Of course, any good idea can be taken too far. Some evangelical denominations assert that the Bible basically interprets itself, and does not require any education, or understanding of historical Christian traditions — or any other sort of preparation or education — to understand. Again, this is very empowering for each individual Christian to be able to navigate their own faith — and this certainly seems like a positive thing. But it also introduces an inherent weakness that we see echoed across many different areas of expertise in modern times: that any armchair opinion is equivalent to a well-researched, well-educated, well-informed opinion from an expert in that field. Sometimes, this can be liberating. But quite often, cultural pressures and pervasive groupthink begin to poison the well via things like the Illusory truth effect. Just because “everyone in the Church” is repeating something over and over again does not make it true…and yet this is how much of scripture ends up getting interpreted in modern times among evangelical denominations.
We can then add these additional interferences to the mix, which further dilute the ability of a sola scriptura approach to bear consistent or reliable fruit:
1. Distortions due to biased translation of the Greek and Hebrew. Unless a reader educates themselves on the original Hebrew and Konai Greek in which the biblical texts were written, how can they know they aren’t being sold a particular doctrinal view because of a particular translator’s decisions…?
2. Distortions due the original selection and canonization of particular texts. Most of the New Testament as we know it today wasn’t formally canonized until 363 at the Council of Laodicea — that’s about 300 years after most of the texts were written. But as many who have researched the early Church know, many additional texts were also circulated among the earliest Churches, texts which are today considered “extra-biblical” or apocryphal. So why aren’t those texts part of the “infallible single authority” under the sola scriptura doctrine? That decision preceded sola scriptura…and therefore disrupts its purity as a standard.
3. Distortions due to legalistic, literalistic methods of interpretation. This is a subtler issue to discuss, as it is grounded in the concept of hermeneutics — that is, the principles that guide how we go about interpreting a given text. Unless those principles are clearly thought through, we can inadvertently misunderstand scripture by forcing a particular filter or bias of interpretation onto it. And, unfortunately, that happens a lot in denominations that push sola scriptura into the realm of nuda scriptura (i.e. “scripture left naked” of all traditional contexts).
Sola scriptura also had a rather devastating effect on something else over time — something which was a far more liberating and “democratizing” idea in early Christendom. And that was the promise that holy spirit would continue to provide Christians with guidance and wisdom in their spiritual lives. In this sense, most scripture is the “milk” of the Word — the easily digestible spiritual food for young babes in Christ, teaching the most basic concepts. And, of course, what is easier to do, learn to listen to the subtle inner promptings of spiritual insight — or accept the presence and power of “spiritual gifts” like prophecy — and then develop mature discernment over time, or to accept rigid legalistic interpretations of a written document that “keeps things simple?” Tellingly, both Jesus and the Apostle Paul exhorted early believers to develop more mature spiritual insight through agape, holy spirit, and disciplined practice — instead of relying on legalistic habits like those of the Pharisees and Sadducees, or relying on simplistic “milk,” and never moving beyond it. Yes, studying scripture is part of the mix…but only part. Developing deep discernment, and reliance on the guidance and gifts of holy spirit, takes discipline, focus, hard work, and time. And yet this is the truly liberating and enduring power that Jesus offered as part of a revolutionary shift: everyone and anyone could enter the holiest of holies; everyone and anyone could participate in the Kingdom of God; everyone and anyone could receive the holy spirit as helper and guide. But too many members of the Church — both centuries ago and today — are simply not interested in exercising this incredible privilege and gift. So they rely exclusively on scriptural authority instead.
Just my 2 cents.
P.S. I thought this article from a self-described evangelical was a thoughtful take on sola scriptura vs. nuda scriptura: Sola Scriptura … Not Nuda Scriptura!
TrackbacksTrackback specific URI for this entry
This link is not meant to be clicked. It contains the trackback URI for this entry. You can use this URI to send ping- & trackbacks from your own blog to this entry. To copy the link, right click and select "Copy Shortcut" in Internet Explorer or "Copy Link Location" in Mozilla.
The author does not allow comments to this entry