The Meaning of Scripture, Clear or Cloudy?

Page of Genesis 1

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.

I Believe in Jesus

Picture of Jesus

This is my third entry in my I Believe… series, which goes into more detail about my core beliefs. This one will focus on the third point in my statement of faith on my website:

“I believe in the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, His virgin birth, His sinless life, His miracles, His vicarious and atoning death, His bodily resurrection, His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and His personal return in power and glory.”

There’s a lot in that single run-on sentence, so I won’t be able to go through it point-by-point in this post. I have already covered my belief in the deity of Christ in my previous post on the trinity, so I won’t rehash that here.

Jesus virgin birth is important, for a couple of reasons. The first is simply because the Bible says it’s true. To deny it is to deny the plain teaching of Scripture. Second, it points us toward an important truth about the incarnation. This event is radically different from the previous times when God took on human appearance. There are many instances in the Old Testament when God appeared in human form. (For examples, see Genesis 17:1, Genesis 32:24-30, Joshua 5:13, and   Daniel 3:22-25.) In the incarnation, Jesus did not merely take on human appearance, he actually became human.

For the sake of space, I am going to gloss over the next few points, and simply say I believe Jesus did what the Bible says he did. This includes his miracles, his sinless life, and his death which paid the price for our sin. (I’ll be discussing the implications of this in my next post in this series.)

It is worth saying a few words about his resurrection. Jesus literally, physically rose from the dead. This was not some sort of allegory. It was not merely a spiritual resurrection. Jesus’ dead body actually returned to life. After spending time with the disciples and many other witnesses, he ascended to heaven. (Acts 1:3)

The final point is that Jesus is coming back. There is a lot of debate among believers as to exactly what this will look like and in what the order these future events will occur. What seems to me to be beyond debate for anyone who takes the Bible seriously is that Jesus is, in fact, returning. Acts 1:11 makes it clear that he will return the same way he left. He literally, physically ascended into heaven, so we can be confident that he will literally, physically return some day.

I Believe in the Triune God

Trinity Symbol

This is the second post in a series providing more detail on what I believe. This one will expand on the second point in my statement of faith, “I believe there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Like my first post, this is intended to be more an explanation of my beliefs than a defense of them.

First and foremost, there is one and only one God. The Bible is abundantly clear on this. (See Deuteronomy 6:4, for example.) There aren’t three Gods, many Gods, or whatever God or Gods you happen to believe in. There is one God. Period.

This is where things start to get more complicated. The Bible teaches that the Father is God (Galatians 1:1). It also teaches that the Son is God (John 1:1). And it teaches that the Holy Spirit is God. (Acts 5:3-4).

Further, the Bible teaches that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct from one another. This is what is meant by “God in three persons.” (Person, in this context, doesn’t mean human. It simply means each member of the trinity has his own mind, will, emotions and so forth.)

One example where we can see all three persons as distinct is John 14:6, where Jesus says, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever.” Since Jesus is asking the Father to do something, this indicates Jesus is not the Father. He refers to the Holy Spirit as another advocate. So, Jesus is not the Holy Spirit. Also, since the Father is the sender, and the Spirit is the one sent, they are not the same.

All three persons of the trinity have always existed. They did not come into existence at creation or the incarnation.

There are a number of illustrations that people use to try to help people grasp the concept of the trinity. While they may have some value, they are also imperfect at best. For example, some use water as an illustration, since it exists in three forms: ice, liquid water, and vapor. However, this is not really an adequate illustration, at God does not change forms to become the Father, Son or Spirit. All three persons eternally exist together.

Another illustration is an egg. It has three parts, the shell, white, and yolk, but is one egg. Again, this is not really an adequate illustration, because none of the parts could rightly be called an egg. It is not really accurate to say the yolk is an egg, but it is absolutely true that Jesus is God.

Some argue that the trinity is just too confusing to be true. There must be a simpler answer. Do we really believe that the infinite, all powerful God must be simple enough for our finite human minds to easily comprehend? The fact that this is an undeniably difficult concept does not in any way call into question it’s validity. I consider it to be a critical doctrine for a number of reasons, but primarily because it is so clear in Scripture. To deny it is to deny the accuracy and infallibility of Scripture.

I Believe in the Bible

The Bible

I am more than just an entertainer, I am a minister of the Gospel. So what I believe and proclaim matters. Even seemingly small theological compromises can have great consequences. I certainly hope Pastors and church leaders exercise care in verifying the theological orthodoxy of anyone they bring to their church or Christian organization, especially  if they are bringing in someone to minister to their kids. That’s why my statement of faith has always had a prominent place on my website.

I thought it might be useful to go into a bit more depth about what I believe. This isn’t intended to be a defence of what I believe. It is merely a more detailed statement of my beliefs. So here’s the first in a series of “I Believe…” articles, this one dealing with the Bible. In short, I believe the Bible is the inspired, authoritative Word of God, inerrant in its original manuscripts.

Inspiration of Scripture

God worked through human authors to say exactly what he wanted to say, right down to the specific words that were written. I am not saying God dictated the Bible to its human authors. Rather he worked with and through their education, intellect, and personalities to produce the end result he wanted.

It has become somewhat common for people to claim the Bible means whatever the reader wants it to mean. I want to be clear, Bible passages mean exactly and only what God intended for them to mean. Certainly there are instances where there can be honest debate as to what a particular passage means. Our goal in these situations must be to determine what God actually intends to communicate, not what feels right to us.

This means that the Bible is true in everything that it proclaims. The Bible includes things like parables, figurative language, figures of speech which are not intended to be interpreted literally. For example, when Jesus said, “I am the vine” in John 15:5, he wasn’t teaching that he was literally a plant. He was using figurative language to make a point. However, any time the Bible proclaims that something is true, it is true–even the miraculous stuff like the creation of the world from nothing, Jonah being swallowed by the fish, and the virgin birth.

There is a related principle called “the perspicuity (or clarity) of Scripture.” (Theologians love their big words!) This does not mean that everything in the Bible is clear. Lets face it, parts of it can be quite confusing! It simply means that the Bible says what it means, and there is no external work that must be used as a starting point to interpret it. There are many groups that say they believe the Bible is God’s Word, but insist that it can only be understood if you begin with some other book, church teaching, or theory. Since the Bible is God’s Word, we must use it as a starting point to judge these other works, not the other way around. Of course, there are many commentaries and tools that can be great Bible study aids, but we must never allow them to have authority over the Bible.

Authority of Scripture

The concept of the authority of Scripture follows naturally from its inspiration. Since it is the Word of God, it has his authority. We don’t get to decide for ourselves which parts to obey. Clearly, that is much simpler in theory than in practice. Parts of the Bible were written for specific times or situations, and may not apply today. For example, I’ve never met a Christian who feels compelled to obey Leviticus 19:19’s command not to “wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.” However, when determining whether a specific passage applies to us today, it is essential that we rely on solid Biblical principles, and not just our own feelings.

Inerrancy of Scripture

The final principle is inerrancy. It is important to understand that when I speak of the Bible being without error, I am referring to the original manuscripts, not any specific modern translation. Every translation is the Word of God, to the extent that it accurately conveys the meaning of the original document to the reader. I’m not going to go into details here on how we know exactly what was in the original documents. I will simply point out that we have an amazing wealth of evidence, giving us great confidence that we really do know what was in those manuscripts. (If you’d like to know more about this topic, you can get a good introduction by watching Josh McDowell’s videos on the Bible.)

So what do you think? Am I off-base, or did I miss anything important? Share your thoughts in the comments.