I think it is a fairly uncontroversial claim that the Bible (and particularly the NT) does not explicitly assert Sola Scriptura (e.g. here, here).

Now, if God fully inspired the Bible (even to the point of inerrancy), it is fair to ask, from a Protestant point of view, why God did not inspire biblical authors to explicitly assert Sola Scriptura?

Although the answer "only God knows" is surely valid, theologically speaking, it is uninteresting. There must be several Protestant theologians (and perhaps early Reformers themselves) who have addressed this question, perhaps as an attempt to respond the obvious rebut "but Sola Scriptura is not in the Bible".

  • Just about any "why did/didn't God do X" questions absent scriptural explanation (including this one as it stands) are problematic regarding site topicality: their very essence is speculative and primarily opinion based. Commented Feb 18, 2018 at 8:54

2 Answers 2


Protestantism, as understood by the reformers and their legacy, were fully comfortable with a systematic theology that proceeds from exegesis. They did not consider it necessary to be able to point to a specific text for every single doctrine if they observed that the Bible as a whole taught a particular doctrine. It actually makes the affirmations weaker if they are taught on a proof-text basis since it implies that the doctrine rises or falls on the interpretation of a single text, which hardly any biblical doctrine really does. It is relatively easy for heretics to create plausible (though invalid) arguments to poke holes in any of the common proof-texts that threaten their views. The systematic theologies of the Reformation tended to uses texts for evidence, but not in an exact text-to-doctrine fashion that misses the big picture in the details.

The doctrine of "sola scriptura" is a pithy formulation to fit into the "five sola" scheme, but to address it more technically they were really addressing the fact that God is only known via his divine accommodation of the creator to the creature through general and special revelation. They would then parse out some clarifications and make their case for the primacy of special revelation above general revelation.

The foundations for sola scriptura come down to the belief that God's revelation is the only way to reliably know about God and how he wishes to be pleased and what he desires from us, and therefore what constitutes a reliable source of divine revelation, which leads to scripture alone.

The problem with questions of the form, "Why didn't God X" is that all of them are speculative. Unless God tells us his motivations, we don't know them and we would be fools to guess or to think that we can draw conclusions from them. There are boundless examples of things that we would think God would have done or not done if he really is this way or that, but those are not the ways that he did it.

Nevertheless, the reformers did not think they lacked a biblical basis for their sola scriptura beliefs. They didn't require explicit biblical statements to draw theological conclusions from the content of the Bible.

  • 1
    Thanks. I am aware of the speculative nature of the question. But the speculative nature of any question does not preclude it to be addressed by theology, as far as I understand.
    – luchonacho
    Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 9:17

This article is an example of a Catholic Apologetic argument against the truthfulness of Sola Scriptura (abbreviated SS).


It sets up a logic trap:

  1. Assume SS is true

  2. SS asserts itself to be more important than all church tradition

  3. SS is not in the Bible (otherwise Protestants could point to it)

  4. SS is not logically derivable from truths in the Bible

  5. Therefore SS is an extra-Biblical doctrine

  6. SS denies that any extra-Biblical doctrines are essential for salvation

  7. SS is not essential for salvation

  8. Therefore SS is not true

I have a few problems with the logic.

A) Does SS assert that it is necessary for salvation?

B) Does SS assert that all useful truths of God are either in the Bible or deducible from it?

According to Gödel's incompleteness theorems, in any sufficiently complex mathematical system whose axioms are consistent, there are undecidable propositions. That is, one can phrase statements in that system that are true (or false) that can neither be proven nor disproven.

This leaves us with the situation that God may reveal to both Protestants and Catholics ideas that are true and useful yet are neither contained in Scripture nor essential for salvation. Thus it is possible that belief in SS is true and useful but not required.

Why would God leave out such a truth with such significant ramifications for the historical development of the church?

Scripture has numerous places where people are told that answers to certain questions would not be given to mankind.

  1. Jesus said that the time of his return was known only to the Father. That is a pretty significant piece of information! Many people, falsely believing that Christ was about to return, have done foolish things.

  2. John was told to seal up what the seven thunders said (in Revelation).

  3. Daniel was told to seal up some of his prophecies until the time of the end. I assume that means to encrypt them by using figurative language or altering the order of some events.

It is clear that the Catholic Church and the Protestant Churches are on different trajectories. One can be right and the other wrong. Both can be partly wrong about things. What is certain is that God has different roles for each church to play.

It reminds me of the change in computer chip architectures a few decades ago. For years, each chip had more instructions than the last. This had advantages and disadvantages. Some researchers decided to buck the trend and create chips with fewer insructions (RISC: Reduced Instruction Set Chip), hoping that they would be able to design them faster, make them execute faster, more reliable and better combine them into parallel architectures. Maybe the Protestant Church is a RISC God decided to take? Fewer traditions, easier to change direction during rapidly changing times. Not necessarily having more truths or better truths, just more maneuverable.

In the physical world, there are basic laws and lots of stuff. The laws we can't change, but within them, by our creativity we can create many marvelous things from that stuff. Those things aren't necessary, but they are useful. God is creative in building His church. God is beyond necessity. He can create things just for the joy of making things. He did it with all the species of animals; he does it with beasts (kingdoms: Job 40 and 41, God delights in Behemoth and Leviathan). Why not the church, too?

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