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Considering the prominence of the works of popular authors like C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton and prominent theologians like Augustine and others in various Christian circles. Is there Biblical support for basing you beliefs on those who've come before?

Said another way, what different perspectives are there among notable Christian groups regarding the use of non-Biblical works for informing beliefs, and what Biblical support do they give for their perspective?

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@Alain it's hard on purpose. Just a note. Using "update: x" is bad form. Instead edit like you would a document, just do it, there are edit summaries to not the changes you make. One of the spoken goals of Stack Exchange is to stealthily make our users betters writers. –  wax eagle Aug 7 '13 at 23:16
See the edits I've done for an example. I've taken your edits and integrated them into the post and I think it's OK, if still quite broad. –  wax eagle Aug 7 '13 at 23:21

3 Answers 3

Since the question asks "what different perspectives", let me present one perspective. The answer would be "Only if those extra-Biblical texts are in harmony with the Bible" for it is written

"To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. (Isaiah 8:20)

However it is written

"Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good." (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21)


"And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.

“And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord." (Joel 2:28-31)

So in the last days some would prophesy truthfully, or there would be a true prophet even in our time, before the coming of Christ, but that true prophet must be in harmony with all the Bible.

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The Catholic Church is by far the oldest and largest branch of Christianity that does not adhere to the doctrine of sola scriptura.

The doctrine of sola scriptura proclaims the canonical Scriptures, especially the New Testament, to be the only infallible source and rule of faith and practice, and asserts the right of private interpretation of the same, in distinction from the Roman Catholic view, which declares the Bible and tradition to be co-ordinate sources and rule of faith, and makes tradition, especially the decrees of popes and councils, the only legitimate and infallible interpreter of the Bible. In its extreme form Chillingworth expressed this principle of the Reformation in the well-known formula, "The Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible, is the religion of Protestants." Protestantism, however, by no means despises or rejects church authority as such, but only subordinates it to, and measures its value by, the Bible, and believes in a progressive interpretation of the Bible through the expanding and deepening consciousness of Christendom.

See http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12495a.htm

The Catholic Church has traditionally taught that there are three authorities in a Christian's life:

1 - Sacred Scripture

2 - Sacred Tradition

3 - Magisterium (teaching office)

These 3 authorities are like a 3 legged stool holding up and preserving the teachings of Christ.

Sacred Tradition (with a capital "T") refers to the doctrines that have been preserved and handed down "whether by word of mouth or by letter" (2 Thess. 2:15). Examples of these universally accepted Traditions that are not explicitly defined in Sacred Scripture include the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation. This does not refer to traditions with a lower case "t" (i.e. Christmas date, liturgical songs, etc.). This distinction should differentiate between Patristic Writings like those of St. Augustine, and an excerpt from G. K. Chesterton's "Orthodoxy."

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in Part I - Section I clearly states:


One common source. . .

80 "Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal." Each of them makes present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ, who promised to remain with his own "always, to the close of the age".

. . . two distinct modes of transmission

81 "Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit."

"And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching."

82 As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, "does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence."

Apostolic Tradition and ecclesial traditions

83 The Tradition here in question comes from the apostles and hands on what they received from Jesus' teaching and example and what they learned from the Holy Spirit. The first generation of Christians did not yet have a written New Testament, and the New Testament itself demonstrates the process of living Tradition.

Tradition is to be distinguished from the various theological, disciplinary, liturgical or devotional traditions, born in the local churches over time. These are the particular forms, adapted to different places and times, in which the great Tradition is expressed. In the light of Tradition, these traditions can be retained, modified or even abandoned under the guidance of the Church's Magisterium.

The Magisterium plays the part of "Authoritative Interpreter" or "Home Plate Umpire," by making the final decision on divisive doctrinal matters (i.e. Luther and Calvin's veracious dispute about the substantive reality of the Eucharist).

The Church has claimed from the first century that all 3 of these authoritative faculties have been ultimately guided by the Holy Spirit, or "Paraclete" promised by Christ. There are hundreds of documents written by Early Church Fathers emphasizing the necessary role of Sacred Tradition within the context of Divine Revelation.

St. Augustine writes:

“But in regard to those observances which we carefully attend and which the whole world keeps, and which derive not from Scripture but from Tradition, we are given to understand that they are recommended and ordained to be kept, either by the apostles themselves or by plenary [ecumenical] councils, the authority of which is quite vital in the Church” (Letter to Januarius [A.D. 400]).

For my part, I should not believe the gospel except moved by the authority of the Catholic Church. So when those on whose authority I have consented to believe in the gospel tell me not to believe in Manicheus, how can I but consent?" C. Epis Mani 5,6

See http://www.cin.org/users/jgallegos/trad.htm

Martin Luther echoes Augustine in one of commentaries on Sacred Scripture:

“Yes, we ourselves find it difficult to refute it, especially since we concede—as we must—that so much of what they say is true: that the papacy has God’s Word and the office of the apostles, and that we have received Holy Scripture, Baptism, the Sacrament, and the pulpit from them. What would we know of these if it were not for them? [LW 24:304]

Sola scriptura may be contrasted with prima scriptura, which holds that, besides canonical scripture, there are other guides for what a believer should believe, and how he or she should live. Examples of this include the general revelation in creation, traditions, charismatic gifts, mystical insight, angelic visitations, conscience, common sense, the views of experts, the spirit of the times or something else. Prima scriptura suggests that ways of knowing or understanding God and his will, that do not originate from canonized scripture, are in a second place, perhaps helpful in interpreting that scripture, but testable by the canon and correctable by it, if they seem to contradict the scriptures.

This concludes the first half of this answer. It has presented the perspective of the Catholic Church's stance on the role of extra biblical texts in defining beliefs.

The second half of this answer is intended to present Biblical "support" for the doctrine of prima scriptura.

Below are quotes from Sacred Scripture that support prima scriptura. These exerpts are not intended to be used as proofs, but support.

Gen. to Rev. - Scripture never says that Scripture is the sole infallible authority for God's Word. Scripture also mandates the use of tradition. This fact alone disproves sola Scriptura.

Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:15 - those that preached the Gospel to all creation but did not write the Gospel were not less obedient to Jesus, or their teachings less important.

Matt. 28:20 - "observe ALL I have commanded," but, as we see in John 20:30; 21:25, not ALL Jesus taught is in Scripture. So there must be things outside of Scripture that we must observe. This disproves "Bible alone" theology.

Mark 16:15 - Jesus commands the apostles to "preach," not write, and only three apostles wrote. The others who did not write were not less faithful to Jesus, because Jesus gave them no directive to write. There is no evidence in the Bible or elsewhere that Jesus intended the Bible to be sole authority of the Christian faith.

Luke 1:1-4 - Luke acknowledges that the faithful have already received the teachings of Christ, and is writing his Gospel only so that they "realize the certainty of the teachings you have received." Luke writes to verify the oral tradition they already received.

John 20:30; 21:25 - Jesus did many other things not written in the Scriptures. These have been preserved through the oral apostolic tradition and they are equally a part of the Deposit of Faith.

Acts 8:30-31; Heb. 5:12 - these verses show that we need help in interpreting the Scriptures. We cannot interpret them infallibly on our own. We need divinely appointed leadership within the Church to teach us.

Acts 15:1-14 – Peter resolves the Church’s first doctrinal issue regarding circumcision without referring to Scriptures.

Acts 17:28 – Paul quotes the writings of the pagan poets when he taught at the Aeropagus. Thus, Paul appeals to sources outside of Scripture to teach about God.

1 Cor. 5:9-11 - this verse shows that a prior letter written to Corinth is equally authoritative but not part of the New Testament canon. Paul is again appealing to a source outside of Scripture to teach the Corinthians. This disproves Scripture alone.

1 Cor. 11:2 - Paul commends the faithful to obey apostolic tradition, and not Scripture alone.

Phil. 4:9 - Paul says that what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do. There is nothing ever about obeying Scripture alone.

Col. 4:16 - this verse shows that a prior letter written to Laodicea is equally authoritative but not part of the New Testament canon. Paul once again appeals to a source outside of the Bible to teach about the Word of God.

1 Thess. 2:13 – Paul says, “when you received the word of God, which you heard from us..” How can the Bible be teaching first century Christians that only the Bible is their infallible source of teaching if, at the same time, oral revelation was being given to them as well? Protestants can’t claim that there is one authority (Bible) while allowing two sources of authority (Bible and oral revelation).

1 Thess. 3:10 - Paul wants to see the Thessalonians face to face and supply what is lacking. His letter is not enough.

2 Thess. 2:14 - Paul says that God has called us "through our Gospel." What is the fullness of the Gospel?

2 Thess. 2:15 - the fullness of the Gospel is the apostolic tradition which includes either teaching by word of mouth or by letter. Scripture does not say "letter alone." The Catholic Church has the fullness of the Christian faith through its rich traditions of Scripture, oral tradition and teaching authority (or Magisterium).

2 Thess 3:6 - Paul instructs us to obey apostolic tradition. There is no instruction in the Scriptures about obeying the Bible alone (the word "Bible" is not even in the Bible).

1 Tim. 3:14-15 - Paul prefers to speak and not write, and is writing only in the event that he is delayed and cannot be with Timothy.

2 Tim. 2:2 - Paul says apostolic tradition is passed on to future generations, but he says nothing about all apostolic traditions being eventually committed to the Bible.

2 Tim. 3:14 - continue in what you have learned and believed knowing from whom you learned it. Again, this refers to tradition which is found outside of the Bible.

James 4:5 - James even appeals to Scripture outside of the Old Testament canon ("He yearns jealously over the spirit which He has made...")

2 Peter 1:20 - interpreting Scripture is not a matter of one's own private interpretation. Therefore, it must be a matter of "public" interpretation of the Church. The Divine Word needs a Divine Interpreter. Private judgment leads to divisions, and this is why there are 30,000 different Protestant denominations.

2 Peter 3:15-16 - Peter says Paul's letters are inspired, but not all his letters are in the New Testament canon. See, for example, 1 Cor. 5:9-10; Col. 4:16. Also, Peter's use of the word "ignorant" means unschooled, which presupposes the requirement of oral apostolic instruction that comes from the Church.

2 Peter 3:16 - the Scriptures are difficult to understand and can be distorted by the ignorant to their destruction. God did not guarantee the Holy Spirit would lead each of us to infallibly interpret the Scriptures. But this is what Protestants must argue in order to support their doctrine of sola Scriptura. History and countless divisions in Protestantism disprove it.

1 John 4:1 - again, God instructs us to test all things, test all spirits. Notwithstanding what many Protestants argue, God's Word is not always obvious.

1 Sam. 3:1-9 - for example, the Lord speaks to Samuel, but Samuel doesn't recognize it is God. The Word of God is not self-attesting.

1 Kings 13:1-32 - in this story, we see that a man can't discern between God's word (the commandment "don't eat") and a prophet's erroneous word (that God had rescinded his commandment "don't eat"). The words of the Bible, in spite of what many Protestants must argue, are not always clear and understandable. This is why there are 30,000 different Protestant churches and one Holy Catholic Church.

Gen. to Rev. - Protestants must admit that knowing what books belong in the Bible is necessary for our salvation. However, because the Bible has no "inspired contents page," you must look outside the Bible to see how its books were selected. This destroys the sola Scriptura theory. The canon of Scripture is a Revelation from God which is necessary for our salvation, and which comes from outside the Bible. Instead, this Revelation was given by God to the Catholic Church, the pinnacle and foundation of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15).

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Many logical fallacies in the scripture "proofs" above. The conclusions are not so clear-cut. Example: just because there is one RCC doesn't mean all Catholics agree or that the priests are adequately explaining the RCC's teachings. –  Steve Aug 8 '13 at 5:25
The "Gen. to Rev." points are a bit unconvincing, perhaps overreaching. –  pterandon Aug 8 '13 at 11:04
None of these scriptures prove that the RCC is the sole and dependable arbiter of truth, unfortunately. –  Steve Aug 8 '13 at 13:42
The answer above addresses the question, "... what different perspectives are there among notable Christian groups regarding the use of non-Biblical works for informing beliefs, and what Biblical support do they give for their perspective?" –  Charles Alsobrook Aug 8 '13 at 14:33
The answer is only meant to highlight what Catholic are bound to believe within context of all mainline denomonations...not to prove everyone else is wrong. –  Charles Alsobrook Aug 8 '13 at 14:47

The question asked here seems to be trying to imply something is happening which in virtually every case is not.

Restricting myself to Protestantism for the moment, the implication seems to be that because Lewis and Chesterton are widely read, somehow people are basing their doctrine on them. I think it's pretty safe to say they are not.

Lewis and Chesterton would never claim that their writings were authoritative, and mostly would make it explicitly clear that they were not. So if anyone is taking them as authoritative then they are going against the authors intent. I know plenty of people who really like Lewis, and find him really helpful, but I have never heard of a single one who says that what Lewis writes is 'doctrine' and you have to believe it.

Writings like this are either interpretations of Christian ideas that might make them more understandable to some people, or they are ideas that help explain Christianity that might or might not be actually the case, but are a helpful way of looking at things.

Remember that there is a big difference between 'doctrine' - stuff which is core Christianity - and other things you happen to believe.

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