By Andrew Rutten
“Unless I am convinced by Sacred Scriptures or by evident reason, I will not recant. My conscience is held captive by the Word of God and to act against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand; I can do no other.”
These words were boldly stated by Martin Luther in 1521. The Protestant Reformation was well on its way at this point, headed by Luther himself. The reformation movement began with the intent on going back to placing a primacy on Scripture as our final authority. All other issues discussed in the reformation had to stand in light of Scripture.
For Luther, as mentioned in the initial quote, all things had to be weighed against Scripture. There would be no ability to develop doctrines or worldviews if they did not align themselves with Scripture. This belief for Luther led him to many fiery councils, much like the Diet of Worms where he uttered those words.
Through the work of many reformers like Luther, we developed what is called today “The 5 Solas”. Sola simply means, “alone”. These five solas would be some of the characteristic beliefs of reformed theology. They are as follows (in English translation): Scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, and God’s glory alone.
Over the next few weeks we will be examining each one of these in greater detail. But, because all of them must stand on the truth of Scripture, they all flow out of the first sola: Sola Scriptura or Scripture alone.
So let’s look at the first of these ideas. To do this, we’ll discuss what it means for Scripture to have authority, what Scripture alone means, and why in the world you should care about it today.
Why Scripture has authority
Martin Luther famously pronounced that he could not recant his view on justification by faith alone because he saw it clearly in the Scriptures. If it was in the Scriptures, Luther would stand on that truth. But why give such authority to the Scriptures?
The basic answer is that if the Scriptures are the Words of God, then that alone gives them the final authority. Case closed? Well, let me explain a little further.
If God is the creator of all things, sustainer of all things, and Lord of all things, then He must have supreme authority over all things. If you were to create a painting, you would have final authority over what that painting was and what happens to it. Simply being its creator gives you an immediate authority over it.
Similarly, God created the world (Genesis 1:1-2) and therefore has authority over it. Further, God created human beings (Gen 1:26-27) and therefore has authority over us. And if that eternal, perfect, authoritative God were to speak, those Words would have authority over our thoughts and words.
The Scriptures are the very words of God (2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:19-21). And this collective Word of God was not only for people thousands of years ago, but was written for us today (1 Peter 1:10-12).
Therefore, Scripture Alone has final authority for us today because these are the very words of God written over thousands of years as truth for all people. If we can accept that God is above us as Creator and that Scripture is His collective revealed Word, then we must give Scripture final authority over all else.
If Scripture is the final authoritative Word of God, does that mean that there is no other source of authority in life? Or, asked another way, what does it mean for Scripture to be authoritative alone?
This is a common misconception about the initial sola. Many will argue that Scripture cannot be alone, authoritatively, for Scripture itself gives authority to other people.
Take, for instance, Matthew 16:18-19. In this passage it appears that Jesus is giving authority to Peter (and/or the church depending on your ecclesiastical leanings) in matters on earth. So, how can we say only Scripture has authority?
Or how about the many places in the Old Testament and even New Testament that give authority to parents over their children? One of the Ten Commandments, after all, is that children should honor their parents. If parents have authority over their children, then how can only Scripture have authority?
For good measure, let’s have one more example. In Acts 20:28, 1 Timothy 5:17, 1 Peter 5:2, and many other places, it seems as if Scripture is setting up a role in the church as an overseer or elder that exercises oversight and authority. If not only the church has authority in the life of a believer, but specific elders carry authority and oversight, then once again, how can only Scripture have authority?
Although the case may seem airtight, maybe you have already noticed the biggest problem with this strand of arguments.
Where are we getting our belief that all these other people and roles have authority? From the Scriptures. Therefore, we are basing other authority off of the authority that we are assuming the Scriptures have.
In order for parents to base their authority on the Bible, we must first believe that the Bible has the final authority. Or in order for the church to believe their elders can exercise oversight and authority, they must first believe that was given to them by the final authority of Scripture.
The belief of Scripture alone is not saying that Scripture is the only authority, but that it has the utmost and final authority.
Allow me to quote Luther one more time: “The church does not make the Word, but it is made by the Word.”
Sola Scriptura does not mean that there is no other authority. It means that there is one final authority and that is the Word of God.
Why Should I Care?
Maybe the heading is a bit crass, but let’s be honest, why should we care about a doctrine that men developed 500 years ago? Let me give five quick reasons.
(1) Scripture Produces Faith
“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17) Jesus tells us in John 5 that all of Scripture is pointing to Him; he is the climax of the story of Scripture. Paul tells us here that it is then these true words of Christ that have the power to give faith. And it is faith (as we will see next week) that saves. Therefore, Scripture should matter to us today because it reveals the truths that offer faith that saves.
(2) Scripture Drives Mission
Not only do we need the truths of Scripture to have faith, but we also need these truths to live on mission. In order to preach the gospel, we need the words that give faith. And as we carry out our mission of making disciples (Matthew 28:19), we need to be “teaching them [disciples] to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:20). In order to evangelize and disciple, we need the truths of Scripture.
(3) Scripture Proves Love
“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:21) Jesus is not saying here that if you keep God’s commands you’ll be loved or love him. But Jesus is saying that if you love him, you will take his commands and walk in them. So, our obedience to Scripture does not force God to love us or make us right with God; but our obedience to Scripture helps prove that we already have loved God and been loved by Him.
(4) Scripture Offers Joy
Read Psalm 19. As you do, note the beauty in which David loves the words of the Lord. Nothing compares to the words of God. Nothing is sweeter to David than the words of God. Nothing is more valuable than the words of God. For David, he wants to sit in the words, laws, and rules of God, for he knows that in them are great joy. The words of the Lord are not to crush us into submission, but free us to joyful life.
(5) Scripture Reveals God
Last, but 100% not least, the ultimate purpose for having a deep affection for Scripture is that it reveals God. Jesus says “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Eternal life is knowing God. How do we know God? Through His chosen means—His revealed Word. Through the Scriptures we know what God is like, what He loves, how He acts, what He cares about, and so much more. If you want to walk in life, we need to know God through His Scriptures.