A friend recently asked if I believed in Sola Scriptura. The short answer is yes but a brief definition is in order. As you can see the title of this website is “The Bible Answers” but pay attention to the subtitle “Many of Life’s Questions.” The word “Many” does not imply that it answers “All” of life’s questions. There are great works written by various people throughout all of history. However, none can lead a man to salvation through Jesus Christ apart from those taught by the Bible.
I am writing a much longer article on this subject. So much longer that it could turn into a small book. Understanding the history of the church is very important when coming to conclusions about Sola Scriptura. Below I have outlined the key views of the Reformers and Roman Catholics. Following that I have attempted to synopsize the definition and a bit of history.
Key Points of the Roman Catholic View on Sola Scriptura:
Scripture and Tradition together: Roman Catholics believe that both Scripture and Sacred Tradition are necessary for understanding God’s revelation. Tradition refers to the teachings and practices passed down from the apostles, which Roman Catholics believe were inspired by the Holy Spirit just as Scripture was.
Bible doesn’t teach sola scriptura: Roman Catholics argue that the Bible itself doesn’t explicitly teach sola scriptura. They point to examples like the Gospel of John, which mentions oral teachings delivered by Jesus (John 21:25).
Interpreting Scripture: Roman Catholics believe that the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, has the authority to interpret Scripture. This is because they believe that Christ entrusted the Church with the task of teaching and preserving the faith (Matthew 28:16-20).
Circular argument: Roman Catholics also argue that sola scriptura leads to a circular argument. Since we need to use Scripture to determine which parts of Scripture are authoritative, how do we know which interpretation of Scripture is correct?
Reformation Answers To The Roman Catholic View In Brief
Jesus Himself criticized those who allowed traditions to override the explicit commands of God in Mark 7:6–9.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).
The principle is strongly indicated by verses such as Acts 17:11, which commends the Bereans for testing doctrine—taught by an apostle, no less—to the written Word.
Sola scriptura is all but explicitly indicated in 1 Corinthians 4:6, where Paul warns not to “go beyond what is written.”
2 Timothy 2:15 declares, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”
2 Peter 1:20-21 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 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. Sola Scriptura is not circular as it has its origin in God.
The Reformation View of Sola Scriptura
The term Sola Scriptura is most well known for emerging during the Reformation by Martin Luther, Calvin, and others. These were abbreviated terms in Latin used to describe ideas, each of which would need explanation. There were others:
- Sola Scriptura: Scripture alone
- Sola gratia: Grace alone
- Sola fide: Faith alone
- Solus Christus: Christ alone
- Soli Deo gloria: Glory to God alone
The Reformers and others before them believed that the only true authority was the scriptures. A man may have his understanding but the authority belongs to God alone through His revealed word. The Reformers agreed with the early church that God oversaw the canonization of scripture, not men. Here is a good link to an article on this subject.
Throughout history, the Christian church has gone through various names and denominations that reflect shifts in theology, authority, and geographical location. In the early centuries of Christianity, the church was known simply as “the Way” or the “ecclesia,” referring to a gathering of believers. It was also called Basilikē, Kuriakon, Apostolic, Nazarenes and Catholic which originally meant the universal church, but came to imply the church of Rome. Acts 11:26 itself tells us that the first use of the word “Christian” was at Antioch.
As it spread throughout the Roman Empire, regional branches emerged such as the Antiochian Church, Alexandrian Church, and Constantinopolitan Church. The Great Schism of 1054 resulted in a division that created the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. During the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, several new denominations emerged including Lutheranism, Calvinism (Reformed), Anabaptism, Anglicanism, and others.
The Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches split in 1054 was the result of complex political, doctrinal, and organizational disputes that had been brewing for six centuries. The Protestant Reformation is generally considered to have begun in 1517 when Martin Luther published his “95 Theses”. The Reformation’s end is less clear, with some historians placing it in 1555, and others in 1648.
These were times when the church was becoming very corrupt. However, God always has His purpose for all that occurs. As the corruption of men was seen by certain Christians they had no choice but to call it out. The doctrine of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ and love for your fellow man was at stake. It always amazes me that somehow the centralized church became so corrupt that it tortured and put to death those who did not agree.
The decision made by previous generations, and later reinforced by the Reformers, was to establish the sole authority of one particular aspect that the early church had unanimously agreed upon. This aspect, which would be regarded as the centerpiece of all authority, was none other than the words of the scriptures. This does not imply that history or tradition were disregarded; rather, it signifies that if any teachings or beliefs propagated by tradition or individuals contradicted the scriptures, then the scriptures would hold ultimate supremacy. Simply put this is what was meant by Sola Scriptura.
As you can see the subject is much broader than first anticipated. It has been a matter of debate for several hundreds of years. At some point, I hope to complete a fuller article on this subject. It will be up to the reader to decide which view best suits their view of Christianity. There are true Christians in all denominations holding various views. God will judge in the end. If He can forgive our sins He can surely forgive our ignorance, mistakes, and stupidity. We must live with a clear conscience before God.