Where in the Bible would you turn to show someone the principle of “sola scriptura?” Can such a belief be defended from the Bible alone?
Reformers found in the Bible direct evidence against both the practices and doctrines of the Roman church and papal/priestly power. Rome claimed that tradition was an equally valid form of authority with the Bible, but scripture was often at odds with tradition. Which should be the final arbiter of truth? As spirit-led scholars studied the Bible, they concluded that the Word of God, as revealed in the Bible, should have the final say.
Although the Bible doesn’t clearly outline a Sola Scriptura doctrine, different passages emphasize the importance of the Word of the Lord as the ultimate authority in human experience. This week’s lesson attempts to do a couple things: first, to build support for the idea of a Sola Scriptura position, and second, to defend a more literal interpretation than the more common allegorical approach of the Roman Catholic church. How solid is the Biblical foundation for these two goals?
Importance of History and Previous Revelation: Isaiah 8
During the days of Isaiah, a sign was given that the God of Israel was still in control, even though enemy armies surrounded them, powerful nations who outnumbered with vastly superior military might. What should Israel do?
The answer was certainly not to consult the dead—through spiritist and mediums—but to turn to God, to what He had already revealed in His law. Verses 16 and 20 show the importance for Israel to remember both the written record of Israel’s history as well as God’s law given to them. Their future depended on remembering the past. Interpretation of their present duty and circumstances were only accurate as they came through Torah, the “books of Moses.”
Why does the law (Torah, that is Genesis-Deuteronomy) form a vital foundation to the rest of the Hebrew prophets, and for the New Testament as well?
Jesus’ Use of the Old Testament
Throughout the gospels, Jesus’ ministry is said to “fulfill” what was written through the prophets. Jesus Himself accepts the Old Testament as the word of God, and He devoted Himself to learning its lessons, having much of it memorized. Even on the cross, the 22nd Psalm is on His lips and describes His entire crucifixion experience.
One cannot study the life of Jesus separate from the Old Testament, because they predict, foretell, and even through types and stories, show the work of the Messiah. This “canonical theological approach” to the Bible is the methodology of Matthew especially. He ties the events of Christ to those of the Old Testament in unbroken sequence, and as if divine providence was directing the course of both prophetic utterance and Christ’s life down to many details. There are no accidents in Christ’s life.
For Jesus also, the interpretation of His own life was that of previous scripture. These thematic, historical and theological ties mean that the Old and New Testaments really interpret each other. This is the principle of Sola Scriptura practically speaking. The principle becomes exceptionally important when it comes to interpreting prophetic books like Isaiah, Zechariah, and Revelation.
What would happen to our picture of Jesus and the gospel if we only had the New Testament?
Ellen White’s Relationship to the Bible
Adventists are often challenged with the role of Ellen White’s ministry and writings compared with the Bible. Sadly, many Adventists who greatly value her contributions to and guidance of the church have functionally replaced the Bible with her. She would object strenuously! In fact, as the quarterly quoted, she herself wished people would study the Bible much more rigorously.
How can we appreciate and encourage people to read her works without falling prey to the temptation of abandoning the Bible?
How should Adventists respond when they see Ellen White misused in spiritually abusive situations, or placed above the Bible?
While I don’t feel the lesson really fulfilled the two goals it set out to complete, it does a couple things well: it shows the value of the unity of the Bible, and the role of Ellen White as an encouragement and helpful guide to Biblical study.