Sola Scriptura in All Its Glory!

This is an article I wrote for the September 1st, 2011 edition of the Stone County Gazette.


Sola Scriptura” literally says “scripture alone.”  It’s a shortened statement Martin Luther used during the Reformation.  But as with all sound bites, we lose much when a sound bite replaces the truth it originally promoted.

Today, Sola Scriptura has become to mean “Only Scripture” (or what some call “Nuda Scriptura“), not “Scripture alone …”  We’ve forgotten what we’re supposed to remember after the word “alone.”  So let’s take a journey into Sola Scriptura and learn the origins of that idea.

When the New Testament was being written, the idea of Sola Scriptura didn’t even exist.  True, the New Testament Church had the Old Testament.  This was a translation of Old Testament into Greek, called the Septuagint (sep-too-UH-gint).  The Septuagint contained, what is today, the Protestant Old Testament with the Apocrypha.  This was the Old Testament that Jesus and His Apostles read and used.

Yet, the idea of Sola Scriptura didn’t exist, for the Bible as we know it didn’t officially exist until 397 AD.  Then, at Carthage (today, in Tunisia), the New Testament Church gathered to affirm the books of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments.

Now the Bible became even more influential in the life of the Church.  We see this in the writings of the Church Fathers.  Gregory of Nyssa wrote, “Let the inspired Scriptures then be our umpire, and the vote of truth will be given to those whose dogmas are found to agree with the Divine words” (“On the Holy Trinity”, NPNF, p. 327).  John Chrysostom wrote, “I will not rely on my own opinions, but instead, prove them with Scripture, so the matter will remain certain and steadfast” (Homily 8 “On Repentance and the Church”).  There are others, but these quotations will do for now.

As others traditions began to be less sure in the life of the Church, for much time had passed, the Bible grew in importance.  The fullness of this understanding came to full bloom during the Reformation.  It was then the mantra became “Sola Scriptura.”

Yet, this was what was meant–Scripture alone is the final authority!  It never meant that Scripture alone was the only authority.  Even the Bible doesn’t teach that idea.

2 Thessalonians 2:15 reads, “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions you were taught, whether by our spoken word or by our letter.”  The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth, “I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold to the traditions just as I delivered them to you” (1 Corinthians 11:2).

So the Bible itself rejects the idea of only the Bible!  So how are we to make sense of this?  The Apostle Paul wrote to Pastor Timothy, “Hold on to the pattern of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:13-14).

The Church is to “guard the good deposit.”  This deposit isn’t only the Bible, for the Bible isn’t the only authority in our faith-life.  That’s why the Reformers (especially Luther) continued to use the ancient creeds of the Church.  For those ancient statements of faith were also part of the “good deposit.”

Yes, the Bible is the final authority.  But it’s not the only authority.  We in the Church are to receive and guard the good deposit of faith, which includes the Bible.  Yet, there should be much in our faith-life and worship that goes back to the beginning of the New Testament Church.  To believe and do anything else is to set up your own standard of faith and practice.  And what you and I do is never good enough; it will fail us in the end.

Make sure that you believe what Christians have believed since the beginning.  Worship like they worshiped.  Then you will be receiving what is sure and true, for that is the good deposit of faith we are to receive, believe, and confess.  Amen.