“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 – NASV)
There is another attack on the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, an attack which doesn’t seem to be as common as the previous arguments. But it is more of an attempt to address the “practical” side of the Sola Scriptura debate.
This article will only be “specific” in the sense that it is only about practical issues concerning Sola Scriptura. Within this framework we will touch on several different, but related, points:
ARGUMENT #7 – THE CONCEPT OF SOLA SCRIPTURA CANNOT BE TRUE BECAUSE IT WAS NOT PRACTICAL FOR THE EARLY CHURCH. FOR EXAMPLE, HOW COULD IT BE TRUE BEFORE THE INVENTION OF THE PRINTING PRESS IN THE 1400’S? FOR SOLA SCRIPTURA TO WORK BACK THEN, THERE HAD TO BE PLENTIFUL ACCESS TO SCRIPTURE - EVERYONE WOULD HAVE TO HAVE HAD THEIR OWN PERSONAL BIBLE. BUT VERY FEW COULD AFFORD TO OWN A BIBLE, AND MOST PEOPLE WERE ILLITERATE, ANYWAY. ALSO, IN THOSE DAYS, BECAUSE OF THE LONG DAYS OF HARD LABOR, EVEN IF THEY COULD READ, THEY DIDN’T HAVE TIME TO STUDY LIKE WE DO TODAY. FURTHERMORE, A LACK OF PROPER NUTRITION PREVENTED THEM FROM BEING ABLE TO PROPERLY STUDY GOD’S WORD. SO BECAUSE OF ALL THESE PRACTICAL REASONS, SOLA SCRIPTURA COULD NOT BE POSSIBLE.
All these are misrepresentations of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. Let us remember the simple definition of Sola Scriptura that we shared at the beginning of this series:
“Scripture is the only infallible Rule of Faith for the church today.”
With this definition in mind, one should recognize the fact that easy availability or mass distribution of Bibles has nothing to do with the truthfulness of Sola Scriptura. A person does not need to own a Bible in order for Sola Scriptura to be true. It is true whether he owns a Bible or not. Scripture can be the only infallible Rule of Faith even if only a few Bibles exist.
Literacy and education also have nothing to do with the truthfulness of Sola Scriptura. Scripture can be (and is) the Ultimate Authority, whether a person can read or not. And just because someone can’t read or write does not mean that he is stupid or that he has no comprehension skills. Even if illiterate, he may still easily memorize Bible verses and understand biblical concepts that he was taught by someone else. The learning and spreading of God’s Word was not prevented by illiteracy.
The fact that many in the early church were illiterate proves nothing. Just as they were taught their catechism by others, they could just as easily have learned the Scriptures from others. God is fully able and willing to reveal Himself to the lowly, the poor, and the uneducated (Matthew 11:25; 1 Corinthians 1:26-27; Acts 4:13; Proverbs 1:1-7; Psalm 119:130). But being illiterate does not demand that one should need an “infallible” Magisterium to teach him.
Concerning the people of the early church not having time, we all have 24 hours in every day. Anyone can take a Bible passage, ponder on it, and have discussions about it during the day while working. It is not just the mere reading of it that counts.
But to further demonstrate the absurdity of these arguments, let’s put them in simpler terms:
Imagine being at a baseball game and there was a dispute about the official rule book of baseball (i.e., its ultimate authority). What if someone said about this rule book:
- “This can’t be the ultimate authority because everyone in the stands and all the players don’t have a copy of it!”
- “This can’t be the ultimate authority because I can’t read!”
- “This can’t be the ultimate authority because I don’t have time to study it!”
- “This can’t be the ultimate authority because I haven’t eaten anything all week and my thinking is not up to par!”
These are all equally ridiculous reasons, but many Catholics (and others) resort to using these same arguments against Sola Scriptura. None of the above reasons stops the official rule book in baseball from being the ultimate authority for baseball. In the same way, these arguments cannot be applied against Sola Scriptura. Thus, the “Sola-Scriptura-doesn’t-work-because-it-is-impractical” argument is shown to be an empty one.