by Jeremy Peters
In the Reformation, Sola Scriptura meant “the freedom of Scripture to rule as God’s word in the church, disentangled from papal and ecclesiastical magisterium and tradition.” (David Wright, “Protestantism”) Through the Middle Ages, (400–1500 AD), the Church gave more and more precedence to the bishop of Rome (which eventually became the position known as “the Pope”), to church councils, and to traditions. These became just as authoritative as the Bible. Furthermore, the magisterium (the ecclesiastical hierarchy of priests, bishops, and pope) became the only authoritative interpreters of Scripture.
Therefore, whatever they said the Bible meant, is what was true for the Church. They also made laws forbidding the Bible to be translated into the common languages of the people. It was to remain in Latin only. The Latin Vulgate, produced mostly by Jerome in the late 4th century, was the Bible of the Middle Ages. But, the people didn’t even know Latin. Only the magisterium, and highly educated received any education in Latin. In reality, the Bible no longer had any authority over individual Christians.
The magisterium may have said it was the source they received their authoritative teaching from, but it was so entangled by their authority that the Bible never really reached the Church. When the Reformers came along, they sought to undo this mess of misplaced authority. One of the main contentions of the Reformation was that “Christ is the only Head of the Church.” Christ is to be over the magisterium, over church councils, and over the pope. And, if Christ is the only Head, then His authority must be communicated through His Word. Thus, Scripture is the only authority over the Church.
They began going back to the original sources of Scripture, “Ad Fontes.” And they dug out of the long hidden Word of God, the true Gospel. They began translating the Bible into the languages of the common people; like Luther did in German, Calvin in French, and eventually Wycliffe and Tyndale in English. Scripture Alone became the beckoning cry of the Reformers. It is really the doctrine that pushed open the flood gates of the Reformation, and is the doctrine that then led to all other Solas of the Reformation.
If Scripture was to be the sole authority over the Church, then the true Gospel must be the Gospel that is presented in Scripture, alone.