September 21, 2020

C. Michael Patton Explains Sola Scriptura

UPDATE: A Catholic Response.

C. Michael Patton from The Theology Program and Reclaiming the Mind Ministries has a wonderful series going at Parchment and Pen defending the Protestant stand on Sola Scriptura.

Today’s episode deals with the basis for claiming the canon of scripture- your Bible’s table of contents- is inspired, even though that list is not part of scripture itself.

He does a wonderful job. Read and add this to your resources for understanding this basic issue of separation between Protestants and Roman Catholics/Orthodox.

Sola Scriptura Part One
Sola Scriptura Part Two
Sola Scriptura Part Three
Sola Scriptura Part Four
Sola Scriptura Part Five
Sola Scriptura Part Six

Michael is a gifted teacher who makes theology understandable and has a real gift with graphical presentation.

Read all these posts and add the future posts in the series. (And here’s N.T. Wright on sola scriptura.)


  1. Snazy charts, I gotta admit, and I like that he referenced “What About Bob?” in a theological article.

    I particularly like his last paragraph:

    “Do advocates of sola Scriptura have a fallible collection of infallible books? Yes. We concede such. When all is said and done, all of our beliefs are fallible and therefore subject to error. But remember, the possibility of error does not necessitate the probability of error. We have to appeal to the evidence to decide. God would [probably] accept nothing less.”

    I agree with what he says here, which is why I cannot in good conscience believe in Sola Scriptura. Reading through his previous posts defending the good ol’ Sola, I feel he does a pretty decent job outlining the arguments against it, albeit with some out there nomenclature (“duel-source”), but not so much of refuting the arguments in the follow-up.

  2. I’m struggling a bit with Patton’s distinction between ‘sola scriptura’ and ‘solo scriptura.’ He champions the former and rejects the latter. The latter category is mythical. I don’t know where this exists. What does it mean for Patton to say on the one hand that Scripture alone is authoritative for doctrine, but then to say that there are other non-ultimate authorities we must refer to? What is this authority? If I believe that only Scripture establishes doctrine and that everything must be compared with it and agree with it, then this would apply to any lesser authority. And if I am testing a lesser authority’s veracity by comparing them to Scripture, then, really, what kind of authority is this? I read theologians of the past as “helps” and not as authorities. And if I do happen to refer to them as “authorities” on a matter, I only do so if I have been able to compare them with Scripture to prove that they simply teach what Scripture teaches.

    Nobody I know of, no fundamentalist, would abide by “solo” scriptura. Every fundamentalist has other books and resources on their shelf that they refer to in their study of Scripture.

    I think Patton’s “solo scriptura” is problematic and confusing, and brings in some rather divisive rhetoric with it.

  3. Sola Scriptura isn’t simply a doctrinal statement, it’s also a boast.

  4. Christopher Lake says

    Michael, I’m confused as to what good it would possibly do for me, as a Christian, to have a “fallible collection of infallible books.” If we can’t even be sure about what books *make up* the canon, how can we trust the supposed “infallibility” of that canon?

    I’m a Protestant (and former Catholic), and as such, I believe that God inspired the Biblical authors to write the books of the canon. These books *belong* in the canon because they have certain unique, crucial characteristics that other books simply don’t have. (I could go into detail on this, and I will, if asked by anyone who is truly curious.) God also guided the early church to recognize these characteristics… but, and this is important, the characteristics were already there. The canon, as such, already existed before the church recognized it. The recognition didn’t *make* the canon. The canon had already been made by God and then was later discovered by the church.

    However, this discovery, guided as it was by the Holy Spirit, was/is as infallible as the books themselves. It has to be– otherwise, how can we *trust* the infallible content of a fallible collection of books? How do we know that we don’t have the wrong books? To say that the content is infallible, but the collection of books is not, is to say that the content itself is uncertain, because we don’t even know if we have the right books. The collection of books *house* the content. If the collection is uncertain (in terms of trustworthiness), then so is the content. God would not inspire infallible content and then leave us uncertain as to which books contain that content.