What does "prima scriptura" mean?

Prima scriptura is the Christian doctrine that teaches that the canonized Bible is the first or most important source for knowing God and His will. Because it describes Scripture as first in importance, this doctrine inherently recognizes that there are other—although less authoritative—ways to know God and His will. Some examples include the created order (Romans 1:20), miracles (Exodus 6:6–7; John 10:38; 1 Corinthians 2:4–5), prophecy (Deuteronomy 18:15; 2 Peter 1:19), circumstances (Deuteronomy 18:21–22; Ezekiel 6:14), the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; Ephesians 1:17), and church tradition (Romans 6:3–4; 1 Corinthians 11:24–26), among others. Because Scripture is considered the supreme source for guiding Christian faith and practice, in this doctrine, those other ways of revelation are placed under the authority of Scripture. This means other ways of revelation can be corrected or even rendered void wherever they contradict biblical teaching.

It is important to understand the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox understanding of the phrase prima scriptura. Both groups point to the fact that Scripture emerged from the tradition of faith and numerous church councils. Even Paul pointed to the importance of oral teaching and passing that tradition to others (2 Thessalonians 2:15; 2 Timothy 2:2). In this view, Scripture is simply the written tradition of the church and therefore church tradition is as important as Scripture. Things like creeds and papal decrees are considered as authoritative as Scripture itself, which gives an abundance of power to the church. The abuse of power and unbiblical practices of the middle ages led reformers to call for a doctrine known as sola scriptura.

Sola scriptura is a doctrine that teaches that Scripture is the supreme source of authority for guiding Christian faith and practice. It is not the first among many sources, as prima sciptura could be understood to suggest. Rather, God's Word is the authority by which all other ways of understanding God are judged to be correct. The reformers still recognized other sources for knowing God and His will. Sola scriptura teaches that church tradition, creeds, experience, reason, and other things are meant to support the reading and practice of Scripture. It is also why the reformers argued for translating Scripture into common local languages. If other sources of divine revelation were to be placed under the authority of Scripture, people would need access to the Scriptures in order to determine where those revelations did or did not align with the Bible.

Another view of sola scriptura teaches that Scripture is not only the supreme source of divine revelation, but that it is the only source of revelation. This understanding of sola scriptura relies solely on Scripture as the only way to know God and His will. It is not that Scripture is primary (prima scriptura) or even that it is the authoritative measure (sola scirptura as used by some), but rather that Scripture stands completely alone as the source for revealing God. Galatians 3:8 shows how Scripture is sufficient for knowing and understanding the gospel. Second Timothy 3:16–17 assures us that, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." So some Protestant churches hold to the view of sola scriptura as Scripture being the sole and sufficient revelation of God.

All these views of Scripture point to the importance of knowing God and the fact that God has graciously revealed Himself to us in His Word. Spending time reading the Bible and meditating on God's Word will certainly increase our understanding of God and His will.

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