Sola scriptura (Latin for 'by scripture alone') is a fairly modern Christian theological doctrine that came out of the Reformation period. It was a response to papal athority and abuses that crept into the church through traditions. It's a doctrine that's held by most Protestant Christian denominations. It posits that the Bible is the sole infallible source of authority for Christian faith and practice.

It's an idea that's become so entrenched in many Protestant cultures that many churches have adopted it as part of their identity - we are a "Bible" church.

For some background, please read:

Efforts to protect the integrity of the Christian faith have resulted in a widely accepted "collection of writings" called the Bible. And though these collections differ a little depending on the tradition, there is wide spread agreement on the essentials.

Paul's instruction to Timothy regarding Scripture:

From infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for instruction, for conviction, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, fully equipped for every good work.

1 Tim 3:15-17

Jesus' statement here places these "writings" in their proper perspective:

You pore over the Scriptures because you presume that by them you possess eternal life. These are the very words that testify about Me, yet you refuse to come to Me to have life.

John 5:38-40

So let's see if we can put Paul's statement and Jesus' statement about Scripture together to see if we can reconcile the two thoughts. It might look something like this:

All Scripture, though recorded by human instruments, is inspired by the Holy Spirit and is useful for instruction, for conviction, for correction, and for training in righteousness. But the study of these writings, in and of themselves, is not the source of our salvation. It's our relationship with Jesus that is that source.

I'm reading a book by Jack Deere. He was a former professor of Old Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary. His is an interesting story about transformation from an academic, cessationist, "sola scriptura" culture to a vibrant personal "relationship" with God through the power of the Spirit.

In one of his books, he makes some interesting observations about this notion of "sola scriptura":

  • "When doctrinal purity becomes our highest value, our hearts will always be hardened."
  • "Scripture doesn't produce hate, but religious pride does. The teachers of the law and the other religious elite had come to feel superior to all other people... Feeling superior to others is not a feeling that comes from God, and it leads to the worst forms of abuse and hatred."
  • "In the Gospels, Jesus never commanded his disciples to teach Scripture. He commanded them to "go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you"."
  • "In Acts, the apostles preach and teach about Jesus, the gospel, and the kingdom. This is not an academic point... the goal of their teaching was not to explain the Scriptures."