Saturday, May 5, 2012

The God Of The Bible Has No Problem Explaining Himself

We live in a church era where the common mantra is "you have your interpretation and I have my interpretation and no one can know for sure so lets just all take our bats and go home". It has become our own version of "pleading the fifth". Statements like this (and I have heard many "church leaders" say words to this effect) make their own doctrinal allegiance to the authority of Scripture as useless and meaningless. Such claims amount to nothing less than a denial of the inerrancy, infallibility, and sufficiency of Scripture itself.

The Apostle Paul wrote that “God is not the author of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33a) and this would certainly be consistent with Him giving fallen men a written revelation of Himself. It becomes one of the many ways that a Holy and Righteous God stoops down to sinful and fallen men. Professor Matt Waymeyer of "The Master's Seminary" writes:

Because the Bible was given to reveal truth rather than conceal it, the interpreter must assume the overall clarity of God’s Word. Often referred to as the perspicuity of Scripture, this means that the divine intention of the Bible was/is basically clear and comprehensible to its original author, its original audience, and its contemporary readers. This is not to say that all parts of Scripture are equally clear or that there are no difficult passages to interpret (2 Pet 3:16), and this does not deny that later revelation provides a fuller picture of the subject addressed in earlier prophecy. But it does mean that the basic meaning of biblical prophecy was intelligible and could be understood when it was originally revealed.

This perspicuity of God’s Holy Word became increasingly undermined as can be seen even in the later stages of the New Testament with the rise of Gnosticism and appeals to “secret knowledge” belonging to spiritual elitists. We see this issue clearly raised in Jude’s Epistle when he unmasks the modus operandi of these wolves that were infiltrating the body of Christ as early as the first century AD:

Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. (Jude 8 ESV emphasis mine)

Even in Jude’s time we see false teachers who are making claims of dreams that give them deeper knowledge. We see this today in the Charismatic movement and especially within the Word Faith factions of that movement. What is implied by this Gnostic knowledge? That the plain surface meaning is not enough. They are saying that deeper, hidden knowledge is where true spirituality is really at. And it continues into the present day unabated:

Joyce Meyer goes on to tell her hearers soon after this that they should not go looking in the Bible for this teaching on the atonement because they won't find it there. Joyce tells them that this special knowledge only comes through "personal revelation". Aside from the biblical fact that Joyce Meyer is unqualified (as a woman, see 1 Timothy 2-3) to stand in a pulpit, such ridiculous claims do not even warrant further debate.

The various factors of false teaching, refutation of false teaching, theological agendas, and the need to harmonize difficult Scriptural passages all impacted on the practice of hermeneutics in the early church era. During the Patristic Period (A.D. 100-590) the early church fathers placed great emphasis on allegorizing biblical passages. This was the “search for hidden or secret meaning that underlies the actual words of a given text – a meaning that is unrelated to the more obvious meaning of the text.” The early church fathers also began to place greater value and emphasis on the traditional interpretation of a passage being the correct one rather than evaluating a traditional interpretation in the light of what the Scripture says.

The Medieval Period (A.D. 590-1500) saw these ideas develop further and really set the scene for what Roman Catholicism holds to in its present form. Biblical students focused more on studying what the church fathers had to say about any given portion of the biblical text and placed almost no importance on exegeting the text itself. The Bible was no longer the ultimate authority because that was now trumped by how church tradition interpreted that Bible. And this tradition was primarily driven by allegorization as church tradition continually found deeper (and more self serving) meaning from texts that spoke plainly and differently to these “allegorical innovations”.

The Reformation Period (1500-1650) was a revolution in the handling of Scripture. With a renewed emphasis on the supreme authority of Scripture (Sola Scriptura was their battle cry), the Reformers trashed Rome’s “creative accounting” in favor of a plain reading of the biblical text in its original languages. This was a pivotal moment in church history. Martin Luther was the man who ignited the Reformation with his brazen defiance of Popes and Roman religiosity. Luther maintained that Scripture was its own best interpreter and that interpretation should be driven by this concept.

The period following the Reformation (1650-1800) saw the rise of Pietism, and with it, an approach to interpretation focused on careful grammatical-historical analysis of the Scriptures in their original languages. They could see that the God of the Bible did not have a problem explaining Himself and a natural reading of the text, in context, could yield comprehensible results to the recipient when read in this natural way. Rationalism was also on the rise at this time and elevated the human intellect to the point where the Rationalists thought that Scripture needed to conform to their reasoning, and the parts that refused were simply ignored or rejected.

During the Modern Period (1800-Present), rationalism gave birth to what would become theological liberalism. The Higher-Critical Method was brazen intellectual snobbery. These people cared nothing for the authority of Scripture. Their interpretive focus avoided the pursuit of discovering what God was saying through His Word, and instead focused on delusional attempts at trying to explain the “editorial process” that caused Scripture to appear in the form that they found it in.

The 20th Century gave rise to the Reader-Response Method where the author of the text was not allowed into the discussion on what the text was saying. These people considered it far more important to decide what the text was saying to them. What fun can be had by reinterpreting Reader-Response conclusions in even more fanciful and self serving ways at the expense of their own self importance.
D.A. Carson wrote as far back as 1984 on this important shift in the mode of attack on conservative evangelicalism when he said there had been a change in the theological climate over the preceding four decades. He wrote:

At the risk of oversimplification, one could argue that the generation of conservative Christians before the present one faced opponents who argued in effect that the Bible is not trustworthy, and only the ignorant or blind could claim it is. In the present generation, there are of course many voices that say the same thing; but there are new voices that loudly insist our real problem is hermeneutical and exegetical. (D.A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies p18)

This sounds ominously like the “emergent church” which would begin to appear more than a decade after Carson penned those words. The enemy within is far more dangerous than the enemy without. A Richard Dawkins who rails on God, Christianity, and the Bible is an obvious enemy that we can see coming well in advance. A Brian MacLaren, on the other hand, is a far more dangerous threat because he masquerades as one of us and claims to uphold the authority of Scripture all the while being hell-bent on redefining so much of what it plainly says.

If we want to understand a book in the best possible way then we need to ask the author exactly what he was saying. So too with Scripture, we need to know the authorial intent if we are to interpret it rightly. And Scripture is unique in that it has what we call Dual Authorship. If I was to hand write you a letter with my finest Shepherd’s Conference fountain pen, would you say that the letter was written by my fountain pen? Likewise, throughout history, God has used special men as writing tools in His hand to bring about His written revelation. Some of the distinctive qualities of these human fountain pens are evident, but they are transcended by the divine voice that speaks through them. Though this analogy is not a watertight analogy it can be somewhat helpful.

Throughout the Bible we see that its text regularly presented as both the words of God and the words of man (2 Samuel 23:2, 1 Kings 14:18, 16:12, 16:34, 2 Kings 9:36, 14:25, 1 Chronicles 17:3, Jeremiah 1:9, 37:2, Zechariah 7:7,12, Luke 1:70, Acts 1:16, 2:16-17, 3:18,21, 4:25, 28:25, Romans 1:1-2, 1 Corinthians 9:8-10, 14:37, Galatians 1:11-12, 1 Thessalonians 2:13, 4:8, 4:15, Hebrews 1:1, 1 Peter 1:10-12, 2 Peter 3:2, Rev 1:1-3). This fact is most clearly nailed down in Paul’s second letter to Timothy and in Peter’s second Epistle:

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 perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 KJV)

Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. (2 Peter 1:20-21 KJV)

The fact of Dual Authorship has major implications for the right practice of sound hermeneutics. Waymeyer explains this when he says that:

The dual authorship of Scripture ultimately forms the foundation of Bible interpretation, for upon it rest five aspects of Scripture, which, in turn, lead to specific principles for interpreting God’s Word. These five aspects are the overall unity of Scripture, the overall clarity of Scripture, the single meaning of Scripture, the contextual nature of Scripture, and the human language of Scripture.

For this reason the Grammatical-Historical method of Bible interpretation, with its emphasis on examining the context and interpreting the content of the passage, has maintained a healthy following through the recent centuries of hermeneutical turbulence. It is the “no brainer” approach to interpreting the Bible because the God of the Bible has never had a problem explaining Himself.


Anonymous said...

Hi Cameron,
I have been reading your blog for a couple of years now, or nearly so. I am grateful for the way you humbly uphold the pure gospel and shed light on those who do not. Though unsolicited, I had a bit of feedback for you on this post. To me, using the video you did lowers your credibility, at least in this post if not a bit in general. I think you have always been above childish mockery (which I believe gives makes you such an effective voice), but I believe whoever made that video was not. I am not speaking out as "Joyce Meyer" fan but just as a fan of a humble approach (humble and strong can be synonymous) and typically I have seen that in you too. That video though (and the comments that follow, one of which calls her a whore. I cannot imagine that you would condone using such words) reminds me of the group of Christians (I do not know what they are called) who just seem to spew hate rather than firmly upholding the gospel and righteousness.

Perhaps just an audio track of that message by JM would be better. What she says is fine and certainly proves your point. But the video cheapens it. I just believe you are above games unlike whoever made that video. You are right, the God of the Bible has no problem explaining Himself; we don't need to help Him by creating videos like that. We can speak out against false teaching as the Bible commands us to, but in a way that brings honor and glory to God in how we do that. You've always done that, at least in what I have read. But whoever made that video crossed a line in my book.

Appreciate you. Just offering first time thoughts.

Anonymous said...

part 2-
(just wrote a comment about the use of the video in this post)
i didn't realize that comments would be approved first. i am glad b/c i didn't want to post that for all to see but wanted to communicate it to you. please feel free to delete both of mine after you read them.
honestly i hope you receive what i wrote well b/c i am quite thankful for all you share. i just think whoever made that video didn't do it with the graciousness that should follow a believer of the Lord. The comments that follow that video are discrediting as well. due to some personal research of my own, i have come across a few who say they uphold truth. some, like you, do it with their speech seasoned with salt and always cling tightly to the Word. others do it with slander and hate at every turn. those lose their credibility almost if not immediately with me. i cannot believe that God approves of what they say and how they say it. i have always been thankful for your approach and just thought that video was inconsistent with what you've shared in the past.

again, just my thoughts.

Cameron Buettel said...

Anonymous, I have never read the comments attached to that video. It is only the audio that interested me. I knew about it and this was the only place I found that audio. Also, the video is posted on my blog, not the comments under it. I regularly embed worthwhile youtube videos on my blog because of it's simplicity. But I have no control over the comments that can get posted under these videos over time. Rightly or wrongly that's the call I will make at the moment because to fully police these things is impossible. I police what I can which involves the comments posted on this blog. Thanks for your feedback, encouragement, and caring enough to offer your wisdom. Cam :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for shedding light as you do. I never knew what deception within the church looked like or would look like until recently. I think I found your blog when I heard about a dispute about an author/speaker a couple of years ago. I knew what he said was not right and I knew there had to be others who agreed. And so I found this blog, and have referenced it several times, actually.

My feedback was only to protect your credibility and not question it. I hope that was what you took from it.

(the same) Anonymous

Dan said...

Hi Cameron.

It has been interesting reading the many things that you have written and, as is your way, you quote from others. So it is not your words but your Prof's that I want to query. He says "But it does mean that the basic meaning of biblical prophecy was intelligible and could be understood when it was originally revealed." How do you reconcile that with 1 Peter 1 v 10 - 12 and Daniel 12 vv 8,9? It was not for them to know! How privileged we are that "God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit" 1 Cor 2v10.