“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17
This upcoming Lord’s Day is the last Sunday in October known as “Reformation Sunday.” It commemorates the day that Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the
in Wittenburg on October 31, 1517. Luther’s actions began the Protestant Reformation. The theological issues motivating Luther’s actions are effectively summarized in the Five Solas of the Reformation (“sola” is Latin for “alone”): Castle Church
1. Sola Scriptura (“Scripture Alone”),
2. Sola Gratia (“Grace Alone”),
3. Sola Fide (“Faith Alone”),
4. Solus Christus (“Christ Alone”), and
5. Soli Deo Gloria (“Glory to God Alone”).
I would like to spend the next five days leading up to Reformation Sunday meditating upon each one of these great truths. Today I want us to reflect upon Sola Scriptura or Scripture Alone.
Scripture Alone means that the Bible alone is the only infallible rule of faith and practice for the Christian Church. Scripture Alone does not mean that the Bible is the only standard of truth. We certainly have other standards like the historic creeds and confessions of the Church, but these standards are not infallible and are subordinate to the Bible. Scripture Alone, then, does not mean that the Bible is the only standard; it means that the Bible is the only infallible standard. "Infallible" means that the Bible is incapable of error. It is completely true in everything it teaches. All Scripture is “God-breathed.” This speaks of the divine source of the Bible. The words of the Bible were breathed out by God the Holy Spirit through the agency of human authors. “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” (2 Peter 1:21). Since the Bible is breathed out by God, it is sufficient. It makes us “competent, equipped for every good work.” There are no necessary beliefs or good works contained outside the Bible; for the Bible is enough. We are "equipped for every good work." The word “every” is essential because it underlines the sufficiency of the Bible. If we have the Bible, then we have all the good works that God requires of us. No one can lawfully impose additional doctrines and commandments upon our conscience. At the Diet of Worms Luther gave his famous “Here I Stand” speech and boldly proclaimed that the Church must support all its doctrines and commandments from the Holy Scriptures. Church councils, creeds, and traditions must be subordinated to the teaching of the Holy Spirit in the God-breathed Scriptures. Human traditions are good but not infallible. The Church is good but not infallible. The Bible alone is infallible. Thus the Bible alone is the only infallible rule of faith and practice for the Church. This means that all the Church’s doctrines and duties are contained either explicitly in the Scriptures or they may be inferred by good and necessary consequence. In addition to Sola Scriptura, we should also be sure to consider Tota Scriptura or the totality of Scripture. Since “all Scripture is breathed out by God,” it is imperative that we study "the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27) and interpret Scripture with Scripture. The Reformers stressed that the only infallible interpreter of Scripture is the Scripture. The pope, the Church, and the creeds are all capable of erring, but the Scripture is inerrant. The principles of Sola Scriptura and Tota Scriptura explain why the Reformers translated the Bible into the language of the people and also provided cross references to aid in interpretation. The Reformers believed in the priesthood of the believer. This means that every Christian can and should read the Bible with the due use of ordinary means. This truth liberates us from ecclesiastical tyranny. Living in a church context where believers are not encouraged to read and study the Bible for themselves is a recipe for disaster. In such conditions the clergy take advantage of the laity and enslave their conscience with the doctrines and commandments of men. Our Lord's yoke is easy, and his burden is light (Matthew 11:29), but the Pharisees place heavy burdens on the backs of those who are ignorant of the sufficiency of Scripture (Matthew 23:4). So we must always keep in mind that the principle of Scripture alone is good for us. It is liberating. It is also a great responsibility. We must read and study the Bible for ourselves. Luther fought for us to have a Bible in our own language. He fought for us to be able to know what God actually had said. Later, men like William Tyndale would burn at the stake so that we might have a Bible in the English language. Let us thank God for giving such men to his Church! Is there any better way to thank our God than by reading the Bible carefully and prayerfully? Let us hold our Bibles to our hearts and sing Burton’s words, “Holy Bible, book divine, precious treasure, you are mine; mine to tell me whence I came; mine to teach me what I am; mine to chide me when I rove; mine to show a Savior’s love; mine you are to guide and guard; mine to punish or reward. Mine to comfort in distress, suffering in this wilderness; mine to show by living faith, man can triumph over death; mine to tell of joys to come, and the rebel sinner’s doom; Holy Bible, book divine, precious treasure, you are mine.”