Drinking Deeply

Monday, June 20, 2005 at 12:34 PM

Interpreting Scripture

Just got off the phone with a professor of New Testament studies. I had some questions about his message. I had a few issues with the implied message. He cleared them up pretty well and I was very thankful for that. I think we're both on the same page... on that passage.

I guess the reason I say that is because he proceeded to ask me a question about how I was approaching sermons. He wondered if I ever got anything out of them since it sounded like my questions were so critical. He "suggested" that I humble myself before the Word of God and listen to Him speak. He then pointed out that since he was a professor and had made it his life to study Scripture that he could rip apart any sermon on exegetical grounds and never get anything out of it. But he choose not to do this because he was ... I dunno. I feel like I want to insert the term "a better person" or "more Christ-like" but I don't think he said that explicitly.

I asked him to speak plainly, because what I was hearing from his words was not what I was hearing from his tone, and I didn't want to misinterpret him (again). He said no, he had spoken plainly and just wanted to point out that even if a message is based upon poor exegetical methods and faulty interpretation, there still was a lot of value in the message. Finally he was like "well, you could choose to listen to my advice as a professor of NT studies or you can disregard it, the choice is yours."

I don't disagree that the Word of God is the Word of God, and it speaks, even sometimes through poor scholarship and faulty exegesis. But his point was that even if the exegesis is faulty and the interpretation flawed, we should obey it because it has authority over us.

He pointed to Paul writing about the ox treading the grain and using that to apply it to Christian ministry and how a servant deserves it's reward. He questioned if Paul was writing inspired words at the time and said that later the church recognized it as inspired but we should notice that the Spirit led Paul to write words that may not have been the original intention of the author (Moses) but are a logical conclusion of them. He said we can do the same as Paul and when the Spirit leads a verse to application that may be out of it's normal context we should treat it with authority (as long as it was consistent with the Bible of course).

Throughout all of this he was like "this is well within the conservative Evangelical camp, a lot of people, even reformed theologians believe this."

Hmmm. At the time I didn't know what to think. There were so many questions bouncing around my head. Did Paul know he was writing inspired work? If so then his point is moot. Paul is an Apostle of Christ who interprets and gives us God's Word and his letters are infallible as he writes them. Did Paul use a faulty exegetical method? What exactly is a faulty exegetical method anyways? To me having faulty exegetical method meant not taking the whole of the Word of God into play when looking at the verse and drawing something out of the text that may be contradictory to what the rest of it is. To me Paul did not. I don't know what the professor thought.

Though the points weren't justified, is his conclusion true? I'm not quite sure. I do see Paul and the Apostles as writing Scripture, so thus are outside the bounds of common layperson qualifications. I will say that the Holy Spirit can use verses to convict us in different ways that may have not been the original intent of the verse, but is still consistent with Scripture. If that was his point then I wholly agree with it. God is sovereign and can and does use anything. He used our sin filled lives to bring us to repentance, and He will use our own flawed interpretations to sanctify us. But can't he sometimes He uses flawed preaching to bring us to true biblical doctrine through our recognition of something being "amiss"? I would hope so!

I remember reading a story about a couple who got married because their pastor preached about the falling of the wall of Jericho and how that would apply to marriage in that the males just had to march around the women and the walls of their hearts would fall down and they could get married. Would he agree that something like that is binding? Is this an extreme case? Yeah I think so, but it illustrates the danger of just assuming and trusting teachers.

My point, which I feel like he overlooked, was that we were to be like the Bereans, always checking against Scripture what people say, and by that we know the truth. Humble ourselves before God's Word, but not humble ourselves before people. Yes God put someone on the pulpit for a reason, but God also puts people in the Mormon pulpit, in the JW pulpit. God raised up pharaoh for a specific reason and there is no reason to blindly accept what is taught. I really don't think he would be in disagreement with me over this point, but he asked me to just listen to him instead of asking questions so I never got to pose them.

Do I learn from messages? Yes, though sometimes I don't learn what the pastor intends. Newsong's message comes to mind. This week's message does as well, though after the clarification I did indeed learn a lot!


1) Pastors do have God given authority as teachers and shepherds over us. Something that may be extra-scriptural but not non-Scriptual I think we should listen to as well (such as if they request that we dress up a little on Sundays so that we don't stand out). One point that the speaker made was that we should "give the benefit of the doubt."

2) That said, we are still to be Bereans in everything, always checking up against God's Word what is being said. When we have questions we should ask!

3) Appeal to authority is worthless compared to an appeal to Scripture. The phone call began by him reading a quote by Spurgeon about how a sermon should be like an iceberg, the tip is what we give, but all the exegesis should be unseen. Since it seemed like he was reading this to defend his own personal view of preaching I let it slide, but I disagree with it. While I admired Spurgeon as a great defender of the faith and an excellent preacher, how is one to learn how to interpret and protect the word without hearing other people do so and going to the text and seeing what the text itself says about it? Will a sermon be dry and boring if there is exegesis in it? If yes (and that's a big if when we're talking about the word of God), so what? What did the Apostles and Christ command? Preach the word always. Preach the whole Word. Teach the world all that I command.

4) I disagree that we cannot get anything out of something if we constantly challenge and question. If our sole purpose in questioning and challenging is for that purpose itself then yes, the heart is in the wrong place and the questions and challenges are sinful and should be repant (is that a word?), but if the questions and challenges are to increase one's knowledge of Christ and God, how can that ever be wrong? How can you ever stop learning when you're asking questions to learn? I would love it if people constantly asked me to expound upon my views and defend them as long as they were doing so in order to gain knowledge and grow in Christ. This would also help me grow as well in defending my beliefs and working it out.

Some readings:

Vincent Cheung's Preach the Word

Vincent Cheung's Light of Our Minds

JollyBlogger's post on Piper's Sermon at the PCA General Assembly - "Obedience, Orthodoxy, and Joy: Leadership for a Greater Consensus"

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Blogger Frank Martens said...

"He said we can do the same as Paul and when the Spirit leads a verse to application that may be out of it's normal context we should treat it with authority (as long as it was consistent with the Bible of course)."

Sounds like he doesn't believe Scripture is sole authority. You are right in stating that we should be like the bereans, making sure that what a teacher speaks lines up with scripture.

We also can't compare ourselves to Paul. Because Paul was given authority to give commands as if it were coming from Christ himself (I can't find the passage but it's in 1 Corinthians somewhere).

I do deal with the same thing at my church. In fact I wrote a letter to the two head pastors and got accused of being too critical and I should stop because it'll prevent me from "participating in the great things that God is doing with this church".



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