Prima scriptura is a doctrine that says canonized scripture is "first" or "above all" sources of divine revelation.

Implicitly, this view acknowledges that, besides canonical scripture, there are other guides for what a believer should believe, and how he should live, such as the created order, traditions, charismatic gifts, mystical insight, angelic visitations, conscience, common sense, the views of experts, the spirit of the times or something else. Prima scriptura suggests that ways of knowing or understanding God and his will, that do not originate from canonized scripture, are in a second place, perhaps helpful in interpreting that scripture, but testable by the canon and correctable by it, if they seem to contradict the scriptures.

Roman Catholicism

The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation is clear on the total equality of Scripture with Catholic tradition when it says that "both Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence" because together they "form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church."[1] So, in one sense, Scripture has no primacy over Tradition, but an ancient tradition holds that the Word of God, though equally authoritative in whichever form it comes, comes primarily in the form of Sacred Scripture, and thus we should seek for Sacred Doctrine primarily in the Scriptures. As Thomas Aquinas said:

...[S]acred doctrine...properly uses the authority of the canonical Scriptures as an incontrovertible proof, and the authority of the doctors of the Church as one that may properly be used, yet merely as probable. For our faith rests upon the revelation made to the apostles and prophets who wrote the canonical books, and not on the revelations (if any such there are) made to other doctors.[2]

For this reason, some sources say that prima scriptura is the normative Catholic approach. Yves Congar referred to prima scriptura as the "normative primacy of Scripture" as he described the work of Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas. Pope John Paul II in an address to academics in 1986 said, "Theology must take its point of departure from a continual and updated return to the Scriptures read in the Church." This statement has been taken by some as support for interpreting the Church's teaching in terms of the prima scriptura perspective.

Wesleyan Methodism

Another version of the prima scriptura approach may be the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, which maintains that Scripture is to be the primary authority for the Church. Nonetheless, it is best interpreted through the lenses of reason, personal experience, and Church tradition, although the Bible remains the crucial and normative authority for Christians. According to the United Methodist Church, which adheres to this notion:

Scripture is considered the primary source and standard for Christian doctrine. Tradition is experience and the witness of development and growth of the faith through the past centuries and in many nations and cultures. Experience is the individual's understanding and appropriating of the faith in the light of his or her own life. Through reason the individual Christian brings to bear on the Christian faith discerning and cogent thought. These four elements taken together bring the individual Christian to a mature and fulfilling understanding of the Christian faith and the required response of worship and service.[3]


Additionally, the Quaker concept of the Inner light and charismatic views of the Holy Spirit as an active force in the life of the believer may be examples of the prima scriptura approach. Groups like Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Jehovah's Witnesses place organizational authority over their scriptures.

The Mormon church accepts the Bible as the word of God "as far as it is translated correctly," [4] and it regards parts of the Apocrypha,[5] some writings of the Protestant Reformers and non-Christian religious leaders, and the non-religious writings of some philosophers to be inspired, though not canonical.[6] Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the interpretation of scripture and codification of doctrines is considered the responsibility of the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses.[7]

Others may not be as formal as these in their identification of other sources of revelation, alongside of Scripture, but speak frequently of God "speaking to", "guiding", and "telling" the believer to do or to believe specific things. If the believer treats these communications as subordinate to the Bible, leaving them open to question if they contradict the Scriptures, their practice might be described as an example of prima scriptura.[original research?]

Contrast with sola scriptura

Prima scriptura is sometimes contrasted to sola scriptura, which literally translates "by the scripture alone". The latter doctrine as understood by many Protestants—particularly Evangelicals—teaches that the Scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith and practice, but that the Scriptures' meaning can be mediated through many kinds of secondary authority, such as the ordinary teaching offices of the Church, antiquity, the councils of the Christian Church, reason, and experience.

However, sola scriptura rejects any original infallible authority, other than the Bible. In this view, all secondary authority is derived from the authority of the Scriptures and is therefore subject to reform when compared to the teaching of the Bible. Church councils, preachers, Bible commentators, private revelation, or even a message allegedly from an angel or an apostle are not an original authority alongside the Bible in the sola scriptura approach.


  1. Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation - Dei Verbum
  2. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 1:1:8.
  3. "Wesleyan Quadrilateral". The United Methodist Church. Retrieved 2007-06-24. 
  4. See Articles of Faith 1:8 ("We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.") Joseph Smith wrote, "I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers" (Teachings of The Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 327).
  5. See D&C 91.
  6. FAQ about the Mormon Church
  7. "Christ Leads His Congregation". Watchtower: 13–16. March 15 2002. 

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