In conversations around Protestant theology and biblical interpretation, terms such as “Sola Scriptura,” “Nuda Scriptura,” and “Prima Scriptura” often surface. While they may seem similar at a glance, each term carries distinct implications about the role and authority of scripture in the life of a Christian believer. Let’s dive into each of these terms to understand their differences and implications better.

Sola Scriptura

“Sola Scriptura” is a Latin phrase that translates to “Scripture Alone.” This principle, which emerged during the Protestant Reformation under leaders like Martin Luther, asserts that scripture is the highest and final authority in matters of faith and practice1.

According to “Sola Scriptura,” scripture is self-authenticating, clear to the rational reader, its own interpreter (“Scriptura sui ipsius interpres”), and sufficient of itself to be the final authority of Christian doctrine2. For instance, Martin Luther, when asked to recant his teachings at the Diet of Worms in 1521, famously stated that unless he was “convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason,” he would not recant, emphasizing the role of scripture as the ultimate authority.

Nuda Scriptura

“Nuda Scriptura” is a more extreme version of “Sola Scriptura.” Translated as “Bare Scripture,” it insists on Scripture alone to the exclusion of any other sources of wisdom or tradition3. In other words, it rejects not just the notion of tradition as an equally authoritative source alongside scripture, but also the idea of tradition as a useful interpretive tool.

An example of “Nuda Scriptura” can be seen in certain strands of independent or non-denominational Christianity that intentionally distance themselves from historical Christian tradition. Such groups often rely solely on the literal interpretation of the Bible for their beliefs and practices, without taking into account the interpretive wisdom offered by the historical church.

Another example of this would be the principle known as CENI that is a foundational doctrine among churches of Christ. This asserts that there must be a command, example or necessary inference from scripture to validate any practice or teachings. To do otherwise would make them unauthorized and possibly sinful. This was borrowed from the Westminster Confession.

Prima Scriptura

“Prima Scriptura,” translated as “Scripture First,” is a theological principle that holds scripture as the primary source of theological authority but not as the only one4. It accepts the value of tradition, reason, and experience, while placing scripture in a primary position.

The Anglican Communion, for instance, subscribes to this view with its formulation of the “Lambeth Quadrilateral,” which includes scripture, tradition, reason, and experience as four pillars of theological authority[^5^]. The Methodists also employ the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral,” a similar methodology named after John Wesley, the founder of Methodism[^6^]. In both cases, while scripture holds primacy, the other elements play crucial roles in shaping faith and practice.

Conclusion

While “Sola Scriptura,” “Nuda Scriptura,” and “Prima Scriptura” all focus on scripture as a crucial source of authority, the extent and manner in which they incorporate other elements such as tradition, reason, and experience differ significantly. Understanding these differences helps to appreciate the diversity in the interpretation and application of scripture within the broader Christian tradition.


Footnotes

  1. McGrath, A. E. (1999). Reformation Thought: An Introduction. Wiley-Blackwell.
  2. Luther, M. (1521). Defense at the Diet of Worms.
  3. Mathison, K. A. (2001). The Shape of Sola Scriptura. Canon Press.
  4. Thorsen, D. (2005). The Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, & Experience as a Model of Evangelical Theology
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