How can we defend the doctrine of sola Scriptura using Scripture?

So often it’s been said that if you argue from the Bible to the infallibility of Scripture, or the inerrancy of the Bible, or the inspiration of Scripture, then you’re caught in the bonds of a vicious circle. We know that circular reasoning is an informal fallacy, which invalidates an argument.

If you reason from Scripture this way and say, “The Bible claims to be the Word of God since it is the Word of God," then the claim that it is the Word of God must be an unassailable truth. That would be traveling in the worst of all possible circles. That would be vicious in its circularity. That would be an invalid argument. At the same time, we argue for the infallibility and inspiration of Scripture while taking into account that it makes that claim to be the Word of God, and that’s significant. If it never made the claim to be the Word of God, then we wouldn’t have the burden of trying to defend that claim.

We start with Scripture and ask the question, “Can we go to the New Testament and see it as a basically reliable historical source?” If we can demonstrate that it’s generally reliable, as reliable as Suetonius or Tacitus or any of the other ancient historians, then we don’t have to dive into radical skepticism or cynicism. We say that it’s a basically reliable historical document. It doesn’t have to be infallible or inspired at this point—just a historical document.

On the basis of that basically reliable historical document, we can get reliable information about Jesus of Nazareth. It’s information that’s reliable enough to persuade us or convince us that there is sound reason to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was, at the very least, a prophet of God. A prophet of God is somebody who teaches the truth of God. If we can come to the conclusion from the historical data that Jesus was a prophet and that He prophesied about Himself that He was more than a prophet, then, if we take this prophet’s prophecy seriously, we have to take the conclusion that He draws.

Then we go to the next step. If we know anything about Jesus historically, we know how He viewed the Scriptures. There are many critical scholars who say: “Yes, we acknowledge that Jesus accepted and taught the prevailing Jewish view of the Canon and of Scripture being the Word of God. In His humanity, however, He wasn’t omniscient, so He can be excused for uncritically adopting this Jewish view of the Bible.” We hear that kind of argument frequently.

Now, touching His human nature, we don’t believe that Jesus was omniscient. Omniscience is a divine attribute that is not communicable to a human nature. Touching His divine nature, Jesus was omniscient, but His human nature wasn’t. So in that regard, He could be capable of not having absolute, perfect knowledge. However, Jesus claimed that He taught nothing except that which He received from the Father and that all He taught had the imprimatur from the Father (John 7:16). He also said that He was the very incarnation of truth (John 14:6).

If I walked into my classroom in philosophy or theology and said to my students, “I want you to know that I’m not going to teach you anything in this class except what God has revealed to me, and I want you to know that I am the truth,” and then I give them an incorrect view of sacred Scripture, then I have sinned. So, what’s at stake here in terms of Jesus’ testimony to the Scriptures is not His omniscience, but His sinlessness. Jesus must be correct in all the things that He claims to be true, or He sins. As the Scriptures themselves tell us, “Let not many become teachers because with teaching comes the greater judgment” (James 3:1).

You can see how we’ve moved from a basic premise of general reliability to a knowledge of Jesus’ historical view that the Scripture is more than generally reliable. So, the reason why the church believes that the Bible is the inspired Word of God is because we’re acquiescing to the teaching of our Lord.

 

This transcript is from an Ask R.C. Live event with R.C. Sproul and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, just visit Ask.Ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.