The way in: how we got to be who we are
by Steve Kindle
The history of philosophy has been aptly summed up thus: “No matter what is considered the ultimate in metaphysical understanding today, tomorrow it will be replaced by another received as the ultimate in metaphysical understanding.” The same can be said for how the Bible has been interpreted throughout the centuries. I ask you, when was the last time you heard a sermon detailing truth derived from the allegorical method of interpretation? Could we say never?
I recently led a seminar on the four Gospels. You can be sure I didn’t follow Irenaeus’s lead (the leader of the church in France circa 70 CE) who declared that, “There actually are only four authentic gospels. And this is obviously true because there are four corners of the universe and there are four principal winds, and therefore there can be only four gospels that are authentic.” Somehow that logic escapes me, yet it was obvious to Irenaeus.
Psalm 19:4b-6 states, In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun, 5which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy. 6Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hid from its heat.
Before the Copernican revolution was finally accepted as “the way things are,” biblical interpreters were excused for taking this passage literally. Today, however, few, if any, would want to make a geocentric case. I cite these examples because as worldviews change, so does the manner in which the Bible is interpreted. It could be no other way, as how we look at the world informs how we interpret the Bible.
Being born into the world is like moving into a fully furnished house that was completely designed, decorated, and landscaped with no input from you. No thought was given to your taste, interests, preferences, needs or desires. You had no say whatsoever in any regard to your new abode. Our individual part of the world is like that. We had no choice as to our country of origin, language, form of government, even our religion. All of these preceded us in our world. The child’s whine that “It’s not fair!” is our first recognition of this reality. No, the world is not set up with us in mind.
The world we inhabit presents itself to us as the “givens,” the things we take for granted, the things that “just are the way they are.” I doubt you worry too much that the sun may not rise tomorrow, or that the laws of aerodynamics may change mid-flight. Most of us reading this are well situated in our Newtonian universe.
Generally speaking, we seldom give much thought to how we live, or why we do the things we do, or why things are the way they are. We accept our “houses” as they are presented to us and generally don’t object to much that is there. We easily accommodate the world around us, and this has been true from the beginning of human life. Whether this is good or bad is beside the point. It’s the way it is. This only becomes a problem when we fail to recognize that we are not self-made, that our opinions, sense of the real, values, and even mores are preconditioned in us. It is virtually impossible for us to completely step out of ourselves and examine our a prioris. And, failing to do so, we truly believe we are able to read the Bible without any encumbrances whatsoever, that we understand what we are reading as though it came from an angel from heaven. With Irenaeus, it’s just so obvious!
It needs to be stated very forcefully and unequivocally that NO ONE looks at the world totally objectively. Although our “world houses” are all arranged differently, we all inhabit one. That means that all of us share one thing in common: our worlds, of necessity, will be seen differently. We cannot escape this; it is part of the human condition. This is one of the major reasons we see the Bible differently, and why those differences are often incomprehensible from another point of view.
I believe that confidence in one’s opinions increases in direct proportion to the lack of perception of the forces that make us who we are. Conversely, as we become more alert to these forces, we find agreement of our views by others less important than the relationships formed themselves, that truth is found in grace more than in (elusive) absolutes, and that humility before the text opens more widows to heaven than any interpretive scheme. The answer to our differences is found in valuing the person more than needing to devalue that person’s opinions. But this is only possible if we don’t think of ourselves (and our opinions) more highly than we ought.
Tomorrow’s post: “The Way Out: Finding Our Way Home”
Steve, as I read your post, I believe the Holy Spirit brought Scripture to my mind related to several of your points. First of all, the fact that we had no control over our place of birth, our language, our parents, etc. True, but if we have been born into the family of God by accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we can rest assured that God planned our lives even before we were born! He also knows the hairs on our heads and the thoughts inside! Read Psalm 139:16 – “Your eyes saw my substance (fetus) being yet unformed (in the womb). And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.” Wow! And I love this verse that I recently memorized from Isaiah 31:5 – “Who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus BEFORE TIME BEGAN.” We are not so different from other peoples of the earth – “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their PREAPPOINTED TIMES and the boundaries of their dwellings” (Acts 17:26). God plans ahead for humans and also nations. He has put me exactly where I am and who I am with in order to fulfill the “good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). What a load off of me to try to interpret the Scripture and live the life I should as a Christian. Jesus made it clear to His disciples, that He would send the Holy Spirit, who would “teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:16). That is what He is doing for me right now as I write this. That is the way we interpret the Bible, and it’s not by our own understanding and education. The Spirit of Truth will guide us into all truth (John 16:13). Of course, the Lord does give us pastors and teachers, and He speaks through them (including written material) to help us interpret the Scripture or to highlight something He is saying to us at the moment. My constant prayer as I try to teach others is, “Lord, please help me RIGHTLY DIVIDE THE WORD OF TRUTH” (Heb. 4:12).
The problem I have is not that I don’t understand something, but that I don’t want to obey!!! Lord, help me! Before I get any more new insights, I need to apply what I already know!! And you are absolutely right, we do not need to think more highly of ourselves and our opinions than we ought.
The beginning place for knowing anything about the Bible is that we “MUST BE BORN AGAIN,” Jesus said (John 3:7). That’s when our whole worldview changes! Then it doesn’t matter what culture we live in, how much education we have, what our skin color is, or what religious background we came out of, we can fellowship with other born-again believers from all backgrounds and be in one accord. Only God can do that.
Sorry to be so long-winded, but I can’t stop without pointing out this analogy: Just as we cannot know the true meaning of the U.S. Constitution without understanding the ORIGINAL INTENT of the Founders of our nation when they wrote it, in the same way we cannot understand the Bible without knowing the Hebraic context and without realizing our Lord and Savior was/is Jewish, as were the Apostles, and as was the early church! This was God’s choice, and we can’t wish it otherwise, so I hope the Church will get back to her Jewish roots. Thanks for letting me comment. 🙂
Thanks for weighing in, Nancy. I don’t think you realize that, although everything you wrote about the scriptures is true, it is not without the need of interpretation. In particular, you say, “Of course, the Lord does give us pastors and teachers, and He speaks through them (including written material) to help us interpret the Scripture or to highlight something He is saying to us at the moment.” Somehow you must account for the cacophony of disparate teachings coming from these people, including yourself, “in the name of the Lord.” It’s not as simple as “the Bible says….” If it were, we would all agree.
Yes, Steve, Spirit-filled Christians, truly born-again ones, still have differing interpretations, but, hopefully, these are on minor issues. Unfortunately, the Church, having been cut off from its Jewish roots, adopted a Greek mindset which was developed in the first seminary in Alexandria, Egypt, with Clement at its head. He gave more weight to Greek philosophers than to the true “fathers” of the Church -Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Hebraic way is to “do,” and the Greek way is to “think” and debate mental concepts. This led to so many heresies in the early church, trying to define the deity of Jesus, etc. Jesus said, “If anyone WILLS to DO His WILL, he shall know concerning the doctrine (teaching or interpretation of Scripture), whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority” (John 7:17). I gave the wrong reference in my last comment, concerning “rightly dividing” (interpreting) the Word of God. It is found in II Timothy 2:15. And the following verses really say it all: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every GOOD WORK” (II Tim. 3:16-17). I quoted before from Ephesians 2:10 about the “good works” God purposed for me before I was born, and I want to point out that this verse is preceded by the famous verse for salvation: “For by grace you have been saved through FAITH, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, NOT of WORKS, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8,9). So the Hebraic way of interpreting Scripture is not a “works-based religion,” but it is like Paul said, “Faith without works is dead,” and Paul was the consummate Jewish theologian. Yes, theology is important, and wrong theology can be deadly, i.e. “replacement theology.” But God is interested in our obedience to His Word as the Spirit directs us and not debating about who’s right and who’s wrong on certain passages.
I guess God, in His mercy, allows us different denominations, so we can find our place in the body (with all our flaws) and get on about His business in unity. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if all the denominations could be in one accord about the basics of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and His Word? Only when Jesus reigns on His throne in Jerusalem will that happen. In the meantime, I pray we Christians will love each other (despite our differences in theology), and the world will then see the true God and His Son Jesus Christ.
A hearty AMEN to your prayer!
Man’s Interpretation? or Relationship?
Paul knew the bible well and he was using it to persecute Christians before he met the Author in Acts 9. Then he emphasizes over and over about walking after the spirit.
The Spirit of Truth will guide us into all truth. Without the Holy Spirit the bible is a sealed book. Many people have tried to use carnal building blocks to establish their theology subscribing to “precept must be upon precept” and in doing so they rejected the capstone which is now the Head of the Corner. Denominations have resulted from reasoning the Spirit of Truth out of scripture. (reminds me of “hast God said”?)
John talks about the maturity in the Christians walk and understanding. He then teaches them at one point that they no longer need a teacher.
1 John 2:27 But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.
I hug the scriptures tightly with my reasoning faculty but I cannot do so much that I reject the Author.
God often shows me truths in the bible I have noticed seen before. So much so that i have come to the point that if i don’t have a major theologically turning point in my life every six months, i consider myself to be backslidden!
The scritpures point to Jesus….. the Word…
John 5:37-40 And the Father that sent me, he hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his form. (38) And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he sent, him ye believe not. (39) Ye search the scriptures, because ye think that in them ye have eternal life; and these are they which bear witness of me; (40) and ye will not come to me, that ye may have life.
…..they which bear witness of me;……..
Christianity is a spiritual thing. The carnal mind fights God and cannot understand the things of God.
Thanks, Conrad, for bringing it back to the basics – having a relationship with Jesus. We get too complicated sometimes. I have to remember I am just a sheep who needs to be led and fed by the Shepherd. As you said, HE is the WORD Himself, the Living Word that gives His Spirit to illuminate the written Word. I remembered I John 2:27 but couldn’t find it. Thanks.
“that truth is found in grace more than in (elusive) absolutes, and that humility before the text opens more wi[n]ndows to heaven than any interpretive scheme”
I love the sentence above which my eyes auto-corrected.
You are a help to me Steve for noting these things. Thanks. I do wonder just how our relationships must be extended to action. I think it must be in accepting every one who comes our way, in the flesh or on social media as if that one were a gift from the Most High. Then, while we might thoroughly disagree with what we see or hear, we might also discover in the cracks of time between thoughts and conclusions a creative approach to both our inner disagreement and the other who is in front of us, in our face or in our presence. (All of these three words, presence, face, and before, are often expressed by the same word in Hebrew, frequently used for being in the presence of God.) So in those cracks in time, rather than being in just our presence, both us and the other are brought into the presence of another who is greater. Here’s the translation I used for Psalm 31:21:
You will hide them in the secret of your presence from personal cliques.
You will treasure them in a booth from the strife of tongues.
We live in a world full of strife and self-protection. There is a better way.