It is said that potato chips were invented when a customer complained that Chef George Crum’s french fries were too thick…and out of spite, the chef then sliced the potatoes super thin, fried them and viola potato chips. There are times in life that we can all relate to Chef Crum…doing things out of spite to prove a point. And sometimes those things turn out crispy and delicious. Sometimes they don’t. I hope as you read this article, a follow-up to Thursday’s post on Sola Scriptura, that you would find this post to be a fuller and more satisfying articulation of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura and how it’s not only completely Biblical, but essential.
My previous post did a good job of explaining how functional and useful Scripture is to not just tell us about God but to bring us to full maturity as a Christian…so I won’t reiterate those points here. What I am going to attempt to do is lay out some common misconceptions about what exactly Sola Scriptura is and then try to explain the idea more fully…using scripture, of course, to support my arguments.
Sola Scriptura is the belief that the Holy Scriptures are the sole, sufficient, infallible rule of faith. The importance of affirming and defending this doctrine stems partly from the need to know God personally for salvation and to know his will in order to carry it out in our lives:
Sola Scriptura, along with the other four Solas of the reformation, were the central points of disagreement with the Catholic church and the reformers, but it was Sola Scriptura, that Luther really dug his heals into. Luther loved the Bible and was particularly vexed by his fellow German’s neglect of if. He comments on this at end of a sermon on the Monday after Easter, 1530:
You should diligently learn the Word of God and by no means imagine that you know it. Let him who is able to read take a psalm in the morning, or some other chapter of Scripture, and study it for a while. This is what I do. When I get up in the morning, I pray and recite the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer with the children, adding any one of the psalms. I do this only to keep myself well acquainted with these matters, and I do not want to let the mildew of the notion grow that I know them well enough. The devil is a greater rascal than you think he is. You do as yet not know what sort of fellow he is and what a desperate rogue you are. His definite design is to get you tired of the Word and in this way to draw you away from it. This is his aim. (WA 32, 64)
Ultimately, though, Martin Luther loved the Bible because it was there that he had found Jesus Christ and the good news that we are justified by faith not the works of the Law. For him, this was the reason Scripture was written and the reason for reading and hearing it, as indicated here:
Here [John 5:39,40,43] Christ would indicate the principal reason why the Scripture was given by God. Men are to study and search in it and to learn that He, He, Mary’s Son, is the one who is able to give eternal life to all who come to Him and believe in Him. Therefore, he who would correctly and profitably read Scripture should see to it that he finds Christ in it; then he finds life eternal without fail. On the other hand, if I do not so study and understand Moses and the prophets as to find that Christ came from heaven for the sake of my salvation, became man, suffered, died, was buried, rose, and ascended into heaven so that through Him I enjoy reconciliation with God, forgiveness of all my sins, grace, righteousness, and life eternal, then my reading in Scripture is of no help whatsoever to my salvation. I may, of course, become a learned man by reading and studying Scripture and preach what I have acquired; yet all this would do me no good whatever. (WA 51,4)
Sola Scriptura was at stake when Luther stood before the diet of Worms and delivered his infamous “Here I stand” speech in 1521, though that’s not exactly, what he said…this is what he said:
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason-for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves-I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me. Amen.
The rule of Scripture as the sole authority in the life of the church was so entrenched in every fiber of Luthers being that he was willing to face death before recanting of saying as such.
Were it today that we had such passion for scripture…but even after hundreds of years the attitude of men’s hearts towards the Word of God hasn’t changed, unless God sees fit to change it. We have on average four different Bibles in every home in America and our biggest problem, in this country, is Scriptural illiteracy. I can turn on the TV and see men and women listening to
goat-herders “pastors” saying things that are completely contrary to the Word of God and thousands of people in the audience soaking it in, clapping…”amen”-ing because they have no idea…what the bible actually says. But I am getting off track…Sola Scriptura stems in part from the need to know God and how he has provided that we get to know Him,
“This is what the LORD says: Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight, declares the LORD.” Jeremiah 9:23-24
“‘If you love me, you will obey what I command’… Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him’… Jesus replied, ‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.’” John 14:15, 21, 23-24
“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” John 17:3
The Holy Bible teaches that there are grave consequences in failing to know and obey God:
“my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children.” Hosea 4:6
I like to eat my gummy bears two at a time so they die together.
That was to see if you’re still paying attention.
Now before i go too much further I must tell you of what Sola Scriptura is NOT.
1. Sola Scriptura does not deny that God’s Inspired Word was transmitted orally.
When there were inspired prophets and apostles walking this earth, God’s inspired word was being transmitted both orally and through written letter:
“This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.” 1 Corinthians 2:13
And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe. 1 Thessalonians 2:13
“But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15
After the death of the last Apostle, God consummated the revelation of his word and has preserved it in the inspired Scriptures. In fact it was that last apostle that wrote these words in the closing of the final book of the Bible, Revelation:
and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. Rev. 22:19
2. Sola Scriptura does not deny the importance of the Holy Spirit.
I pointed out in my previous post that it is the Holy Spirit that illuminates the Scriptures to bring us to salvation, rather I re-iterated the WCF anyway, but here are a few more verses to back up my point there.
“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” John 14:26
“Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus be cursed,’ and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 12:3
“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,” Ephesians 1:17-18
“But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth… I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you.But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit-just as it has taught you, remain in him.” 1 John 2:20, 26-27
3. Sola Scriptura does not deny the use of General Revelation.
General Revelation refers to God revealing himself through creation and conscience, it is different from the Special Revelation of the Holy Spirit as mentioned above.
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” Psalm 19:1-4
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” Romans 1:18-20
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. Romans 2:14-16
Yet General Revelation does not save apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. God saves through the Spirit along with the preaching of the Gospel:
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 10:13-17
4. Sola Scriptura does not deny the importance of pastors, teachers and evangelists.
And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 1 Corinthians 12:28-29
But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Ephesians 4:7
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, Ephesians 4:11-15
What Sola Scriptura teaches is that all pastors, teachers and evangelists are subject to God’s ultimate authority, the God-breathed Scriptures:
The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Acts 17:10-11
5. Sola Scriptura does not claim all parts of the Bible are equally clear and understandable. A point which I discussed in ky previous post as well.
For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and understand and I hope you will fully understand—2 Corinthians 1:13
Purple Robot Monkey…just checking…
6. (and last) thing that Sola Scriptura claim is that it exhaustive.
Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. John 21:25
Now the good stuff…What Sola Scriptura DOES teach
1. The Holy Scriptures are the sole, infallible rule of faith by virtue of it being breathed out or inspired by God. As such it is completely sufficient in and of itself to thoroughly equip Christians in all things necessary for salvation and sanctification.
2. The Bible is the only certain norm, since it is the only revelation that can be demonstrated to have come from inspired men of God. This cannot be said of oral traditions. (Catholics…*cough**cough*)
3. The central focus of the Scriptures is to reveal and make known the risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, God’s eternally beloved Son, who alone grants eternal life to all who believe.
The same verse that Luther saw as being the sole reason of Scripture I will refer you back to now. John 5:39-40
You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
The fact is that many places in Scripture confirm this:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. John 20:30-31
These verse state that not everything Christ did was recorded, and yet what has been recorded is sufficient to obtain eternal life. If Scriptures are sufficient to lead a person to eternal life, then nothing else is needed. Which is the very crux of Sola Scriptura. Paul reiterated this point to Timothy, in 2 Timothy. A verse i referred to in my previous post.
I like-a do the cha cha…I know I’m getting long-winded and need to wrap this up. This is what I do for fun on a Friday night.
To illustrate the point these scriptures make a Bible could, literally, fall out of the sky and a person who only knows how to read could read it the Word, illuminated by the Holy Spirit he could be saved, fully mature as a Christian, die and spend eternity with the Creator with no other reading or teaching than what is in the Bible.
Now, some would argue that because when the writers of the New Testament were referring to scripture that meant the were referring to the Old Testament. But this argument would mean the New Testament is not needed, and this argument misses the point that Paul is not talking about the origin of Scripture, Paul is talking about the purpose of Scripture. ANYTHING God said or inspired would be useful and considered canon. Paul even said his own writings were inspired. 1 Corinthians 14:37-38 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2, 8 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15 2 Thessalonians 3:14
When we keep in mind that these letters all preceded the writing of 1 and 2 Timothy, we can safely infer that these epistles would have also been included among the Scriptures that Paul said were breathed out by God; an inference which the apostle Peter himself makes:
“Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” 2 Peter 3:15-16
So there you have it…I hope, much like Chef Crum and his newfangled potato chips, that you would find this post a more satisfying explanation of the matter of Sola Scriptura.
Now I want some chips…