When you read the Bible, do you think that God will speak to you through it? How do you know that you will understand it properly? What if God wants to tell you X and you believe he said Y?
Does Sola Scriptura mean that any Christian can just open up the Scriptures and understand it by the work of the Holy Spirit in their minds? Do we need the church to interpret Scripture for us, or can we interact with Scripture alone?
We might say, “Yes! We can definitely read the Bible for ourselves and hear from God.” Take a look at 1 Corinthians 2:12. Paul says that we have been given the Spirit of God so that we might understand what God has given us. Seems like that could really apply to understanding the Bible. Actually, it does apply to the Bible. When we read Scripture we can and should pray that the Holy Spirit will help us understand it.
But let me push back on this idea a bit.
Anne Hutchinson’s example is a case about how this view of Sola Scriptura didn’t work. Why?
She felt the Holy Spirit was helping her understand the Bible.
Her Puritan religious community also felt that the Spirit was helping them understand the Bible.
You see the problem yet? They both claimed the Spirit’s help, and they came to different interpretations. Now do you see the problem? If they both had the same Spirit’s help, then shouldn’t they have arrived at the same interpretation?
Would the Holy Spirit give them conflicting interpretations? No. So what was going on in Boston in 1636?
The reality is that Christians arrive at conflicting interpretations all the time, and we have done so from nearly day 1 of the church. So if the Holy Spirit isn’t giving out conflicting interpretations of the Bible, what is going on?
I think there are many possible ways to answer that question:
- Maybe there are Christians who claim to have the Spirit’s interpretation, but they actually don’t? I’m sure that happens more than we realize. But how would we ever know who had the Spirit’s interpretation and who didn’t?
- And shouldn’t preference be given to church leaders who go to seminary and get ordained, because they have training?
- Is it possible that the Puritans were not correct in their teaching of Sola Scriptura, or maybe Anne Hutchinson just misunderstood what it meant?
More importantly, what does all this mean for us?
How many of you own a Bible that is printed in English that you can read on your own? How many of you have the Bible on your electronic device, like the Bible app on your phone?
We believe that we can read those Bibles and understand what God is speaking to us, right?
Are we wrong to believe that? Perhaps we should be a lot more cautious? Should we only get our interpretations of the Bible from ordained pastors, from those who have gone to school to learn the Bible?
To answer those questions, it will be very helpful for us to go back to Martin Luther. His 95 Theses pretty much set things in motion for us to ask all these questions. So to arrive at some answers, we first need to get an idea of how Martin Luther’s religious culture looked at the Bible. And that is where we’re headed tomorrow.