As a Catholic, I'm often baffled by other Christians who base their faith purely off personal interpretation of the Bible as the be-all-end-all proof for everything under the sun (which is what I mean by Sola Scriptura).

I understand the need to figure out what's going on in the bible and the need to live your life according to wisdom of the prophets and saints and especially heed the words of Jesus. But where did the idea come from that everyone can interpret the bible for themselves? Is this just a common Catholic prejudice or a misunderstanding?

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    There are some great answers here regarding Sola Scriptura that pre-date the edits focusing the question on individual interpretation of the Bible. It might be wise to roll back this question, and clarify it to be about Sola Scriptura in particular (so that the answers remain applicable and available for reference), then start a new question regarding individual Biblical interpretation.
    – HedgeMage
    Commented Aug 24, 2011 at 13:17
  • @flimzy, Hedge - yeah, this question isn't about the Doctrine of Sola Scriptura. The edits you proposed would be better off in an answer refuting my premise. If you want to ask that particular question, go ahead.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Aug 24, 2011 at 13:34
  • 3
    @Peter Turner: I'm not sure I completely agree... Having a title that doesn't match the actual question makes searching harder. Then again, I don't know what the best course of action is.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Aug 28, 2011 at 6:13
  • The title is -definitely- misleading as to what you were really asking and causes a lot confusion. I cannot ask the question "Why is the sky blue?" and then say "and by 'sky' I mean clouds" and still read a whole bunch of answers explaining why they sky is blue. Stupid example, but I'm not sure how else to explain this. If Peter Turner refuses to edit, a mod should do something about this. (And now that I realized the true question I cannot even undo my upvote.)
    – felideon
    Commented Sep 2, 2011 at 1:40
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    Check out 2 Peter 1:20 "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation." (KJV)
    – user23
    Commented Sep 4, 2011 at 4:00

13 Answers 13


The origin of 'sola scriptura' as a formal term comes from the Reformation, and has only an a posteriori justification in the scriptural text.

It may mean any of the following:

  1. Scripture is the only source for Christian teaching, morality, etc
  2. Scripture is the only real 'words of God'
  3. Christians do not need outside sources to interpret scripture

Luther presented it as an argument when the Roman Church at the time used its position as Magestierium to justify commanding things which at least ostensibly were against the words of scripture and quite frankly, against moral sensibility of the time.

In Luther's time it simply meant that a believer did not need the Church's approval to read the scripture, that a properly trained believer needed only the scripture to understand the faith. This did not at the time presume that any person anywhere could just pick up a bible and instantly understand the faith and be a Christian.

Traditionally, the Church was considered 'the Pillar and Ground of Truth', but also, 'All Scripture is God Breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting...' and you also had 'what we have handed down to you in word and epistle.' (kergyma) Therefore, there were always multiple sources. Sola Scriptura emerges as an attempt to reposition the authority of scripture in an era in which Church had become really the only authority, at least in Luther's view.

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    Sola Scriptura is well defined as scripture as the sole infallible rule for faith and practice. See the WCF, 1689 LBCF, HC, near any confession of the mainline Protestant churches. Please consider using this definition to tailor your response.
    – Sam
    Commented May 28, 2012 at 19:26
  • I believe I covered that in pt 1: 'Scripture is the only source for Christian teaching, morality...'
    – user304
    Commented Jun 2, 2012 at 2:11
  • The only source is very different from the sole infallible rule.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jul 10, 2019 at 14:08

As I understand it, the term Sola Scriptura isn't about personal interpretation so much as it refers to a closed canon, the notion that the Bible is complete and contain all necessary knowledge for salvation, and that no other words from any other source can legitimately be added to it and hold canonical status alongside the Bible.

As for its basis, there really isn't one. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that the Bible is complete or closed. (This is partially because the collection of individual works known today as "The Bible" wasn't actually compiled into its present form until centuries after the last of the individual works was written!) The common justification that Revelation 22: 18-19 prohibits "adding to or taking away from" the Bible is clearly invalid in light of this, even before you consider that Revelation was actually written before John's other works, including the Gospel of John itself, and that extremely similar language is found in Deuteronomy chapter 4. (Interpreted literally, that would invalidate the vast majority of the Bible, including the entire New Testament!)

Nowhere in any actual revelation or the writings of any prophet or Apostle does it say anything even resembling "Thus saith the Lord, my words are at an end." The concept emerged during the Reformation as a counter to Catholic traditional teachings that were not found in the Bible and, in the Reformers' view at least, directly contradicted teachings that were found in the Bible. It's a useful rhetorical device, but it is not itself a scriptural doctrine.

In fact, when you look at the history presented in the Bible itself, the concept of a closed canon is always associated with apostate groups. The Samaritans and the Saducees both held positions that diminished or invalidated (to different degrees) the prophets after Moses. Likewise, the Jews in the New Testament time refused to accept the new writings of Jesus's Apostles, and created the Masoretic Text (the basis for the modern Old Testament canon) as a closed work, stating that this was "The Scriptures" and nothing else could hold that status. Sound familiar?

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    Sola Scriptura really isn't an issue with the canon, and thus your statement that it has no biblical basis is off-base. (With apologies for the pun.) There is strong Scriptural support for Scripture being the thing that we base all our understanding of theology and model our lives around. I would point somebody to the idea of Sola Scriptura if they were trying to persuade me with a "logical" argument that could not be defended from Scripture, not if they were trying to convince me about the canonicity of some apocryphal text.
    – Caleb
    Commented Aug 25, 2011 at 9:21
  • "the thing that we base"? Do you mean "the thing that we should/must base"? Because as it reads now, it doesn't make sense. Oh, and "idea" sound more like "dogma" to me... I don't mind, everyone can have the dogmas they like, I just would prefer clarification. Commented Aug 28, 2011 at 3:47

Your question is very valid, and I sincerely wish more of my "fellow Protestants" understood what I am about to explain.

The point of the Reformation was not to drive each individual Christian to interpret the Bible for themselves!

It is abundantly clear from Luther's writings that this was not his goal, but for some strange reason, this has become a defining characteristic in Protestantism. It is wrong, it is a tragedy, and it needs to be fixed.

  • Luther had a problem with the Catholic church making things up that were clearly contrary to the teachings of Scripture. His response was "Sola Scriptura!!" He just meant that the Church needed to go back to Scripture and stop teaching lies. The Church did not respond favorably, and so they "parted ways."

  • Luther did not have a problem with having a Church, or with spiritual authority, spiritual disciplines, learning from others, and so on. Not everything about the Catholic Church was evil!

The modern tendency for each individual Christian to interpret the Bible for themselves is the result of pride, post-Enlightenment individualism and rebellion, and lust (a desire to find a comfortable interpretation.)

The Biblical picture of the church is a body with many members, including teachers, which builds itself up (collectively) in love. We should be learning and growing together as brothers united in love. We should not be rejecting one another or seeking our own interpretations and truths. (We also should not be making things up!) We need to reject the corruption that has entered the church as a result of the Enlightenment. (See here for more on this.)

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    +1 agree that privileging private interpretation of the scriptures over any other authority is a misunderstanding of the Reformation slogan sola scriptura. Best answer so far. Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 11:59
  • 2 Tim.4:3 has the warning that men who speak what itching ears want to hear will be gathered into congregations. And Jude warned (before the end of the 1st C) that already some men had crept in corrupting Christians with ungodly behaviour and even denying God and Christ (vs.4). Every branch of Christianity suffers from that - some moreso than others - but sticking to what the Bible states is paramount, so where the Bible is viewed as secondary, false teachers will abound far moreso.
    – Anne
    Commented Mar 10, 2023 at 14:22

I do not view Sola Scriptura as just personal interpretation. I believe there are a lot of people smarter than me that can teach me a lot about the Bible's teachings.

Another part of Sola Scriptura is that scripture alone is sufficient for giving you the wisdom you need for salvation (faith in Christ). I would reference 2 Timothy 3:15 for this:

and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

Again, this wisdom may not necessarily come from your own interpretation, but can come through the teachings of others based on scripture.

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    To what scripture is one referring? The canon agreed at Nicea (73/74 books depending on if you are Catholic or Eastern Orthodox) or the circumcised scriptures of 1000 years later that only has 66 books? I say this with a wink and a nod, with a playful tone of voice Commented Nov 3, 2019 at 16:20

Um... The Bible is the basis for Sola Scriptura. That's sorta the point. Your definition (that no assistance can be used in interpreting what is written) seems a bit Humpty Dumptyish. Although I don't doubt some do follow such practices, it is certainly not commonplace...

...Indeed, Acts tells us of Philip the Evangelist offering assistance, and then assisting in interpreting Isiah's prophecy as a precursor to introducing the traveler to Christ. The writings of Paul consist of extensive interpretations of both the Old Testament and Christ's teachings. I would argue that evangelism is hardly even compatible with this notion of a purely personal interpretation...

Is this just a common Catholic prejudice or a misunderstanding?

Perhaps. My understanding is that Sola Scriptura requires only that for you to accept an interpretation - whether your own or someone else's - you must be able to connect it back to the scriptures. A law, tradition, or belief that cannot be found in or understandably derived from scripture therefore has no standing as Christian.

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    "or understandably derived from" - Aye, there's the rub. Who decides whether a belief is understandably derived from scripture?
    – Kyralessa
    Commented Sep 25, 2011 at 22:35

The idea of Sola Scriptura is that we base our beliefs off of scripture alone. I wouldn't say it's talking about how we interpret the Bible versus where we get our understanding about God from.

I don't think it is saying it is bad to be taught the correct interpretation by those who have spent their time studying the scriptures.

But at the same time, I think it mainly protects the believer from those who would try to add to scripture, or change it, or use it to manipulate. It protects in that way, because I can always pick up the Bible myself and see what it says for myself.

I always ask my Pastor for help interpreting the scripture, but I can also read it and make sure what he is saying is true, so I am not led astray. And further more, I can be sure that he isn't adding his own doctrines and beliefs into the mix, because people do add their own beliefs.

In summary: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God"... we can't say that about individual men's interpretation. Our best bet is to have people skilled in doctrine to teach, AND have each individual study as well to make sure what they say, lines up with Scripture alone.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

  • 1
    +1 I like that you distinguish the where from the how. Ultimately, everything is up for interpretation, and so critics of Sola Scriptura who decry the personal interpretive nature of it seem a bit disingenuous. Sure, people can and will abuse Scripture (sometimes unintentionally), and in many cases, it will be due to "personal interpretations," but Sola Scriptura doesn't address that common foible so much as it defines an objective starting point of authority. The premise, too, is that as a whole, a thorough study will protect people from many honest misinterpretations.
    – Steven
    Commented Jan 6, 2012 at 15:08
  • +1 This answer is what I have said in my comment above and is the right approach for interpretation of scripture. Commented Nov 11, 2013 at 7:27

Two Questions

You pose and interesting question, "Where did the idea come from that everyone can interpret the bible for themselves?"

An equally valid question is, "Where did the idea come from that any believer cannot interpret the Bible for himself? Every believer has the Spirit of God dwelling within him (1 Corinthians 6:19), so why would that believer have to be dependent on others, specifically a certain group of individuals, to understand the Scriptures?

The real question then is in determining where the burden of proof lies. Does it lie with those who claim only a select group of believers have the authority to interpret Scripture, or does it lie with those who claim any believer, within whom dwells the Spirit of God, can read and interpret Scripture.

Arguments for Sola Scriptura

The Bible written to All Believers

Most of the New Testament epistles are addressed not to clergy, but to all believers. The Gospels seem to be written for the benefit of both believers and unbelievers. From the earliest times of Christianity, the gospels and epistles were copied and passed on to be made available to a large audience. Therefore, we conclude that the Bible was intended to be read or heard by all people and not just a select group. Therefore, it would seem counter-intuitive to assume that all people were given the Word of God to read but then prevented from interpreting it.

"...To the churches of Galatia." Galatians 1:1 "...To the saints who are in Ephesus" Ephesians 1:1 "...To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi..." Philippians 1:1 "To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae..." Colossians 1:2

The Priesthood of All Believers

The New Testament also teaches that God has made all believers priests, and that there is no mediator between God and men except for Jesus Christ.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1 Peter 2:9 ESV

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. 1 Timothy 2:5 ESV

So, if there is no mediator between God and men anymore, then there would be no need for an interpreter between God and men either.

No Biblical Teaching for Restricted Interpretation

Also, there is no place in Scripture (at least of which I am aware) that specifically restricts the interpretation of Scripture to a select group. If it were really the intent of God to restrict the interpretation of Scripture to a select group of people, then He would certainly have made that blatantly obvious in the Scriptures themselves. Yet, since there is no such teaching in Scripture, the source for that teaching must be extra-Biblical itself.

Problems with Limited Authority for Interpretation

Assuming that God did, in fact, restrict interpretation of Scripture to a select few, then it seems the purpose for this would be to make sure error and heresy never crept in to the church. The result would be that throughout church history, God would always work through the select group of people to maintain sound doctrine.

However, when we look at the Catholic church, which holds to this doctrine, we do not find a consistent teaching throughout history. Many doctrines have changed, including the celibacy of the priesthood, indulgences, the language of mass, eating meat on Fridays, etc. So, if the teachings have changed over time, then it would seem that the leaders wrongly interpreted Scripture at various times through history, unless we hold to the idea that truth can change. Therefore, the basis of limited authority for interpretation is undermined by the variance in teachings by the select group over the 2000 years of church history.


So, 1) since the Bible is given to all people to read and hear, 2) the New Testament teaches the priesthood of all believers, 3) there is no specific teaching in Scripture that would restrict interpretation to a select group of people, and 4) history has shown that the teaching of the select group has been inconsistent and contradictory, the conclusion seems reasonable that all believers have the authority with the indwelling Holy Spirit as a guide to read and interpret Scriptures apart from any mediator or interpreter.

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    -1. "celibacy of the priesthood, indulgences, the language of mass, eating meat on Fridays," are not doctrines, they are disciplines. Disciplines in the Catholic church change all the time and there is nothing wrong with that. However catholic teaching never changes. The same can't be said for protestant rebels tho, who disagree on everything, favour schism and change their teaching at the drop of a hat Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 4:47
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    OK - but what happens when two or more believers interpret the scriptures with the authority of the indwelling Holy Spirit - and they disagree? Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 12:03
  • @EleventhDoctor They keep seeking answers ... the faith is a continuum, not discrete item or a collection of discrete items. Commented Jan 28, 2017 at 19:50

2 Timothy 3:16

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness

Therefore the Bible is not used as the sole source of knowledge but rather as the rule by which other sources (including common sense and Church tradition) are judged. So if someone in your church (or here) says, "God says X" (e.g. we don't have to pax taxes) you can check what the Bible says (in this example, Romans 13:6-7).

  • This is definitely the scripture, but can you include something from Calvin, Luther, et al, who asserted 'sola scriptura' against the Romans at the time?
    – user304
    Commented Sep 2, 2011 at 14:19
  • @RiverC - no, sorry, that goes beyond my knowledge. Commented Sep 2, 2011 at 14:34

Although sola-scriptura principle sets up the boundaries as to which books should be considered as Scriptures and which books should not, the essence of this principle is not about books, but rather about the ideas that those books contain and whether or not the knowledge of and believing in those ideas is sufficient for humans to have eternal life, which is to be saved (sola-scriptura principle MUST NOT be taken in its literal sense, but rather should always be considered in its original intrinsic sense).

Therefore, if any new idea "pops up" that is contradictory to the original ideas described and presented by the apostles in their books, then the sola-scriptura principle exempts people from following that new idea.

In the New Testament there IS a basis for sola-scriptura principle (in its original sense!) :

  1. "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:8,9)

-- Paul is explicitly saying here that no other new ideas that are contrary to the ones that have already been preached must be followed;

  1. "...just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures" (2 Pet. 3: 15, 16)

-- Peter here puts Paul's writings on the same level with other Scriptures, which means that even though at that time the Bible hadn't yet been compiled what the early apostles were preaching and writing about was considered by them to be of equal importance as all the other Scriptures (The Old Testament);

  1. "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are WRITTEN so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name ... Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written" (John 20:30, 31; 21:25)

-- while John recognized that no book will ever be able to give humans an exhaustive account of what Jesus had done, he still chose some of the acts performed by Jesus and put them on paper stating that the knowledge of those acts and believing into them would be sufficient for the readers of his book to have life (i.e. to be saved);


I think the doctrine you're looking for is "Priesthood of all believers".

It is derived from Martin Luther's understanding of 1 Peter 2:9.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Luther, and most Protestants following him, have understood this to mean that all Christians are capable of interpreting the Scriptures without a priest as an intermediary.


I'm not really sure that's what Christians do. I'm a non-denominational Christian myself, and while I do believe in a direct and personal relationship with God, I do not believe I should use my own personal interpretation of the Bible as my sole source of foundational information upon which to base my faith.

I am a strong believer in listening to your pastor (or priest, in the case of Catholicism), as it is important to get a solid, educated viewpoint on the meaning and doctrinal nuances of the Bible. I also believe it is critically important for a true bible-believing faithful Christian to understand where the translation of the bible they study came from...the original language roots, and the original contextual meanings of critical words, the cultural context within which the bible was written, etc. A full and proper understanding of the scripture cannot be had in isolation, one needs the input of others, of those who are educated in theology and doctrine, as well as a fundamental understanding of where the bible comes from.

As a bible-believing Christian, I do not base my faith purely off of my own personal interpretation of the Bible...I base if off of a well-informed interpretation of the bible that is a combination of my own understanding, the educated understanding of my pastor, and many ongoing years of research in the source of my English translation of the bible.

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    -1 Sola Scriptura is not about personal interpretation, it's about authority. The doctrine Sola Scriptura says that the Bible is the final and only authority on salvation. It does not prohibit, nor even discourage, consulting spiritual leaders or others for help in clarification.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Aug 23, 2011 at 20:49
  • @Flimzy: Yes, however that was not what the OP stated. As quoted: "As a Catholic, I'm often baffled by other Christians who base their faith purely off personal interpretation of the Bible (which is what I mean by Sola Scriptura)." Some Christians do live by their own interpretation, but I do not believe most do, hence my answer.
    – jrista
    Commented Aug 23, 2011 at 20:56
  • @jrista: Fair enough. I have commented on the original question to ask for clarification... both questions (that in the title, and that in the description) are valid, but it should be clear which is being asked.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Aug 23, 2011 at 20:59
  • @Flimzy: isn't it "final and only authority on everything"? (Okay, everything that's mentioned in it, but you get the point...) Commented Aug 28, 2011 at 3:50

I'm adding another answer because I cannot find 3 critical elements that could have explained further the Protestants' insistence of "sola scriptura".

Firstly, it's never about JUST personal interpretation. I think the reformers assumed and many evangelicals today believe that the sola scriptura doctrine is to be practiced together with the doctrine of perspicuity of Scripture which in theory should produce an objective interpretation IF the Bible is studied carefully enough in CONTEXT. Providing context is where evangelical scholarship devotes most of their energies, producing commentaries, dictionaries, Hebrew/Greek lexicons, histories, etymologies, utilizing ancient sources, etc. Fortunately the majority of evangelicals today appreciate certain controversies and ambiguities because they realize that the Bible simply doesn't have enough and leaves certain things open (such as different views of the end of the world). The best representative of evangelical scholarship (in my opinion) is the IVP "Black" Dictionary series which I have been consulting regularly since the time they were published incrementally in the past decade or two. The increasing engagement between evangelical scholars with the their Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Jewish rabbinic, and even liberal theologians counterparts (either as a foil to clarify the Evangelical's position or as insights to be adopted) brings joy to my heart as a sign of genuine ecumenism at work.

Secondly, the choice of books to include in the canon PLUS how the NT books themselves acknowledge the primacy of the first council in Jerusalem around 48 AD, and the apostolic criteria to determine correctness of faith (Paul vs. the Judaizers in the letter to the Galatians is a prime example) means that you have to start with a certain tradition to "initialize the system of interpretation", just like how you need a boot loader to load Windows 10 / Linux from your system drive (yes, like yourself, I'm a software developer now focusing on cloudish things). So to be logically consistent, "Sola Scriptura" adopters have to acknowledge that the fountainhead of interpretation is the authority of certain people after all.

Thirdly, now that the need of initial authority is shown, it will be inconsistent for Protestants NOT to accept the results of the Council of Nicaea and Chalcedon, which is as far as most Protestants can accept. While they can claim that the doctrine of Trinity, dual nature of Jesus, etc. can be explained solely by the 39 OT and 27 NT books, I believe most Protestant scholars now accept that some Tradition is needed to restrict the field of possible interpretations and there are multiple choices. Some denominations have self-consciously label themselves Magisterial Reformers to distinguish themselves from the more radical ones (like the Fundamentalists). A helpful book to analyze the options is Keith Matthison's The Shape of Sola Scriptura, 2001, summarized here showing different subsets of Tradition that different Protestant denominations have taken. It's quite ingenious to relabel the most extreme option (Tradition 0) as "solo scriptura" :-). I found a short but very well written essay on "solo scriptura" by the author of the book here where he makes the case for adopting the Magisterial Reformer's view on tradition (Modern Reformation March/April 2007 issue).

What is common for all options is simply all Protestant denominations' refusal to add more sources on par with the Bible, which includes either books, people, or institutions (like Rome). They don't mind consulting them, but they self-consciously put them as lower authority than the 39 OT and 27 NT books. That refusal, I think, is the best working semantic of "sola scriptura".

  • See Keith Mathison's essay on "solo scriptura" here where he makes the case for adopting the Magisterial Reformer's view on tradition (Modern Reformation March/April 2007 issue). Commented Apr 26, 2019 at 18:32
  • love the answer, but there's a slight problem of the 73/74 books originally agreed as canon around the time of Nicea, and the edited list you refer to that came along about 1000 years later. said with a grin, not with a knife in my hand .... Commented Nov 3, 2019 at 16:28
  • @KorvinStarmast You made a great point about the canon. Since writing the answer I have been doing a lot of reading about Sola Scriptura / Prima Scriptura, spurred by the research I need to do for curiousdannii's question. And personally, I think the deuterocanonical books should be read by Protestants at the very least as context for NT. When I find out more about Protestants's stance on the books, I'll have to update this answer too. Commented Nov 5, 2019 at 20:50
  • Oh yeah, and I think many do for that very reason. If nothing else, context. Commented Nov 5, 2019 at 20:55

As a Catholic, I'm often baffled by other Christians who base their faith purely off personal interpretation of the Bible as the be-all-end-all proof for everything under the sun (which is what I mean by Sola Scriptura).

This is in fact RCC prejudice as this is a common strawman drawn by other denominations as well. The fundamentalist movement heard sola scriptura and rolled with it as "the Bible and nothing else." We are not fundamentalists and we don't actually view and treat scripture in this way.

Sola scriptura meant that "scripture contains all knowledge necessary for salvation." Additionally, if you wanted to interpret something from scripture, you still use traditions and creeds. You can also have extra-biblical traditions as long as they didn't contradict the scriptures. The reality is that we are prima scriptura (= sola scriptura) and just that everything is subordinate to scripture.

What Sola Scriptura IS:

An embrace of accountability for the doctrines among us (especially those in dispute).

An embrace of norming (the process of examining positions for truth, correctness, validity).

An embrace of Scripture as the best, most sound rule/canon/norma normans for US to USE for THIS process.

What Sola Scriptura is NOT:

A teaching that all revelation or truth is found in Scripture. It's not a teaching at all, it is the PRACTICE of using Scripture as the rule in the norming of doctrines. Scripture itself says that "the heavens declare the glory of God" but our visual reception of the stars is not used as the norma normans for the evaluation of doctrines among us in the practice of Sola Scripture.

A teaching that Scripture is "finished." It's not a teaching at all. While probably all that practice Sola Scripture agree with all others that God seems to have inscribed His last book around 100 AD and doens't seem to be adding any more books, the Rule of Scripture was just as "valid" in 1400 BC when Scripture consisted of just two stone tablets as it is today - only the corpus of Scripture is larger, that has no impact on the practice of embracing it as the rule/canon/norma normans in our evaluation of doctrines among us. The Rule of Scripture embraces the Scripture that is.

Hermeneutics. The Rule of Scripture has to do with WHAT is the most sound rule/canon/norma normans for the evaluation of the doctrines among us, it is not a hermeneutical principle. Obviously that Scripture needs to be interpreted, but that's a different subject or another day and thread. The Rule of Scripture has to do with norming, not interpreting.

Arbitration. Obviously, some process of determining whether the doctrine under review "measures up" (arbitration) to the "measuring stick" (the canon). This is also beyond the scope here, the Rule of Scripture is the embrace of Scripture AS that canon, it does not address the issue of HOW it is best determined if a position "measures up" to that canon.


We believe that this Holy Scripture contains the will of God completely and that everything one must believe to be saved is sufficiently taught in it.” (The Belgic Confession, Article 7)

Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.” (Article VI of the 39 Articles)

For it will not do to frame articles of faith from the works or words of the holy Fathers; otherwise their kind of fare, of garments, of house, etc., would have to become an article of faith, as was done with relies. [We have, however, another rule, namely] The rule is: The Word of God shall establish articles of faith, and no one else, not even an angel. (Article II Smalcald Articles)

  • 1
    Welcome to C.SE. This is an excellent answer. The quote on what sola scriptura IS and is NOT is along the lines of my answer, but they describe it more succinctly. It would be great if you could provide a source for that quote, as it's the practice in C.SE. Trying myself, I could only find them in several forum responses. Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 12:27

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