Sola Exegesis: Why Sola Scriptura Is Not Enough

Temple of Olympian Zeus, Athens, Greece

Sola Exegesis: Why Sola Scriptura Is Not Enough

At the time of the Reformation, there were two major battle cries among Protestants: Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”) and Semper Reformanda (“Always reforming”). It is the former that I am concerned with here. Within Protestant circles today, clergy and laity alike claim to uphold the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, however in practice they have all but forgotten that the claim Sola Scriptura means Scripture alone rightly understood. It is my contention then that the only method by which we can rightly understand Scripture is through the method of Exegesis. For those that are unfamiliar with the term Exegesis, this is a method of biblical interpretation that draws out meaning from the text of Scripture instead of reads into the text what’s not there. Exegesis, then, seeks to understand the Bible within its original contexts – namely, the historical, literary, social, cultural, rhetorical, and linguistic contexts of the Bible in the ancient worlds of the Ancient Near East (OT) and the Greco-Roman world (NT) – in order to draw out its meaning. So in order to do Exegesis well, one must use a variety of critical approaches to interpretation such as the historical-critical method, literary criticism, rhetorical criticism, social-scientific criticism, source criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism, linguistics, etc.

I am, therefore, suggesting that Sola Scriptura is not enough, because the Bible needs interpreting and interpretation requires method. So I am proposing a new motto: Sola Exegesis – Exegesis alone! Only the method of Exegesis will help us rightly understand the Bible in it’s original contexts, and once rightly understood in it’s original contexts, then we can rightly appropriate it for us today in our 21st century context.

Another facet of Sola Exegesis is that the method of Exegesis should be the foundation for developing and understanding Biblical Theology, both Old and New Testament theology. So then, Exegesis is not for Exegesis’ sake, rather it leads us forward to theology; a movement from Exegesis to Theology. And this is not simply for Theology’s sake, rather biblical theology moves us to ministry and Christian living; from Exegesis to Theology to Ministry. This is the process, I believe, that guides the second cry of the Protestant Reformation, Semper Reformanda (“Always reforming”). So then, we do Exegesis…which forms our Theology…which shapes our Ministry…and then we do it over again. And again. And again. This is the ongoing process of Christian living and always reforming. But Sola Scriptura is not enough, because a method of biblical interpretation must be chosen; and I am choosing Exegesis. Will you join me in the journey, in this ongoing process of Christian living?

Together we can discover what the Old and New Testament emphasizes via Biblical Theology, and then we ourselves can emphasize what OT Jews and NT Christians emphasized in our lives and ministry as the body of Christ. Together, therefore, we can discover how Biblical Theology founded upon Biblical Exegesis should shape Christian preaching, teaching, evangelism, and ministry in our 21st century world. Will you join me?

Resources for Exegesis

Michael Gorman’s “Elements of Biblical Exegesis.” David Bauer’s “Inductive Bible Study.”

Resources for Biblical Theology

Ben Witherington’s “The Indelible Image” volumes 1 and 2

These resources can be found on www.amazon.com

The Ethics of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Soren Kierkegaard (Part 3)

kierkegaard (2)

This is Part 3 of a 4 Part series comparing the ethics of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Soren Kierkegaard. In Part 1 we looked at the evidence that Bonhoeffer knew Kierkegaard’s work on ethics. Last time in Part 2, we looked at Bonhoeffer’s ethics. Here in Part 3, we will look at Kierkegaard’s ethics. Finally, in Part 4, we will compare their approaches to ethics and draw our conclusions.

THE ETHICS OF BONHOEFFER AND KIERKEGAARD

Last time in Part 2, we examined Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s approach to ethics. In sum, Bonhoeffer’s ethics were (1) Christocentric, (2) Virtue-Based, (3) Situational/Contextual, (4) Apocalyptic, (5) “for-others”, and (6) distinctly different from the traditional approaches to ethics, asking the question, “What is the will of God?” instead of “What is good?” Now in Part 3, we will move to exploring Kierkegaard’s approach to ethics.

KIERKEGAARD’S APPROACH TO ETHICS

First and foremost, Kierkegaard approached ethics as an existentialist and thus his ethics are classified as existential ethics.[1]

Secondly, Kierkegaard speaks of progressive stages of human morality and growth: (1) the aesthetic, (2) the ethical, and (3) the religious.

The first aesthetic stage is characterized by a love for pleasure and the sensuous, and is therefore the lowest of the three.[2]

The second ethical stage for Kierkegaard is better than the aesthetic stage, though is still somewhat disparaging in comparison to the religious stage. Here the person does their duty to what they know to be right or wrong.[3] This Kierkegaard says is good but falls short of the ultimate.

The third and ultimate stage then for him is the religious.[4] This is the stage that we find at work when we turn to his classic book called Fear and Trembling. In this religious stage, Kierkegaard addresses the issue of Abraham’s faith and God commanding him to offer his son Isaac on the altar. For Kierkegaard, Abraham in this OT story is “either at every moment a murderer or we are at the paradox that is higher than all mediations” (Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, 58). Thus, he fervently seeks to present a positive account for the morality of Abraham. In doing so, Kierkegaard concludes that there is a “teleological suspension of the ethical” (Fear and Trembling 49) [5]. This means that what would normally be classified by traditional approaches to ethics as murder – and thus unethical – is not the case with Abraham from Kierkegaard’s perspective. For starters, Abraham was commanded by God to do this. Thus, in this situation he says that Abraham is faced with a temptation to disobey God’s command. He says Abraham’s temptation here “is the ethical itself, which would keep him from doing God’s will” (Fear and Trembling 52). Further, he says, “what then is the duty? Well, the duty is precisely the expression for God’s will” (Fear and Trembling 52). Thus, Kierkegaard asserts that the ethical thing for Abraham to do is to obey God’s will in sacrificing his son even though traditional ethics condemn such an act. In this way, “the ethical” is suspended or momentarily set aside for the sake of the end goal, namely, to obey God.[6]

Thus, Kierkegaard denigrates the traditional approach to ethics, at least in regard to the issue of Abraham. To Kierkegaard, Abraham is the individual “knight of faith” who is a true hero of life and ethics, a model for humans to follow, one who obeys the will of God at all costs.

Next time in Part 4, we will compare and contrast Bonhoeffer and Kierkegaard’s approaches to ethics and draw our conclusions.

End Notes

[1] See George J. Stack, Kierkegaard’s Existential Ethics (University, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1977) for a monograph on the assessment of Kierkegaard’s existential ethics.

[2] See Regis Jolivet, Introduction to Kierkegaard (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co: 1946), 124-133 for a chapter on the aesthetic stage.

[3] See Jolivet, Introduction, 134-142 for a chapter on the ethical stage.

[4] See Jolivet, Introduction, 143-201 for two chapters on the religious stage.

[5] He clearly states this at the telos of the discussion: “The story of Abraham contains, then, a teleological suspension of the ethical” (Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, 58).

[6] Some scholars critique Kierkegaard’s use of the biblical Abraham saying that his view is anachronistic. See Robert Gordis, “The Faith of Abraham: A Note on Kierkegaard’s ‘Teleological Suspension of the Ethical,’” Judaism 25:4 (1976): 414-419 for a short and unique article which does this very thing.