What do those two little words mean and what impact have they had on the course of Christendom over the last five hundred years? Quite simply Sola Scriptura means that the Bible is the only inspired and authoritative Word of God and is accessible to all (that is, perspicuous and self-interpreting) and that Holy Tradition is not needed to interpret it as administered through the Roman Catholic Church and its Magisterium.
We owe much of what we consider Protestantism to a man who is not widely known today in American Evangelicalism. In the early 1400’s a Bohemian minister, wholly devoted to God and the authority of the Scriptures, was burned as a heretic by the Roman Catholic Church for his beliefs that Christ was the sole head of the Church and that His word was the final judge on doctrinal matters. Jan Hus was his name and he was one of the early embers that God used to ignite the fire that would engulf the church and lead the way for what was to become the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and others followed after Hus and vowed that the concept of Sola Scriptura was the formal cause of their shift away from Romanism and to the doctrines of grace. Martin Luther put it most excellently when at the Diet of Worms, he declared his conscience to be captive to the Word of God saying, "Unless I am overcome with testimonies from Scripture or with evident reasons -- for I believe neither the Pope nor the Councils, since they have often erred and contradicted one another -- I am overcome by the Scripture texts which I have adduced, and my conscience is bound by God's Word."
God has chosen to use His Word to both guide us ( Ps. 119:30 ) and as a guardian against sin ( Ps. 119:11 ). God thinks so much of His Word, it is so important to Him, that He has magnified it above His name ( Ps. 138:2 ) and without it we would have no record of His marvelous works ( Ps. 33.4 )
So convinced of the sufficiency of Scripture were many of the Reformers that they faced prison, torture, and even death to make this belief know to the populace. 2 Timothy 3:15 states that, “ All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” and Paul in I Corinthians 4:6 wrote, “ I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.”
We can go back as far as Irenaeus in his great work “ Against Heresies “ and read that “ We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. (III,I).
While historically there has, from the outset of the church, been disagreement on the canon of scripture no where can we say that God’s words are an invention of human will or that we are solely responsible for them. The Word of God is inspired, God-breathed if you will, and was written using God’s men, in God’s timing, and according to His purpose. The Belgic Confession stated, "We believe that [the] holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation is sufficiently taught therein...Neither may we consider any writings of men, however holy these men may have been, of equal value with those divine Scriptures nor ought we to consider custom or the great multitude, or antiquity, or succession of times and persons, or councils, decrees or statutes, as of equal value with the truth of God... Therefore, we reject with all our hearts whatsoever does not agree with this infallible rule" (VII). So though holy men have written and wrangled about the canon and what it is they did not have the right then nor do we now to say man or his intellect caused the scriptures. It would be fitting however to say we discovered what God had inspired. The Westminster Confession states in article IV. The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.
We have been given the Word of God and we should cherish it. We should study it and learn the ways of God from it. We should exegete it properly and diligently share it with others for by it comes faith ( Romans 10:15-17 ). One thing we should not do however is idolize the Bible for it is not God though it contains His law, grace, and everything in between that we need for our edification. We need to always be aware that we worship the God of the Bible and not the book itself….
Mat 24:35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
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