– that the Bible, Holy Scripture, is the highest and only standard in the Church for Christian faith and Christian life (the principle Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone);
– that the Bible is written by men – the Old Testament by prophets and the New Testament by evangelists and apostles – and yet it does not consist of the thoughts and words of men, but of the thoughts and words of God;
– that the Bible was created by the Holy Spirit, who moved prophets and apostles and those under their authority to write down the thoughts and words that were given them from God;
– that the Bible for this reason is the Word of God and Holy Scripture, the pure and clear fountain of the Church, true and reliable in every aspect;
– that God has given us Holy Scripture in order to reveal to us everything we need to know to be saved and to be able to live a holy life according to God's will;
– that the divine revelation about our salvation is definitively completed by Jesus and the New Testament.
The principle source of the Lutheran Church is Sola Scriptura. Scripture alone is the fountain of divine and saving knowledge. This means that the authority of Scripture is absolute and sovereign. In the Church no human authority is allowed to be placed over or side by side with Holy Scripture, and nothing is allowed to be taught against it. Holy Scripture is norma normans – a standard creating norm, superior to everything else. The Church must obey everything in Scripture as far as Scripture itself demands it. When the Church does that, it is worshipping and obeying God Himself, who stands behind every single word in Scripture. To deny something in Holy Writ is to reject what God, the Most High, says and make Him a liar.
The divine authority of the Scriptures rests solely on the doctrine of verbal inspiration. This is not something that has been invented by the theologians of the Church, but the very teaching of Scripture about itself. Verbal inspiration means that God's thoughts and words – without being distorted – have descended to us on earth and become intelligible human words and sentences. Scripture is so clear that an ordinary man can understand its message.
The Lutheran Church holds Christ’s own view of the Bible. The Old Testament as well as the New Testament was sanctioned by Jesus as Holy Scripture, inspired by the Holy Spirit. He continually referred to the Scriptures (OT) as God's Word. Concerning the New Testament He never left behind any texts written by his own hand. Instead He gave the apostles the full authority to speak for Him and communicate His words to the whole world. To this end He equipped them with the Holy Spirit, who would guide them “into all truth” (John 16:13) and make them to be guarantors of the New Testament, which was going to be added to the Scriptures. But this is something that exclusively applies to the apostles. No other people have received any authority to extend the Scriptures. The Christian Church is Apostolic; it builds on the Apostolic word given by the inspiration of God. Revelation is definitively finished with the words of the Apostles. They pass on “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude v.3), handing it over to the Church.
Inspiration is not limited to “religious and spiritual questions” as some people say. It covers everything in the Scriptures – including biological, historical and geographical statements. Inspiration is a divine miracle that applies to the original texts and makes them the inerrant word of God. Copies and translations are not under any such promise of inerrancy. The miracle of inspiration is not to be understood as if the authors were writing mechanically or in a trance with their natural senses and abilities disabled. The Holy Spirit has on the contrary made use of their normal intellect, personality and skills. St. Luke, for example, devoted himself to careful investigations and the collecting of information before he started to write his gospel (Luke 1:1-4).
The Lutheran Confessions, compiled in the Book of Concord of 1580, stand under the Holy Scriptures. These writings contain summarizing expositions of the Christian faith and standpoints in various controversial doctrinal matters in the church. They have their authority from the Scriptures and are norma normata – a “normed” norm, placed in a subordinate position. The Lutheran Church demands loyalty to these Confessions of the Church, not because it thinks that Luther or other Lutheran fathers in the sixteenth century were inerrant interpreters of the Scripture, but because (quia) it has found that the Confessions clearly and plainly are in full agreement with what the Bible teaches. We do not hold to the Lutheran Confessions “insofar as“ (quatenus) we see them agree with Scripture. That would make the Confessions doubtful and non-binding. A church must always have a Confession, which gives the church identity and shows how it interprets Scripture.
Everything that is taught in the church must be built on clear and unambiguous Bible passages (sedes doctrinae). Passages that seem obscure and unclear to us should always be interpreted in the light of plain and clear passages according to the principle: “Scripture is explained by Scripture.” The words of Scripture should always be interpreted literally (in their normal sense) unless the context clearly shows that they are stylistic or poetic expressions, parables or symbolic sayings. The Lutheran Church does not base any doctrine on parables or poetic words alone, but on the truth that such passages intend to illustrate and which clearly follows from other passages in Scripture. Without natural, literal interpretation as the basic principle the Bible will soon be emptied of its real content and turned into a battleground for all kinds of human speculations.
The canonical books of the Bible (“canon”, a collection of normative writings) consist of the prophetic books of the Old Testament (the Bible of Jesus) and the apostolic books of the New Testament. However, in our New Testament there are some books (Heb., 2 Pet., 2 and 3 John, James, Jude and Rev.), which were more or less questioned in the early church, not as to their content, but as to their apostolic origin. The Lutheran Church holds these edifying and precious books in very high esteem. They should without doubt be kept and used in the Church – but with one important distinction. What is said in these books should always be read and understood in the light of what are unanimously recognized apostolic scriptures. No doctrine without foundation in the latter should be constructed from them.
Sanctify them by Your truth: Your word is truth. (John 17:17)
The Scripture cannot be broken. (John 10:35)
That you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written. (1 Cor. 4:6)
From childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:15-17)
For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (2 Pet. 1:21)
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son. (Hebr. 1:1-2)
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. - - - However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth (John 14:26, 16:13)
I do not pray for these (the apostles) alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word. (John 17:20)
These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches. (1 Cor. 2:13)
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes (Ps. 19:8)
Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path. (Ps. 119:105)
It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Matt. 4:4)
Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it! (Luke 11:28)
What the Lutheran Confessions say
1. We believe, teach, and confess that the sole rule and standard according to which all dogmas together with [all] teachers should be estimated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and of the New Testament alone, as it is written Ps. 119, 105: Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. And St. Paul: Though an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you, let him be accursed, Gal. 1, 8.
Other writings, however, of ancient or modern teachers, whatever name they bear, must not be regarded as equal to the Holy Scriptures, but all of them together be subjected to them, and should not be received otherwise or further than as witnesses, [which are to show] in what manner after the time of the apostles, and at what places, this [pure] doctrine of the prophets and apostles was preserved.
2. And because directly after the times of the apostles, and even while they were still living, false teachers and heretics arose, and symbols, i.e., brief, succinct [categorical] confessions, were composed against them in the early Church, which were regarded as the unanimous, universal Christian faith and confession of the orthodox and true Church, namely, the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, we pledge ourselves to them, and hereby reject all heresies and dogmas which, contrary to them, have been introduced into the Church of God.
3. As to the schisms in matters of faith, however, which have occurred in our time, we regard as the unanimous consensus and declaration of our Christian faith and confession, especially against the Papacy and its false worship, idolatry, superstition, and against other sects, as the symbol of our time, the First, Unaltered Augsburg Confession, delivered to the Emperor Charles V at Augsburg in the year 1530, in the great Diet, together with its Apology, and the Articles composed at Smalcald in the year 1537, and subscribed at that time by the chief theologians.
And because such matters concern also the laity and the salvation of their souls, we also confess the Small and Large Catechisms of Dr. Luther, as they are included in Luther's works, as the Bible of the laity, wherein everything is comprised which is treated at greater length in Holy Scripture, and is necessary for a Christian man to know for his salvation.
To this direction, as above announced, all doctrines are to be conformed, and what is, contrary thereto is to be rejected and condemned, as opposed to the unanimous declaration of our faith.
In this way the distinction between the Holy Scriptures of the Old and of the New Testament and all other writings is preserved, and the Holy Scriptures alone remain the only judge, rule, and standard, according to which, as the only test-stone, all dogmas shall and must be discerned and judged, as to whether they are good or evil, right or wrong.
But the other symbols and writings cited are not judges, as are the Holy Scriptures, but only a testimony and declaration of the faith, as to how at any time the Holy Scriptures have been understood and explained in the articles in controversy in the Church of God by those then living, and how the opposite dogma was rejected and condemned. (FC Ep RN, Trigl. p. 777 f.)
We know that God does not lie. I and my neighbour and, in short, all men, may err and deceive, but the Word of God cannot err. (LC, Trigl. p. 747)
God’s Word is not false, and does not deceive. (FC Ep VII, Trigl. p. 811)
We are also in great hope that, if they [godly people in other churches] would be taught aright concerning all these things, the Spirit of the Lord aiding them, they would agree with us, and with our churches and schools, to the infallible truth of God’s Word. (Preface BOC, Trigl. p. 19)
We warn against
all kinds of false doctrines that contrary to the Scriptures teach, for example,
– that belief in verbal inspiration leads to a dead literalism or idolatry that worships a book instead of God;
– that the Bible is only partly inspired by God, being reliable in spiritual and religious things, but not in areas such as history, geography or natural science;
– that human reason stands above Scripture;
– that the Bible should be interpreted mystically as a book containing occult and hidden messages;
– that the Pope has a God-given authority to interpret the Scriptures in an infallible way and construct new dogmas that everyone must believe in the church, or that tradition and councils have a similar authority;
– that divine revelation was not concluded by Jesus and the words of His apostles, but is an ongoing process in every age;
– that direct ”experiences of the Spirit” can replace or be a complement to the Scriptures.
Dear Heavenly Father, let your word be taught and preached pure and clear here among us and throughout the world. Help all who hear it to live holy lives as your children. Save us, O Heavenly Father, from those who teach and live contrary. Give us and all of your congregation the Holy Spirit of truth. Break and prevent all wicked designs, so that your Name everywhere is kept sacred and your kingdom will win complete victory for us all. Strengthen and keep us steadfast in your word and in faith in all the days of our life. To Your good and gracious will belong glory and power forever. Amen.