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 your 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, 2013 at 23:16
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    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, 2013 at 23:21

6 Answers 6


When you think about it, this question is based on circular reasoning.

Is there Biblical support for basing your beliefs on those who've come before?

The Bible authors "came before." So lets imagine that there's an imaginary Bible verse that says:

Thou shalt base thine opinions on those whom came before.

2 Chemicals 8:15

Who wrote 2 Chemicals? Saint Heisenberg. Why should we trust Saint Heisenberg?

"But the Bible is canon!" you might say. Yes, that's true... Christians, by and large, agree that the Bible is "special." But why? Because other Christians decided they were, and we agree with them.

So even believing the Bible is inherently basing our beliefs on those who came before.


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.


The extra biblical texts could be compared with a sermon. Just like a good pastor or sermon doesn't teach from their own knowledge or wisdom but teaches the Scriptures, a good christian text teaches and explain the Scriptures. The purpose of such kind of literature isn't to add to the words of the Scriptures, but explain them and apply them. If a text adds extra biblical ideas we should reject that text.

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    Of course, that's not the case from a Catholic or Orthodox point of view, in which Sacred Tradition is a source of authority equal to Sacred Scripture. Aug 22, 2014 at 19:39
  • In all respect, why does the longer one does something make it more authoritative? Why is Sacred Tradition, well, Sacred?
    – Jeremy H
    Aug 22, 2014 at 23:57
  • I'll be glad to discuss that in chat at some point, probably not till Monday. That's not really what comments are for. Aug 23, 2014 at 2:34
  • The answer of @Flimzy about circular reasoning is ignoring (or is simplifying) deliberately or unconsciously the process of getting agree, that involves grammatics, history, geography, text's context (related to the internal environment), social/political/economic context (related to the external environment), author, purpose of the book, date of the book, witness, etc. The agreement process is kind similar to the legal process to determine historical facts. Aug 25, 2014 at 17:15
  • For instance, for the King James Version was required the best brains of that century on that field, involving institutions like Westminster, Oxford and Cambridge. Aug 25, 2014 at 17:26

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.


Is there Biblical support for basing your beliefs on those who've come before?

Yes. Think about how much the New Testament references the Old Testament -- all over the place! Here is just one of many sites that list New Testament references to Old Testament prophets.

The same could be said of any Old Testament prophet who referenced a previous Old Testament prophet. All of the prophets after Moses referenced the Law revealed by God through him.

This doesn't really answer the second part of your question, but serves to illustrate the process of unfolding revelation over time that occurred from Adam to Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Melchizedek, Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist, Christ and the apostles. The need for a renewal of revelation was due to the rejection by the people of previous prophets. Further, each prophet gave specific guidance and counsel for their time, as when Isaiah advised kings in Jerusalem on matters of war and politics.

Latter-Day Saints believe this pattern has continued -- or rather, that God has continued this pattern -- to our day, calling new prophets/apostles in the same manner and for the same purpose as before: to renew and reaffirm and clarify previous revelations and also give timely guidance for the current time. (I think that answers your second question about a denomination that uses non-Biblical sources).


All of the hundreds of different Christian denominatios use verses from the Bible to support their often-contradictory beliefs. Thus the Bible or any other source of information about God's truths (ie: Dead Sea Scrolls, Nag Hammadi Library, etc.) can be used to support true as well as false doctrines. So is biblical support sufficient to be sure that our beliefs are true and accurate?

Remember, our Saviour said, "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." John 17:3, giving us an understanding of the importance of gaining an accurate knowledge about Him and His father. Indeed, He said our eternal life depends on such knowledge. Would He then leave us to our own understanding of the Bible or any other book, alone, to arrive at the truth?

No! He has given us a more-sure source, if we will only learn to use it. He said, speaking of the Holy Spirit, "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come." John 16:13 So whether the sources for our beliefs are correct, or not, really depends not just upon 'biblical support', but even more on whether we are allowing ourselves to be guided by the Spirit of Truth.

In conclusion then, our Saviour's promise of sending the Spirit of Truth might be considered one type of 'Biblical support' for our opportunity and ability to discover truths in support of our developing beliefs in non-biblical sources.

  • This kind of feels like a side-step of the question. Is/can the Bible be used to support using others' works for congregational education? I'm sure there's a connection between using the Bible to support the belief that the Spirit interacts with us personally.
    – user3961
    Jun 28, 2015 at 20:58

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