What I Believe: Interpretation

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24 ESV). I interpret these verses as providing a basis for our interpretation of Scripture although there are other meanings in them and other verses that guide interpretation. I believe the interpretation of biblical passages must enhance our understanding of the reality of spiritual things and bring us closer to a fuller knowledge of God’s revelation.

This does not mean we should not use such wisdom as has been provided us by others who have worked at interpreting Scripture. Interpretation is such a complex subject it has its own name—hermeneutics. The article in my Bible dictionary says interpretation is both an art and a science. Science begins with accurate observation and in interpretation this would mean, as far as possible, correctly reading the passage. From there we go on to context, comparison with other Scripture, other people’s interpretations and whatever we have learned from interpreting other passages.

There are rules for interpretation. These serve the same purpose as what are called the laws of nature do in the physical sciences. They put bounds on what are legitimate interpretations.

The art of interpretation is the work of the Holy Spirit as we pray for guidance and meditate on the possible meanings to see as much as God would have us see in a particular passage. Art is not static so what we may not understand originally may become clear as we continue to seek understanding.

What I Believe: Inerrancy

A typical statement concerning the inerrancy of the Bible reads “The Scriptures are without error in the original autographs.” The problem with this statement arises in Scripture itself. We read about what happened to one original autograph in Jeremiah 36:23 (ESV) “As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot.” (The complete story of this event is contained in Jeremiah 36:15-30). Fortunately for us and others, that manuscript was rewritten and we have many other prophecies and stories from the life of Jeremiah.

We do not know what happened to the other original autographs but we do know that none of them are now available to scholars. We do know that Jesus and the apostles had confidence in the reliability of the copies of Scriptures they knew, whether in Hebrew or in the Greek translation known as the Septuagint.

What would we do if we had an inerrant Bible? I think we might concentrate too much on the content of the Bible and too little on developing the proper relationships we should have with each Person of the Trinity. My own tendency would be to (figuratively) beat up my fellow Christians with the certainty of my own interpretations. An inerrant Bible would be no easier to understand in all its passages than the one we have.

We need to be helped in our spiritual growth and I am not sure an inerrant Bible would not just make our love of physical religion, all the things we do, even stronger and make meditation and contemplation even less a part of our lives. I believe God knew what he was doing when he made even the tablets of the Ten Commandments unavailable for our worship.

I believe that it is not the content and form of the original manuscripts that should be of major concern to us but that we have the living word of God in the documents we do have. Thus, we can celebrate the revelation that has been preserved for us.

What I Believe: Inspiration

When we use the word “inspiration” we are using the English form of the verb inspiro which comes from the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible. The form of the word might make us think that God did something to words that already existed. However, the Greek word theopneustos used in the New Testament means “God-breathed.” This should remind us of the work of the Holy Spirit in physical creation. In other words, Scripture is a creation of God and can be compared to physical creation as a mystery of God’s intentions.

The common source, the Holy Spirit, of both the Old and New Testaments is shown by the linkages between them. Jesus and the writers of the New Testament cited the Old Testament as foundational to an understanding of the new covenant that Jesus had brought into existence.

I regard “The Holy Scriptures are the only sufficient, certain, and infallible standard of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience (2 Timothy 3:15-17; Luke 16:29, 31; Ephesians 2:20).” If this is true, then inspiration is how they got that way.

Inspiration is inextricably intertwined with special revelation and providence. Let me illustrate. Paul’s letters were written to various people and groups of people at different places and times. The circumstances that prompted his writing resulted from the working of God’s providence. The teaching of Christianity, particularly when Paul used the word mystery, was him transmitting the special revelations he received from Jesus Christ. However, when Paul wrote letters he did not intend to create Scripture. That part of it is the Holy Spirit shaping Paul’s writings to Christ’s purposes.

Inspiration is the work of the Holy Spirit in the creation of each of the books. Each book has a unique history of its formation. Jeremiah received God’s special revelation and Baruch wrote it down to give us the book of Jeremiah. The Psalms are an anthology of Jewish music presumably assembled by one of the leaders of the Temple singers. Inspiration guided the selection of songs to be included—special revelation and providence provided the songs.

There are other people who contributed to the coming into existence of the books of the canon in addition to the people whose names are on the books or who are credited with their writing. These are the scribes, collators, copyists, editors, redactors, and all others who contributed to providing us the Holy Bible. These also were inspired by the Holy Spirit. “As inspired, the Scriptures were not produced by human will (2 Peter 1:21).”

I believe grace provides us with the faith we need to understand the inspired words of the Bible. For instance, as new Christians we may have found a favorite verse that had a special meaning for us at that stage of our Christian walk. Perhaps, after a long walk of faith we will find in the begats (those listings of ancient lineages) a richness that eluded us when we first encountered them in our Bible reading. I believe God energizes his Word through the faith and needs of its readers. Where there is much faith there is much finding of inspiration. Where there is no faith we get things such as courses like “The Bible As Literature.”

What I believe is that without faith no one can discover the inspiration of Scripture just as no one can know creation without faith (Hebrews 11:3). This does not excuse anyone for not seeking to find the truth of God’s word in the Bible any more than there is any exemption for people who do not seek God in creation from their responsibility to worship him.

 

What I Believe: Creation

Creation is a very complex subject. I believe God did create the heavens and the earth (and everything else) but not in six twenty-four hour days. I think creation required a long line of incremental steps and also time for created objects to mature to the state needed to make the earth suitable for human habitation. Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 2:3 tells us of God setting the stage for the story. It should not be over-interpreted as a description of all of creation. It is after all a rather short poem and I believe that it, like most poetry, cannot be interpreted literally. That said, there are two significant aspects of it. One is that everything physical in it is real and we have either experienced them or know about them. This led Isaac Newton to think that the passage was a description of end points of God’s creative actions. The second aspect is more subtle. I believe that breaking up the account of creation into days reflects the reality of the world we know coming into existence by stages.

 

This does not mean that I believe in evolution in any way, shape or form. Éttienne Gilson, a French philosopher, wrote in 1975, “Evolution is bad science and worse philosophy.” Since then, the science of evolution has gotten worse due to the vast increase of knowledge in the field of microbiology and the ideology of evolution has gone down several different paths.

 

The evolutionists have one thing, I think, that keeps them in the arena of evolutionist/creationist controversy. That is that life on earth has a long history. This is true even if some of the past and present scientific ideas about the age of the earth and how we got to the present will probably end up some day on a “blooper reel.”

 

We are told many times in Scripture about God’s propensity for creation What we are not told is how he does it.

What I Believe: The Story

The Bible tells, in sixty-six books, the story of God’s relationship to humanity. The story begins before the creation of the earth and ends in eternal blessedness for those people whom he has redeemed. There are three major themes that continue throughout the story. These are God’s creation of all that exists, the disobedience of the first humans and the consequences of that for all of physical reality, and God’s work to make right (redeem) according to his purposes all that has gone wrong. Redemption is a long and complex project and, I believe, cannot be finished in the framework of our present reality.

What I Believe: Special Revelation

Special Revelation is when God reveals to particular people information concerning himself and his purposes through various means of communication. The people who are given the special revelation range from individuals to all humanity. The various ways God communicates in providing special revelations are similarly wide.

 

Special revelation came through dreams and visions to two Josephs, one the son of Jacob and one the stepfather of Jesus. Daniel, Peter, Paul and John, in Revelation, also received special revelation by these means. Angels and people delivered God’s messages to Abraham, David and other kings, Mary, the mother of Jesus, and others.

 

Special revelation came to many people through direct speech including Adam and Eve, Cain, Enoch (this assumes he was told he was going to be taken to heaven before it actually happened), Noah, Abraham, Moses, Samuel, all the true prophets of whom we have knowledge, Ananias of Antioch, and many more.

 

The canonical books of the Old and New Testaments are “God’s preserved, and permanent revelation of himself to mankind.” (See section 1.4.)

 

I believe that special revelation has not ended. If I were to think so I would be saying that God was limiting himself and why would he do that when there are believers open to hearing what God has to say. This is not to say that every revelation that is claimed as of God is actually true. There are preachers, teachers, and self-proclaimed prophets who are deceived as to the source of their understandings and so mislead sincere believers

What I Believe: General Revelation

Modern people think that they know how everything works and do not find God in any of it. Post-moderns do not care how anything works—as long as the battery is charged. Both philosophies discard any idea of general revelation, which is God showing his power and nature to humanity.

 

I believe that God’s reveals his existence and purposes in such things as physical reality, history, and human nature. Paul wrote that nobody had any excuse for not acknowledging the existence of God because of what was revealed to us in his creation of physical reality. The Old Testament shows God working in human history to show us what we are to do collectively as members of nations. God reveals his framework for human communities by providing everyone (with a few possible exceptions) a sense of right and wrong.

 

Any or all of these three aspects of general revelation can be denied or ignored by individuals and/or societies. Proverbs 1:20-33 describes this very situation. Wisdom (God’s voice) calls out in public places and is rejected by people given various derogatory names by the writer of Proverbs. These will suffer great harm because of their foolishness. At the end of the passage, a blessing is pronounced on those who listen.

 

Sometime time ago Time magazine had a cover which asked the question, “Is God Dead?” The April 3, 2017 issue asks “Is Truth Dead?” I believe there is an inevitable trajectory between those two issues. A society that pushes God away cannot maintain its hold on truth. After all Jesus told us that he is truth and people who reject him are not only turning against him but all the blessings that come with belief in him.

 

General revelation is a great blessing to humanity but it is not sufficient to bring people to righteousness. People are given the ability to blind themselves to any learning from general revelation and to make their selves deaf to the voice of God, which is one aspect of special revelation. The possession of these abilities does not excuse them for making use of them to refuse to seek and obey God.