Sola Scriptura, “Scripture alone,” became one of the often-repeated mottos of the Reformation. Like many mottos, it has often been misunderstood and misused. But it is of crucial importance, today as well as nearly 500 years ago. One of the clearer expressions of Jesus’ own view of the authority of Scripture comes as he speaks to those who are about to stone him on a charge of blasphemy, recorded in John 10:31-42.
“Scripture alone” does not mean that Scripture is the only authority. Too often Protestants have lived down to the picture of “my Bible and I” standing against the world. It is instructive to read the reformers and note how frequently they quote early church fathers and more recent theologians. They did not see themselves as innovators. But they insisted that the Scriptures are the final, the ultimate authority. That was what Luther claimed as he said, “Here I stand.”
Nor should “Scripture alone” be taken to mean that the reformers believed that the Bible was God’s Word and the church of Rome did not. Rome, with the reformers, agreed that the Bible is God’s Word and that it is authoritative. What the Reformation rejected was the idea that in addition to the authority of Scripture was the authority of the church and its tradition, which authority interpreted the Scriptures.
Today we have moved through an old liberalism which saw the Bible as a human book in its origin, full of errors, to a view that the this human book can become the Word of God in the event of hearing or reading it. But both views would reject the idea that the Bible is objectively the authoritative Word of God. Sola Scriptura is still needed today!
Positively, “Scripture alone” means that the Bible is God’s Word. It is God-breathed. Therefore it is authoritative and inerrant. As God’s creatures we have always needed God’s Word. God’s speaking did not begin with the fall and redemption. As God placed our first parents in the Garden of Eden he spoke to them, he interpreted to them the world in which they lived.
We know the Bible is authoritative, that it cannot broken, because that is the way Jesus describes it. Notice the setting of John 10. Jesus is not giving a lecture on the authority of Scripture. Rather, what he says comes up in the context of defending himself against a mob that is ready to stone him. Appreciate the intensity of the setting. Jesus rests the defense of his claim to be Son of God on a line of Scripture.
Notice that Jesus quotes, not one of the passages that reflect God speaking from Mt. Sinai or some such event. Rather, Psalm 82 is a relatively obscure psalm of Asaph. And the line he quotes is not the central point of the Psalm, nor does it specifically a prophecy of the Messiah. “I said, ‘You are gods’” refers most likely to God calling the human judges of his people “gods” (see also Exodus 21:6). If the term can be used by the Lord to refer to human judges, it is utterly inappropriate for Jesus’ accusers to falsely allege that he is blaspheming. After all, he is the Son of God. Jesus is not just appealing to the view of Scripture held by his opponents. Rather, his parenthetical remark describes what he knows Scripture to be. As John Murray puts it: “Jesus’ remark, ‘the scripture cannot be broken,’ . . . expresses his own view of the inviolability of Scripture. He appeals to Scripture because it is really and intrinsically a finality. . . . He affirms the unbreakableness of the Scripture in its entirety and leaves no room for any such supposition as that of degrees of inspiration and fallibility. Scripture is inviolable. Nothing less than this is the testimony of our Lord.” (“The Attestation of Scripture” in The Infallible Word, pp. 26-27.)
What do you do with the unbreakable Scripture? It’s not enough to have the right doctrine of Scripture, important though that is. The unbreakable character of Scripture affirms the truth of who Jesus is. Remember that Scripture’s warnings are not theoretical–take them seriously. God’s promises are firm. Why? The Scripture cannot be broken.
The Scripture needs to be read, studied, listened to, meditated upon, and hidden in your heart. The busyness and electronic distractions of our culture make it a difficult task. Be self-conscious in how you use the Word.
As John ends the first half of his Gospel, he takes you back to the beginning. Jesus, the time for whose sacrificial death and resurrection had not yet come, withdraws from Judea to the place on the far side of the Jordan River where John the Baptist had preached repentance and baptized the multitudes who had come to him. More importantly, John had pointed to the coming Messiah. John has been martyred by now, but Jesus takes time to prepare for his coming suffering and death.
John, though his record is in the New Testament, has been described as the last of the Old Testament prophets. Through him came the Word of the Lord identifying Jesus as the Messiah, as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. John had not worked miracles as a number of the prophets had, and as Jesus had. Rather, he had spoken God’s message about the coming of Jesus and his kingdom.
The focus of the God’s Word, whether in the message spoken by John or in the Scriptures, is on the Christ. The Bible is not just a collection of inspiring stories and wonderful poetry. It leads you to Jesus Christ. (“Scripture alone” leads to “Christ alone.”)
John ends the first half of his Gospel with the record that in that place many believed on him [Jesus]. He anticipates what the result of the work of Christ in the second half will accomplish. He writes so that you will receive the Word and believe in Jesus.