“Sola Scriptura: The Sword of the Spirit”

Text: Hebrews 4:1-13

We are just 2 years away from the 500th anniversary of the posting of the 95 Theses. Though it would be a while before Luther stumbled upon the true teaching of Scripture, his action ignited the powder keg of the Reformation. But, the work of the Lutheran reformers some 500 years ago was not just the work of men. Rather, the work of the Lutheran Reformation was begun and led by the Holy Spirit to return the Church to the well of God’s pure Word. In hindsight we describe this work by the three pillars that held it up: Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, and Sola Fide. We’re going to celebrate the Reformation this year by looking at each of these in turn. The Sola Scriptura principle states that it is through God’s Word alone that we learn of His grace, which we receive through faith.

Today we’ll look at three primary aspects of God’s Holy Word: A) The Bible is God’s divine Word, which alone has the power to kill and make alive; B) Because the Bible is God’s Word, it alone is perfect and sufficient for salvation; C) Because the Bible is God’s Word, and because it is perfectly sufficient for salvation, it also is open and accessible to all who read it.

A.

We begin with our text from Hebrews 4, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”[1] From this we see that the Word of God, the Bible, is not just a collection of words on pages; it is a living and active thing. The first thing we believe as Christians about the Bible is that it’s inspired. This means that Bible comes from God, as individual books and as a whole, and was written by the direction of the Holy Spirit.

This is what we mean when we say that the Bible is inspired and inerrant. St. Paul wrote to Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God.”[2] This means that Scripture comes not from man, but it originates from God – and what God creates, He creates perfect. Now, when Paul was addressing Timothy the Scripture he was talking about was the Old Testament. From Paul, we know that the Old Testament is holy. But, what about the New Testament? St. Peter addresses this in his writing. He wrote, “our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters.”[3] Peter goes on to say that some of the things Paul writes are hard to understand, and that people twist them as, “they do the other Scriptures.”

By Paul’s writing we know that the Old Testament is from God, and by Peter’s, we know that Paul’s writings are to be included in Scripture. We know that though they were physically written by men, they are in fact God’s words. Peter once wrote, “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”[4] Not just the subjects spoken about in Scripture are God’s Word, but the exact words. The Lord once told Jeremiah, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you.”[5]

B.

As the Bible is the Word of God, both in subject matter and in the exact words, it alone is perfect and without any error whatsoever. Now, this is where we come to the Sola Scriptura [Scripture alone] aspect of the Reformation. What Lutherans teach is what has been confessed by the orthodox Church for all time. That is, that the Bible contains all that is necessary for salvation. There is nothing that you need to know that isn’t in the Bible, and there’s nothing outside the Bible that can be added to it. This aimed not just at who you might think – the Roman church that insists on tradition – but also the Protestants who teach that in order to have a full knowledge of God you must add human reason, such as the study of science and mathematics.

While others teach that Scripture must be measured against human reason or tradition, the Lutheran church teaches that, “the only rule and norm according to which all teachings, together with ‹all› teachers, should be evaluated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testament alone.”[6] All human teaching is to be judged by Scripture and never added to it. The Scripture alone, as Paul teaches, is what makes man wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.[7]

It is true that the Bible does not teach us everything. The Bible is not a science textbook or a technical manual. It does not even tell us all the things of God, for we see, as Paul says, through a glass dimly. St. John also says that, were every one of the things that Jesus did to be written down, the world itself couldn’t contain the books. But, “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”[8] That is the goal and aim of all Scripture – the salvation of mankind. Through the Law God reveals His wrath against sin, and through the Gospel He gives us the Good News that Jesus Christ died for the forgiveness of our sins and creates faith within us. There is no other book or teaching in the world that does this. Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ alone.

C.

So far we’ve learned that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Each word on the page is from the Holy Spirit and is without error in part or whole. In addition to being the living and active Word of God, it also contains all we need to go to heaven. There is no information that we need to be saved that is not in the Bible, and nothing should be added to it. The Bible is the standard by which we judge all teachings. Now, with the Bible being the inerrant Word of God and profitable for salvation, we also confess that the Bible is an open book. The good news of Jesus Christ and the faith that comes through hearing it is accessible to all people.

The Bible is not a book of hidden knowledge. It is not a hard book to read. The Bible is written in plain words so that all who read it may understand and believe the doctrine necessary for salvation. God’s Word is, as David says, “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”[9] The Bible is not just a book for pastors, but it is for all people. Jesus commanded that the things He spoke be delivered to all people, and this comes through His written Word. King David also says, “the law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.”[10] St. John testifies that little children are able to understand the Scriptures.

Okay, if Scripture is such an open book, what about all those passages with the long names, all the whos-its and whats-its? And what about the Small Catechism, why do we make our children learn that? To the first question: there are parts of the Bible that are unclear to us. Typically, there are three reasons that. The first is a plain lack of familiarity. If you read Ag reports eight times as much as you read the Scripture, you should expect that the one will appear harder than the other. Second, the Bible appears unclear to those who are hostile towards it. This is what St. Paul writes, “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”[11] Third, the Bible is unclear to those who, though Christian, are prejudiced against certain parts of Scriptural doctrine. This would apply to those who believe the Baptism is simply a sign of our commitment to God rather than a washing of renewal and rebirth in the forgiveness of sins. They allow their human wisdom to rule over the Word of God. Within all this, we maintain that the more obscure portions of Scripture are mostly dealing with history and geography. If they do pertain to doctrine, then they are explained more clearly elsewhere in Scripture.

As for the Small Catechism, and for the rest of the Lutheran teachings, please open to page 273. It asks, “Do you confess the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from the Scriptures?” We use the Small Catechism not in addition to the Scriptures, but because what’s in the Catechism comes straight from them. It is merely a restatement of what the Church has always believed against the errors that have crept up over time.

God gave His Word for a definite purpose: To save man from sin and death through faith in Christ; to educate and train in holiness; and to magnify His glory. No other book in all creation is able to do this. Only in Scripture are we told that God exists, that He loves us, and that He sent His Son Jesus to die for our sins. God’s plan of salvation is revealed nowhere other than in the Holy Bible, and faith comes through the preaching of Scripture alone. That is the meaning of Sola Scriptura.

By the guidance of the Holy Spirit through Scripture, Martin Luther and the other Lutheran Reformers worked to purify the Church and bring it back from the many errors that had developed over time. Fundamental to that was the teaching the Bible alone is God’s Word. It alone is the verbally inspired Word of God in all its parts. It alone is God’s power to put to death the impenitent sinner and make alive the one who repents in faith. It alone contains all that is necessary for salvation and is accessible to all who read it.

May God the Holy Spirit continue to call people to faith through His Holy Word and direct the study of and growth in among us here.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Heb 4:12.

[2] 2 Ti 3:16.

[3] 2 Pe 3:15–16.

[4] 2 Pe 1:21.

[5] Je 30:2.

[6] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 473.

[7] 2 Tim. 3:15.

[8] Jn 20:31.

[9] Ps. 119:105.

[10] Ps. 19:7.

[11]1 Co 1:18.

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