In the previous blog we observed the third “Sola” of the Reformation known as Solus Christus, which I had affirmed was the “cornerstone”(pun intended) sola, which all other “solas” stood or fell. Now we come to the fourth “sola,” the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, which translated from Latin means “Scripture alone.”
How is Sola Scriptura defined? Theopedia gives a definition for this fundamental truth:
Scripture alone (from the Reformation slogan Sola Scriptura) is the teaching that Scripture is the Church’s only infallible and sufficient rule for deciding issues of faith and practices that involve doctrines.
There are three main points about Sola Scriptura that are worth noting in this definition: Authority , infallibility, and sufficiency. Let us look at each one briefly.
- Those who affirm Sola Scriptura recognize Sacred Scripture is authoritative: When it comes to the revelation of God there are two ways God reveals Himself. The first one is by creation itself (which theologians call natural revelation). Paul highlighted this type of revelation in the Book of Romans:
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (1 Rom. 18-20 NASB emphasis mine).
Paul writes those who suppress the truth know that God exists, because God has made His power and divine nature evident in creation, being clearly seen by what has been made. Creation has a Creator, and nature testifies to this. However, although nature tells us that there is a Creator, and that this Creator is indeed all powerful, nature does not tell us who this Creator is, and what this Creator wants man to do. In other words, unless this Creator reveals himself, mankind has no way of knowing this Creator in a personal way. This is where the second type of revelation comes in, where God has personally revealed Himself (which theologians call special revelation). God has revealed Himself to man by the means of Sacred Scripture.
Peter, highlights this truth concerning special revelation:
19 So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. 20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Pet. 1:19-21 NASB, emphasis mine).
The Holy Spirit, third Person of the Triune Godhead, “moved” men (picture wind on the sails of a ship moving the ship along) to write the prophecies of Sacred Scripture. A clearer text of the special revelation is given in Paul’s second letter to Timothy:
16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16 NASB).
All Scripture is theopneustos (lit. “God-breathed). Once more, this sentence Paul wrote to Timothy emphasizes God working through men, to reveal Himself, and His will, to mankind. Paul also wrote in these verses all Scripture is profitable for the believer for four things: 1.) Teaching, 2.) reproof, 3.) correction, and 4.) training in righteousness. How can mankind know God, and what He desires for man? By the special revelation given He has given by the means of His written word.
Those who affirm Sola Scriptura realize that God word is authoritative. It is the highest authority by which the Christian examines life, doctrine, and practice. All creeds, confessions, and teachings about God, and His work, must be tested against the written word of God.
- Those who affirm Sola Scriptura recognize Sacred Scripture is infallible: Those who confess Sola Scriptura understand that Scripture is infallible. What does this mean? This means when it comes to the message the Bible teaches: God’s redemptive plan for mankind, the message is consistent in its message from start to finish. The Old Testament prophesies about the redemption of mankind found in Messiah. The Gospels show the life of the Messiah, and how He is the One come to redeem man from sin, death and the devil. The epistles affirm that Jesus was the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament, and how Jew and Gentile are unified in the Messiah. Infallibility highlights that over the course of thousands of years (roughly 2,000 years), through many authors (spec. 40 authors), and over three continents, the message of God has been consistent.
- Those who affirm Sola Scriptura recognize Sacred Scripture is sufficient: Christians, who hold to Sola Scriptura must hold the Bible is sufficient for life, doctrine, and practice. The testimony of Scripture has been closed, that is, there is no more special revelation to be given by God for His saints. As previously stated, Sacred Scripture alone is what the Christian has been given to be equipped for all good works (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16). The Christian has also “received” this word from God Himself as Jude writes,
3 Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints (Jude vs. 3 NASB, emphasis mine).
God’s word is not exhaustible (we do not know all of God’s thoughts), however what God has revealed to man in Sacred Scripture: Who He is, what He has done, how mankind should live, and what He will do in the future, is sufficient for mankind to know. Those who are convinced God speaks in any other way, and by any other means other than what God, by special revelation has delivered to mankind, may not believe in the authority, or sufficiency, of Sacred Scripture.
This particular “sola” tells the Christian they can trust God’s revealed word. God wants to be known, yet mankind cannot know God by his own thoughts, feelings, ideas, speculations, or assumptions. The word of God is the only means by which mankind can know God, and His work throughout history. Because of Sola Scriptura, and the points that Sola Scriptura highlights, mankind understands that salvation from God is by faith alone (Sola Fide), through grace alone (Sola Gratia), in Christ alone (Solus Christus), for the glory of God alone (Soli Deo Gloria).
Until next time…
Soli Deo Gloria!