I just watched a video with an Orthodox professor, in which he said that "Sola Scriptura" came first, and then "Sola Fide". Is that true? The best I can gather from the Wiki articles on these two topics is that both of them came pretty much simultaneously.

The video itself is in Russian. Here is my translation of his words (starting at 5:57):

…And all these new ideologues outraged by this so called scholasticism |of Roman Catholic Church| have declared, “The truth is only what the Scriptures say. Only the Scriptures and nothing else! Period. Let’s abandon all these theologians!” This apparently magnificent thesis made a big impression on many Christians. Because many had already been racking their brain over some speculations by some |theologians| like Duns Scotus or Thomas Aquinas. Indeed, their speculations were just abracadabra and no one really knew what to make of it.

So, they said, “Only the Scriptures!” Perfect! Who would’ve dared say anything against that? It really sounded just perfect.

But what was the outcome of that? |The outcome of that was:| “You think this way?”, “And you think another way?”, “And you have yet another opinion?!” So, as a result, the whole Protestantism began to fall to pieces. Soon it was like peas spilled and scattered all over the floor. Everyone had his own opinion.

And where was the criterion for determining who was right and who was wrong? How was one to know which opinion was correct? Well, it was already too late |to look for such a criterion|. There were no authorities anymore. The Fathers were no longer held as the authority. Each person now considered his own way of thinking and his own understanding as true. The truth for each person was now his own thoughts and convictions. And each one would claim now, “That’s how the Holy Spirit showed me this!” (|Of course, it begs the question,| “How can it be the Holy Spirit if you are arguing with one another and just can’t find any common ground in your understanding?!”) They were really now all scattered like peas on the floor! You see? This is how sometimes a very attractive thesis, which one would think shouldn’t cause any disagreement, can |turn out to be false|.

So what did they finally arrive at? They arrived at another thesis, which came right after “Sola Scriptura”, and that thesis is indisputable in Protestantism – the whole Protestantism is standing on this thesis like on a strongest foundation. This thesis is “We are being saved only by faith” By what kind of faith? By believing that Jesus Christ is the Lord, that He has suffered on our behalf, that He has redeemed us from sin, that we are saved through His sacrifice…

So he seems to be claiming here that "Sola Fide" was put forth as a reaction to the many divisions among Protestants caused by "Sola Scriptura". Thus, his chronology is as follows:

Sola Scriptura –> divisions –> Sola Fide

This contradicts to a story that I heard before about Martin Luther climbing some ladder on his knees in some temple and suddenly recalling, if I remember correctly, Rom 1:17 ("The righteous will live by faith"), which happened even prior to 95 theses.

However, I may have gotten this story wrong and my knowledge on Reformation is quite limited, so I don't know.

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    Are you referring to when these doctrines were declared during the Reformation? (Which came first?) Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 16:50
  • 1
    @KorvinStarmast I would want to know both when they first originated among Protestants and when they were first declared.
    – brilliant
    Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 17:05
  • Can I answer it biblically and chronologically as Jesus stated in the Gospel? If you are open historically the scriptures stated the word "before the foundation of the world". So, it all started when the foundation was laid first/Church and then Sola/Fide the True Faith in order to witness/testify verbally which happened in the Upper Room and finally Sola Scriptura when the bible was canonized in the 4th Century by the Church. So, the correct order biblically is Church first, Sola Fide second and then Sola Scriptura third. Will you accept this answer? Commented Mar 8, 2019 at 2:44
  • 1
    @marianagustin - Well, my question is within the context of the 16th century; more precisely, within the time from 1516 till 1546, that is, not when all these things started essentially, but rather when they were being proclaimed by the Christians that had parted from the Catholic Church.
    – brilliant
    Commented Mar 8, 2019 at 4:20
  • Speaking only for Luther, the latter came first, and the former came after.
    – user46876
    Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 1:10

3 Answers 3


This is a complex topic, for at least two reasons: 1) there was a wide diversity of thought in the pre-Reformation and Reformation periods, and 2) today's definitions of sola scriptura and sola fide vary and the particulars can be difficult to trace within the pre-Reformation and Reformation periods, and any attempts to do so are naturally susceptible to bias.

For example, on one hand, one could argue that Alexei Osipov is simply incorrect – that the extreme version of sola scriptura that he is describing did not appear until the Radical Reformation (~1520s) and that Luther's doctrine of sola fide (~1515) predates that by several years. But many (mostly non-Protestants) would counter that the professor's description of sola scriptura substantially matches that of Protestantism generally, not just the Anabaptists of the Radical Reformation. And of course, we're ignoring that many Protestants argue that both these doctrines can be found in the writings of the early church.

With those caveats, I'd argue that while Osipov's treatment is imprecise, his general point can be defended in two ways:

  • Many Pre-Reformation thinkers, like John Wycliffe (1320–1384) and John Huss (1372–1415), placed higher emphasis on the authority of Scripture than was expressed at the Council of Trent by the Roman Catholic church. These Pre-Reformation thinkers, however, did not clearly articulate "faith alone."
  • Logically, sola scriptura comes before sola fide, because the doctrine of sola fide as argued by Luther and other Reformers was defended on the basis of the Bible against the tradition and authority of the Church.


At the Council of Trent, the Roman Catholic Church held that both scripture and tradition were authoritative:

Both saving truth, and moral 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 (Session 4)

In contrast to this, many pre-Reformation thinkers placed a higher priority on Scripture. Two notable names along these lines are John Wycliffe and John Huss, who both died over a century before Luther released his 95 theses. These men opposed what they saw as abuse and excess in the Catholic church, and attacked a variety of the church's doctrines, including the papacy, transubstantiation, and indulgences, and often did so on the basis of the Bible. John Wycliffe "recognised as an authority, apart from reason, only the Holy Scriptures, not tradition." (Lechler, 267)

However, these men did not lay out a doctrine of justification like that of sola fide. Thus, if the views of Wycliffe on Scripture suffice as an example of sola scriptura as understood today, then it preceded the sola fide of Luther.

Sola scriptura logically antecedent to sola fide

Alistar McGrath writes:

Every strand of the Reformation movement regarded Scripture as the quarry from which its ideas and practices were hewn (Thought, 91)

That is, in the Reformation, everything ultimately comes back to the authority of the Bible, including justification by faith alone. We see this, famously, in Luther's 1521 statement at the Diet of Worms:

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.

When challenged, Luther naturally fell back to the ultimate basis for his beliefs, which he argued was the Bible – he didn't argue for sola scriptura on the basis of sola fide, but instead held that the things he believed were true because he found them in the Word of God. Though this doesn't prove that sola scriptura chronologically preceded sola fide in the mind of any particular reformer, we can still say that the logical connection indicates that sola fide needed sola scriptura in order to stand and survive.

The origins of sola scriptura and sola fide

One of the difficulties mentioned above associated with this question is defining sola scriptura. Alistar McGrath identifies three views that can feasibly carry this name:

  1. Scripture and tradition are "coinherent or coterminous," that is, that Scripture alone is materially sufficient, and tradition acts as a reliable guide that defines the limits of acceptable interpretation
    • McGrath associates this view with Wycliffe, Huss, and the theologians of the schola Augustiniana moderna, that is, scholastics associated with Gregory of Rimini.
  2. Scripture alone serves as the basis for faith and practice
    • This is the view expressed by Ulrich Zwingli at Zurich, resulting in the mandate that only Scripture could be used as the basis of public preaching (Origins, 45; see Wikipedia).
  3. Tradition has no relevance in the interpretation of the Bible; "every individual or community is free to interpret the Bible without reference to the Christian past." (Thought, 100)
    • This is the view of the Radical Reformers (Anabaptists), originating in the 1520s.

The sola scriptura of the Reformers is often defined along the lines of #2 above. But is #2 more like #1 or #3? In his quote, Alexei Osipov closely associates #2 and #3. But Alistar McGrath argues that #1 and #2 are more closely linked, arguing that the Reformation view was not an innovation in light of the diversity existing in late medieval catholicism (Origins, 145). He also argues against a close connection between #2 and #3:

It is totally wrong to suggest that the magisterial reformers elevated private judgment above the corporate judgment of the church or that they degenerated into some form of individualism. No leading mainstream reformer was prepared to abandon the concept of a traditional interpretation of Scripture in favor of the radical alternative. (Thought, 102)

The origin of the doctrine of sola fide, on the other hand, is usually seen to be more straight forward. McGrath sees its roots in the schola Augustiniana moderna, but it first appears clearly in the thought of Martin Luther around 1515, in his "tower experience." (Thought, 120–21) Thus Osipov's claim that sola fide appeared as the result of Protestant divisions is incorrect at least in the sense of its origin; it preexisted the division between the Reformers and the Radical Reformers.


Alexei Osipov lumps together the sola scriptura of the Reformers and that of the Radical Reformers in his discussion, which, depending on one's views on the Reformation, may or may not be agreeable. But noticing this reveals the difficulty inherent in identifying the origin of sola scriptura and thus its connection with the Reformer's sola fide. Still, it seems safe to agree with Osipov's general point, that the doctrine of sola scriptura precedes that of sola fide, both chronologically and logically, in the context of the Reformation.


  • is it perhaps similar to asking who discovered calculus 1st between newton and leibniz? NNT: 'The mere knowledge that something has been invented often leads to a series of inventions of a similar nature, even though not a single detail of this invention has been disseminated (...) In mathematics, once a proof of an arcane theorem has been announced, (...) proliferation of similar proofs coming out of nowhere, with occasional accusations of leakage and plagiarism. There may be no plagiarism: the information that the solution exists is itself a big piece of the solution'
    – BCLC
    Commented Jun 15, 2022 at 0:36

Of course faith alone came first and then scripture alone.


We know this because we know that the apostles preached first and then wrote down "the faith once delivered".

  1. 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. Irenaues, AH, III, 1

Irenaeus is referencing what happened. When we turn to scripture, we find it too saying the same thing. Here are examples of preaching and then writing.

Paul and Barnabas preached first. Later Luke, Paul's associate, would write what he knew.

And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do. Acts 15:36

Luke says from the beginning there were eyewitness who taught certain things that were delivered unto believers (us). Luke says he wrote (after) to declare these things so readers would know with certainty the truth.

Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word;It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus,That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed. Luke 1:1-4

John tells us the same pattern. He witnessed, he preached, and then he wrote it down so there would be no mistakes about all things necessary for one's salvation.

This is the disciple who testifies about these things and has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true. John 21:24

But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name. John 20:31


It's fairly well known that Luther had a "Damascus Road" experience known as his "Tower" experience. This is typically identified as the start of the Reformation. Prior to this, Luther was taught and believed that man is saved by some combination of God's grace and man's work. The problem, of course, is one's work will never be enough, but what was left? For Luther, it was despair.

Luther's breakthrough came as he understood that grace is a gift, unmerited favor.

At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, "In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, 'He who through faith is righteous shall live.'" There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, "He who through faith is righteous shall live." Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me. Thereupon I ran through the Scripture from memory. I also fount in other terms an analogy, as, the work of God, that is what God does in us, the power of God, with which he makes us wise, the strenght of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God. Luther's Conversion

While it is true that Luther obviously read the Scripture, he was also bearing the weight of some 1,500 years of tradition; that is, God's grace is insufficient, that one needs to augment it, that one might be saved by their works. Luther's breakthrough came as he understood "faith alone", imputed Christ's righteousness. After that revelation, Luther had to rely on Scripture alone to carry the day against false traditions that operated apart from said Bible.


To conclude, preaching faith alone came first and writing or relying on Scripture alone for the same came last.

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    Please, re-read my question. I wasn't asking about the early ages of Christianity, but rather about the two of the Five solae (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_solae) and the chronological order of how they were being put forth during the time of Reformation.
    – brilliant
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 2:46
  • I understand your question. It's simply impossible to answer otherwise, regardless of how some argued in the 1500's. We all know the apostles spoke and then wrote. In this case, they spoke about faith and then they wrote about faith. OR is the assumption being made in the OP that there was no such thing as salvation by faith written until Luther invented it? OR is the assumption that yes the apostles spoke and then wrote and then the church veered away and then in the 1500's some people wanted a return? If so, then yes, they'd circle back first to scripture and then to its doctrine.
    – SLM
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 4:18
  • I agree that "the apostles spoke and then wrote and then the church veered away and then in the 1500's some people wanted a return". However, in my question I was looking at the claim made by one theologian that the "Sola Fide" doctrine was invented by Luther and others in order to solve the problem of the different views and opinions that had sprung among them a little earlier due to their proclamation and immediate following the "Sola Scriputura" doctrine. That was precisely what I was asking about - whether that claim was true or false.
    – brilliant
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 7:39
  • I'll see what else I can find.
    – SLM
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 14:59

If God inspired the scriptures, then didn't sola fide come first? Faith must come first in order for someone to believe that they are writing with The Inspiration of God.

The only problem is that Jesus revealed The Merciful Heavenly Father through His Teachings in the clearest way while The Old Testament did not, therefore we can go with sola scriptura when it comes to The Sayings of Jesus. Even then, sola fide must come first since a person must first believe that Jesus is The True Voice that reveals God The Father in order to trust His Teachings in The Gospel:

"All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him." (Luke 10:22)

This is what Jesus taught about The Merciful Heavenly Father, His teaching truly is Merciful:

"But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again." - (Luke 6:35-38)

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    My question is within the context of the 16th century; more precisely, within the time from 1516 till 1546, that is, not when all these things started essentially, but rather when they were being proclaimed by the Christians that had parted from the Catholic Church.
    – brilliant
    Commented Mar 8, 2019 at 4:23

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