The thoughts which I’m to communicate here are hardly new or original. They’re everywhere. But I thought I’d add my “amen” to these sorts of claims.
Advocates of sola scriptura normally steer clear of the ramifications of their belief. Let us grant, for argument’s sake, that the sole locus of authority in terms of Christian belief and practice are the words of the pages of Scripture. Of course, we must bypass questions regarding the contents of the Scriptural canon, autographs and textual transmission, the authority and witness of versions, and so on (not least the place of the Septuagint). But be that as it may, let us assume common starting points: that there is a body of texts which can be established as the Scriptures, and that all Christians would be able to come to complete agreement about the precise content, wording and extent of those Scriptures. That is to say, there is no question as to the text.
What we cannot assume, however, is the complete agreement of all Christians on the meaning of those texts. Does 1 Corinthians 13 refer to the cessation of the gifts enumerated in 1 Corinthians 12? Does Hebrews 6 and 10 teach that any Christian can fall away into unrepentance? Does 1 Timothy 2 absolutely forbid women’s ordination to Eucharistic ministry?
In other words, Scripture cannot come to us except through interpretation. So the question is: what is the key to such interpretation? Is it the case that “every man seems right in his own eyes”? To such a sentiment can be attributed the tens of thousands of schisms (i.e., denominations) among Christians.
But, in fact, there is a key to interpreting the Scriptures.
Take for example what the New Testament says about the interpretive key to the Old Covenant.
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:27 NIV)
We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. (2 Corinthians 3:13-16 NIV)
So, Christ is the key to interpreting the Old Testament. But we only have the proper teaching about Christ, which includes the proper way to live in light of the truth about Christ, because the Church has given that teaching to us.
Note what St. Irenaeus of Lyons said regarding the proper interpretation of the Scriptures c. AD 180s:
Such, then, is their system, which neither the prophets announced, nor the Lord taught, nor the apostles delivered, but of which they boast that beyond all others they have a perfect knowledge. They gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures and, to use a common proverb, they strive to weave ropes of sand, while they endeavour to adapt with an air of probability to their own peculiar assertions the parables of the Lord, the sayings of the prophets, and the words of the apostles, in order that their scheme may not seem altogether without support. In doing so, however, they disregard the order and the connection of the Scriptures, and so far as in them lies, dismember and destroy the truth. By transferring passages, and dressing them up anew, and making one thing out of another, they succeed in deluding many through their wicked art in adapting the oracles of the Lord to their opinions. Their manner of acting is just as if one, when a beautiful image of a king has been constructed by some skilful artist out of precious jewels, should then take this likeness of the man all to pieces, should rearrange the gems, and so fit them together as to make them into the form of a dog or of a fox, and even that but poorly executed; and should then maintain and declare that this was the beautiful image of the king which the skilful artist constructed, pointing to the jewels which had been admirably fitted together by the first artist to form the image of the king, but have been with bad effect transferred by the latter one to the shape of a dog, and by thus exhibiting the jewels, should deceive the ignorant who had no conception what a king’s form was like, and persuade them that that miserable likeness of the fox was, in fact, the beautiful image of the king. In like manner do these persons patch together old wives’ fables, and then endeavour, by violently drawing away from their proper connection, words, expressions, and parables whenever found, to adapt the oracles of God to their baseless fictions.
The wonderful thing about this apostolic tradition is that it is readily traceable. In my own case, at least on some of the big issues, I started with the Christians living immediately after the close of the New Testament, and traced, from the New Testament, the teachings on Church polity, the Eucharist, Mary and so on.
Sola scriptura has always led me to contradictory dead ends. In my own Restoration Movement upbringing, there were the hermeneutical contradictions in that baptism was viewed as essentially a sacrament, and yet the Lord’s Supper (despite St. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10-11, Jesus’ words in John 6 and the institution narratives in the Synoptics) was merely a memorial with no other reality than crackers and grape juice. But once I embraced the Tradition of the Church, I found it absolutely consistent, and the interpretation of the Scriptures led me not to dead ends and cul-de-sacs, but to wide open spaces of love and the glory of Christ.