Applying Sola Scriptura

Sola Scriptura is the Christian understanding that the Bible alone is the Holy Spirit's way of guiding the Christian. Only the Bible can bind a Christian's conscience. The idea here is that when God guides, he does not do so apart from the words found in Scripture.

But how is this applied to the Christian life? Here are some examples:

Example 1
You are driving down the highway in your car and you are approaching an exit to a town. You suddenly have an urge to leave the highway and go into the town. You believe it could be the Holy Spirit guiding you. What should you do?

You can choose to exit, or you can continue driving along - the choice is yours. By choosing not to act upon this feeling you are not sinning and you are not ignoring the voice of God.

It is certainly acceptable to believe that God can use these feelings in order for us to do something that he has preordained us to do: You might take the exit and then pick up a hitch-hiker who becomes a Christian because you tell them the Gospel; You might take the exit and be saved from a major traffic pile-up with a fuel tanker that kills dozens of people; You might take the exit and collide with another car, making you a paraplegic for the rest of your life; or you might take the exit and nothing happens except you make yourself 15 minutes late.

God can and does use these strange feelings we might have in order for us to do something that fits in with his sovereign plan (whether we can see it or not), but if we ignore these feelings then it is NOT a sin.

Example 2
You open the Bible and read Mark 1:35 - which is about Jesus rising early in the morning while it was still dark and going off to a desolate place to pray. You conclude that this verse teaches us that we, too, should get up every morning and pray. Is this a correct application of the verse?

No. Even though the application is partly biblical, the verse has not been understood or applied in its literary context. You can't just take a verse out of nowhere and make it say something it doesn't really say.

Of course, praying daily is a wonderful thing and is backed up by scripture. However, this part of scripture does not back it up. We need to remember that when we interpret scripture, we must try to identify what scripture describes, and what it prescribes. Mark 1 is a description of Jesus' early ministry - so we need to work out what it says about Jesus.

What makes the "we should pray daily" application ridiculous is that the logical extreme teaches that Christians should pray only in the morning before the sun comes up - and that they should only pray in a desolate place. Of course, such an application would be impossible to achieve, much less be backed up elsewhere in Scipture.

Example 3
You spend time with another Christian who is a member of the opposite sex. He/she is married but their marriage is in trouble. The more time you spend with them listening to his/her troubles, you feel an emotional bond developing and you become attracted to him/her. You realise that they, too, are becoming attracted to you. After a time of prayer together, you feel that it is God who is drawing the two of you together into a special relationship. Is this what God is wanting?

No. Absolutely not. It does not matter what you "feel", the Bible is clear when it comes to messing around with marriage. Your "special relationship" is likely to further destroy the person's already fragile marriage, and you may also end up committing adultery. Hebrews 13.4 and Exodus 20.14 make God's mind on this absolutely clear. God will NOT guide you into sin.

Example 4
You have run out of pens at home and it is quite irritating not to have one around. While at work one day, you notice a bunch of pens that you could swipe. As you consider this, you feel that doing so would be wrong, and that God is clearly telling you to not take them. Is God guiding here?

Yes. God is guiding here because stealing is against God's law. The reason why you feel that it is wrong is because you know from the Scriptures that God speaks against stealing. God speaks to you now because God has spoken to you before through the Bible about this matter.

Example 5
You are a man. You read in Ephesians 5.22-24 that women should submit to men. Because of this, you decide that you cannot work under a female boss. Moreover, you feel that you should rebuke any woman who disagrees with you. Is this what God is guiding?

No. Ephesians 5.22-24 is about wives and husbands and how wives should submit to their husbands in the marriage relationship. This passage has no other application in the workplace or in relationships with women apart from your wife.

Example 6
You have been brought up in a church that has a very tough stand on drinking alcohol - they believe that Christians who drink alcohol are sinning against the Lord. One day while reading Psalm 104, you come across some verses which indicates that God has created wine "to gladden the heart of man". After further research into the Bible, you come to the conclusion that God doesn't mind us drinking alcohol, so long as we don't get drunk. One day at a friend's place, you have a glass of wine, but feel terribly guilty afterwards for drinking alcohol. You wonder if God is telling you through your guilt feelings that you have sinned by drinking alcohol. Is God saying this?

No. Your guilty feelings are NOT from God. The Bible is clear about alcohol and the study you have done into the scriptures has confirmed God's teaching that alcohol is a gift from God that has to be enjoyed in moderation. The fact that you feel guilty is meaningless at this point, since it is clear that you have not sinned in any way.

Example 7
You are a man. While meeting with your pastor, he announces that he has a prophecy from the Lord about you! He says that God is telling you to find the wife he has chosen for you so that God can do his special work through you. The pastor then says that the woman he has chosen for you has red hair. You know of four young women in the congregation who have red hair, none of whom you have ever considered approaching for a relationship. Should you take this prophecy to be from God?

No. You can marry whomever you darn well please, so long as she is a Christian and she is single. You don't need your pastor to manipulate you into doing what he thinks God is telling you to do. Moreover, God's plan for you has already been worked out in advance and there's no way you can stuff things up and ruin God's hard work. Scripture does not reveal anything about the woman you should marry, just that she should be a Christian and should be single.

Example 8
You feel that God is wanting to do something special in your life. One day you open the Bible and read Psalm 45.5, which says "Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the king's enemies; the peoples fall under you." From this you deduce that God (the King) has decreed that you are to be a spiritual warrior. This means that you will be a great preacher whom God will use to defeat satanic forces and bring many unbelievers to the Lord. Is this what God is saying to you?

No. Absolutely not. If you read the verse in context, you realise that the verse is actually about God. Verse 6 follows verse 5, saying "Your Throne, O God, is for ever and ever". If you think that this verse was written thousands of years ago just for you, think again.

Example 9
You hear a fellow Christian say to an unbeliever that if he/she does not place their trust in Christ, then their sins remain unforgiven and they are headed to hell. Despite sounding harsh, you believe that this is true. Is it?

Yes. The Bible is very clear about the exclusiveness of Christianity and the wrath that is due to those who refuse to repent. John 3.36 is one verse that says this - but there are many others.

From the Theosalient Department

© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 License.


Chestertonian Rambler said...
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Chestertonian Rambler said...

I suppose I would take exception to Examples 1 and 6, and would like to see you defend each answer.

As far as 1, it always seemed to me that the Scriptures speak of seeking God's will in a way that surpasses the basis of God's objective law. As in, if you are convinced that you are hearing God speak, you should listen; but ALWAYS check against scripture to see if the "voice" is God or not. Paul never asked for Old Testament principles to justify Christ's message to him.

As far as 4, I'd greatly like to agree with you. I believe that the segments of the Church that forbid alcohol are wrong and are adding to scriptures in a quite improper manner. Nevertheless, I believe that motive is as important as action (one of the easiest claims to back up by NT scriptures!)

Perhaps the example you gave (feeling guilty afterwards) might be acceptable -- but I feel the Scriptures are very clear that if you think something is a sin, and then do it, you are sinning. It's been one of the toughest Scriptural passages I've encountered, but I feel that it is a clear principle of God's Word.

That God never guides counter to Scripture is obvious almost to the point of being self-evident. But I suppose my fundamental problem is that I haven't seen anything in Scripture that says that God doesn't supliment Scriptures -- and much that seems to imply that He often does.

Paul W said...


Excellent post, but with example 9 I think you kind of violate your own hermemeutical principles in relation to John 3:36. Those who stand in danger of God's wrath in this passage are not some nameless "pagans" or "unbelievers," but they are nominally God's own people; those within the hearing of Jesus' gospel.

Neil Cameron (One Salient Oversight) said...

Chesty Rambler,

Here goes.

Example 1.
You're asking me to essentially defend my argument that it is okay to ignore a feeling that you think might be from God - especially concerning decision making.

(If that's NOT what you're asking me to do I apologise)

When we read the Bible and see how God guided people like the Apostles or prophets or Old Testament figures, we have to realise that what we are reading is a description of what is happening - not a prescription of how we should expect God to guide.

Take Paul for example. The guy is blinded and has a vision that turns him from Saul to Paul. Later he speaks of being "caught up in the third heaven" (2 Cor 12.1-3).

But as a guy who seems to have a direct phone line to the Lord, he spends no time at all telling us how we can also have a direct phone line. Instead he focuses upon the authority that God has given him as an Apostle. This can be found in 1 Cor 4.1-3, 1 Cor 12.28, Gal 1.1, Eph 2.20 (also supported in 2 Peter 3.2 and Rev 21.14)

In other words, Paul received the gospel directly from God (Rom 1.5) and then wrote about it in his letters. So what we have in the New Testament (and in the Old) is the result of a direct communication by God to his chosen messengers.

I don't know of any passages in the NT or OT that would support the idea that God would directly communicate to us outside of scripture. I'd love to look at any passages you might suggest - so please feel free to reply to this.

You also mention a problem with Example #4. I'm going to assume you made a typo on that one!

As far as the alcohol thingy goes - I know this is a hot topic at the moment and you have blogged about it recently. I won't go into it deeply - but I do think that, based on Psalm 104 and Colossians 2.16-19, that a Christian who chooses to drink alcohol is not sinning, regardless of how guilty they may feel.

Neil Cameron (One Salient Oversight) said...


As I started reading, it occurred to me that John 3.36 was actually uttered by John the Baptist. I never knew that before! (Or at least I may have, but have since forgotten it)

So in its context, the warning in 3.36 is that all who follow God follow Christ. Those who do not follow Christ do not follow God.

This may be a veiled attempt by the author to be anti-semitic - but I think the charge that John was anti-Jewish is wrong anyway.

And in the context of the example - you have a person who has probably just had the gospel explained to them that a refusal to accept the gospel will lead to God's wrath.

I'm not sure if you're happy with that explanation Paul. Come back to me on that one.

Paul W said...


I am very happy. I couldn't agree more!

Just for the record. I'm not a universalist, in the sense that everyone will in the end attain salvation. Scriptures like 1 Thes 1:9f and 2 Thes 1:8-12 speak about the plight of pagans and unbelievers. And I am quite convinced they need Jesus; but this means that our bringing the gospel to them puts them in a situation which is one of both great risk and opportunity--like the people addressed by John the Baptist in John 3:36.

Part of me hopes like the staunchly Calvinist theologians Charles Hodge and B. B. Warfield that "the number of the finally lost in comparison with the whole number of the saved will be very inconsiderable" (Hodge, _Systematic Theology_, Vol. 3, pp. 879-80).

Neil Cameron (One Salient Oversight) said...


Ha! I love the way you think mate. I almost wrote something about unviersalism but couldn't fit it into the reply.

The fact that you could see this behind my words is priceless! Good work!

BTW - hope you get that job with the government.

Chestertonian Rambler said...
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Chestertonian Rambler said...

I guess in general I'm very fearful in limiting the power of God in an unscripturally founded manner. I don't see a strict view of "sola scriptura" ever elucidated in scriptures.

The best example I could give about something being a sin despite the Scriptures' lack of condemning it would be the discussion of food sacrificed to idols. Yes, it's been misappropriated by prohibitionists, but it still seems to make the point that (1) eating food sacrificed to idols in the right spirit is good, and (2) if your brother eats of food sacrificed to idols while thinking it is a sin, that is a sin.

Also, I think Christ's comments to the rich man ("sell everything if you wish to enter Heaven") seem to imply that God REQUIRES of some people types of obedience he doesn't require of others. Legalism is horrible, but let's not go to the other extreme of stating adamently that only that which is most clearly stated as wrong in scriptures is sinful.

Neil Cameron (One Salient Oversight) said...

I worked out the best way to summarise your moniker:

Rambo chest:

For me the key verses are always 2 Timothy 3.16-17.

Paul talks about Scripture being breathed out by God and then goes on to talk about what its good for. Then he ends with the following:

"...That the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work".

The phrase "Thoroughly equip" is the phrase exartizo, which essentially means furnish completely or furnish perfectly.

Essentially the logic goes like this - the scriptures completely prepare the Christian for every good work. Thus Sola Scriptura is about sufficiency - it's all you need.

Now align this with some other passages:

Psalm 119 is all about God's Word as expressed by the words Law, Statutes, Precepts, Testimonies, Word and Commandments. If you read the entire Psalm, it focuses greatly upon the link between God's people and the Word that he has given them.

Proverbs 30.5-6 God's Word is a refuge to those who take shelter in him.

Isaiah 55.11 God's Word will not return to Him empty, it will accomplish the purpose that God set it to do. This is one verse that begins an anthropomorphic description of the Word.

Ezekiel 37 God tells Ezekiel to speak his word to the valley of dry bones. Ezekiel speaks these words, and the Spirit causes the bones to come to life again.

Matthew 4.4 Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

John 1.1 The Word is also a person - Jesus.

Acts 6.7 The word of God continued to increase & many people became Christians.

Acts 12.24 The word of God increased and multipied

Ephesians 6.17 The Sword of the Spirit is the word of God. ie If the Spirit is to work and change people then it must be accompanied by the word.

2 Timothy 2.9 The word of God is not bound

Hebrews 1.1-2. Long ago, at many times and in many ways God spoke by the prophets (ie God spoke directly to these people in many different ways). But in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son (ie no more mystery - Jesus is the word that God speaks)

Hebrews 4.12. The word of God is living and active, sharper than any double edged sword etc.

To summarise what I believe the Bible says about the word of God:

The Word of God is the Bible.
The Word of God is Jesus Christ.
The Word of God was written by the Holy Spirit.
The Word of God is active.
The Word of God grows the church.
Man cannot resist the spread of the Word of God.
The Word of God is the message of the Cross.

The way I understand it is that Sola Scriptura is not just saying "The Bible is sufficient", it is actually saying that God's word is powerful. It is not a book, it is a message from God to man.

Thus when the Bible is read, the reader experiences God the Father, they experience the work of the Holy Spirit and they experience the Gospel of Christ.

Chestertonian Rambler said...
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Chestertonian Rambler said...

To ask a Luther-esque pointed question that I may or may not fully agree with:

What in all of that leads you to believe that the Word of God = Sola Scriptura?

(This is not an attempt to deny in any way the power or inerrancy of Scriptures -- both I feel are very justified and crucial. But the question remains.)

Chestertonian Rambler said...

(Btw, sorry for my deleted posts as "Avultures Writes." My computer seems to be doing weird things.