Have you ever tried building a complicated Lego set without using the instruction guide?
Just using the guide can be complex enough. All it takes is to put one brick one spot off, and within a few steps you realize that your model doesn’t look like the one in the picture. So you turn the model around in your hand, seeking to figure out where you went wrong. Then you start pulling bricks off one by one, comparing the model to the instruction guide, still turning it around. It can be maddening when you are unable to find out where you went wrong. But sure enough, in time, pulling off bricks, looking at every angle, holding it up to the instructions, you find your mistake.
But what you would never do is use an instruction manual for a bicycle to try to build your Lego set. You wouldn’t even use a manual from another Lego set. There is only one purpose for each of those manuals. The purpose is to build the set, or the bike, they were designed for.
The same goes for the Bible. And yet we might not realize it. Is it possible that we have expected the Bible to do more than it was intended to do?
What should we do with these Bibles of ours?
It goes back to what we have been looking at all week. Sola Scriptura. Scripture Alone. What does it mean? I’ve taken a long time to say what it doesn’t mean in my previous posts this week. Today I want to start looking at what Sola Scriptura means.
What did the reformers mean when they started using the words Sola Scriptura? They meant that the Bible, not tradition or a church, is our final authority.
To explain this further, they talked about Scripture as having clarity and sufficiency. Let’s look at each.
First how does Scripture have clarity?
A church council that met in 1529, the Diet of Speyer, said that Scripture “shines clearly in its own light.” Scholars tells us that the reformers meant four things about this:
- The Spirit illumines our minds to understand Scripture.
- Clearer portions of Scripture illumine passages that are less clear.
- If there is a part of Scripture that is hard to understand, it is because of our lack of knowledge of the original languages and original context.
- If we have been enlightened, it is impossible to miss the meaning of Scripture.
There is much we could discuss about each one of these principles, and many others have done so in book after book. If you want to learn more about any of these four points, I’d be glad to point you in the direction of some resources.
For today, I’d like to comment a bit on the first and fourth ones, enlightenment by the Spirit. It should sound familiar. If you’re thinking, isn’t that what got Anne Hutchinson in trouble? The answer is yes, she thought she had clarity and the Puritan leaders did not! But there is something critical that Anne and the Puritan leaders were each missing. Humility. We need the ability to be teachable. Whenever we arrive at an interpretation of Scripture, at a moment of clarity, we need to be able to say “I think this interpretation is correct, but I may be wrong.” The principle of Scriptural clarity must always take into account our human propensity to err.
So how do we know if we are enlightened? In Ephesians 1:18, Paul says he is praying for the Christians in that city of Ephesus “that God the Father of the Lord Jesus may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you.”
Are you praying for that enlightenment? Are you praying for a clear understanding of Scripture?
We should pray for that clarity as we study Scripture, but along with it, may we always stay humble and teachable.
Second, after clarity the reformers used the words Sola Scriptura to refer to the sufficiency of Scripture.
Scripture is sufficient for everything. But just as a Lego set instruction manual doesn’t work for building a new bike, Scriptural sufficiency doesn’t mean the Bible will help us figure out how to fix the cracks in our church parking lot. Can Scripture tell us what to do if we fall off that bike and skin our knee?
We need to be careful that we don’t expect Scripture to do what God did not intend it to do. The Bible can become an idol. If we expect too much of Bible, and start revering it beyond what God intended, they we are guilty of creating a idol out of the Bible. People call that the idol of Biblicism.
Instead we need to answer the question: “What did God intend for his Word to do?”
Isaiah 55:11 says “…my word that goes out from my mouth…will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
What is that purpose?
2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that “All Scripture is God-breathed and useful to teaching, rebuking, training and correcting in righteousness.”
The Bible is not sufficient to be used for every reason we think it should be used for. But the Bible is sufficient for every reason that God intended it for. What is the Bible sufficient for? One scholar I read said that the Bible is enough to learn about Christ and the Christian life.
That means Scripture is extremely important. God, in the Bible, has given us an amazing gift of being able to learn about him, and principles for how to live out his Kingdom in our world.
Tomorrow we conclude this week’s examination of Sola Scripture, looking at how to apply these principles to our interaction with the Bible.