5 Things All Christians Should Understand about Sola Scriptura
1. What Does Sola Scriptura Mean?
Sola Scriptura is the Latin translation for Scripture alone. As a whole, the phrase means that God’s Word is sufficient and has the highest authority for all of life. This does not mean that the Bible is clear on every issue or question we have—the Bible has little to say on how to speak Spanish or the scientific intricacies of rocket science. However, Sola Scriptura means that the Bible is the infallible Word of God, and takes supreme authority over our lives in every area it speaks to. This means that reason, logic, tradition, and experience and valid, but ultimately shall be submitted under scripture as our greatest authority (2 Peter 1:19).
When it comes to spiritual life, salvation, and Christian obedience, Sola Scriptura means that the Bible gets the final word. As Christians, we believe that all answers to our questions and all wisdom for life should first and foremost be found in the Word (Hebrews 4:12) or seen implicitly through its lens. Ultimately, Sola Scriptura is the start and foundation of everything we know about God and His glory.
2. Where Did the Phrase Sola Scriptura Come From?
The phrase Sola Scriptura originated out of the 16th century Protestant Reformation. Sola Scriptura is one of the Five Solas. The Five Solas are statements that became the slogans of the Reformation and are now seen as core tenets of the faith (more info here). The movement sought to bring reform to the Roman Catholic Church due to the corrupt teaching that tradition and church leadership stood equal in authority with scripture.
The men at work within the Reformation saw a lack of commitment to God’s Word in the Roman Catholic Church and made it their main goal to bring God’s Holy Word back to the forefront of Christianity. God used the reformers in their own unique way to uncover and renew the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which had been trampled on by man-made religion and tradition. In an article by Stephen Lawson on The Reformation and The Men Behind It, he explains the Reformation as such:
“The Reformation was essentially a crisis over which authority should have primacy. Rome claimed the church’s authority lay with Scripture and tradition, Scripture and the pope, Scripture and church councils. But the Reformers believed that the authority belonged to Scripture alone.”
Although the phrase Sola Scriptura originated out of the Protestant Reformation, the idea of Scripture as final authority can be traced directly to God’s Word. God Himself, throughout the history of the Bible has made the principle of Sola Scriptura reign true. Deuteronomy 17:14-20 states that we “shall not turn away from God’s Word, not to the right or the left”. Psalm 1:2 and Joshua 1:7-8 says that “the righteous person dwells on the Word of the Lord day and night”. Deuteronomy 8:3 states that “we do not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”. The Reformers did not create this idea on the basis of logic, virtue, experience, or tradition, but from the foundation of Scripture itself. Proverbs 30:5-6 states:
“Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.”
Sola Scriptura ultimately means God’s Word alone—that we are not to add or take away any of God’s words but to submit ourselves to its supreme authority.
3. Why is Sola Scriptura Important to our Faith?
Sola Scriptura is important because it serves as the metric of our faith. We live in a culture that is fueled by feelings. We are often more interested in experiential knowledge and ‘right feeling’, than biblical truth and sound doctrine. As Christians we believe that “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 complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Therefore, the concept of Sola Scriptura is important because God’s Word serves to equip the saints and provide final say for all matters in life.
Sola Scriptura is not only important in our own personal lives, but also in the Church to weed out false doctrine and teachers (Galatians 1:6-9). Even amongst believers, we can easily swing into an experiential-based faith, admiring those who teach and write by tickling our ears with hyper- spirituality and positive vibes (Jude 1:3-4). God has gifted, used, and called many amazing men and women who passionately and authoritatively teach the scriptures well. However, we must acknowledge that they are sinful humans just as we are, and their words (and mine) should be put to the test against the infallible Word of God. Humans are fallible, but God’s Word stands alone, true throughout the generations (Isaiah 40:6-8).
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4. What Does Sola Scriptura Not Mean?
Sola Scriptura does not mean we neglect good teaching, disengage from all other sources of information, or hold so literally to the Bible’s words that we become misinformed by wrong interpretation. Biblical teaching helps us to understand God’s Word, encourages our souls, and equips us in our faith. As we run all sources of information — experience, emotion, logic, and reason — under the authority of God’s Word we will not see a lack in our understanding. Our moral and ethical issues will instead take on deeper meaning and conviction. God’s word will fuel our lives, releasing our feelings of shame, exhaustion, and burden when the right interpretation is discovered.
Our understanding of the Bible should ultimately lead us to place of deep intimacy with God as we consider how to love Him with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. As we read and discover more of the Bible—understanding who God is and what He intends for us— greater freedom and intimacy with Him can be found. Just as our relationship with our spouse cannot grow without intimate time and study of them, our relationship with the Lord cannot grow without an intimate study of His Word. We cannot gain an intimate relationship with God without consistent in-depth study and time spent with Him. Reading His Word is a form of actively listening to Him.
5. How Can a Belief in Sola Scriptura Practically Play Itself Out in Real Life?
A belief in sola Scriptura practically plays itself out in real life through the protection of the church, personal study of God’s Word, and through our obedience as believers. The understanding of Scripture as our final authority—and our biblical responsibility to weed out false doctrine— should lead us to an in-depth study of God’s Word. Everything God intended us to know and believe about God and salvation has been revealed to us in His Word. Ultimately the Bible is not a book about us or a book of rules that tell us what we must do. The Bible is a book about God and the redemption of His people through His son Jesus.
We believe in the principle of sola Scriptura just as Jesus did; He was sent by the power and authority of God to redeem us from our sins. Jesus held to the authority of the Father so deeply that He was willing to sacrifice Himself on the cross to cover our sin and shame. Jesus not only died on the basis of the authority and power of God, but also fought temptation, sin, and Satan on the authority of God’s Word. Jesus Himself quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 in Matthew 4:4 as He fought temptation while fasting in the desert for 40 days.
We are fooling ourselves if we say we believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, staking our life on it, but do not believe in the authority and power of the Bible as our final say and truth. Our stance on the gospel of grace and the Word of truth should be firm. We must study the Word as if it really is the air we need to breathe. We must believe that God’s Word is the stream of living water we are looking for (John 4:14), and we must take care to study God’s Word in full as to not lead ourselves or others astray.
The benefit of living at a time such as this is that we have more resources than ever before to study and understand the Bible. With that great privilege comes greater responsibility to read and understand the Word, and do what it says. Our privilege to know the whole God of the Bible through the reading the Word also invokes greater accountability based on James 1:22: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
Do not be deceived my friends, rather put your fears and questions to rest by picking up your Bible and prayerfully doing what it says. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone, under the authority of God’s Word alone. Therefore, let us stand firm on His Word, laid as the foundation of our lives, and live for His glory with an ever-increasing joy in our hearts.