Saturday, December 17, 2005

Applied Biblical Authority

By Dr. Kevin Bauder
Sola Scriptura—what does that mean?

Historically, it has meant that the Bible is the final authority for faith and order, the only source that mediates God’s authority on any given question. The final appeal is always to Scripture.

It has never meant that the Bible was our only source of information about the world, not even about those parts of the world that are directly relevant to the life of faith.

More often than not, the applicability of Scripture to life depends upon information drawn from outside the pages of Scripture. If this were not so, the Bible would leave most of life unaddressed.

We begin with a biblical principle. A principle is a moral generalization. It must be stated or directly implied by the Scriptures themselves.

In order to apply that principle to a given situation, we must have a warrant. Occasionally we can find a warrant in some other passage of Scripture. More often than not, we must seek a warrant in extra-biblical information.

Most Christians agree that the principle, “we must generally consume those substances that promote bodily health and avoid those that produce bodily harm” is biblical. They could point to specific passages that they believe justify this principle. What they cannot point to is a biblical passage that applies this principle to vitamins, chocolate, cigarettes, or Red Bull.

That does not mean that the principle is not relevant to vitamins, chocolate, cigarettes, or Red Bull. It simply means that we need further information in order to see how the principle applies. For each of these substances we might ask, To what degree and in what proportion does this substance contribute to the health of the body, and to what degree does it harm the body? We should have no difficulty, given what we know, in saying that taking vitamins (in the correct proportions) is virtuous and smoking cigarettes is vicious.

Here’s the rub: once we know the truth about cigarettes, for example, our knowledge binds us to the biblical principle. Even though the application of the principle requires a warrant from outside Scripture, the application is just as authoritative as Scripture itself.

In fact, if we reject the notion of extrabiblical warrants, we commit ourselves to a particularly venomous version of moral nihilism. There is virtually no activity that we take to be prohibited by Scripture that cannot be caviled if we are forced to rely upon the bare text to provide its own applications.

“Thou shalt not murder.”

“I did not commit murder. True, I pointed the gun at him and pulled the trigger. But I have no biblical revelation for the notion that guns launch projectiles at sufficient speed to kill. I might have suspected it on grounds of experience, but we can’t make our experience authoritative in moral matters. There is no Biblical passage that says we can’t point guns at people and pull the trigger.”

“He who looketh upon a woman to lust after her…”

“Why, yes, I have a subscription to Hustler. It has great articles, and the photographic technique is just amazing. Lust? No, not me. I’m interested in the interplay of light, hue, and line. The fact that you could lust after this wonderful photography just shows that you have a dirty mind. After all, there isn’t any verse in the Bible that says a pure-minded person shouldn’t look at pictures of nekkid women.”

If we refuse to admit outside sources of information, then these arguments are irrefutable. On the other hand, if we do recognize that we find warrants outside of Scripture for the application of biblical principles, then we are duty-bound to take all of life seriously and to inquire into its meaning.

Sola Scriptura, yes.

Nuda Scripture, no.

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