Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Myth of Sola Scriptura

Wikipedia defines Sola Scriptura as:
Sola scriptura (Latin ablative, "by scripture alone") is the doctrine that the Bible contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness. Consequently, sola scriptura demands that only those doctrines are to be admitted or confessed that are found directly within or indirectly by using valid logical deduction or valid deductive reasoning from scripture. However, sola scriptura is not a denial of other authorities governing Christian life and devotion. Rather, it simply demands that all other authorities are subordinate to, and are to be corrected by, the written word of God. Sola scriptura was a foundational doctrinal principle of the Protestant Reformation held by the Reformers and is a formal principle of Protestantism today (see Five solas).
That however is not the myth to which I refer, the myth is when the Bible is used without out using valid logical deduction and valid deductive reasoning; the Bible only without the aid of reasoning and logic, as one of the comments on my last blog said “taking the Bible as it reads”. What does that mean, as it reads? The myth is that you don’t have to take the time and effort to logically interpret the Bible, the myth is that knowledge from outside the Bible is not needed for the interpretation of the Bible.

The Bible in fact does not define itself, just as with any other document of any language the Bible requires both fields of study known as Lower and Higher Criticism. And both of those fields require knowledge of humanity found outside the Bible. The information from outside the Bible is used to understand the culture the times and the language of the material in the Bible. A simply example is the Chiasm, now the Bible does not define what a Chiasm is but it uses them. Our understanding of poetry from the poetry of other ancient literature is used when we see poetry in the Bible. We don’t have to simply claim the Bible tells us everything we need to know about poetry. Poetry frequently is not literal and may cause people to come to wrong interpretations when something is poetic and it is assumed to be literal. One can say that is the way it reads but unless the reader is informed of the poetic characteristics they take the text in ways it was never meant to be taken. For example the book of Job says the stars sang together, if not view poetically people I have seen come up with ideas like the stars are beings from other planets. Despite the poetic nature and despite the context there are probably hundreds of such off the wall interpretations to some simple piece of poetry. 
Poetry is just one of the problems in interpretation; another is the assumption that past knowledge when used makes that knowledge used appear to be religious truth. As we saw in my recent article, Bibliotatry, about Jesus taunting the Pharisees when they asked him to make the people stop praising him and he stated if the people stopped the rocks would cry out. Another similar example is when Jesus said that a seed had to die before it could grow and produce more seeds.
I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (John 12:24 NIV)
We know that the seed does not actually die, this is figurative it seems like it is dead and buried but with modern techniques we can actually prove that a seed carries on respiration, those that don’t are truly dead and they won’t germinate. For example the Tetrazolium test or as the simple test when I planted my edible pod peas from my crop last season some seeds floating at the top of the cup of water, those are not going to grow. Dead seeds don’t grow! But we understand the meaning of a new life a fresh start from the context and the figurative language of Jesus but what we know is because of our cultural and scientific and often our own experiential knowledge. There is little doubt that the Bible writers expected people to read with those ideas from outside their writing. We would hardly expect God in His inspiration process to expect differently. But it is the tradition of the Fundamentalist that says the Bible interprets itself. It does not and neither does any other written work because authors expect their readers to use some reasoning skills. Even with symbols the Bible does not necessarily interpret itself because it will often use multiple symbols and the context is needed to recognize just which symbol is meant for which idea in reality.

Does this mean that human beings have to interpret the Bible with human reason? The answer is yes, you can’t get there any other way, it is not a magic book  with writing that absorbs into the mind without the mind thinking, reacting and yes interpreting data. God has given us minds to use and we should be using them and all the tools that the mind can come up with that aid the process of understanding. The book of Isaiah writes:

Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. "Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. (Isa 1:17-18 NIV)

The Lord says to reason together and learn to do right, you can’t get there without reasoning and thinking and learning that is what our minds are for and we need to use them to understand the Bible and see what it says in context and does the context fit our situations and acknowledge the progressive revelation about God and man that we see in the Bible itself as well as how what we have learned in the thousands of years since the Bible’s individual books were written.

So don’t let the fundamentalist tell you that you are using human reason to understand the Bible, it is simply a cheap and deceitful trick they use to make you think that their certainty is somehow superior. After all it is a truism that the more you know the more you find that you don’t know. If the more you know makes you see even less…then maybe what you think you know is not really knowledge let alone truth.




David R. Larson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David R. Larson said...

Good points, Ron. Thanks for making them. I deleted the earler version of this comment for having too many typos.