Does Sola Scriptura Fail
Because There Are Thousands of Protestant Denominations?
When discussing the Protestant slogan of Sola Scriptura, the Bible only for doctrine, Catholics will commonly assert something like the following: Since there are literally thousands of different Protestant sects and denominations, having quite different interpretations of scripture, this proves that Sola Scriptura is obviously an unworkable failure, since God is not the author of confusion. The assertion is that if Sola Scriptura were true, and working successfully, only one interpretation or understanding of any given doctrine would be clearly evident to all, and that interpretation would be universally taught and practiced, without any deviations.
Noah spent 120 years building the ark (Gen 6:3), and preached to a doomed and dying world as he was building. Yet, after so many years of preaching, only 8 people entered into the ark (Gen 7:13, 1 Pet 3:20). Was Noah a failure at preaching the word of God because so few were saved and uncounted thousands were lost?
Isa 55:6 Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:
Isa 55:7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
Isa 55:8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.
Isa 55:9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Isa 55:10 For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:
Isa 55:11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
Noah was a faithful servant and prophet of God, and so was speaking for God to his generation, and as indicated in Isa 55:11, God's word does not fail to accomplish His purpose. Noah successfully accomplished the task set before him by God, and all the righteous of the earth entered into the completed ark, though it was only eight people, and all the wicked perished. The measure of Noah's success was NOT how few were saved, and neither was the comparatively large number of those lost an indication of failure on his part or on the part of God. The real question is what percentage of the faithful and righteous were saved? Since God and His word do not fail in His purpose, 100% of the righteous were saved and 100% of the wicked were lost, and that is the measure of success: 100%. None of the truly righteous will be lost (John 17:12, 18:9), and all of the wicked will surely perish, even though the righteous will be vastly outnumbered by the wicked:
Mat 7:13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
Mat 7:14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
During His ministry on earth, Jesus many times publicly taught by using parables (Matt 13:3) to illustrate important spiritual truths, and sometimes even His disciples needed to ask Jesus to explain a parable's meaning (John 10:6). At times, even when speaking clearly, without using parables, Jesus was not immediately understood by His disciples:
Mark 9:31 For he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day.
Mark 9:32 But they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him.
Luke 9:43 And they were all amazed at the mighty power of God. But while they wondered every one at all things which Jesus did, he said unto his disciples,
Luke 9:44 Let these sayings sink down into your ears: for the Son of man shall be delivered into the hands of men.
Luke 9:45 But they understood not this saying, and it was hid from them, that they perceived it not: and they feared to ask him of that saying.
Was Jesus a failure because His disciples did not immediately understand what he was saying?
Luke 24:6 He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee,
Luke 24:7 Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.
Luke 24:8 And they remembered his words,
Luke 24:9 And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest.
John 14:29 And now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe.
There are times when it suits God's purpose that His words NOT be understood at the time they are spoken, but rather at a later time. On one occasion, Jesus was even opposed in what He was trying to teach by the apostle Peter:
Mat 16:21 From that time forth began Jesus to show unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.
Mat 16:22 Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.
Mat 16:23 But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.
After telling the parable of the sower to a great multitude, Jesus was approached by His disciples in private, who asked Him why He found it necessary to teach in parables, and the answer He gave is quite revealing:
Mat 13:9 Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
Mat 13:10 And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?
Mat 13:11 He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.
Mat 13:12 For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.
Mat 13:13 Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.
Mat 13:14 And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:
Mat 13:15 For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.
Mat 13:16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.
Mark 4:9 And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
Mark 4:10 And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable.
Mark 4:11 And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables:
Mark 4:12 That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.
Luke 8:8 ... He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
Luke 8:9 And his disciples asked him, saying, What might this parable be?
Luke 8:10 And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.
Was the measure of Jesus' success at teaching, the number of people that understood perfectly what He was saying, or was His failure measured by the number of people that walked away without understanding? No, those who had "ears to hear" would understand. Those, who for whatever reason did not want to hear, did not understand. The apostle Paul also explains why this is so:
Acts 28:23 And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him [Paul] into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening.
Acts 28:24 And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not.
Acts 28:25 And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers,
Acts 28:26 Saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive:
Acts 28:27 For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.
Acts 28:28 Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.
1 Cor 2:12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.
1 Cor 2:13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
1 Cor 2:14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
Heb 4:2 For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.
The word of God is clearly not intended to be understood by everyone:
Dan 12:10 Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand.
Scripture is, in fact, a method of separating the sheep from the goats, so to speak, a way of separating those with "ears to hear" from those who do not want to hear. Scripture does not fail in its purpose of instructing the "sheep" simply because there are so many goats that do not understand, because the sheep will hear, and will understand, at the appointed time that suits God's purpose. Sola Scriptura, the Bible only for doctrine, similarly cannot be labeled an unworkable failure because so many Protestants disagree on points of doctrine, for the simple reason that not all Protestants are sheep, though they may claim to be, and may even appear to be sheep:
Mat 7:15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
Mat 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Mat 7:22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
Mat 7:23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Mat 7:24 Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
Mat 7:25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
Mat 7:26 And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:
Mat 7:27 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.
Luke 15:4 What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?
Luke 15:5 And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
Luke 15:6 And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
Luke 15:7 I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.
The sheep will hear Jesus' voice through His word, and follow Him, and not one of the sheep will be lost. Sola Scriptura is not an unworkable failure, because God's word simply cannot fail. So, those that have ears to hear, let them hear and understand what inspired scripture says.
John 10:14 I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.
John 10:24 Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.
John 10:25 Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of me.
John 10:26 But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you.
John 10:27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:
John 10:28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.
John 10:29 My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.