An Overview of Sola Scriptura
What is Sola Scriptura?
The Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura is that the Christian Scriptures alone are the sole infallible rule of faith and practice.First, Sola Scriptura states that Scripture is infallible. To be infallible is to be incapable of making any mistakes. Because all of Scripture is breathed by God (2 Tim 3:16) and God is perfect in every way, his word is incapable of being wrong. God, in all his perfection, is not capable of making a mistake when breathing his own word. The Bible, in its original languages of Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek contains no mistakes. It is not possible for the Bible to contain any mistakes if we hold to the doctrine of God’s inspiration of his word. Believing in the infallibility of God’s word alone is important because it colors our beliefs of God. If we have a high view of God and his perfect holiness and righteousness, we believe his word is infallible.
Sola Scriptura also states that the Scripture alone is the rule of faith and practice for believers. As Christians, we have no other rule of faith. We must follow the words of God recorded in the canonized Scripture. God has spoken through his word, and if we love him, we will keep his commands (John 14:15). Scripture alone is where we learn about where our faith and our salvation. In the Scripture, we also learn about how to live out, or practice, our faith. We see the importance of the church and how we are to live as obedient Christ-followers for all our days.
Why was Sola Scriptura important in the Protestant Reformation?
Sola Scriptura was important in the Protestant Reformation because the Roman Catholic Church held that the words of popes and councils were on the same level as Scripture. The doctrines of the Catholic church are still built on these extra-biblical traditions. The people had to trust in the supposed authority and infallibility of the leaders of the Catholic church to interpret Scripture for them. The Reformers held to the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers – that all believers can read and interpret Scripture correctly. Martin Luther said, “a simple layman armed with Scripture is greater than the mightiest pope without it.” William Tyndale, the great translator, said, “I defy the Pope and all his laws. If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scripture than he does.” The Reformers believed that all believers should be able to access the glorious truths found in Scripture, and interpret those words without the popes and councils.
Also, Sola Scriptura was important in the Protestant Reformation because the Roman Catholic Church had long hidden the words of God from the people of God. The Roman Catholic Church demanded that the Mass be held in Latin, with no regard for the common vernacular of the people. The people had no access to the Scripture, and therefore had no way to understand their faith and how it should be practiced in the world. Brave men such as John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, and William Tyndale worked hard to translate the Bible into their common vernacular. Wycliffe translated the Bible into Middle English in the late 1300s, Luther translated the Bible into German in 1522, and Tyndale translated the Bible into English in 1526. These men, along with countless others around the world, wanted to get the Bible into the hands of common people. They believed that Scripture is the sole infallible rule of faith and practice, and needed to be easily accessed by all believers. They defied the words of the popes and councils, which were regarded by the Roman Catholic Church as words of God on the same level as Scripture. The Reformers not only believed Sola Scriptura, but they put it to work. They actively brought the Scripture to the people, who hadn’t had full access to the Word of God for centuries. The Reformers were willing to die in order that the people might have the Bible in their own language, so that they could learn more deeply the things of God. The movement of the Reformation across Europe was really borne out of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. People had access to the Word of God and could understand it, so they began to see the errors within the Roman Catholic Church, and thus, the movement moved forward.
Why is Sola Scriptura relevant today?
I would argue that the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is still as relevant to the church as it has ever been. We need to continually remember this doctrine. Below, I’ve given three brief reasons why Sola Scriptura is still relevant to the church today.
- Defending the Faith. In order to properly defend our faith, we need the Word of God. We face attacks on our faith more and more everyday in our secular society. We must familiarize and arm ourselves with the truth proclaimed in Scripture so that we might defend our faith.
- Preserving Right Doctrine. We are called to “guard the good deposit” of the gospel in us (2 Timothy 1:14). To do this, we must believe what the Bible says about the gospel. We must preserve right doctrine, guided only by Scripture, the infallible rule of faith and practice for believers. We must preserve the orthodox theology of the church, and we can only do that by spending time in Scripture.
- Gospel Advancement. Finally, we are called to spread the message of the gospel to all nations (Matthew 28:16-20). We know that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Romans 10:17), so we must do our best to take Scripture to all nations. Taking the Word of God to all nations means that we are taking the Gospel to all nations. Sola Scriptura is a missionary call.
I hope you’ve seen how the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is still extremely relevant today, and needs to be continually stressed in our day and age. A final, quote from Martin Luther on Sola Scriptura:
“Take me, for example. I opposed indulgences and all papists, but never by force. I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word: otherwise I did nothing. And then, while I slept or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip of Amsdorf the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing: the Word did it all. Had I wanted to start trouble…. I could have started such a little game at Worms that even the emperor wouldn’t have been safe. But what would it have been? A mug’s game. I did nothing: I left it to the Word.” (Luther’s Works).