At first glance, Solo scriptura’s creed, “The whole Bible and nothing but the Bible” might seem sound. As Protestants, who would want to apply anything to the Bible? However, is tradition 0 biblical? Is this the position held by the church from antiquity?
To answer the first question we must see how the Bible treats authority and tradition. First, thing we see is that Jesus set up an ecclesiastical authority to be obeyed (Heb. 13.7). Paul likewise pointed to a continuing, special teaching ministry after his death (cf. 1 Tim 3.1-7; 2 Tim 4.2; Titus 1.5-9). This shows that Christians do not interpret individually. The body as a whole with gifted leaders guides the church and interprets Scripture jointly as the Body of Christ. The Jerusalem church is a great example. It set up a council to find the underlying cause of a problem within its ranks. After the decision on the matter, it related the conclusion to other churches to follow. The Bible proves that men come together and interpret Scripture in community. Christians need the community of the saints, past, present, and future. Finally, the Bible has many positive statements about tradition (Luke 1:1-4; Mark 7:5-13; 2 Thess 2.15).
Having been a Christian for some time, you surely have heard Christians arguing over contrary theological problems. Each side appeals to Scripture. Who is right, whose interpretation is correct? Appealing to Scripture to justify a position is a mere appeal to an interpretation of Scripture, and the question is begged, “Whose interpretation?” Allowing Solo scriptura’s creed, “The whole Bible and nothing but the Bible,” guide interpretation results in an appeal to individual reason and conscience as the supreme interpreter. One’s mind stands alone as the absolute judge. One’s mind becomes the absolute authority.
We all claim that the Bible is the authority for faith and practice. Nevertheless, it does not interpret itself. It needs an interpreter. If the interpreter claims neutral individual reasoning in the interpretive process, he is claiming an autonomous approach to interpretation. He is appealing to autonomous reasoning. This makes reasoning the absolute standard in interpretation. Therefore, autonomous reasoning becomes an equal or supreme authority over Scripture. In addition, you must understand that no one comes to Scripture void of presuppositions. The idea of neutrality is the product of the Enlightenment with its doctrine of tabula rasa, that your mind is a blank slate (i.e. neutral). This rationalistic approach to Scripture is neither biblical nor valid. When you read the Bible, you read it as a_________________ (fill in the blank, i.e. American, male, Cubs fan, Plummer, Italian, Protestant…).
History displays the problems with the Solo scriptura (Tradition 0) approach. For example, the heretic Arius appealed only to Scripture to denounce the deity of Christ. The early wish of the Council to use only biblical language to counter his claims changed. They realized they needed extra-biblical language based on proper, holistic interpretation of Scripture, which considered tradition to combat this heretic. Improper individualistic interpretation was the problem—Arius used Scripture alone. Arius bought into Solo scriptura. Again other sects such as the Anabaptists called for interpreting Scripture using reason and conscience alone. However, this led many like Sabastian Frank into extreme individualism and the denial of key doctrines like the Trinity. So how, did the church survive these heretics? The creeds and councils of the historic church with its interpretation kept individuals from heresy. I’m not done with the critique of Tradition 0. Stay tuned for the follow up.