The Solas of the Reformation (And Why They Matter Today)

Part 1: Sola Scriptura

By Dillon Burroughs

During the Protestant Reformation in Europe that began in the 1500s, leaders developed a list of five solas to define the differences between their movement and what they perceived as the unbiblical excesses of the Roman Catholic Church. A quick look at this list of solas reveals that their influence has been great. Further, we discover the teachings of these solas include much relevance for our day.

First, what are the five solas? The five solas are five Latin phrases. The word sola is the Latin word "only" and was used in relation to five key teachings that defined the biblical pleas of Protestants. They included:
  1. Sola scriptura: "by Scripture alone"
  2. Sola fide: "by faith alone"
  3. Sola gratia: "by grace alone"
  4. Solo Christo: "Christ alone"
  5. Soli Deo Gloria: "to the glory of God alone"
Each of these solas can be seen as both a corrective to perceived inadequacies in the Roman Catholic Church as well as a positive emphasis on a biblical solution. This series will go in depth for each sola, but in this article, we'll look at the first of these statements: sola scriptura.

Sola scriptura emphasized the Bible alone as the source of authority for Christians. In making this statement, both the divine authority of the Roman Catholic Pope and the belief of sacred tradition were rejected. Only the Bible was viewed as authoritative.

This clear change in authority was not based simply on rebellious attitudes of Protestant Reformers. Sola scriptura was their understanding of several key biblical passages related to the integrity and authority of Scripture. For example, 2 Peter 1:20-21 teaches, "No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." God's Word can be fully trusted because it comes from God Himself.

The apostle Paul taught that Scripture was "God-breathed" in 2 Timothy 3:16-17: "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." Rather than trust in human leadership or sacred tradition, Reformers leaned on the Bible's words for answers to life's problems, including those taught through the other solas (especially regarding salvation and Scripture).

A third biblical passage of importance to this teaching of the Protestant Reformers was from the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:35: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away." God's Word is eternal and unchanging. The Roman Catholic Church during the time of the Protestant Reformation was accused of continually changing its beliefs and traditions. In contrast, God's Word was perfect, with no need to change (Psalm 19:7).

In our contemporary world, many voices or religious traditions teach a myriad of positions on even the most essential spiritual practices. How do we know which is true? Sola scriptura answers this question today — in our time and for all time. We are challenged to examine God's Word for the answers to life's problems, knowing the Bible offers God's perfect, unchanging answers for the questions we face.

Image Credit: Savio Sebastian; "Bible"; Creative Commons

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Published 10-1-12