We tend to remember and preach about only a couple of these points, but there are five solas. They offer us a more robust understanding of the Reformation.
- Sola Gratia | by grace alone
- Sola Fide | through faith alone
- Sola Christus | in Christ alone
- Sola Scriptura | according to Scripture alone
- Sola Deo Gloria | for the glory of God alone
How do we understand the 5 Solas?
We have a basic English transliteration… “alone” or “only.” So if sola means only, it seems logical to say, for instance, “only Scripture… and nothing else.”
I’m not so sure, because I’ve read quite a bit of Martin Luther’s writings
He does not appeal only to Scripture, but to other sources as well. For instance, some of his documents are salted with quotes from the Church Fathers.
So what does Sola Scriptura mean, if it’s not “only Scripture”?
Well, I haven’t learned German, so I cannot directly read Luther. I do know we can thank German translators for giving Europe the first transliteration of the Hebrew Bible not long after the first millennium.
I haven’t exactly learned Latin either, so I cannot say what sola means to Luther, or in Latin. My educated guess is that sola can mean the primary thing, the best thing, above all, or the main thing.
The 5 Solas exalt Scripture and God’s good work above all else
Therefore, Dr. Martin Luther would probably not say “Scripture alone,” and nothing else. After all, his documents include quotes from Tradition and the Church Fathers (as stated above).
Tentatively, I would say that a sola is like a measuring stick, a plumbline, a compass, or a standard.
So, if our truths don’t measure up to any one sola, or the five solas… maybe we should rethink our version of truth.
Are our truths… Truth, in the New Testament sense of the Word? (John 14.6)
Suggestions for interpreting historical Theology like Luther’s
- Where there is silence, try not to add too many words. If we don’t know the various applications of sola because Latin is technically a dead language, then why confine the term to “only” or “single”?
- Furthermore, why do we feel like we have to strictly define, categorize, and analyze every term? We are emerging from the modern era and methods of study, like higher criticism. We’re finally getting back to the place where we’re comfortable with making room for a little mystery in Biblical and Theological study.
- There are plenty of denominations arising after Luther and all the Reformers, who have already analyzed their writings from almost every angle. At times I wonder if some denominations have held onto certain truths from their founders, but other truths have been lost in translation.
- Luther holds a doctorate in Theology. Perhaps we should not try to overthink the simplicity of some of his doctrines, like the solas.
- May we be slower to utilize Theology as an analytical tool, but quicker to engage with Theology as a form of worship. May we seek to experience doctrines like the solas and not only attempt to define them, so that our understanding becomes subservient to the light of our witness.
This article has been “repurposed” from another time when I had too much on my plate and on my mind. As a result, it reads a lot better now than it did then, although it’s not a formal writing by any means. Here’s part of our story, if you’d like to learn more about the changes we are making from a wellness standpoint.
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Enjoy the rest of your week!
Rev. Jared Ingle, M.A., M.T.S., L.L.M.F.T.