SOLA SCRIPTURA: SCRIPTURE ALONE
2 Timothy 3:16
Of all the Reformers that made a mark in their respective cities in the 16th century, the one to which we most owe the idea of Sola Scriptura is a man named Ulrich Zwingli. Born just seven weeks after Martin Luther in 1484, his home was in Switzerland but he was educated in Vienna and Basel. He showed a remarkable talent for biblical exegesis, that is, the ability to read and interpret Scripture. So Zwingli gave prime importance to the way Scripture was read and interpreted. Presbyterians and others in the Reformed tradition owe a debt of gratitude to him for that stance. Often we get stereotyped as people of the “head” while Methodists are people of the “heart.” Yes but! There are some very passionate and compassionate Presbyterians and there are some very capable and learned Methodist preachers.
All Presbyterians believe the Bible is the Inspired Word of God; that is to say, that God guided what to write and how to express it through prayerful conversations and illuminating visions. We believe that the Bible is without equal as our handbook for living and for glorifying God. As I told the children today, my Boy Scout Handbook was the best way to read how to be a Scout, with my Scoutmaster as my best guide, along with my Senior Patrol Leader and my parents. When it comes to my car, my owner’s manual has the best answers for maintaining or fixing my car, guided by a trusted mechanic. When it comes to Christianity, the Bible is still the best book to go to as a handbook, and a trusted Pastor is a good guide. The Bible also tells us most reliably about who God is. I showed the children a book called “The Christian Handbook,” that had common sense helps and regular practices in local churches. It is fun and interesting to read! But the parts about right and wrong, the parts about the Almightiness of God and the amazing birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus all come from the Bible. Yes great anthems and hymns often give glory to God, but their words are largely based on the Bible. And yes there are some wonderful Bible commentaries I could recommend, but they illuminate the Bible; they do not take the Bible’s place. In fact, back when Zwingli was advocating for the Bible, Martin Luther chimed in from Germany saying, in his opinion, Scripture should only be interpreted by the conscience. Such a statement, however, can initially lead to very different interpretations. For example, just trusting one’s conscience in the reading and understanding of the book of Revelation can lead to confusion or fear about the meaning of a passage. If you go to a library or a Christian bookstore to get books to try to understand your Bible, you can pick up five different commentaries written by five different authors that each giving widely divergent interpretations. Who do you trust? Which do you choose? This is not the time to go to the minefield of the Internet, with writers of wildly different educations, viewpoints, and even agendas. This is not the time when the Internet is your friend! Instead, you’ll need a pastor or a Bible or Sunday School teacher you trust. My goal is to always give you an informed answer to any Bible questions. It is your right to believe differently, but having someone, like a Bible teacher or preacher, whose goal it is to feed and encourage your soul, is best.
Second Timothy is an urgent pastoral letter from a missionary to a protégé.
The missionary knows his good example is essential for credibility.
So he says: “Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my sufferings and my persecutions….” That is the kind of person you’ll want to guide you through Scripture: someone who has walked the walk and is has your best interest in mind! The writer of 2 Timothy goes on: “As for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.” Yes, what a great piece of teaching! In the 16th century, there was growing unrest about the power and authority of the church, and growing distrust of its leaders. Some had little formal training on how to interpret the Bible! Such is the caldron from which suspicion, doubt, revolt and reorganization often takes place! Leaders must remain trustworthy. People in that day started putting their trust, instead, in old sayings, in casual advice from friends, in myths, in legends, and astrological signs and in fortunetellers. People who have lost trust in the church’s leaders of today go to the same kind of sources sometimes to their peril. There is no guide for your Christian life better than Jesus, and there is no guidebook for your life better than Scripture. The Bible is the book on which all other Christian self-help books are based! Sola Scriptura!
Timothy then heard the words that are the fulcrum on which all other arguments depend. Here they are: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful of teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” In recent years there have been discoveries and illuminating television programs regarding other writings, scrolls, and books that did not make the cut into the Canon. The Canon is the name given to the books Christian scholars prayed over and studied for years and decided to include as Scripture. Hear me on this: unless you have a complete mastery of the Bible, and you know it backwards and forwards, don’t submerge your self in the other writings that have been unearthed that are not Scripture. People who have done that have come up to me quoting what the Bible says, and it wasn’t what the Bible at all! It was from a book that didn’t make the cut! The most glaring example of that is people reading about Jesus’ childhood in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas likely written in the second century! A classmate of mine and Scripture scholar Dr. Bart Eherman says this: “Early Christians were naturally curious to learn the details of Jesus’ life….The Infancy Gospel of Thomas …was allegedly written by a man named ‘Thomas the Israelite.’ The Narrative begins with Jesus as a five year old boy and relates a number of incidents, most of them miraculous, that betray a streak of the mischievous in Joseph and Mary’s precocious son!” [Lost Scriptures, Oxford University Press, 2003, p. 57.] Remember: Bart Ehrman tenured Professor of Religion at UNC, Chapel Hill, says that is “legend.” We will leave it there. You perhaps have also heard people say, “As the Bible says” and then make a statement. A famous saying is: “The Lord helps those who helps who helps themselves.” But it is not from the Bible! Benjamin Franklin quoted it in “Poor Richard’s Almanac, and he likely got it from the Englishman, Algernon Sydney!
One final word: you may know that Christian singer Amy Grant sang: “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Did she make up those words? No. They are a direct quote from Psalm 119: 105. Make the Word of the Lord a lamp unto your feet, and a light unto your path.
Jeffrey A. Sumner October 1, 2017