Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Interpreting scripture

When discussing scripture with people it never takes long to reach conflicting views with other believers. Especially when those people are from different fellowships or denominational backgrounds. It can be highly frustrating to both sides and doctrinal agreement is rarely ever reached. This got me wondering as to why you can sometimes have 2 born again Christians who are of similar intelligence, reading the same version of the bible and who are at a similar maturity level; and have one shouting "amen" and the other "heresy"!

Below are some of the reasons I believe are the causes of misunderstandings or just blatant false doctrine that we all encounter from time to time. It is probably not as simple as the few points I've mentioned but I think it may be a nice starting point to understanding where people come from and also on how we should approach interpreting scripture. It is in no way a refined list either, these are merely my own observations and most of the errors below I have personally being guilty of at various stages in life.

Everyone of us carries some extent of baggage along with us. If you had or have a father, you will have certain subconscious assumptions about God as a father figure. If you grew up under strict discipline or total freedom, then you will react differently to the topic of discipline in the bible and so on. These are 2 simple examples which show how our thoughts are immediately influenced by life’s experiences.

On top of this, there are some clear methods to approaching scripture that can be recognized. All interpretation methods carry some element of danger within them, and all can still arrive at truths even in poorest of approaches.

Proof texting - This is when people cut and paste verses from the bible and lay their own interpretations on them. This is not just applicable to the performers on TBN and is far more widespread than you would imagine. Sometimes when someone hears something that they do not agree with they will simply read a little further until the text can be put into the context of what they themselves believe. They will immediately stop reading further on and preach "context" to the other person. The bottom line here is that whenever we read scripture with the view of proving something we are in danger of seeing what we want to see and nothing else. Proof texting is abused in most of the other views below as well. Most people have several texts to support their views, but they cannot all be right.

Legal based - What I mean by this is that we look at scripture simply as a book of do's and don'ts, this is at the heart of many fundamentalist groups that have no love. Preachers often preach dying to self without moving on to our new life that is in Christ. Some groups will focus on the Old Testament law while others will push the New Testament commands in a similar fashion. It is a Christianity that while denying a works based salvation in theory, is at its heart very much still performance based. It can be very disheartening as you see your best efforts constantly fall short. And even when your performance is better than that of those around you, there can be a feeling of emptiness as imitation is exposed for authentic Spirit fueled works and fruits. Show a legalist something like 1 Cor 8 and compare it to Acts 15:29 and their heads will surely explode. That does not meant that the New Testament commands are not to be followed, but there are 1066 of them and they raise the bar even higher than the OT ones did. They are not to be kept by will power but by Christs life within us. I tend to think of them more as promises than commands. The closer one is to Christ the more his life will reflect that of our redeemers.

Low level interpretation - By this I mean that people often look at things and topics without thinking of the bigger picture. Oftentimes the things of Christ will become a substitute for the person of Christ. Burying themselves in Apologetics or Eschatology to hide the shallowness of their relationship, they move from one fad to another year after year. The Pharisees bitterly complained about Jesus for silly things like healing people on the Sabbath without realizing who he was or why the Sabbath was given in the first place. They are generally the busiest people and 2 Timothy 3:16 is their favorite verse as it validates their arguments. The problem with Low level interpretation is that while much of the theology is true, it is only half truths. The gospel gets reduced to a salvation message instead of a kingdom message. Fellowship gets reduced to Sunday gatherings, dying to self is not followed up with the good news of the resurrected Christ etc etc

Tradition based – Traditions can be good, biblical, harmless or incredibly harmful. I am referring here to the latter. This is the most scary of all approaches to scripture, Mark 7:13 says that the traditions of men make the word of God of no effect. How many of our traditions are younger than Pentecost and without biblical support? Yet we proof text them into scripture and claim authority in them. Countless times I have shared things with people who simply cannot see what you are reading to them. Outside of their traditions scripture simply blows over their heads, it scares me to think how often I may have been on the blinded end and not realized it. These are the walls that we have built around God and anything that is outside of our box is usually met with fierce opposition and hostility. Their conversations often center around what "false teachers" rather than "Christ" is doing. (note - I am all for exposing false beliefs with those who believe them, I am against gossiping about false teachers with people who already know better).

Christ centered - We need to understand that Gods book is the bible, but Gods Word is Jesus. All scripture is inspired but not in the sense most people think though. Automatic writing is occultic and is different to something that has Gods message behind it. A Christocentric interpretation of scripture is by far the safest way of looking at scripture. Everything either points to him or builds up to him. Yet even here we need to be careful, for example, some of the red letter Christian crowd tend to ignore other parts of the bible when focusing on the gospels. All 66 books are given to us to reveal Christ and the Father to us, not just the gospels. And some of those books will expound or bring in wonderful truths that are not present explicitly in those first four NT letters.

In conclusion - The bible needs to be understood as one complete story. A chapter on its own is not context. It may stand as a truth on its own, a single verse like John 3:16 can stand as an absolute truth on its own. But it is dangerous practice to apply this to any part within the canon. The God who destroyed the earth by flood is the same God who has come to seek save that which was lost. Everything together is interwoven and needs to be understood as one piece. This means that the Father can be viewed as we saw Him in Jesus. Commands and laws can be summed up in loving our neighbors and bearing one anothers burdens. The Sabbath and Christ or the showbread and David stories reveal to us that there is a spirit within the message that is sometimes more important than the letter of the law itself. We need to prayerfully consider when meditating on scripture what biases we may be placing upon it.

If any of what I have written sounds critical, let me reiterate that it is based on inward reflections. I used to study the scriptures thinking that my efforts and hours would guide me into all truth. As I grow older I realize that it is the Spirit that guides us into all truth (John 16:13). Let us listen before talking and remain humble in our thoughts.


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    If all the denominations of the world assembled and presented the world with a new translation of the Bible, what would it contain?

    Comparison of the New King James Version (NKJV) and how the Interdenominational Interpreters Bible (IIB) might appear.

    NKJV: John 16:23 "And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My nameHe will give you.

    IIB: John 16:23 "And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name, the name of the Virgin Mary, and the names other dead saints He will give you.

    NKJV: Hebrews 6:4-6 For it is impossible for those who were once enlighten, and have tasted the heavenly gift , and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.

    IIB: Hebrews 6:4-6 It is possible for those who were once enlighten, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew then again to repentance, because all Christians are once saved always saved......

    NKJV: Mark 16:16 "He who believes and is baptized will be saved;but he who does not believe will be condemned.

    IIB: Mark 16:16 "He who believes is already saved and should be baptized as a testimony of his faith; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

    NKJV: Galatians 1:8 But even if we,or an angel from heaven,preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.

    IIB: Galatians 1:8 But even we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other way to be saved do not judge them, because we are all going to the same place anyway. God has given many denominations, and various doctrines, and different paths to heaven.


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