Sola Scriptura ("Scripture Alone")
The Bible is God's Word
I will never forget August 15, 2007. An earthquake of 8.0 magnitude hit Peru’s central coast. More than 500 people were killed, and many thousands were left without a home. A few of us arrived in Pisco a few days after the earthquake, in order to help in any way we could. You could smell death everywhere you walked, as many bodies were yet to be removed from under the rubble. I will never forget the sorrow, the pain, and sense of terror in the faces of the people, most of whom had lost loved ones, or were still hoping and praying that a family member or loved one would be found.
But none of these things were as unforgettable as what happened the last night we were there. You see, there were Christians there, who were also in deep sorrow and pain. But amidst the great disaster and destruction, they were not without hope. Our last night there, they held a worship service for any and all people. This service was held in a broken down building that was still standing, though it had suffered damage as well. That night the people sang as they wept. They prayed and listened to the public reading of Scripture as they wept. They heard a powerful message from Psalm 90 that reminded them that the Lord is their dwelling place, even if all else should crumble (Psalm 90:1-2), and they wept.
Though their circumstances were not favorable, they were greatly comforted by the fact that God was with them, and He would always be so. All of this was shown to them from the Bible, from Holy Scripture, the only thing in their possession that night that they were confident was sure and stable. There was a little boy, no more than 8 years old, in the front row with me who caught my attention. As the pastor was preaching, I could see in his hand a small, green Gideon Bible. It was the kind that had the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs. I don’t know who gave him that little Bible, but he was absolutely fixed on it and the preacher. With a small beat up pencil with barely enough lead, he was writing down notes in this tiny Bible. Problem was, his Bible was so worn down, and already packed with so many pencil notes, that there was hardly any more room to write! I couldn’t believe this little boy’s hunger for the Word. After the service I met that little boy, and it was evident that he was a born again Christian, with an insatiable hunger to know God, and experience His comfort even amidst such devastation.
There are places like this area of Peru where the Word of God is not as readily available as it is to us. Yet, hunger for God’s Word is great, and people are starving for divine truth. This reminds me of the setting of the Protestant Reformation some 500 + years ago, when people were dying of spiritual starvation as well. The Bible was not readily available or accessible in their common language. People were largely dependent upon the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy for their understanding and interpretation of Scripture. And, as I mentioned in our first article, because they did not have the Word of God readily available, even the message of the saving grace of Christ was hidden under the rubric of decades of dead orthodoxy and church tradition.
This is why the single greatest treasure that the Reformation brought was a return to the Holy Scriptures. This is why men like William Tyndale (1494-1536, “the Father of the English Bible”), who produced the first translation from the original Hebrew and Greek texts into English, and John Wycliffe (1330-1384, “The Morning Star of the Reformation”), who translated the Latin Vulgate into common English, devoted their lives to putting the Bible into the hands of the common people. They believed that the people needed to hear directly from God, otherwise they had no hope!
Eventually, one of the “drum beats” of the Reformation became the principle of “Sola Scriptura,” the affirmation that Scripture Alone is the Ultimate and Final Authority for faith and practice. It wasn’t that tradition in itself was all evil, or that our experiences don’t have something to teach us, or that God doesn’t teach us in some way through divinely-ordained circumstances. But that all of these are ultimately subject to the clearly-understood and rightly-interpreted Word of God. In contrast to the RCC, it wasn’t the Bible + Apocrypha, or the Bible + the Magisterium (the RCC’s official teaching and interpretation of the Bible), or the Bible + Church Tradition, but Scripture alone. All traditions are subordinate and regulated by Holy Scripture. Anything that is not is to be rejected.
You might fall into the danger of thinking that perhaps the principle of Sola Scriptura isn’t applicable today. But think about the attacks on the Bible’s definition of marriage and gender, issues of social injustice, and the sanctity of human life. In these and many other issues, the world wants to redefine what the Bible says. But Scripture does not “bow” to current cultural norms. The Bible is God’s Word, and God has the final and ultimate word on all matters that pertain to His creation.
The Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura reminds us that we need to be “people of the Book” (the Bible!). That we should be like Ezra, who “had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.” That we should be like Timothy, who was to “study to show himself approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the Word of Truth” (2 Tim 2:15). Sola Scriptura is the “basis” for the rest of the Solas that we will look at in the weeks ahead. Without the conviction that God’s Word is final, you are in trouble, and on a slippery slope.