ABC Extra – By Scripture Alone

March 26, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


Luther Bible from 1720

This past weekend in worship and ABC, we looked at the life and times of King Josiah.  Following the reigns of two exceedingly wicked kings, his father Amon and his grandfather Manasseh, Josiah was a much-needed breath of fresh air.  The author of Kings can barely contain his delight when he writes, “He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD” (2 Kings 22:2).  What was it that made Josiah such a noble king?  Succinctly put, Josiah was a man who followed God’s Word.  To cast Josiah’s piety in Reformation-era lingo, Josiah was a man committed to the principle of sola Scriptura – that Scripture alone should be the norm and guide for righteousness before God in faith and life.  This guiding principle comes out especially clearly when the high priest of Israel at this time, Hilkiah, discovers the Book of the Law (i.e., the Pentateuch, or first five books of the Bible) tucked away in the dusty recesses of the temple.  Heretofore, this book, with all of its guidelines for righteousness, has been lost to Israel.  When Josiah hears what the Book of the Law teaches, he immediately recognizes it as the word of the Lord and tears his robes in repentance over all the ways in which he and Israel have disobeyed God’s commands in this book.  For Josiah knows that Scripture alone should guide Israel’s life and his life.

Though the principle of sola Scriptura is clearly embraced by Josiah, it is not so eagerly welcomed by many in our day, even by those who claim the name of Christ.  A couple of weeks ago, I came across a quote on Facebook rejecting the principle of sola Scriptura, and one of its creedal texts, 2 Timothy 3:16-17:  “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  The quote commented:

The fact is that this passage does not even hint at Scripture being the sole rule of faith. It says that Scripture is inspired and necessary – a rule of faith – but in no way does it teach that Scripture alone is all one needs to determine the truth about faith and morals in the Church.

This quote was written as part of an article by the Roman Catholic apologist Tim Staples and argues that along with Scripture, Church tradition and the ecclesial Magisterium should hold pride of place as sources and norms of doctrine.  A couple of points are necessary.

First, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 makes an explicit claim to sufficiency which, by default, is an implicit claim to sole primacy.  Paul, when describing the benefits of Scripture, notes that it thoroughly equips the Christian for every good work.  Words such as “thoroughly” and “every” leave no remainder.  Thus, Scripture is solely sufficient for teaching us all we need to know about righteousness before God in faith and life.  Second, Scripture is replete with warnings against adding to or subtracting from Holy Writ (Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:32, Proverbs 30:5-6, Revelation 22:18-19).  Such warnings, especially those against adding to Scripture, leave no doubt that Scripture considers itself a sufficient and sole source.

Finally, the difficulty with rejecting the principle of sola Scriptura is one of authority.  If Scripture is not the sole and supreme authority in one’s life, something else will be – whether that “something else” is tradition, another human, or one’s own sensibilities and desires. And these other things, as authorities, will inevitably trump Scriptural authority in some fashion.  For when one has multiple authorities, these authorities inexorably wrestle for primacy.  Thus, to hold to the principle of sola Scriptura is to hold to biblical authority over and against all other sources of authority.  And to hold to biblical authority is to hold to the doctrine of divine inspiration, for the reason Christians believe the Bible is supremely authoritative is because of its supreme and divine author.  And to hold to the doctrine of divine author is to trust in God – in this life…and for the next.

I can’t think of any one and any words I’d rather trust.  How about you?

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