Hand in hand with Sola Scriptura—which insists that Scripture alone is to be our rule of faith and practice—is the doctrine of the unity of Scripture, which contends that Scripture presents us with faultless (and therefore harmonious) truth. This may seem at first glance to be a heady or academic doctrine, but in reality, our view of Scripture has profound implications for all of life. Scripture and discipleship go hand-in-hand. What we believe about God’s Word inevitably shapes how we think and live as Christians.
God’s Word is Unbreakable
The apostle Paul famously claims in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” According to Paul, all scripture is divinely inspired, although God used distinct and individual human authors to record it. This means all of Scripture is an accurate expression of the thoughts of God Himself.
When we say, then, that God’s Word is “unified” or “harmonious”, we are ultimately reflecting the necessary conclusion of 2 Timothy 3:16: if Scripture is all God-breathed, then it must be just as unified as God is unified in His thinking and actions. God is not confused, does not change His mind, does not ever need to grow in understanding because He knows everything and has all wisdom. Therefore, when God speaks in all of Scripture, all of Scripture will agree with itself because God does not ever disagree with Himself.
This unity of Scripture is expressed nowhere more clearly than in the declaration of Jesus in John 10:35 that “Scripture cannot be broken.” Jesus, in context, is making a practical point by quoting from the Psalms—and His point is that every word of Scripture is trustworthy; that what it says in one place will agree with what it says in another place. Or, in this specific instance, what Jesus Himself is saying in claiming to be God’s Son perfectly agrees with God’s Words in the Old Testament! Let’s consider, then, the implications of Jesus’ statement that the Scripture is unified and unbreakable.
The Word of God is a Unified and Faultless Body of Truth
What does Jesus mean when He says that Scripture cannot be broken? He means that God’s Word cannot be properly taught or accepted in parts, separate from the whole. Scripture cannot be broken up in order to pit one verse or truth against another. They all stand or fall together.
It might be helpful to consider this principle by means of a word picture. The same word “broken” that Jesus uses in John 10:35 is also found in the Book of Acts when a congregation “broke up” after a meeting (13:43). In other words, each person went his or her own way, without regard to the others in the crowd.
Jesus insists that Scripture is not like this—not a single verse goes astray from the rest or expresses truth apart from the rest. All of Scripture stands together, all of Scripture stays together.
What does this reality have to do with discipleship, with everyday Christian living? William Still was used greatly in the last half of the 20th century to bring evangelicalism back in Scotland by simply preaching verse-by-verse through the Bible. William Still addresses other ministers directly in his book The Work of the Pastor, and there he reminds us, “What people need is the whole Christ; to get the whole Christ you need the whole Word.”
It is a serious mistake when we fail to live by this reality. Almost every major cult or aberration of orthodox Christianity has come about by affirming one part of Scripture, while denying or ignoring the rest. This always produces lop-sided theology. It is only by taking a careful and thorough “analogy of the faith”, a composite picture of biblical truth that we come to an accurate understanding of God’s message. We dare not ever pit one passage against another, or cherry-pick favorites while ignoring the rest.
The Scripture cannot be broken, so the ones who distort the Scriptures—bending or twisting God’s Word—do so to their own destruction (2 Peter3:16). This is why, in Matthew 5:19, Jesus reminds us that, in Heaven’s kingdom, people are esteemed in direct proportion to the value they place on the Word of God:
“Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
The kingdom of God is not impressed by the theological accolades or academic accomplishments of men. The simple-minded saint, with little or no formal education, who faithfully follows God’s Word is considered great in the eyes of Heaven, while the august skeptic who scoffs at the Bible is disdained in the eyes of Heaven.
Remember that in Jesus’ day the Pharisees were regarded as “experts” on the law, yet they had twisted and divided and manipulated God’s Word for their own selfish purposes. Jesus pointedly informs them that God is not pleased or impressed by any person’s attempt to undermine or alter His Word. Heaven admires simple faith, but God scorns those who scorn His Word.
What are Some Ways Genuine Believers Mishandle God’s Word?
While it’s easy to point our fingers at others, or scoff at the Pharisees or critics who scoff at God’s Word, for Christian discipleship to be thoroughly influenced by Sola Scriptura and the unity of Scripture, we are compelled to examine ourselves. What are some common ways that even well-meaning and genuine Christians can be guilty of walking contrary to the unbreakable Word of God?
First, through slothfulness, we as Christians often do not make ourselves aware of all of God’s Word. Although William Tyndale gave his life to translate the Bible into the common language so that the “plow boy could be more knowledgeable of the Bible than the pope,” the reality is we too often let God’s Word sit unopened and unread on our bedside table. But if we do not know all of God’s Word, how can we be sure that we are living by it accurately?
A second way we can fail to live by Sola Scriptura in our discipleship is by falling in love only with a certain set of verses, rather than every Bible verse. For example, as Christians, the truth of 1 John 4:8 (that “God is love”) and the truth of 1 John 1:5 (that “God is light”) should equally thrill us, and these truths should equally shape us. So-called love without holiness does not reflect God’s nature, nor does so-called holiness without love.
As A.W. Tozer well expresses, “We must not select a few favorite passages to the exclusion of others. Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.” Some verses are more difficult to appreciate or understand, but every single one is equally inspired. Every Bible passage is not equally relevant to every particular situation, but every Bible passage is relevant and useful to our soul’s overall health.
How do you read and study the Bible? Do you pick favorite verses, or “pet” texts in order to shape your opinions of God and His Word, or do you perform the hard work of regular study in order to grow in grace and in the understanding of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? If we are not careful, we will handpick verses that support our mood, or desires, or sinful tendencies and seek to shape God’s Word to our will, rather than allowing God’s Word to shape us.
A third way in which we can fail to follow God’s Word as Christians is by verbally and mentally affirming its truth, while denying it by our actions. Of course, in our fallenness, we all do this to some degree. We fail to live up to the Word we know to be the perfect reflection of our perfect God. But we ought to always be open to having these areas pointed out to us, and we must be eager to make whatever adjustments—no matter how painful—are necessary to be conformed to Scripture. And this reminds us of a final, crucial application of Sola Scriptura to Christian discipleship.
God’s Word is Unified, and It All Points to Christ
There is certainly meant to be a practical, sanctifying application of God’s Word to each believer. As Paul points out, all of Scripture is meant to shape every aspect of our lives, and all of this to the end “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17).
But God’s Word is not merely a great big, leather-bound “how-to” manual for living. The entire Bible is pointing us to Jesus Christ as God’s final Word for salvation. The failures of our first father Adam, and of each of the patriarchs in their turn, along with the perfection of the law of God we find recorded in the Old Testament—all this is meant to show us that, indeed, we as humans cannot save ourselves.
The very perfection of God’s Word shows us our many imperfections. And so, we are meant to look to Christ, who is the perfect Savior, and who takes our place and pays for our sins. “But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Galatians 3:22).
Scripture is perfect in its entirety. And in its entirety, it points to our sinfulness and imperfection. It therefore points us to God’s Son, Jesus, who is the only one who ever perfectly obeyed God’s perfect Word. Nothing, then, could be more practical for Christian discipleship than being reminded that we can’t do this at all without Christ Himself.
Justin Huffman is a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary and pastored churches in the States for over 15 years. He is currently lead pastor of Morningstar Christian Fellowship in Toronto, where he lives with his wife Chau and their four children. Justin is the author of the “Daily Devotion” app, as well as numerous books and articles, including his newest book Behold: an Invitation to Wonder. Connect with him at justinhuffman.org.