The Supreme and Infallible Judge

Francis Turretin’s section on Scripture, his 2nd topic, is marvelous, wonderful, invigorating, and Biblical. I recommend it for all who are interested in the Protestant view of Scripture. The 20th question in the Topic is:

Whether the Scriptures (or God speaking in them) are the supreme and infallible judge of controversies and the interpreter of the Scriptures. Or whether the church or the Roman Pontiff is. We affirm the former and deny the latter against the papists. 

He then says:

This is a primary question and almost the only one on account of which all the other controversies about the Scriptures started. From no other cause is either that authority of Scriptures called in question by the papists or their integrity and purity attacked or their perspicuity and perfection argued against, than to prove the Scriptures cannot be the judge of controversies and the necessity of having recourse to the tribunal of the church. 

He then gives seven reasons why Scripture is the supreme and infallible judge.

First, “God in the Old and New Testaments absolutely and unconditionally sends us to this judge.”

Second, “The practice of Christ and his apostles confirms this for in controversies of faith they appeal to the Scriptures.”


A supreme and infallible judge is one who never errs in judgment, nor is he able to err; is uninfluenced by prejudice and from whom is no appeal. Now these requisites can be found neither in the church, nor councils, nor pope, for they can both err and often have erred most egregiously.


Man cannot be the infallible interpreter of the Scriptures and judge of controversies because he liable to error. Our faith cannot be placed in him, but upon God alone from whom depends the sense and meaning of the Scriptures and who is the best interpreter of his own words. 


If there was such a judge as the papists maintain: (a)  it is a wonder that the Lord never mentions this interpreter who is so essential; (b) that Paul in his epistles…does not inform them even by a single word of so great a privilege; (c) that Peter in his catholic epistles did not arrogate this as about to be transmitted to his successors, much less exercise it; (d) that the popes were neither able nor willing by that infallible authority to settle the various most important controversies which the Romish church cherished in her own bosom (i.e., between the Thomists and the Scotists, the Dominicans and the Jesuits, the Jesuits and Jansenists, etc.). 


The church cannot be regarded as the judge of controversies because she would be a judge in her own cause and the rule of herself.  For the chief controversy is about the power and infallibility of the church, when the very question is whether the church is the judge, or whether the church can err. 

Seventh, “the ancients here agree with us.” Turretin then goes on to quote church fathers who agree that the Scriptures are the final judge.

Here are a couple of other quotes from this section and the next, which is on what authority the church fathers should have in the church. All parentheses are his.

When we say that the Scriptures are the judge of controversies, we mean it in no other sense than that they are the source of divine right, and the most absolute rule of faith by which all controversies of faith can and should be certainly and perspicuously settled. 

The orthodox (although they hold the fathers in great estimation and think them very useful to a knowledge of the history of the ancient church, and our opinion on cardinal doctrines may agree with them) yet deny that their authority, whether as individuals or taken together, can be called authoritative in matter of faith and the interpretation of the Scriptures, so that by their judgment we must stand or fall. Their authority is only ecclesiastical and subordinate to the Scriptures and of no weight except so far as they with them. 

Therefore we gather that the fathers neither can nor ought to be regarded as judges in our controversies, but as witnesses who (by their wonderful consent) give testimony to the truth of Christianity and prove (by their silence or even by weighty reasons) the falsity of the doctrines introduced by the papists beyond and contrary to the Scriptures. Their writings must be respectfully received and read with profit. Yet at the same time they cannot have any other than our ecclesiastical and human authority (i.e., subordinate and dependent on the Scriptures.