If I had to put an estimate on how many articles exist that either argue for or against the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, I would have to say that the figure would exceed tens of thousands. It is certainly no secret that Sola Scriptura has been the center of debate between Protestants and Roman Catholics/Orthodox Christians for the better part of 500 years. With that said, my intention with this article is not to provide a summarical defense against the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, but rather to let the Holy Scripture speak for Itself. In addition, I also intend to reference the Holy Fathers of the Church and their contemporaries [whom we don’t regard as Saints] as a framework for what the early Church believed regarding the exclusivity of Tradition being contained within the Holy Scriptures.
Being a huge fan of referenceable material, this article will provide a basic presentation for why a Sola Scriptura framework and reading actually invalidates the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.
My emphasis will be added in bold.
1 Corinthians 11:2 – Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.
1 Corinthians 11:34 – if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.
1 Thessalonians 1:5 – because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.
1 Thessalonians 4:2 – For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.
2 Thessalonians 2:5 – Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?
2 Thessalonians 2:15 – So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.
2 Thessalonians 3:6 – Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.
1 Timothy 6:20-21 – O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.
2 Timothy 1:13 – Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 2:1-2 – You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.
2 Timothy 3:14 – But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it
Philippians 4:9 – What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
2 John 1:12 – Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.
3 John 1:13-14 – I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.
Acts 2:42 – And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Acts 8:28-31 – …and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
Acts 15:27 – We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth.
2 Peter 1:12-15 – Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.
John 17:20 – I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word…
Church Fathers (and Contemporaries):
Irenaeus – Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question? For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches?
Irenaeus – Since, therefore, the tradition from the apostles does thus exist in the Church, and is permanent among us, let us revert to the Scriptural proof furnished by those apostles who did also write the Gospel, in which they recorded the doctrine regarding God, pointing out that our Lord Jesus Christ is the truth, and that no lie is in Him.
Irenaeus – Though none others know we the disposition of our salvation, than those through whom the Gospel came to us, first heralding it, then by the will of God delivering us the Scriptures, which were to be the foundation and pillar of our faith. …But when the heretics use Scriptures, as if they were wrong and unauthoritative, and we variable, and the truth could not be extracted from them by those who were ignorant of tradition. And when we challenge them in turn with that tradition, which is from the Apostles, which is guarded by the succession of presbyters in the churches, they oppose themselves to tradition, saying they are wiser, not only than those presbyters but even than the Apostles! The tradition of the Apostles manifested, on the contrary, in the whole world, is open in every church to all who seeks the truth …And since it is a long matter in a work like this to enumerate these successions, we will confute them by pointing to the tradition of the greatest and most ancient and universally-known Church founded and constituted at Rome by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul, a tradition which she has had and a faith which she proclaims to all men from those Apostles.”
Irenaeus – In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the Apostles until now, and handed in truth.
Irenaeus – Then I have pointed out the truth, and shown the preaching of the Church, which the prophets proclaimed (as I have already demonstrated), but which Christ brought to perfection, and the apostles have handed down, from which the Church, receiving, and throughout all the world alone preserving them in their integrity, has transmitted them to her sons. Then also-having disposed of all questions which the heretics propose to us, and having explained the doctrine of the apostles, and clearly set forth many of those things which were said and done by the Lord in parables…that they may preserve steadfast the faith which they have received, guarded by the Church in its integrity, in order that they be in no way perverted by those who endeavor to teach them false doctrine…
Irenaeus – Heretics assent neither to Scripture nor to Tradition.
Anthony of Egypt – Wherefore keep yourselves all the more untainted by them, and observe the traditions of the Fathers, and chiefly the holy faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, which you have learned from the Scripture, and of which you have often been put in mind by me.
Clement of Alexandria – But they, safeguarding the true tradition of the blessed teaching, which comes straight from the Apostles Peter, James, John and Paul and transmitted from father to son have come down to us with the help of God to deposit in us those ancestral and apostolic seeds…
Origen – The Church’s preaching has been handed down through an orderly succession from the Apostles and remains in the Church until the present. That alone is to be believed as the truth which in no way departs from ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition.
Tertullian – We do not take our scriptural teaching from the parables but we interpret the parables according to our teaching.
Tertullian – [The apostles] then in like manner founded churches in every city, from which all the other churches, one after another, derived the Tradition of the faith, and the seeds of doctrine, and are everyday deriving from them, that they may become churches. Indeed, it is only on this account that they will be able to deem themselves apostolic, the offspring of apostolic churches. Everything must necessarily revert to its original for its classification.
Tertullian – Let them show the origins of their churches, let them unroll the list of their bishops, through a succession coming down from the very beginning that their first bishop had his authority and predecessor someone from among the number of Apostles or apostolic men and, further, that he did not stray from the Apostles. In this way the apostolic churches present their earliest records. The church of Smyrna, for example, records that Polycarp was named by John; the Romans, that Clement was ordained by Peter. In just the same way, the other churches show who were made bishops by the Apostles and who transmitted the apostolic seed to them. Let the heretics invent something like that.
Cyril of Jerusalem – “We believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.” Council of Nicea I, Nicene Creed, (A.D. 325). But in learning the Faith and in professing it, acquire and keep that only, which is now delivered to thee by the Church, and which has been built up strongly out of all the Scriptures.
Cyril of Jerusalem – Learn also diligently, and from the Church, what are the books of the Old Testaments, and what are the books of the New.
Cyril of Jerusalem – 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 . . . Take heed then, brethren, and hold fast the traditions which you now receive, and write them and the table of your heart.
Athanasius – But after him (the devil) and with him are all inventors of unlawful heresies, who indeed refer to the Scriptures, but do not hold such opinions as the saints have handed down, and receiving them as the traditions of men, err, because they do not rightly know them nor their power.
Athanasius – For, what our Fathers have delivered, this is truly doctrine; and this is truly the token of doctors, to confess the same thing with each other, and to vary neither from themselves nor from their Fathers…Thus the Greeks, as not witnessing to the same doctrines, but quarreling one with another, have no truth of teaching; but the holy and veritable heralds of truth agree together, and do not differ…preaching the same Word harmoniously.
Athanasius – …and in dizziness about truth, are full set upon accusing the Council, let them tell us what are the Scriptures from what they have learned , or who is the saint by whom they have been taught.
Athanasius – But what is also to the point, let us note that the very tradition, teaching, and faith of the Catholic Church from the beginning was preached by the Apostles and preserved by the Fathers. On this the Church was founded; and if anyone departs from this, he neither is, nor any longer ought to be called, a Christian.
Athanasius – But beyond these [Scriptural] sayings, let us look at the very tradition, teaching and faith of the Catholic Church from the beginning, which the Lord gave, the Apostles preached, and the Fathers kept.
Athanasius – We are proving that this view has been transmitted from father to father, but ye, O modern Jews and disciples of Caiaphas, how many fathers can ye assign to your phrases? Not one of the understandings and wise; for all abhor you, but the devil alone; none but he is your father in this apostasy, who both in the beginning sowed you with the seed of this irreligion, and now persuades you to slander the Ecumenical Council, for committing to writing, not your doctrines, but that which from the beginning those who were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word have handed down to us. For the faith which the Council has confessed in writing, that is the faith of the Catholic Church; to assert this, the blessed Fathers so expressed themselves while condemning the Arian heresy.
Athanasius – But our faith is right, and starts from the teaching of the Apostles and tradition of the fathers, being confirmed both by the NT and the Old.
Athanasius – For it is right and meet thus to feel, and to maintain a good conscience toward the fathers, if we be not spurious children, but have received the traditions from them, and the lessons of religion at their hands.
Athanasius – Such then, as we confess and believe, being the sense of the Fathers…
Athanasius – …but do you, remaining on the foundation of the Apostles, and holding fast the traditions of the Fathers, pray that now at length all strife and rivalry may cease and the futile questions of the heretics may be condemned…
Hilary of Poitiers – It behooves us not to withdraw from the Creed which we have received…nor to back off from the faith which we have received from through the prophets … or to back-slide from the Gospels. Once laid down, it continues even to this day through the tradition of the Fathers.
Basil – Let us now investigate what are our common conceptions concerning the Spirit, as well those which have been gathered by us from Holy Scripture as well those which have been gathered concerning it as those which we have received from the unwritten tradition of the Fathers.
Basil – Of the beliefs and practices whether generally accepted or enjoined which are preserved in the Churchsome we possess derived from written teaching; others we have delivered to us in a mystery by the Apostles by the tradition of the Apostles; and both of these in relation to true religion have the same force.
Basil – The day would fail me, if I went through the mysteries of the Church which are not in Scripture. I pass by the others, the very confession of faith, in Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, from what written document have we?
Basil – While the unwritten traditions are so many and their bearing on ‘the mystery of godliness’ is so important, can they refuse us a single word which has come down to us from the Fathers–which we found, derived from untutored custom, abiding in unperverted churches–a word for which contributes in no small degree to the completeness of the force of the mystery.
Basil – In answer to the objection that the doxology in the form ‘with the Spirit’ has no written authority, we maintain that if there is not other instance of that which is unwritten, then this must not be received. But if the great number of our mysteries are admitted into our constitution without written authority, then, in company with many others, let us receive this one. For I hold it apostolic to abide by the unwritten traditions. ‘I praise you,’ it is said, ‘that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances as I have delivered them to you;’ and ‘Hold fast the traditions which ye have been taught whether by word, or our Epistle.’ One of these traditions is the practice which is now before us, which they who ordained from the beginning, rooted firmly in the churches, delivering it to their successors, and its use through long custom advances pace by pace with time.
Basil – …and I have not allowed my judgment concerning them to rest wholly with myself, but have followed the decisions given about them by our Fathers.
Ephiphanius – But for all the divine words, there is no need of allegory to grasp the meaning; what is necessary is study and understanding to know the meaning of each statement. We must have recourse to tradition, for all cannot be received from the divine Scriptures. That is why the holy Apostles handed down certain things in writings but others by traditions. As Paul said:” Just as I handed them on to you.”
Jerome – Do you demand Scripture proof? You may find it in Acts of the Apostles. And even if it did not rest on the authority of the Scripture the consensus of the whole world in this respect would have the force of command…
Jerome – And let them not flatter you themselves if they think they have Scripture authority since the devil himself has quoted Scripture texts…we could all, while preserving in the letter of Scripture, read into it some novel doctrine.
Gregory of Nyssa – It suffices for proof of our statement that we have a tradition coming down from the Fathers, an inheritance as it were, by succession from the Apostles through the saints who came after them.
Ambrose – But if they will not believe the doctrines of the priests, let them believe Christ’s oracles, let them believe the admonitions of angels who say, “For with God nothing is impossible”. Let them believe the Apostles Creed which the Roman Church as always kept undefiled.
Gregory of Nazianzus – My sheep hear my voice, which I heard from the oracles of God, which I have been taught by the Holy Fathers, which I have taught alike on all occasions, not conforming myself to the opportune, and which I will never cease to teach; in which I was born, and in which I will depart.
Gregory of Nazianzus – I desire to learn what is this fashion of innovation in things concerning the Church. But since our faith has been proclaimed, both in writing and without writing, here and in distant parts, in times of danger and of safety, how comes it that some make such attempts, and that others keep silence?
Augustine – To be sure, although on this matter, we cannot quote a clear example taken from the canonical Scriptures, at any rate, on this question, we are following the true thought of Scriptures when we observe what has appeared good to the universal Church which the authority of these same Scriptures recommends to you.”
Augustine – The authority of our Scriptures, strengthened by the consent of so many nations, and confirmed by the succession of the Apostles, bishops and councils, is against you.
Augustine – Wherever this tradition comes from, we must believe that the Church has not believed in vain, even though the express authority of the canonical scriptures is not brought forward for it.
John Chrysostom – So then, brethren, stand fast, and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word, or by our epistle of ours’. Hence it is manifest, that they did not deliver all things by Epistle, but many things unwritten, and in like manner both the one and the other are worthy of credit. Therefore let us think the tradition of the Church also worthy of credit. It is a tradition seek no farther.
John Chrysostom – We may answer, that what is here written, was sufficient for those who would attend, and that the sacred writers ever addressed themselves to the matter of immediate importance, whatever it might be at that time: it was no object with them to be writers of books: in fact, there are many things which have been delivered by unwritten tradition. Now while all that is contained in this Book is worthy of admiration, so is especially the way the Apostles have of coming down to the wants of their hearers: a condescension suggested by the Spirit who has so ordered it, that the subject on which they chiefly dwell is that pertains to Christ as man. For so it is, that while they discourse so much about Christ, they have spoke little concerning His Godhead: it was mostly of the manhood that they discoursed, and of the Passion, and the Resurrection, and the Ascension.
John Chrysostom – Not in vain did the Apostles order that remembrance should be made of the dead in the dreadful mysteries.
Vincent of Lerins – Here perhaps, someone may ask: Since the canon of the Scripture is complete and more than sufficient in itself, why is it necessary to add to it the authority of ecclesiastical interpretation? As a matter of fact, [we must answer] Holy Scripture, because of its depth, is not universally accepted in one and the same sense. The same text is interpreted different by different people, so that one may almost gain the impression that it can yield as many different meanings as there are men. Novatian, for example, expounds a passage in one way; Sabellius, in another; Donatus, in another. Arius, and Eunomius, and Macedonius read it differently; so do Photinus, Apollinaris, and Priscillian; in another way, Jovian, Pelagius, and Caelestius; finally still another way, Nestorius. Thus, because of the great distortions caused by various errors, it is, indeed, necessary that the trend of the interpretation of the prophetic and apostolic writings be directed in accordance with the rule of the ecclesiastical and Catholic meaning.
Theodoret of Cyrus – This teaching has been handed down to us not only by the Apostles and prophets but also by those who have interpreted their writings, Ignatius, Eustathius, Athanasius, Basil, Gregory…and other lights of the world and before them, by the holy Fathers gathered at Nicea whose confession of faith we have kept intact, as the inheritance from a Father, while those who dare to violate their teachings, we call corrupt and enemies of truth.
Council of Constantinople II – We confess that (we) hold and declare the faith given from the beginning by the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ to the Holy Apostles, and preached by them in the whole world; which the sacred Fathers confessed and explained, and handed down to the holy churches, and especially (those fathers) who assembled in the four sacred Synods, whom we follow and accept through all things and in all things…judging as at odds with piety all things, indeed, which are not in accord with what has been defined as right faith by the same four holy Councils, we condemn and anathematize.
John of Damascus – So, then in expectation of His coming we worship toward the East. But this tradition of the apostles is unwritten. For much that has been handed down to us by tradition is unwritten.
John of Damascus – Moreover that the Apostles handed down much that was unwritten, Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, tells us in these words: “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which ye have been taught of us, whether by word or epistle” And to the Corinthians he writes, “Now I praise your brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the traditions as I have delivered them to you.’
John of Damascus – He who does not believe according to the tradition of the Catholic Church is an unbeliever.
Council of Nicea II – If anyone rejects all ecclesiastical tradition either written or not written…let him be anathema.