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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Soli Deo Gloria

by Brad Peppo

To the Glory of God Alone

Usually listed last, but arguably the most foundational of the five solas, the Latin phrase Soli Deo Gloria stands for the idea that all glory ought to go to God and to God alone. In this post I aim to provide an examination of the meaning and the biblical basis of this doctrine.

Gloria

I begin by considering the end of the Latin phrase—the word translated glory. Clearly, an adequate understanding of this fifth sola will be difficult without a firm grasp of the concept underlying this final term. Like so many other words, however, that permeate our Christian vocabulary, the word glory is often thrown about without much thought as to its meaning. Therefore, it should be worth while to start with some definitions.

The Hebrew and Greek words translated glory are used in the Scriptures in a number of different but closely related senses. The first sense is illustrated in Exodus 33 where Moses asks to be shown God’s glory. To this God answers, “I will make all my goodness pass before you…and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.” In this passage, God uses glory as a synonym for His goodness—but here, His goodness translated into visible form. We see the word used in this same sense in Exodus 24:16-17, which describes the devouring fire that descended upon Sinai; in 2 Chronicles 5:14, which presents the overwhelming cloud that filled the temple; and in Luke 9:32, which refers to the dazzling brilliance that shone forth in the transfiguration of Christ. In its first sense, then, glory refers to the goodness and greatness of God visibly manifested.

In another sense, the Scriptures use the word glory to refer to the goodness of God as it is revealed, not visibly, but rather logically; not by His immediate presence, but rather in His wonderful works. It is what appears in the overthrowing of His enemies (Ex. 14); it is what is revealed in the miracles performed by Christ (Jn 2:11); it is what is evidenced in God’s saving, delivering and atoning work on behalf of His people (Ps. 79:9). In this sense, glory is synonymous with God’s greatness, His power, His majesty and His excellence (1 Chr. 29:11; 2 Peter 1:3). It is closely associated with God’s name (Ps 102:15) and with His fame (1 Chr. 22:5). Glory in this second sense, then, denotes the sum total of God’s awesome attributes as they are made known in His mighty deeds.

In its third sense, glory refers to the response that God’s self-revelations call forth from His creatures. It is in this sense that the Scriptures repeatedly command men and angels to “give” God glory, (Ps. 22:23; 29:1-2) to declare it (Ps. 96) and to sing it (Ps 66:2) It is in this sense that glory is “due” to His name (Ps 19:2; 96:8). To give God glory in this way is to acknowledge His worth and to give Him the credit He is due. This, men do by talking of His wondrous works, by singing His praises, and by giving Him thanks (1 Chr. 16).

Thus, when the scriptures refer to the glory of God, they are speaking sometimes of the visible manifestation of God’s presence, sometimes of the revelation of His attributes through His mighty works, and sometimes of the praise and thanks that men owe Him in response thereto. As it is used in the doctrine of Soli Deo Gloria, the word is to be understood primarily in connection with the latter two of these senses.

Deo

What, then, is meant by Deo, the second word of our Latin phrase? What do we mean when we say that glory is “to God?” This second word stands for the notion that glory belongs to God (Rv 19:1), that it is due His name (Ps 19:2), and that He is worthy to receive it (Rv 4:11). In other words, it is good and proper that God make His greatness known, and it is right that men should worship Him in response.

We can first see the propriety of giving God glory by first looking at how fervently God seeks it for Himself. It would appear that glory is the primary end He seeks in all of his works. He created the heavens to bring Himself glory (Ps. 19:1). He hardened and overthrew the Egyptians to bring Himself glory (Ex. 14:4-17). He created His people Israel to bring Himself glory (Is 43:7) He alternately punished and blessed Israel throughout their history to bring Himself glory (Nu 14:20-22; Is 26:15). Even in glorifying Christ, the Father’s object was to glorify Himself (Jn 17:1). Finally, we see that glory is the end God seeks throughout the entire process of our salvation in Christ (Eph. 1:3-14). How do we know that glory properly belongs to God? He seeks it for Himself.

Secondly, we have the direct commands of the Scriptures that we are to give God glory (Ps 22:23; 29:1-2). His people are instructed to declare His glory among the nations (1 Chr. 16:8-36; Ps 96). The nations themselves are commanded to give Him glory (Is. 24:15-16; 42:12). We are told to do good works so that He might receive glory (Mt 5:16). We are called to glorify Him in our bodies (1 Cor. 6:20), in what we eat and drink, and in whatever it is we do (1 Cor. 10:31). Finally, we have the example of Christ who obeyed this command and considered glorifying God to be the primary purpose of His earthly ministry. “I glorified You on earth, having accomplished the work that You gave Me to do” (Jn 17:4). Why ought we to glorify God? He commands us to do so.

Soli

Finally then, we come to the first word of the phrase: soli. For we say not only that glory ought to go to God, but that it ought to go to Him “alone;” that is, to Him and to no other. For this notion, we have the clearest statements of Scripture, as God Himself declares, “I am the LORD; that is My name; My glory I give to no other” (Is 42:8). And “For My own sake, for My own sake I do it, for how should My name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another” (Is 48:11). We see God’s jealousy for His glory graphically represented in the example of Herod who, when he accepted the praise of men and did not rather give glory to God, was struck down by God and eaten by worms (Acts 12:23). When it comes to receiving glory from men, God alone is worthy, and He will accept no rival.

We further see this principle operating in the way God has saved us. It was said before that God saved us in Christ to bring Himself glory. We see also in Ephesians that He saved us in such a way as to prevent glory from going to any other.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph 2:8-9).
God does not just want some of the glory in our salvation, He wants all the glory. He accomplishes this goal by saving those who have no hope of saving themselves and no cause for bringing any attention to their own works.

Certainly though, nowhere is the principle of Soli Deo Gloria expressed more clearly than in the incarnation of Christ. Christ, who was Himself the radiance of God’s glory (Heb 1:3) who was equal to God, and had every right to seek His own glory, nevertheless set aside that glory and took upon Himself the form of a servant (Philip 2:4-8). In His earthly ministry, He refused to seek His own glory and instead, sought only to bring glory to His Father (Jn 8:50). If not even Christ, the glorious Son of the glorious God, sought His own glory, how could we, as mere men, possibly ever justify doing so ourselves? Glory is due to God and to God alone.

In sum, then, the phrase Soli Deo Gloria stands for the biblical doctrine that God alone is good, that He seeks to make His goodness known, and that men are duty bound to praise Him for His goodness, taking no credit for themselves. It was this understanding, no doubt, that led the psalmist to proclaim:
Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” (Ps 115:1)
May our prayer be the same.

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With law studies, a teaching career, church participation and a young family, Brad Peppo is a very busy man. It is a joy to see a brother I have known since adolescence walk with the Lord, and that walk has caused us to have greater fellowship in recent years.

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