Archive for March 31st, 2012

Sola Scriptura

Christian Definition and Description of Sola Scriptura

            Scripture is the writings of the Old and New Testament, which have been historically recognized as God’s Word in written form.[1]  And it is by these two books that we can say sola Scriptura (Scripture alone).  Scripture alone teaches that the Holy Bible is our final and sole infallible source of authority when it comes to matters of life and practice of the Christian faith.[2]  Moreover, sola Scriptura echoes the concept that perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture is the invaluable source to the Christian faith; and that church tradition is not necessary for determining the right interpretation of Scripture.[3]  Since the Catholic Church seems to assume or attack Protestants for totally ignoring tradition, let’s take a look at what the early Church Fathers had to say about Scripture alone.  Protestants don’t ignore tradition totally (except for bad tradition), but Protestants have a problem with how Catholics see tradition contrary to Scripture.

According to Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215), he pronounced this about Scripture,

He, then, who of himself believes the Scripture and voice of the Lord, which by the Lord acts to the benefiting of men, is rightly [regarded] faithful. Certainly we use it as a criterion in the discovery of things.” (The Stromata, 16).

Tertullian (c. 160-235) said

That Scriptures . . . indeed furnish us with our Rule of faith. (Against Praxeas, 11).”

Origin (c.185-254) said,

In proof of all words which we advance in matters of doctrine, we ought to set forth the sense of the Scripture as confirming the meaning which we are proposing . . . . therefore we should not take our own ideas for the confirmation of doctrine, unless someone shows that they are holy because they are contained in the divine Scriptures (Homily 25 on Matthew).”

Cyril of Jerusalem (315-386) said,

Do not then believe me because I tell these things, unless thou receive from the Holy Scriptures the proof of what is set forth: for this salvation, which is of our faith, is not by ingenious reasonings, but by proof from the Holy Scriptures. (The Catechetical Lectures of S. Cyril 4.17).”

Athanasius (295-375), the man who was prolifically known to defend the Trinity against heretics declared,

In the Holy Scriptures alone is the instruction of religion announced—to which let no man add, from which let no man detract—which are sufficient in themselves for the enunciation of the truth.”

Chrysostom (344-407) said,

When there is a question of Divine things, would it not be a folly rashly and blindly to receive the opinions of others, when we have a rule by which we can examine everything? I mean the Divine law. It is for this reason that I conjure you all, without resting in the slightest degree on the judgment of others, to consult the Scriptures.”

Augustine (354-430), who John Calvin modeled after when it came to the Doctrines of Grace, said this concerning the Scriptures,

What more shall I teach you than what we read in the apostle? ‘For Holy Scripture fixes the rule for our doctrine, lest we dare be wiser than we ought.'”

And Theodoret of Cyrus (393–457) said,

Bring me not human reasoning’s and syllogisms, for I rely on the divine Scripture alone.”

Proof that Scripture has Divine Authority

We have heard much about the definition and description of Scripture alone from the early Church Fathers, but lets take a deeper look into how the early Church Fathers argued specifically for the divine authority of sola Scriptura.  We will take a look mainly into the origin of Scripture (the Words of God), and the nature of Scripture (infallible) from Clement of Rome.  Then we will take a look at the origin of Scripture and the nature of Scripture from Irenaeus.  The last person we will refer to is Tertullian’s (ca. 160-225) address concerning the nature of Scripture.  There are many other early Church Father’s I can refer to, but I will narrow it to a few so it won’t be too superflous.

Concerning the origin of Scripture as being the very Words of God, Clement of Rome said,

Let us act accordingly to that which is written (First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians 13).[5]

Clement said that we must look carefully into the Scriptures because they are the true utterances of the Holy Spirit (ibid., 45).[6] He also said that the Word of God is also infallible because they are the very Words of God.  In his First Apology Clement pointed out,

But when you hear the utterances of the prophets spoken as it were personally, you must not suppose that they are spoken by the inspired men themselves but by the divine Word who moves them.”[7]

He continues by saying,

We must not suppose that the language proceeds from the men who are inspired, but from the divine Word, which moves them.  Their work is to announce that which the Holy Spirit, descending upon them, purposes, through them, to teach those who wish to learn the true religion.”[8]

And he has this to say about the passing down of divine revelation to the prophets,

To him [Moses] did God communicate that divine and prophetic gift…and then after him the rest of the prophets…These we assert to have been our teachers, who use nothing from their own human conception, but from the gift vouchsafed to them by God alone (Justin’s Hortatory Oration to the Greeks 8).”[9]

According to Irenaeus, a second century Church Father, he too said the Scriptures are the Words of God.  To him the Scriptures are perfect since it was spoken by God and His Spirit (Against Heresies 2.28.2).[10]  When it came to the nature of Scripture, Irenaues pointed out that Scripture is the foundation of faith because Scripture is the ground and pillar of our faith.[11]  And it when it came to the infallibility of Scripture, here is what he declared,

Let us revert to the Scriptural proof furnished by those apostles who did also write the Gospel…The writings of those apostles,…being the disciples of truth, are above all falsehood.”[12]

And here is what he has to say about those who tried to twist Scripture,

Heretics adduce an unspeakable number of apocryphal and spurious writings which they themselves have forged, to bewilder minds of foolish men, and of such as are ignorant of the Scriptures of truth.”[13]

Now for our last Church Father, Tertullian.  Here is what he has to say about the authoritative nature of Scripture:

In granting indulgence, he [Paul] alleges the advice of a prudent man; in enjoining continence, he affirms the advice of the Holy Spirit.  Follow the admonition which has divinity for its patron.  It is true that believers likewise no “have the Spirit of God;” but not all believers are apostles.  When, then, he who had called himself a “believer,” added thereafter that he “had the Spirit of God,” which no one would doubt even in the case of an (ordinary) believer; his reason for saying so was, that he might re-assert for himself apostolic dignity…Apostles have the Holy Spirit properly, who have Him fully, in the operations of prophecy…Thus he attached the Holy Spirit’s authority to that form [of advice] to which he willed us rather to attend; and forthwith it became not an advice of the Holy Spirit, but, in consideration of His majesty, at precept.[14]

With that said, I think it is appropriate to leave you off with with a quote from Martin Luther concerning Scripture alone.  May we mediate upon this sobering quote.

Before I do that, let me first give you the context behind this quote.  It was after nailing the 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, that Martin Luther was later held on trail in the Diet of Worms in 1521.  It was there where Martin Luther boldly proclaimed before the secular dignitaries and powerful Roman Catholic clergy with this statement,

Unless I am refuted and convicted by testimonies of the Scriptures or by clear arguments, I am conquered by the Holy Scriptures quoted by me, and my conscience is bound in the Word of God: I can not and will not recant anything, since it is unsafe and dangerous to do anything against the conscience.”[15]

Martin Luther was clearly a man that championed sola Scripture.  Scripture was his absolute source of authority, not tradition.  Tradition was subordinate to sola Scriptura.  Sola Scriptura in a sense is the Father and tradition is the son.  But if tradition went bad, tradition would be an apostate  child.  Martin Luther clearly understood that all matters of life and practice of the Christian faith was seen through the lens of Scripture.

Luther continued and ended his bold statement by saying:

Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me! Amen.”[16]

We have seen much concerning the authority of Scripture pronounced from the early Church Fathers, but we will take a look at the message from “Scripture itself” concerning sola Scriptura in the next installment.

[1] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 1254.

[2] Busenitz, Nathan. “The Faith of Our Fathers.” Lecture, The Master’s Seminiary, Sun Valley, CA, September 24, 2009..

[3] Nathan Busenitz, Class Lecture 7, Faith of Our Fathers.

[4] Nathan Busenitz, Class Lecture 7, Faith of Our Fathers.

[5] Norman L. Geisler, How History Views the Bible: Decide For Yourself (San Francisco, CA: The Zondervan Corporation, 1982), 23-24.

[6]Ibid, 23-24.

[7] Norman L. Geisler, How History Views the Bible: Decide For Yourself , 23-24.

[8] Ibid, 23-24.

[9] Ibid, 23-24.

[10] Norman L. Geisler, How History Views the Bible: Decide For Yourself , 26.

[11] Ibid, 26.

[12]Ibid, 26.

[13] Ibid, 26.

[14] Ibid, 26-27.

15] Charles R. Biggs, “The Story of Martin Luther: The Reformation and the Life of Martin Luther Until the Diet of Worms (1521),” Monergism,http://www.monergism.com/Reformation.Church.History.Martin.Luther.pdf(accessed March 17, 2012), 130.

[16] Ibid, 130.

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