Sola Scriptura is Latin for “Scripture alone” and is one of the five foundational principles that came out of the Reformation, 500 years ago this year. It is supposed to mean that the Christian Scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith, doctrine, and practice. Well, in theory. In practice however, it does not mean that at all.
The Church of Rome, Anglicanism and Eastern orthodoxy all openly deny Sola Scriptura and place church traditions, the authority of the church and several other things at an equal or even higher authority than the Scriptures. At least they are honest about that, but the Reformers on the other hand, emphasized their commitment to Sola Scriptura.
So, we must ask whether the Reformers did indeed believe and practice Sola Scriptura and the answer is a resoundingly NO. The Reformers held to Sola Scriptura only as far as it suited their own ideas. However, for the most part their theology was based on a mixture of Scripture, Catholic tradition, the teachings of the so called “Church Fathers”, and rationalism. All the Reformers quoted the “Church Fathers” extensively and held to many doctrines that the “Church Fathers” taught which the Bible does not. They freely confessed that and an examination of their ideas and doctrines against the Bible confirms this.
Since the Reformers leaned so heavily on the “Church Fathers” and the creeds the “Fathers” produced, and since modern Reformationism hold the “Church Fathers” in such high esteem, we must ask if the Church Fathers were Sola Scriptura? Again the answer is simply NO. Even a cursory reading of church history and of the “Fathers” shows that their theology was heavily influenced by Greek mythology and Gnosticism. In fact, several of their cardinal doctrines had absolutely no Scriptural basis whatsoever and were taken directly from Greek mythology. Augustine in his On Christian Teaching speaks frankly about plundering the Egyptians and baptizing the truth that we gain from pagan thought. Many of these doctrines steeped in pagan thinking were carried over to the Reformers and are still held by modern Reformationism.
Luther thought that the Ante-Nicene Period (roughly between AD100 and AD325) was the “golden age” of the church and that the “Church Fathers” who emerged from this period were spiritual giants. But even a cursory examination shows that in spite of the church being persecuted and many being martyred for the faith, it had strayed far from what was believed and practiced by the Apostles. The church and its leaders that produced the Creeds were politically compromised, basically Arian (denying the divinity of Jesus), and far from what we understand to be Bible-believing fundamentalists. Their view of salvation was very different to that of the apostles and that of the New Testament and they can therefore not be called Evangelical. Their church structure had more in common with Catholicism as the State religion than with New Testamental Christianity and the way they interpreted Scripture was capricious, at best.
The bottom line is that the “Church Fathers” were not Sola Scriptura and neither were the Reformers. The same has to be said of those who hold to modern Reformationism or Calvinism. The very fact that they identify themselves with the Reformation or the man, Calvin, acknowledges their devotion to these things rather than to the Lord Jesus or the Scriptures. Once again, if you were to examine many of their cardinal doctrines and ideas, you will find that they have re-interpreted Scripture in the light of the teachings of the “Fathers” and of the Reformers, rather than based on the plain teaching of Scripture. Thus when they use the term Sola Scriptura, it clearly does not mean “only Scripture” but is rather a euphuism for “Scripture plus”.
What they do is in many respects similar to what the Pharisees did. The Pharisees, out of a sincere desire to protect the Law, built a “fence” around it. This fence consisted of the teachings of the Rabbis and of their traditions. Thus what the Pharisees taught was no longer Scripture alone, but was “Scripture plus” and that was exactly why Jesus opposed them saying they were: “…making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.” (Mark 7:13). And “Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:24). Not only had these endless additions to the Word brought them into extreme legalism but it robbed them of the kind of personal, living, relationship that they should have had with the Lord, and it blinded them to the ultimate truth of Jesus as the Messiah. Further, rather than their system bringing about true spirituality, it brought about spiritual pride, elitism and intellectual snobbery. And, rather than strengthen the Word, they stripped it of its glory, power and simplicity.
The Word of God is living and powerful (Hebrews 4:12) and it does not need to be spiced up with the ideas and traditions of men. Clearly what we need is not to return to the Reformers or the “Church Fathers” but to the Bible: “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (Isaiah 8:20).
Our modern thinking makes us believe that complexity is equal to intelligence and wisdom. It is not. Wisdom is revealed in the simplicity (yet unsearchable depths) of the Word. One of the miracles of the Bible is that a child can understand it, even though it reveals the inscrutable things of God. Yet, we set aside the riches of God’s wisdom for the rags of our foolishness. “For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” (1Corinthians 1:19-21).
This appeal to return to the simplicity and purity of the Word alone permeates the entire New Testament: “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” (2Corinthians 11:3). “…nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith.” (1Timothy 1:4). “O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge– by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith.” (1Timothy 6:20-21).
It seems simplistic to say that we only believe the Scriptures and that unless it is plainly written we will not be deceived as Eve was by the question “has God indeed said”. But the moment one removes the boundaries of Scripture alone, there is no limit to how far one will stray: “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8).
To conclude: I am not Sola Scriptura, I am Scripture only. “…that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written” (1Corinthians 4:6).
 It must always be remembered that the “Church Fathers” were the fathers of the Eastern and Roman churches and not of the true church.