The “When” of the Five Solas

Article: Whence the Reformation Solas? – R. Scott Clark (original source here)

I get this question with some frequency, usually around Reformation Day. Here is a preliminary answer:

The ideas were present from the earliest stage of the Reformation, but the actual phrases developed over time. The earliest phrases were sola gratia (by grace alone) and sola fide and sola scriptura. These are easily found in early 16th century protestant texts.

Sola Gratia

Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt, before he radicalized, used the expression sola gratia repeatedly in his 1519 disputation.

Martin Bucer used it in his 1536 commentary on the Gospels and again in a 1545 tract. The Italian Reformer, Peter Martyr Vermiligi used it in his 1558 lectures on Romans. Wolfgang Musculus used it in his lectures on Galatians and Ephesians (1561). Caspar Olevianus used it in his lectures on Romans (1579).

Calvin defended the notion and used the phrase, in Institutes 2.3.11. He was arguing against the Roman notion of “cooperating grace” in justification. See also 3.11.5; 3.14.5; 3.24.12.

Sola Fide

Luther used it famously in his translation of Galatians 3. He also used it in his lectures on Galatians. (His defense of inserting “allein” is below). In 1521, Melanchthon used it in his Loci Communes (Common Places, his systematics text) exactly as we do today.

Karlstadt used sola fide also in 1519 in his disputation. The significance of this is that he was certainly reflecting, at this point, what Luther and Melanchthon were saying. The phrase is also found in the work of Francois Lambert (1524); Johannes Oecolampadius (1524, 1534), Martin Bucer (1527, 1534, 1536, 1545), Heinrich Bullinger (1534, 1557), Peter Martyr Vermigli (1549) and in Calvin (Institutes 3.3.1; 3.11.1; 1.11.19; 3.14.17 etc). It is also found, of course, in the Augsburg Confession Art. 6.

The Latin text of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) uses the expression sola fide in Q. 60 on justification.

Sola Scriptura

Sola Scriptura is certainly a sixteenth-century phrase. The expression itself occurs among the Reformed as early as 1526 and Bucer used it in 1536. Calvin used it in Institutes 3.17.8.

Solo Christo and Soli Deo Gloria

I do not know the original dates for the phrases, solo Christo (i.e. “in Christ alone”) and soli Deo gloria (to God alone be the glory) but my guess is that their origins are probably a little later. Jim Renihan suggested that they might be traceable to Merle D’Aubigne. That seems like a good possibility but one which I’ve not investigated yet.

(wikipaedia suggests that the five solas were not systematically articulated together until the 20th century.)

Soli Deo Gloria: To God Alone Be the Glory

sproul877Article by Dr. R. C. Sproul. Original source who had taught that grace facilitates salvation but is not absolutely necessary for it. Semi-Pelagianism since that time has always taught that without grace there is no salvation. But the grace that is considered in all semi-Pelagian and Arminian theories of salvation is not an efficacious grace. It is a grace that makes salvation possible, but not a grace that makes salvation certain.

In the parable of the sower we see that regarding salvation, God is the one who takes the initiative to bring salvation to pass. He is the sower. The seed that is sown is His seed, corresponding to His Word, and the harvest that results is His harvest. He harvests what He purposed to harvest when He initiated the whole process. God doesn’t leave the harvest up to the vagaries of thorns and stones in the pathway. It is God and God alone who makes certain that a portion of His Word falls upon good ground. A critical error in interpreting this parable would be to assume that the good ground is the good disposition of fallen sinners, those sinners who make the right choice, responding positively to God’s prevenient grace. The classical Reformed understanding of the good ground is that if the ground is receptive to the seed that is sown by God, it is God alone who prepares the ground for the germination of the seed.

The biggest question any semi-Pelagian or Arminian has to face at the practical level is this: Why did I choose to believe the gospel and commit my life to Christ when my neighbor, who heard the same gospel, chose to reject it? That question has been answered in many ways. We might speculate that the reason why one person chooses to respond positively to the gospel and to Christ, while another one doesn’t, is because the person who responded positively was more intelligent than the other one. If that were the case, then God would still be the ultimate provider of salvation because the intelligence is His gift, and it could be explained that God did not give the same intelligence to the neighbor who rejected the gospel. But that explanation is obviously absurd.

The other possibility that one must consider is this: that the reason one person responds positively to the gospel and his neighbor does not is because the one who responded was a better person. That is, that person who made the right choice and the good choice did it because he was more righteous than his neighbor. In this case, the flesh not only availed something, it availed everything. This is the view that is held by the majority of evangelical Christians, namely, the reason why they are saved and others are not is that they made the right response to God’s grace while the others made the wrong response. Continue reading

Is “Scripture Alone” Real To You And Your Church?

scripute-aloneBy J.A. Medders, Pastor of Redeemer Church, Tomball, TX

The Solas have to be more to us than historical landmarks, relics from the Reformation. Scripture Alone has an undeniable effect on our lives and the culture, eco-system, and vibe of our churches.

To really live Sola Scriptura is to believe and grasp the sufficiency of Scripture. The Bible is sufficient, powerful, for all of your life in Christ. You don’t need John Piper’s podcast. You don’t lack anything if you can’t buy the Christian “Book of the Year.” These are all helpful and wonderful things, but if you have God’s word, you have the food you need. And this word leads us toward living with God, how to live for God, how to walk in the power of Christ.

In a way, Scripture Alone sets us free.

Scripture Alone Frees Us From The Tyranny of Human Opinion

In the Reformation, the people were weighed down and held captive to the words of men, Popes, Priests, and the Catholic Church ruled over the people.

When Luther was put on trial by the Church, and told to take back everything he said. He refused. He said, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God.”

Knowing the Bible sets you free from the tyrannical scepter of human opinion. “The Truth shall set you free.” This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen to the biblical counsel and wisdom and Christian friends. Of course, we should; the Bible instructs us too.

Sola Scriptura means the Bible is the ultimately authoritative word in our lives because it is the word of God. No priest, Pope, professor, pastor, or person in our church can pull rank of the revealed word of God.

When a church is living Sola Scriptura, we hear more, “The Bible says…”, and less, “I think…”.

Pastors and Sola Scriptura

As a pastor, I am not anyone’s ultimate authority. Pastors are one authority. We don’t believe in Solo Scriptura, meaning that we only listen to Scripture and nothing else. That goes against the very testimony of Scripture. Pastors are only one authority in the Christians life, even other Christians are another authority in our lives, but it is the Bible, that has the ultimate and final say. If I step outside the Bible, I’ve lost my authority. In speaking with another Christian, if you contradict the Bible, go against what God has said, you are outside of your jurisdiction. Continue reading

Two Planks of Sola Scriptura

hortonThis excerpt is taken from Michael Horton’s contribution in much of today’s mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic biblical and theological scholarship would have been regarded by the medieval church as apostate with regard to its view of Scripture. The Scriptures, both sides held, are inerrant. The Council of Trent (condemning the Reformation positions) went so far as to say that the Spirit “dictated” the very words to the Apostles.

The real question had to do with the relation of inspired Scripture to tradition. In other words, is Scripture alone God’s inspired and inerrant Word, the source and norm for faith and practice? Could the pope say truly that his words are equal to those of Peter and Paul as we find them in Scripture? Are councils infallible in the same way as Scripture? The Council of Trent argued that Scripture and tradition are two streams that form the one river of God’s Word. This Word consists not only of “the written books” but also of “the unwritten traditions” that, of course, the Roman pontiff has the privilege of determining. Thus, both Scripture and these traditions the church “receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety and reverence,” as both have been “preserved in the Catholic Church by a continuous succession.”

Therefore, whatever the pope teaches or commands ex cathedra (from the chair)—even if it is not based on Scripture—is to be believed by all Christians everywhere as necessary for salvation. Ironically, Luther’s defense of sola Scriptura was condemned as schismatic, but the ancient fathers, both in the East and the West, would have regarded the pretensions of the Roman bishop as an act of separation (schism) from the Apostolic faith. Long before the Reformation, highly esteemed theologians argued that Scripture alone is normative and that councils simply interpret Scripture, and these interpretations (which may be wrong and amended by further reflection) are to be submitted to by the pope himself. Until the Council of Trent’s condemnations of the Reformation teaching, this was an open question. Luther was not the first to argue for Scripture’s unique authority even over the pope. After Trent, though, the door was slammed shut on sola Scriptura within the Roman Catholic faith.

Luther’s problem with the papal church was its corruptions of scriptural faith by the addition of myriad doctrines, practices, rituals, sacraments, and ceremonies. Medieval popes increasingly held that they alone were endowed with the Holy Spirit in such a way as to be preserved from error in their judgments. Of course, this idea was not found in Scripture or in the teaching of the ancient fathers. It was an innovation that opened the floodgate to a torrent of novelties, Luther argued:

“When the teaching of the pope is distinguished from that of the Holy Scriptures, or is compared with them, it becomes apparent that, at its best, the teaching of the pope has been taken from the imperial, pagan laws and is a teaching concerning secular transactions and judgments, as the papal decretals show. In keeping with such teaching, instructions are given concerning the ceremonies of the churches, vestments, food, personnel, and countless other puerilities, fantasies, and follies without so much as a mention of Christ, faith, and God’s commandments.”

How do you adjudicate between truth and error? What if a pope errs, as some medieval councils had in fact declared? Indeed, the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries saw the schism between two and eventually three rival popes, each claiming St. Peter’s throne and excommunicating the others along with their followers. The Council of Constance ended this tragicomedy by electing a fourth pope to replace the other three. Philip Melanchthon’s Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope built on Luther’s views by drawing together a battery of refutations from Scripture and also from church history to demonstrate the foundation of sand on which the papacy is built.

For Luther, the first plank of sola Scriptura is Scripture’s nature. As the Holy Spirit’s direct revelation through prophets and Apostles, Scripture is in a class by itself. The character of God is at stake in the character of Scripture. Why is Scripture inerrant? “Because we know that God does not lie. My neighbor and I—in short, all men—may err and deceive, but God’s Word cannot err.” We respect the church fathers and ancient councils as guides, but only God can establish articles of faith: “It will not do to make articles of faith out of the holy Fathers’ words or works. Otherwise what they ate, how they dressed, and what kind of houses they lived in would have to become articles of faith—as has happened in the case of relics. This means that the Word of God shall establish articles of faith and no one else, not even an angel.” Continue reading

Understanding Sola Scriptura

michael j krugerArticle by Michael Kruger (original source we are bombarded with declarations that something is true and that something else is false. We are told what to believe and what not to believe. We are asked to behave one way but not another way. In her monthly column “What I Know for Sure,” Oprah Winfrey tells us how to handle our lives and our relationships. The New York Times editorial page regularly tells us what approach we should take to the big moral, legal, or public-policy issues of our day. Richard Dawkins, the British atheist and evolutionist, tells us how to think of our historical origins and our place in this universe.

How do we sift through all these claims? How do people know what to think about relationships, morality, God, the origins of the universe, and many other important questions? To answer such questions, people need some sort of norm, standard, or criteria to which they can appeal. In other words, we need an ultimate authority. Of course, everyone has some sort of ultimate norm to which they appeal, whether or not they are aware of what their norm happens to be. Some people appeal to reason and logic to adjudicate competing truth claims. Others appeal to sense experience. Still others refer to themselves and their own subjective sense of things. Although there is some truth in each of these approaches, Christians have historically rejected all of them as the ultimate standard for knowledge. Instead, God’s people have universally affirmed that there is only one thing that can legitimately function as the supreme standard: God’s Word. There can be no higher authority than God Himself.

Of course, we are not the first generation of people to face the challenge of competing truth claims. In fact, Adam and Eve faced such a dilemma at the very beginning. God had clearly said to them “You shall surely die” if they were to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17). On the other hand, the Serpent said the opposite to them: “You will not surely die” (3:4). How should Adam and Eve have adjudicated these competing claims? By empiricism? By rationalism? By what seemed right to them? No, there was only one standard to which they should have appealed to make this decision: the word that God had spoken to them. Unfortunately, this is not what happened. Instead of looking to God’s revelation, Eve decided to investigate things further herself: “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes … she took of its fruit and ate” (3:6). Make no mistake, the fall was not just a matter of Adam and Eve eating the fruit. At its core, the fall was about God’s people rejecting God’s Word as the ultimate standard for all of life.

But if God’s Word is the ultimate standard for all of life, the next question is critical: Where do we go to get God’s Word? Where can it be found? This issue, of course, brings us to one of the core debates of the Protestant Reformation. While the Roman Catholic Church authorities agreed that God’s Word was the ultimate standard for all of life and doctrine, they believed this Word could be found in places outside of the Scriptures. Rome claimed a trifold authority structure, which included Scripture, tradition, and the Magisterium. The key component in this trifold authority was the Magisterium itself, which is the authoritative teaching office of the Roman Catholic Church, manifested primarily in the pope. Because the pope was considered the successor of the Apostle Peter, his official pronouncements (ex cathedra) were regarded as the very words of God Himself.

It was at this point that the Reformers stood their ground. While acknowledging that God had delivered His Word to His people in a variety of ways before Christ (Heb. 1:1), they argued that we should no longer expect ongoing revelation now that God has spoken finally in His Son (v. 2). Scripture is clear that the Apostolic office was designed to perform a onetime, redemptive-historical task: to lay the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20). The foundation-laying activity of the Apostles primarily consisted of giving the church a deposit of authoritative teaching testifying to and applying the great redemptive work of Christ. Thus, the New Testament writings, which are the permanent embodiment of this Apostolic teaching, should be seen as the final installment of God’s revelation to His people. These writings, together with the Old Testament, are the only ones that are rightly considered the Word of God.

This conviction of sola Scriptura— the Scriptures alone are the Word of God and, therefore, the only infallible rule for life and doctrine—provided the fuel needed to ignite the Reformation. Indeed, it was regarded as the “formal cause” of the Reformation (whereas sola fide, or “faith alone,” was regarded as the “material cause”). The sentiments of this doctrine are embodied in Martin Luther’s famous speech at the Diet of Worms (1521) after he was asked to recant his teachings: Continue reading

Justification: By Faith or By Works?

stormsDr. Sam Storms has written a series of articles which be reconciled to God and made acceptable in his sight?”

There simply is no more eternally important question that any man or woman can ask and then answer than this: “How might I, a hell-deserving sinner, be reconciled to God and made acceptable in his sight?” Or we might pose the question in yet another way: “How might I, a man/woman who is undeniably unrighteous and thus deserving of eternal judgment, be made righteous in the sight of God?” Other questions might feel more pressing or more practical, but rest assured that nothing else in all of life matters much in comparison with the issue of how we can be made right with God and thus assured of eternal life in his presence.

To put it another way, what is it that commends us to God? On what grounds or for what reason does God receive us as his children and look on us with a smile of approval and joy?

You and I will make numerous colossally stupid decisions during our years on earth. But we will, in the end, survive them all. None of them is quite as devastating as we think. Whether it’s choosing the wrong job or purchasing the wrong car or making bad friends, as painful as such choices can be, we will survive them. But the issue that we encounter in James 2:14-26 is of an eternally different order. The conclusion you draw concerning the meaning of this passage and how you live your life as a result will bear consequences into eternity. Not just for the next few weeks, or even years, but for eternity. Continue reading

Luther and the Tower

Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (NIV)

Martin Luther was a man plagued in conscience because of his sin, knowing God had to be just in punishing him. Light broke through the dark, foreboding clouds when he came to understand Romans 1:17.

The Bible and the Church

Bible18In an article entitled, “Is the Church over the Bible or is the Bible over the Church?” Michael J Kruger if one were to respond to each and every erroneous claim on the internet there would be time for little else. But every now and then, an article combines so many misconceptions about the canon is a single place, that a response is warranted. This is the case with the recent article, “There is No ‘Bible’ in the Bible,” by Fr. Stephen Freeman.

Freeman, part of the Orthodox Church in America, has made what is essentially a Roman Catholic argument for the canon (but missing some key portions, as we shall see). His basic claim is that the Bible–as something that is an authority over the church–is a modern, post-Reformation invention. In reality, he claims, the church is the highest authority and the Bible is merely one of many tools used by the church.

Perhaps the best way to respond to Freeman’s article is just to quote it line by line (in italics below), offering a response to each statement as we go. For space reasons, we will not be able to cover every one of his claims, but we will cover the major ones.

1. The word “Bible” simply means “book.” Thus, it is a name that means “the Book.” It is a particularly late notion if for no other reason than that books are a rather late invention.

Freeman makes the claim here that the “Bible” must be late, because books are a late invention. This is stunning to say the least given that Israel had been using books as Scripture for more than a thousand years before Christ was even born. Moreover, early Christianity was a very “bookish” culture right from the start, with a keen interest in reading, producing, and copying books. For more on this point see my article here. Thus, books were not at all a foreign idea to the early Christian faith.

2. There are examples of bound folios of the New Testament dating to around the 4th century, but they may very well have been some of the earliest examples of such productions.

By the term “bound folios” I assume Freeman is referring to early Christian codices that contained multiple books in the same volume. If so, then the “earliest examples” do not derive from the fourth century, but much earlier. At the end of the second century/early third century we have all four gospels in a single volume (P4-64-67, P45), and most, if not all, of Paul’s epistles in a single volume (P46). These codices demonstrate a book consciousness very early in the life of the church.

But, perhaps Freeman mentions the fourth century because he is referring to codices that contain all 27 NT books. He is correct that the fourth century is the first instance of all 27 books bound together (e.g. Codex Sinaiticus; see photo above) But, one does not need all 27 books in a single volume in order to establish that the early church had a canon of Scripture. Books don’t need to be physically bound together in order to viewed as part of a scriptural collection. Indeed, this was precisely the case with the OT books. Individual OT books were often kept in separate rolls, even though they were clearly viewed as part of a larger biblical corpus.

3. The “Bible,” a single book with the whole of the Scriptures included, is indeed modern. It is a by-product of the printing press, fostered by the doctrines of Protestantism.

The discussion above has already refuted the notion that a complete NT canon does not come around until the printing press. In addition, Freeman does not mention the fact that we can determine the extent of the church’s canon in other ways besides the physical book. Early Christians drew up lists of their books from quite an early time. For instance, Origen lists all 27 books in a single list in the third century (see article here). Would Freeman suggest that Origen’s NT canon is simply the “by-product of the printing press fostered by the doctrines of Protestantism”? Continue reading