A Close Look at “Sola Scriptura” (Part2)

August 28, 2005 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos


  Our 9th church anniversary led us to divert from our series in the Gospel of John and look into the lessons that the Lord has taught us for the past 9 years. We are doing it because as I said, this is one of the ways we can best show our gratitude and praise to God for His merciful and gracious work in our midst.   We are looking at the five most important slogans used by the Reformers of the 16th century; these are five Latin slogans, we have called the “5 solas.”  
  • sola Scriptura
  • sola gratia
  • solus Christus
  • sola fide
  • soli Deo Gloria
  Last week we focused on the slogan, sola Scriptura. We learned that it means by Scripture alone; this declares that only the Bible has the authority to bind the consciences of believers. One of the implications of this truth is that if you disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture, you disbelieve or disobey God. Sola Scriptura has meant at least four things: Scripture is necessary, absolute authority, sufficient, clear and comprehensible.   Then we looked at several Biblical passages to prove that the principle of sola Scriptura is biblical. I intended to show you two things. First, that the truth that Scripture is absolute authority is a biblical concept. And second, that Scripture is sufficient is also a biblical concept. But last week, I was only able to show you the first aspect.   The Bible teaches that Scripture is absolute authority. We have seen that this is clearly demonstrated in the OT, in the response of the Berean Jews to Paul’s preaching, demonstrated by Paul and other Scripture writers. Above all, this doctrine is clearly demonstrated by our Lord Jesus.   I like the way William Webster contrasts Scripture with tradition in a footnote in his essay in Roman Catholicism (p. 289). He writes:   Scripture is described as being pure, perfect, eternal, sure, truth, forever settled in heaven; it sanctifies, causes spiritual growth, is God-breathed, authoritative, it gives wisdom unto salvation, makes wise  the simple, is living and active, is a guide, a fire, a hammer, a seed, the sword of the Spirit; it gives knowledge of God, is a lamp to our feet, a light to our path, produces reverence for God, heals, makes free, illuminates, produces faith, regenerates, converts the soul, brings conviction of sin, restrains from sin, is spiritual food, is infallible, inerrant, irrevocable, searches the heart and mind, produces life, defeats Satan, proves truth, refutes error, is holy, equips for every good work, is the final judge of all tradition, is the Word of God (Heb. 4:12; Ps 119:9-11, 38, 105, 130, 133, 160; 19:7-11; ;111:7-8; Is 40:8; Eph 5:26; 2Ti 3:15-17; Jer 5:14; 23:29; Mt 13:18-23; Eph 6:17; Ps 107:20; Tit 2:5; 1Pe 1:23; 2:2; Ac 20:32; Jn 8:32, 10:35, 17:17; Mt 15:2-9). What are we told these things about tradition?  

Scripture is Sufficient

  If last week, I proved to you from the Bible that Scripture is absolute authority, now I will show you that the Bible teaches that Scripture is sufficient.   Let us first look at the passage from 2Ti 3:16,17. Allow me to read the comments of James White in his book, The Roman Catholic Controversy:   The second of Paul’s two epistles to Timothy contains the classic passage cited in most works regarding the definition of sola scriptura:   But you remain in what you have learned and have become convinced of, knowing from whom you learned it, and that from childhood you knew the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise unto salvation by faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for instruction, for training in righteousness, in order that the man of God might be complete, fully equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:14-17, author’s translation).   …Paul’s words refer primarily to the Scriptures of the Old Testament, for it is obvious that Timothy would have had none of the New Testament writings at that time. Some have argued that this fact makes this passage irrelevant to any discussion of sola scriptura, since it speaks only to the Old Testament… However, such an objection misses the point, as the thrust of the passage is the origin and resultant nature of Scripture and its abilities, not the extent of the Scriptures (i.e., to the canon)… (p.63)   “All Scripture is God-breathed…” … the text says it is the Scriptures, not the writers themselves, that are “God-breathed.” Paul is here referring to the origin of the Scripture, and insists in the strongest terms that they come from God himself. The foundation of Scripture, the foundation of divine revelation, is God the Almighty. (p.64)   …Paul’s point should not be missed. Because the origin of Scripture is God himself, the authority of Scripture is God’s authority … And when God speaks in Scripture His words carry His authority. … The Church is not left without the voice of God, for when the Church listens to Scripture, she is hearing her Lord speaking to her… What is the result of this creative act of God whereby He brings the Scriptures into existence? Paul continues, “…and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for instruction, for training in righteousness, in order that the man of God might be complete, fully equipped for every good work.” Verse 17 continues the thought of verse 16. The fact that the Church has God’s voice always present with her in God-breathed Scripture means that the man of God might be complete, fully equipped for every good work…. (p.65)   …Paul was not satisfied to merely state that the man of God may be complete. He goes on to define what he means: “Fully equipped for every good work.” …Louw and Nida’s Greek-English Lexicon says… [“fully equipped” means] “to make someone completely adequate or sufficient for something—to make adequate, to furnish completely, to cause to be fully qualified...” We see here, then, that Paul teaches the man of God is thoroughly or completely equipped for every good work. Now, what does it mean that the Scriptures are able to fully equip the man of God if not that they are sufficient for this task? If I am a store owner who can fully equip a hiker to hike the Grand Canyon [or say Mt. Apo]—if I have the resources and abilities to provide everything he needs in the way of supplies, hiking gear, shoes, maps, food, etc.—does it not follow that I am a sufficient source of supply for the hiker? If he has to go next door to another shop for a few more things, and then to a third shop for some things that neither mine nor the other shop had, then none of us are sufficient to equip the hiker. But if that hiker can come to my shop alone and get everything he needs to accomplish his task, then I can rightly call myself a sufficient equipper of a hiker of [Mt. Apo]. In the same way the Scriptures are able to fully equip the man of God so that he is able to do every good work. No one serving God has to search about for other sources. The inspired Scriptures are the sufficient source for a person’s needs in ministry. Is there a doctrine we need to impress upon our congregation? We will find the “Scripture sufficient to provide the basis of this exhortation. Is there a temptation facing the members of our flock? The Bible will not fail in providing us the proper remedy. (p.66)   There are other Bible passages that support the truth that Scriptures are sufficient. Here’s a list from John MacArthur, in his book Think Biblically, pp. 22,23   John 17:17… When Jesus prayed to the Father for believers’ sanctification, He said, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (Jn 17:17). “Sanctify” means “set apart from sin, to be holy and separated to God.” Sanctification encompasses the whole concept of spiritual maturity. Jesus was teaching that every aspect of the believer’s holiness is the work of the Word of God (not the Word of God plus something else). Luke 11:28… The Lord Jesus said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Lk 11:28). By this He meant that all spiritual sufficiency is bound up in hearing and obeying the Word of God. Normally we equate “blessed” with a momentary sense of excitement. But here Jesus used the term to speak of a blissful state of life—a life accompanied by peace and joy, meaning and value, hope and fulfillment—a life that is fundamentally happy and content. Obedience to God’s sufficient Word opens the door to that kind of life. Scripture is the answer to all of life’s challenges. Acts 20:32… At the end of Paul’s farewell message to the Ephesian elders, he said, “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” This is a very comprehensive statement on the power and sufficiency of Scripture. The elders were committed by Paul to the God’s word and he described the Word has the power to build them up and to give them an inheritance. What do you need so that you grow spiritually and make sure that you get to heaven and receive a reward? You need God’s Word. Paul did not view any portion of God’s revelation as unimportant or insufficient to spiritual growth. Nor did he view any of it as incapable of dealing with life’s problems. Psalm 19:7-11… Perhaps this passage is the most concise and direct treatment of the sufficiency of Scripture in all the Bible. This passage expresses the absolute and utter sufficiency of Scripture as our one true and infallible guide in life.   The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. 8 The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. 9 The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. 10 They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. 11 By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.  

Two Clarifications re Sufficiency

  Adapted from James White The Roman Catholic Controversy (pp. 56-59)  
  1. The sufficiency of Scripture is not a claim that the Bible contains all secular knowledge. The Bible is not a science textbook, a manual on governmental procedures, or a catalog of automobile engine parts. It does not claim to give us every bit of knowledge that we could ever obtain. It is not a leather-bound encyclopedia of human knowledge and wisdom.
  1. The sufficiency of Scripture is not a claim that the Bible contains all religious knowledge. The Bible itself asserts that it is not exhaustive in detail.
  Jn 21:25 Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.   There are some who say that since the Bible does not record everything Jesus did, we cannot say that the Bible is a sufficient source of truth and a complete rule of faith. Our answer to that is this: it is a misconception that unless something is exhaustive in detail it cannot be sufficient as a source of truth. Do we need to know the color of Jesus’ hair for the Bible to be sufficient source of divine truth? Do we need to know the daily menu of the Apostolic meals? Do we need descriptions of the clothing worn by Judas Iscariot? Certainly not! It is obvious that the Bible does not need to be exhaustive to be sufficient as our source of divine truth. Instead, the Bible must provide to us what God intends for us to function in the manner God desires. We say that the Bible is sufficient because it contains all that is necessary to be known, believed, and observed, in order for man to be saved, sanctified, and live for God’s glory.  

What is the relevance of sola scriptura for today’s church?

  Bible teachers are telling us that today, within the Evangelical community, when we talk of sola scriptura, the issue that is most crucial is not the absolute authority of Scripture but its sufficiency. Listen to these quotes from James Montgomery Boice and John MacArthur:   James Montgomery Boice Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace (p.66)   In Martin Luther’s day, sola Scriptura had to do with the Bible being the sole ultimate authority for Christians over against challenges to it from the traditions of the medieval church, church councils, and the pope. The Reformers wanted Scriptures to stand alone as the church’s sole authority. Today, at least in the evangelical church, that is not our chief problem; we assert biblical authority. Rather, our problem is in deciding whether the Bible is sufficient for the church’s life and work.   John MacArthur Think Biblically (pp.22,23)   Perhaps the one doctrine most under attack in the church of our generation is the sufficiency of Scripture. Even people who give lip service to the authority, inspiration, and inerrancy of Scripture sometimes [shy away] at affirming its sufficiency. The result is virtually the same as a denial of biblical authority, because it directs people away from the Bible in search of other “truth.”   What do we mean when we say Scripture is sufficient? We mean that the Bible is an adequate guide for all matters of faith and conduct. Scripture gives us every truth we need for life and godliness. Or to borrow words from the A.D. 1647 Westminster Confession of Faith, “The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.   The church, by and large, simply does not believe that anymore. The average Christian seems to assume that something more than Scripture is needed to help us cope in a modern world. Christian bookstores are full of books offering advice drawn from other sources other than the Bible on almost every conceivable subject—parenting, Christian manhood and womanhood, success and self-esteem, relationships, church growth, church leadership, ministry, philosophy, and so on. Various self-appointed experts who claim to have discovered some deep truth not revealed in Scripture have now become familiar fixtures on the evangelical landscape. The sufficiency of Scripture is under attack, and the effect on the collective worldview of the evangelical movement has been disastrous.     I’ll apply the sufficiency of Scripture only to four areas, but this does not mean that it is limited only to these.  
  • Sufficient for Evangelism
  James Montgomery Boice Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace   The first thing the Word of God is sufficient for is evangelism. In fact, it is the only thing that really works in evangelism. Everything else—captivating music, moving testimonies, emotional appeals, even coming forward to make a personal commitment to Jesus Christ—all that is at best supplementary. And if such things are used or depended upon apart from the faithful preaching and teaching of God’s Word, the “conversions” that result are spurious conversions, which is to say that those who respond become Christians in name only. The only way the Holy Spirit works to regenerate lost men and women is by the Bible. Peter said, “you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring Word of God” (1Pe 1:23). The problem is that many people do not actually believe this and therefore they want to lean on other things. (p.75)  
  • Others lean on moving testimonies (700 club, the story of Vincent Parayno is graphically portrayed. No gospel was shared). In the end it was just the testimony that was highlighted.
  • Others lean on the altar call. There was no altar call in the ministry of Jesus and the apostles.
  • Others try to manipulate the listeners by music.
  • Others rely heavily on the skit or drama.
  • Others think that only the evangelism with signs and wonders will work. When you read the gospels, you will notice that though the Lord healed and did other miracles in His ministry, he refused to use them when people were beginning to clamor for them instead of trusting in His word. (Read John 6:30-36.)
  This is also clear in the story of the Lord regarding the rich man and Lazarus. According to the story, when both of these men died, Lazarus was carried into the presence of Abraham in paradise but the rich man went to Hades. At first the rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus to provide him some comfort. When Abraham said that that was not possible, he asked that Lazarus be sent back to warn his brothers, since they were as wicked as he. “I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment” (Lk 6:27-28). Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.” The rich man persisted, “No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.” James Montgomery Boice says regarding this:   Abraham’s final word, the climactic point of the parable, was, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (vv. 29-31). This shows explicitly that people are not converted by miracles, even by resurrections. On the contrary, the only thing that will ever regenerate anyone is the Holy Spirit operating through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. (Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace, p.78)   We will look at the other areas next week.