What Is Sola Scriptura?
730 feet long, 500 feet wide and nearly as tall, this monument attracts millions every year, and no I’m not talking about the new Noah’s Ark creation museum. This enormous structure greets visitors with a facade of giant pillars. As you draw near your are forced to crane your neck back to see the 13 larger than life statues who are perched at the top looking down upon you. Behind them a colossal dome rises into the sky.
Maybe by now you can guess what I’m describing. This is St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, arguably the most important basilica in all of the world and certainly the most visited! St. P. was a feat of architectural genius. At the time it was built it was most likely the tallest and largest building in the world. The main dome was designed by Michael Angelo using new technology to make it the largest dome ever built and to this day the tallest dome.
It truly awes the visitor who seems to disappear as he approaches this immense edifice. Once inside it is overwhelming to take in the works of art that fill every corner and more impressively the colorful underside of the domes, each one detailing Biblical stories.
However, beyond doubt the most impressive of all is the main dome which rises at the end of an extended nave giving the worshipper a clear and unencumbered view of the focus point of the entire building and drawing him in. As he moves towards the dome it slowly comes into view revealing it’s massive beauty!
As you come closer towards the center of the main dome your eyes are at first raised to see the words “Hinc sacerdotii unitas exoritur” “From here the priesthood unified rises.” Then your gaze falls below the dome where stands the 66 foot tall bronze canopy directly over the claimed grave of the Apostle Peter.
And that’s really what it is all about! St. Peter’s Basilica is and was the Catholic Church’s effort to prove their authority, their power, their inspiration, their ordination as the sole keepers of God’s truth, the administrators of God’s grace, and the agents of his mercy.
St. Peter’s Basilica is really nothing more than a 500-year-old propaganda scheme that was meant to impress and overwhelm any who would dare questions the unquestionable authority of the Catholic Church!
And so they made a large pile of stones over Peter’s dead bones and said, “Look, can’t you see, this is where we get our authority!”
Here’s the way they put it in the 2nd Vatican council:
“It is clear, therefore, that Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.”
But I say, No! The only thing Peter’s corpse can give you is a guilty conscience, oh and it can get you money too from the millions who believe your claims! But it can no more give you authority to forgive sin, or speak the oracles of God than can the bones of a dead dog can give anyone the right to bark out orders to the canine world!
The warning of John the Baptist still rings true today:
Luk 3:8 Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.
The Bible clearly instructs us both in the Old and New Testament that divine authority comes not through
- human institutions,
- long-held traditions,
- monumental buildings,
- military might,
- Political systems
- our own intellectual prowess,
- emotions and feelings,
- And certainly not through the bones of long dead men!
It would be none less than Peter who would clearly lay out the unique authority of God’s Word in the early church.
- Peter, the first pastor in Jerusalem
- Peter, the apostle who himself was prone to sin and denied our Lord three times.
- Peter to whom the Catholic church runs to claim it’s own authority penned these words!
19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,
20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.
21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Why did Peter write these words?
- I believe that God in his divine mercy and providence knew what a mess people would make of Peter’s legacy, using his bones and their claim to authority
- Maybe Peter himself sensed that there would be the temptation to make a claim for authority based on his position as an Apostle.
Notice what Peter says just a few verses earlier in this text:
13 I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder,
14 since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me.
15 And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
This is Peter the leader of the Apostles, the head pastor in Jerusalem, worker of miracles, writer of the epistles, and he doesn’t point them to himself as an authority but rather to God’s Word!!!!
- He doesn’t say anything about putting his bones under a Basilica
- He doesn’t say anything about passing along his special authority
- Instead he points them back to the truth of Scripture!
The problem with church authority
The problem with finding divine authority in anything but the Word of God is that you then open yourself of to the corruption and decay in this fallen world.
Isa 40:8 The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.
- All things other than God are temporary and therefore changeable and therefore not a good place to derive your ultimate authority from.
- Buildings will crumble,
- Nations will fall,
- Man made philosophies will go out of style or cease to be relevant
- Men will always be open to corruption, errors, weakness, greed, pride, nepotism, hate, and every flavor of idiocy you can think of!
- Have you seen some of the lunacy in the modern art world? Basically you can sculpt or paint anything you want, just do it with feces and you’ll be called a genius!
- What I’m saying is, that the last place God would ever entrust is divine authority is in a bunch of celibate men running around in tall hats and fancy bathrobes!
- I don’t want a “middle-man” when it comes to divine authority! I want to go to the source. They have effectively taken old sewer pipes and put them at the source of a mountain stream and then told their followers that to “ensure” pure water they must drink only the water that has come down through the pipes!
- Luther put it this way
- All things other than God are temporary and therefore changeable and therefore not a good place to derive your ultimate authority from.
- “The ungodly papists prefer the authority of the Church far above God’s Word; a blasphemy abominable and not to be endured; wherewith, void of all shame and piety, they spit in God’s face.”
- Let us go straight to the source
- Num 23:19 God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
- A source that is pure because it come from the pure one
- A source that doesnt’ change because it comes from an unchangeable one
- A source that can not contain a hint of lie, or error, or deceit, because it comes from the true one
What does Sola Scriptura mean?
The Bible is the sole infallible rule in doctrine and practice.
It does not mean:
- You don’t have to respect your pastor or your elders
- You can’t or shouldn’t read other books
- That you can find specific instructions for every profession and activity in the Bible
It does mean:
- Only the Bible comes with divine authority
- We approach all other instruction/authority with appropriate caution knowing that it is fallible
- We bring everything under the scrutiny of the written Word.
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
- He doesn’t say “some of Scripture”
- He doesn’t say “Scripture and…”
- He simply says “All Scripture
“Is God breathed” There’s probably no other Scripture that so clearly states this. God is the source of His Word. Peter also echos this:
Today many “prophets” want to claim that they have a message from God, but notice what Peter says “Prophecy of Scripture” He is also limiting this divine revelation to Scripture.
How wise of God to give us authority in words and phrases and sentences that do not change but hold their meaning for centuries and millenia!
How did the Reformers come to Sola Scriptura?
They came to Sola Scriptura by studying the Scriptures themselves. Luther had very little patience for the papacy who he viewed as being Scripturally illiterate. Thankfully, however, Luther’s superior in the monastery Johann von Staupitz encouraged Luther to read the Bible, this may have been partly as a way to get him to stop coming to him and confessing for hours on end!
It was through reading and studying the Bible that these men came to the conclusion that the Bible carried with it the unique and unerring authority of God.
But it wasn’t only Luther who began studying the Bible and came to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. Before him was Huss, there was also Zwingli and Calvin, and Wycliffe, all who saw within a Scripture a unique authority, an authority that did not exist in any other writings and most certainly did not exist in the papacy.
Later Luther would put it this way: “A simple layman armed with Scripture is to be believed above a pope or a cardinal without it.”
The Bible is self-attesting
You don’t have to read very much in the Bible see the authority with which it claims for itself. This type of authority is not seen in the early church fathers.
Throughout the OT you have statements like “Thus says the Lord” “The Word of the Lord came to me” and so on.
Moses, the writer of the 1st 5 books of the Bible worked hard to point people to the authority of God’s Word!
- In Genesis God’s Word had the power to create because it came from God
- In Exodus God’s Word had the power to rescue the people from Egypt
- In the 10 commandments God’s Word had the power to set moral standards of behavior
Moses didn’t have that authority, he could not act without God’s Word! When Moses’ did act against God’s Word he was punished (Numbers 20)
Before Moses’ death he squarely focus’ the people’s attention back upon the authority of the Word of God!
6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.
7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.
9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
You can not get away from the self-attesting nature of God’s Word. I would be difficult for anyone to really study God’s Word seriously and come away with any other conclusion!
It was a problem in Jesus’ day
Yet as it was a Problem in Martin Luther’s day so it was a problem in Jesus’ day.
5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”
6 And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;
7 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!
There really is nothing new under the sun!
- Eve turned away from God’s Word to believe the lie of the Serpent,
- the Israelites turned from God’s word to make a golden calf,
- the Pharisees turned from God’s Word to promote their traditions and positions of power.
- And we do the same in a thousand different ways.
Every generation of believers needs a careful and disciplined returned to this grounding truth of the authority of God’s Word! Otherwise we will end up in “authority drift” drifting upon the seas of changing authorities and unpredictable winds!
Too often in Western Evangelical churches we view God’s Word like a piece of whole wheat toast.
- It’s good for you
- You know you should eat it
- But it’s so dry and boring
- So you dress it up with peanut butter and jam
- As time goes by you find yourself thinking, “why am I eating this toast? Why not just eat the peanut butter and jam.”
- The toast then just becomes a handy pedestal for your peanut butter and jam!
If God’s Word is Authoritative
1. We must careful give heed to studying it.
15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
“A theologian should be thoroughly in possession of the basis and source of faith—that is to say, the Holy Scriptures. Armed with this knowledge it was that I confounded and silenced all my adversaries; for they seek not to fathom and understand the Scriptures; they run them over negligently and drowsily; they speak, they write, they teach, according to the suggestion of their heedless imaginations. My counsel is, that we draw water from the true source and fountain, that is, that we diligently search the Scriptures. He who wholly possesses the text of the Bible, is a consummate divine. One single verse, one sentence of the text, is of far more instruction than a whole host of glosses and commentaries, which are neither strongly penetrating nor armour of proof.”
2. We must give priority to preaching it.
2Ti 4:2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
Luther preached 7,000 times.
3. We must be careful to not usurp with other things.
19 And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living?
20 To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.
“The Holy Scriptures surpass in efficaciousness all the arts and all the sciences of the philosophers and jurists; these, though good and necessary to life here below, are vain and of no effect as to what concerns the life eternal. The Bible should be regarded with wholly different eyes from those with which we view other productions.”
4. We must tirelessly shape our lives by it.
2 but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.
“I am afraid that the schools will prove the very gates of hell, unless they diligently labour in explaining the Holy Scriptures, and engraving them on the hearts of youth. I would advise no one to send his child where the Holy Scriptures are not supreme. Every institution in which men and women are not unceasingly occupied with the Word of God must be corrupt.”
5. We must allow it to convict our hearts of sin
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
“God alone, through his Word, instructs the heart, so that it may come to the serious knowledge how wicked it is, and corrupt and hostile to God. Afterwards God brings man to the knowledge of God, and how he may be freed from sin, and how, after this miserable evanescent world, he may obtain life everlasting. Human reason, with all its wisdom, can bring it no further than to instruct people how to live honestly and decently in the world, how to keep house, build, etc., things learned from philosophy and heathenish books.”
How might we deny Sola Scriptura?
- When we place preachers and leaders on a pedestal
- When we confuse demand that others follow our tradition
- When we use the Bible sparingly in our preaching
- When we value more the opinion of others more than the truth of God’s Word.
- When we seek moral instruction, personal happiness, and fulfillment outside of God’s Word.
- When I place God’s Word aside in order to do what “I want”