To define terms, sola scriptura means “Scripture alone”. What it exactly entails is a little misleading. I had thought that it means that Scripture alone is authoritative, but that is a wrong assumption. Instead, it is a statement that Scripture alone contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness. That is to say that anything outside of Scripture that might lead us to correct understanding is secondary. First and foremost is Scripture, and everything else must conform to it. This comes in necessary after discussing revelation and Scripture. There are some who will speak words that are completely contrary to the testimony of Scripture. They have received “revelation” that God has now changed His mind.
One big example comes from a video that I watched of a debate. The debate was on morality, specifically, can there be objective morality outside of God? During the question and answer session, a young man came up onto the microphone and began to say something like, “When I was praying, I heard the voice of God say to me, ‘Go and tell them that I have no accepted homosexuality.’ I replied with, ‘But God, they won’t believe me. If I go, they will make fun of me. After all, this is supposed to be a serious debate.’ And God said, ‘You are my mouth. How else will they hear my message? Go and speak to them what I tell you.’” The young man continued from there, but I think you get the idea.
The debater eventually stopped this young man and told him that his valiant efforts are not a part of the subject for the debate, and therefore he was asked to leave. Now, we won’t get into the ethics of homosexuality and whether or not Scripture condones it. Simply look at what was being said. I think all we need to ask is this: what prophetic utterance have you read in Scripture that is this shallow? We find that in both cases, whether regarding homosexuality as a sin or in seeking to understand the nature of God’s oracles, that this kind of statement from heaven couldn’t have possibly been true. We compare all ‘revelation’ to Scripture. As mentioned in the previous chapter, they go hand-in-hand. The one never contradicts the other, and together they bring a fuller expression than we would have ever seen with only one or the other.
Now, in regard to sola scriptura, the question ought to be asked about the places where they cannot receive Bibles. Does the man or woman without a Bible just end up doomed? The peril of they who are without the Scripture is indeed valid, but it is not because they have no Scripture to base their understanding upon. Remember what was discussed in the previous chapter. The word of God is not necessarily the Bible and the Bible alone. There is a Living Word that became flesh. Though the Scripture is critical to the believer, I would actually like to suggest that it is not dire. As much as we want to believe it is necessary, the truth is that Elijah did not have the complete canon, and yet he lived in such a holy lifestyle that he was taken up into heaven by a chariot of fire. While the wages of sin are death, Elijah never died. Enoch never died. We can claim that it was by faith, or that it was grace, but that does not negate the fact that the wages of sin are death, and these two men never died. Neither of them had the whole of Scripture to base their lives upon. They lived from the revelation of Christ that was made known to them.
I do hold to sola scriptura, and I promote it. Yet, I am not one that would endorse any kind of dogmatic that suggests without the Scriptures we perish. Some suggest that it is Scripture alone that speaks to us. I’ve already addressed this. Others would take sola scriptura to mean that Scripture interprets Scripture. Indeed it does, but that doesn’t insinuate that outside sources are inherently wrong. It seems more correct to uphold the Scripture as authoritative, but not rely so heavily upon it to say nothing else matters. It is the heart and soul of the believer. We read the Bible and know it is the word of God because God has written His law upon our hearts. Something that is within us rejoices and proclaims that this is indeed the word of God.
In reference to certain cults that would teach doctrines of demons, like the pagan teaching of nephilim, I do rely upon sola scriptura for my defense. If we need to consult material outside of Scripture to know what Scripture is saying, then who is to say that we can understand any of the Scriptures? Where does that kind of thinking end? At what point do we stop and claim that no longer do we need an outside source? To say that we should uphold something as dubious as the book of Enoch as on par with Scripture is to say that the Scripture is not enough in any area. If we cannot trust the Bible for what it says about the reason that God sent the flood, then can we trust what the Bible says for the necessary means of salvation?
Everything pivots and hinges upon this. We understand the Bible from revelation, but that never supercedes the Scripture. Both Scripture and revelation submit one to the other. Now, in the first paragraph I had mentioned that the correct interpretation of sola scriptura is that the Scripture contain all necessary knowledge for salvation and holiness. To a certain degree, the use of sola scriptura is not valid to say that heresies are wrong. Yet, to another degree, when dealing with salvation and holiness, everything matters. Our words and the interpretation of those words matter. The knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness is the revelation of Christ. When Christ is revealed, we shall be like Him. Everyone who has this hope purifies himself, just as He is pure.
So, in a very real sense, our mentality toward the Scripture is very important. Because everything relates back to God, if our understanding of Scripture is false, then our understanding of God’s character is false. If the light that we have is darkness, then how great is that darkness! In one sense, we cannot assume that sola scriptura safeguards us from those who are given to heresy. At the same time, it does not in any way claim that those who are heretical can be proven wrong simply because they are not using the Bible as their primary source. This is where other aspects work together. What it means for the Bible to be inspired and infallible is crucial to discussions with those who look upon the Bible as a secondary source.
For myself, I don’t personally communicate with Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, those who believe in the non-canonical books, or the Islamic. The higher critics are absolutely critical to these three aspects: sola scriptura, inspiration, and infallibility. What these things mean, and how we defend these things are crucial to apologetic. For the sake of my writing, I am not dealing with apologetic. Thus, I won’t be getting into the depth necessary for dealing with the higher critics. I do, however, wish to address the other two aspects of this necessary trinity for understanding God’s word as authoritative.