The Meaning of Scripture, Clear or Cloudy?
This weekend I watched a video of debate between some Christians with different views on creation. I’m not going to deal with specific views on creation in this post, even though it is an important topic. Instead, I want to share another thought I had after watching it. (Though, if you are wondering, I believe the Bible says what it means in Genesis, just like it does elsewhere. I feel no need to explain it away or keep quiet about it avoid controversy.)
When watching the debate, I tried to imagine how it would have been understood by an unbeliever with little or no grasp of Scripture, or a Christian who doesn’t know the Bible well. Unfortunately, I’m afraid viewers like this could have come out of the experience with a radical misunderstanding of the nature of the Bible. The problem began when one person started using what I would consider to be “debating tricks” to muddy the water when he was confronted with scripture that, if interpreted in a straightforward manner, was contrary to his viewpoint. Unfortunately, it is much simpler to raise doubts than it is to resolve them. Let me give a few examples.
Sometimes he would say that the Hebrew word used in a passage can have multiple meanings. Now, his statement is quite true, words do have multiple meanings. However, there are rules of grammar that identify the appropriate meaning in a given context. We can’t just swap in whatever meaning fits our desired interpretation. I’m no Hebrew scholar, but I know enough to tell his argument was without merit To my knowledge, there are no reputable Hebrew scholars who would agree with his interpretation. However,it seemed effective from a debating standpoint. If his opponents let it go, many will assume he is correct. If they try to argue by delving into the rules of Hebrew grammar, the audience will most likely get bored and not follow.
Other times, he would basically ignore one Scripture passage by trying to deflect attention to another. Again, it’s true that we need to look at Scripture as a whole, and not pull passages out of context. However, I know the Bible well enough to tell that he was the one pulling verses out of context. But what about viewers who don’t know the Bible as well? The format of the debate simply did not provide the opportunity to go through the passages he was using in context to provide the audience enough information to see this for themselves.
I could give other examples, like when he made patently false statements about what was in a given Bible passage. To win the debate in the minds of the audience, he really did not need to convince them that the Bible supported his view. He merely needed them to lack confidence that the plain, obvious interpretation was correct. Unfortunately, it only takes a few words to sew doubt and raise questions in people minds. It takes much more time to resolve doubts and meaningfully answer questions.
I suspect that many people left the debate with the idea that either the Bible is malleable, and can mean whatever the reader wants it to, or that it is simply too complex for the average person to understand. Neither is true.
First, the Bible means exactly and only what God intended it to mean when he inspired its writing. We do not get to reinterpret it to support our perspective. We are probably all guilty of making the mistake of deciding what we believe first, and then trying to find Bible verses to back up our view. However, this is not the way it should be. We need to allow the Word of God to transform us, not the other way around. I am reminded of the line from the old Rich Mullins song, Creed, “I did not make it, no it is making me. It is the very truth of God and not the invention of any man.” We should use Scripture to find out what God has to say, not to reinforce what we want to believe.
Secondly, the Bible really can be understood by “ordinary believers.” You don’t need to be a seminary educated scholar to understand the Bible. Certainly there are difficult parts. The apostle Peter said as much in 2 Peter 3:15-16,
Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. (NIV)
However, the Bible also contains a lot of “low hanging fruit” that is easy to understand. More importantly, we as believers are not left on our own to figure out what the Bible says. We have the Holy Spirit to teach us. In John 14:26, Jesus said, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (NIV).”
Don’t take my word for it. Dig into the Scriptures and see for yourself.