Sola Scriptura: A Brief Historical Summary of the Seige Against Scripture

           When Satan tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden his angle of attack was to bring into question the sufficiency of God’s word. “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” Not only did Satan, like a good legalist, subtly add on to God’s word by adding the command 'any tree in the Garden'”, he also more devastatingly brought God’s word into question, “Did God really say?” Eve’s bite into that presupposition was the fruit of flowering sin.  At that moment, God’s word ceased to have the highest authority over her life.

            Thousands of years later, the sons of Satan tried to embroil the Son of Adam in the same trap. The second Adam would not bite. But in their legalism they looked on with disgust as some of Jesus’ disciples ate food without ritually washing their hands. Mark tells us it was not so much a germ thing (because they didn’t know about germs back then) as was a religious thing. “The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders” (Mark 7:3). So, they asked Jesus, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders?”

            Here Jesus answered them with profound theological and practical insight. “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” (Mark 7:6-7). Here Jesus pinpoints their hypocrisy: they had exalted the traditions of men to a level that actually caused them to deny and leave God’s word! He ends his discussion with the Pharisees by telling them that by exalting tradition to a level of authority on par with Scripture they have actually “made void the word of God” (Mark 7:13). Satan’s tricks are as old as Eden.  

             Paul likewise did battle with this same diabolical lie when in 1 Timothy 4 he reveals that “the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1).[1] And how would these demonic teachings cause people to leave the faith? Paul answers, “through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is made holy by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:2-4).

            Apparently, there were false teachers who were telling these Christians in Ephesus that true spirituality could only be reached through asceticism - abstaining from certain foods and not getting married. And Paul smelled something ancient and rotten going on. He pinpoints this heresy as being right in line with what Satans been doing since the Garden of Eden: taking what God has declared good and asking the question, “Well, did God really say?”

            Now God’s word is clear, marriage is good and honorable and given from God. And God’s word makes it clear that all food is good for man to eat and enjoy.[2] Yet, when someone takes what God has made good and prohibits it as if it were sinful, that person has put himself in the place of God. This is why Paul calls this asceticism Satanic; it is a lie that subjugates God’s word to our own self-exulted wills and words. When Eve looked at the fruit and saw that it was good to eat (though God said it was not good to eat), so the ascetic-legalist looks at marriage and says it is sin (when God Himself has said it is good). There is nothing new under the Sun.

            The Protestant Reformers fought against the same lie when they argued that the Scriptures alone must be the final and binding authority upon the church. As Rome exalted tradition to a place of equal authority with Scripture, they effectively made void the word of God..  Alas, Luther himself infamously cried out against Rome’s attack that “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 conscience. May God help me. Amen.”

            The doctrine of Sola Scriptura is a doctrine that has been under siege since the beginning of history and has continually been a main target for Satan’s lies and schemes. But we who follow Christ and live in submission to His living and active word alone, we continue to read and love and fear His word so as to “not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:11). May God help us. Amen.

Stephen Unthank (MDiv, Capital Bible Seminary) serves at Greenbelt Baptist Church in Greenbelt, MD, just outside of Washington, DC.  He lives in Maryland with his wife, Maricel and their two children, Ambrose and Lilou.

[1] See what Jesus reveals concerning this in Matthew 24:3-4; 11-12.

[2] See Genesis 1:11-13 and Acts 10:9-33


Stephen Unthank