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

5 comments on “Sola Exegesis: Why Sola Scriptura Is Not Enough

  1. Brian Braskich says:

    I think what you mean is that we need a historical-critical hermeneutic by which we can do exegesis. I disagree with what you wrote because exegesis does not just mean understanding the Bible in its original context. It is more literally what we draw forth from the text (interpretation), just as eisegesis is what we read into a text. You are correct, we cant just read the Bible, we need to interpret it. So I would claim that we need to focus on hermeneutics, and only then can we guarantee a consistent and proper exegesis follows. Have you read Tillich’sThe Protestant Era?

    • Timothy Christian says:

      Brian,

      Thanks for your comment. I do not mean a historical-critical hermeneutic because that I believe is too specific. You are right that quite literally exegesis is drawing out from the text, but in order to do that you need many tools in your tool-chest of biblical interpretation, one of those being the historical-critical method. The others being rhetorical criticism, social-scientific criticism, source criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism, linguistics, etc. All of these tools are necessary for exegesis, not just the historical-critical method. So exegesis is what we need, but we cannot do exegesis well without all of these tools in the toolbox.

      I have not read Tillich’s “The Protestant Era.” Do you recommend it?

      Timothy

    • Timothy Christian says:

      Brian,

      I just updated the post, making some clarifications from your critique. Thanks so much for helping me better think through this and better clarify myself.

      Timothy

  2. Jesse says:

    Don’t you think you’ve under-represented the doctrine of Sola Scriptura (at least just a wee bit)? If Sola Scriptura were more appreciated I think it does stand to be a much more capable methodology for the study and interpretation of scripture. Luther thought very highly of Sola Scriptura and look where it led him. Love you dude, take it easy.

    • Timothy Christian says:

      Jesse,

      Thanks for your comment! I admit that I did not take a large chunk of space to meet out the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, but I think that I have represented well how people use it today: all I need to do is read the Bible without any understanding of its original contexts and I will know what it means. This approach is sadly mistaken, and often leads to a conglomeration of proof-texts. Like I said, Scripture needs interpreting and “Sola Scriptura” is not a method of interpretation, its a belief about the centrality and utter importance of Scripture in the lives of Christians (which I agree with). So I am not rejecting Sola Scriptura, rather I am saying it is not enough because we must interpret Scripture. So then, in that sense, Scripture needs something else (i.e. its not alone). It needs to be interpreted and I’m arguing that exegesis is the best method for interpreting. So my slogan “Sola Exegesis” is coming behind “Sola Scriptura” and supporting it and saying to it “You can’t do it without me.”

      I think that Luther understood this. Unfortunately, that has not been passed down to us today with his slogan Sola Scriptura.

      Love you to bro, and thanks for responding!

      Timothy

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