The Bible and the Bible alone is the sole authority for all matters concerning the souls of mankind and the Church of Christ. We know this perhaps most vividly from the fact that by no other means can we be saved than through the Word of Christ.
As we've already announced, this week is the first of a five-part series on what we now refer to as the Five Solas of the Reformation.
The Reformation, of course, refers to the period in church history in which much of the doctrine that the Roman Catholic Church had held for so many centuries was reformed. Hence the name, the Reformation.
But how did things get to the point where such reform needed to happen? What had happened within the church such that Luther and Calvin and Zwingli and Knox and Tyndale needed to strive to change it?
For the first few centuries of the Christian Church, beginning with the ministry of the Apostles after Pentecost as recorded in Acts chapter 2, the people of God who followed after Jesus Christ according to the written Word of God were very much a persecuted people. Depending upon the Roman Emperor at the time, and depending upon where they lived, Christians could expect to either live in present or immanent fear of having their property taken, their employment removed, or even their life ended simply for being a follower of Jesus alone.
Towards the end of the 3rd century AD, a North African apologeticist named Tertullian wrote a phrase which has become a sort of a mantra for this bloody time period in the history of the church. He said that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” And so it was for the first few hundred years after the ministry of Jesus and his apostles. The church spread in ways that no one ever imagined it would. Thomas took the Gospel to India. Paul likely made it to Spain. Theological centers arose in major cities such as Antioch and Alexandria. And eventually the idea of Christianity made it all the way to the highest power in the world - the Roman emperor himself.
Story has it that Constantine was camped outside of the city of Rome, prepared to make his assault on the capitol and then to assume the crown. And the night before this last battle was to occur, he had a dream in which he said he saw a symbol in the sky end of voice came from heaven saying, “By me, conquer.” The symbol was the “Chi-Rho” sign, which was a mixture of the two Greek letters, “Chi” and “Rho.” “Chi” looks like a capital “X” and “Rho” looks like a capital “P.” So imagine an X with a P straight down the middle of it and you have the symbol that Constantine supposedly saw in a vision the night before this great battle.
These two Greek letters together are significant because they are the first two letters of the word Christos, or what we have translated Christ. And so Constantine thought that it was Jesus Christ himself who had appeared to him telling him to conquer Rome in his name.
The next day Constantine had a smashing victory and became the emperor of the Roman Empire. He attributed the success of his campaign to Christ, or at least to what he thought Christ to be. He declared the Roman Empire a Christian Empire, and made Christianity the official religion of all Roman citizens. The paganism of Rome was formally declared to be over, and the religion of Christ was to be adopted by all.
And as wonderful as this sounds to us, it actually was one of the worst things that could ever have happened to the church. And this is the case for two reasons.
Number one, instead of replacing paganism with a strong Orthodox Christian practice, the religion of the Roman Empire became a synchronization of pagan idolatry and christianized ideas. There were certainly pockets of orthodoxy and pieces of truth scattered throughout the corners of the empire, but what most people thought Christianity to be was more of a hybrid between the paganism of their fathers and a respect for the writings of the Bible and of the early church writers.
Over time, the true church became more and more marginalized, and the synchronized Church -- the blend between paganism and Christian thought -- became more and more mainstream. And what this blended sort of church became is what the reformers of the 15th and 16th centuries did battle with.
The second reason that Constantine's pronouncement of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire was not a good thing for the health of the church was because of the fact that it immediately stamped out the threat of persecution.
This is not to say that the church should always be running headlong into places where it will most certainly be persecuted for the sake of persecution alone, but it is rather to say that it became very easy, and actually very much a politically and materialistically convenient thing to become a Christian. If you wanted to be anybody in the Empire, you would have to be Christian. So the result was a church that was not a pure Church.
The result was a host of people who called themselves Christians but in effect had no idea of what being a Christian actually meant.
And so by the 15th century there was a church which had incorporated many elements of the pagan idolatry of Roman worship into its doctrine and practice. This reality had undermined the authority of the Bible alone and had elevated the ideas of men. The church had become thoroughly corrupt in its power and influence governmentally, and was composed of mostly non-Christian people.
It was not a cult like we would consider the Jehovah's Witnesses or the Latter Day Saints today, which are movements that were never orthodox or correct. But the church that needed reformed 500 years ago was a church that had started out orthodox yet had grown apostate. And so this church needed to be reformed.
And as modern historians have looked back at the teachings of those who were fully involved in this Reformation, they have categorized the most important reforming truths of this time into the five small statements that we are going to address over the next five weeks. If we had to encapsulate what the men and women of the Reformation actually reformed in the church, we could rightly summarize it all down to these Five Points.
The church in Europe 500 years ago had come to believe that the ideas of men and the traditions of the church were of greater authority than the Bible itself. It had come to believe and teach that faith was insufficient to provide justification. It taught that grace was earned and not granted freely based upon a completely sufficient sacrifice. This church taught that Christ and the one-time offering of himself on the cross and his subsequent resurrection from the dead did not fully accomplish the salvation of his people nor granted him sole authority over all matters to his church. And the logical result of all this is the fact that the glory for all things in the church belongs to man, who earns and keeps his salvation and who leads and governs the church.
All of these are heretical notions, and all five of them needed to be confronted boldly and reformed thoroughly.
And so today we're going to address the first of these five areas of doctrinal infidelity that the church had come to embrace 500 years ago. This error is that the Catholic Church had elevated the ideas of men to have greater authority than the written word of God. And so we have the phrase “Sola Scriptura,” which in Latin means “scripture alone.”
Our authority, our foundation, our resting place for all truth and for all doctrine as pertains to the church is found in the Bible and in the Bible alone. We need no magisterium, we need no interpreter apart from the Holy Spirit within us in order to understand the word of God, and therefore it and it alone is the authority of the church, and is the authority of all those who belong in the church.
Let me begin by giving you an example of why this idea of Sola Scriptura is so important.
There are important doctrines that we hold to be true concerning the nature of salvation, which is how a person goes from being lost in their sin to saved from the wrath of God that their send deserves. And many of the doctrines pertaining to this spiritual reality are what we call primary doctrines. This means that if we encounter somebody who teaches a different doctrine than what is primary than we are to view that person’s teaching as accursed.
Paul said in Galatians 1:8 - “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.”
To teach salvation by works, or to teach that Jesus was not God, or to teach that man does not deserve God’s judgement for his sin -- all of these are examples of a wrong and a cursed understanding of primary doctrine.
If one of you were to stand up right now (please don’t do that) and declare that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is wrong and that we are to have a right standing with God only by being baptized and by taking communion. If you perhaps were to shout that only by joining a church can a person earn the favor of God...
Well, then you would patiently yet firmly hear from me that you have just stated blasphemous error and I would then have to correct it for the good of everyone else in the room.
And what would give me the right to do such a thing? How dare I assume that I could correct someone else’s view?
The reason why such foundational, primary, correctable doctrine exists is because of the idea behind Sola Scriptura. Because Scripture is our Authority, we can hold to uncompromising, objective, eternally-upheld, universal truth. When the Bible speaks, it speaks with authority. And so when a person speaks the truth of the Bible, that person also speaks with authority. Not because any one of us might inherently possesses authority in and of ourselves, but rather because we would be proclaiming truth from a source that claims and possesses the highest of authority.
The problem in the Roman Catholic Church in the 1400s and 1500s was that the authority of scriptural interpreters became superior to the truth contained in Scripture itself. At least this is what practically was going on. If you asked a person who is a Roman Catholic today, you might hear that they hold to a 3-legged system of authority. The Bible is one leg of the stool, as it were. And the traditions which supposedly were passed down from Jesus to the Fathers and to all Bishops who follow compose the second leg. And the teaching office of the Church, called the Magisterium, is the third. But when you put these things together, you pragmatically end up with the Word of God being subject to the traditions and whims of men.
One of the earliest reformers was a man named John Wycliffe. He was an English seminary professor and linguistic expert at Oxford in the 1300s. Wycliffe was an advocate for translating the Bible into the common language of the people, which was something that the Roman Church decried vehemently. Rome taught that since the Scriptures were at best only as authoritative as the traditions and the Magisterial interpreters, there was no reason whatsoever for a common person to need to read it. Thus the Papacy wanted to keep it in Latin only. Not in English. Or French or German or Spanish for that matter.
But Wycliffe believed that the Scriptures alone were the only way to find out the truth about God. He held that Christians should trust only in the Bible, and not also in the teachings of the leaders of the church to the same degree. And for these ideas, the Church ended up digging up his bones almost 100 years after his death in order to burn him and his works posthumously.
The bold teachings of Wycliffe and so many others around this period of history demonstrate for us how important the concept of Sola Scriptura is. If the Bible is not our sole authority for all spiritual and Church matters, then what confidence do we even have that we know the truth?
Imagine if you had to just take my word for it every week, because I was spouting opinion after opinion, and making one new spiritual truth claim after another. Imagine if you would come to church having studied the Word during the week, only to have your clear understanding of it undermined and destroyed by an ancient tradition which indicated otherwise. No, this is not the correct way to view biblical truth.
The true nature of the authority of the Bible alone for all matters concerning our hearts and the Church is what the men and women of the Reformation re-discovered. Through their writings and lectures and hymns and lessons, the authority of the Scripture was again affirmed. And as those in the Protestant tradition, we are beneficiaries of their efforts.
In the early 1900s the Princeton professor B. B. Warfield wrote, “Protestantism is, in its very essence, an appeal from all other authority to the divine authority of the Holy Scripture.”
We protest the authority of man or of tradition or of institution, and we submit only and thoroughly to the written Word of God.
And so why do we hold to this view and why do we submit ourselves to the authority of the Bible alone?
A number of reasons.
The Bible is clearly understandable. The Bible is consistent in its truth claims no matter what time in history it is read. It is reliable with respect to everything it says regarding history and nature. It was written and compiled coherently by dozens of different authors in 3 distinct languages over almost 2000 years. We have tens of thousands of pieces of manuscript evidence to affirm its accuracy. We have copies of biblical manuscripts that date as early as one or two generations after the ministry of the Apostles. (And just to put these last statements in perspective -- for the works of the most well-known secular Greek literature, Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, we have only about 300 copies, the earliest dating almost 1000 years after it was originally written. And most of them much later.)
So when we combine all of these things we have stunning evidence as the the authority of Scripture.
But all of that is only what we call external evidence.
When we evaluate the characteristics of the Bible, and the facts surrounding its transmission and composition and clarity, we find it to be astonishingly authoritative. These are all external qualities.
But far greater than its external marks of authority is its internal claim to authority.
We hold to Sola Scriptura not because it’s been so providentially preserved, not because it upholds scientific discovery, not because of its clarity and universal appeal, and not because of its timelessness. We rather are committed to the Authority of the Bible alone because it claims to have sole authority. And because we believe its Author.
The Bible’s external authority is helpful and assists us greatly. But we would still be compelled to believe the Bible to be our authority if we only had its internal claims to go by. After all, we walk by faith and not by sight.
And so what are the Bible’s internal claims to its own authority?
What does it say about itself that leads us to the conclusion that we are the regard it as a greater authority than the opinions and ideas of other people? What does it teach about itself that allows us to be able to teach with authority and conviction? Or, put another way, what gives us confidence that we are following the right and authoritative way of God?
We could categorize the Bible's internal claim to 40 over all spiritual matters in a couple of different ways:
A first kind of claim involves passages where the authors of Scripture support their teaching and doctrine and arguments with other recorded scripture. This demonstrates for us that the authors of the Bible held it to be authoritative enough to base their written Scripture upon.
Anytime we read in the NT a citation from the OT we are observing the fact that authors of the Bible found the Bible to be authoritative. Otherwise, why would Paul quote David, why would Matthew quote Moses, why would Peter quote Paul?
An example of that scenario is found at the end of 2 Peter 3, where Peter quotes Paul and says that his writing is actually Scripture.
The Apostles did not just find the words of Jesus to the authoritative, but they also found the words of Isaiah and Jeremiah and Moses and David and even other Apostles to be authoritative. This is an internal example of the authority of the word of God.
A second kind of internal claim for authority can be observed in places where the Bible explicitly calls itself the Word of God. Here are some examples.
Look at Galatians 3:8.
Here Paul writes: “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”
So let’s get the grammar straight here in this verse.
Paul says that the Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith. (This should immediately strike us as interesting, because who do we affirm to be the one who alone foresees anything? Who is the one who knew before Creation that he would justify even the Gentiles? God.) And Paul then says that the Scripture preached the Gospel beforehand to Abraham. This means that before Abraham was justified, he was given Scripture. (We’re going to see this idea come up later this morning.) And Paul then quotes the exact thing which Scripture preached to Abraham before his justification: “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”
So, let’s take a step back and look at what we’ve just analyzed -- Paul says that Scripture told Abraham that in him would all nations be blessed.
But when we go back to the biblical record of this phrase being told to Abraham, in Genesis 12:3, who is the one that is doing to talking? Does Moses write in Genesis 12:1 that Scripture is preaching the Gospel to Abraham, like Paul does? NO. Moses records in Genesis 12 the conversation between Abram and God.
Moses says that God said this phrase to Abram. Paul says that Scripture said this phrase to Abraham. So who is right?
They both are.
For Scripture to speak is for God to speak. What Scripture says is what God says. And so whose authority energizes every single thing that we find written in the Bible? God’s.
Paul in Galatians 3 equates God’s authority with Scriptural authority. He does the same thing in Romans 9:17 when he says that the Scriptures spoke to Pharaoh, but in reality is was the Word of God coming from the mouth of Moses.
In Acts 4:24–25 we find that the Church worshipped God together by affirming this: ‘Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain?” They said that the Sovereign Lord (Jesus) spoke through David by the Spirit in what we read in Psalm 2.
Here we see the authority of Jesus and the Holy Spirit attributed to the words of David.
And then of course we read in 2 Timothy 3:16 that all Scripture is breathed out by God. It’s all given as an expression of his essence, and therefore comes with his authority.
And these are but a few of the many examples in the Bible where the written words of human authors are referred to as being the actual and explicit words of God. Thus the Bible internally claims to be given by the authority of God.
And then a third type of internal claim for Spiritual Authority that the Bible makes has to do with the fact that the most miraculous of all spiritual realities for mankind cannot occur apart from that which we find in Scripture.
Our salvation from the consequences of our sin, our justification before God, our regeneration the eternal life that we can share with God -- all of these things that encompass the doctrine of salvation would never occur for a single person on the planet were it not for the authority of the Bible.
It's not just that we find what is true about salvation in the Bible. It's not just that we find what we might call the way of Salvation in the Bible. It's not even that we find the fact that we need salvation or that Jesus Christ is the only provider of salvation in the Bible.
All of these things lend support to the fact that scripture is authoritative, but we also find in the Bible the fact that Scripture itself is a required element of our salvation. It is actually the foundational component of our salvation. And because it is necessary and foundational to that which is our deepest need, it is our authority. Were it not for the written, settled, authoritatively binding and accurate Word of God, there would be no salvation for mankind. Therefore it alone is our spiritual authority.
In the same way that if there was no regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, and if there was no atoning work of Christ on the cross, and if there was no electing pleasure of God, there would have been no salvation possible were there no authoritative word of God.
And we find this to be true in perhaps no better place than Romans chapter 10. So go ahead and turn their with me if you would.
Leading up to chapter 10 of Paul's letter to the Christians in Rome is some of the most theologically dense material concerning the doctrine of salvation that exists in all of the Bible. Paul concludes chapter 8 with the stunning statement in verses 38 and 39 there is nothing in all creation -- nothing physical, nothing spiritual, nothing pertaining to life or death, nothing high or low or anything else imaginable that can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Because we are in Christ, our Salvation is settled and secure no matter what.
And then in chapter 9 Paul reveals the fact that he is torn in his heart by the fact that his own people, ethnic Israel, have corporately rejected the love of God in Christ Jesus by rejecting Jesus as the Messiah.
He discusses in chapter 9 the purposes of God for this reality, making it clear that God's purposes for salvation always included the salvation of Gentiles and not just the Jews, but that there will come a time when Israel will repent as a nation and be saved.
And we get to chapter 10, and the Apostle Paul reveals for us what truly is the crux of the problem that ethnic Israel has concerning salvation.
In Romans 10:2 Paul says that ethnic Israel has a zeal for God (which is not an inherently bad thing), but he says that their zeal for God is one that is not according to knowledge. Or, that it is not one that is according to accurate knowledge.
It is entirely possible to fabricate a zeal for God -- to have a sense of commitment to God, to have an emotional pull toward the things of God -- but to have created it solely out of a wrong idea of who God is and of what God expects us to be and to do.
And this is precisely what ethnic Israel had done. They had believed that God would be pleased with them if they would but keep the law of Moses, and do it with great fastidiousness. And they were earnestly and conscientiously and sincerely devoted to this.
And Paul says in verse 3 that they were ignorant of the righteousness of God such that they did not submit to God's righteousness, because he says in verse 4 that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
We're going to see this in a few weeks when we get back to our study in The Sermon on the Mount that Jesus himself came not to abolish the law, but rather to fulfill it. He came to keep everything that had to be kept in order that a righteous man might exist in order to please God on behalf of sinners. The nation of Israel, Paul says, did not come to know Christ as the end of the law, as the one who kept it for them. And since they had a wrongful understanding of Christ and the law, they had a wrong zeal for God.
And he continues on in chapter 10 to elaborate on the true nature of the right kind of zeal for God. The righteousness that is based on faith, as we see in verse 6, is that which comes to a person not when they are able to keep the law of God in its entirety, but when a person, according to verse 9, confesses with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believes in their heart that God raised him from the dead. When this occurs, that person will be saved. Paul says in verse 10 that with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
And here is where we get to the point of consideration for the topic today. Paul is not saying that a person merely has to utter a certain magic phrase to be saved. Merely reciting the words, “Jesus is Lord” does nothing for the sinner. The Christian faith is not entered into by a formal public confession similar to the way in which one enters into the Muslim faith.
Similarly it is not a mere intellectual assent to the fact that Jesus rose from the dead that guarantees salvation. We will discuss this point in greater detail next week when we talked about the idea of Sola Fide, but suffice it for now to say that even the demons believe in the resurrection of Jesus, but they have no saving faith.
So it is certainly true that salvation is simply on account of confessing rightly who Jesus is and believing dependently on his resurrection. But what is most important is that we have the correct and accurate idea of who Jesus is and what his resurrection accomplished and implies in order to be able to rightly confess and believe.
We cannot confess and believe without an understanding of the truth. That is what Paul is saying in contrast to the zeal of Israel. The nation of Israel has zeal. But not a knowledgeable zeal.
It is entirely possible for us as Christianized people to have zeal, and to have a sort of zeal that is not knowledgeable. Sadly, we often are all-too impressed with the zeal of our children when it is no more than an innocent enthusiasm for what parents teach. Confession and belief without the proper knowledgeable foundation is NOT saving confession and belief.
There must be something authoritative that founds and establishes our confession and belief in order that it might be that kind of confession and faith that provides justification to the sinner.
If we have no authority behind our confession and our faith then it is most certainly not one that will stand for anything in the eyes of God.
If your confession and faith is anchored in a cliche: I have decided to follow Jesus. I have asked Jesus into my heart. I have made my commitment. I asked God into my life.
If your zeal for God finds its resting place in such non-biblical statements then you are in no different of a category then these unbelieving Jews were. They were zealous for God, but without knowledge. May we not be zealous for God without knowledge.
And so what does Paul say is the authoritative foundation of true confession and knowledgeable faith? What is it that is the foundational support of true salvation of sinners? From our perspective, what is the anchoring framework for our salvation?
Look at verse 14. Verses 14 to 17.
“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
The difference between a false confession and belief, and a true confession and belief has everything to do with this Word of Christ.
Paul says that no one is going to be able to call on Christ if they have not believed in him. And he says that no one will believe in him if they have not heard of him. And they will not hear about him without someone proclaiming him to them. And that how will someone proclaim unless they are sent.
And then the climax of his argument comes in verse 17 where he makes this important assertion, that faith comes by hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.
His point is that no person comes to faith in Christ apart from the Word of Christ.
Regeneration, atonement, election, propitiation, redemption, justification, conversion, and all the other facets of our salvation can never be realities for us if our faith has not come through the Word of Christ. The Scripture is the authoritative foundation for our salvation.
God the Father purposed and planned salvation. Jesus the Son accomplished redemption for those who would be saved in his life, death, and resurrection. The Holy Spirit applies salvation through the effectual call, regeneration, and sanctification in the heart of the sinner.
This is the unified ministry of the Trinity to the sinner. We all as Christians in this room have benefited from the harmonious working of the Trinity to plan accomplish and apply our salvation.
But in God's providence he decreed that no sinner would come to faith apart from hearing the correct knowledge of God as pertains to salvation, and that no sinner would hear the knowledge of God through any other means but by the Word of Christ, which is the Scripture.
So the Trinity and the revealed Word of the Trinity are necessary for our salvation.
My friends, if this does not explicitly confirm in our hearts the fact that the Bible is the authoritative word of God, then I don't know what else will.
We add nothing to our own salvation, we affirm that it is entirely the act of God. 2 Corinthians 5, and Ephesians 2, and Titus 3, and a host of other texts tell us that salvation is accomplished by God. But he does not accomplish his salvation of sinners apart from the ministry of his Word in their minds.
This tells us that God has elevated the truth of his word to a position of authority equal to his own.
Psalm 138:2 tells us that God has exalted above all things his Name and his Word.
If he has exalted his Word to the position of exaltation that his Name deserves -- that his character and essence deserves, then we are correct to regard this Word as having the very same authority as the creator of the universe possesses.
Friends, I hope that you both cherish and fear the book that sits on your lap.
We treasure the fact that we have access to clear truth that bears the same authority has does our Creator. We delight in the fact that God has revealed to us that which will in no way leave us empty. This Word is sure and satisfying in all respects. And we fear this Book in that we give it honor by reading it and memorizing it and meditating on it. And we fear the Scriptures by being careful to understand them rightly, not according to our own subjective opinions. May we never ever give God’s Word a meaning that it does not intend to have.
As we conclude our time in the Word this morning, I wonder what things the Spirit of God might have impressed upon your heart this morning as we have considered the authority of the Word which He inspired.
Are there things in your life that you have been unwilling to yield to the authority of God’s Word? Have worldly ways of thinking been given more authority in your mind than the truth of Scripture? When trouble or hardship or pain or anxiety have come, where have you turned? Have you been leaning hard against what God’s Word gives you in authority or more so on your own insight and perceptions?
Only one place will give you rest and certainly and satisfaction. The authoritative Word of God. Scripture Alone.