Do Your Hermeneutics Hold to Sola Scriptura?

Abner Chou | July 3, 2018

The Argument for Sola Scriptura

How does Christ build His church? Arguably, He builds His church by His Word (Eph 4:11-14; 2 Tim 4:1-2). To have a ministry that pleases God, we must be all about His Word—it is central to true ministry.  We could sum it up this way: Scripture is the beginning, middle, and end of ministry.

Beginning

Ephesians 2:20, “having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone . . .

Scripture is foundational for the church. 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 define the church apart from the Bible. We can see this in the American church today. We have left the standard of Scripture and pursued every distraction. The resulting chaos illustrates how central God’s Word is—without it, we are confused, dysfunctional, and purposeless. You can’t have church or ministry apart from the authority of Scripture.

Middle

John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.”

The Word of God drives the ministry of the church. As our Lord prayed, sanctification revolves around Scripture. 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. That is our true destiny. There is no human manipulation on the planet that can transform you to fulfill your destiny

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 second 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 than that. He is God.

For this very reason, Jesus is called the Son of Man in the Gospels.  In Romans 5, He’s called the second Adam. In Colossians 1:15, Paul proclaims He is the image of God.  And in Romans 8:29, we were predestined 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.

So yes, there are lots 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 of God alone.

End

1 Timothy 3:15, “…the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.”

God’s Word 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. That is our role in the plan of God and our legacy. Championing Scripture is mission critical for the church.

So the 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 if your ministry is effective or not.

Do Your Hermeneutics Hold to Sola Scriptura?

Our commitment to Sola Scriptura leads to a commitment to hermeneutics—how we study the Bible. Hermeneutics matters because it determines whether we truly hold to Sola Scriptura or not. Here are three questions to help you determine if your hermeneutics hold to Sola Scriptura:

Do I have a hermeneutic of surrender?

God’s Word 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). We need to learn to stop struggling against the text and surrender

With that, we don’t have interpretative options when it comes to God’s Word. The Bible is not some platform from which we can pontificate our own theology and advice. Its assertions are also not that which we can shrug off and ignore. It doesn’t have to live up to our reason or sensibilities. Rather, we need to learn to stop struggling against the text and surrender. Its statements become our statements, its reasons our reasons, its categories our categories, and its implications/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 surrendered to Scripture. 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 Sola Scriptura.

Am I trying to use hermeneutical fine print?

We know what fine print is. It allows you to say one thing and undermine it through a loophole.  That’s exactly what some have done with God’s Word. The excuse is pretty standard. They may claim they have a high view of Scripture, but at the same time, claim we can never know what it 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 God’s Word through the hermeneutical fine print.

To be sure, Scripture has tough passages and doctrines (2 Pet 3:16). Knowing what it means takes 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 don’t have God’s Word, but your word and you’ve abandoned Sola Scriptura.

We need to ask ourselves the hard question of whether we have used hermeneutics to get out of 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 further under it. Complexities in Scripture shouldn’t be our excuse to think what we want. It should drive us to study it harder so that we can know what it says and live out the right conclusions. 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 God’s 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 every 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 that 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 go 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. That is the totality of the Bible in its breadth and depth. Thus, we need to really check ourselves if we have done the hard work required. That 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. That flows 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 to not have excuses that would undermine any of that. 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 moment, our people will not only hear us declare Sola Scriptura but see it in our lives.


Abner Chou avatar
Abner Chou began teaching Greek at The Master's University in 2004, and continues to teach both at the university and seminary. Ultimately, he aims for students to know the Word of God deeply, study it accurately, and be driven by it to live fully for the Kingdom.

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