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Saturday, September 30, 2006

Using and misusing Scripture

A couple of weeks ago, Nathan posting on … and his Minister's a Flame of Fire wrote a powerful and important piece on Christian superstition. I was with him about two-thirds of the way through, and then somewhere in the part about not being self-righteous the piece took a turn - subtle, but just a little off. It wasn't fully clear to me until the end. He capped his piece off by saying:

God didn't give us Scripture to make us smug.

He gave it to make us holy.

Is it working?

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

He gave us Scripture so that we could come to know Him. Becoming holy is just the byproduct of really getting to know Jesus.

Christians misuse Scripture a lot. I'm with you there, Nathan.

But I can't agree that if we stick to really good Bible study methods, and make sure that we never cite Scripture out of context, and are really careful in our thinking about Scripture (and guard against self-righteousness), then we're safe. We're where God wants us to be.

No. There is nothing safe about being a Christian. Aslan is not a tame lion. And what He asks of Lucy is not what He asks of Edmund.

Many of the arguments I know of showing that Jesus never cited Scripture OOC are effectively circular. It's only in hindsight, we know (or more accurately, believe) that Jesus' interpretation of the OT passage is the correct one. Most of the time the Pharisees, who knew the Scriptures in context inside and out, couldn't recognize that the interpretation underlying Jesus' application of the Scripture was the correct one — because they weren't open to the Spirit.

For example, in Mark 4:12 Jesus cites Isaiah 6:9-10. But that was a word to Isaiah directed at Judah about the impending exile. Jesus use is exactly OOC. How does Jesus get to apply it to Roman era Judea? Because that application is validated by the Spirit of God. This is not a matter of logic; it is a matter of hearing God.

Yes, many will quibble on this point. But there are some lulus in the New Testament. Ones that you cannot get around. My favorite is Matt. 2:23.

Mat. 2:23 “and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: ‘He will be called a Nazarene.’” (NIV)

The only OT passage it could refer to is Judges 13:5.

Judges 13:5 “‘... because you will conceive and give birth to a son. No razor may be used on his head, because the boy is to be a Nazirite, set apart to God from birth, and he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines.’” (NIV)

My point is not to question the infallibility of Scripture. In fact, I’m assuming it. My point is to call into question our blind confidence in our kind of hermeneutical logic. We have been drawn into believing in humanist modes of thinking. We believe that with the right Bible study techniques, “rightly dividing the Word of God”, we will be where God wants us to be.

This is the mistake of the Pharisees. Do not make it.

The only safety in Christianity is in the meeting of Word and Spirit in Jesus. And that means that from time to time the Spirit of the Lord will light up a Scripture to you irrespective of its meaning in the original context. That's what He did with Matthew. That's what He did with Jesus. He will say, “This is my word for you today. This is what applies here.” And thus will draw you closer to Himself.

We are so taken by the eternal Truth of the Word of God, that we miss the intimacy of the particular truth of His relating to us moment by moment. It's a heart thing not a head thing.

I was teaching a Sunday School class a few months back about getting ourselves to a place where we can recognize God's voice (John 10:4,27). We were in the lesson about hearing God speak in Scripture and the pastor's wife shared this story. Her father, David, a retired pastor, had just recently died suddenly and unexpectedly. In her grief God had comforted her by “lighting up” a passage to her in the OT.

I Kings 3:6a “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart.” (NIV)

Imagine the downer when the Scripture police — at the funeral — got on her case about taking the passage OOC! We helped her get some of the comfort back as the whole class could affirm that, yes, this was God's rhema to her.

This is where the checks and balances lie. The congregation of the faithful, listening to God will keep you from running off thinking you hear God, when you are really responding to other voices in the inner dialogue.

So what does this mean to the translator?

We have to get the original meaning right. We can't tell how God is going to use His Word to talk to people. That’s His business. In particular, we can’t twist the meaning to get OT and NT to align to our theology of what it means to be inerrant. To do so is to put ourselves above Scripture. Instead, we have to take each passage in its own context. The OT informs the NT, but not vice versa. It's God's job to make the Scripture speak to the reader.

4 Comments:

At Sat Sep 30, 08:58:00 PM, Blogger M. J. Mansini said...

The words of Augustine are pertinent to this discussion:

"When, therefore, someone says, 'Moses meant what I understand by this passage,' and someone else says, 'No, he meant what I understand by it,' I think I show more proper caution in saying: Why not both, if both are true? And if someone sees a third meaning in these words, or a fourth, or any truth at all, why should we not believe that Moses, through whom the one God tempered the Holy Scriptures to the minds of the many readers who would see various truths in them, himself saw them all? For my part, I am bold to avow that my own attitude is thus: if I were to write something of Scriptural authority, I would rather write in such a way that whatever truth one could comprehend about those matters, it would be echoed in my words, rather than write one true opinion so plainly as to exclude other opinions whose falsity could not offend me. I am reluctant, therefore, my God, to rush into believing that Moess did not receive a simliar gift from you. In writing these words, Moses perceived and considered every truth that we have been able to find in them and every truth we have not been able to find, or have not yet been able to find but which nevertheless can be found in them."
- The Confessions, 12.31.42

Something to think about.

 
At Sun Oct 08, 10:51:00 AM, Blogger Invisible One said...

Great post.

Re: Matthew's comment quoting Augustine:

I'm not so sure or maybe I don't quite get what Augustine was saying. Of first importance one must determine the meaning of the particular Scripture in accordance to it's meaning at the time of the writing; and it's relevance to the rest of Scripture. This would be it's primary meaning or true meaning.

After that we must acknowledge that God can use anything in Scripture and in life to speak to us in our present situations even when it seems "different" or not the usual. But we cannot then apply that private meaning to others or teach it as the primary meaning in the original text or in the whole of Scripture.

There are often hidden spiritual truths in the prophetic words (sometimes Pauls words have a type of prophetic depth) and the specific words of God that are not obviously evident in the plain meaning and that may have been what Augustine was referring to.

 
At Tue Oct 24, 08:27:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

Mat. 2:23 “and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: ‘He will be called a Nazarene.’” (NIV)

The only OT passage it could refer to is Judges 13:5.


Judges 13:5 “‘... because you will conceive and give birth to a son. No razor may be used on his head, because the boy is to be a Nazirite, set apart to God from birth, and he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines.’” (NIV)


The Nazarene passage could be referring to the nezer of Zechariah (i.e. the Branch). Also mentioned elsewhere through the Hebrew scriptures.

Just throwin' that out there..

I agree with the basic gist of your article, however. Though I would recommend caution as well. "Depending on the Spirit" can just as a bad as rigid, by the letter, interpretation. Because in many cases, "depending on the Spirit" is just a sanctified of pseudonym for subjectivist thinking.

God gave us his Spirit, but also gave us wonderful minds as well. We should depend on both of them.

 
At Tue Oct 24, 08:35:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

God gave us his Spirit, but also gave us wonderful minds as well. We should depend on both of them.

Well said! And they should work in harmony with each other. One without the other leads to being unbalanced.

 

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