The Five Solas is a series of classes exploring the five major slogans of the Protestant Reformation. In this class, we look at Sola Scriptura or the Bible Alone. This traces some of its origins, its development during the Reformation, and how it applies today.
October 31, 1517…
October 31, 2017 marks the 500th
anniversary of the Reformation.
This is the date that the Roman Catholic
Augustinian Monk, Martin Luther, nailed
95 discussion theses on the Wittenberg
Castle Church door.
Over the course of a number of years,
Martin Luther will awaken to the gospel of
justification by grace alone through faith
alone in Christ alone.
This movement will awaken in other areas
in Europe. It will become known as the
The Five Solas
Five slogans will become known during the Reformation:
Sola Scriptura – Scripture Alone.
Sola Fide – Faith Alone.
Sola Gratia – Grace Alone.
Solus Christus – Christ Alone.
Soli Deo Gloria – To God’s Glory Alone.
This class will explore each of these slogans and what they mean in our
This class will also cover some of the history of the Reformation, its origins,
development, and significance.
Uses of the word Reformation
Reformation can refer to:
Lutheranism (originating in present day Germany).
The Reformed Church (originating in present day Switzerland).
The Radical Reformation (Anabaptism).
The Counter Reformation (Catholic Reformation).
Mainstream Reformation – This refers to Lutheranism and Reformed
parts of the Reformation.
Magisterial Reformation – This refers to the Mainstream Reformation.
The term “magisterial” refers to how the mainstream reformers developed
a positive relationship with the civil government, such as princes,
magistrates, or city councils.
Protestant – The name originates from the consequences of the Second
Diet of Speyer (February 1529), which ended the toleration of German
Lutheranism. Six German princes and 14 cities protested the oppression,
and the term “Protestant” comes from that protest.
The region of Italy had
reminders of the great Roman
1400’s – Florence enjoyed
political stability great
Scholastic theology was a
major intellectual force in
1453, Byzantium crumbles,
many Greeks intellectuals flee
Scholastic theology was not a
major intellectual force in
Italy. In this vacuum,
something else will fill it.
This led to the development
of an intellectual movement,
known today as humanism.
The Renaissance and Humanism
The 1400s and 1500s saw a literary and artistic revival.
People of this period called it a restoration, revival, rebirth, awaking,
reflowering. We call it the Renaissance.
An intellectual movement that we call “humanism” developed in the region
This is not the humanism of the 20th or 21st century.
The English word “humanist,” which first appears in 1589, has the sense of “a
literary scholar, especially someone versed in Latin studies.” (McGrath, p. 37)
Our use of “humanism” as a label for the Renaissance movement started in the
The 15th century humanists were interested in the classics of antiquity.
The classics were viewed as a means to develop eloquence.
There was no coherent philosophy.
“… humanism was concerned with how ideas were obtained and
expressed, rather than with the actual substance of those ideas.” (McGrath,
Humanism and the Church
The literary and cultural program of humanism can be summarized in the
slogan ad fontes – “back to the fountainhead.”
Applied to the Christian church, the slogan ad fontes meant a direct return
to the title deeds of Christianity: the patristic writers and, supremely, the
Ad fontes was more than a slogan: it was a lifeline to those who despaired
of the state of the late medieval church. The apostolic era, the Golden Age
of the church, could once more become a present reality.
(McGrath, pp. 40-41)
These ideas spread
• Strongly moralistic
• Bible describes correct
• Justification was not a major
• Interested in legal reform.
• Legal reform to govern
• Roman sources.
• Applying it to today.
Erasmus of Rotterdam
• A leading intellectual.
• Laity is the key to revive the
• Compilation of the Greek
• Academic orientation
• Theological orientation.
• Justification with God was a
• This broke with other
The Rise of Sola Scriptura
The fundamental conviction motivating the magisterial reformers was that
Christianity could best be reformed and renewed by returning to the
beliefs and practices of the early church. (p. 20)
End of Apostolic Era
End of Patristic Era
Luther's 95 Theses
0 100 200 300 400 500 600 700 800 900 1000 1100 1200 1300 1400 1500 1600
The Rise of Sola Scriptura
The best way of returning to the golden era was going to the Scriptures.
Going to the Patristic writings, particularly Augustine of Hippo.
What Constitutes Scripture?
Latin Vulgate? Erasmus noted several issues:
It was a Latin translation from the Greek New Testament and the Hebrew Old
Some mistranslated words, Erasmus noted, gave the wrong inference on sacraments
(Ephesians 5:31-32 was translated as “sacrament” for marriage where the Greek
meant “mystery,” Matthew 4:17 translated “repent” as “do penance” implying an
outward sacramental action instead of an inward attitude implied in the Greek).
Erasmus noted that practices that the medieval church developed around Mary and
supported by the Vulgate text of Luke 1:15-16 as Mary containing a reservoir of
grace was not supported by the Greek, which simply stated Mary was a favored one.
These and other issues (such as no standard text) led to a loss of confidence of
New editions of the Greek New Testament (Erasmus, 1516) and the Hebrew
Old Testament (1477, 1509).
The 27 books of the New Testament were not in dispute (except for some
of Luther’s comments on several books, which did not gain traction).
The Old Testament.
Roman Catholic Old Testament contains books that were disputed.
The Reformers choose the books contained in the Hebrew Bible
(protocanonical books) and exclude the other additions – deuterocanonical
books (from the Greek meaning "belonging to the second canon").
Concept of Sola Scriptura
The authority of any church officer (popes, councils, theologians) is
subordinate to Scripture.
Authority comes from the Word of God which the office bearer serves (and
not from the status of the officer).
Authority does not come from historical continuity.
Protestants stressed the doctrinal continuity to Scripture.
Authority in the church is grounded with fidelity to Scripture.
What Role Does Tradition Play?
There is no place for tradition in the interpretation of Scripture.
Tradition designates a traditional way of interpreting the biblical text, which
does not displace the text. (p. 100)
Tradition refers to an additional mode of divine revelation, in which information
that was not committed to writing in the Bible was passed down from one
generation of authorized and privileged persons within the church to another.
Rules of Engagement
Two sets of beliefs and practices are endorsed:
If beliefs and practices are explicitly stated in Scripture.
If beliefs and practices can be reasonably inferred from those that are explicitly
As stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1.6): The whole counsel
of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation,
faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and
necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture
The idea of traditional interpretation of Scripture is acceptable if it can be
Trouble in Reformation Land
Before the 1530s, there was an optimism that every person could read the
Bible for themselves and come to a common understanding of what is
The German peasant revolt and the Radical Reformers led to a pessimism
on common people reading the Bible.
Solutions to the Troubles of Sola
Scriptura During the Reformation
Catechisms. Summary statements of essential doctrines, often in question
and answer form.
Luther’s initial catechism was awkward and relatively unsuccessful.
Luther was more successful with his lesser catechism (1529).
The Heidelberg Catechism, written in 1563, originated in one of the few pockets
of Calvinistic faith in the Lutheran and Catholic territories of Germany. It was
immensely popular. It is Reformed in its orientation.
John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. Extremely popular and
circulated widely (1541, and revised many times through 1560) .
Example, Zurich city council ruling in 1523.
Heidelberg Catechism Example
Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong — body and soul, in life and in death —
to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free
from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not
a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all
things must work together for my salvation.
Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
Sola Scriptura Today
The Bible is God’s very words to us.
We are not “Lone Rangers” in reading our Bibles.
We live in accountability with a community of believers.
In the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), we have:
Catechisms. Catechisms provide a framework for the “traditional” understanding of
Scripture. These are subordinate to Scripture.
The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF).
The Larger Westminster Catechism.
The Shorter Westminster Catechism.
Book of Church Order (BCO)
Elders, examined by the Presbytery (Teaching Elders) or the Church Session (Ruling
Elders) who help us grow in understanding the Bible.
Sola Scriptura and You
Read your Bible regularly. The Lord of the Universe is speaking to you in
those pages. God has put what He thinks is most important to say to you
in the Bible. Read broadly from the Old Testament and New Testament.
Pray for illumination from the Holy Spirit to understand the Bible and
apply it to your life.
Worship. Participate in the worship service. The hymns and liturgy are
Scripture breathed. Toby Holt is one of the best Bible expositors I have
heard. Do what you can to actively listen to his sermons.
Participate in other teaching opportunities with church, such as Sunday
School, Bible Studies, even fellowship times.
Read widely with helpful tools. The elders can help with what is best.
What does it mean?
What was Luther’s crisis?
What was Luther’s breakthrough?
What is saving faith?
Can we have assurance of salvation?
How is faith understood differently between the mainstream reformation
and the Roman Catholics, especially after the Council of Trent?
Does it matter today? Is the Reformation over?