One of the key tenants of the Protestant Reformation, among others, was the idea of Sola Scriptura – the Bible alone is the supreme authority for the Christian life.
On October 31st, 1517, a German monk and priest named Martin Luther nailed a document to the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This document contained 95 theses, or 95 statements that Luther had against the Catholic Church at the time, one of which being the question of authority.
Whose voice was the authoritative voice? Was it a combination of the Bible and the Pope? Or was it just the Bible?
For the Catholic Church, they argued that authority comes from both Sacred Scripture and sacred tradition. By tradition, they mean the teachings and interpretations of the Pope.
The Vatican II, which was from 1962-1965, summarized this position. It reads, “The Church does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from Sacred Scripture alone. Both Sacred Scripture and sacred tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence” (Vatican II, Dei Verbum S10). In other words, Scripture and tradition, that is, the Pope’s interpretation, these two make up the word of God. That is the Catholic Church’s position, even, to this day.
What do you make of that?
Well, thankfully, Martin Luther did not see it that way. Luther was right to insist that the Bible never makes any mention of another authority than Scripture. Let me say it again: the Bible makes no mention of another authority other than Scripture.
A few years after the 95 theses, in 1521, the Catholic church was out for blood and called Martin Luther to a meeting called the Diet of Worms. The emperor himself came, and these Catholics hoped to force Luther to recant of his statements. However, Luther did just the opposite. Imagine standing in this room – a room full of angry Catholics, surrounding Luther on all sides, and ready to have him executed. Now, listen to what he said while there: “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”
That is incredibly significant!
Luther, and the other Reformers, essentially were telling the Catholic Church that what comes from the Pope is not the word of God. Only Scripture is the word of God.
Jesus Himself stated this when debating the Pharisees. In John 10:35, notice the connection that Jesus makes. Jesus identifies Scripture as the word of God. Elsewhere, Jesus even condemned the religious leaders of His day for equating tradition with God’s word.
For example, in Matthew 15:1-3, notice that Jesus doesn’t equate the traditions of the religious leaders with the Hebrew Scriptures. They do not have the same authority. Only Scripture is the word of God.
This is precisely what the Apostle Paul was getting in when he said in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God.” Notice, Paul didn’t say, all Scripture and all traditions are breathed out by God. He only said, “All Scripture.” So, the extent of God’s word begins and ends with Scripture. Scripture and Scripture alone is God’s word.
My word is not God’s word. Martin Luther’s word is not God’s word. Pope Francis’ word is not God’s word. Only Scripture.
In other words, all church teaching must be normed by the Bible. The following year (1522), in The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Luther also stated: “What is asserted without the Scriptures or proven revelation may be held as an opinion, but need not be believed.”
Therefore, the Reformers were right in emphasizing that Scripture alone is the supreme authority in theology.
This is incredibly profound!
And by the way, after Martin Luther made that proclamation, the Catholics at the Diet of Worms tried to kill him. Luther was able to escape and go into hiding for a year by God’s grace. But the damage had been done, so to speak. Because of Martin Luther’s words, people were not only beginning to question the pope’s authority, but even questioning what exactly is Scripture.
This is a good question to ask: What is Scripture?
Holy Scripture consists of both the Old and New Testaments. These 66 books contain the word of God. In God’s sovereignty and providence, He breathed these books into writing through human authors. This is His word.
Brothers and sisters, God has spoken to you through His Bible. You want to hear from God? Read His word.
Listen to His word. God has spoken to us. He has not left empty-handed. I realize that the Bible can, oftentimes, be a confusing book. I get that. But don’t be discouraged. God has spoken to us through story and letters. And that is glorious. Learn to read the Bible. We’ll help you. But learn to read the Bible and you will come to perceive that the Bible is indeed God’s word. I can say this because the Bible alone is the supreme authority.