A Close Look at “Sola Scriptura” (Part1)

August 21, 2005 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos

  We are looking at some of the most important lessons God has taught us for nine years as the SDG church. This is part of our efforts to show our thanksgiving and praise to God for our 9th anniversary as the SDG church. Last week I gave an introduction to the 5 “solas” of the 16th century religious movement in Europe called the Reformation.  
  • sola Scriptura
  • sola gratia
  • solus Christus
  • sola fide
  • soli Deo gloria
  Those 5 Latin phrases of the Reformation period have become very significant doctrines for us as a church and as individuals. They have helped us to remain in biblical doctrine, to discern between truth and error, and to do ministry in accordance to Scriptural principles and practice.   Today I would like to talk about the first phrase, sola scriptura. To help us in understanding it, I would like us to be guided by these questions:
  1. What is sola scriptura?
  2. Is sola scriptura biblical?

A. What is sola scriptura?

  • R.C. Sproul, The term sola Scriptura simply means “by Scripture alone.” This slogan declared the idea that only the Bible has the authority to bind the consciences of believers. Protestants did recognize other forms of authority, such as church offices, civil magistrates, and church creeds and confessions but they saw these authorities as being derived from and subordinate to the authority of God. None of these lesser authorities was deemed absolute, because all of them were capable of error. God alone is infallible. Fallible authorities cannot bind the conscience absolutely; that right is reserved to God and His Word alone. (Grace Unknown, p. 42)
  • Wayne Grudem states, "The authority of Scripture means that all the words of Scripture are God's words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God" (Systematic Theology, 73).
  Sola Scriptura has meant at least four things for evangelicals who remained faithful to the above principles.  
  1. Scripture is fundamentally necessary (Ps 19:7; 2 Tim 3:15)
People are exceedingly sinful. The blindness and corruption of the human mind makes objective revelation essential. This is necessary because, without a self-attesting, objective, final, written revelation, sinful people would pervert the Word of God time and again. Man is unable to know God apart from the revelation of Holy Scripture. People have no innate ability to understand grace or redemption. Only in the written Word is this knowledge revealed to them by the Holy Spirit.  
  1. Scripture is absolute authority
Roman Catholicism admitted the first point and even granted this one until Luther insisted that the Bible was absolute authority. The offensive word was sola, alone. Sinful people would set up their own authority in the church.  
  1. Scripture is sufficient (2 Tim 3:16,17)
In areas regarding justification and sanctification, in understanding the origin of the universe, man, and the end of all, man’s relationship with God and with his fellowman, angels and demons, among others, there is no need for outside sources. The Bible is sufficient. There is no need for psychotherapists to deal with homosexuality or drunkenness. All we need is the Bible.  
  1. Scripture is clear and comprehensible (the theological term is perspicuous)
This doctrine holds that, in all essential matters pertaining to faith and practice, the Bible is clearly understandable upon careful study to even the humblest believer, without the interposition of an institutional or ecclesiastical authority to interpret the Scripture for him. The ordinary person, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, together with careful study, may be trusted to come to just and sound conclusions as to the meaning of Scripture. Otherwise, …how could ordinary listeners be commended for checking up on the accuracy and truthfulness of an apostle (Acts 17:11) and charged with the responsibility of judging the message of an apostle, to determine that it was the true gospel (Gal 1:8)?  

B. Is sola scriptura Scriptural?

Someone said, “It is clear that sola scriptura is a biblical doctrine even if there is no one single text that expressly states, “Scripture is the only authority for faith and practice.” The word trinity is not found in Scripture, yet the doctrine is taught plainly throughout its pages. The same is true with regard to the teaching of sola scriptura. It is as apparent as the teaching of the Trinity.   Let me just focus on two aspects.
  • Scripture is ultimate authority (Isa 8:20)
  • Scripture is sufficient (2 Tim 3:16,17)
  1. First, is the truth that Scripture is ultimate authority biblical?
  The answer to that question is a clear yes!  

a.      This doctrine is clearly demonstrated in the OT

  • Josh 1:8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
  • Dt 17:18-20 When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. 19 It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees 20 and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left….
  • 1Ki 2:2,3 I am about to go the way of all the earth," he said. "So be strong, show yourself a man, 3 and observe what the LORD your God requires: Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go,
  • Isaiah 8:20 To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.
  • Neh 10:29 all these now join their brothers the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the LORD our Lord.

b.      This doctrine is demonstrated in the Bereans

  • Ac 17:11 Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

c.       This doctrine is demonstrated by Paul. He argues and appeals from Scripture

  • Ac 17:2 As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures,
  • Ro 4:3 What does the Scripture say
  • Ro 10:11 As the Scripture says…
  • Ro 11:2 Don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah
  • Gal 3:8, The Scriptures foresaw…
  • Gal 3:16 The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say …
  • Gal 3:22 But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin…
  • Gal 4:30 But what does Scripture say…
  • 1Ti 5:17,18 The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work if preaching and teaching for the Scripture says, “do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “the worker deserves his wages.”
  • 2Ti 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

d.      Paul himself is conscious that what he writes is God-inspired and he expects the churches to obey what he wrote.

  • 1Co 14:37 If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command.
  • 1Th 4:8 Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit. (cf. 1Th 5:27 I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.)
  • 2Th 3:14 If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed.
  • Col 4:16 After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.
  (Note: Peter’s remark regarding Paul’s writings is so important that it should always be considered when reading Paul’s writings (2Pe 3:16 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.)  

e.       This doctrine is demonstrated by other Scripture writers.

  • Jas 4:5,6 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud   but gives grace to the humble."
  • 1Pe 2:6 For in Scripture it says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion,   a chosen and precious cornerstone,  and the one who trusts in him   will never be put to shame."

f.        Above all, this doctrine is clearly demonstrated by our Lord Jesus.

  Kim Riddlebarger in the book Roman Catholicism (pp. 237-238), writes:   The biblical case for sola scriptura becomes even stronger when one looks to the words of our Lord on the subject. When tempted by the devil (Mt 4:1-11), our Lord responded three times to Satan, “It is written.” …Thus, at the very height of His struggle with the devil, Jesus appeals to the authority of Scripture. There is no higher court of appeal. Jesus states that “the Scripture cannot be broken” (Jn 10:35) and that He came not to abolish the Word of God but to fulfill it (Mt 5:18; Lk 6:17). Jesus instructs us to obey the Old Testament (Mt 23:3) and tells us that the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms bear witness of Him (Lk 24:44)… Jesus declares that the Old Testament alone is authoritative in matters of doctrine when He states, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them” (Lk 16:29). Jesus confirms this priority of Scripture when He tells the Sadducees, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God” (Mt 22:29). In fact, in the only reference to tradition mentioned by our Lord, He expressly tells us that unless such tradition conforms to the prior norm of Scripture it has no authority and is nothing but “rules taught by men” (Mt 15:2-9).