Sola Scriptura: All Scripture is Breathed Out by God

Yesterday we began a 5-week series at White Fields in which we are looking at the 5 Solas of the Reformation: the slogans that the Reformers used to summarize their core beliefs:

  • Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)
  • Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)
  • Sole Fide (Faith Alone)
  • Solus Christus (Christ Alone)
  • Soli Deo Gloria (To the Glory of God Alone)

We started by looking at the first of these: Sola Scriptura.


Sola Scriptura means: the Bible alone is our highest authority.

Martin Luther and the other Reformers found themselves in a situation, where – having read the Bible, they discovered that many practices and teachings of the church in their time were actually in direct opposition to the clear teaching of the Bible – particularly on the issues of absolution of sin and justification.

This is what led to Martin Luther’s famous statement at the Diet (Congress) of Worms:

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against this knowledge. May God help me. Amen.

Sola Scriptura does not mean that we reject other sources of truth and wisdom, nor that we reject or ignore tradition. To do so would not only be foolish, but it would be ignorant of the fact that the very way that we got the canon of Holy Scriptures that we now have was in large part by God working through reason and tradition to transmit the Scriptures to us.

What Sola Scriptura means is that when it comes to what we believe and how we live, there is no higher voice, no greater authority than the Holy Scriptures, and everything must by judged by them.

So, if church councils say one thing, but the Bible says another: Who wins?  The Bible does. If our culture and society says one thing, but the Bible says something else, then who do we believe?  Who do we submit to?  The answer is: the Scriptures.

Did the New Testament Writers Know They Were Writing Scripture?

2 Timothy 3:16 says: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness

What Scriptures are being referred to here?

Obviously it is referring to the Old Testament scriptures, but interestingly, this comes from 2 Timothy, the last letter which Paul wrote, at the end of his life. By this time — almost all of the books that we have in our New Testaments had already been written, and were being distributed amongst the Christians, to be read and studied in their churches.

So, when Paul says, “All Scripture” — he’s not just talking about the Old Testament, he’s also talking about the New Testament!

In the New Testament, what you find is that the Apostles understood that God was using them in their time to bring about a New Testament of Holy Scriptures, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Here are a few examples:

  • In 2 Peter 3:15-16, Peter refers to the writings of Paul as “Scriptures”
  • In 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Paul referred to his own message as “the word of God”
  • In 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul takes a quotation from the Gospel of Luke – and he calls it “Scripture” (Luke 10:7)
  • In some of his letters, Paul instructs the recipients to distribute his letters and have them read in the churches. (Colossians 4:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:27)

What Paul is telling Timothy in this text is to stick to the Scriptures, because they come from God, not from man.

The Bible is not only inspired in the sense that it is like a great work of art that we might say is “inspired” – but it is inspired in the greater sense, that the words it contains were breathed by God Himself!

What that means is that the Bible is no ordinary book — it is the very word of God to us, and therefore it alone is worthy to be the highest authority in our lives.

9 thoughts on “Sola Scriptura: All Scripture is Breathed Out by God

  1. “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” – Isaiah 8:20.

    I see it as important to test everything by the word of God, including tradition. Sticking to tradition merely because it is tradition, and then arguing in favor of it on that grounds would be a logical fallacy — appeal to tradition, which of course does not make something right or true. Sola Scriptura would be a lot of protestants to refresh their minds on, as things like the Pastor sometimes become absolute authority for a lot of Christians today. People seem to have entire reliance on leaders and theologians in their Church these days.

    It is refreshing to see some one writing about this aspect of the Protestant Reformation, or even the Protestant Reformation at all. Most Protestants have forgotten about this aspect of their past, and some even run around saying that the protest is over and we need to rejoin with the “mother church.”

  2. You are making a big assumption regarding the dating of 2 Timothy… First imprisonment, or second imprisonment? It is far from clear.

    Further, does Paul tell us whether 1 Clement is Scripture? No… Shepherd of Hermas? No… 2 Peter? No… And so on, and so on with debates in the early Church, until we finally get Luther’s rejection of those books he didn’t like. Wasn’t Paul talking about those books as Scripture, too? If not, why not? Paul does not give us a canon, he gives us a way to look at what is in the canon.

    1. Of course I’m making an assumption that it was written during the Second Imprisonment! I do that along with the majority of scholarship… 2 Timothy 4:6-7 – “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
      Here’s a little help:
      “Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 2.25; 3.1) claims that Paul was martyred sometime during Nero’s reign (which ended in A.D. 68, but intense persecution began in 64). Since Paul wrote 2 Timothy shortly before his death, it was probably written in A.D. 64–65, though some would place it as late as 67.”

      The process of canonization, as I allude to in this post, was one in which tradition and reason were involved as criteria. 1 Clement, Shepherd of Hermas did not meet the criteria of reason (not containing anything novel to the other books, not the Apostolic message of the gospel), nor that of tradition (being recognized as holy scripture by the churches and treated as such). Furthermore, we know that there were other letters that Paul wrote which were not included in the canon, such as the “Letter of Tears”, because being written by an apostle and being distributed amongst and read by the Christians were not the only criteria for being considered canonical.
      I don’t believe that Paul was talking about those other books you mention – especially not 1 Clement, which was written later. As far as assumptions go, that’s a big one itself 🙂
      Btw, if you’ll read my post again, you’ll notice I never said that Paul gave us a canon – only that he gave us a way to look at the canon, like you said. On that we are in agreement.

      1. Hi NIck,

        Thanks for your reply! I don’t mean to come off as combative… Just lots of questions. I published a post today on the topic, so it is ready in my mind.

        I don’t think Paul was talking about 1 Clement or Hermas either (which was not the object of my question)… It is rather the books which were removed from the Old Testament 1500 years later that I’m asking about.

        It is interesting you talk about tradition – that is spot on, but “tradition” must be grounded in a living authority present on Earth, centered in an office occupied by a human being with whom believers can turn to, yes? If not, then who gets to say what counts as tradition and what doesn’t?

  3. Your papism is showing 🙂 Here’s the deal with the Apocrypha:
    – The Apocrypha was NEVER considered canonical by the Jews.
    – The Apocryphal books were not on early canonical lists.
    – They were rejected by most early church leaders.
    – They were directly rejected by Jerome.

    There are other reasons. Please see this more exhaustive article:

    In regard to tradition: Tradition refers to practices and beliefs that were handed down. The revelation of Jesus Christ (meaning His coming and his life, etc., not the Book of Revelation) itself was passed down in the form of ‘oral tradition’ before it was written in the gospels. The point of Sola Scriptura is NOT (as you wrote in your article) a rejection of tradition, but it is a matter of authority. As I have written above: it is to say that Scripture is our highest authority, by which everything must be tested, including tradition. What that means is that the Scriptures are the authority by which we test traditions and either embrace or reject them, NOT “a living authority present on Earth, centered in an office occupied by a human being.”

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