The Doctrine of Sola Scriptura Emerged within a Competitive Environment

The idea of scripture that emerged among the Reformers occurred in competition with the medieval Catholic church’s teaching about the magisterium and the Pope’s claim to ultimate authority in all of life and thought. The doctrine of scripture alone was inherently polemical and conceptually central to Protestantism.

But, in reality, the concept of scripture alone emerged at the very beginning in Genesis 1–2, when God created the world by his word alone. The battle of authority, however, appeared in Genesis 3, when sin first emerged.

Genesis 3 indicates that serpent does not listen to God. He does not affirm sola scriptura. In fact, he is totally opposed to the idea. All his mental energy is dedicated to hiding the truth (John 8:44). He does not want us to listen to God. Remember what Paul told us, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4).

In Genesis 3:17, God explained the massive impact of Satan’s guile, as well as Adam and Eve’s sin. Adam sinned because he listened to Eve. She sinned because she listened to the serpent. The snake sinned because he misrepresented God and introduced skepticism about God’s instructions. Adam and Eve did not heed God’s command and instead paid attention to the devil. Failing to listen to God is the main problem in Genesis 3, which is the opposite of sola scriptura.

This issue appears all the time in the Bible. There are many competitors with God’s revelation, for instance: the worldviews of Babel, Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon in the Old Testament; and in the New Testament, Pax Romana, Stoicism, and mysticism. This dilemma also appears as obedience versus disobedience, folly versus wisdom, true versus false prophets, and truth versus heresy.

Also, the book of Proverbs teaches that everyone hears conflicting voices representing contrasting worldviews. Each says, “Listen to me!” But behind the dissonance of daily existence, only two speakers call out to mankind: Folly and Wisdom (Satan and God). This battle for allegiance is fought in the private and public realms, as each wants to capture individual minds and imaginations. Both promote their perspectives within the realm of ideas. Both want to influence the public sphere. And both propose lifestyles corresponding to their worldviews.

Let us remember that the idea of sola scriptura appeared from the very beginning, whereas the doctrine of sola scriptura emerged within a contested theological environment much later in history.

Today, however, the competition is just as fierce. Due to the ubiquity of social media, we hear thousands of voices every day telling us not to listen to God and to deny the doctrine of scripture alone. Sola scriptura, therefore, is an inherently polemical concept and implies intellectual rivalry. For this reason, it is crucial to the life and thought of the church to practice the doctrine of scripture alone.


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