Some protestants try to prove that the practice of Scripture Alone was taught and practiced by the early church. What is interesting is that I have read some arguments that try to say “Initially the apostles taught orally, but with the close of the apostolic age, all special revelation that God wanted preserved for man was codified in the written Scriptures. Sola Scriptura is the teaching, founded on the Scriptures themselves, that there is only one special revelation from God that man possesses today, the written Scriptures or the Bible.” There is a big problem with this argument. The bible was NOT codified by the end of the apostolic era. In fact, it would not be codified for approximately 300 years after the death of the last apostle John.
The First Thing that is Needed to Know Truth… HUMILITY!
During my conversion in 2002, when I first received the grace of repentance and the Lord began guiding me to seek out His truth, I prayed for Truth. His Truth. His complete and Full Truth, no matter where that meant He would take me. I knew I was not equipped to know it just by looking. In humility, I needed God’s grace to guide me.
The first thing I started to do was read the Bible with new eyes. However, I also wanted to know what church he wanted me to bring my family too. Was the Presbyterian church that we were going to at the time, OK? Or was there some other place He wanted me to take my family?
When I first started researching, I believe the Lord guided me to use the skills of historical research that I had learned in my days as a Medieval European History Major in college. I started with the Presbyterian Church that we were attending at the time and traced my way back to the Reformation. What I found interesting, and confusing was that every protestant church claimed to be following the teachings of scripture alone, yet they all had a different take on what scripture meant. As I traced my way back through the history back to Luther and the reformation, I found it all very confusing and lacking. Who was right?
Once I came to the Reformation, I saw that the only churches that existed prior to Luther was The Catholic Church or the Orthodox Church. And frankly, I wasn’t too excited about the prospect of either one of those. I prayed that God would show me His Truth. Open my heart, and open my eyes. Show me where He wanted me to go. As I have told you many times, I felt the Lord call me to the very beginning of the Christian faith. I felt the Lord also telling me to use another skill I learned in my years as a history major, never trust the history books, always go to the primary sources.
Why the Doctrine of “Sola Scriptura” cannot be Correct
After Christ’s ascension into Heaven, and after the Holy Spirit descended upon the first Christians at Pentecost, the Church thrived and grew exponentially for years before even one line of the New Testament was written. Let that sink in: Baptisms, catechesis, communal worship, conversions of thousands of sinners, Apostles and their companions traveling to other lands and risking imprisonment, torture, and death to evangelize the world with zeal — all went on for almost two decades before the New Testament was even begun, much less completed.
Without having written a word, the Church was teaching, preaching, growing, and flourishing for many years.
Eventually, a very few Apostles and their disciples starting writing down some of the Church’s oral Tradition: The Gospels, which recorded the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and also the Epistles (letters) of St. Paul and others, which gave encouragement and instruction to local churches being established throughout the world. The young Church cherished those gospels and letters, and began to incorporate them into her liturgies.
The Development of the New Testament
While the exact date and order in which the New Testament writings were produced is debated, it is agreed that the very first of the New Testament writings did not occur until after the Council of Jerusalem in 50AD. Purportedly, Paul wrote his first letter to the Thessalonians at around 51AD. So 18 years after the Resurrection the first writing that would be a part of the New Testament was finally written down. The chronology of the first writings go something like this:
51AD – Paul’s 1st Letter to the Thessalonians
52AD – Paul’s 2nd Letter to the Thessalonians
54AD – Paul’s Letter to the Galatians
Keep in mind, these dates are the absolute earliest dates that some scholars attribute to them. Many historians push the dates even further into the future by a few years. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that as Paul is writing these letters, they are NOT being mass copied and sent throughout the known Christian Church communities of the time. By 54AD it is estimated that the Church had communities in Israel, Tarsus, Asia Minor and several cities on the way to Greece where it is known that Paul was taking his ministry to spread the Gospel and eventually to end up in Rome. Also, it would have been prohibitively expensive for his letters to be copied and mass mailed. His letters were quite long and it would have taken a lot of papyrus or parchment, which was hand-made and very costly. So, when Paul wrote his letters to the Christians in Thessalonica, those letters weren’t also immediately sent to Jerusalem, Antioch, Asia Minor, etc. In addition, the cost of someone to copy them, to prepare drafts and final copies to be delivered, as well as a copy of the letter for Paul to keep himself would have been really expensive and time consuming. So, that being said, it’s highly unlikely that his letters are being copied and sent to the known Christian world for even a few years after he sent them to their original destination. The letters stayed in Thessalonica for awhile. Essentially he is writing instructions for the communities he addressed them to. So when Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” There was not even any New Testament Scripture written yet! His 1st Letter to the Thessalonians would take many years before it would be officially recognised as authoritative and divinely inspired as Scripture. More and more written accounts and testimonies materialized as the Church grew, but contrary to today’s popular belief, it was not immediately obvious to the early Christians which of these writings were truly God-inspired.
It’s not until 55AD that an early Aramaic version of The Gospel of Saint Matthew appears, but it was not widely used or adopted and is missing a lot of parts that would end up in the final version. It wouldn’t be until 67AD that the accepted version of Saint Matthew’s Gospel would be written. So let’s continue in the chronology of the first writings:
57AD – Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians
58AD – Paul’s 2nd Letter to the Corinthians and Paul’s Letter to the Romans
60AD – The Letter of James
62AD – The Gospel of Luke
So, it’s not until approximately 62AD that we see the first “Gospel” appear on the scene, 29 years AFTER the Resurrection. The Gospel of Luke is the first piece of New Testament Scripture that was actually written as Scripture, for the express purpose of writing down the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Let’s continue:
62AD – Paul’s Letter to Philemon, Paul’s Letter to Colossians and Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians
63AD – The Acts of the Apostles
So we get the Acts, the second official New Testament Scripture a year after The Gospel of Luke. The purpose, to record the activities and teaching of the newly formed church.
64AD – First and Second Letter of Peter (Three years later he is martyred in Rome.)
65AD – Paul’s First Letter to Timothy, Paul’s Letter to Titus and The Letter to the Hebrews (Authentic author of Hebrews is unknown – yet another reason to trust the authority of the Church)
66AD – The Gospel of Mark (the final accepted one) and Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy
67AD – The Gospel of Matthew
70AD – The Letter of Jude
So let’s stop right here for a moment. 66AD is the earliest accepted date for Paul’s 2nd Letter to Timothy. So, 33 years after the Resurrection of Jesus, Paul finally gives the passage that many say “see, Paul is teaching Sola Scriptura.”
6 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. ~ 2 Timothy 3:16-17
One problem, The Gospel of Luke and the Acts would have been the only two pieces of literature that would have been widely accepted as New Testament “scripture” at this point. All of Paul’s letters would have been seen as important and having authority, but it’s unlikely that every church community had a copy. The Gospel of Mark was written the same year as Paul’s 2nd Letter to Timothy. The Gospel of Matthew would come the following year and John’s Revelation and His Gospel would not come yet for several years. So is Paul really saying that all the we need to know is in Scripture Alone? What about all those Christians who for 18 years had nothing of the New Testament writings, and the 33 years before Paul would even write these words? Not to mention, that most folks were illiterate and didn’t have personal copies of any of these writings. The writings they did have were kept in the Church community. Books didn’t exist yet, and printing presses wouldn’t be invented for 1400 years. This really causes a problem if we want to say that Paul is teaching that we should personally refer to scripture and interpret it. That leaves almost everyone in the early christian world in dire straights. If Sola Scriptura is true, it would have been way easier had Jesus just handed a book to the apostles or at least to instruct them to write it all down as He instructs them. Of course that still doesn’t address the wide spread problem of illiteracy? But He didn’t ask the apostles to write anything down, because the Church that Jesus founded was an oral, teaching church, not a publishing house. It was only later, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that the apostles would see a need to write down anything.
Next Post: Part 2