Mark Batterson - Sola Scriptura
In the summer of 1799, Napoleon's grand army marched into Egypt. They were building fortifications in the city of Rosetta when soldiers unearthed a rock that we know as the Rosetta Stone. Inscribed on that stone were three languages, hieroglyphics, Demotic script, and Greek. It took linguists two years to line up the letters. But once they cracked the code, it unlocked those ancient languages and revealed much of what we know about Egyptian civilization. Can I suggest today that the Bible is our Rosetta Stone? This is how we decipher life and love. This is how we define good and evil. This is how we decode cosmology, teleology, eschatology. Where do we come from? Where are we headed? And what's the point?
This is our epistemology. This is how we relate to reality. We're in a series called "SOLA, Going Back to Basics," back to bedrock, five solae: solo gratia, sola fide, sola scriptura, solus Christus, soli Deo gloria, by grace alone, by faith alone, by Christ alone, by scripture alone, to the glory of God alone. You can grab a Bible, meet me in 2nd Timothy 3:16. Written in three languages on three continents over 1,500 years, the Bible is a collection of 66 books written by 40 different authors, farmers and fishermen, poets and prophets, doctors and tax collectors, and prime ministers. It was written in prison cells and palace courts and wilderness, caves. And it covers the gamut of human experience. You've got comedy and tragedy, history and theology. You've got poetry, prophecy, and philosophy.
There are musicals called the psalms. There are documentaries called Kings and Chronicles. There are gospels and epistles. It's the most comprehensive longitudinal study in human history. All those authors, all those subjects, all those years, and yet it reads like one story. How is that even possible? I think the answer is 2nd Timothy 3:16, All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so the servant of God may be equipped for every good work. Now, Paul is writing to Timothy, but he's tipping his cap to Genesis 2:7, Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being. This is key to our cosmology.
Last weekend, you remember that I showed you some photographs from the James Webb Space Telescope, Pillars of Creation, Tarantula nebula, Phantom Galaxy. Let me push that envelope just a little bit. When stars explode, it's called a supernova. Those exploding stars eject their mass, and that's where we get the periodic table of elements. And I might add, that's where we get you. You are made from stardust, your body, 65% oxygen, 18.5% carbon, 9.5% hydrogen, 3.2% nitrogen, and I might add 100% awesome. Ah, having a little bit of fun today. You are made from stardust, but you're also made in the image of God. And so God breathes into his nostrils the breath of life. Now, hold that thought. We're talking about sola scriptura.
So let me talk a little bit about hermeneutics, the science of interpreting scripture. There's a very simple principle. Let scripture interpret scripture, or interpret scripture with scripture. What you do is you hyperlink, you juxtapose, and you have to connect the dots. So just as God breathed into the dust the breath of life, I might suggest that God breathed His words into those original writers. Now, they were not automatons. This was not an autopen. Quite the opposite. God is speaking through their history, through their personality, but we believe He was superintending that process. The Apostle Peter said it this way, "Prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, were carried along, spoke from God as they were carrying along by the Holy Spirit".
And so here's a thought. When we read scripture, we are inhaling what the Holy Spirit exhaled thousands of years ago. All scripture is God-breathed. If you want a word from God, get into the Word of God. When we open the Bible, God opens His mouth, but he doesn't just speak, He breathes. And it's Genesis 2:7 all over again. Now, Psalm 119, longest chapter in the Bible. It's actually an ancient acrostic, 22 stanzas, eight verses in each stanza, each stanza begins with the different letter of the Hebrew alphabet. But there are certain words that are put on repeat. Now, one of those is the word quicken. Psalm 119:107 says, Quicken me according to Your word. It's the Hebrew word, haya, It sounds like a karate chop, used 11 times, and it's interesting, it's the same word used for physical resurrection. In a sense, what the writer is saying is the Bible brings us back to life. It revises our faith. It resurrects our dreams. It renews our hope.
Now, I've read thousands of books. I love books. The Bible's in a category by itself. The Bible is living and active, Hebrews 4:12, that judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. You don't just read the Bible. The Bible reads you. And the goal isn't getting through scripture. The goal is getting scripture through you. Now, according to rabbinic tradition, every word of scripture, 70 faces, 600,000 meanings. You never get to the bottom of this book. And the goal is not information, it's transformation. The the goal is to get it from your head to your heart, to your gut. This is how we renew our minds, Romans 12:2, this is how we discern the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. This is how we even download the mind of Christ. Understand today, that this is the written Word, and Jesus is the living Word. In other words, Jesus is the translation of this. You could even say, Jesus is perfect theology.
And I would suggest that the Bible is as relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago, and it comes with a promise. His word does not return void. Isaiah 55:11. God is watching over his word to perform it. Jeremiah 1:12. Now, if there's one goal today, one takeaway, one homework assignment, here it is. Download the Daily Bible reading plan. The only ceiling on our intimacy with God and impact on the world is daily spiritual disciplines. And the Bible reading plan, I think, ranks right at the top of the list. Last month, I biked a century, bike century, biked 100 miles. Only way that happens was a training plan. Failing to plan is planning to fail. And so 16 weeks, 48 rides, more than 700 miles. I planned the work and then I worked the plan. Okay, do we think the Bible is in a different category? Like, this the point and flip strategy, it isn't gonna get us where we wanna go.
Last time I checked, you gotta plan everything out. And so I try to bite the Bible every year. I try to go from cover to cover. And the inspiration for me is pretty simple. Okay, my most prized possession is the 1934 Thompson Chain-Reference Bible that belonged to my grandfather, Elmer Johnson. He loved God's Word, and I love reading his Bible. I'm gonna give you a little sneak peek if I can. Let's see if this works. And so he loved the book of Daniel. He would write notes in the margin. And I love seeing what he underlined, except he underlined almost every verse! Right? I'm like, what didn't you underline, grandpa? And so, I love, there's this connection when I read this, and then check this out. You get to the New Testament. I mean, come on. He read his Bible so much, he had to tape the thing together.
"A Bible that is falling apart," said Charles Spurgeon, "probably belongs to someone who isn't". And I keep a little note card in my Bible. It's A. W. Tozer, "Whatever keeps me from my Bible is my enemy, however harmless it may appear to me". Can I give us two tips today when it comes to just good old-fashioned Bible reading? One, a pretty practical habit stack. My day starts with a latte, two shots, and so what I do is I have it stack my Bible reading. I do my daily Bible reading while I drink my latte, because the Bible reads better with caffeine. Keeping it real today. And then two, I change translations.
Now, part of the inspiration is I wanna read through enough bibles that I can give to my kids, grandkids, maybe great grandkids someday, should the Lord, Terry and... And I change translations because it's the law of requisite variety. The key to growth is routine, but once the routine becomes routine, you have to change the routine. If you go and work out the same way at the gym every time, your muscles actually adapt to it and it becomes less effective. You have to confuse your muscles. Any trainers in the house? Trainers in the house, that's what you do. You confuse people's muscles, right? And so we have to confuse ourselves, and the way I do that is, I tell you what, try going from the NIV to the KJV, it will confuse you. then to the NLT.
This year, I'm taking a little different tactic. I usually go old in New Testament, but I'm reading for a little bit more depth than Brett this year, and I'm doing a paraphrase. There are dynamic equivalents, versions of the Bible that would try to translate from the original language word for word. So the NASB or English Standard Version, or even the New King James would kind of fall into that category. So there's the formal equivalents. Let me get this right. There is functional equivalents, and it's more of a phrase for phrase translation. This would be the NIV, the NLT, and then there are paraphrases that add some interpretation and some explanation. And so the Message would fall into that category.
I thought, I'm just gonna really try to confuse myself this year and do something a little different. Maybe spend a little bit more time meditating on a smaller amount of scripture. So all of that to say this, pick a plan, any plan. I'll even show you mine. I think we have a picture of mine this year. I start on my birthday. I think a lot of people might start like on a January one. I start on my birthday. It's just kind of an inspiration for me. It's one of my annual challenges, one of my annual habits. And so one way or the other, the challenge is, let's get into God's Word, let's get God's Word into us.
Let me share two equations. First one, Holy Spirit plus caffeine equals awesome. I just, you've heard that a time or two. Just wanna have a little bit of fun with that, throwing that out there. Second one maybe is a little bit more serious. Holy Scripture minus Holy Spirit equals Letter of the Law. I think this is a book that you read a little differently than other books. You need... The Holy Spirit wants to work on both sides of the equation. Didn't just inspire those original writers, but wants to speak to us as readers.
And so, Holy Spirit wears a lot of different hats, plays a lot of different roles, not limited to but including these three: searching, servicing, and sealing. The Spirit of God Google-searches the deep things of God, 1st Corinthians 2:10, and so almost like the dark web of our lives, the Holy Spirit searches and then surfaces memories, imaginations, thoughts, attitudes. When it says it judges the thoughts and attitudes, the Holy Spirit, like there's a convicting process sometimes when I'm reading God's Word, 'cause my life doesn't quite always line up to it. But then there is also a sealing. And I love this, Thy Word have I hidden my heart that I might not sin against You. What we're trying to do is get God's Word in us so that we're almost like downloading an operating system. You're just continually updating and upgrading that operating system, so that our lives become an expression of God's Word. Anything less than that, I think, often results in dead religion.
Now, let me share four hacks that I think will help us live the Bible a little bit better. And so, let me go into teaching mode right here. One, all truth is God's truth. Now, just as there is common grace and saving grace, there's natural revelation and special revelation. Now, God has revealed Himself through creation. Romans 1:20 says it this way, Since the creation of the world, God's invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen being understood from what has been made. And so one of my rules of life is that every -ology is a branch of theology. I love 'em all. I love neuroanatomy. I love astrophysics. I love dendrology. I am not an expert in any of 'em. but I am insatiably curious about God's creation.
And and I would say in remind us, science is our friend. Howard Einstein said, "Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind". When I was a student at University of Chicago, took a class in immunology at the University of Chicago Hospital Center, favorite class all time, hands down. I remember walking outta one of those classes, literally praising God for hemoglobin. You have 25 trillion red blood cells, and each of those red blood cells contains 260 million hemoglobin proteins that deliver oxygen to the cells of your body. I know people who say they've never experienced a miracle. With all due respect, you are one. So there's natural revelation, but then there's special revelation. Stick with me. Maybe jot this down. Everybody has an epistemology.
Can we just level the playing field? Everybody has... Now epistemology is a theory of knowledge or a branch of philosophy that asks the question what is truth? How do we relate to reality? And how do we know what we know? We live in a culture that wants to believe that my truth is my truth, and your truth is your truth. The problem with that is it's not true. It's a logical fallacy. 'Cause at some point your truth is gonna bump into my truth. Then what's true? So all truth is God's truth with a critical caveat. Scripture is our epistemological starting point.
Now, there's a methodology for theology called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. We approach theology from four angles, four dimensions, if you will, scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. Let me break this down and I think there'll be a payoff if you stick with me for a couple of minutes. Tradition is the test of time. So when we talk about orthodoxy as it relates to theology, we're invoking tradition. Now listen, there are times and places where the church has got it wrong. So there's that. And the hardest thing to put on the altar are sacred cows. So there's that, too. And Christians have a confirmation bias like everybody else. So there's that. Now that said, there is a longstanding, I might even say long suffering tradition of the church that has a tempering effect when the winds of doctrine blow. There is a cumulative effect. There is a compound interest when it comes to theology. And so I might even say, beware of johnny-come-lately.
Two, reason is the test of logic. Now, logic is a gift from God, no doubt. That said, God doesn't fit within the four dimensions, the space, time, He created, much less the logical constraints of your left brain. Now, faith is not logical, but it's not illogical either. It's theological, it adds God to the equation of our reason. And we believe that there is revelation beyond reason. Now, you've heard me say this 100 times, as soon as I'm omniscient, I'll let you know, but I wouldn't hold your breath. The more you know, the more you know how much you don't know. I just think we need a degree of critical realism even when it comes to our theology. Now three, experience is the test of testimony. And I love this because no one can argue with your experience, and that's a powerful thing. But I might also remind you that I am, you are a data 0.01. I have a rule of life, let God be as original with others as He was with you.
See, we don't see the world as it is. We see the world as we are. I mean, not just confirmation bi... More than 200 cognitive biases that affect the way that we think. And so I would say, buyer, beware. And then finally, scripture is the test of truth. And this is where I would say that the sequence is significant. If you start with experience, you ultimately end up at relativism. There's just no other endpoint. And so I just think it's critical, here it is, that we filter experience and reason and tradition through scripture, not the other way around. Scripture is the final authority when it comes to matters of faith and doctrine. If you filter your biblical theology through your political ideology, it's called idolatry.
I would also say this, heard it years ago, Erwin McManus, "Don't let an arrow of criticism pierce your heart unless it passes through the filter of Scripture". So I don't care if it's personal experience, political ideology, anything else. We want our lives to measure up to the plumb line of scripture. By the way, I'm not saying it's not a big book. It is. And I'm not saying it's not not complicated either, okay? 'Cause it is. And there are lots of different thoughts, opinions, even denominations. But that brings us to our second point. All truth is God's truth. Two, text without context is pretext. 2nd Timothy 2:15, Study to show yourself approved rightly dividing the Word of Truth.
Now, I said it before, the Bible is as relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago. It's omni-relevant. It's a book about real people with real problems in real time. And also a real God with real solutions. But in order to understand the present tense meaning. you do have to understand the past tense context. If content is king, context is queen. So when I say context, I mean history and geography, language, and culture, and genre. Old Testament, you've got three primary divisions, the Law, first five books, Pentateuch, Torah. You've got the prophets and the writings, New Testament, you've got the four gospels, acts of the apostles, which tells the history of the early church, and then into these epistles written by the likes of Paul and Peter and James and John.
So, I hope this helps you like it has helped me. Here we go. There are parts of the Bible that are harder to read, harder to understand, and harder to apply than others. Captain Obvious, right? All scripture is equally inspired, but not all scripture is equally applicable. What I mean by that is this. There are verses in the book of Leviticus about dietary restrictions, hygiene habits, animal sacrifices that seem less relevant than, say, John 3:16. But without that backstory, we lose context. What we call the Old Testament, puts the New Testament into perspective. And so this is critical. You have to read the Bible as progressive revelation. Nuanced commandments about the animal sacrifices may seem archaic, but they help us understand atonement. They help us see Jesus as our mediator, as our advocate, as our high priest who fulfilled the law, atoned for sin, and did away with the sacrificial system once and for all.
Let me just... Two mistakes. One is reading over. The second is reading into. It's called Isa Jesus, where we just kind of read our experience into it. But I think we do have to learn how to read between the lines, connect the dots. I wish I had a little bit more time share a Jewish hermeneutic called Pardes. But I've shared it before. You can Google it. It's a helpful way to approach scripture. Let me just jump in with an example. John 1:29, John the Baptist says about Jesus, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world". Wait, wait, wait, back up the bus. Wait, what? Lamb of God? What is that about? Who takes away the sins of the world? That's quite the statement. So you can read right over that. But let me give a little bit of context, history, geography.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, we call it Palm Sunday, it was actually the first day of Passover. It was called Lamb selection day, for what it's worth, a population of Jerusalem, about 50,000 at the time, it would quintuple during these pilgrimage feasts. So about 250,000 people, and they're throwing down palm branches and they're saying, Hosanna. And we could just think that that's, wow, that's unique. No, it's Psalm 118. This is the psalm, the Hallel, part of the Hallel that they would say during the Passover. And if you look at the text, it says, verse 19, Open for me the gates of righteousness. This is not insignificant. 10 gates going into the ancient city of Jerusalem. This is a reference to one of them. The Sheep Gate. Hold onto that.
Verse 27 says, With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar. Well, what is that about? Well, on the Passover, every Jewish family would sacrifice the lamb as a way of celebrating and commemorating, remember this, their Exodus from Egypt. That sacrificial lamb chosen four days before the Passover on Lamb Selection Day. And those sheep that were sacrificed on the Passover belonged to a special flock that was born and raised, place called Migdal Edar, the tower of the flock in Bethlehem. Those sheep were considered sacred, because they were set aside for sacrifice and raised by those Levitical shepherds.
Now, once a year, Levitical shepherds would lead their sheep from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. They would enter Jerusalem through that Sheep Gate. They would walk down the Via Dolorosa, and those sheep would be sold for sacrifice. Every Jewish family would purchase a Passover lamb, take it to the temple. They would wave palm branches, sing Psalm 118, and they would join in this festival procession that would end at the horns of the altar, Are you ready for this? With the priest proclaiming, "It is finished". There are so many layers to this, it's unbelievable. From the geography of which gate is being entered to the prophecy of even coming in on a donkey, right? To the history of a tradition.
See, we celebrate communion and fail to realize, no, this was the Passover meal. There is a history, and this is our exodus from Egypt. There are layers to this thing. There is a context to the cross where history and prophecy, geography and language converge. Sometimes you get a thought in the moment, JD, you and boys help build a cross. And I remember talking to you, you built this amazing cross that's in our upper room. Sometimes we celebrate communion and leverage that cross. And I remember one of the things you shared, the thing that struck you is you studied the context was that crucifixions would actually happen at eye level. That Jesus would only been three or four feet. Now we know this from scripture, because the soldiers put a sponge, wine and vinegar, on a hyssop branch that are about 18 inches long.
This is kind of how we put together the puzzle. And so, Jesus... What I'm saying is, like, it's a little different, this picture of Jesus hanging high on a cross where you can barely see him as opposed to a suffering savior right in your face. Who, by the way, says "It is finished," Tetelestai in Greek, one word, an accounting term referred to the last installment on a debt paid. In other words, forgiven, forgotten, set free, curse broken, sin forgiven, death defeated in Jesus name. See, when you start to get history and geography and language into the mix, the cross takes on this dimensionality. All of human history was pointing to this moment when the high priest would say, it's done. It's over. No more animal sacrifice. Let's do this thing once and for all, a sinless sacrifice for you and for me. Can you just say amen right there?
All right, we're gonna move fast. We're gonna move fast. Three, scripture is our script cure. I won't take a lot of time talking about this, but everyone is born into someone else's story. If you wanna change your life, you have to change your story. This is so critical. I would suggest, when we get grafted into Christ, this book becomes our backstory. And God begins to write his story, history with a hyphen in and through our lives. But here's the key. You have to give him complete editorial control of your life. And that brings us to number four. I'll close with this for the sake of time. You are the only Bible some people will ever read. Since the day the Temple was destroyed, since the Talmud, God has only one place in His world, only four cubits of halacha. It's something that kind of mystified Old Testament scholars.
Now, halacha referred to the written and oral law, might translate way of walking or walking in the way, it's basically scripture. But what is the four cubits about? Well, do the math. That's about six feet. There's a cue and a clue. What God is saying is during this Babylonian captivity Temple destroyed. Now all I have is a walking, talking Torah that looks a lot like you and you and you and you and you. And the last time I checked, you are a temple of the Holy Spirit. You are an a epistle from Christ. You are the only Bible some people will ever read. The question is, are you a good translation?
In Judaism no distinction between knowing and doing. Doing is knowing. Knowing is doing. The proof is in the pudding. Wisdom is proved right by her children. Orthodoxy is right belief, orthopraxy is right behavior. At the end of the day, God's not gonna say, "Well thought, well studied, well planned". No, "Well done". So the last thing I would remind us of today, the Bible wasn't just meant to be read, it was meant to be prayed through. And by the way, when I pray the Word of God, I pray with an authority. It was meant to be meditated on and it was meant to be lived out.
G.K. Chesterton said, "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried". I was putting away, I have thousands of books, and we moved offices, and I'm just now getting them onto shelves. And so this week I was unpacking and it's so fun, I found some of these old books I haven't read in like 17 years. One of them by Bodil Jonsson, and I still remember this, when I read "Five Levels," this is a freebie right here. Okay? Level one, underline, level two, asterisk next to it, level three, circle it on the page, level four, upper dog ear, level five, lower dog ear. What that allows me to do is go back through everything I've read.
Now I can read a book, I want level five, I can get it in three minutes. Level two might take me 10. So I came across this level five, Bodil Jonsson, "Dynamic qualities are not revealed in their static state". Mark Twain said it this way. "I knew a man who grabbed a cat by the tail. He learned 40% more about cats than the man who didn't". I gotta land this plane. All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. In Jesus' name, Amen.