Tota Scriptura

By Bill Brenner

You may already be familiar with "sola scriptura," from the Latin sola meaning "alone" and the word scriptura meaning the "inspired scriptures." The term came out of the Protestant Reformation, or at least was rediscovered during that period, and it means Scripture alone provides the very foundation of Christian truth. God speaks to us through Scripture, giving us the basis for doctrine from the highest possible authority. Although Catholics argue that the Bible itself does not explicitly teach sola scriptura as the only authoritative guide for faith and practice, the Bible declares itself to be God-breathed, inerrant, and authoritative. God never changes His mind, so there is no reason to believe that added traditions of men would ever be needed to supplement or replace God's inspired Word. The Bible does not allow for traditions to contradict or add to its message. The problem is not the existence of traditions themselves, but unbiblical traditions that some give equal authority to over and above what God has inspired the biblical authors to write. Those traditions must be rejected.

Sola means "nothing but" — the Bible alone is accurate — but it may cause some to wonder if it adequately expresses the complete picture of how God's Word is intended to be final and complete. For that reason, the term tota scriptura is used to emphasize an even stronger way to express the complete total of Scripture as a whole. It means that we should look at how every part of the Bible fits together to reflect everything we know about God and redemption.

Those who claim to believe in sola scriptura may still interpret the Bible in the wrong way by focusing only on their own preferred passages. Tota scriptura is meant to prevent us from overemphasizing one part of Scripture over another. One example of doing this is how people use "red letter" Bibles and begin to suggest that only words that were spoken directly by Jesus himself are truly inspired. Others may ignore the Old Testament or reject it as Jewish literature, relying only on the New Testament. Others may select some Old Testament passages out of context while ignoring the rest. You may even be aware of people who randomly open the Bible, close their eyes and point to a passage that they expect to reveal a personal message for themselves. Not only is sola scriptura our final authority on faith, but we must also realize that we can neither add to nor take away anything from the 66 inspired books. We cannot downplay or detract from any part of the Bible, or remove passages out of context when interpreting them.

Whenever you read a passage, strive to relate that passage to others that refer to the same topic. The Bible is ultimately a single complete story, not a collection of unrelated short stories. As Paul wrote in Acts 20:27, "for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God." From Genesis to Revelation, from the creation to the end of the world, God has given us His Word in tota scriptura revealing His plan for our salvation. All Scripture is authoritative and "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). We cannot reject or ignore any of it or judge the value of one section over another.

Image: Kersley Fitzgerald; Use by Permission

TagsBiblical-Truth  | False-Teaching  | Theological-Beliefs

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Published 7-10-17