Tota Scriptura -- By: R.C. Sproul

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 23:1 (Winter 2010)
Article: Tota Scriptura
Author: R.C. Sproul


Tota Scriptura

R.C. Sproul

In centuries past, the Church was faced with the important task of recognizing which books belong in the Bible. The Bible itself is not a single book but a collection of many individual books. What the Church sought to establish was what we call the canon of sacred Scripture. The word canon comes from a Greek word that means “standard or measuring rod.” So the canon of sacred Scripture delineates the standard that the Church used in receiving the Word of God. As is often the case, it is the work of heretics that forces the Church to define her doctrines with greater and greater precision.

We saw the Nicene Creed as a response to the heresy of Arius in the fourth century, and we saw the Council of Chalcedon as a response to the fifth-century heresies of Eutyches and Nestorius, with respect to the Church’s understanding of the person of Christ. In like manner, the first list of canonical books of the New Testament that we have was produced by a heretic named Marcion.

Emperor Constantine stands in the center of this icon which displays the Fathers of the Council of Nicea of 325 holding the so-called Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381.

Marcion’s New Testament was an expurgated version of the original biblical documents. Marcion was convinced that the God of the Old Testament was at best a demiurge (a creator god who is the originator of evil) who in many respects is defective in being and character. Thus, any reference to that god in the New Testament in a positive relationship to Jesus had to be edited out. And so we receive from Marcion a bare-bones profile of Jesus

Martin Luther, the head of the Protestant Reformation, was unbending in his belief in the authority of Scripture. “In Luther’s defense of sola fide or faith alone, he was reminded by the Roman Catholic Church that she had already made judgments in her papal encyclicals and in her historical documents in ways that ran counter to Luther’s theses. And in the middle of that controversy, Luther affirmed the Protestant principle of sola Scriptura, namely that the conscience is bound by sacred Scripture alone, that is, the Bible is the only source of divine, special revelation that we have.”

The Roman Catholic Church at the fourth session of the Council of Trent declared that God’s special revelation is contained both in sacred Scripture and in the tradition of the church.

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