Category: Doctrine of Scripture

Scripture Alone or Faith Alone: What Sola Should Come First?

When we write or teach on the solas of the Reformation, with which distinctive should we begin? In the end, this is probably a matter of preference, but after completing Reeves and Chester’s (excellent) book Why the Reformation Still Matters and pondering how I would begin our young adult’s study on the Reformation, I was forced to wrestle with the question of order.

I had planned to begin with Scripture alone, but when I noticed that Reeves and Chester begin with justification by faith alone (chapter 1) and then move into Scripture alone (chapter 2), I was thrown into a fit of confusion. Alright, it wasn’t that severe, but I did develop two different introductions because I was slightly unsure how I should go about sequencing these Reformation distinctives.

In the end, I went with Sola Scriptura. But why begin our discussion of the five solas of the Reformation with Scripture Alone? Doesn’t it make more historical sense to begin with justification by faith alone (Sola Fide)?

The Truth of Justification, Found in the Bible
Yes, perhaps for the sake of historical order it helps to begin with justification by faith alone. If we follow the narrative of Luther’s theological and spiritual development, it makes sense to begin with the “material principle” of the Reformation, for it was two years after Luther posted the 95 Theses, in a disputation with John Eck (1519), that the Reformer officially concluded that Scripture is the supreme spiritual authority in the church and that church tradition is subject to the authority of Scripture, not vice-versa.

In Luther’s story, it is his search for assurance of salvation that led him to discover the glorious truth of justification by faith alone. Yet, he discovered this truth in the Scriptures, which would eventually lead him to declare Scripture Alone as the supreme source of spiritual authority for the individual Christian and the corporate church.

The doctrine of Scripture Alone, therefore, was implicit, we might say, in Luther’s search for assurance. It was Luther’s search for assurance that led him to find light in the Scripture and not in the teaching of the Roman Church. Indeed, it was the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church concerning salvation that had cast Luther into a desperate spiritual state for several years. He finally had a breakthrough when he discovered the truth of justification in the Scriptures.

Not a Mere Logical Starting Point
Our of the Reformation principle of Scripture Alone, therefore, is not a mere intellectual or logical starting point. Intimately tied to the principle of Scripture Alone is the believer’s assurance of salvation, for it is in the Scriptures and only in the Scriptures that God has given us his clear Word on how a person can be right with his Creator. When the supreme authority of Scripture is disregarded or when Scripture is placed on an equal plane of authority with church tradition and counsels, then the gospel and assurance of salvation will soon be muddled and eventually lost.

As the Luther and the other reformers sought to promote theological, spiritual, and ecclesiastical transformation throughout Europe, they drew their doctrines from the Scripture, appealing to the Bible as God’s Word to man and our supreme spiritual authority for faith and practice. Even those who came before Luther who had critiqued the Roman Catholic Church—John Wycliff, John Hus—had rooted their arguments in the Bible, thus indicating that it was to Scripture they were finally beholden, not the church’s teaching.

Without a commitment to Scripture Alone, the Reformers’ commitment to other doctrines of the Reformation would have been weakened and eventually abandoned. It was because the Reformers were convinced that God has revealed his Word in the Bible alone and not in the teaching of the church that they were able to stand through intense opposition from the Catholic church.

That’s why I begin with Scripture Alone. 

Sola Scriptura: Tradition vs. tradition

In their defense of Scripture Alone, Luther and the Reformers did not reject tradition outright; rather, they rejected the place that tradition presently had in the life of the church. Nor did he Reformers believe their position was novel; it was always the position of the church, they argued, and the view of the early church fathers. Matthew Barrett explains,

Luther and the Reformers believed that for the early church fathers, Scripture alone (as opposed to Scripture and Tradition) was inspired by God, perfect and flawless as a source of divine revelation, and therefore the final and ultimate authority in all matters of faith and practice. Tradition was a tool meant to assist the believer in understanding Scripture’s meaning. While Scripture possesses magisterial authority tradition’s authority was always ministerial, a handmaiden to the biblical witness, rather than an authoritative voice governing Scripture (God’s Word Alone, 45) Continue reading “Sola Scriptura: Tradition vs. tradition”

Scripture Alone in the Life of Martin Luther: Augustine and the Doctrine of Justification

Luther’s spiritual breakthrough from the darkness of legalism to the glory of the gospel came because he sought spiritual light in the Scriptures. The doctrine of Scripture Alone was implicit in his search for assurance. But as we trace the development of Luther’s thought, we see how his conviction of Scripture Alone enabled him to depart from the early church fathers when they didn’t agree with Scripture. In Luther’s life, then, we see a vivid illustration of what he meant by the expression “Scripture Alone.” Take Luther’s engagement with Augustine over the doctrine of justification, for example. Continue reading “Scripture Alone in the Life of Martin Luther: Augustine and the Doctrine of Justification”

Barrett’s ‘God’s Word Alone’ is a Must Read on the Doctrine of Scripture

Scripture AloneI recently finished Matthew Barrett’s God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture. Even at 374 pages, it is a unique confluence of concision, breadth, and depth. I am grateful that God equips men with such theological skill and calls them to ply their craft for the benefit of the church. My heart resonates with Robert Yarbrough who, in his endorsement, called this book “a feast.”

For the last five decades, evangelicals have wrestled with the past and with one another over what constitutes a true evangelical doctrine of Scripture. Over the last seven years, I’ve had the privilege of studying some of this history and even wading into the present discussion, if only just a little. It’s become painfully clear that the disagreement among evangelicals over how to understand Scripture’s authority, inerrancy, inspiration, and clarity has only intensified the last two decades, and there is no immediate indication that the clamor of controversy will soon quiet to a din of discussion (present attempts at dialogue notwithstanding). Continue reading “Barrett’s ‘God’s Word Alone’ is a Must Read on the Doctrine of Scripture”

Scripture, Tradition, and the Question of Authority

We affirm that the Scriptures are the supreme written norm by which God binds the conscience, and that the authority of the Church is subordinate to that of Scripture.

 We deny that church creeds, councils, or declarations have authority greater than or equal to the authority of the Bible.

The second article of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI) deals specifically with the issue of Scripture’s authority. Article II affirms that the Scriptures are the “supreme written norm” to which human conscience is bound, while other written documents, although important, do not possess authority equal or superior to that of the Scriptures. Continue reading “Scripture, Tradition, and the Question of Authority”

Let Us Have Peace with God? Reflections on Romans 5:1 and Dealing with Bible Difficulties

Encountering difficulties in the Bible can be troubling for the young believer and the seasoned saint alike. Yet, when we are confronted with hard passages or apparent discrepancies in the biblical text, we don’t want to ignore the difficulty or pretend it doesn’t exist. Out of an unwillingness to do a little hard work, lack of acquaintance with the available resources, or the mistaken assumption that faith shouldn’t require any mental effort, we may indulge the temptation to shuffle quickly past difficult passages in order to avoid intellectual and emotional discomfort. Continue reading “Let Us Have Peace with God? Reflections on Romans 5:1 and Dealing with Bible Difficulties”

Manuscripts and the Wisdom of God: A Brief Essay on the Transmission of the Bible

One of the reasons why Mormons look to revelation other than the Bible is because they believe—and assert in official LDS teaching—that the original content of the Bible has been corrupted over the centuries as the Scriptures have been passed down from generation to generation. Because of this alleged corruption, God’s revelation in the Bible had become tainted and is in need of corrective revelation. Alongside the Bible, Mormons receive The Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrines and Covenants as authoritative Scripture.

My goal in this essay is not to examine and critique the claims of these “latter-day revelations” (others have ably handled this issue). Rather, I want to consider the accusation that the content of the Bible has been corrupted over time. If it can be shown that the Bible is wholly reliable and without textual corruption, the basis on which Mormons posit a need for new revelation is significantly undermined. Positively, a fresh look at the reliability of our Bibles can provide Christians with a renewed confidence that what they have in the Bible is the pure and sufficient word of God. Continue reading “Manuscripts and the Wisdom of God: A Brief Essay on the Transmission of the Bible”