg, Germany, on 31 October 1517.

(Martin Luther, shown in a portrait by Lucas Cranach the Elder, initiated the Protestant Reformation in 1517. Portrait courtesy Wikipedia)


The Reformation’s ending can be placed anywhere from the 1555 Peace of Augsburg, which allowed for the coexistence of Catholicism and Lutheranism in Germany, to the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years’ War. The key ideas of the Reformation were ‘a call to purify the church and a belief that the Bible, not tradition, should be the sole source of spiritual authority’. The new power of the printing press enabled these ideas to gain publicity and exposure to a wider audience. ( Reformation)

This sixteenth century schism in the European Roman Catholic Church was triggered by Luther (Germany) and other reformers such as John Calvin (France & Switzerland), Huldrych Zwingli (Switzerland), Theodore Beza (Switzerland), Thomas Cranmer (England, martyr) and John Knox (Scotland). There were even earlier promoters of reform with Peter Waldo (Waldensian, Lyons, d. 1205), John Wycliffe (England, d. 1384) and Jan Hus (Czech, d. 1415). But it was to Luther that the start of the Reformation schism can be attributed.

One of the key doctrines of the Protestant Reformation was sola scriptura, which is Latin for ‘scripture alone’. Lutheran theology explains:

In other words, if you can’t back it up with scripture, then it probably shouldn’t be part of the Christian faith and life.

The slogan Sola Scriptura developed out of the perception that certain Christian teachings and practices—especially some teachings and practices formulated during the medieval period of Western Christianity—had little or no Biblical basis….

On the other hand Sola Scriptura in Lutheran form is not against tradition per se.  While some brands of Christianity might insist that if it’s not in the Bible then it’s not Christian, Lutheran theology understands that a tradition is allowable when (a) it is not contradicted by scripture, (b) it serves a purpose that is scriptural, and (c) it is not enforced as a pre-condition for Christian unity.

It is nonetheless possible to assert the principle of Sola Scriptura in a manner similar to the bumper sticker that says: “The Bible Says It, I Believe It, That Settles It.”  However, a Lutheran theological approach resists simplification.  For Lutheran Christians, reading the Bible does not mean setting aside critical thinking skills.  Instead, the Lutheran understanding of Sola Scriptura includes certain rules for thought.

These rules for thought include:

  • Understand that the Bible is the manger in which Christ is laid.· Be aware that some books of the Bible are more central than other books of the Bible.
  •  Recognize that Scripture interprets Scripture.
  • When reading and hearing the Word of God, discern Law and Gospel (Dr Hans Wiersma, Lutheran Theology: An Online Journal, 2011).

There were 5 solas of the Reformation:


(image courtesy Christian Worldview Journal 2016)

Those five solas are: grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, Scripture alone, and glory to God alone.

We have a need to flesh out the details and significance of the meaning of sola Scriptura.

A. Meaning of sola scriptura

Jennifer Hay of Catholic Answers states that ‘The most common Catholic argument against sola scriptura is that it has splintered the Church. Thousands of Protestant denominations exist today, each one claiming to interpret Scripture by the guidance of the Holy Spirit…. We find that sola scriptura did not work in the early Church any better than it has in the last 500 years, because it is unworkable’ (Hay 2009).

Note that this interpretation by Hay is an example of pragmatism: It did not work in the early church or now. Surely, that is not the best way to test the validity of a teaching. ‘Was it taught by Scripture and was it affirmed by the early churches?” would seem to be a better approach to determining the content of sound doctrine.

Protestant theologians Gordon Lewis & Bruce Demarest[1] explain how this situation developed:

During the medieval era Roman Catholic theology became corrupted with the doctrine of salvation by works, the veneration of relics, the idea of a treasury of merit, and the sale of indulgences. Abuses such as these led to the protest movement known as the Reformation. Guided by the themes sola scriptura [Scripture alone], sola gratia [grace alone], and sola fide [faith alone], the Protestant Reformers forged a return to the teachings of the Bible as the primary authority….

With the Protestant Reformers, we affirm that although there are many sources of theological knowledge, there is but one inerrant, final authority: sola scriptura. In seeking to integrate biblical truth with other knowledge, we constantly face, for example, the issue of whether the biblical or the scientific has priority. The liberal tradition tended to accommodate the biblical to the psychological or philosophical in order to communicate to contemporary society. Natural theology corrected scriptural theology.[2] In the process, the essence of revealed truth was lost. We must adapt our communication of theology to our generation but be alert to the great danger of accommodating the message to its errors. As Fulton J. Sheen once said, “He who marries the spirit of the age will become a widower in the age to come” (Lewis & Demarest 1987:50, 34).

Leading Protestant and Calvinistic pastor, John MacArthur Jr’s, explanation is:

The Reformation principle of sola Scriptura has to do with the sufficiency of Scripture as our supreme authority in all spiritual matters. Sola Scriptura simply means that all truth necessary for our salvation and spiritual life is taught either explicitly or implicitly in Scripture. It is not a claim that all truth of every kind is found in Scripture. The most ardent defender of sola Scriptura will concede, for example, that Scripture has little or nothing to say about DNA structures, microbiology, the rules of Chinese grammar, or rocket science. This or that “scientific truth,” for example, may or may not be actually true, whether or not it can be supported by Scripture—but Scripture is a “more sure Word,” standing above all other truth in its authority and certainty (MacArthur 2015).

Wayne Grudem, another Calvinistic Protestant theologian, explained its meaning, ‘The Bible alone is the Word of God written. There are no other written words of God anywhere else in the entire world. And the Bible in its entirety is the Word of God written. Every single bit of this book in the original documents has a fundamentally different character from every other bit of writing in the entire world’ (Grudem 2000).

This view does not go down well with Roman Catholics. Joel Peters is so opposed to it that he has written an article for Catholic Apologetics, ‘Twenty one reasons to reject sola scriptura’. Of the Reformation, Peters wrote, ‘The Protestant Reformation was not a reform in the true sense of the word, but rather it was a revolution – an upheaval of the legitimate, established religious and civil order of the day’ (n. 1).

B. Roman Catholic position on authority

It was at the RC Council of Trent (meeting 3 times between AD 1545 and 1563) that it was affirmed that

the purity itself of the Gospel be preserved in the Church; which (Gospel), before promised through the prophets in the holy Scriptures, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, first promulgated with His own mouth, and then commanded to be preached by His Apostles to every creature, as the fountain of all, both saving truth, and moral discipline; and seeing clearly that this truth and discipline are contained in the written books, and the unwritten traditions which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down even unto us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand; (the Synod) following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety, and reverence, all the books both of the Old and of the New Testament–seeing that one God is the author of both –as also the said traditions, as well those appertaining to faith as to morals, as having been dictated, either by Christ’s own word of mouth, or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic Church by a continuous succession (The Council of Trent, The Fourth Session).

Then the Council proceeded to identify the books of the Bible. These included the Old Testament (39 books), Apocrypha or deutero-canonical (14 books), and the New Testament (27 books).

The Council of Trent’s response to the Reformation avowed the authority in the Roman Catholic Church of written books of the Bible (including Apocrypha), unwritten traditions alleged to have come from Christ to the Apostles – dictated by the Holy Spirit – and transmitted to the church through apostolic succession. This tradition is preserved in the Catholic Church, which is really the Roman Catholic Church. ‘Catholic’ has come to mean (1) ‘Roman Catholic’ but it also (2) is ‘connected with all Christians or the whole Christian Church’ (Oxford dictionaries 2015. s v catholic). Catholic, meaning all Christians, refers to the body of Christ and not to all who nominally take their religious association as ‘Christian’.

How would a contemporary Roman Catholic respond to those promoting sola scriptura?

C. Roman Catholic outlook

This is one example of a Roman Catholic who promoted his cynical view in an online Christian forum: ‘You are the one that brought up Augustine. The claim made by funnymentalists like pope Rudd[3] (and many other anti-Catholic “ministers”): that the Early Church Fathers were sola scripturists is ludicrous. There is no point in flooding the thread with more ECF [early church fathers] quotes disproving the false claim’.[4]

His contorted understanding continues: ‘”Only doctrines explicitly grounded in the teaching of the Bible are trustworthy.” This concept is self-destructive, and is not found in scripture. Unless you can find a scripture that explicitly says this, which you can’t, then you must re-phrase it to say: “Only doctrines explicitly grounded in the teaching of the Bible are trustworthy, except this one”’.[5]

D. Early church fathers’ views [6]

Is this true or false that the early church fathers (ECF) did not teach sola Scriptura? My response was to ask:[7] What about this kind of evidence from the early church and these church fathers’ views of Scripture?[8] The following is only a limited list of samples of statements from the ECF. For more, see the article by James White, ‘Sola scriptura and the early church’ (White 2009).

1. Theophilus of Antioch (ca 115-181).[9]

‘It would be acting according to demonic inspiration to follow the thinking of the human mind and to think there could be anything divine apart from the authority of the Scriptures‘ (Pascal Letter 401).[10]

2. Irenaeus (ca 120/140-200/203)[11]

Saint Irenaeus.jpg(Irenaeus, engraving in Lyons, France, courtesy Wikipedia)

In Against Heresies (written ca AD 185), he stated, ‘If they had known the Scriptures, and been taught by the truth, they would have known, beyond doubt, that God is not as men are; and that His thoughts are not like the thoughts of men’ (Kirby 2015, Against Heresies 2.13.2, emphasis added). In addition,

If, however, we cannot discover explanations of all those things in Scripture which are made the subject of investigation, yet let us not on that account seek after any other God besides Him who really exists. For this is the very greatest impiety. We should leave things of that nature to God who created us, being most properly assured that the Scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and His Spirit; but we, inasmuch as we are inferior to, and later in existence than, the Word of God and His Spirit, are on that very account destitute of the knowledge of His mysteries (Kirby 2015, Against Heresies 2.28.2).

Also, ‘we have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith‘ (Kirby 2015, Against Heresies 3.1.1).

3. Tertullian (ca 155-222)[12]

‘If it is nowhere written, then let it fear the woe which impends on all who add to or take away from the written word’ (Against Hermogenes, ch 22).

Writing of the prophecies in Isaiah and the Psalms concerning Christ’s humiliation, he wrote: ‘It is right that His conduct be investigated according to the rule of Scripture’ (Against Marcion 3.17).

Robert Preus found that in Against Heresies, Irenaeus ‘cites Scripture no fewer than 1,200 times’ (Preus 1979:360).

4. Origen (185-232)[13]

(Origen, image courtesy Wikipedia)


In writing about the Holy Spirit, Origen wrote of, ‘those Scriptures alone which were inspired by the Holy Spirit, i.e., the Gospels and Epistles, and the law and the prophets, according to the declaration of Christ Himself’ (De Principiis 1.3.1).

Origen’s context was explaining details about people who had received heavenly words from God in order to uproot and demolish kingdoms. His interpretation for the young and others who might be discouraged was, ‘If we seek to bring these words up to the Savior according to the worthiness of the Word and according to the truth, it is necessary to take the Scriptures as witnesses. For without witnesses, our interpretations and exegeses are unfaithful’ (Jeremiah, Homily 1.7(3)].

In explaining ‘the unity and harmony of Scripture’ and after explaining the agreement of all parts of Scripture with each other and comparing with those ‘well taught in God’s harmonies’, he used this comparison:

Those who are not skilled in hearing the harmony of God in the sacred Scriptures think that the Old is not in harmony with the New, or the Prophets with the Law, or the Gospels with one another, or the Apostle with the Gospel, or with himself, or with the other Apostles. But he who comes instructed in the music of God …. For he knows that all the Scripture is the one perfect and harmonised instrument of God, which from different sounds gives forth one saving voice to those willing to learn’ (Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Bk 2).

5. Antony of Egypt (ca 251-356),[14]

‘One day when he had gone forth because all the monks had assembled to him and asked to hear words from him, he spoke to them in the Egyptian tongue as follows: “The Scriptures are enough for instruction, but it is a good thing to encourage one another in the faith, and to stir up with words”’ (Athanasius, ‘Life of St. Anthony’ 16).

6. Athanasius of Alexandria (ca 298-373),[15]

Ikone Athanasius von Alexandria.jpg(St Athanasius of Alexandria, image courtesy Wikipedia)

‘For although the sacred and inspired Scriptures are sufficient to declare the truth – while there are other works of our blessed teachers compiled for this purpose, if he meet with which a man will gain some knowledge of the interpretation of the Scriptures, and be able to learn what he wishes to know’ (Athanasius, Against the Heathen, i.e. Contra Gentiles, 1.3).

‘These [Old & New Testament canonical books] are fountains of salvation, that they who thirst may be satisfied with the living words they contain. In these alone is proclaimed the doctrine of godliness. Let no man add to these, neither let him take ought from these’ (Athanasius Letters 39.6).

‘Wherefore it is good and needful for us to pray that we may receive the gift of discerning spirits, so that every one may know, according to the precept of John, whom he ought to reject, and whom to receive as friends and of the same faith. Now one might write at great length concerning these things, if one desired to go into details respecting them; for the impiety and perverseness of heresies will appear to be manifold and various, and the craft of the deceivers to be very terrible. But since holy Scripture is of all things most sufficient for us, therefore recommending to those who desire to know more of these matters, to read the Divine word’ (Athanasius, Ad Episcopus Aegypti et Libyae 1.4). Following this statement, Athanasius addresses the Arian heresy where the Arians were proposing a Creed to replace the Nicene Creed. So, Athanasius was urging his readers to counter false teaching with the sufficiency of Scripture. The authority of Scripture does not negate the need for the Christian gift of discerning of spirits.

Writing on how to deal with heretical teaching, Athanasius wrote concerning ‘the notorious Aetius, who was surnamed godless’. This person, who did not discover

any mania of his own, but under stress of weather has been wrecked upon Arianism, himself and the persons whom he has beguiled. Vainly then do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded Councils for the faith’s sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things; but if a Council be needed on the point, there are the proceedings of the Fathers, for the Nicene Bishops did not neglect this matter, but stated the doctrine so exactly, that persons reading their words honestly, cannot but be reminded by them of the religion towards Christ announced in divine Scripture (Athanasius, De Synodis 1.6).

There is more than ample evidence from Athanasius that he appeals to the sufficiency of divine canonical Scriptures of both Old and New Testaments to declare the Christian truth. In these alone do Christians find that which is sufficient for godliness. However, this does not pre-empt the need for teachers who use the gift of discernment and interpret the Scriptures. There also are other valuable writings, but the Scriptures are the divine standard of Christian religion.

7. Cyril of Jerusalem (ca 315-386)[16]

‘For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell you these things, give not absolute credence, unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures’ (Catechetical Lecture 4.17).

So for the present listen while I simply say the Creed, and commit it to memory; but at the proper season expect the confirmation out of Holy Scripture of each part of the contents. But in learning the Faith and in professing it, acquire and keep that only, which is now delivered to you by the Church, and which has been built up strongly out of all the Scriptures…. For the articles of the Faith were not composed as seemed good to men; but the most important points collected out of all the Scripture make up one complete teaching of the Faith (Catechetical Lecture 5.12).

8. Basil the Great of Caesarea (329-379)[17]

In his work on morals, Basil wrote:

What is the mark of a faithful soul? To be in these dispositions of full acceptance on the authority of the words of Scripture, not venturing to reject anything nor making additions. For, if “all that is not of faith is sin” as the Apostle says, and ‘faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God,’ everything outside Holy Scripture, not being of faith, is sin (Ascetical Works, The Morals, Rule Eighty, Cap. 22).

In another publication, he wrote: ‘We are not content simply because this is the tradition of the Fathers. What is important is that the Fathers followed the meaning of the Scripture’ (On the Holy Spirit, ch 7, p. 34).

Basil wrote, ‘The hearers taught in the Scriptures ought to test what is said by teachers and accept that which agrees with the Scriptures but reject what is foreign‘ (Moralia 72:1).[18]

Elsewhere, he wrote, ‘Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favour of that side will be cast the vote of truth’ (To Eustathius the physician, Letter 189.3).

9. John Chrysostom (ca 347-407)[19]

File:Johnchrysostom.jpg(John Chrysostom, image courtesy Wikimedia Commons 2014)


‘Wherefore I exhort and entreat you all, disregard what this man and that man thinks about these things, and inquire from the Scriptures all these things; and having learned what are the true riches, let us pursue after them that we may obtain also the eternal good things'(Homily 13, 2 Corinthians 7:1).

‘If anything is said without Scripture, the thinking of the hearers limps. But where the testimony proceeds from the divinely given Scripture, it confirms both the speech of the preacher and the soul of the hearer’ (Commenting on Psalm 95).[20]

‘Sacred Scripture, though, whenever it wants to teach us something like this, gives its own interpretation, and doesn’t let the listener go astray…. So, I beg you, block your ears against all distractions of that kind, and let us follow the norm[21] of Sacred Scripture…. Not to believe in the contents of Sacred Scripture, and introduce instead other views from one’s own reasoning, is in my opinion to bring great peril to those rash enough to attempt it’ ’ [Homily 13 (13) on Genesis, pp 175-176].

It was Chrysostom who affirmed the canon of Scripture, ‘We, for our part, who have been fortunate enough to benefit from the rays of the sun, should obey the teaching of Sacred Scripture; let us follow its canon, place its wholesome doctrines within the recesses of our minds’ (Homily 5, Genesis, p 74, italics in original, bold emphasis added). Let us ‘place our credence in Sacred Scripture and heed what is told us there’ (Homily 13, Genesis, pp 177-178).

He continues his emphasis on the accuracy of Scripture, even down to a single syllable: ‘Let us act so as to interpret everything precisely and instruct you not to pass by even a brief phrase or a single syllable contained in the Holy Scriptures. After all, they are not simply words, but words of the Holy Spirit, and hence the treasure to be found in even a single syllable is great’ (Homily 15, Genesis, p 195).

How does a Christian separate the false from the true? Chrysostom had this penetrating insight: ‘As a trusty door, Scripture[22] shuts out heretics, securing us from error, in whatsoever we desire; and, unless we damage it, we are unassailable by our enemies. By means of it, we shall know who are pastors and who are not’ (Homily 58 on John).[23]

10. Augustine of Hippo (354-430)[24]

(St Augustine in his study by Sandro Botticelli, 1494, Uffizi Gallery; image courtesy Wikipedia)


‘What more can I teach you, than what we read in the Apostle? For holy Scripture sets a rule to our teaching, that we dare not be wise more than it behooves to be wise; but be wise, as himself says, unto soberness, according as unto each God has allotted the measure of faith. Be it not therefore for me to teach you any other thing, save to expound to you the words of the Teacher, and to treat of them as the Lord shall have given to me’ (De bono viduitatis 2).[25]

Augustine continued his emphasis on the importance and authority of Scripture: ‘Let us therefore give in and yield our assent to the authority of Holy Scripture, which knows not how either to be deceived or to deceive’ (De Peccatorum 1.33).

Augustine continues his emphasis on the superiority of Scripture over other worldly information:

‘But just as poor as the store of gold and silver and garments which the people of Israel brought with them out of Egypt was in comparison with the riches which they afterwards attained at Jerusalem, and which reached their height in the reign of King Solomon, so poor is all the useful knowledge which is gathered from the books of the heathen when compared with the knowledge of Holy Scripture. For whatever man may have learnt from other sources, if it is hurtful, it is there condemned; if it is useful, it is therein contained.  And while every man may find there all that he has learnt of useful elsewhere, he will find there in much greater abundance things that are to be found nowhere else, but can be learnt only in the wonderful sublimity and wonderful simplicity of the Scriptures’’ (City of God and Christian doctrine 42.63).

In a letter to Jerome, he wrote:

I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it (Letter to Jerome 82.1.3).

These early church fathers had a very high view of the authority of Scripture.

E. Summary of early church fathers on Scripture

What do these early church fathers teach us about sola scriptura and the authority of Scripture? This is a synopsis of the above information from their publications:

clip_image004 There is nothing ‘divine apart from the authority of the Scriptures’ (Theophilus of Antioch)

clip_image004[1] Know the Scriptures to be taught by the truth (Irenaeus);

clip_image004[2] ‘The Scriptures are indeed perfect’, being spoken by the Word of God and his Spirit (Irenaeus);

clip_image004[3] The will of God comes through the Scriptures which are the ground and pillar of the faith (Irenaeus);

clip_image004[4] Woes come to those who ‘add to or take away from the written Word’ (Tertullian);

clip_image004[5] Christian conduct is investigated according to whether it conforms with ‘the rule of Scripture’ (Tertullian).

clip_image004[6] ‘Scriptures alone which are inspired by the Holy Spirit’ (Origen);

clip_image004[7] The worthiness of the Word of truth of which the Scriptures are ‘witnesses’ (Origen);

clip_image004[8] ‘The harmony of God in the sacred Scriptures’ is seen in ‘all the Scripture’ which ‘is the one perfect and harmonised instrument of God’ (Origen).

clip_image004[9] ‘The Scriptures are enough for instruction’ (Antony of Egypt);

clip_image004[10] While there are other helpful works, ‘the sacred and inspired Scriptures are sufficient to declare the truth’ (Athanasius);

clip_image004[11] ‘In these alone, the Old and New Testaments books, ‘is proclaimed the doctrine of godliness. Let no man add to these, neither let him take ought from these’ (Athanasius);

clip_image004[12] ‘The holy Scripture is of all things most sufficient for us’. It is the Divine word (Athanasius);

clip_image004[13] ‘Divine Scripture is sufficient above all things’ (Athanasius);

clip_image004[14] If speaking about the holy mysteries of the Christian faith, ‘not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures‘ (Cyril of Jerusalem);

clip_image004[15] Salvation does not depend on ingenious human reasoning by ‘on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures’ (Cyril of Jerusalem);

clip_image004[16] Every part of the contents of the Creed needs ‘confirmation out of Holy Scripture’ (Cyril of Jerusalem);

clip_image004[17] The articles of Faith are not composed by human beings but are ‘collected out of all the Scripture’ which ‘make up one complete teaching of the faith’ (Cyril of Jerusalem);

clip_image004[18] The mark of a faithful Christian (soul) is to fully accept ‘the authority of the words of Scripture’ and not rejecting or making additions (Basil the Great of Caesarea)

clip_image004[19] Disregard what a person teaches you, but inquire from the Scriptures all these things’ (Chrysostom);

clip_image004[20] Human thinking ‘limps … if anything is said without Scripture’ (Chrysostom);

clip_image004[21] ‘The divinely given Scripture’ confirms the speech of preacher and soul of the hearer (Chrysostom);

clip_image004[22] ‘Let us follow the norm [canon] of sacred Scripture’ and not introduce other views from one’s own reasoning (Chrysostom);

clip_image004[23] Christians ‘should obey the teaching of Sacred Scripture’, follow the canon of Scripture, place their credence in Sacred Scripture and pay attention to what it says (Chrysostom);

clip_image004[24] Do not pass by a brief phrase or single syllable ‘contained in Holy Scriptures’ because they are ‘the words of the Holy Spirit’ and there is great treasure to be found in even a single syllable (Chrysostom);

clip_image004[25] ‘Scripture shuts out heretics, securing us from error’. By means of Scripture ‘we shall know who are pastors and who are not’ (Chrysostom);

clip_image004[26] ‘Holy Scripture sets a rule to our teaching’ (St Augustine of Hippo);

clip_image004[27] Yield assent ‘to the authority of Holy Scripture, which knows not how either to be deceived or to deceive’ (St Augustine of Hippo);

clip_image004[28] The useful knowledge from the books of the heathen is poor ‘when compared with the knowledge of Holy Scripture’ (St Augustine of Hippo);

clip_image004[29] Of the writers of the canonical books of Scripture, ‘the authors are completely free from error’ (St Augustine of Hippo).

F. A flashy Roman Catholic retort

Jennifer Hay gives this pragmatic response to sola scriptura: ‘The most common Catholic argument against sola scriptura is that it has splintered the Church. Thousands of Protestant denominations exist today, each one claiming to interpret Scripture by the guidance of the Holy Spirit’ (Hay 2009).

This is not a biblically based position nor is it one that has a strong historical affirmation from the early church. It is driven by expediency.

G. Conclusion

How do I answer the question posed by this article? Is there no ‘Scripture alone’ or sola scriptura in the early church fathers? The evidence gained from the early church fathers is that they had a high view of the authority of Scripture, even using this language:

flamin-arrow-small The scriptural authors are completely free from error;

flamin-arrow-small Holy Scripture sets a rule for our teaching;

flamin-arrow-small Scripture helps determine error from truth and thus shuts out heretics;

flamin-arrow-small Yield assent to the authority of Scripture;

flamin-arrow-small A faithful Christian accepts the authority of Scripture;

flamin-arrow-small Christians should place their credence in the canon of Scripture;

flamin-arrow-small The Scriptures are perfect;

flamin-arrow-small All Scripture is the one perfect and harmonised instrument of God;

flamin-arrow-small In the Old and New Testaments books alone is proclaimed the doctrine of godliness and nothing must be added to or taken from these.

flamin-arrow-small Let us follow the norm [canon] of sacred Scripture.

Sola scriptura – Scripture alone – as the Reformation standard of teaching and of life for the Christian is found in the teachings of the early church fathers. One has to be promoting another agenda to ignore such teaching.

Works consulted

Beeke, J R et al 2009. Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible, Lake Mary, Fl: Reformation Trust Publishing (a division of Ligonier Ministries).

Fisher, G P 1913. History of the Christian Church. London: Hodder & Stoughton.

Foakes Jackson, F J 1924. The History of the Christian Church from the Earliest Times to A.D. 461, 6th ed. Cambridge: J Hall & Son.

Grudem, W 2000. Do we act as if we really believe that “the Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the word of God written?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (online), 43(1), March. Available at: (Accessed 19 October 2015).

Hay, J 2009. Did the early Christians subscribe to sola scriptura? An early misunderstanding. This Rock (online), 20(4), April. Available at: (Accessed 20 October 2015).

Jackson, G L 2007. Catholic, Lutheran, Protestant. Glendale, Arizona: Martin Chemnitz Press.

Kirby, P 2015. Irenaeus of Lyons. Early Christian Writings, 10 October. Against heresies. Available at: (Accessed 10 October 2015).

Latourette, K S 1965. Christianity Through the Ages. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers.

Lewis, G R & Demarest, B A1987. Integrative Theology, vol 1. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Academie Books (Zondervan Publishing House).

MacArthur, J 2009. The sufficiency of the written Word, in J R Beeke et al, Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible, 71-90. Lake Mary, Fl: Reformation Trust Publishing (a division of Ligonier Ministries).

MacArthur, J 2015. What does sola Scrptura mean?[26] Ligonier Ministries (online), August 07. Available at: (Accessed 19 October 2015).
Preus, R D 1979. The view of the Bible held by the church: The early church through Luther. In N L Geisler (ed), Inerrancy, 357-384. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House. Part of it is available online HERE.

The Catholic Encyclopedia 2012. © K Knight. Available at: (Accessed 20 October 2015).

White, J 2009. Sola scriptura and the early church, in J R Beeke et al, Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible, 17-38. Lake Mary, Fl: Reformation Trust Publishing (a division of Ligonier Ministries). Part of it is available online HERE.


[1] At the time of writing this systematic theology text, Lewis & Demarest were professors at Denver Seminary. In 2012, it was listed as an inter/multidenominational school.

[2] The footnote at this point was: ‘L. Harold DeWolf. The Case for Theology in a Liberal Perspective (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1959), 19-41’ (Lewis & Demarest 1987:338, n. 20).

[3] This seems to be referring to William (Bill) J Rudd, senior pastor, Calvary Baptist Church, Muskegon, MI. See: (Accessed 19 October 2015).

[4] Christianity Board, ‘Name a really bad doctrine that needs retiring’ (online), 11 September 2015, kepha31#191. Available at: (Accessed 19 October 2015).

[5] Ibid.

[6] With all of the following citations, the emphasis in bold has been added.

[7] Christianity Board op cit., OzSpen#195.

[8] The following list of church fathers who promote the importance of Scripture is obtained mainly from the Eternal Word Television Network, which is an American TV network that presents 24/7 Roman Catholic programming. Available at: (Accessed 19 October 2015).

[9] Lifespan dates are from Philip Schaff, ‘Theophilus of Antioch’, in History of the Christian Church, available at: (Accessed 6 January 2016).

[10] This has to be from a secondary source as the primary document is no longer extant. Available at: (Accessed 6 January 2016).

[11] Lifespan dates from Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. S v Saint Irenaeus).

[12] Lifespan dates from Latourette (1965:48).

[13] Lifespan dates from Catholic Encyclopedia (S v Origen and Origenism).

[14] Dates from Christian History 2008. Antony of Egypt. Available at: (Accessed 20 October 2015).

[15] Fisher (1913:122).

[16] The Catholic Encyclopedia (2012. S v St. Cyril of Jerusalem) (Accessed 20 October 2015). Foakes Jackson (1924:324, n. 2) wrote: ‘Cyril of Jerusalem, A. D. 346, speaks of the wood of the True Cross’, thus confirming the era in which he lived.

[17] Lifespan dates are from Encyclopaedia Britannica 2015. S v Saint Basil the Great. Available at: (Accessed 31 October 2015).

[18] I have only been able to locate this in a secondary source at ‘Sola Scriptura and the Church Fathers’, Available at: (Accessed 4 January 2016).

[19] Lifespan dates are from the Catholic Encyclopedia (2012. S v St John Chrysostom).

[20] Available in Jackson (2007:20).

[21] Chrysostom’s term for ‘norm’ was canon.

[22] Here he is speaking of the Old Testament.

[23] In Newman (1838:387-388).

[24] Lifespan dates are from Encyclopaedia Britannica 2015. s v Saint Augustine, available at: (Accessed 31 October 2015).

[25] Meaning, ‘Of the good of widowhood’.

[26] This article is based on MacArthur (2009).


Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 11 April 2016.