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Prima scriptura is the Christian doctrine that canonized scripture is "first" or "above all" other sources of divine revelation. Implicitly, this view suggests that, besides canonical scripture, there can be other guides for what a believer should believe and how they should live, such as the Holy Spirit, created order, traditions, charismatic gifts, mystical insight, angelic visitations, conscience, common sense, the views of experts, the spirit of the times or something else. Prima scriptura suggests that ways of knowing or understanding God and his will that do not originate from canonized scripture are perhaps helpful in interpreting that scripture, but testable by the canon and correctable by it, if they seem to contradict the scriptures.

Contrast with sola scriptura

Prima scriptura is sometimes contrasted to sola scriptura, which literally translates "by the scripture alone". The former doctrine as understood by many Protestants—particularly Evangelicals—is that the Scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith and practice, but that the Scriptures' meaning can be mediated through many kinds of secondary authority, such as the ordinary teaching offices of the Church, antiquity, the councils of the Christian Church, reason, and experience.

However, sola scriptura rejects any original infallible authority other than the Bible. In this view, all secondary authority is derived from the authority of the Scriptures and is therefore subject to reform when compared to the teaching of the Bible. Church councils, preachers, Bible commentators, private revelation, or even a message allegedly from an angel are not an original authority alongside the Bible in the sola scriptura approach.

(source)

What is the biblical basis for Prima scriptura?


Closely related: What is the Biblical Basis for Sola Scriptura?

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    @curiousdannii - wait, are you saying that Sola Scriptura and Prima Scriptura are the same thing?
    – user50422
    Feb 7, 2022 at 1:22
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    Yes, they're pretty much the same thing. See this question. Prima scriptura is clearer, and sola scriptura is frequently misunderstood, but as far as I can tell they're identical.
    – curiousdannii
    Feb 7, 2022 at 1:25
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    @SpiritRealmInvestigator That answer is incorrect IMO. Continuationism is perfectly compatible with sola scriptura. See this answer of mine.
    – curiousdannii
    Feb 7, 2022 at 1:29
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    No, they are not the same. Prima, as you say, implies other (lesser) authorities. Sola implies no other authorities.
    – Nigel J
    Feb 7, 2022 at 9:53
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    +1. No they are not the same @curiousdannii they are similar in nature, but definitely not the same. I'd defer to Nigel's comment on that.
    – Luke Hill
    Feb 7, 2022 at 17:44

2 Answers 2

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What is the Biblical Basis for Prima Scriptura?

First of all, before going on in any detail, I would simply like to define what could possibly be understood as prima or as we say in English primary.

Primary

Adjective

  • first or highest in rank or importance; chief; principal: his primary goals in life.

  • first in order in any series, sequence, etc.

  • first in time; earliest; primitive.

Since prima scriptura is seen as Christian doctrine that all canonized Scripture is "first" or "above all" other sources of divine revelation, we should look for a biblical basis for this definition.

It should be noted that Scriptures were placed on the highest of values, even as Our Lord was tempted in the desert by Satan. Man should live by every word that come from the mouth of God. The word of God here directly implies the Sacred Scriptures.

Jesus valued Scriptural food more important than physical food, spiritually speaking. Food feeds our earthly needs, but the Scriptures feed our souls and aids in developing a closer union with God.

4 Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.

2 And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred.

3 And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.

4 But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. - Matthew 4:1-4

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. - Deuteronomy 8:3 (ESV)

God’s Word, the Scriptures, is life-giving and life-sustaining and thus met our primary spiritual needs.

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. - John 6:63 (ESV)

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. - Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. - 2 Timothy 3:16–17 (ESV)

Based on the above, Scripture is considered as the primary source of Christian theology, while tradition, experience and reason are resources that illuminate and enhance it.

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    If Prima Scriptura is used by Catholics, then this would indicate a difference in meaning: where Catholics see it as the prime source, Protestants see it as the prime authority. It's not incompatible for scripture to be the prime source of Christian knowledge while the Magisterium is the authoritative interpreter of scripture. Whereas Protestants would reject that strongly.
    – curiousdannii
    Feb 7, 2022 at 3:13
  • @curiousdannii Prima Scriptura is used by Catholics, but rarely. I doubt an online source may be found. Notwithstanding, this is a general reasonable answer and not a Catholic framed response. Catholics would view prime authority more to be the first authority in the context of time. Obvious the Old Testament writings were of a prima (first) source used by the Church. Notwithstanding, I will continue to dig into more sources.
    – Ken Graham
    Feb 7, 2022 at 3:21
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Shifting meaning of sola scriptura

As with most key concepts that survive for centuries (along with the terms that label them), it is very important to keep in mind that a label's meaning shifts over time, driven by how communities that use them intend to use it for teaching, slogan, or identity. Example from politics: according to The Atlantic 2014 article The Origin of 'Liberalism', when Adam Smith used the word "liberal" in the political sense in his 1776 classic book The Wealth of Nations, it meant a political system which is free of government intervention, which in the United States is represented today by the "conservatives" such as the Republican Party while the word "liberal" in United States now means social liberalism represented by the Democratic Party.

Similarly, the slogan Sola Scriptura which the 16th century Martin Luther did mention ("solam scripturam regnare"), meant something else to the 13th century Thomas Aquinas ("quia sola canonica scriptura est regula fidei", Commentary on John 21) and probably meant something else to 3rd century Hippolytus ("There is, brethren, one God, the knowledge of whom we gain from the Holy Scriptures, and from no other source., Against Heresies 9).

However, many scholars (such as Keith Mathison in his book and paper) feel that in the late 20th century the concept of Sola Scriptura (as it's being used among Christians today) has degenerated into becoming "solo scriptura", divorced 100% from other legitimate authorities (like the early creeds and ecumenical councils), whose meaning is significantly different than what Luther has meant by sola scriptura in the 16th century. This recent development prompted the invention of the term Prima Scriptura in 1997 although the concept may have started with 18th century Wesley's Methodist Quadrilateral methodology to prioritize the 4 sources for theology: "chiefly scripture, along with tradition, reason, and Christian experience."

At least 4th century Augustine Actually (and Clearly) Affirmed Sola Scriptura in the 16th century Protestant sense based on research done by Gavin Ortlund in his recent two books published in 2019 and 2020) who explains in a 25 minute video, providing three Augustine quotes and one John Chrysostom quote that he guaranteed were not taken out of context after he first clarified many misunderstanding of sola scriptura by Catholics and Protestants alike.

But both prima and sola still mean that scripture has authority above tradition

The question for us today is which sola scriptura are we talking about? If we compare the 16th century meaning of sola scriptura and todays meaning of prima scriptura (which currently seems to be the same as 18th century Wesleyan Quadrilateral) the most important common factor is the Reformation principle that

Scripture is the only infallible rule for faith and practice.

Tradition has a place. Creeds and councils can be binding and authoritative. But all that is subsequent to Scripture is reformable in light of Scripture.

sola scriptura also does NOT mean the Bible is the only authority or the exclusive source of all theological knowledge (source: Justin Taylor's article mentioned above).

Furthermore, Justin Taylor explained "The Real Meaning of Sola Scriptura" in his 2020 article One Rule to Rule Them All, quoting from Robert Letham's 2019 Systematic Theology:

[There is a] false notion, held widely, that the slogan sola Scriptura means that the Bible is the only source for theology. . . .

The slogan itself, still less the reality to which it pointed, never meant that the Bible was the only source for theology. The dangers of such a position are most clearly seen in the Socinians, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and in the early Plymouth Brethren, who, in their first decade, recapitulated many of the heresies of the early church.

When the slogan [sola Scriptura, Scripture alone] was devised, it was never intended to exclude the tradition of the church.

and from analytic theologian Oliver Crisp 2009 God Incarnate: Explorations in Christology:

[First-Order Authority: Scripture: The Rule that Rules]

  1. Scripture is the norma normans ...

[Second-Order Authority: Ecumenical Creeds: Rules that Are Ruled]

  1. Catholic creeds, as defined by an ecumenical council of the Church, constitute a first tier of norma normata ...

[Third-Order Authority: Confessional Statements: Rules that Are Ruled]

  1. Confessional and conciliar statements of particular ecclesiastical bodies are a second tier of norma normata ...

[Doctrines from Theologians: Legitimate Theological Opinions]

  1. The particular doctrines espoused by theologians ...

... and thus share the same biblical basis

Rather than repeating the answer, please review the answers for the related question What is the Biblical Basis for Sola Scriptura?.

Notes

  1. A response to Ken Graham's answer: What Ken is offering is not how the term Prima Scriptura is used among Protestants, which the OP implied since he quoted from the wikipedia article Prima Scriptura. The wikipedia even says that for Roman Catholics there is "total equality of Scripture with Sacred Tradition", which Protestants still deny to this day. @curiousdannii's comment is worth preserving:

    If Prima Scriptura is used by Catholics, then this would indicate a difference in meaning: where Catholics see it as the prime source, Protestants see it as the prime authority. It's not incompatible for scriptura to be the prime source of Christian knowledge while the Magisterium is the authoritative interpreter of scripture. Whereas Protestants would reject that strongly

  2. A response to SpiritRealmInvestigator's comment about cessationist vs. continuationism implying that sola scriptura is cessationist while prima scriptura is allowing continuationism. The two debates are addressing different issues. Sola scriptura is set against the Catholic Church's claim that Tradition is on the same level with scriptures (as a source) and that the Magisterium is the authoritative interpreter of scripture. Continuationist allows valid prophesies today, but they also say (whether sola or prima doesn't matter) that scripture has higher authority than prophecies.

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  • Would you then say that Sola Scriptura is compatible with Continuationism? What do you think of this answer?
    – user50422
    Feb 7, 2022 at 21:20
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    @SpiritRealmInvestigator I agree with curiousdannii that the answer is incorrect, and that "Continuationism is perfectly compatible with sola scriptura". I also agree with curiousdannii's answer. Sola Scriptura is addressing which authority is higher, NOT to state that scripture is the only source. Sola Scriptura vs. Catholic understanding and cessationism vs. Continuationism are separate debates that shouldn't be mixed up. Feb 7, 2022 at 21:38

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