A Refutation of Sola Scriptura in Matthew 4

So I was running tonight.  It’s finally cooling down here in Illinois and I’ve been emphatically not-exercising for the last 3 or 4 weeks due to the birth of our fourth child.  The combination of bad food and lack of exercise have contributed to a bit of a settling around the middle, and I finally decided I could no longer excuse myself, so it’s back in the saddle for me.  I forgot how fun and tough it was to run outside with all the treadmill running I’ve done during the summer heat.  Definitely harder than the treadmill.  Much more satisfying to.

I was in the middle of my run and I had a thought about Matthew 4.  It’s a quick one, so I can sneak this in before dropping in bed.

This is one passage that is commonly used as a support for Sola Scriptura.  Jesus is out in the wilderness, and Satan comes to tempt Him.  He responds three times with an “it is written” defense, and Satan is defeated.  Now the enterprising Sola Scriptura proponent is quick to jump on Jesus’ response and tout how strong and sufficient Scripture is.  Even God himself uses Scripture to defeat Satan.  It’s like a magical incantation.  “It is written” is all you need, and the devil is banished.

But wait a second.  Is that really what’s happening in Matthew 4?  Somehow we’ve forgotten the greater context of the activity.  Jesus doesn’t just run across the devil and throw some Bible at him.  No.  Jesus spends forty days in total fasting.  He is praying.  He is in intense spiritual warfare the entire time.  Don’t look at the grand finale and trivialize Matthew 4 into a proof text for making the Bible into something magical.  There’s no magic to the encounter.  It’s hard work, and I’d say primarily the work happens in verse 2.

After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

There you go.  If you want to find out the secret to the spiritual life of Jesus, it wasn’t magical Scripture bullets.  It was ascetic labor.  He was fasting and praying to the Father, and that was just as important as the Scripture he obviously knew so well.  A protestant who wants to lean on Matthew 4 as proving the amazing ability of the Scripture to form the Christian, should instead focus on verse 2 and remember that Jesus was there for forty whole days.  The “it is written” parts were just the last one.


About mark

Orthodox convert, writer, podcaster, husband, and father of six.

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