Sola Scriptura is a Latin phrase that literally means “By Scripture Alone.” Sola Scriptura is the doctrine that the Bible is the only infallible and inerrant authority for Christian faith, and that it contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness.
I preached sola scriptura to the church where I was lead pastor. My son who was 16 at the time had a girlfriend that he really liked. It was his first girlfriend. I picked him after a school event one day and he told me, “Well, it’s over.” After he explained to me that he meant he broke it off with his girlfriend, I asked him what happened. He said, “She’s just not sola scriptura, Dad.”
In Part One, we looked at the first of five primary views of Scripture, Sola Ecclesia. We will briefly look at the other four and then talk more about sola scriptura.
Five Primary Views of Scripture
- Sola Ecclesia (Dual Source Theory)
- Prima Scriptura
- Regula Fidei
- Sola Scriptura
- Solo Scriptura
Prima Scriptura is the belief that the Body of Christ has two separate sources of authority for faith and practice: 1) the Scriptures and 2) Tradition. Scripture is the primary source for authority, but by itself it is insufficient for all matters of faith and practice. Tradition also contains essential elements needed for the productive Christian life. Adherents of this view are some Roman Catholics, some Eastern Orthodox, and some Protestants.
Regula Fidei literally means “Rule of faith.” It is the belief that tradition is an infallible “summary” of Scripture passed on through apostolic succession. Ultimately, there is only one source of revelation, but two sources of authority. In other words, Tradition is Scripture. Adherents of this view are Eastern Orthodoxy, early church and some evangelicals.
Sola Scriptura is the belief that Scripture is the final and only infallible authority for the Christian in all matters of faith and practice. Adherents of this view are evangelicals, reformers. More on this later.
Solo Scriptura (different from sola) is the belief that Scripture is the sole basis and authority in the life of the Christian. Adherents of this view (fundamentalists, restoration churches, anbaptists) believe that tradition is useless and misleading, and creeds and confessions are the result of man-made traditions.
Support of Sola Scriptura
It is self-evident that the Bible did not record everything that Jesus said and did. John’s purpose in telling his readers this (John 20:30-31) is not because he wants them to seek out “unwritten tradition” to learn of these other things, but because he wants them to know that what he has recorded contains sufficient information to bring one to salvation. There is no reason to think that people need exhaustive knowledge of all that Christ said or did. The Bible is not an exhaustive history; it is theological history. Scripture speaks of its sufficiency (2 Tim 3:14-17).
The Scriptures speak explicitly against the “traditions of men” as misleading and often in opposition to God’s written Word. Therefore, all traditions must submit to Scripture (Matt. 15:2-6).
The New Testament speaks of the importance of Tradition (2 Thes. 2:15; 1 Cor. 11:2; Jude 1:3). But the Tradition that is referred to in these passages is the Gospel message that was eventually recorded in the New Testament. There is no reason to believe that the New Testament writers were speaking of some infallible “unwritten Tradition” that was separate from the message of the New Testament and that was to be passed on through an unbroken succession of bishops throughout the ages.
It is agreed that Peter and the apostles were given authority and the guidance to teach the truth. Their authority and teaching continues today, not through an unbroken lineage of succession, but through their teaching contained in the Scripture.
What’s the Big Deal?
Church pulpits, classrooms, small groups and incarnational communities are filled with men and women who are perverting people’s minds with mystical, quasi-spiritual and extra-biblical ideas about God and eternal life. Scripture alone contains the words of eternal life and about Jesus, the hero of the Scriptures, who is the onlyway to God (John 5:39-40, 46; Luke 24:27, 44-45).
- Carson, D. A., and Woodbridge, John D. Hermeneutics, Authority, and Canon. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986. (This work deals especially with philosophical issues of authority, reliability and inspiration of Scripture).
- Fee, Gordon & Stuart, Douglas. How to Read the Bible for All it’s Worth (Second Edition). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1993. (The best book for a brief look at the genres of the Bible.)
- Jackson, Samuel Macauley and Gilmore, George William, The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (New York, London, Funk and Wagnalls Co., 1908-1914; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1951)
- Klein, William; Blomberg, Craig; Hubbard, Robert. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Dallas: Word, 1993. (The best work in the field of historical/grammatical hermeneutics, but sometimes quite difficult and advanced).
- Osborne, Grant R. Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation.Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity, 1991. (This is a weighty work showing the interplay between the text, author and interpreter in the process of interpretation).
- Sproul, RC. Knowing Scripture Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1977
- Vanhoozer, Kevin J. Is There a Meaning in This Text. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998.
Part One can be found here