Scripture alone, also referred to as sola scriptura, is the belief that the Bible, being the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God, is the final authority on all matters related to the Christian faith. It is the belief that the Scripture is the only element needed to educate the Christian unto salvation and good works. Furthermore sola scriptura suggests that the Bible provides a system of “checks and balances” on church doctrines and dogmas, therefore guarding against the risk of falling into apostasy. Does the Bible make any such claim? Let’s take a look.
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” – 2 Timothy 3:16–17
From the above Scripture, we see first see that all Scripture is inspired. Of course when writing this, the apostle Paul was referring to the Old Testament Scripture in existence at the time, but this is implied to encompass the entire canon of Scripture, both Old and New. There is no disagreement among any Christian theologians as to the inspiration of the New Testament.
Next, we see that Scripture is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” This statement alone suggests that the Bible is to provide our church doctrine, protection against false teachings, and instruction in ways of the faith. It continues saying “that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” It seems clear that the Bible does in fact equip the church and Christian for all that is necessary. But what about the knowledge of salvation? Look at the preceding verse.
“And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” – 2 Timothy 3:15
The Scriptures are able to make us wise unto salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Are there any tools, other than the Bible, needed to bring salvation to an unsaved, lost person? The answer is clearly no. The Bible is the only book of doctrine and instruction one needs.
Why is it important to read the Bible?
Let’s look at what we, as Christians, are commanded to do in Scripture:
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” – 2 Timothy 2:15
We are commanded to study the Scriptures. Why is this important? First as a Christian, wouldn’t you want to know what God has to say? In prayer we are speaking to our Lord, but how does he answer us? One of the ways is through His Word. Furthermore, it is through the Scripture that we are able to become wise regarding the core fundamentals of our beliefs. How would you know if you are being led astray into false teachings if you didn’t know the correct teaching to begin with? Herein lies the problem with not reading the Bible. Is there an example of this in Scripture? Consider the following:
In Acts 17, we find the apostle Paul preaching to the Jews in Thessalonica. Paul was reasoning with them “out of the scriptures.”
“Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.” – Acts 17:1–3
Paul was sent away from Thessalonica and came unto Berea. What did he have to say about the Bereans?
“These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” – Acts 17:11
The Bereans were considered to be more noble. Why? Because they checked Paul’s teachings against Scripture! This is case-in-point regarding the importance of reading the Bible and checking your own church’s teaching against it. Are there any other verses that are important to note regarding this topic? Look at this:
“One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” – Romans 14:5
Paul is speaking about Christians that have disputes or disagreements about beliefs. What does he say? “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” The bottom line is that you have to read the Scriptures for yourself and make up your own mind what you believe. You cannot let anyone, whether it be a pastor, minister, teacher, or church organization tell you what to believe. In the end, salvation is a personal relationship between you and Jesus Christ that cannot be worked out involving others.
“Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.” – Matthew 22:29
What about teachings not in Scripture?
The Bible is clear regarding this subject:
“And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.” – 1 Corinthians 4:6
We are not to “think of men above that which is written.” Furthermore, there are several other verses that address adding to or taking away from Scripture:
“Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.” – Deuteronomy 4:2
“What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.” – Deuteronomy 12:32
“Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.” – Proverbs 30:5–6
“For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” – Revelation 22:18–19
When we go beyond what is written in the Scripture, we risk falling into apostasy, away from the truth, and into error.
Does sola scriptura mean anti-tradition?
There are many who see biblical Christianity as an adversary to church tradition. Is this the case? Of course not. Tradition is a very important element in the worship of many Christians throughout many denominations. If you noticed what I mentioned earlier, the Bible is to be the final authority on all matters relating to the Christian faith. What is meant by final authority? The fact that as long as a church’s tradition does not add to or contradict Scripture, it is permissible. What did Jesus have to say about tradition?
“But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.” – Matthew 15:3–6
The bottom line: we are not to nullify the Scripture for the sake of tradition. Scripture checks tradition.