New Testament scholar Ben Witherington III declares: “In my view, the most dangerous thing Luther ever did was not nail the 95 Theses to a door. It was translating the Bible into ordinary German and encouraging its widespread dissemination.” (He was referring to the “danger” of bringing about change, which the Reformation brought about.) While there were others before him who sought to do the same, Martin Luther was among the few who achieved significant success in this endeavor.
The written Word used to be accessible only to the “socially elite”—such as the educated clergy, the wealthy, and royalty. It was available only in Latin, and was quite expensive to acquire. When scripture was placed in the hands of ordinary people in a language they could actually understand, the truths of scripture began to touch them, not just in their religious practice, but in the very places where life was lived. And that is exactly where the gospel is supposed to touch lives.
The cry Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) was a primary teaching of the Protestant Reformation. It firmly stood on the sufficiency of scripture to be the final authority for faith and practice. It did not require the “filters” of religious tradition or “authorized” dogma. Scripture was intended to be understood and, with understanding, lead to life change.
Recent research on discipleship and spiritual transformation have reinforced the validity of this perspective. For example, studies conducted by LifeWay Research and by the Center for Bible Engagement have reached similar conclusions: significant personal engagement with scripture has noteworthy correlations with the spiritual growth of a person. Bible engagement—read, reflect, respond—stands out as a primary pathway to spiritual transformation.
Today, scripture is available in more languages than ever before. And scripture is available in different forms or media—printed, audio, visual, digital. There even are so many tools available to help one in the process of personally interacting with scripture.
And that’s the key. Scripture is available and accessible. But I also have to personally engage and interact with scripture if there is going to be the kind of transformation that scripture speaks about. I actually have to read it, and study it, and reflect on its truths, and put its truths into practice (Psalm 1.2; Matthew 7.24-27).
This is not to discount the essential work of the Spirit in the process (John 14.26). But unless I choose to engage scripture, scripture will have little or no impact in my life and in how I conduct myself. It is not enough that I pay verbal tribute to the importance of scripture. I must truly “abide in [the Lord’s] word” (John 8.31 ESV).
—Keith Y. Jainga