Sunday, January 22, 2006

2 Peter 1:12-21 (Interpreting Scripture)

A Quick Bible Study Tip:
A key to understand what any given Bible passage is talking about is to (a) read the greater context, and (b) look for clues that reference what this writer had previously written or what another writer had stated. One great clue is the word "therefore." Whenever you see this word (or similar words like "wherefore" or "for this reason" or any word that draws upon ideas that are not restated), it's good to ask this question, "What is "therefore", there for?" Then, just read the context (the chapter, the whole book, etc.) to find out what the author is referring to. He's not trying to be mysterious, so we should be able to figure it out, and then have a better understanding of the passage at hand.

"Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you." (2 Peter 1:12 NASB) This "therefore" and "these things" is referencing (as I understand it) what Peter stated in verses 5-8, and then gives the opposite example in verse 9. In this entry, I will not go into depth about this part of the passage, but feel free to research it and meditate on it yourself.

One of the main parts of this text that I focussed on was in verses 20 and 21. Specifically the phrases "no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation" and "no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

Since "the word is the Holy Spirit's, it cannot be interpreted by its readers (anymore than by its writers) by their private human powers, but by the teaching of the Holy Spirit.”[i] I think that when we understand this passage in light of John 16:12-15 when Jesus promises the coming of the Holy Spirit and what He (the Spirit) will do, it becomes very clear.

The question then becomes, "How do we interpret scripture correctly?" This is a question that has a lot of different answers throughout history, but many of them are flawed...fatally. This is where my heart was at following my lesson on this subject. So, I put together a simple example of 3 different methods of interpreting scripture to show which one seems to be the best (and only) way to have scripture interpreted and what the more problematic ones are.

I. The answer from the Roman Catholic Church:

How they handle it: The Church (specifically the Pope) is the only interpreter of Scripture. The Pope and the Church is infallible.

"’The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.’ This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.” The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church, that is, to the Pope and to the bishops in communion with him.” [ii]

The problem (there are many):

This system asserts to a human (the Pope) what is an attribute only of God – infallibility. If the Pope is the only interpreter of scripture, no one can disagree with what he has stated and show by scripture where he may have gone wrong. The other problem comes due to the fact that they elevate tradition to the level of scripture. The Word of God is referred to as the Word of God “whether [it is] in its written form or in the form of Tradition.”[iii] Doctrines such as Purgatory, praying to saints, and the exaltation of Mary that have no biblical warrant (and are directly contrary to scripture) are then on par with scripture because of this method of interpretation..

II. The answer from the Episcopal Church:

How they handle it: Scripture, Tradition, and Reason
“The Episcopal Church honors the Bible as the first witness to God, containing "All things necessary to salvation." It is the love story of God as relationship with God's people. We respect its complexity and its origins in the communities and histories of our ancestors. We look to the Bible as the written source of our revelation of God. We also honor the experience of God throughout the history of humanity, and especially among faithful Christians for these two-thousand years. We look to the tradition, teaching, and experience of the whole church as a manifestation of God’s revelation. The ancient Creeds are alive and well in the Episcopal Church. We believe God created human beings with an innate capacity to know God. We honor the God-given faculties of reason, intuition, intellect, and emotion. We believe that human experience is one of the ways God communicates and reveals God's intentions for us.”[iv]

The Problem (there are many):
If a personal experience (anyone’s experience) or a system of observance is placed on the same level as the Bible, nothing holds that the Bible will trump what I think, feel, or have done for a long time. This leads to affirming non-biblical beliefs; (1) There is more than one way to God[v], (2) Accepting members into the church who are “of all sexual orientations and gender identities” while not “insisting that they become like us in order to be acceptable”[vi]

III. The answer from the Reformation (and our church) – Sola Scriptura:

How we handle it:

We believe the Bible to be the written revelation of God, complete and sufficient in all respects. We believe the Scriptures to be "God-breathed" and therefore fully authoritative in and of themselves; they rely for their authority upon no church, council, or creed, but are authoritative simply because they are the Word of God. The Scriptures, as they embody the very speaking of God, partake of His authority, His power.”[vii]

The Problem:

Yes, there are potential problems with the correct way to interpret Scripture. Namely, lazy Christians now, and in the past, who claim to adhere to this belief have and continue to take passages from the bible out of context to create doctrines, cults, and false teachings that lead people astray and deny them the truth of the gospel. This is not to say that Sola Scriptura is an incorrect system, it just shows how fallible and evil man can be when he operates by himself without the counsel of the whole Bible and other faithful brothers to assist him. That is why R.C. Sproul said the following, and I think that it is accurate. “Although tradition does not rule our interpretation, it does guide it. If, upon reading a particular Passage, you have come up with an interpretation that has escaped the notice of every other Christian for two thousand years, or has been championed by universally recognized heretics, chances are pretty good that you had better abandon your interpretation.”[viii]

Conclusion – Sola Scriptura is not a system without pitfalls. If “Scripture Alone” is not taken seriously and held in reverence and treated with care, a person incorrectly following this system can be led to the same errors that the other systems lead to. However, if this is adhered to correctly – where Scripture is the only and final judge for all things – then we will have the most harmony with what prophets wrote, that Christ taught, and the apostles recorded than any other possible system.

[i] (from Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1997 by Biblesoft)

[iv] St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Fayetteville, Arkansas

[v] Center for Progressive Christianity (linked to web site)

[vi] Center for Progressive Christianity (linked to web site)

[vii] Alpha Omega Ministries (Dr. James White, Author of Scripture Alone)

[viii] The Agony of Deceit - Dr. R.C. Sproul (Referenced in: “Amazing Grace” DVD, 2004)

No comments:

Copyright © 2005-2010 Eric Johnson