The Reformation was built upon the Bible, so we should not be surprised to find in the Reformers a robust doctrine of Scripture. One helpful construct to unpack the doctrine of Scripture involves four key terms: authority, necessity, clarity, and sufficiency.
Italian Reformer Peter Martyr Vermigli stated the authority of Scripture rather clearly by drawing attention to the two-word Latin phrase Dominus dixit, meaning “Thus says the Lord.” The Bible is God’s Word, therefore it is true; therefore, it is authoritative; therefore, it is inerrant; therefore, it is infallible; and therefore, it is our only sure guide.
John Calvin famously likened Scripture to spectacles. Apart from Scripture, we misread the natural world, human nature, and the Creator. Scripture alone gives us the clear picture of who God is, who we are, and what God’s plan for the world truly is. Without Scripture, we stumble around in the dark. Scripture is necessary to see the world rightly.
One of Huldrych Zwingli’s most important writings is titled “On the Clarity and Certainty of the Word of God.” The notion that Scripture is clear does not mean that everything in Scripture is abundantly and equally clear. But it does mean that the main message and thrust of Scripture is clear. Zwingli also tells us that God has given us the Holy Spirit, “the Teacher of Truth,” and God has provided His church with teachers and gifted individuals so that we may know His Word with certainty.
Just before her martyrdom, Lady Jane Grey inscribed a few words in her copy of the New Testament that she was leaving for her sister. She wrote of how outwardly it was not trimmed in gold, as some of the finer books in her library were, but “it is inwardly worth more than precious stones.” Peter speaks of God’s granting us “all things that pertain to life and godliness” in the “precious and very great promises” of His Word (2 Peter 1:3–4). God’s Word is sufficient to tell us what we must believe to be saved and how we can please God.
The Reformation plank of sola Scriptura—”Scripture alone”—is actually constructed of the four key words describing Scripture. Because it is authoritative, necessary, clear, and sufficient, Scripture is our ultimate standard in matters of faith and practice. Consequently, Scripture must be preached, read, studied, and published abroad. The Reformation was built on the sure foundation of God’s Word.
As we celebrate what the Reformation accomplished five hundred years ago, may we also look to the future, to the next Reformation. Can we imagine all that the Word of God can accomplish in the hands of God’s people in the years to come?