The authority of God’s Word has been under attack since the beginning of time (Gen. 3:1). While it is devastating to see the world, in its hatred and distaste for Christ and His Word, denigrate the Scriptures, it is perhaps more infuriating when such attacks come from those who profess some sort of faith in Christ.
Such attacks may come from seeker-driven pastors who elevate themselves and cultural relevance above God’s truth, from liberal pastors who insist that the Bible does not actually mean what it says, or from a massive institution such as the Roman Catholic Church teaching that the words and traditions of men must also hold authority on par with or above that of Scripture. Whatever the assault, God’s Word, which contains all truth necessary for spiritual life and matters, must be defended and upheld by those who claim the name of Christ.
The Bible Speaks to Its Own Authority and Sufficiency
The Bible contains all that one must know about salvation, repentance, forgiveness of sins, God’s grace and mercy and His wrath and righteous judgment. It offers all that one needs to know in order to live a life of godliness and obedience to Him. It speaks of the Savior, Jesus Christ, and proclaims Him to be Lord over all things (Eph. 1:21–22). Nothing is greater in authority than the Word of God, and thus all things must be judged and tested for truthfulness in light of the Scripture (Acts 17:11).
Christians believe the Bible because of its own claims. What does Scripture say about its own origin, authority and completeness?
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. (Ps. 19:7–11)
Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven. (Ps. 119:89)
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Ps. 119:105)
Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever mine. I have more insight than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, because I have observed Your precepts. (Ps. 119:97–100)
And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Pet. 1:19–21)
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:14–17)
Considering especially this last passage, which states beyond doubt that all Scripture literally is God-breathed (θεόπνευστος), and knowing that this Word is sufficient and complete for all spiritual matters, how must one approach the prospect of altering or adding to this Word in any way?
And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you. You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you. (Deut. 4:1–2)
Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar. (Prov. 30:5–6)
I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book. (Rev. 22:18–19)
Trusted Men of Faith Affirm sola Scriptura
The historical, orthodox Christian faith has always affirmed the authority of Scripture alone. One of the battle cries of the Reformation was, of course, sola Scriptura. God’s Word is the Christian’s sole treasury for all things that pertain to life and godliness. And what a treasure it is! To know that the living, active Word of God may be held, read and proclaimed by those who are His own is indeed a great gift.
How many Christians across the globe cling to just a few pages of this precious Word, while others may have several copies simply gathering dust on the bookshelf? Yet God has given this Word to His children so that it may teach them all that they must know about Him. He has graciously given to His own this great weapon, sharper than any two-edged sword (Heb. 4:12), that may be wielded as the greatest weapon in this spiritual Truth War which has been ongoing for all ages.
What do some faithful soldiers of the past and present say about this Word and about sola Scriptura?
I had sooner have the Word of God at my back than all the armies and navies of all the great powers, aye, than all the forces of nature; for the Word of the Lord is the source of all the power in the universe, and within it there is an infinite supply in reserve.
(Charles Spurgeon, ‘God’s Word‘)
The Westminster Confession of Faith:
Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.
The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.
We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture. And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it does abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.
The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word: and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.
(Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter I, Section I, IV–VI)
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience…. May God help me. Amen.
(Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms, 1521)
Dr. John MacArthur:
Scripture is therefore the perfect and only standard of spiritual truth, revealing infallibly all that we must believe in order to be saved, and all that we must do in order to glorify God. That — no more, no less — is what sola Scriptura means.
Is the sum of Scriptural truth a sufficient rule of faith for the Christian? We have the Bible’s own assurance that it is. Scripture alone is sufficient to lead us to salvation and fully equip us for life and eternity (2 Tim. 3:15–17). Therefore we may know with certainty that every essential aspect of the apostolic message is included in Scripture.
So the written words of Scripture are binding. Apostolic preaching was equally binding for those who heard it from the apostles’ own mouths. Beyond that, Scripture lays no burden on anyone’s shoulders. But, thank God, His own Word assures us that Scripture is fully sufficient to bring us to salvation and to equip us spiritually for all that God demands of us.
No man, no church, no religious authority has any warrant from God to augment the inspired Word of Scripture with additional traditions, or to alter the plain sense of it by subjecting it to the rigors of a “traditional” meaning not found in the Word itself. To do so is clearly to invalidate the Word of God — and we know what our Lord thinks of that (Matt. 15:6–9).
(John MacArthur, The Sufficiency of Scripture)
The Teachings of Rome Seek to Undermine Scripture’s Authority
Yet, in spite of Scripture’s clear and plain teaching about itself, there are those who seek to undermine its authority in various ways. There is perhaps no deception greater in scope than that perpetrated by the Roman Catholic Church as it pertains to the authority of Scripture in the life of the believer. Roman Catholicism unashamedly denigrates the authority of the Word by elevating the erroneous doctrines of men to be equal to the precious and holy Word of God.
Below are just a few examples of Rome’s teaching on the doctrine of Scripture, as found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC).
Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal. Each of them makes present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ, who promised to remain with his own “always, to the close of the age.”
As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, “does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.”
(CCC, Part One, Section One, Chapter Two, Article 2, II, Paragraph 80, 82)
It is clear therefore that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way, under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls. (CCC, Part One, Section One, Chapter Two, Article 2, III, Paragraph 95)
The Roman Catholic Church would have one to believe that Scripture can share its authority with the traditions of men. Yet, what should be done when those traditions stand in direct contradiction with Scripture, as do the teachings of Rome? God’s Word demonstrates His attitude toward such an elevation of dangerous and false tradition:
And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! (Mark 7:5–9)
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. (Col. 2:8)
Thus, the Christian must turn to the Bible to judge tradition. When such action is taken against the teachings of Rome, those teachings must necessarily be rejected.
In affirming the doctrine of sola Scriptura, the Christian must spurn and even denounce any teaching to the contrary. If God’s Word does not possess the sole and final authority in matters of spiritual life, then it cannot be trusted in any capacity. May it never be! May those who love and profess Christ cling to His Word, feast on it daily, and proclaim it without shame.
*Many of the thoughts expressed in this article were gleaned from the following sermon by Pastor Don Green of Truth Community Fellowship: