Sola Scriptura: Scripture Alone, Pt. 1

Sola-Scriptura (610x350)Sola Scriptura means “Scripture alone,” one of the three “solas” of the Reformation. The idea of “Scripture alone” wasn’t something new in the Church. For example, Gregory of Nyssa (335-395 AD) 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 (349-407 AD) 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”).

What Luther did do (after the Roman-Catholic church had excommunicated him) was to emphasize Scripture alone so strongly within the Church! Reacting against Rome’s overemphasis on human traditions, Luther bought out the Sola-Scriptura principle as a counterweight.


What “Sola Scriptura” really means

But what do we mean when we use that term? To know, we go back to the source—in this case, our Lutheran Confessions. Our Formula of Concord reads:

We believe, teach, and confess that the only rule and norm according to which all teachings, together with all teachers, should be evaluated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and of the New Testament alone. [Ep, Summary, 1]

“Scripture alone” is an abbreviated way to say, “The prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and of the New Testament alone.”

  • When it comes to “scripture alone,” what singular role do we use the Scriptures for?


  • What does the Formula of Concord not say about the source of a teaching?


Our Confessions don’t say that Scripture is the only source of what we teach and do. If Scripture was the only source, then how could our Confessions make the creeds binding? What our Confessions say is that Scripture is the only norm to judge our teachings and practices.

That’s why our Confessions can assert that a teaching that originated from within the Church (such are the Nicene Creed) can be authoritative. Our Confessions could only do that because they view the traditions of the Church passed down to us as authoritative—in a secondary way—which Scripture is still to evaluate and judge.

That’s why our Lutheran Confessions could also say: “We intend to create or accept no special or new confession of our faith” (SD, “Concerning the Binding Summary,” 2), “no new interpretation is introduced here” (AC XX, 12), and “we have said nothing new” (Ap II, 15).

  • Discuss: Is preaching in the Church biblical?  Why?


  • How then can the preached Word (sermon) be authoritative if it’s only “Scripture alone” (as some misunderstand that term)?


1, Sola Scriptura


But is it Scriptural for something not written in the Bible to be a source of doctrine and practice?

1 Corinthians 11:2: “I [Paul] praise you [the Corinthians congregation] because you remember me in everything and hold to the traditions just as I delivered [“traditioned”] them to you.”

2 Thessalonians 2:15: “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions you were taught, whether by our spoken word or by our letter.”

  • What does Scripture say about the source of our traditions [teachings] that we are to hold to?


Read 1 Timothy 3:15

  • But how can Scripture tell us to hold on to something that doesn’t originate from the Scriptures?


Read 2 Timothy 3:16-17

  • According to Scripture, what is the function of Scripture in the life of the Christian?


“equipped for every good work”: Here, Paul uses a perfect passive participle, meaning “having been equipped,” or “having been fully equipped.” This shows that the Scripture comes to someone from the outside to the person. The Scripture does the equipping. Of course the Holy Spirit is in the thick of this because (1 The Holy Spirit inspired [breathed] the Scriptures and (2 The Scriptures have been “breathed, Spirited” on the people. (Remember, Scripture came to the people as it was read to them in Church. Most people couldn’t read or had the Scriptures as home.)


Following the Pattern of Sound Words

Read 2 Timothy 1:13-14

  • What was Pastor Timothy to follow, and its source?


  • What was Pastor Timothy to do with the “good deposit,” which he had received verbally?


  • Discuss the relationship between what Pr. Timothy received through the verbal Word (what Paul said) and the written Word (what Paul wrote), which told him to “guard” it?


1, The Pattern of Sound Words


Excursus: The Complementary Role Between Church and Scripture

The Bible itself rejects the idea of only the Bible! Even more, a proper understanding of Scripture brings someone to value the Church, and a proper-functioning Church brings those within her to value the Scriptures. It’s not an either-or reality; it’s both and. Properly valuing the Church doesn’t take away from Scripture; instead, it brings you to understand the content of Scripture as God intends. That’s why “the Church of the living God, is a pillar and foundation of the truth.”

The Church has a role in teaching and correcting, even correcting someone’s misunderstanding of Scripture. The Apostle Peter tells us, “You should know this: no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20). So, according to Scripture, no one is authorized to have his own interpretation of Scripture! That means what you or I may think what a Scripture passage means is irrelevant. What matters is this: What does God, through the writer, mean in a passage of Scripture? That’s what matters—not your or my “personal interpretation.”

And that’s where THE Church (not any particular congregation or denomination) is to act in our lives. THE Church keeps a “me and Jesus” approach from damaging our faith life. THE Church lets us know—as a pillar and foundation of truth—what is the truth, what is the proper understanding of God’s Word, the Scriptures.

If we take the Scriptures seriously, then we must take Christ’s Church seriously. They are both twin pillars of our faith. If we only value the Church, then we demean the Scriptures. If we only value the Scriptures, then we belittle the Bride of Christ, the Church.

Jesus has redeemed us, not into chaos and confusion, but into a harmonious unity of mind and Spirit. Jesus’ pure doctrine fuses us together, through faith, into His own death and resurrection. That’s why true Christian freedom begins with believing that the crucified, risen, and ascended King who bought us back from our sin will not tolerate our use of that freedom to prop up our sin and rebellion. “Live as free people, not using your freedom as a pretext for evil” (1 Peter 2:16), which includes the idea that there is such a thing as someone’s own a private interpretation of Scripture based on a faulty understanding of “Scripture alone.”


This week we looked as Scripture being the “only rule and norm according to which all teachings, together with all teachers, should be evaluated and judged.”

Next week, we will look at why our Confessions say “the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures,” qualifying which Scriptures, and not others, are to be the only rule and norm.


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