Sola Scriptura

No. 55 - 22nd October 2017

I once made a video about three small fragments of a document that had been written on papyrus, which is a very old form of paper. These fragments have writing on both sides, which means they were written as a book rather than a scroll. They’re held by the Magdalen College Library in Oxford and are the oldest example of a book in the world. What was interesting was that these three fragments are from a single page of St Matthew’s Gospel, and a friend of mine, Carsten Thiede, had demonstrated that these fragments could actually have been written in the first century. Possibly before AD 70. Now I have to say at this point that Carsten’s work was not accepted by many scholars, but if it is true, that would put the writing of the original Matthew’s Gospel well within the lifetime of Matthew himself. Something that modern scholarship doesn’t really want to accept. You see the problem is this. If the Gospel had actually been written in the second or third century, then it’s quite likely that the stories about Jesus and his miracles would have been distorted and exaggerated over time. I mean who wants to believe that a man really walked on water or changed water into wine. But if Carsten was right, then we’re talking about a biography by someone who was actually there when it all happened. An eyewitness account. And you can’t get more reliable than that.

You only have to look at all the early, non-Biblical writings about Jesus to see how easily the stories can be exaggerated and changed. In fact it was because of this that the early church pulled together all those documents they considered reliable, and put them together in what we now call the New Testament.

Well, by the 16th Century when Martin Luther came on the scene, the matter had got completely out of hand. He started looking at the original Greek text of the New Testament and was shocked to discover how far the Church had actually moved away from the original teaching. It was as though the Church leaders were just making it up as they went along. Luther was so incensed that he started a protest that would soon turn into what we now call the Protestant Reformation. This month is the 500th anniversary of when that movement started. And the first pillar of it’s teaching was that the Bible, not the Pope, was the sole and final authority in determining Christian doctrine and practice. The Reformers called it Sola Scriptura. By Scripture alone.

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