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The Doctrine of the Scriptures     Sola Scriptura

Westminster Assembly

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The Doctrine of the Scriptures

The Five Solas of the Reformation: Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solo Christo, and Soli Deo Gloria. The truths expounded by these doctrines are vital to the Christian's theology and his walk as they define such elements as authority, justification, and God's sovereignty.

•   Solus Christus – Or, Christ Alone. This precept states that salvation is through Christ alone, as there is "no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)

•   Soli Deo GloriaTo God Alone be the Glory. Articles in this section discuss the glory of God. "What is the chief end of man? – Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." (WSC)

•   Sola FideFaith Alone. These articles discuss Justification by Faith Alone. "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law." (Romans 3:28)

•   Sola Gratia – Or, Grace Alone. This is a statement of the fact that salvation is all of grace, and that grace alone is sufficient to, by itself, accomplish the salvation of the human soul (with no need of supplement). "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, [it is] the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)

•   Sola Scriptura – Finally, Scripture alone. Sola Scriptura states that Scripture is sufficient to serve as the sole infallible rule of faith for the Church due to its nature as God's inspired Word. "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Sola Scriptura and the Early Church
By: William Webster

The Reformation was responsible for restoring to the Church the principle of Sola Scriptura, a principle which had been operative within the Church from the very beginning of the post apostolic age. Initially the apostles taught orally but with the close of the apostolic age all special revelation that God wanted preserved for man was codified in the written Scriptures.

Sola Scriptura is the teaching and belief that there is only one special revelation from God that man possesses today, the written Scriptures or the Bible, and that consequently the Scriptures are materially sufficient and are by their very nature as being inspired by God the ultimate authority for the Church. This means that there is no portion of that revelation which has been preserved in the form of oral tradition independent of Scripture.

The Council of Trent in the sixteenth century, on the other hand, declared that the revelation of God was not contained solely in the Scriptures. It was contained partly in the written Scriptures and partly in oral tradition and therefore the Scriptures were not materially sufficient. This was the universal view of Roman Catholic theologians for centuries after the Council of Trent and is the predominant view today.

It is interesting to note, however, that in Roman Catholic circles today there is an ongoing debate among theologians on the nature of Tradition. There is no clear understanding of what Tradition is in Roman Catholicism. Some agree with Trent and some don't. But the view espoused by Trent is contradictory to and is a repudiation of the belief and practice of the Church of the patristic age. The early Church held to the principle of sola Scriptura in that it believed that all doctrine must be proven from Scripture and if such proof could not be produced the doctrine was to be rejected.

From the very beginning of the post apostolic age with the writings of what we know as the Apostolic Fathers we find an exclusive appeal to the Scriptures for the positive teaching of doctrine and for its defense against heresy. The writings of the Apostolic Fathers literally breathe with the spirit of the Old and New Testaments. With the writings of the Apologists such as Justin Martyr and Athenagoras in the early to mid second century we find the same thing.

There is no appeal in any of these writings to the authority of Tradition as a separate and independent body of revelation. It is with the writings of Irenaeus and Tertullian in the mid to late second century that we first encounter the concept of Apostolic Tradition that is preserved in the Church in oral form. The word Tradition simply means teaching. But what do these fathers mean when they say this Apostolic Teaching or Tradition is preserved orally.

All they mean is that the Bishops of the Church preach the truth orally and anyone interested in learning the true Apostolic Tradition could learn by simply listening to the oral teaching of the Bishops of any orthodox Church of the day. Irenaeus and Tertullian state emphatically that all the teaching of the Bishops that was given orally was rooted in Scripture and could be proven from the written Scriptures. Both fathers give us the actual doctrinal content of the Apostolic Tradition that was orally preached in the Churches and every doctrine is derived from Scripture.

There is no doctrine in this Apostolic Tradition that is not found in Scripture. And there is no appeal in the writings of these fathers to a Tradition that is oral in nature for a defense of what they call Apostolic Tradition. The Apostolic Tradition for Irenaeus and Tertullian is simply Scripture. It was Irenaeus who stated that while the apostles at first preached orally their teaching was later committed to writing in the Scriptures and the Scriptures have since that day become the pillar and ground of our faith.

His exact statement is as follows: 'We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith' (Alexander Roberts & W.H. Rambaugh Translators, The Writings of Irenaeus, Against Heresies (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1874), 3.1.1). Tradition, when referring to oral proclamation such as preaching or teaching, was viewed primarily as the oral presentation of Scriptural truth, or the codifying of biblical truth into creedal expression.

Solas Scriptura Continued

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