Get serious about your studies: how should you read the Bible?

Get-Serious-About-Your-Studies

This might seem like a strange subject to bring up at the (possible) end of a series, but it’s an important one.

A great deal of the discussion surrounding getting serious about our studies has been focused on different tools and learning aids—study Bibles, systematic theologies and technology. There’s so much I’ve not touched on (yet) including commentaries, original languages (although I’ve dealt with that elsewhere), Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias…

But there’s one thing I’d be totally remiss if I didn’t address this critical question:

How should you read your Bible?

What I’m talking about here is the science of hermeneutics, which is a big fancy word for “rules and principles for reading the Bible.” Whether we realize it or not, we do this every time we pick up our Bible—and the rules and principles we hold to drastically affect what we believe the Bible says. For example:

  • Whether you believe pastoral ministry is for men only or is open to women as well stems from the interpretive decisions you make.
  • How you approach the “God-hates-yet-loves-sinners” paradox is heavily influenced by your hermeneutical approach.1
  • How you understand the world to have come into being and how this world will end is drastically affected by the principles you use for interpreting the text.

I could go on with numerous examples, but I trust you get the drift. Hermeneutics really, really matter—we all use rules and principles of interpretation so we are obliged to do our best to make sure the rules we use are sound. [Read more...]

Perspicuity and Presuppositions

The authority of Scripture is an issue of massive importance for Christians, whether we realize it or not. As culture has continued to flirt with the notion that objective truth is unknowable (unless it’s the truth that truth is unknowable), we find ourselves in a really weird place:

Can we really know with any certainty what the Bible says or are we just dealing with questions of personal interpretation?

There are a number of people who would argue that we cannot know with any degree of certainty what the Bible teaches. This group would include Barth Ehrman (author of numerous critical popular level works including Jesus, Interrupted and Forged), as well as authors such as Brian McLaren. McLaren, incidentally, recently wrote that “no articulation of the gospel today can presume to be exactly identical to the original meaning Christ and the apostles proclaimed.”

Those who would say that we cannot know with certainty what the Bible teaches suggest that we’re dealing with—at best—personal interpretation, and to say that one view is correct over another would be arrogant.

In contrast to this view, Protestants have historically held a very high view of the Bible which is best explained by the doctrine of sola scriptura—that is, Scripture alone is our sole authority for doctrine and life. Other authorities, such as tradition and church leadership are not invalid according to this doctrine, but must always be subordinate to and corrected by the Word of God.

Recently I’ve read in a number of places statements similar to the following:

Sola scriptura is a nice idea, but it doesn’t work in reality—we all come to the Bible with our own baggage and presuppositions.

I can definitely understand this critique. I agree, we all approach everything with our own baggage and presuppositions. We all have implicit assumptions that are shaped by our experiences and worldview.

But this doesn’t mean that we have to fall into the error of relativism. We don’t do it at the bank, and we shouldn’t when dealing with the Bible.

Sola scriptura presupposes that the Bible is basically clear in what it teaches, although some passages are certainly less clear than others. This is what is known as the perspicuity of Scripture. Again, Christians have historically held that the God we worship has a desire to make Himself known. And because He wants to make Himself known, He is not going to shroud Himself in mystery.

In other words, God is not a beat poet.

But this doctrine isn’t simply about communication; it’s also about submission. When a Christian says that he holds to the doctrine of sola scriptura, he’s saying that, regardless of his own baggage, he is submitting Himself to the authority of Scripture and allowing the Holy Spirit to work through the Bible to transform him into the image of Christ.

Seems like a presupposition every Christian would want to have, doesn’t it?

Do you believe that the truth of the Bible can be known with reasonable certainty? If so, how has the Holy Spirit been working to conform you to that truth? If not, what determines your knowledge of Christ, salvation, and your purpose for being?