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Sola Scriptura -“An Outline”

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Oh the hatred for God’s word! Oh how so many fight to show that Sola Scripture, the sufficiency of God’s word alone, is a lie! What they have to offer in return is personalised theology and mishandling of scripture. To oppose this, genuine believers tend to write screeds of praise for God’s word but little by way of actual biblical proof, that its contents are sufficient for all needs. In this article I will not pretend to be better than others, but will show what scripture says of itself, that it is all sufficient. Sola Scriptura is not just a Reformation axiom: it is eternal truth!

Just like the Trinity, which can be deduced from reading all of scripture, Sola Scriptura is present throughout scripture... the name merely reflects what the Bible says about the sufficiency of God’s word alone, not just for salvation but for everything else in life. This is not just ‘belief’ – it is a belief founded solidly on scripture itself, and it is not ‘blind faith’. Those who proclaim human tradition to be equal to scripture are the ones who have a ‘blind faith’.

What is Sola Scriptura?

It is a Latin phrase meaning ‘by scripture alone’, or that the Bible contains everything necessary for salvation and holiness. Behind this belief is the fact that all matters concerning these issues MUST arise from scripture alone, and return to it.

Many, offended by this refusal to accept human tradition, oppose the statement. Others, usually ignorant of scriptural teaching itself, think it is just a minor matter. But, it is vital, for once we allow human influences to direct our spiritual states, we are in very deep trouble. This is how charismaticism went haywire and ex-biblical, earning itself the status of a godless cult.

It has been argued that those of us who believe in Sola Scriptura deny the worth of non-Bible statements. This is not true: we will accept as true any statement that arises from, or returns to, scripture, and is consistent with it, (and is corrected by scripture), whether it is called ‘tradition’ or not. What we do NOT accept are teachings that stray away from scripture, these being error, deliberate attempts to deceive, or heresy.

The Reformers relied on Sola Scriptura as a ruling principle, and some think this is when the principle was devised. This is not so – Sola Scriptura is firmly biblical, with a long history, from its start. Allied to this principle is the simple fact that scripture is not plain to those who are unsaved or untaught. In such cases, teachers, appointed by God through the Holy Spirit, have to provide careful exegesis, e.g. Hebrews 5:12.

This is why the office of ‘teacher’ exists. You can take a horse to water, however, but it does not mean the horse will drink. You can show people truth and they will not accept it – because they are unsaved, ignorant or stiff-necked. No amount of evidence will convince these folks, because of their pride and other sins. Only those who are saved will think again and accept truth. The others cannot, because the Holy Spirit has no part in their lives.

Unfortunately, Roman Catholicism and the various ‘Orthodox’ churches defy this by saying that scripture is not the only source of infallible teaching. Therefore, they add ‘tradition’ given by fallible men to the sources. This kind of ‘authority’ is said to be vested in ‘the Church’, which makes ‘the Church’ an earthly body of men, rather than the spiritual body consisting ONLY of saved men and women, with no higher an authority than a club with its own rules. Invariably, true apostolic tradition or teachings, originally founded strictly on scripture, were slowly changed to accommodate the ideas of unsaved or arrogant men, whose musings were then accepted to be equal in authority to the words of the apostles.

This is why Martin Luther said: "The true rule is this: God's Word shall establish articles of faith, and no one else, not even an angel can do so." (Smalcald Articles II). Deviation from scripture is called ‘heresy’.

Five Solas

Five Solas were identified by the Reformers:

Sola Scriptura (‘by scripture alone’)

Sola Fide (‘by faith alone’)

Sola Gratia (‘by grace alone’)

Solus Christus, or Solo Christo (‘Christ alone’ or ‘through Christ alone’)

Soli Deo Gloria (‘glory to God alone’).

I do not know of any genuine, saved, person who would deny the reality and truth of these statements. Very clearly, anyone (Rome, Arminians, etc) who denies them as truth and uses human teaching to replace them, is a liar. This is because every word of scripture is inspired and cannot be denied or altered. (Translation is another matter, but, even then, the original sources are the word of God, 100% accurate and holy). It is also why the ‘Palestinian Canon’ (evidenced in the words of Christ) never referred to the books not included in the Canon we now call the Old and New Testaments.

Holy Scripture, the Word of God, has the complete authority of God (because He inspired every word). All statements of the Bible call for instant, unqualified and unrestricted acceptance. Every doctrinal statement (which means every single word) of the Bible is the teaching of God, requiring full agreement. All promises of the Bible call for unshakable faith/trust in its fulfilment. Every command of the Bible is the directive of God himself and therefore demands willing observance. Though Luther’s followers initially believed all this, Lutheranism declined sharply until it is now heretical and unbelieving, like a dog that has gone back to its own vomit. (For a list of texts that confirm the above paragraph, go to end of article).

The Westminster Confession of Faith acknowledges that not everything is immediately understood, but that God, in His wisdom, allows us to finally understand:

“All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.” (Chapter 1, Section 7)

There are times when someone other than ourselves, can guide us to a proper understanding of hard texts. Even then, the guidance must be in strict accord with scripture. Though those who argue against Sola Scriptura like to point to difficulties, they have no right nor authority to suggest that their own ‘authority’ can guide, when what they say is outside scriptural bounds. Why? Because once we go outside scripture, which is fully God’s word and therefore holy and true, we cannot know who is right, or if what they say is correct... which is why the warning in Revelation, not to add or take away, also applies to all of God’s word.

It should be acknowledged that not everything is clear, even though some evangelicals insist it is. In my own teaching over several decades I have come across texts that will not yield their meaning easily, or not at all. And if I check them against the teaching and study of others, I find they have the same ‘problem areas’. For myself, I do not see them as ‘problems’ but as things God has chosen not to define clearly. That is His prerogative!

Sufficient for Salvation?

Really, the question is rather silly. We only know of how to be saved through the texts of God’s word! As scripture is all God’s word, whatever it says about salvation must be true and fully accurate. Because of this, there can be no extra or deleted teachings, or even ‘different’ interpretations. Sadly, and inexplicably, many Christians insist that their ‘interpretation’ is correct, even though we are warned that no scripture is of personal interpretation! Furthermore, when we examine what they call ‘interpretation’ it is no more than personalised prejudice or ignorant statements with no basis in the relevant texts! It is all scripture, or nothing.

Though I do not place much store by the authority of John Wesley in some areas, he was, however, right to say: "In all cases, the Church is to be judged by the Scripture, not the Scripture by the Church." (Popery Calmly Considered [1779] in The works of the Rev. John Wesley, vol. XV, p. 180, London [1812]).

In my own researches I have been told that tradition (human) is equal in authority to scripture, and great importance is placed on the ‘early Fathers’. In reality, it does not matter who these early ‘Fathers’ were, or how old the reference is - if they do not conform to what scripture says, they have no authority. Sola Scriptura, on the other hand, can be deduced from scripture (as the Westminster Confession attests, and "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." [Isaiah 8:20]).

What Saith Scripture?

Constantly, the texts of the Bible refer men back to “the scripture” and not to tradition added by men (which is just Pharisaism by another name). And it is scripture (God’s word) that says people are justified through faith (Galatians 3:8), and that without it all are doomed to hell because of their sin (Galatians 3:22). These important teachings, if added to or removed, alter God’s eternal message of salvation! Continually, we are directed back to “What saith the scripture?” (e.g. Galatians 4:30, in which the word “nevertheless” is a denial of any other teaching), “For the scripture saith”, etc.

The proof text is, of course, 2 Timothy 3:16, 17:

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.”

In the text, “all” means every individual word, and the whole – literally everything in the scriptures is given by God; no mention is made here to tradition, even though, according to scripture itself, there is ‘good’ tradition.

“scripture”, graphe, refers to the written word, both the book and what it contains, or parts of books. The whole of the Old Testament was already available in the time of the apostles, and they continued God’s intentions by writing their epistles and books, which became the New Testament. Between them these two books comprised the finished Bible, a fact much hated by unsaved men.

It is true that early Christians had oral sources of information, which were not written for a while. However, one cannot get away with referring to external oral sources, if those sources did not uphold, confirm and testify-to what was already written or what the apostles taught. (Note that though there were oral sources, there were also written sources almost from the start of the early churches).

“inspiration”, theopneustos (said theo-noo-stos). This means that the entire scriptures are God-breathed or inspired. This does NOT apply to external writings or traditions claiming to be ‘inspired’. The conjunction “and” tells us that ‘because of this’, all of scripture is given to us for certain reasons, such as “profitable for doctrine”.

“profitable for doctrine”. To be profitable is to be useful, to give benefit, or, as the root, ophelos, tells us, to our advantage. This advantage is cumulative and does NOT include benefits from human sources that wrongly extend or alter scripture. What is meant by “doctrine”? Didaskalia is the whole of scripture. This is universally misunderstood in the churches, to mean only certain passages that teach ‘doctrine’. Yet, ‘doctrine’ is to be understood as all instruction, teaching, precepts and what aids learning.

Didaskalia is used in both the passive and the active sense, thus including both what is taught and the (God-chosen) teacher. This means that absolutely every word is ‘doctrine’. How can this be? Let me ask you a question: “Can you remove any word or portion?” The answer is “No”. God only gives us what is profitable, even those parts many consider to be ‘boring’ (by those with unbelief). And as God does not waste His words, everything He says MUST be profitable... and so everything is ‘doctrine’. The word ‘doctrine’ is never used of the doctrines of men, which are mere human philosophy. (See my study-article on ‘Doctrine’).

“reproof”, elegchos. Because of its holy cause, the words of scripture are for our reproof. That is, leading to our conviction of its truth; it is the proof of God’s word, having been tested. Thus, the evidence of its truth is within itself. Not only does it convict, but it refutes and confutes what is wrong (root verb, elegcho), bringing its error to light, leading to rebuke and a calling to account, demanding an explanation. It can also include punishment. Many today oppose the idea of searching error until its problems have been exposed, but it is a biblical requirement, and the basis behind the command to test every spirit.

“correction”, epanorthosis, is to cause someone to return to holiness/’right state’, by improving one’s life and character. “instruction”, paideia, is interesting because it can also apply to children, and healthy use of the body to keep it in order. This does not include Sunday Schools (which have a non-scriptural basis), but does include the teaching of youngsters by their mothers and fathers, etc. Paideia also includes the idea of increasing in knowledge, chastisement, and the curbing of passions. Also, we may add the cultivation of the mind in good things, morals, and training the body to keep it in fitness. This is because the body is the ‘temple of God’. In other words, there is no excuse for deliberately injuring the body through bad eating habits and lack of exercise. Nor is there any excuse in not receiving regular tuition to train the soul in the things of God. All of this relies not on men’s ideas, but on the foundation given in scripture.

“righteousness”, dikaiosyne. Readers who take our Bible studies will be familiar with the idea of primary and secondary applications of scripture. Strictly, the text refers to “instruction in righteousness”. This is the primary application. The secondary application is given in the previous paragraph, but is just as important. What is instruction in righteousness? It means we must remind ourselves and others that our obligation is to the Lord, to be and to remain acceptable to Him. Though we might be acceptable in the eternal sense, we can, nevertheless, break our bond by sliding back into sin. We need to have a constant reminder to watch our step and mind. We must be filled with godly integrity, proper ways of thinking, feeling and acting. And, we must give everyone his due (IF it is due) as a just requirement. All of these attributes must reflect God’s own righteousness.

We can see in the above, then, that the text covers everything needed to live a genuinely godly life. Man’s traditions are meaningless in this and cannot reflect verse 17 – that the man of GOD (not the man of man!) will be thus perfected and made ready to do good works. This implies that good works without doing the above are worthless and not of God.

We find in Proverbs 30:5 that “Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.” It does NOT say every word of God AND traditions of men! This is because men tend to add to or remove God’s word, making it useless. “Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.” (Mark 7:13). The Pharisees were extremely good at this!

In this text “tradition” refers to giving over to the teachings of others, especially rituals and Judaistic traditions not based on God’s actual word. Orthodox sects put much importance on traditions of church ‘Fathers’, etc., because they say their traditions have been passed down from the apostles. In the text just quoted, Jesus was complaining about this very idea – teachings passed down orally through the centuries from Moses, but expanded upon by generations of rabbis, leading to Jesus’ anger at the Pharisees and Scribes.

Jesus also said that man cannot live by bread alone, but by “every word of God” (Luke 4:4). This clearly gives greatest importance to God’s word. He did not mention relying on tradition if it was separate from God’s word. Also, the seed (of salvation) “is the word of God” (Luke 8:11), thus telling us that the ‘Church’ or the tradition of elders/Fathers has nothing to do with it.

Hearing the word of God and keeping it is paramount (Luke 11:28), not tradition. For me, ‘tradition’ is used as another word for ‘teaching what God says in His word’. There is no other sound tradition. In the New Testament it is “the word of God” that grew, edified and saved, not the traditions of men! This is why we are commanded to “hold the traditions which ye have been taught” (which are consistent with God’s word), 2 Thessalonians 2:15, and not the traditions of men.

Note that the Pharisees did not question the disciples breaching the traditions of God, but their own traditions (Matthew 15:2). In response Jesus rebuked them: “But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?” (v3). A similar rebuke is given in verse 6 and in Mark 7:8, “For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.”

We can see, then, that Jesus did not want the traditions of men, which were founded on extensions and amendments to God’s word. We are left in no doubt that in the mind of Christ the traditions of men were considered to be sin,. Yet, this is what we are told to heed by Orthodox and Romanist theologians.

Conclusion

The traditions of apostles are acceptable, because they are none other than what scripture says. But, the traditions of men are additions, deletions, and illicit expansions, on what God says, containing error and human desires.

We can see from this brief paper that Sola Scriptura is a correct summation of what scripture says. Do not listen to those who reject or change it.

End Notes (Re 2nd paragraph, ‘Five Solas)

Bible Texts confirming the absolute truth of scripture, requiring no human interference or interjection:

Matthew 4:3, Luke 4:3 and 24:25, John 10:35, Genesis 3:1, Psalm 119:40, 167.

2 Thessalonians 2:13-15, Luke 16: 29-31 and 24:25-27, 2 Timothy 3:15-17, 1 Corinthians 14:37, Galatians 1:8, Acts 15:14,15 and 17:11, 2 Corinthians 1:20, Titus 1:2,3, Jeremiah 8:9 and 23:26, Isaiah 8:19,20.

Deuteronomy 12:32 and 5:9,10, Joshua 1:8, James 2:10.

© November 2013

Published on www.christiandoctrine.com

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