Sola Scriptura would be the anthem of most evangelicals. It was the crushing blow of the Reformation, after all. But what implications does this conviction have upon the way we actually study our Bibles? And how we live our lives?
First, let us establish the argument for sola scriptura, and then we will examine its implications upon the way we understand and interpret the Bible.
The Argument for Sola Scriptura
How does Christ build His church? He builds His church through His Word (Eph 4:11-14; 2 Tim 4:1-2). So to have a ministry that pleases God, we must be all about His Word.
We could sum it up this way: Scripture is the beginning, middle, and end of ministry.
Scripture is foundational for the church (Eph 2:20). The book of Acts establishes the church’s origins (Acts 2) and its mission (Acts 1:8). The epistles articulate its role (Eph 1-3) and operations (1 Tim 4:13; Tit 2:1-15). Thus, you can’t even begin to define the Church without the Bible.
In the American church today, we have largely left the standard of Scripture and pursued distractions. The resulting chaos illustrates how central the Word of God is—without it, we are confused, dysfunctional, and purposeless. You can’t even have church or ministry apart from the authority of Scripture.
The Word of God drives the ministry of the Church. As our Lord prayed, sanctification revolves around Scripture (John 17:17). However, people may wonder, “There are so many ways I can become a better and nicer person. Why do I need the Scriptures?” But God is not just interested in making you a better and nicer person. He wants to make you like Christ. He doesn’t want you just to change so you please the world, but that you would please Him.
We don’t want to get out from the authority of Scripture, but rather, we want further under it.
We can see this from the very beginning. In Genesis 1, we note that we are created in the image of God. However, because of Adam and the fall, we observe that image is tarnished (cf. Gen 5:3). But there is hope because of the last Adam. Daniel 7 teaches that there will be one like a son of man, the true son of Adam. He is like a son of man in that He is a man, but He is only like a son of man in that He is more. He is God.
For this very reason, Jesus is called the Son of Man in the Gospels. In Romans 5, He parallels Adam. In Colossians 1:15, Paul proclaims He is the image of God. And in Romans 8:29, we were predestined to be conformed to His image.
At this point, Scripture ultimately reveals that the image of God in Genesis 1 is the image of Christ in Romans 8. When God made us in His image, He always meant for us to be like Christ. That is our destiny.
There are plenty of human manipulations that can make you nicer. But there is no human manipulation on the planet that can transform you to fulfill your destiny. That belongs to the Word alone.
The Word of God is not only the beginning and middle of the Church, but also its end. As the support of the truth, it is up to us to preserve and uphold the truth for the next generation (1 Tim 3:15). That is our role in the plan of God. Championing Scripture is mission critical for the Church.
So Scripture is the beginning, middle, and end of the Church. For that reason, we hold to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. Sola Scriptura means Scripture alone is authoritative for faith and practice. Scripture alone determines the effectiveness of ministry.
Do Your Hermeneutics Hold to Sola Scriptura?
Our commitment to Sola Scriptura leads to a commitment to hermeneutics—to how we study the Bible. Hermeneutics matters because it determines whether we, in practice, hold to Sola Scriptura.
Here are three questions to help you determine if your hermeneutics hold to Sola Scriptura.
Do I have a hermeneutic of surrender?
The Word of God is His communication to us (cf. 2 Tim 3:16). God has made it clear and accessible via human language (Josh 23:14; Deut 30:11-14; Rom 10:5-10). He has also made it authoritative. We as readers do not have the right to argue with it or change it. It cannot be broken (John 10:35). Rather, we are empowered (Eph 1:17; Jer 31:33) and accountable (2 Pet 3:16) to understand and live out the Scriptures (Jas 1:22).
With that, we don’t have interpretative options when it comes to the Word. The Bible is not some platform from which we can pontificate our own theology and advice. Its assertions are not that which we can shrug off. It doesn’t have to live up to our reason or sensibilities. Rather, we need to learn to stop struggling against the text, and simply to surrender. Its statements become our statements, its reasons our reasons, its categories our categories, and its implications and applications our own worldview and life. Anything else adds to or subtracts from Scripture. Anything else compromises Sola Scriptura.
So, as we read Scripture, we need to make sure we are entirely surrendered to it. Have I learned what the author has said for the reason he said it and with the range of applications he has ordained? Do I have Scripture’s intent alone?
These are critical questions in making sure our hermeneutic upholds our conviction ofSola Scriptura.
Am I trying to use hermeneutical fine print?
We know what fine print is. It allows someone to say one thing and, with a loophole, to entirely undermine it. That’s exactly what some have done with the Word of God.
The excuse is pretty standard. They may claim to have a high view of Scripture, but at the same time, quip that we can never know what it truly means. And because we do not know what it means, we cannot be held accountable to an errant view. At that point, people have subverted the authority of the Word through hermeneutical fine print.
Scripture, to be sure, has tough passages and doctrines (2 Pet 3:16). Knowing what it means requires hard work (cf. 2 Tim 2:15). Nevertheless, such difficulties in Scripture do not provide an excuse or fine print to hold to any view one desires. Let’s be clear. The moment you do that, you no longer have God’s Word, but your own.
The moment you have added your word to the Word of God, you’ve abandoned Sola Scriptura.
We need to ask ourselves the hard question of whether we have used ambiguous hermeneutics to side-step a hermeneutic of surrender. Have we used supposed ambiguity to cover the fact that we really don’t want to say what Scripture ordains (or even believe that Scripture has said something on an issue)? Have we used a supposed lack of clarity to justify our theological creativity? Those are the questions of the hermeneutical fine print.
We don’t want to get out from the authority of Scripture, but rather, we want further under it. Complexities in Scripture shouldn’t be our excuse to think what we want. Instead, they should drive us to more rigorous study so that we can know what it says and teach us to live out the proper applications. That will mean tremendous patience with ourselves and others as we work through these issues (cf. Eph 4:15; 2 Tim 4:2). Nevertheless, we still need to work through them. That is the demand of Sola Scriptura on hermeneutics. It wipes out the hermeneutical fine print.
Have I done the hard work?
We know the Scripture is rich and deep (Ps 119:18). Verbal plenary inspiration demonstrates that every word is inspired—God’s very own communication (2 Tim 3:16). The biblical writers exhibit this as they show how individual phrases (Rom 4:3-12) and words (Gal 3:16) of Scripture bring forth its sublime truth. The clarity of the Word leads to its precision and profundity. All of it, down to the word, is useful, powerful, and binding.
In light of this, the question is whether we have done the hard work. Have I really studied a passage and understood the background, context, point, structure, theology, and applications of a text down to the detail of each individual word? Can I put all of this together so that I know precisely all the author has willed in this passage?
Doing that takes hard work, but this is the very nature of Scripture and what it demands (cf. 2 Tim 2:15). The reason that sermons, Bible studies, Sunday school lessons, or devotions lack depth is often because we haven’t spent the time and effort to dig beneath the surface. The depth is there; we just need to apply ourselves to discover what God has said.
So we need to remember that Sola Scriptura is not merely the sola, but also the Scriptura. The doctrine not only reminds us of what is excluded, but all that is included as authoritative for life and practice—the totality of the Bible in its breadth and depth. Thus, we need to examine ourselves to see if we have done the required hard work. This mindset and work ethic truly upholds Sola Scriptura.
Becoming People of Conviction
We do not want to be people who merely confess Sola Scriptura, but those who live it with conviction. When we are infiltrated with the conviction of Sola Scriptura, it inevitably will flow into our hermeneutics.
Every time we open our Bibles, we need to be ready to say only what Scripture says, to work hard to know all it says, and not to have excuses that would undermine any of its implications. Sola Scriptura leads to a hermeneutic of absolute surrender so that what we have in the end is the Scripture, and nothing but the Scripture.
At that point, people will not only hear us declare Sola Scriptura, but they will see it etched into our very lives.