Next Monday, October 31, is the four hundred and ninety-ninth anniversary of the day Martin Luther posted his ninety-five theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. The door served as a university notice board.
Papal indulgences, designed to raise money for the renovation of St Peter’s Basilica, Rome, offered a pay-plan for the ‘satisfaction’ element in the church’s teaching on salvation. Grounding his theses on the unique and supreme authority of the Scriptures for our knowledge of God and salvation, Luther questioned the pope’s authority and the abuses in the sale of indulgences.
Today and over the next four Wednesdays I plan to touch on key elements of what is known as the five ‘solas’ or ‘alones’ of the Reformation: ‘Scripture alone’, ‘faith alone’, ‘grace alone’, ‘Christ alone’, ‘to the glory of God alone’.
‘Scripture alone’ or ‘Sola Scriptura’. Consider Paul’s words to Timothy: But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man and woman of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:14-17).
With these words, Paul the Apostle urges Timothy to remember what he was taught as he grew up. Earlier in this Letter Paul has spoken of Timothy’s mother and grandmother. Clearly he respected these women, not least because they had taught the Scriptures to Timothy.
The word inspired translates the Greek word, ‘breathed out’. We speak of Shakespeare as inspired in his writing, or Bach in his music composition. But this is not how Paul is using the word here. He is telling us that God has breathed out, spoken his mind, enabling the writers of the Scriptures to write his words. God is the author, the writer or composer of this particular ‘music’.
THE HOLY SPIRIT
God didn’t impose his thoughts on the writers’ minds. Rather, through his Spirit he equipped them to pen his words. The Bible is not God’s ideas put into human words, nor is it human ideas enhanced by God’s assistance’. In 2 Peter 1:20f we read: You must understand this, … no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation. No prophecy was ever produced by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. The Scriptures are God’s ideas expressed in God’s words.
God respected and used the personality of every writer. The writers of the Bible were not human typewriters putting God’s words into readable form. God used their personalities to unfold progressively his story. This is why we have such diversity of writing – narrative and history, parable and poetry. We also find the more colloquial Greek of Mark and the more complex literary forms of Luke and Hebrews.
The Scriptures truly are a miracle. But we need always to remember Paul’s words: All scripture is inspired by God…
It may seem rather circular to use the Bible to defend the Bible. However, if indeed the Scriptures are God-breathed, there isn’t any higher authority to affirm this. Furthermore, we have Jesus’ own attitude towards the Scriptures. He regularly quoted them, speaking of them as the Word of God.
We also have Jesus’ promises to his disciples concerning the work of the Holy Spirit: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26).
GOD AT WORK
What the disciples said and what they wrote, comes with this authority. They were promised accurate recall and accurate interpretation. Their preaching, their teaching, their writing, is true because the Spirit of God was at work within them. He was inspiring them – breathing into them God’s Word of truth.
The Spirit makes sure that we have what we need. This is enormously encouraging, for it means that I am being brought into a true, an authentic relationship with the living God. My faith is not about some vague, mystical experience that may or may not be true.
All Scripture is inspired by God… And as the Word of God it gives us exclusive information about salvation – making us wise unto salvation.
This is one of the great truths that Martin Luther and the sixteenth century ‘reformation’ church leaders rediscovered.
© John G. Mason