As a Protestant who really tries to abide by the sola scriptura principle to subject my understanding of God, His works, and His relation to us under the accepted Protestant canon, I am bewildered on how to choose the "correct" interpretation of key Bible verses relating to competing understanding of key doctrines necessary for my "walk in the spirit" such as Trinity, dual nature of Christ, Original Sin, baptism, justification, union with Christ, sacrament, spiritual gifts, etc.

There seems to be many legitimate options, leading to several Protestant theologies on offer, all of which adopt sola scriptura : Reformed, Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist, Pentecostal, etc. but each theology seems to be evolving. While a particular theology can then gives me a responsible interpretation that leads into a certain position I can then adopt of baptism, sacrament, etc, and while sola scriptura correctly subjects these theologies under scriptural authority, there remains the problem of choosing which theology to use for an individual Christian.

Some key doctrines like the Trinity and the dual nature of Christ seem to require me to trust in the judgment of early councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon to favor one particular interpretation of Bible verses related to God and Jesus. While Kenneth Collins and Jerry Walls in their book Roman but Not Catholic offers a way for sola scriptura proponents to coherently accept the binding authority of those early councils (because nearly all Christians accept them), there remains the problem of choosing post Reformation councils / confession document to trust. Should I go with a Reformed church which adopts Westminster Confession of Faith, or with an Anglican church which adopts the 39 articles, or with a Lutheran church which adopts the Augsburg Confession, or with a Methodist church which adopts the United Methodist Confession of Faith?

In an answer to a related question we read (emphasis mine):

Sola scriptura says there is no guarantee that any doctrine of the church is certain; the only mark of divine certainty is on the scriptures. So our relationship to the scriptures is one of an ongoing project of investigation guided by the spirit's insights. As God guides us we may collectively decide that some things which were believed in the past, although they do not directly contradict the scriptures, are weaker exegetically and have unfortunate theological implications compared to alternative interpretations. And just as we have a measure of skepticism towards earlier generations' traditions and interpretations, so future generations will judge that some of our interpretations and theological theories are unjustifiable as God continues to guide them.

It seems to me that at the end of the day, as a sola scriptura believer I only have myself to rely on, combined with:

  • the assistance of Holy Spirit in my heart,
  • the binding authority of those early ecumenical councils
  • several peers that I trust, that they're engaged in the same project as myself, to collaboratively understand God and his scriptures under the Spirit's guidance

With the above guidance, am I then free to choose a theologian I trust and enlist him/her as one of my peers to help me in my "project of investigation" to choose a responsible interpretation of key Bible verses by reading his/her commentary / book and knowing as much as I can about his/her life as a Christian, and THEN use that guidance to select a church to attend? Is that the correct procedure? It still sounds lonely to me, or do the followers of those "peer theologians" (such as CS Lewis) count as a collective so my position is not solitary?

Is this the best that sola scriptura can offer, and that means I have to keep a lingering doubt in the back of my mind about my currently chosen position on doctrines that the Protestant churches have differences on? It feels like standing on shifting tectonic plates waiting for an earthquake to happen.

So the complete question is: How do proponents of Sola Scriptura choose the "correct" interpretation of key Bible verses to adopt for one's faith life when many responsible exegesis in different faith traditions lead to different interpretations?

Real life significance of this question

As a Christian we can speculate all day long and thus risk "living in an ivory tower", but the rubber really meets the road when that Christian is married to a spouse that holds the same sola scriptura position and but are unable to come to an agreement because they do their own "project of investigation", enlist different "peers" and then strongly decide to go to a different church of a different tradition.

For example, one wants to go to a Pentecostal church (with "memorial" understanding of eucharist and double adult baptism, the 2nd one for filling), but the other wants to go to an Anglican church (with "means of grace" understanding of eucharist and infant baptism). Not only about church attendance, how are they supposed to baptize their children? I have seen in some couples that this happens and this became an element in their divorce.

Are we supposed to consider this as a defect in both of their faiths? In this situation, should a couple who are persuaded to different faith traditions (each claim to have Holy Spirit backing) subject themselves to sola scriptura and attempt a compromise? What does this compromise look like since the couple cannot appeal to the Holy Spirit anymore for common ground? Ideally the couple should be "peers" to each other, but what if they cannot even agree on a single external "peer" to include in their "project of investigation"?

A high profile real life example of a compromise is that of Prof. Francis Beckwith who resigned as President of the Evangelical Theological Society to avoid a conflict of interest because he wanted to return to the Catholic Church. He has been "Catholic friendly" but the catalyst was when his nephew asked if he could be his sponsor when he receives the sacrament of Confirmation, which requires the sponsor to have a good standing in the Catholic Church. (read the full story here). He was baptized Catholic, but apparently joined his wife's Presbyterian church after marriage. Subsequent to his returning to the Catholic Church, his wife underwent RCIA to become Catholic as well.

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    We must first consider that the bible interprets itself. An ambiguous or oddly worded verse doesn't need complex theological constructs - it needs other verses. Having in mind as a foundation, "the binding authority of those early ecumenical councils" is asking for trouble and confusion. Secondly we also consider that Jesus warned that 'the many' would not find 'the way' - so there is no safety or surety in what the masses believe, none. Power, influence and wealth do not lead to the truth. But excellent Q!
    – steveowen
    Jul 1, 2021 at 22:51
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    @user47952 "there is no safety or surety in what the masses believe, none." Worth repeating. Truth is not a popularity contest. Jul 1, 2021 at 22:53
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    The answer is . . . . . . Timothy and Titus. The pastoral epistles tell us that Jesus Christ, himself, will send Ministers to preach and teach (to the whole Church not just to individual congregations). And these Ministers will look to the Apostles directly for their doctrine. Without the Christian Ministry, the Church is, as you describe it, leaderless and compromised. (Up-voted +1.)
    – Nigel J
    Jul 2, 2021 at 5:35
  • You must be born again. Only the HS can interpret what God has written. The believer judges all things because of this. What, when, and how we understand is not our call. Trust Him. If what you understand does not promote love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance then you don't have it quite right yet. Jul 2, 2021 at 11:50

7 Answers 7


This will just be a relatively brief answer sorry.

It seems to me that at the end of the day, as a sola scriptura believer I only have myself to rely on, combined with:

  • the assistance of Holy Spirit in my heart,
  • the binding authority of those early ecumenical councils
  • several peers that I trust, that they're engaged in the same project as myself, to collaboratively understand God and his scriptures under the Spirit's guidance

Don't be dismissive of these, they are actually huge, you don't "only" have these, these are all you need! Especially the indwelling Spirit who guides us to understanding.

So on to my answer.

The first thing I'd point out is that the doctrine of sola scriptura must be paired with the doctrine of the Clarity of Scripture. Much of theology and much of the teachings of the Bible are so clear that everyone can understand them. Not necessarily instantly, without thought, but also without great difficulty. All of the great principles of theology are included in the Clarity of Scripture:

  • the power of God as creator and sustainer of the world
  • the boundless love of God
  • the seriousness of sin
  • the justice of God
  • the divinity of Jesus
  • the death and resurrection of Jesus
  • the forgiveness of sins we receive in the Gospel
  • the indwelling Spirit who unites us to Christ and each other
  • the ongoing work of God to transform us to be like his son
  • the promise of Christ's return
  • our certain hope of resurrection, freedom from sin, and a remade universe

We use the history of the church to reassure us that we have actually correctly understood these things. This is not to say that any of these doctrines are guaranteed to be correct, but that we can have great confidence we are reading the scriptures correctly when we see these things being taught. We gain confidence when we see our basic understanding of the scriptures being taught by the church in every age, and when we see the fundamental doctrines of the church being clearly taught in the scriptures. When both of these happen we know that we are following the guidance of the Spirit.

The second great principle is that of the dual authorship of the scriptures. Alongside all of the human authors of the Bible is God, who authored it all, and inspired the human authors to tell the message he wanted told. So even though there are many diverse human authors, the one author God means that the Bible tells one great message, and is not a confused collection of disparate texts. If this is true, then although there are juxtapositions in the scriptures, there won't be true contradictions. This leads to the principle of interpretation that the Bible interprets itself. We use the clearer passages to understand those that are less clear.

Is this the best that sola scriptura can offer, and that means I have to keep a lingering doubt in the back of my mind about my currently chosen position on doctrines that the Protestant churches have differences on? It feels like standing on shifting tectonic plates waiting for an earthquake to happen.

To use your metaphor, no, we shouldn't feel afraid of oncoming earthquakes. The doctrine of the clarity of scriptures means that we are safe from shifting tectonic plates. And because scripture interprets scripture, we do not even need to fear minor tremors. Yes we still have questions, we still see ambiguities in the scriptures, but they are small. When we build our house on these foundations we neither fear the foundations shifting from under us, nor do we fear the winds and rains of uncertainties, for the strength of the foundations gives strength to our house.

Though they may be small, this does still leave thousands of questions in the scriptures, and dozens of significant questions in our theology. This is where sola scriptura shines: though the doctrine means there is no human authority who tells us what to think, it does mean that we're all in it together. We don't all need to be experts in reading the Biblical languages, or experts in church history, or experts in theology, or experts in other Christian denominations. We welcome the diverse gifts and expertise of the church as we share our understandings together.

So lets take infant baptism as an important issue, one with absolutely no consensus within Protestantism, and one which has been written about so much. For the Protestant, the "peers" in understanding are not just those who share their position on infant baptism, but are all Protestants who share the goal of collectively understanding the scriptures (and any non-Protestant Christians who do too). So we read the arguments from both sides, ideally from authors who can not only put forward their side really well, but who truly understand the other side too, and could explain it in a way that the other side would approve of. We'll read arguments that delve into the scriptures, some that look at church history, some that try to answer the question from a bigger picture of the purpose and work of the church. We'll read about Covenant Theology, Dispensationalism, and more. We'll read explanations that focus on the individual's responsibility to have faith, and other explanations that focus on the family as a unit of Christianity. And hopefully, after reading both sides, one side will feel more persuasive and compelling than the other, and for now, that's the position we'll take. But in future years we may read something that persuades us the other side of the infant baptism debate is more right, and that's okay.

Finally, we must have humility, and reasonable expectations of the certainty which we will reach, namely that we won't. Outside of the fundamentals of faith, outside of those things God taught with clarity, there will be a lot of questions that we can't answer. There will be many passages we won't understand. We will reach doctrinal positions we think are likely, but that we can't prove.

Our certainty of the foundations of faith should be like our certainty in the existence of gravity or in the roundness of the earth. But we don't seek that level of certainty outside the foundations. Instead we seek a level of confidence that lets us continue in Christian living and ministry without constantly doubting ourselves, but that, should we come across a new compelling argument, we would be willing to reconsider. Instead of the certainty we have for many scientific facts, we should hold to these doctrines more like we hold to our political positions. Are unions good or bad for the economy? Should banks be more or less regulated? Do electric vehicles need subsidies, should petrol vehicles be taxed more, or should the government treat them equally? Does affirmative action help or not? Some of us have strong opinions on these questions, some of us don't, but all of us should recognise that they're questions that we can only have relative confidence in, not complete certainty. Likewise, when it comes to doctrines on baptism, spiritual gifts, church leadership, strategies for fighting sin, apologetic approaches, and more, we're looking just for confidence, not certainty.

So join me in this great project of exploring and uncovering the truths of the scriptures, as we weigh up what everyone teaches. Remember that we're in good company - even Peter found some of what Paul wrote hard to understand.

Acts 17:11 (NIV): Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

2 Peter 3:16 (NIV): He [Paul] writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

Chapter 1 of the Westminster Confession is a solid reference for definitions of the important doctrines covered in this post: the authority of scripture and witness of the Spirit, the clarity of scripture, scripture interpreting scripture, and sola scriptura.

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    "Confidence, not certainty", sufficient to overcome doubt. Very eloquent answer which gathers in one place all available means to build that confidence without relying on human authority: 1) the great principals through the doctrine of Clarity of Scripture, 2) observing church use of the doctrine in history, 3) God-given juxtaposition not contradiction, 4) peers exercising multiple gifts, not all need expertise just thoughtfulness, 5) true peers as ones who understand each side with approval from the other, 6) multifaceted consideration, 7) humility to reconsider position. Great answer! Jul 2, 2021 at 4:15
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    @GratefulDisciple Thank you! There is of course lots more depth I couldn't cover here. Two more books I haven't fully read yet are: on clarity, "A Clear and Present Word" by Mark Thompson, and on determining what the fundamentals are, "Finding the Right Hills to Die On" by Gavin Ortlund.
    – curiousdannii
    Jul 2, 2021 at 4:21
  • Very Nice!! +1. Oct 8, 2023 at 12:06

Despite the best answer having been chosen, I feel constrained to add three points in the Bible itself, addressed to Christians.

First of all, Protestantism is not a free-for-all, with each Protestant free to do his or her own thing, based on his or her own conclusions about the 'correct' interpretation of any Bible verses. Tragically, this is what it seems to be degenerating into in some quarters, due to forgetting these three Bible points.

  1. Acts 2:42 - "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers."

  2. Jude vss. 3-4 - "Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ."

  3. 2 Cor. 11:2-4 - "For I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, you might well bear with him... For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themseleves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel, for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works."

Only when Christians take their eyes off following their Lord by looking to what other men (or women) say about their Lord will confusion arise. Christians are told to stick to the first century apostolic teaching, all of which is in the scriptures. The 'simplicity' of what was taught back then was not simple teaching. James points out that the apostle Paul taught "some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction" (2 Peter 3:16). The "simplicity that is in Christ" is the one, sure means of not being lured away from following him due to attraction to the teaching of others, who claim to be able to explain to us what this, that, and the next biblical point means. Christians simply follow Christ; not this man, or that woman, or this denomination, or that creed.

Time and again we hear of Christian teachers and leaders being exposed as sexual predators, or of secretly indulging in pornography, or stealing large sums of money from their ministries, or of being two-faced (lovely people in public, but monsters in their own households). Some were so practiced in their hypocrisy, it was not discovered until after they had died. Others committed suicide when their duplicitous way of life was discovered. In this day and age, Christians have seen time and again the danger of being so enamoured of any individual's teaching or ministry that they start following them. Yet that is what is happening on a massive scale!

What on earth happened so as to make us forget to "lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith"? (Hebrews 12:1-2) That is the simplicity that is in Christ.

Oh, but in this era of cult personality, and super-stars, and 'heroes', our eyes are attracted all over the place to this, that and the next person on a podium, when we should be looking only to Jesus, listening only to the first-century apostolic teaching, and saturating ourselves in scripture reading so that we are crystal-clear as to the biblical gospel, and the biblical Christ. He is the only foundation upon which Christians can stand - all other ground is sinking sand.

Proponents of Jesus Christ see and follow him alone (Sola Christos) which is entirely a sound Sola Scriptura principle. Keep that basic principle to the fore, and all the other problems you mentions should not trip you up.

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    The empirical reality is that there are multiple credible denominations to choose from (i.e. with Godly leaders, proven track record, and sound teaching). But thank you for reminding us of the 3 fundamental criteria to evaluate the choices before considering everything else (such as historical and exegetical research) : 1) Basis of teaching: Apostolic fidelity; 2) Beware of duplicitous leaders shifting the center to other than following only Christ; 3) Beware of false gospel and persuasive false apostles (with Satan behind them), instead we need the simple gospel of Christ. Jul 7, 2021 at 18:04
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    Maybe it's just me, but on reading your answer, it would seem prudent to ask why we have so many devotees to a trinity if they followed your 3 points. The Apostles never taught it, let alone believed it. And then, 'another gospel, which ye have not accepted, -For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, false apostles of Christ', pretty much nails it!
    – steveowen
    Jul 8, 2021 at 5:58
  • @ user47952 You are of the opinion that the Apostles never believed in a triune God. Were that so, we might expect a far high standard of Christianity over the centuries with leaders of non-trinitarian groups, but that is not the case. Gross immorality, dishonesty and manipulation of members goes on with them, so you are wrong to try to highlight the trinity doctrine as some kind of identification of false apostles etc.
    – Anne
    Jul 8, 2021 at 14:11
  • @Anne don’t know why you raised those matters - they are common to humanity. The subject was about doctrinal basis. Your points about ‘first-century apostolic teaching’, and ‘the biblical Christ’ are not in harmony with traditional dogma which has ignored and replaced such true foundations.
    – steveowen
    Jul 8, 2021 at 21:38

Study the original text

Learning Hebrew and ancient Greek would be ideal. (It is often expected that serious scholars, including priests/pastors, will do so.) Failing that, familiarize yourself with "literal" translations and tools such as Biblical-language dictionaries and concordances that will help you understand how potentially-confusing words are used elsewhere in scripture.

Scripture interprets scripture

Don't rely on trying to understand a single verse in isolation. Being familiar with the whole of scripture will help you to more naturally intuit what you read. When a particular verse troubles you, look around for other verses speaking on similar topics. Again, various tools such as study bibles and topical indices may be helpful.

Ask "experts"

While the above is definitely the best approach, it usually won't hurt to read what others have written, or to ask "subject matter experts". For example, you could ask here or on Hermeneutics.SE if a particular verse is perplexing you.

Ultimately, most people are not going to go to great lengths to do their own analysis; they are going to tend to lean on "experts" of a denomination familiar to them. The above is more a guide how to proceed if you either lack a church organization which you are predisposed to trust, or if, for whatever reason, your previously-existing trust is called into question.

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    Two input: 1) this is not feasible for Christians that don't go to seminary. Self-study is of course possible, but I have seen many led astray by partial expertise in Greek & Hebrew. 2) Even after filtering theologies constructed by the above principles we have the empirical evidence that they have some differences, and they all use scripture to interpret scripture. So how then to choose which "expert" to go to, when empirically there is no consensus? Jul 1, 2021 at 18:13
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    @Matthew Many people who do the things you recommend here come to different conclusions on all sorts of topics. What reason would one have to believe doing that oneself would get the correct answer? Jul 1, 2021 at 18:27
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    @RayButterworth We're talking about interpretations of verses informing different doctrines. When looking at various denominations, you usually have well-informed, smart experts who come to different conclusions. They do so for reasons that are often difficult to adjudicate. When looking at the difference between major denominations, I don't think much is going to be obvious. Jul 1, 2021 at 20:20
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    It's dangerous to think you know enough to read other languages well, even after going to a Bible college. Four years is not enough, you need more like forty. Instead of trusting in your own faulty language skills, use multiple fluent translations (if possible, not all languages are as blessed with an oversupply of translations as English is.) Use multiple commentators. Accept the limitations of your own skills, as well as the limitations in others, and so consult many experts, of all kinds.
    – curiousdannii
    Jul 2, 2021 at 4:00
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    @Matthew I wouldn't say you should never investigate the original language texts yourself, just that even after a 4 year degree we need to be humble enough to recognise that we won't be fluent. And even if we think we have found the answers to our questions by consulting the original languages, we should still confirm those answers by checking with other translations, commentaries, etc.
    – curiousdannii
    Jul 3, 2021 at 0:11

You ask a good question—a really good one.

Let me start out with a question: What does "sola scriptura" mean?

Please bear with me for a moment as I get a little nit-picky. The three solā's are in the ablative case (in latin). They are tools, or instruments, or, to use the old Philosophical terminology, causes:

  • Solā Gratiā: "By grace alone": The only motivation God would have to choose and save us is out of his undeserved love for us undeserving sinners.
  • Solā Scripturā: "By scripture alone": The only instrument or tool that God uses to give forgiveness to us is his word.
  • Solā Fide:. "by faith alone": The only instrument that passively receives this gift of salvation is faith.

The reason I mention this is that, already, out of the gate, the definition of "sola scriptura" has strayed to a different place than where it was hundreds of years ago among the reformers. Now it just, in an abstract way, in some circles, means: "Only God's word is true."

And now I can talk about the point of listing the three solas: How would you know this unless you had someone to teach you? You are off to a really good start. But you will have limited progress until you are able to sit down and be taught by someone who is faithful and competent to teach. As the Ethiopian Eunuch said:

“<30> Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. <31> “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.” (Acts 8:30–31 NIV11-GKE)

How then do you find that guy to teach you like the Ethiopian yearned to find? Here is my advice, for what it might be worth:

  • Find someone trained in the Original languages. So much damage comes from those who are not trained well. We wouldn't let a nurse's aid do brain surgery. Yet, there are many who truly don't know how language works, let alone the Biblical languages. And yet people entrust their souls in their care.
  • Look for a church body (not just an individual congregation) that has a record for thoroughly vetting prospective pastors and training them over the span of long years before they become pastors. Isolated, individual congregations have very little ability to train future pastors who are competent. And individual congregations have a repeated track-record of not being to hold their pastors accountable when their pastors err (in either doctrine or practice)
  • Find a church that has a church year in place that seeks to preach "the whole will of God (Acts 20:27)". Too many churches focus on only a few, favorite sins, or even worse, the sins of those outside their congregation, or even worse still, the sins of joining an un-preferred political party. True churches expose a myriad of sins, since the scriptures do.
  • Find a church that preaches the whole will of God. This is the other part of that task: A faithful church and pastor within that church will go out of his way to, unceasingly, and compassionately, in a myriad of different ways, show each of us how much Jesus cares for them and has paid for their sins. As an example of what to look for and what not to look for, I recommend watching this video: “The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church”. In the video, Dr. Rosenblatt does an amazing job of showing what happens when a pastor is either poorly trained, or misguided, and what to look for, both when you read God's word alone and also when you show up to church.

Please, let me say that I realize that I'm not answering all of your questions. And, I'm deliberately not answering all your questions. And the reason why is that I'm wondering if you're putting the cart before the horse. There is some use to reading the confessional statements of church bodies. But there's a reason why John says, “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1 NIV-GK). There's a reason why Jesus says, “Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matt. 7:20 NIV-GK). You can do some homework ahead of time. But, it's best to sit down and talk to the pastor and test him based on what God's word says. But the reason I have listed the bullet points above is to give a pathway to chip away at that goal. It's not a 'to-do' list.

Finally, in full humility and honesty, let me also say that in all of what I have written here, I'm very and unabashedly biased. And as people have walked through classes to learn about my church, there has been this spiritual barnacle-scraping that takes place. It's uncomfortable to be taught one thing, in some cases, for decades, and then have a new guy say, "that's not how the Bible speaks." But, looking back, I was ever-so thankful to spend the long months teaching them. For slowly, over the long span of time, they learned to trust God's word. And as they learned to trust God's word, the doubt that comes along with being a sinner/saint stayed. But the doubt in figuring out what God's word said and meant slowly faded away.

May our good and gracious Lord bless you in your efforts.


First, we need to understand what sola scriptura is and is not. It is the belief that the Bible contains all that is necessary for salvific purposes, that the Bible is the sole infallible source of authority for Christian faith and practice.

Second, we need to clear up two misconceptions.

The first misconception is the assumption that it grew out from the Reformation that it was a reaction to the perception that the Roman Catholic Church had far exceeded what the Bible and apostles had revealed about Christian faith and practice. If a religion posits something it says is necessary for your salvation, but that it is not clear from the bible, then it may be rejected as unauthoritative regardless of who says it.

Instead, this belief has been around from the beginning of the Christian era. Irenaeus calls the Bible the ground and pillar of our faith.

  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. Against Heresies Book III Chapter 1

The second misconception is the idea that only Protestants must deal with the question. The OP question about a Protestant interpreting the bible, but this is exactly the same as one might ask about interpreting Tradition (capitalized). After all, Catholic and Orthodox do not understand the same Tradition, although both claim it. The well-known filioque question is an example and there are many others, not the least of which is the Pope’s claimed authority.

It is a good, difficult question to answer. We all, of course, believe our interpretation of the Bible and Tradition are accurate. Is there anything that might help in our pursuit?

With that understanding in mind, the natural question would arise, how does one choose the correct interpretation of the Bible?

The answer is to recognize that sola scriptura still relies on Christian history, tradition, the church, the councils, and even your pastor. But sola scriptura asserts that all of those things are subject to the Bible.

Let’s look first at some easy examples of this in action.

Should your pope, priest, or pastor assert that Jesus was a man only, that there was a time when He was not, that He is created, you know that is false based on history, tradition, and the church, of which those things are based on the Bible.

And we know that the Son of God [Jesus Christ] is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life. 1 John 5:20

Should your pope, priest, or pastor assert that the mother Mary must be worshipped as a god in order for you to be saved, you know that is false based on history, tradition, and the church, of which those things are based on the Bible.

For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God: Exo 34:14

What of some other harder questions? How do we know?

What of baptism? Is it for babies or for those who choose? Can one be saved apart from water baptism?

The answers would be found like the other questions. The answer would be based on history, tradition, and the church, of which those things are and must be based on the Bible, else man’s opinion is substituted. It would not be based on “just so” answers of a presumed or even duly elected authority.

For example, there is Justin Martyr writing about the children of ignorance at their birth and the children of choice and knowledge. He cites the apostolic biblical teaching. See here.

As well, it helps to understand the motives behind certain doctrines. Is it for power, prestige, the pocketbook that some teach certain ideas that do not source to the Bible?

Further, like the ancients, one may ask when a doctrine is first espoused. Does it source to apostles or to those who claim to have a physical lineage of sorts to apostles? Like Irenaeus, we may reject those doctrines that came after the apostolic age.

What of communion? Is it a represented sacrifice or a memorial? Does it require a duly constituted priest or may any believer offer? Again, the answers would be based on Christian history, like from the earliest commentators who wrote within the first 200 years of Christ walking the earth. These would also cite the Bible as their authority. Paul speaks to brethren about communion, not to a separate class of priests.

Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you. For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: 1 Cor 11:2, 23

God wants a relationship with you directly. He is not offended by questions.

On the real-life example of a high profile married couple shifting churches, it doesn’t appear to be about sola scriptura as it was more about keeping the familial peace.

On the general divorce issue of different faiths marrying, this too doesn’t appear to be about sola scriptura, of finding true doctrine, as it was about unresolved conflict that married anyway. Generally speaking, however, if your spouse says the Holy Spirit said this and confirmed it by Scripture, then what will you do? People attend church for all types of reasons.

So, no, the believer wondering about the “correct” interpretation of Scripture, does not rely solely on self, but rather, on the Holy Spirit, on the church, on tradition, on councils, and on early Christian writers. All of whom relied on the Bible.

It’s like a string of pearls where the string is the Bible and the pearls are the church, tradition, councils, early Christian writers and the clasp keeping it all together is the Holy Spirit.

And frankly, this is what the Reformation was all about. Scripture is the sole authority from which to draw doctrine. This is what they did and from where the church had begun before, over the decades, descending into power struggles, prestige machinations, and pocketbook desires.

  • Relegating the Bible as the string and the imaginative ideas as the pearls highlights the basis on which the culprits have altered and corrupted the original pearls of truth provided to replace with their inferior and fake pearls to misguide the gullible masses.
    – steveowen
    Dec 23, 2022 at 21:08
  • "you know that is false based on history, tradition, and the church, of which those things are based on the Bible" Proceeds to quote translation from ambiguous passage. Perhaps it's more accurate to say you think this. How do you know your assessment of this particular passage is the correct one? This just highlights the problem the OP is calling attention to. Dec 23, 2022 at 22:07
  • @steveowen all metaphors fail at some point. Some may claim the Bible is the pearls and the string the teaching authority. But for SS, it is the Bible that supports the truth that may be found from early Christian writers, tradition, councils, etc. Pick and choose that which sources to the original.
    – SLM
    Dec 23, 2022 at 23:06
  • @OneGodtheFather yes, the OP has asked an interesting, difficult question, but it is not a sole endeavor to determine truth. We do have resources (councils, arguments from early writers, etc), but each would find its authority of assertion XYZ from the Bible. Which Council says in my duly ordained opinion? As well, there is a core Christian belief that sources to the Bible. The other so-called salvific doctrines do not rely on SS. Does this make them true? Not to SS. See the quote from Irenaeus above. He understood.
    – SLM
    Dec 23, 2022 at 23:12

Some key doctrines like the Trinity and the dual nature of Christ seem to require me to trust in the judgment of early councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon to favor one particular interpretation of Bible verses related to God and Jesus.

1- the assistance of Holy Spirit in my heart,

2- the binding authority of those early ecumenical councils

3- several peers that I trust, that they're engaged in the same project as myself, to collaboratively understand God and his scriptures under the Spirit's guidance

We'll look at each of these points, but consider that there is no mandate for majority rules. There is no reason to think/believe that any one of the wildly varying organised groups has it right. There is no Biblical precedent for safety in numbers.

  • Noah - saved alone with his family and the 'whole earth' perished.
  • Jesus - the Pharisees were wrong, the whole system was outdated.
  • Abraham - alone, chosen to start a new paradigm which will eventually replace all other systems and beliefs.
  • The prophets were also 'alone' working to call back all the wayward people to God.
  • The Apostles were dedicated to opposing wrong-headed notions among God's people.
  • The indication from Revelations is that only 'a few' will be among the firstfruits.

Thus, the 'key doctrines' may well be consigned to the majority that are not privy to the truth God has provided. While He has provided the absolute truth and it is plainly visible and coherent, many have been misled to untruth having been deceived to accept the 'doctrines of men'.

And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men. Matt 15:9

The 'Trinity and the dual nature of Christ', are such doctrines of men - being plainly not only unBiblical, but also widely refuted by a simple reading of what God had provided.

Instead of relying on such apparent authorities, we could abandon these contrived ideas and search Scripture anew for the way to understand the difficult passages, believing quite firmly that Scripture can, does and should interpret Scripture. This approach taken by only a few, can then render such human doctrines totally redundant and shown to be errant constructs.

1 - the assistance of Holy Spirit in my heart. This is fine but it needs to be coupled with the Biblical record. Many wayward ideas have flourished under the mantra, 'the Spirit told me'. Additionally, the spirit would not countermand what Scripture expresses.

2 - trust in the judgment/binding authority of early councils

When these present a Jesus we are warned about, the obvious conclusion is that they have no credibility and should be summarily dismissed and distrusted completely! To trust in them is to invite deeper error and to move further away from the true source provided which speaks of a human Jesus who is not, and cannot be God, 'made like us in every respect' (Heb 2:17) and who is the 'firstborn of all creation' (Col 1). A multitude of counsellors are important, if only to compare with a simple reading of many passages. If they begin to deviate and get into complex and unBiblical ideas, then you are able to rule out such interpretations and favour those with greater authenticity.

3 - several peers that I trust. Also, a fine standard as fellowship is critical, but again the basis must be trust in the Biblical not the human.

How do proponents of Sola Scriptura choose the "correct" interpretation of a key Bible verse?

We allow God to interpret Himself - which he has done perfectly adequately and dismiss human self-appointed dispensers of ideas and theories not remotely support by the Bible unless one uses contrived readings of a few verses in isolation to support such constructs.

As noted earlier - there is no safety or surety in what the masses believe, none. There is every indication that the masses (organised religion) are wrong and not to be followed or trusted. God did not send Jesus to start a religion. He sent Jesus start a new chapter that would lead to the end of this age and that based on truth which only a few would be able to accept.

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. Matt 7:13


As a Christian we can speculate all day long...

Indeed, and many rely on the speculations of the church fathers who devised another way to understand God and His son which is not based on any firm Biblical evidence when the text is considered wholistically.

While it is extremely difficult to do, we must be willing to potentially abandon our most cherished beliefs and start over. Not starting with a presupposed anything inherited from anyone - no matter how esteemed. Reading the Bible through a lens or filter of human origin will not lead to the simple truth God has provided. Many of the key doctrines cherished by Christendom are not legitimately found in Scripture except by special readings done in isolation. And when salvation is officially framed around these alleged truths and the masses follow, one must hesitate and question the power and influence behind such mandated adherence God never said anything about.

  • 1
    "There is no Biblical precedent for safety in numbers." Agreed, when numbers are sought for safety's sake. Disagreed, when solitude is sought for same. (1 John 2:19). And if a person has come to a trinitarian understanding of God from the Scriptures without being led there by any councils or decrees ... Dec 22, 2022 at 13:39

I think it would help to try to explain more what 'sola scriptura' means. The Wikipedia article on sola scriptura, for ex., says "While the scriptures' meaning is mediated through many kinds of subordinate authority [...] sola scriptura in contrast rejects any infallible authority other than the Bible." Sola scriptura is really about telling the Magisterium to go jump in a lake when they claim infallibility.

I think Sola Scriptura can more usefully, therefore, be defined negatively. Sola Scriptura means to not ascribe infallible authority to any men. Outside of that, if something doesn't seem 'clear', it's not that important, and you do the best you can using all sorts of tools to figure out what, exactly, is clear.

To be continued ...

  • 1
    Looking forward for your continuation. Just a reminder that sola scriptura is a historic Reformation doctrine which in the past 100 years have been "hijacked" to mean a lot different. Other fallacies: 1) equate Scripture with the person / community doing the interpretation and 2) ignore the presuppositions that one bring to the interpretation (Roger Olson's comment is highly revealing that some of them are in fact Thomas Reid's Common Sense Realism and Francis Bacon's inductive method in epistemology). I hope your answer will clarify the distinction well. Dec 22, 2022 at 15:33

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