2 Timothy 3:14- 4:4
We are starting our series called “Solas” or “The Five Solas”. As the Reformers looked at the European church, they saw an institution that had wandered from the heart of the gospel. And when the heart of the gospel is lost, the Christian faith is lost. Therefore, these men and women were moved to put their livelihoods, homes, fortunes, and lives on the line to restore to the church the essential teachings of the gospel. These have come down to us by five Latin phrases: Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, and Soli Deo Gloria. The word “sola” is Latin for “alone” or “only”. Translated into English, they assert that salvation is according to Scripture alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, for the glory of God alone.
So today we are looking at one of the Solas: Sola Scriptura - Scripture Alone. The principle of Sola Scriptura raises questions like -
Where do we go to get God’s Word?
What is Sola Scriptura?
Why is Sola Scriptura important today?
We live in a world filled with competing truth claims. Every day, we are bombarded with declarations that some claim is true and that something else is false. We are told what to believe and what not to believe. We are asked to behave one way and not otherwise.
Few years back, I was listening to a speech by Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan at a UN Conference. He raised issues like the environment, the increasing gap between the rich and the poor but at the end he shared his main concern about Kashmir and later a response from the Indian representative. A blame game followed, each trying to justify their own acts and deeds. On television news, we see debates between representatives from the ruling party and opposition parties. There are books and media telling us how to handle our lives and our relationships. Richard Dawkins, the British atheist and evolutionist, tells us how to think of our historical origins and our place in this universe.
How do we filter through all these claims? How do people know what to think about relationships, morality, politics, God, the origins of the universe, and many other important questions? To answer such questions, people need some sort of norm, standard, or criteria to which they can appeal. In other words, we need ultimate authority. Of course, everyone has some sort of ultimate norm to which they appeal, whether or not they are aware of what their norm happens to be.
Some people appeal to reason and logic to pass judgment on competing truth claims. Others appeal to sense experience. Still others refer to themselves and their own subjective sense of things. Although there is some truth in each of these approaches, Christians have historically rejected all of them as the ultimate standard for knowledge. Instead, God’s people have universally affirmed that there is only one thing that can legitimately function as the supreme standard: God’s Word. There can be no higher authority than God Himself.
But if God’s Word is the ultimate standard for all of life, the next question is critical: Where do we go to get God’s Word? Where can it be found?
1. WHERE DO WE GO TO GET GOD’S WORD?
This issue, of course, brings us to one of the core debates of the Protestant Reformation. Many of the Reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin and others were troubled by what they saw as false doctrines within the Catholic Church, particularly involving the teaching and sale of indulgences. The Reformers of the 16th Century recognized that this is because the church had wandered away from the authority of the Scriptures. It had turned to popes, councils, tradition, and even mysticism as a replacement for the Bible. This realization led to Luther nailing his 95 Theses, to the door of the All Saints’ Church on October 31, 1517. He and the Reformers believed and proclaimed that the Scriptures alone were ultimately authoritative and sufficient to communicate all that is needed for salvation and godliness. The sentiments of this doctrine are embodied in Martin Luther’s famous speech at the Diet of Worms (1521) after he was asked to recant his teachings:
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.
For Luther, the Scriptures alone, were the final authority of what we should believe, because “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (verse 16).
This is one of the most important statements in the Bible. “All Scripture is God-breathed” — inspired. Not like we might say a beautiful musical performance was “inspired,” but breathed out by God so as to make the Scripture God’s own words. The Scriptures in view here are the Old Testament. That is what the Jewish family of Timothy, Lois, and Eunice knew, believed, and loved. But there are really good reasons to believe the New Testament has the same God-breathed authority.
One is that Jesus saw his own teaching on par with Scripture (Matthew 5) and having the authority of God. For example, John 14:10: “I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.”
Another is that Jesus prepared for his apostles to speak with divine authority for the sake of the church. For example, John 16:13: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”
Another is that the apostles claimed to be inspired by God. For example, 1 Corinthian 2:13: “We impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit.”
Another is that Peter said that Paul’s letters were part of the authoritative Scriptures. For example, 2 Peter 3:16: some twist his letters “as they do the other Scriptures.”
Thus, when Paul speaks in 2 Timothy 3:16 of the Scripture being inspired, it refers by implication to the Old and the New Testaments.
This is the main reason at New City Imphal: “We believe that the Bible, consisting of the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, is the infallible Word of God, verbally inspired by God, and without error in the original manuscripts.”
Today we hold in our hands the very words of God translated into English. Have we ever been half as amazed at this as we should be? The Creator of the universe breathed out a book — a book. God’s mind is revealed in this book. We have access to knowledge that is unshakably true and infinitely valuable — infinitely. Do we treasure, love, read, meditate, memorize, and study this book in accordance to its infinite worth?
That is the most foundational reason, Timothy, why you should continue in the truth you have learned and believed. It is the truth of God-breathed Scripture.
2. WHAT IS SOLA SCRIPTURA?
It means that only the Bible—because it is God’s inspired Word—is our inerrant, sufficient, and supreme authority.
a. Our Only Supreme Authority
First, this means Scripture alone is our final authority. “Authority” is a controversial word in our day of rugged individualism. But the Bible is all about authority. In fact, sola scriptura means the Bible is our final, supreme, and ultimate authority. Notice I didn’t say the Bible is our only authority. Sola scriptura is too easily confused today with nuda Scriptura, the view that we should have “no creed but the Bible”
Sola scriptura acknowledges there are other important authorities for the Christian, authorities who should be listened to and followed. But Scripture alone is our final authority. It’s the authority that rules over and governs all other authorities; it has the supreme say. While church tradition and church officials play a ministerial role, Scripture alone plays a magisterial role. This means all other authorities are to be followed only inasmuch as they align with Scripture, and submit to Scripture.
Of course, like many core Christian convictions, the doctrine of sola Scriptura has often been misunderstood and misapplied. Unfortunately, some have used sola Scriptura as a justification for a “me, God, and the Bible” type of individualism, where the church bears no real authority and the history of the church is not considered when interpreting and applying Scripture. Thus, many churches today are almost ahistorical—cut off entirely from the rich traditions, creeds, and confessions of the church. They misunderstand sola Scriptura to mean that the Bible is the only authority rather than understanding it to mean that the Bible is the only infallible, supreme, final authority. Many cults have evolved because of this particular issue today.
There are other extremes against which the doctrine of sola Scriptura protects us. While we certainly want to avoid the individualistic and ahistorical posture of many churches today, sola Scriptura also protects us from overcorrecting and raising creeds and confessions or other human documents (or ideas) to the level of Scripture. We must always be on guard against making the same mistake as Rome and embracing what we might call “traditionalism,” which attempts to bind the consciences of Christians in areas that the Bible does not. In this sense, sola Scriptura is a guardian of Christian liberty.
b. Our Only Sufficient Authority
Verse 15, “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”.
Sola scriptura also means that Scripture alone is our sufficient authority. Not only is the Bible our supreme authority, it is the authority that provides believers with all the truth they need for salvation and following Christ. This notion of the Bible’s sufficiency has been powerfully articulated by Reformed confessions. For example, The Belgic Confession (1561) states: “We believe that those Holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation is sufficiently taught therein.”
The Bible is enough for us.
Verses 16–17: “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.”
The profitable effect of Scripture, according to verse 17, is “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” “Equipped for every good work” — that’s what godliness is. And the way it comes about is by the Scriptures. Scripture, in the hands of the Holy Spirit, has the power to make us the kind of people who can discern and do the good that needs to be done. “Equipped for every good work.” Transformed, empowered, enabled, to do the good that needs to be done.
The God-breathed Bible aims to make us godly — to make us doers of good in this world — don’t miss that. The doctrines of the Bible are designed to produce deeds — good deeds. And they do it by teaching, verse 16, and that teaching has three chronological effects: reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.
When we are rightly taught by the Scriptures, we are first reproved, that is, our errors are pointed out and we are stopped in our tracks. Then we are corrected, that is, we are turned around from the harmful way we were going, and pointed in the right way. And third, we are trained in righteousness, that is, the Bible enables us to be trained, to grow, in righteousness. And as the teaching does these three things (reproof, correction, training) the Scripture equips us for every good deed.
Perhaps the most pointed question I can ask is: If Paul says that bodily exercise is a little profitable, and godliness is profitable for eternity, and if the Scripture is the key to equipping you for that godliness, then are you giving as much care to the godliness of your life as you are to the physical health of your life? Husbands, heads of households, are you taking as good care to feed your family with Scripture as you are to feed them with food?
c. Our Only Inerrant Authority
Sola scriptura also implies that only Scripture, because it is God’s inspired Word, is our inerrant authority. The basis of biblical authority is that God is its divine author. The ground for biblical authority is divine inspiration. As the Westminster Confession states,
The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth 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.
To get a full picture of sola scriptura, we need to go beyond saying the Bible is merely inspired or God-breathed. Inspiration should lead to an understanding that the Bible is perfect and flawless. In other words, inerrancy is the necessary result of inspiration. They are two sides of the same coin, and it’s impossible to divorce one from the other.
As Psalm 19 says, in verse 7 and 9, “The law of the LORD is perfect,… the rules of the LORD are true.”
Because it’s God speaking—and he is a God of truth, not error—his Word must be true and trustworthy in all it addresses.
This leads us to our next and final question?
3. WHY IS SOLA SCRIPTURA IMPORTANT TODAY?
At the beginning of this text in 2 Timothy 3:14 Paul tells Timothy to be conservative, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed.” Continue in, remain in, and stay in what you have learned and believed. Safeguard the truth that you know and trust. Don’t leave it.
And the reason there’s a “but” at the beginning of that sentence is that Paul is contrasting Timothy’s staying in the truth with those in the previous verse (verse 13) who do not “stay in” but “go on.” “Evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” The word for “go on” is “advance,” “progress,” “proceed.”
So, this is a group that does not “continue in” or “stay in” or “remain in” the truth, but who “go on” or “progress beyond” the truth they had learned. They are the people in 2 Timothy 4:3-4: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” Timothy, don’t “turn away.” Don’t consider it “progress” to leave behind what is true.
Today we live in the Post-truth era. “Post-truth” was named Word of the Year in 2016 by the Oxford Dictionary where it is defined as “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion that appeals to emotion and personal belief”.
Of course, we are not the first generation of people to face the challenge of competing truth claims. In fact, Adam and Eve faced such a dilemma at the very beginning. God had clearly said to them “You shall surely die” if they were to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17). On the other hand, the Serpent said the opposite to them: “You will not surely die” (3:4). How should Adam and Eve have passed judgment on these competing claims? By empiricism? By rationalism? By what seemed right to them? No, there was only one standard to which they should have appealed to make this decision: the word that God had spoken to them.
Unfortunately, this is not what happened. Instead of looking to God’s revelation, Eve decided to investigate things further herself: “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes … she took off its fruit and ate” (3:6). Make no mistake; the fall was not just a matter of Adam and Eve eating the fruit. At its core, the fall was about God’s people rejecting God’s Word as the ultimate standard for all of life.
In order to lead the church back to sola Scriptura, we must realize that we cannot do so only by teaching about the doctrine itself (although we must do this). Instead, the primary way we lead the church back is by actually preaching the Scriptures. Read 2 Timothy 4:1-2.
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
Only the Word of God has the power to transform and reform our churches. So, we should not only talk about sola Scriptura, but we should demonstrate it. And when we do, we must preach all of God’s Word—not picking and choosing the parts we prefer or think our congregations want to hear. We must preach only the Word (sola Scriptura), and we must preach all of the Word (tota Scriptura). The two go hand in hand. When they are joined together in the power of the Holy Spirit, we can have hope for a new reformation.