Archive | September, 2012

Sola Scriptura… I don’t think so

2 Sep

I’ve been hearing a lot of people chanting Sola Scriptura lately (maybe it’s because I’m in seminary and those are the things we chant).  However, the more I think about it, the more impossible I find that premise to be.  First of all, no one, and I mean no one, is capable of reading the Bible without biases.  Everything we take it, we do so through the lens of our own experiences, and we use our own reason to put the information together to draw conclusions.  Even the most conservative Bible readers acknowledge this.

Secondly, I’m not convinced that an independent reading of the Bible (by which I mean reading the text by itself with no other resource or instruction) is conducive to good exegesis and proper application of the principles found therein. Learning about the original languages, cultures, literary contexts, etc, all improve our understanding of what the authors of the Bible were saying to the original audience.  Once we establish that- or get as close as we are able- then we can make an appropriate application.  For example, if I had never read a book about the practices involved in covenant making in the Ancient Near East, then Genesis 15 would still be a mystery to me.  Had I never been instructed on the cultural significance of being a tax collector or a zealot, then the fact that Jesus called one of each to be his disciples would have gone over my head, and so forth.  That’s why pastors go to seminary, to learn these things so that we can rightly interpret and apply Scripture.  

Finally, I understand there are faith traditions that still look at seminary (or any formal religious education) with skepticism.  The expression “seminary cemetery” expresses the fear that men and women lose their faith with all the learning- or something like that.  But, even the pastors that forgo a theological education are still approaching the Scriptures with assumptions about the meaning, and more often than not, I think, they end up teaching what they were taught.  I visited such a church this year.  The preacher was talking about the wedding feast of Revelation (it was a wedding), and proceeded to lay out the last decade or so of earth’s existence- rapture, seven years of tribulation, the anti-Christ, last battle, etc.  Oddly enough, that isn’t in the Bible- anywhere.  Oh, I know what texts those folks who ascribe to darbyism use (Darbyism is the belief in a pre-tribulational rapture, named for a guy called Darby), but people studied the Bible for about 1800 years before anyone came to that conclusion.  Needless to say, I’m pretty sure that preacher didn’t come to that understanding without any sort of instruction.

What I’m trying to say, in a nutshell, is that sola scriptura, probably shouldn’t be our battle cry.  I have a very high view of Scripture, so high, in fact, that I want to understand it, to the best of my ability- and to the best of the supernatural ability the Holy Spirit may grant.  Truly knowing God, and understanding His word and His ways, requires more than a book.  It’s Scripture combined with reason, tradition (and by tradition I include scholarship on the culture and context in which the Bible came out of, as well as traditional interpretations), and finally human experience.