Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Understanding the Bible

This is an excerpt from Pyromaniac teamwriter, Frank Centurion on determining a correct interpretation of biblical passages. In his introduction and follow-up from a previous post, he states the following:
So my point in posting so far is to say that God gives us His word for a reason, and that reason is clear to us when we read His word. I’m sure that rubs a lot of people the wrong way (they are probably not regular readers of TeamPyro, but they are out there). But they would tender up this question: “How do you know your interpretation is a good one, cent? What’s the basis for making sure you got it right?”

What follows below is part of the answer to the above asked question. I find this discussion helpful as I encounter Christians deriving an interpretation that differs from what I currently believe and practice. How do we approach God's Word and gain correct understanding? Centurion's words, by way of example, help us understand what it is to have 'humility in our hermeneutics'.
Anyway, that said, can the Bible be figured out? If Deut. 6 is one explanation of what Scripture is and does, how does it turn out that so many people disagree about what Scripture says, and how do I make sure that I don’t fumble the football?

I’m going to use myself as an example of how you figure it out – not because I’m such a bright guy, but because my testimony is that, as an atheist, I could read the Gospel of John and “get it” enough to know that my trust has to be in a savior that saves. When my wife asked me years later, while we were dating, what would happen to me when I died, I told her: “if it’s up to what I've done, I’ll probably go to hell, but Jesus says He is the way -- I'm trusting him.” You can see that [a] that's not bad for a guy who only read the Gospel of John once, and [b] I've come a long way in 15 years.

So my leaping-off place with this is that you don’t need a complex hermeneutic to “get it” from Scripture. What you need is to read Scripture as it is presented. Trying to “get” the Gospel of John by starting in John 2 and then jumping to John 6 and then jumping to John 14 doesn’t give you John: it gives you a fallible version of John – one edited by man.
But here’s the other half of that, in which I am also the example. As my wife (at that time, my girlfriend) acted as the Holy Spirit to me (a role God clearly made her for), we began attending church together, and we started reading Scripture together. And somehow, the topic of Jonah came up.

Yes, that Jonah.

And whilst we were talking about it, I blurted out what I thought was a fairly-intelligent comment about the book of the minor prophet: “Well, it’s allegory anyway.”
Now, my wife is a born Baptist. Her grandfather was a Baptist preacher – a pretty good one as I hear it. And when I said that, the conversation made a screeching stop.

“What?” She said, apparently calm. “What makes you say that?”

And, having the resources of a Jesuit education, I informed her that there was no way that Jonah was a historical story because of the big fish – the whale, if you will. Nobody gets swallowed by a whale, nobody lives through getting swallowed by a whale, and that just makes Jonah into a fancy story. It has truth in it, but it’s not true – not like me typing into my laptop true.
However, being a good Baptist (as opposed to a “pheh!” Baptist), she opened up the Bible to Matthew 12, and read from the NKJV:

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.”

But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.
She looked at me and said, “If Jesus believed that Jonah spent 3 days and 3 nights in the belly of the great fish, I do, too.”
And in retrospect, I think it’s a lot more brutally-clear than that. Jesus believed Jonah was real; Jesus believed the great fish was real; Jesus believed the Ninevites were real; Jesus believed their repentance was real. And Jesus believed that all of it together was enough to condemn the Pharisees for overlooking the Messiah, who, by the way, was real.

So the story of Jonah is true and it is verified by the way in which Jesus uses it to chastise the Pharisees.

And what that means, getting back to my point actually, is that we have to use Scripture the way Christ used Scripture. We have to use it the way John the Baptist used it. We have to use it the way Paul and Peter used it – and Stephen, and James, and John and Matthew and Mark and Luke.

You know: the hermeneutic of the men who delivered the word of God to people as prophets and apostles is not actually a very complicated hermeneutic. It is a rigorous hermeneutic, to be sure. And it is hardly an “objective” hermeneutic in the sense that it calls for the reader to be sort of a flavorless paste. And it requires something from us, to be sure. The position these men all put Scripture in was one which is above human reasoning in such a way as to guide and form human reasoning.

But the problem with people today is that we prefer a more-complicated hermeneutic. We have things we like just the way they are, and sometimes we want to find a way to justify that. We can do extraordinary linguistic studies to find out if God saved anyone eternally in the Old Testament in order to justify our truncating of the New Testament expression of salvation; we can do the same thing to make a sin out of wine-drinking, and out of married love, and to tone down the problem of excessive riches because we live in an excessively-rich society. We can use Scripture to buttress our beliefs in the church to make it more than it ought to be, and also less than it ought to be.
And the reason I started this off with the example of me in the first place is to say this: what we ought to do with Scripture is come to it in complete poverty and desperation, knowing that it is the wisdom of God which makes the wisdom of men look like foolishness. Our hermeneutic ought to be one where we frame ourselves not as peers to the writer but as abject beggars before the writer. Our hermeneutic ought to be the sinner who will die without God’s intervention.

That’s what Deu 6 says, isn’t it? The word God has commanded is there for us to remember who God is when we think we have enough that we can live without Him. The word of God ought to be taking us down a notch from satisfied to grateful, from safe to seeking refuge, from comfortable to poor in spirit. You can know your conclusion about the word of God is sound when what you have brought out of the text something you could have never put in there. When you are a student of the text, drawn there by God’s wisdom in the face of your own foolishness, you will be getting it right.

I am sure that doesn’t satisfy anybody, but there you go. Be in the Lord’s house with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s day this week, and ask yourself – seriously – am I learning anything from this book we are reading, or am I trying hard to show how smart I am?

You can read the entire post here.

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