It’s true the reformers never used the term “inerrancy.” But this objection fails to realize that though the term was not used, the concept was affirmed. Though the reformers didn’t flesh out the idea of inerrancy as meticulously as we have today (after all, inerrancy wasn’t their main battle with Rome), the basic concept and its most fundamental components are present in their writings.
“So what if everything in the Bible isn’t true and reliable or from God? That doesn’t really matter. The Bible still remains an authority in my life.”
Though it’s been years now, I remember hearing those words as if it were yesterday. I had no idea what to say in response.
I was shocked because I was hearing these words from a churchgoing, Bible-carrying, evangelical Christian. This person saw no relation between the truthfulness of Scripture and the authority of Scripture, as if one had nothing to do with the other.
In that moment I realized two things: First, the Reformation doctrine of sola scriptura is just as important today as it was in the 16th century. I also saw that many Christians in the church have no idea what sola scriptura is or entails.
So what is sola scriptura? It means that only the Bible—because it is God’s inspired Word—is our inerrant, sufficient, and final authority. This definition entails three implications related to authority.
1. Our Only Supreme Authority
First, this means Scripture alone is our final authority. “Authority” is a bad word in our day of rugged individualism. But the Bible is all about authority. In fact, sola scriptura means the Bible is our chief, 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.”
Those who repeat this misguided mantra believe creeds, confessions, and voices of tradition carry no authority in the church. But this was not the reformers’ position, nor should it be equated with sola scriptura.
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, submit to Scripture, and are seen as subservient to Scripture.
2. Our Only Sufficient Authority
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.”
And the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) says: “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.”
The Bible is enough for us.