What Is Sola Scriptura?

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What does the phrase "Sola Scriptura" mean?

The Latin term "Sola Scriptura" simply means "Scripture alone" or "only the Bible." It is the view that the church's doctrines and practices must be entirely consistent and based only on Holy Writ. Sola Scriptura is the belief that the word of God has within it all that is needed for determining the church’s teachings, live a holy life, and be saved.

Origin of Concept

The concept of Sola Scriptura was the foundation of the 16th century Protestant Reformation which sought to reform the powerful Catholic Church. Leaders of the movement who believed in this idea included Martin Luther (1483 - 1546), Huldrych Zwingli (1484 - 1531), and John Calvin (1509 - 1564).

One of the strongest and most direct statements regarding Sola Scriptura was made by those in Switzerland who wished to reform the church.

"The Church of Christ makes no laws or commandments apart from the Word of God; hence all human traditions are not binding upon us except so far as they are grounded upon or prescribed in the Word of God" (Ten Conclusions of Berne, 1528).


The early New Testament church relied heavily on the Bible (Sola Scriptura - the Old Testament Scriptures) as the source for its doctrines and practices (revelation directly from God was also important, as seen in the Jerusalem Conference decision). After the first century A.D., the growth of what would become the Catholic Church caused a shift to ascribing more weight to church tradition than to what was divinely written.

By the Middle Ages, Catholics were emphasizing the authority of the church as being superior to the Bible. One of the greatest examples of tradition and church authority triumphing over Sola Scriptura is the Catholic Church's change from observing the Sabbath on the Biblically sanctioned day of Saturday to Sunday.

Rejecting Revealed Truth

Unfortunately, even though those in the Reformation knew that a Sunday Sabbath was strictly a Roman church declared institution not based on the Bible, they decided to err on the side of tradition.

"The Catholic Church for over one thousand years before the existence of a Protestant, by virtue of her divine mission (the believed authority given to her) changed the day from Saturday to Sunday" (The Catholic Mirror, September 1893)

The pinnacle of a Christian religious group's assertion that their believed inherent authority and tradition was overwhelmingly superior to Sola Scriptura occurred in 1870. It was in this year that the Roman Catholic Church declared the Pope infallible when he made decisions concerning faith and practice.

List of All Terms in
Dictionary of Biblical Words

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