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Sola Scriptura

Sola scriptura (literally translates "by scripture alone") is the doctrine that the bible is the only infallible and inerrant authority of Christian faith, and that it contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness.  To be clear on this, the doctrine of sola scriptura does not contend that no tradition, creed, etc. may be used to communicate or teach truth, only that all traditions, creeds, etc. must be subservient to and corroborated by scripture.  All other means of communicating truths are fallible, meaning they can contain errors.  Only scripture is infallible and cannot contain errors.

The question, then, is does the bible teach that it is infallible and does it teach that any device other than itself is fallible or infallible.  There are two ways doctrines and knowledge are communicated through scripture, explicitly and implicitly.  Explicit teachings are ones that the texts actually state.  For example, the teaching that Jesus died on the cross is explicitly taught in scripture.  There are bible verses that state, very plainly, that Jesus did in fact die for our sins.  1 Corinthians 15:3 is one such scripture.  Other teachings and doctrines are taught implicitly, that is they do not have verses stating their truth but they are present throughout scripture none the less.  The doctrine of the Trinity is one of  the most commonly held implicit doctrines of the church.  No one verse states that the Godhead is formed of the Father, Son, and Spirit but the whole of scripture testifies that that is indeed the case.

I believe that sola scriptura is a combination of both explicit and implicit teachings in the bible.  I will examine both ways of discovering this doctrine in scripture.

The most explicit teaching of the doctrine of sola scriptura is found in 2 Timothy 3:16.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness -- 2 Timothy 3:16

There is some debate as to whether the Greek word pas that is translated "all" here should be instead translated "every" but it does not change the meaning of the verse either way.  Either the whole of scripture is breathed out by God or every individual or passage of scripture is breathed out by God.  Either way, the end result is that all of scripture is God breathed.

The next issue is what exactly Paul is referring to when he says "scripture".  Certainly he does not mean the exact bible we have today because it did not exist in its entirety at the time of this writing.  Certainly he was including what we would call the Old Testament in his definition of "scripture".  The question is does Paul intend to mean only the Old Testament.  I don't believe so.  In verse 15 Paul specifically references the Old Testament writings to Timothy.

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. -- 2 Timothy 3:15

The Greek word used for "sacred writings" in verse 15 is gramma while in verse 16 the Greek word graphe is translated to "scripture".  Why the change in word usage?  Consider the following quote from the Coffmann Commentaries on this verse:

Paul did this for the simple reason that he wishes to draw a distinction between the Old Testament (2 Timothy 3:15) and WHATEVER has a right to be called divinely inspired Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16). The latter comprises more than the former. The earnest conviction of this writer supports Hendriksen's comment on this, and no objections to it have any weight against it. Scholars agree that this verse applies to the Old Testament, but the error comes when some of them also refer 2 Tim. 3:16 to the Old Testament, on the premise that the New Testament at the time of Paul's writing had not been written. Nevertheless, a great deal of the New Testament had indeed already been written. In fact every book of the New Testament preceding 2 Timothy, of which there are no less than fifteen, had already been in circulation for a period of time covering up to three decades! Indeed some of the New Testament was to come subsequently to the publication of 2 Timothy, but as regards the central message of the New Testament, it had already been published for decades; besides that, Paul left room here for whatever writings in the future might qualify as Scripture. Also, the notion that Paul did not consider his own writings as Scripture is also false. Time and again in his epistles, he used the ancient formula of the prophets of God, "thus saith the Lord," or "He saith," as in Ephesians 4:8; 5:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:15, etc. Therefore, 2 Tim. 3:15 refers to the Old Testament, and 2 Tim. 3:16 refers to the New Testament, in addition to and inclusive of the Old Testament, thus, to both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Peter also shows us that the letters of the Apostles were being accorded "God-breathed" status in 2 Peter 3:15-16.  Peter also uses the Greek word graphe for "Scriptures" as Paul did in his letter to Timothy.

And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. -- 2 Peter 3:15-16

The term "God-breathed" is translated from the Greek theopneustos. That word is used no other place in all of scripture.  It only is used in reference to itself.  Peter elaborates some as to what that looks like in practice.

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. -- 2 Peter 1:20-21

How do we know these men wrote down the things they experienced and heard correctly? Consider this verse in John:

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. -- John 14:26 

So all scripture, both what we consider to be Old and New Testaments were written by men under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit who enabled them to remember perfectly the things of which they wrote so that we might receive them precisely as God intended that we would.

As an aside, if the scriptures we read and learn from are not perfectly accurate in every way, then nothing we think we know about God, salvation, eternity, etc. can be believed with any level of legitimate hope.  The inspiration of the scriptures is the foundation upon which every other doctrine rests.

This is the explicit teaching of the bible as to its own infallibility.  In my next post I will look at the ways the bible teaches the doctrine of sola scriptura implicitly.

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