Sola Scriptura was a term that the reformers – such as Martin Luther – used to determine what they believed about scripture: it means ‘by Scripture alone’ – the doctrine that the Bible contains everything necessary for salvation, in contrast with the Roman Catholic understanding of tradition. Essentially, as I understand it, Roman Catholics understand Scripture and Tradition as two independent strands which contain the same truth. Anyway, how does this all relate to the Jehovah’s Witnesses?
Well, recently Mrs Phil and myself have had a few conversations with them. One of the things which they have said in response to our appealing to church history is, “Why do you appeal to church history when you have the Bible?” In other words, they believe that their understanding of the Bible is correct, and there’s no need to look back as to how it’s been understood historically by the church. (In fact, they believe that the church fell into apostasy after the time of the apostles, so they can’t trust what the early church said.)
The reason I’m mentioning all this is because it’s a topic we looked at in our Doctrine lecture yesterday. Why is it that we can’t just say that we have the Bible and forget about traditional understandings of scripture?
The reason is partly because by putting faith in the Bible, you are putting faith in the people who compiled it. Now, I’m not saying here that the Bible was compiled in the sense that a bunch of people sat down in a room one time over a cup of tea and decided which books to put in the Bible out of hundreds of options. I don’t want to go into that discussion now! But the early church did seek to authenticate the books which we now have as part of the New Testament.
Anyone who sees the Bible as authoritative – as the Jehovah’s Witnesses are claiming to do – are implicitly putting faith in the early church for the purposes of the New Testament canon. It becomes a very difficult thing, therefore, for them to claim that the early church were apostate – BUT they were right on with the Biblical canon.
I’d never thought of this before, but it struck me yesterday. I put it up here as an awkward question to ask if you are ever involved in dialogue with the Jehovah’s Witnesses :)