This is the first post in a series on principles of Biblical interpretation.
Up until about a year and a half ago I was unaware of the various rules for understanding scripture. Most people I speak to about this are also unaware, they typically rely on their Pastor or favorite theologian to know these things for them. Which is fine, as long as you have a really trustworthy pastor or theologian that you subscribe to. However, just because you personally enjoy their sermons doesn’t mean they are trustworthy.
I would recommend to anyone to take it upon themselves to learn some basic principles of Biblical analysis. I don’t think we are all called to be pastors or (non-armchair) theologians, but if you learn the basics you can spot a wolf in sheep’s clothing pretty quickly.
That said this is a lifelong discipline in which there are few masters. To help anyone who is also new to this journey I will blog for a while on the rules that I have learned and agree with, as well as some of the ones that I reject along with my reasoning.
Each post on this topic will cover one principle of interpretation of scripture. Also, to clarify each principle I will be drawing on examples of topics I have already posted on, and I will provide links so that you can compare and contrast if desired.
That stated, the first principle I am going to address is that of:
Logically, to engage in any kind of interpretation of scripture you need a confession on the authority of scripture. The below quote sums up the confession that I subscribe to nicely:
“We receive and embrace with our whole heart the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the pure, clear foundation of Israel. They are the only true standard or norm by which all teachers and doctrines are to be judged” Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord.
This is a different confession than what you may typically see from an orthodox American Church. I do believe that all 66 books of the Bible are inspired and God breathed, down to the very words. However, due to the extra philosophical baggage that comes along with them I try to avoid the confessions on Biblical Authority that come out of enlightenment fundamentalism.
That said it is important to understand as best you can the confession that one subscribes to regarding Biblical Authority. If one has a very liberal confession the only way to prove anything will be with vast quantities of scripture. Generally a liberal student of scripture seems to assume that the odds are 50 verses making the same point over and over again likely contain the word of God in at least one of them. In my experience, the degree of ones “liberalness” can be measured by the shear number of scriptures needed to convince them of any particular doctrine.
It can be hard to pin a Biblical Liberalist down as their criteria for Biblical authority is usually vague and generally centers around the verses they choose to reject rather than those they embrace. Ultimately the reason I reject Biblical Liberalism is that at the end of the day it is the reader who is picking and choosing which parts of the Bible are inspired and which parts are not. Even if in heaven it is revealed by Christ that the liberals were right all along, and that there were errors and defects in the original manuscripts, I would still prefer to stand on the side where I am and not the one picking and choosing the canon as I personally see fit. This is because I know how dark my vile heart is and I simply refuse to trust it over scripture.
Francis Pieper makes a strong stand against Biblical Liberalism in his works on Christian Dogmatics. A notable quote can be found on Page 5 of Volume I.
“Some have called the complete submergence of the theologian’s Ego a disgraceful “bondage” and a “letter worship.” Christ, however, teaches that this is the glorious liberty which we as Christian theologians are privileged to enjoy. “if ye continue in My Word . . . ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,” (John 8:31-32). To be held in bondage by one’s own false opinions is the most disgraceful form of human slavery. And the purpose for which Christ gave us His own Word through His Apostles and Prophets is to deliver us from the bondage of our own false notions in matters pertaining to our salvation and that of all men. Therefore our slogan dare never be: “Away from Scripture!” It must remain: “into Scripture, into Scripture as the sole source and standard of theology!” Luther thanked God for the wonderful grace that he could at once discard all thoughts that came to him “without Scripture.”
While I do plan on defending my view of scripture objectively over and against a liberal confession in a future post, for the moment I only want to make clear how a view on the authority of scripture impacts ones theology. If I have motivated you to consider this fact and question yourself as to why you have the confession on Biblical Authority that you do that will suffice for now.
Good to see that you’re pursuing hermeneutics! It is definitely worthwhile, and when you begin to know your Bible well, you’ll see the New Testament authors employed methods of writing that is somewhat different than what we would expect. For example, Jesus often quoted or referenced an Old Testament verse, but didn’t simply mean that verse, He meant the whole passage. So, it is up to us to go back and look at the whole passage and context to know exactly what Jesus is getting at.
Grace and peace to you in Christ Jesus.
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Your comment makes me think of Matt 27:46 “My God My God why hast thou forsaken me” and Psalms 22. I was told this is because back then they didn’t have Chapter and verse so they would quote the line that kicks off the rest of the passage. Is that what you are referring to?
Thanks for visiting my blog. Please stick around, I have programmed a few more posts on this topic to appear every Friday for the next month or so.