How to Refute Sola Scriptura

Bible with leaves around it

Sola Scriptura, or Scripture Alone, is the heresy within Protestantism that begets all other heresies. Undoubtedly, Protestant Christians hold to this doctrine out of sincere piety, rightly insisting that the Scriptures are from God and we must trust them completely. This reverence for the Holy Scriptures is commendable. Though in theory Protestantism does not deny Christian history and tradition, it relies on the Scriptures as the only word of authority in establishing dogma and thereby negates the influence of the two former in practice. Sola Scriptura also falsely posits that the Scriptures are perspicuous, or translucent and easy to understand, to anyone who reads them. In this post, we explore this innovative doctrine in depth and explain how, as an Orthodox Christian, one can lovingly refute Sola Scriptura.

Estimated reading time: 14 minutes

At some point, every Protestant with integrity must ask themselves why Protestantism has resulted in thousands of different groups who all claim to possess the correct interpretation of the Bible. If Protestantism and Sola Scriptura truly come from God, why can none of these thousands of groups agree on what the Bible says, or on something as basic as what it means to be Christian? How can they all claim to know what the Bible says, and yet not agree on what that is?

Where did Sola Scriptura come from?

The Great Schism of 1054 ended with the formal separation of the Orthodox East and Roman Catholic West. After this mutual excommunication, the Roman church cut off all connection with its Eastern Orthodox heritage. Without the Eastern archbishops to check the archbishop of Rome, the Roman Catholic church began promoting corrupt, degenerate teachings. The primary grievance (though there were many) most Reformers had at the time was the institution of indulgences, which the faithful could purchase to remove the punishment of purgatory from the souls of departed loved ones. As a response to all the doctrinal errors of the church, Martin Luther wrote The Ninety-Five Theses. In this work, he denounced the practices of Roman Catholic clergy in selling indulgences and promoting the concept of purgatory to laypeople, among many other things.

Knowing this, we can understand (and even sympathize with) the actions of Martin Luther and other early reformers. After all, their goal in breaking from Roman Catholicism was to cleanse the church of its corruption. And in their eyes, that corruption stemmed from the papacy itself. Luther could take only one logical path: he couldn’t look to tradition to fight the abuses in the church, because tradition itself (as the West believed it to be) was personified by the papacy. He could appeal only to Holy Scripture, and in it hope to find the evidence he needed.

False assumptions underlying Sola Scriptura

In order to refute Sola Scriptura, it is important to first understand the false assumptions under which this doctrine operates. Let’s take a look at each of these in detail.

1. Claiming Scripture alone served as the basis for the early Church.

Protestants assert that the Bible contains everything we need to know about the Christian life. However, this begs the question: how can the Bible stand apart from the Church and the vibrant, living Tradition that created it?

The word “tradition” has become a derogatory term among Protestants, one that denigrates anything Protestantism rejects into something fleshly, legalistic, and destructive. However, it is logical to conclude that the first Christians (as former Jews) had some form of liturgical worship and followed traditions of their own set forth by the Apostles (1 Thessalonians 2:15; 1 Corinthians 11:2; 11:23), and that those things may not have been explicitly written down.

How can we distinguish between Holy Tradition and man-made traditions? Christ Himself sets the measurement for this, establishing the source of the tradition as the test of its legitimacy. In other words, when the tradition comes from Christ (and by extension His Apostles), that tradition is legitimate. But when we hold to traditions that did not come from Christ (like Sola Scriptura), we are in error.

The real question is which tradition we should use to interpret the Bible. Should we trust the Apostolic Tradition of the Church that gave us the Scriptures, with roots tracing back to Christ? Or should we trust the muddled, modern traditions of Protestantism, which make every man his own pope?

Man deepens his spiritual life by reading the Bible.

2. Using the New Testament to determine what is acceptable in worship

Despite only possessing a handful of Apostolic letters and copies of OT manuscripts, early Christian churches followed a liturgical worship structure. Their worship did not depend on the Bible, yet it was somehow miraculously consistent.

Protestants often cite the NT as their doctrinal authority in determining what is and is not allowed in worship. However, careful examination of the books of the NT exposes a flaw in this approach. We can divide the NT into four genres:

  1. Gospels – tell of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection
  2. Historical narratives – history of the early Church
  3. Epistles – addressed specific problems in the early Church
  4. Apocalyptic prophecy – shows us God’s ultimate triumph

Notice none of these give any details about how to worship in the Church; rather, the OT contains these (e.g. Leviticus, Psalms). Granted, Protestants will cite these as well, albeit out of context. What references to worship we do see show that early Christians worshiped as their fathers did before them, observing prescribed hours of prayer (Acts 3:1) and worshiping in the Temple (Acts 2:46; 18:4). The NT does not provide comprehensive doctrinal instruction, either (e.g. there is no catechism or systematic theology).

The Bible clearly doesn’t contain teachings on every important subject in the Church. The same Church that handed down and preserved the Holy Scriptures, is the same Church from which we receive our patterns of worship. If we mistrust the Church’s faithfulness in preserving Apostolic worship, then we must also mistrust her preservation of the Scriptures.

3. Asserting anyone can interpret the Scriptures on their own.

When Sola Scriptura first came about, Reformers reasoned that anyone could understand Scripture simply by reading it. In other words, you didn’t need the Church to help correctly interpret the Word of God:

Someone will say that on the one hand, the Scriptures are absolutely free from error; but on the other hand, they have been concealed by much obscurity, so that without the interpretations of the Spirit-bearing Fathers they could not be clearly understood […] What has been said in a scarcely perceptible manner in some places in the Scriptures, has been stated in another place in them explicitly and most clearly so that even the most simple person can understand them.

Tübingen Lutheran Scholars, letter to Patriarch Jeremias II (emphasis added)

Though these scholars argued the writings of the Fathers unnecessary, they used these same writings often – so long as their interpretation of Scripture aligned with the Fathers’. Where Scripture and the Fathers diverged, they claimed their interpretation of Scripture superior to the Fathers, who had proven themselves righteous and holy. Patriarch Jeremias II exposed the true character of their teachings in his response:

Let us accept, then, the traditions of the Church with a sincere heart and not a multitude of rationalizations [….] Let us not allow ourselves to learn a new kind of faith which is condemned by the tradition of the Holy Fathers. For the Divine apostle says, “if anyone is preaching to you a Gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:9).

We must adhere to the Tradition passed down to us by the Apostles through the Church and lean on the collective understanding of centuries of unchanging worship, doctrine, and faith. Believing our mind alone is sufficient to understand the complexity of God’s Word is the height of hubris.

Responses you might receive from a Protestant

The false assumptions we outlined above result in the inevitable splintering within Protestantism. However, this is often not enough to dissuade someone from supporting Sola Scriptura. Supporters of this heresy may say many things to defend their beliefs. In this section, we’ll explore some of these statements.

“2 Timothy 3:15-17 proves Sola Scriptura.”

Nowhere does the Bible actually say it is the sole authority, or that we should reject Holy Tradition. However, if you ask a Protestant where the Bible says this, they usually point to 2 Timothy 3:15-17. In faulty translations, “sufficient” takes the place of “profitable,” which is where the Scripture Alone argument comes from.

Context: St. Paul wrote this letter to Timothy (a bishop) in the later half of the first century. At this time, several books and letters that would become part of the New Testament had yet to be written. And they would not be canonized into the Bible we know today until the fifth century! When a Protestant uses this passage to justify Sola Scriptura, they unwittingly refute themselves by excluding the entire NT canon, including 2 Timothy itself.

Another common argument here is that St. Paul doesn’t mention tradition explicitly, which means he therefore rejects it. Not only is this illogical, but it also ignores the use of oral tradition just a few verses earlier. In 2 Timothy 3:8, Paul mentions Jannes and Jambres, the magicians of Pharaoh. Neither of these men are mentioned by name in the OT. Paul draws upon the oral tradition of the Exodus account to provide these names.

Why the Church canonized the Bible

“The Bible says what it means and means what it says.”

The interesting thing about this statement is that the person who says it often contradicts themselves and cannot maintain consistency. If you produce a verse/passage with a literal translation they disagree with, suddenly that verse/passage is not meant to be taken literally.

Perhaps the best example of such a passage is the Last Supper, in which Christ explicitly states, “this is my body…this is my blood” (Matthew 26:26-28). A couple others are when Christ empowers the Apostles to forgive sins, which establishes the Sacrament of Confession, and when Paul tells us women should cover their heads during worship. Protestants will claim such verses are merely symbolic, and not meant to be taken literally, because they don’t agree with the literal interpretation. Point out this inconsistency with kindness, and ask the person why they feel it is acceptable to only apply literal translations only when they decide to do so.

“Clear passages can interpret the unclear.”

This seems like a nice solution, since one would use Scripture itself to interpret Scripture. However, how does one determine which passages are clear, and which ones are not? In the end, it all boils down to each person’s subjective opinion, and the prideful belief that their approach must be correct, while everyone else must be wrong. Unfortunately, Protestants will never reach consensus here, either. As we read in the Scriptures, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).

“The Holy Spirit will guide me to the right interpretation.”

Imagine you decide to interpret a Bible verse a certain way, and you are convinced the Holy Spirit guided you to that interpretation. Naturally, anyone who disagrees with you cannot possibly be led by the same Holy Spirit. Otherwise, how could we explain all these different, contradictory interpretations? God is not the author of confusion.

Divorced from the Holy Tradition of the Church, one cannot unilaterally assume their individual interpretation comes from the Holy Spirit.

The Orthodox Approach

St. Irenaeus once said of heresy: “It is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than truth itself.”

Unlike Protestantism, Orthodoxy does not approach Holy Scriptures in a scientific (and therefore inherently limited) way. The Orthodox Church claims a superior understanding of Holy Scripture on the basis of its relationship to the Author, Christ. The Church is the Body of Christ, and it is through the Church that God wrote and preserved Holy Scripture. Without the Church’s Holy Tradition, we would not have the Bible at all.

How do we know the Tradition of the Orthodox Church is the right one?

Avoid pride in answering such a question, and instead approach this with understanding and patience. Remember that as a Protestant, the other person probably has limited knowledge about the history of the Church, the Ecumenical Councils, and the Church Fathers. Tracing back through time, no matter where we start, we will all arrive at the same Church, whose Faith has remained steadfast and unchanged since the beginning. Thankfully, many Protestants are doing this, and becoming Orthodox as a result!

We NEED the Church.

In the absence of true unity, Protestantism has created a false one through relativism. In other words, the only belief Protestants often condemn is one that makes exclusive claims about the Truth.

Capital T “Tradition” vs. Lowercase t “tradition”

When we refer to Tradition with a capital “T,” we speak of the deposit of faith manifest in the Church (1 Cor. 11:2; 2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6). The word tradition, in Greek paradosis, means literally “to hand down” or “to deliver.” Thus St. Paul prefaces his confession of faith with the words, “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received” (1 Cor. 15:3). The source and inspiration for Holy Tradition is the teaching of the Apostles and the continual guidance of the Holy Spirit in the Church (John 16:13). Holy Tradition preserves the faith as it was received from the Apostles and their disciples.

Contrary to this belief, the Church is united. This unity stretches back through time and extends into the present moment. Though the Apostles departed this life long ago, they never departed from the unity of the Church. We are all alive in Christ, even those of us who have died. So, every time we celebrate the Eucharist in our local parish, we celebrate it not only with all those who departed before us, but with the entire Body of Christ still alive on this earth. We are not isolated, even though it may seem this way in our limited understanding.

Because of this unity, we know we not only learn from those in the flesh God has placed in the Church to guide us, but also from the teachers of the Church no longer among us. Saint John Chrysostom is as much our teacher as our bishop or priest today, as he is alive in Christ and part of the all-encompassing unity of the Church. Therefore, we must interpret Scripture as a Church, as one Body, and not as individuals relying on our own exclusive understanding. This is the reality of the Church, and it demands we exercise self-denial, humility, and love.

How the Orthodox interpret Scripture

In the correct approach to Scripture, we do not worry about originality. Our goal is to understand the Tradition of the Church and comprehend the interpretations of the Bible in this context. We must faithfully pass on the tradition we received, as St. Paul urges us to do. In order to do this, we must enter deeply into the mystical life of the Church. In his work, On Christian Doctrine, St. Augustine explains the type of person one must be in order to correctly understand Scripture. Notice he doesn’t focus on the amount of knowledge you must have, but on the constitution of your character. This person:

  1. Loves God with his whole heart and is empty of pride;
  2. Seeks the Knowledge of God’s will with faith and reverence, not pride and greed;
  3. Possesses a pious heart and purified mind, doesn’t fear men or seek to please them;
  4. Seeks nothing but union with Christ;
  5. Hungers and thirsts after righteousness;
  6. And diligently engages in works of mercy and love.

What an incredible standard we have to live up to! If we examine ourselves honestly, no one can say he meets all of these criteria (or even half of them). This is why we must lean on the guidance of the Church and the Fathers, who did meet these standards. We can’t delude ourselves into thinking we have more knowledge or understanding of God than they. This makes us horribly arrogant, especially if we believe this without taking the time to learn about Holy Tradition at all and decide we somehow know better.


The doctrine of Sola Scriptura operates under a number of false assumptions and incorrect solutions, and thus it can easily be refuted. Taken in the proper context, within Holy Tradition, the message of the Scriptures becomes clear. And if we ever question something we read, we must turn to the writings of those who knew the Apostles well – like Saint Ignatius and other early Fathers – and not nurse our own pride by thinking we know better than they.

Christ tells us, “every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a bad tree bringeth forth evil fruit” (Matthew 7:17). If we judge Sola Scriptura by its fruit, we are left with one conclusion: this tree must be “hewn down, and cast into the fire” (Matthew 7:19).

Read More: 5 Things The Orthodox Should Know About The Reformed

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38 Responses

  1. Dear sir tell me where the Bible tells us to pray to Mary or the saints pray repetitive prays
    Use a wool cloth with beads to help us pray
    Where in the Bible is it mentioned about eleborate ceromonies in the worship and the need for clergy to wear elaborate clergy garbs or that Mary is born immaculately and is co redemtrix or the pope is infallible and supremacy I applies to all Christians and what about indulgences and purgatory and kissing images and statues of saints and Mary
    Non of this is found in the Bible your church and the Roman Catholics try to say traditions and equal to the Bible
    Did not jesus when he refuted in the book of Mathew the traditions the saducees held which. Blocked the widows and orphans from obtaining heaven and salvation jesus said the cup is beautiful on the outside but inside it is full of corruption and inquity this is how the eastern and Roman Catholic Churches look beautiful and other worldly with its bells and smells and beautiful hymns but spritualy dead and bankrupt

  2. John,

    Christ is in our midst! The Eastern Orthodox Church is far from spiritually dead! One can only know this through the authentic experience of the Church and her Holy Tradition. We invite you to come and see!

    Regarding your requests about citations from the Scriptures, might we ask a question in return? Where does the Bible tell us that only the things contained within it are acceptable spiritual practices for faithful Christians? Does not the Scripture also say that we are to hold fast the Traditions which have been passed down to us (2 Thess. 2:15)?

    Since Our Lord is God of the living, not God of the dead, those who depart this life remain alive in Him. Thus, they continue to pray and to exist in some way we cannot completely comprehend, in His presence, until the Last Day. We are taught by St. James that the prayers of the righteous avail much (5:16), and thus would be remiss not to ask the Lord’s righteous ones to intercede for us before Him.

    The use of the prayer rope is not required, but is merely an extra spiritual tool given to us through Holy Tradition that many faithful find aids them in concentrating on prayer and on stillness of mind.

    While the worship of the Eastern Orthodox Church may seem elaborate from a Protestant point of view, the word is actually “liturgical”. It is built around the same formula as the worship services of the ancient synagogues, services which the Apostles themselves attended, and whose format and content they brought over with them into the fullness of the Christian Faith. This includes the use of incense (Lev. 16:12-13) and many other things you will see if you actually attend the divine services in person. Regarding garments for clergy, those developed over time as a way to differentiate clergy from laypeople, and they symbolize the whole armor of God with which we are to clothe ourselves (Ephesians 6:11-18) that we may be able to stand against the devil.

    The Eastern Orthodox do not believe in the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary; only that her womb was sanctified by the coming of the Holy Spirit at the Annunciation when the Archangel Gabriel came to visit her. Neither do the Orthodox believe the Theotokos is “co-redemtrix”, that the pope is infallible or supreme over any other bishop, that indulgences are acceptable, or that purgatory – a place of payment for sins we are required to pass through before entering heaven – exists. While there are no statues of the Holy Virgin in Orthodoxy, we do venerate icons of her. However, veneration and worship are quite different, especially when we look at the original Greek in which these things are written about.

    Lastly, yes. Tradition is indeed just as equal an authority to the Bible. How could it not be, when it was Tradition itself that gave us the Bible? After all, if you discount Tradition, you must discount ALL that it produced. And that includes the Scriptures themselves.

    We hope this has helped you better understand what the Eastern Orthodox truly believe. God bless!

    1. Hi, I was just reading one of your answers to a question someone asked after your article about refuting Sola scriptura. In this answer you said that the Eastern Orthodox church does not believe in immaculate conception but that Mary’s womb was sanctified by the Angel’s presence when she was told of the coming birth that she would have.

      You also say that you prayed to deceased saints in heaven because scripture tells us that the effective prayer of a righteous man avails much.

      I just find this all amazing. You’re claiming that we should pray to passed on saints, even though there’s not one passage in scripture where that’s done, not one. Protestants don’t practice this because these beings are not deity.

      And your church actually believes that an angel sanctified Jesus’s conception? Really? This is in spite of the fact that scripture tells us she was a virgin? We know this because Joseph was going to “divorce her quietly” when he found out she was pregnant. So what you’re saying is not true then!

      This all is exactly what Jesus was talking about when he says you keep your traditions higher than God’s word. That’s what your church is doing here sir. You claim that we cannot do away with traditions because it’s traditions that preserve the scripture. But if the answers that were given to this gentleman reflect what your church is doing, you’re holding on to tradition and sacrificing truth. No way would Jesus agree with that.

      1. David,

        There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding here. We believe that the Holy Spirit sanctified the Virgin’s womb, and that this sanctification took place when the archangel Gabriel was present, delivering the news to her. As a follow-up question, allow us to ask you this: where in Scripture does it say that everything a Christian believes or does must be written down in the Scriptures? God bless!

  3. Hello from a fellow Western Pennsylvanian! Pleased to see such in depth content from a local church. As a Protestant interested in the broader church and church history, wanted to say I have appreciated this and other articles on this website.
    I respect the Orthodox traditions and see how the church does a great job maintaining a valuable history and tradition over time, and allows us a window into the early church. A conflict for me though is how dissenting ideas, even though they may be valid, seem to be overruled by authority with no room for disagreement. A big example of this sounds like the 7th Ecumenical Council: some believers do not want to venerate the icons for fear over overstepping the “graven image” law. I don’t know why it was better to have excommunicated these believers rather than allow room for people to both use icons or avoid icons in worship.
    Additionally, although Protestantism has spawned many many denominations, for the majority of them there is tremendous doctrinal agreement.
    You should know that we also have had lives transformed by encounters with and the teaching of Christ. Confession, communion, worship and other sacraments are also staples of Protestant churches, though they look different.
    Could probably discuss for hours! Once again thank you for your write-up here. It has been edifying and helped me think through these things on a deeper level. I wish you and your church success.

    1. Shawn,

      Christ is in our midst! Thank you for your compliments – glory to God! To use your example, the believers who fear overstepping the second commandment need not fear this, because the Church, as the Body of Christ, assures them that to do so is not idolatry. And there is a profound sense of peace in this kind of submission and trust in Christ and His Church. (Naturally, this does not mean we accept anything a priest or bishop tells us – all they preach and teach must be vetted by the Councils and the teachings of the Fathers of the Church.) The proclamations put forth by the Seventh Ecumenical Council expound on the true nature of icons and the difference between veneration and the worship due to God. The Church was given the Faith once delivered to the Saints, and along with that comes a very tangible amount of authority. In submitting ourselves to the teachings of the Church – Christ’s Body – we, in turn, submit ourselves to Christ God Himself. Authority is not something to buck our heads at, but rather something to humbly accept, even if we have reservations or do not completely understand.

      And for the record, we wholeheartedly acknowledge that the Holy Spirit has the ability to transform the lives of individuals outside His Church, according to His will. 🙂 You are right – these discussions can get quite long winded! Again, thank you for your gracious comments. May God bless you!

  4. I’ve e benefited from this website. I used to call myself a recovering Pentecostal, I broke away from that church over 15 years ago when I began to study to be a pastor. I could not accept what they taught once I started to read for myself in depth. History of Asuza street revival from non pentecostal sources was quite an eye opener as well. I’ve been on a long journey of study and prayer and reflection. Calvinist didn’t sit right because OSAS and parts of TULIP. Catholicism didn’t sit right with me because pope/purgatory/Mary being necessary for salvation/ calling a man father/confessing to him vs God directly. It’s taken me many years, after being deceived so deeply I never want that to happen to me again, and I have a wife to lead now. Can you recommend early as well as contemporary works discussing a few of the topics like Mary, what is the difference between veneration and worship, the importance of icons, transubstantiation, relics, toll houses(a bit scary subject to be honest)confession to a priest rather than directly to God, the requirements of fasting and feast days, and anything else you think would be useful. References to the Greek and Hebrew are welcome, I tried to learn on my own to no avail but I enjoy going deeper into the actual words that were written.

    1. Fred,

      Christ is in our midst. Our recommendation here is to begin with the works of the Church Fathers, and then to delve into the contemporary. If you Google the Popular Patristics series, you should find numerous works by those early Fathers on a variety of topics. You will find most discourse surrounding the Virgin Mary centers around defense of the Incarnation. As such, St. Ignatius and St. Athatanius of Alexandria are great places to start. Regarding the distinction between veneration and worship and the importance of icons, we recommend starting with, On Holy Images, by St. John of Damascus, in the Popular Patristics series. This article is a good starting point on the Orthodox view of transubstantiation. St. Justin Popovich discusses relics in this work. There are also various quotes from multiple Church Fathers regarding relics and their use in the Faith. A simple Google search will yield innumerable results.

      Regarding toll houses. This is not dogma within the Church and is considered speculative theology. There are Church Fathers who agree with this and Church Fathers who do not. Ultimately, this doctrine does not affect our salvation. Our recommendation here would be to put this aside until you have contended with the other questions that intrigue you about Orthodoxy.

      Our website has a multitude of articles about Confession, the rules of Fasting (St. Basil the Great wrote a treatise called On Fasting and Feasts, part of the Popular Patristics series), and many other aspects of Orthodox life. We hope you will find great value in that – feel free to peruse the archive and post your questions here! God bless you in your search for Truth.

  5. I’m not orthodox (or catholic or protestant (I’m not christian actually, atm I only accept what christians call “old testament”) but here’s a question : you said you dont believe in purgatory

    but then if the orthodox (just like protestants) dont believe in purgatory, why do you pray for the dead (just like catholics) ? this makes zero sense

    think about it, if there’s no purgatory, then when someone dies, only 2 outcomes 1) they go to heaven, in which case they dont need your prayers or 2) they go to hell forever, in which case your prayers are still useless to them

    so if you dont believe in purgatory, unlike catholics, then you should ALSO recognize that Luther was right about a lot of other things, like the fact that prayers for the dead make no sense & are unbiblical

    so again why do you pray for the dead?


    1. Mikhael,

      Christ is in our midst! Thank you for your question. The barrier between living and dead has been eliminated due to the Resurrection of Christ. Those who are departed are just as much with us and just as much a part of the Church as those who we see living on this earth. There is no longer any separation. And so not only do we pray for them, but they also pray for us; in the same way that you might ask your friends to pray for you and in turn pray for them so also do we pray for each other without concern for the separation of death.

      There is no doubt that Jews of the intertestamental period offered prayers for those who had passed on before them. The most significant passage is probably 2 Maccabees 12. There Judas Maccabeus offers prayer for his fallen warriors who had adopted certain idolatrous practices. He and other survivors “turned to supplication, praying that the sin that had been committed might be wholly blotted out.” The narrator comments: “If he (Judas) were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness [we might add: even for those who die in sin, as did the Maccabbean warriors], it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so they might be delivered from their sin” (vv. 42-45).

      We see a clear allusion to prayer for the departed is in the Second Letter of St Paul to Timothy, 1:18. Whether or not the letter was penned by the apostle himself, or by one of his disciples, the message is clear. Paul’s friend and companion Onesiphorus is mentioned only in this letter. A disciple from Ephesus, Onesiphorus sought out Paul in Rome and extended to him a welcome hand and warm friendship. In 2 Tim 1:16, we read: “May the Lord show mercy to Onesiphorus’ household.” Then in verse 18, “May the Lord grant him (Onesiphorus) to find mercy from the Lord on that day,” meaning the day of judgment. A final reference occurs in 4:19. Here Paul sends personal greetings to Prisca, Aquila and “to Onesiphorus’s household.” The passage then ends with the naming of other of Paul’s co-workers and acquaintances. All of this leads to the conclusion that Onesiphorus was no longer alive but rather had died before the letter was written. Yet Paul indisputably prays for him as he looks forward to the general resurrection and final judgment.

      None of this necessitates the existence of purgatory. The eternal state of the soul is not determined upon the moment of death but at the Final Judgment. Ultimately, all doctrines relating to life after life after death is speculative theology, since we cannot know what happens after death until we ourselves have traversed that path. Blessings to you!

  6. Very interesting read! How does the Orthodox Church understand 1 John 2:27?
    “As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.”
    What is the Orthodox view of teachers and spiritual leaders? Should Christian’s rely on them to be a spiritual authority (that rebukes and so on)? Should we rely on them to receive knowledge about God?

    How do we avoid our faith being reliant on another person if we hold them in such high esteem as it relates to discerning the God’s word?

    1. Anonymous,

      First of all, we thank you for our patience in waiting for a well-constructed response to your questions. In order to fully understand any verse, we must look at the broader picture, the historical context. 1 John is a polemic against two identifiable groups: false teachers with a gnostic bent, and former members of the Church who were a threat to the faith of those remaining. This polemic is mostly pastoral and positive, with the aim of protecting God’s people. The verse you mentioned fits within the passage 1 John 2:18-29, which focuses on the truth that Jesus is God. St. John mentions “many antichrists”, which is a reference to the gnostics and other heretics who broke away from the Church. It is through them that the Antichrist of the end times (see 2 Th 2) does his spadework.

      The anointing mentioned in 2:20-21 recalls the coronation of kings and the ordinations of priests and prophets in the Old Testament, which activated the spiritual gifts and energies needed for their offices. The New Testament anointing is the ongoing reality of the presence of the Holy Spirit, who works in every member of the Church to preserve her in the Truth (John 14:26; 16:13-15). The “You” in the verse is plural, referring to anointing as an action of the Church, not an action of the individual.

      Theologically, the issues are: 1) Does God the Father have a consubstantial Son? 2) Is the Man Jesus the same Person as God the Son? Those who taught differently, the faithful were cautioned to reject.

      In summation, this verse doesn’t touch on the nature of spiritual leadership, but rather on discernment and rejection of false doctrine. However, in a general sense, the Orthodox Church upholds the collective teachings of the Church Fathers and Ecumenical Councils, rather than the teachings of individual priests and bishops. We rely on them as spiritual authorities inasmuch as they preserve and teach those things the Church Fathers preserved and taught. Should they stray from that path, they are in violation of their office, and their teachings are to be rejected.

      We hope this answer helps you. Please feel free to post any follow-up questions here. Now that summer is upon us, we should have more time to dedicate to our blog! God bless!

      1. Saint John Church,

        Thank you for your response! I apologize for my impatience, I was beginning to think you’d forgotten about me 😅.

        Let me preface in saying that my question about 1 John 2:27 was in regards to refuting Sola Scriptura, while my question about spiritual leadership was separate and in regards to reliance of faith and discerning God’s Word. I beg your pardon if there was any confusion.

        I believe I understand the context as you do.
        Tell me if I understand your point as to why this section of scripture does not support Sola Scriptura.
        Are you saying that 1 John 2:27 is directed to the Church as a whole and not the individual, therefore an individual member of the Church cannot discern God’s word with the Holy Spirit and must be taught by a Church Leader where as the Church has received the anointing and has no need for anyone to teach it?

        I am a bit confused by the theological issues that you mentioned and why you mentioned them. Are you saying that those were the main issues that false teachers were teaching wrongly about at the time in an attempt to add more context?

    1. My response was too long:
      In regards to my 2nd question about spiritual leadership: I was concerned that if the Church relied on the scriptures and just as strongly on teachings of their leadership that there was a risk of individuals faiths being shaken in the case that their spiritual leader was ousted by the Church. Do you find this to be uncommon?
      I anticipate that your response might be that the Church should not rely on the teachings of an individual leader but rather should rely on the teachings of the church fathers passed through the generations which will always hold true. I would challenge this by using an extreme example:
      What if the interpretation of the church father’s teachings begins to slowly and unnoticeably change over time? A little change to a tradition here a little change to a teaching there or worse… a conspiracy by the most powerful leaders of the Orthodox Church to permeate their own teachings and agenda throughout the church father’s teachings. What protects the Orthodox Church from this? For a Church that relies so heavily on the teaching they receive from their leaders, I find it hard to believe that it would be quick to become suspicious in these scenarios. Would it be unsafe to say that the words of the disciples and the words of Christ Himself, that have been best recorded through history in the scriptures, along with the discernment we have via the Holy Spirit are the only things we can truly rely on?

      1. We never forget about those who take the time to comment here! 🙂 It just takes time to formulate responses, since the questions people ask here can get quite complex.

        Indeed, you seem to understand the “jist” of our point with regard to 1 John 2:27. The letter is written to a church, a group of people rather than one person; therefore, any mention of “you” refers to the Body of the Church, not to the individual. We can indeed discern God’s Word with the help of the Holy Spirit, but not apart from the Body of the Church. So, for instance, if one came up with a radical interpretation of the Scriptures that conflicted with the interpretation held by the Body of the Church (which is preserved in the writings of the Church Fathers and other extra-biblical texts from early Christendom), that is, in effect, not real discernment of the Word with the help of the Holy Spirit. That is one being led astray through the pride of one’s own interpretation.

        We mentioned the theological issues to provide additional context, yes.

        With regard to your second question, we would say that the Orthodox Church relies more so on the Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers than it does the teachings of its current leaders (i.e. bishops and priests). There were many during the COVID pandemic who found their faith shaken because of the actions of their hierarchs. However, there were just as many who respectfully voiced their discontent with the decisions of those hierarchs and remained steadfast, clinging to the teachings of the Fathers. It is just as common as it is uncommon, if that makes sense!

        You did well in anticipating our response. It is the Holy Spirit Himself who protects His Church. As the Scriptures tell us, “and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). We rely on the Holy Spirit, and we rely on Christ’s promise that He will safeguard His Church. That does not mean that we should not cultivate discernment. We would also argue that the very scenario you described is the way in which most Protestant churches were born out of the Roman Catholic church. It probably has not escaped your notice that such a phenomenon has never happened within Orthodoxy.

        Any other questions? God bless you!

        1. Then we agree as far as who can interpret the Bible through the Holy Spirit. It is the Church, which is made up of the followers of Jesus. I see nothing wrong with reading scripture on one’s own but it would be in their best interest to verify their conclusions with others in which the Spirit abides. As we mature the Spirit helps us discern.
          I’d be curious to take a poll on how many Protestants believe they can interpret scripture apart from the church. I think that when a Protestant argues Sola Scriptura they don’t mean individual interpretation of scripture but rather the Church’s interpretation of scripture and scriptures authority over the traditions of Orthodoxy, traditions that have changed and evolved over time (iconloclastic controversy, modern day temples and garb, other points of hermeneutical contention etc).

          It just seems a bit suspect to me that the traditions would hold more weight than the agreed upon cannon. Granted there is a lot of differences in interpretation (as there was during the times of the church fathers) but most seem to have little to do with salvation.

          Would you not consider the birth of Catholicism an example of this phenomenon happening within Orthodoxy?

          1. Hello again,

            Thank you for your response. While the Church is made up of the followers of Jesus, she has clear boundaries that distinguish those within her and those without. We do not see anything wrong with reading Scripture on one’s own; in fact, we encourage all Orthodox Christians to read the Scriptures daily. However, the danger lies in interpreting passages in such a way that contradicts what the Church has held as the authoritative interpretation, that of the Church Fathers.

            We would argue that the Traditions of Orthodoxy have not changed. Iconoclasm was a heresy, which was quite poisonous, but ultimately unsuccessful. The other two you mention are what we call “little t” traditions. These are obviously not on the same level as Holy Tradition, as they do not concern dogma, and their evolution over time is not the same concept as the development of dogma we have all witnessed within the Roman Catholic church.

            The Roman Catholic church indeed attempted to change Holy Tradition prior to the Great Schism of 1054. And it is clear that their attempt to do so has ultimately led to the splintering of Christendom. There was no need for a Reformation in the East, only in the West, because it was in the West that the innovations were introduced. We apologize if we are “beating a dead horse” here. It is difficult to know what the other knows when commenting on a forum like this. God bless!

  7. Nice article! But I have a question: What is the authority of the Eastern Orthodox Church in matters of faith and dogma? And are traditions based on the Bible?

    1. Ralph,

      Christ is Risen! Thank you for your question. The Church receives Her authority from Christ, who established Her. That authority primarily rests in the ecumenical councils and in the teachings of the Church Fathers. Many of the Traditions of the Church indeed have roots in the Scriptures, but not all of them do, as there is a vibrant oral Tradition protected by the power of the Holy Spirit. Just as not everything any society or group does is written down, so, too, with the Church. Please feel free to post any follow-up questions here! God bless!

  8. It is a bit sad that my “orthodox” brothers and sisters still use derogatory language towards their “catholic” brothers and sisters. I read the responses of Patriarch Jeremiah II to the theologians of Tübingen (Augsburg and Constantinople). The Lutherans hoped to team up with the “Orthodox” but were very much disappointed with the answers from the Patriarch. Substantially his answers are just how I as Catholic would respond. Except for the Filioque all differences are minor but exaggerated in the attempt to differentiate West and East. For me, you are true brothers and sisters I thank God for the “lung of the East”, without which breathing the breath of life is so much harder and less colourful.

    With great respect
    Swiss convert from pentecostalism to the Catholic Church

    1. Kurt,

      Christ is in our midst! We certainly respect that you view things from this perspective. However, the differences between our faiths are anything but minor. And we wonder what in this article is derogatory toward Roman Catholicism? Critical, certainly, but derogatory is quite an accusation. God bless.

  9. Yes hello again, I hope you done mind our lengthy discussion.

    I believe iconoclasm, the divinity of Christ, etc. illustrate my point that there were disagreements in the early church just as there are disagreements today. It makes sense that those labeled “the church fathers” long after their death would be the ones who’s views agreed the religious teaching of the time of their labeling. It’s interesting that you call iconoclasm a poisonous heresy. Would you not agree that there was no ill intent but rather it was an honest attempt to honor and glorify God?

    I don’t want to assume here but are you implying that non-Orthodox Christianity is is outside the bounds of the Church?

    No worries on “beating a dead horse”, I appreciate your thorough responses.

    1. Of course we don’t mind! We thank you for keeping the discussion civil – many commenters cannot seem to restrain themselves from getting confrontation in conversations like these.

      We would agree with that first assertion on its surface. Indeed, these are disagreements within the Church. However, one of those paths is the correct one and the other incorrect. They cannot both simultaneously be correct, as the Holy Spirit is not the author of division or confusion. While the Church Fathers did have views that agree with the teachings of the Apostles, not all of their teachings were correct/agreed with teachings before them. And it is those teachings that diverged that the Church has counseled caution on. One being a Church Father did not make his teachings inerrant or infallible.

      In the specific case of iconoclasm, we would have to disagree with the lack of ill intent. Iconoclasts were quite violent in their persecution of those who venerated holy icons.

      Finally, yes, we are implying that the non-Orthodox fall outside the bounds of the Church.

      1. Well I would say there is always a risk of being incorrect when truth is filtered through fallible men.
        I cannot speak too much to the details of iconoclastic violence. I do know that emperor Leo III denounced it and many took that too far with persecution that most likely had other motives. While I do not agree with the execution, I still believe that the base intent was pure. Would you not try your hardest to warn others of the certain doom that you perceive? It seems that you would based off of this article.

        As far as the bounds of the church is concerned…
        Do you invalidate all the signs, wonders, miracles, changed hearts, broken bonds, and other fruits of the Spirit that happen outside of Orthodoxy? What about the church in Kerala India? Their traditions are not like those of Orthodoxy and yet their lineage can be traced back to the Apostle Thomas. They are now made up of many unique and beautiful followers of Christ. Do you invalidate their faith and journey?

        We must remember that we only know in part. It is indeed hubris for anyone to claim they know the right way with 100% certainty. Once we are in the His presence all will be revealed

        1. There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding here: Truth is not being “filtered” by anyone. It is preserved through the power of the Holy Spirit. If we do not believe the Holy Spirit has the ability to preserve oral teachings, why do we suddenly believe He has the power to preserve a teaching purely because it happens to be written down? Should we really be placing such an arbitrary limit upon God?

          We cannot ultimately know the hearts of those who were iconoclasts. All we know for certain is there was violence, and intent ceases to matter in the face of violence.

          Of course we would not invalidate the miracles of the Holy Spirit outside the boundaries of the Church. The Holy Spirit can, and does, operate both in and outside the Church. This does not contradict the fact that the Church Herself has very real physical and dogmatic/doctrinal boundaries. And historically, the fullness of the Truth can only be found within the Eastern Orthodox Church.

          We are not claiming to know the right way. The Church is. Everything we declare is that which the Church has always declared. Those not in communion with the Orthodox Church are not in communion for particular dogmatic reasons that fundamentally separate them from the body of the Church. For it is our common belief in who God truly is, who Christ truly is, the relationship among the Three Persons of the Trinity…all of these seemingly unimportant details make all the difference in the world.

          1. We can disagree about how much intent matters. I think each case is different. But we’ve digressed from the main topic so we can just leave it at that.

            I think what troubles Protestants is that the concept of an infallible institution can lead to the creation of new doctrine.
            We agree that His words will not fall away.
            That Divine Revelation ended with the death of the Apostles.
            The scriptures are God words and the God breathed words of the law and the prophets as well as the words of Jesus and those who knew Jesus. This is why we view the Bible as infallible and I think Orthodoxy would agree.
            However, we see no precedent for an infallible human or institutional authority after the times of the apostles. We do believe that a canon of infallible books can come from a fallible authority. A fallible list of infallible books if you will. We can test the canon by confirming that there are no contradictions within Scripture.
            By viewing Scripture alone as the highest and only infallible authority, we are protected from being yoked by additional teachings of other authority like the Pharisees or the Catholic Church have attempted to do.

            Most if not all of the arguments you present in the article against Sola Scriptura are the result of fallible humans, not the place of scripture as being the highest and only infallible authority.

          2. That may trouble Protestants; however, that is what Christ instituted. He instituted a Church with real physical and doctrinal boundaries, one over which the gates of hell would not prevail. To insist that the Divine Revelation ended with the death of the Apostles disregards the power of the Holy Spirit in the laying on of hands (ordination) of their successors. It is through the power of the Holy Spirit that fallible men have been able to preserve the fullness of the Truth.

            We agree that the Scriptures are infallible. However, not because they are written down. Because they are preserved by the power of the Holy Spirit, the same as the Tradition and doctrines of the Church that were not written down. And we believe that Scripture and Tradition together occupy that spot of highest authority. They are inseparable from one another, because it is through Tradition that the Scriptures were born. Careful study of the Church’s history prove that Orthodoxy is “backwards compatible”, to borrow the software term. All other Christian “denominations” that were born from Roman Catholicism (and Roman Catholicism itself) are not “backwards compatible”, whether in terms of doctrine or in terms of Tradition remaining preserved.

            And we would agree with your assessment of the article. Sola Scriptura as a doctrine is fundamentally flawed because of the reasons we present therein. Perhaps we can take time to plan and write a separate article about that, addressing the place of Tradition alongside Scripture, to clarify the Orthodox Church’s stance on that topic.

  10. We weigh the misinterpretation of scripture by the minds the Lord has given us to reason and to think with the risk of following the doctrines that have been added to the Word of God as the words of God.

  11. Very interesting, I was sure the Orthodox Church believed that divine revelation ended with the death of the apostles. I’ll have to read up on that more. It seems to me like that is the main distinction here. We don’t deny the Holy Spirits power to preserve Gods Word whether written or not (we do believe the prophets spoke the words of God even if not all was written down). I suppose most Protestants would simply say that only the Scriptures hold the Words of God while church lives them out.
    My guess is that the best way to convince a Protestant otherwise would be to show that divine revelation is still possible.

    I must thank you for the thoughtful and enlightening conversation. I very much appreciate your responses. Perhaps I shall visit your Congregation some day and meet you in person.

    I’ll have to go off the grid for some time as my wife and I shall be traveling to Poland to minister to Ukrainian refugees. Please keep us and the people we meet in your prayers. Glory to God and His Kingdom!

    1. We corrected the typo for you 🙂 The subject of Divine Revelation is a rather murky one, as most of the seven ecumenical councils were ultimately settled by some sort of revelation from a Saint, which allowed the bishops and priests to discern which teachings were orthodox and which were heretical.

      We thank you as well for the conversation, and would be delighted to meet you in person. God’s blessings and protection to you both on your travels! Glory be to Jesus Christ, forever, Amen!

  12. This article as well as those from the Roman Catholic (RCC) fails to understand the real problem with the many subdivisions within protestantism.

    Protestants are in complete agreement in the majority of their doctrines with only a few differences. The Protestants agree with most of the 8 dogmas of the RCC with the exceptions of the ones about the Pope, Mary, and the subjection about Transubstation in the Sacraments. The problems within Protestantism, fall in two camps: (1). Some disagreements with respect to a small number of doctrines which many of the church fathers held and were not considered heretics for them: premillennialism, symbolical view of the eucharist, the mode and subjects of baptism, and the nature of election. (2). The greatest disagreements do not stem from the belief in ‘Sola Scriptura’ but from its rejection. Only those who claim to have revelations or a voice directly from God, even if it contradicts the Bible, will create a new doctrine, and a new church or denomination. Ironically, the source of their many strange beliefs, like those coming from the so called ‘tradition’ or the ‘magisterium’ (in both the RCC and the Orthodox churches) which are not produced from the Bible but from a different source, “the holy spirit” – yes, in lower case. For that reason there are many false doctrines introduced by tradition, magisterium, and “holy spirit” revelations that have caused so many divisions.

    1. George,

      Christ is in our midst! Thank you for your comment. It sounds as though you are calling the teachings of the Orthodox Church “strange beliefs”. We are curious what has led you to such a conclusion, considering it is the Holy Tradition of the Church itself that compiled the canon of Scripture that many Protestants hold (rightly) in such high esteem. In our limited understanding, something from Tradition may seem to contradict the Scriptures when in reality it does not. We would ask for examples of strange beliefs in the Orthodox Church you feel did not come from the Holy Spirit. God bless.

  13. Hello, as a Protestant, I appreciated this article even though I disagreed with it.

    One question I have is if we have to rely on the Church to interpret the Scriptures, then who interprets the Church for us? If someone can misunderstand the Bible, could they not misunderstand the interpretation of the Bible? All communication requires interpretation and God gave human beings the ability to interpret, flawed though it may be. God can use fallible means (the human languages of Hebrew and Greek) to give us the infallible truth (Scripture).

    This isn’t meant to be a gotcha question; just something that’s always puzzled me. Again, I found your article to be respectful and I wish to return the favor.

    In Christ,
    Edward Joyner

    1. Edward,

      Christ is in our midst. Do you mean who in the Church is establishing the interpretation that the Church sets forward? If that is what you mean, the answer is the Fathers of the Church. All bishops and priests throughout the history of the Church have passed down the interpretations of the Fathers; if a bishop or priest promotes an interpretation that contradicts the Fathers, he can be deposed. In Eastern Orthodoxy, the writings of the Fathers are considered authoritative, as many of them lived in the early days of the Church, closer to its genesis than any others. They are considered authoritative all the more because of the ecumenical councils and synods held throughout the Church’s history.

      If that was NOT your question, we apologize! Things can get lost in translation when we are limited to words on a screen. God bless you!

      1. That wasn’t exactly what I meant, but it does help clarify your position. However, the issue hasn’t been solved. You say that a believer cannot interpret the Scripture apart from the Church’s interpretation, and the Church interprets the Scripture by reading the Church Fathers. So if the Fathers have the perfect interpretation of the Scriptures, then a believer could just read the writings of the Fathers along with the Scriptures and come to the correct interpretation; could they not?

        I assume you would say no because you believe the Church is needed to interpret the Father’s interpretation of Scripture. That being the case, what prevents someone from misinterpreting the Church’s interpretation of either the Scriptures or the Fathers?

        I understand the desire to guard against misinterpretations of Scripture, but the risk of misinterpretation is always there when dealing with fallible human beings. Having additional authorities like the Fathers or the Church, which you claim are infallible as well, doesn’t eliminate that risk.

        I greatly appreciate you taking the time to answer my question. God bless you as well.

        1. Edward,

          Christ is in our midst. We apologize for misunderstanding your original question, but are glad we could clarify somewhat. Please allow us to do so further. While one could do as you have said, reading the Fathers on one’s own beside the Scriptures and come to the appropriate interpretation, this is incredibly difficult to do for those of us who are not theologically advanced enough to comprehend some of these things. We cannot assume that every man has the same intellectual capacity to understand the Fathers and the intricacies of their theological positions. To claim such a thing would be intellectually dishonest. The Church is there to safeguard the teachings of the Fathers and preserve them unaltered, and her bishops and priests – who are educated in theology, Christology, and the rest – are there to teach these things to the laity. As we mentioned before, a bishop or priest who misinterprets these teachings and leads the faithful astray will be deposed.

          You are correct that there will always be a risk, because we are fallible and subject to pride. But would not we all agree that we ought to minimize that risk to the greatest extent possible by abiding in the Church Christ established, within the boundaries of the hedge He placed around it? The teachings our bishops and priests protect are not their own. They do not come from the machinations of their own minds, but from the minds of the Fathers of the Church.

          “Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ And he said, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?'” Acts 8:30-31

          God bless!

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