The Solas

Jake and I have enjoyed a healthy back-and-forth for the better part of a month regarding the idea of sola scriptura.  He is someone that have hold in high esteem, so even though we have nearly come to blows over the discussion, we have been able to preserve mutual respect for the other’s views.  He offered an article earlier today that asked the question, “Is Sola Scriptura a Help or Heresy“?  

My belief is that people who rail against sola scriptura are really just arguing with themselves; taking a 16th century phrase and bastardizing its intent by comparing it with 21st century fundamentalism.  Sola scriptura has never been a phrase that describes Biblical literalism.  It removed authority from the corrupt church and placed it in Scripture.  Luther translated the Bible into German so everyone could read it, and Gutenberg used his printing press to mass produce Bibles so everyone could come to rely on Scripture as an authority.  Just not THE authority.

Sola scriptura was also never intended to be used in a vacuum.  That’s why there were THREE SOLAS that came out of the protestant Reformation – not just one.  Bible scholar Dr. Samuel Nafzger writes on the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod website:

It is in the proper distinction between Law and Gospel that the purity of the Gospel is preserved and the three solas of “grace alone,” “faith alone” and “Scripture alone” are united.

These three entities – God’s grace revealed through Jesus Christ, our faith in the triune God, and God’s word given to us in Scripture – give us our salvational identity.  They are impossible to separate.  More from Dr. Nafzger:

But we also believe that confidence in the reliability of the Bible is not possible apart from faith in Jesus Christ. Christians believe what the Scriptures teach because they first believe in Jesus Christ. Christ is the object of faith, not the Bible. We believe that the inversion of this order compromises “scripture alone” and results in rationalistic fundamentalism, as if an accepted demonstration of the Bible’s truthfulness and reliability — perhaps a piece of Noah’s ark, for example — could provide a foundation for faith in the Gospel. The Bible remains a dark book apart from faith in Christ, for He is its true content. But when sinners are brought to faith in Him, Christ points them back to the writings of the prophets and apostles as the sole authoritative source for all the church believes, teaches and confesses.

So, to argue that sola scriptura is dead or heretical is a moot point.  Sola scriptura, as some people choose to inaccurately define it, never existed in the first place.



6 Responses to The Solas

  1. There were actually five solas 😉

    Sola Fide (faith alone)
    Sola Scriptura (scripture alone)
    Solus Christus (Christ alone)
    Sola Gratia (Grace alone)
    Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone)

  2. Erik says:

    Yes, Shane. Some Reformation scholars will cite five solas, as I’m sure you saw on the Wikiedia page. However, the prevailing teaching in the denomination that I am affiliated with recognizes the three that I refer to in the article.

  3. I don’t actually use wikipedia…

    Thanks for the clarification.

  4. Steve Ullestad says:

    It seems to me that another dimension of the “solas” is that they echo the “not by my own understanding or effort” theology in Luther’s explanation of the third article of the creed. I am not saved by my own works, understanding or efforts but by God’s activity in Scripture, Faith and Grace. God’s activity “alone” saves. It is also another way of getting at alien righteousness, from my point of view.

    This also helps to explain why there can be three things that are “alone”. It is because they are redundant in pointing to the only “sola” that matters “Christ Alone”.

  5. Nic Paton says:

    Good points, Ullestads, that “Sola sola scriptura” never existed in the first place.

  6. […] Brink and I disagree with the subtleties of the post-Reformation understanding of sola scriptura, I like what he has to say about the Protestant propensity to divide rather than unite…and […]

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