Is there a universal way Christians should interpret the Bible?
If there is, what does Genesis say?
Published: 5 February 2013 (GMT+10)
Recently while responding to a Christian defending Theistic Evolution (TE) who’d written in to criticize our biblical (young earth) creationist stance I received an all too familiar type of reply (below).
“ … I am questioning the authority of your interpretation of scripture. You state that YEC is the only conclusion one could arrive at using sound exegetical principles. Given all the Biblical scholars who are both well educated on the topic of scripture and sincere in their faith who are in favour of TE, I am immediately suspicious of the authority of your claims.”
“Furthermore I must ask: from whence did these principles come? The Bible does not contain a ‘Book of Exegesis’, and for my part I can’t think of anywhere in the Bible where it expounds upon how to interpret scripture. From this I can’t help but notice that your claim of Biblical authority is entirely dependent on the authority of your exegesis. If said exegesis is not outlined in scripture, then it is a creation of man. Therefore you are in fact relying on the authority of man.”
It is true that CMI’s views are dependent on our exegesis of Scripture. And we believe such exegetical principles are derived from scripture, are logically supported, and can be soundly defended against anyone questioning those methods. However, we (and Bible skeptics as well) could ask many difficult questions to Christians holding the views like the person above. For example;
- Is there a universal method of interpretation (a set of sound, exegetical principles) outlined in scripture?
- If there is, what is it?
- If there isn’t a universal way of interpreting scripture, doesn’t that mean that all interpretations of scripture are simply a ‘creation of man’ and therefore not authoritative?
- If there isn’t a universal way of interpreting scripture, what does ‘scriptural authority’ mean?
- If an educated Bible scholar sincere in their faith says for example that homosexual marriage/abortion/euthanasia etc is proper, does that mean those views are viable for a Christian to hold to? If not, why, and what principles of exegesis would lead to that conclusion? If yes, explain.
- Does the simple fact that there are well educated Bible scholars sincere in their faith that teach theistic evolution as a viable interpretation of Genesis mean that TE has been derived from a sound exegetical derivation of scripture?
To be a Christian means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. To be a true follower of Christ requires accepting who Jesus is and following His teachings, beginning with the understanding that you are a sinner in need of salvation, that Christ the eternal God-man died for your sins and that He rose from the dead allowing your salvation from eternal punishment, and that this salvation is by grace not by works.
This knowledge is given through revelation in the Holy Scriptures, but there would be no way to verify this if the words in the Bible could not be taken at face value. If there was no way to know who Jesus is and what He believed and taught there would be no way to be a Christian.
This is why true Christians throughout history have held to the same core beliefs and why their writings acknowledge such beliefs. For example the ancient Apostles’ Creed says that Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified died and was buried … the third day He rose from the dead … ” etc. This Creed echoes the plain reading of Scripture, and does so because the New Testament describes a clear account of Christ’s life and teachings.
It should be obvious that if there is no definite way to interpret the majority of Scripture, then Christians are truly without hope regarding biblical understanding. All things (including Christ’s death and resurrection) would become open for anyone’s interpretation, and so the fundamentals of the faith could not be truly known.
Methods of interpretation
Foundational to all theological studies is the concept of hermeneutics (the science of interpretation), a formal process by which biblical interpreters employ certain principles and methods in order to derive the author’s intended meaning. This is foundational for any Christian that truly wants to hear what the Scriptures are saying (and not what they ‘want’ or ‘feel’ they should say).
A critical difference between methods of interpretation is the difference between exegesis and eisegesis. Exegesis is a method of interpretation that strives to understand the original meaning out from of the biblical text. Eisegesis is an interpretation of Scripture that reads the interpreter’s own ideas or bias into the text. Exegesis says; “This is what the text means”. Eisegesis says; “This is what I want the text to mean.”
Any method of interpretation that allows allegory to be imposed on the text is obviously unverifiable. Each person’s allegorical interpretation can be different because there are no rules of interpretation to which they must adhere to, so such interpretations can have no more authority than the one proclaiming them. Anyone claiming a personal allegorical meaning of the Bible is actually claiming their mind (rather than the text) as the source of the authority of the interpretation.
The Bible needs to say the same thing in each language it is translated into or it cannot be the means of communicating the truth to us that Christians believe it to be. Ultimately anyone accepting someone’s personal allegorical interpretation really trusts the interpreter rather than the text itself.
This is why CMI, (like most evangelical organizations and most evangelical Christians in general) state that the scripture should be interpreted according to the grammatical-historical method of interpretation. This doesn’t mean that we interpret everything literally (for instance, when the Psalmist asks God to hide him “in the shadow of your wings”), we don’t think that God has feathers—LHG simply means that we do our best to interpret the text the way the author intended, as indicated by the context. (See Should Genesis be taken literally?) We believe the Bible should be treated in the same way we treat any method of sincere written communication; we take it as plainly written in the context it was given.
Does the Bible say we should do this?
The Bible gives us clear principles of interpretation, for example, in and where it says:
- Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. 2 Corinthians 4:2
- All the utterances of my mouth are in righteousness; There is nothing crooked or perverted in them. They are all straightforward to him who understands, And right to those who find knowledge. Proverbs 8:8–9
Some might say that even though these two passages make it clear that we are to take the Bible as plainly written, they are not enough to base our whole understanding of scripture on. But imagine there was a whole book in the Bible that spoke definitively on how we should understand it that read something like the following:
You should not take these words as plainly written! (1st Opinions: 1:1)
If we took the statement as plainly written we have broken the command given but if we don’t take it as plainly written then it cannot mean what it plainly says. This is a self refuting statement so is valueless.
Similarly, if the Bible stated (anywhere) that we should not take it as plainly written it would be valueless. Here is what it would look like: the New Compromise Version!
So anyone saying that the Bible need not be taken as plainly written is lost (They have given up any authority that the Bible might have conveyed to their later argument because they cannot quote it definitively).
Furthermore, Paul instructed Timothy about the scope and purpose of biblical authority:
How from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:15–17
Theologian Herman Hoeksema put it very clearly:
All of Scripture is given us that we might understand it … all of it is adapted to our human mind, so that, even though there be many things in that revelation of God which we cannot fathom, there is nothing in it that is contrary to human intelligence and logic. … Either the logic of revelation is our logic, or there is no revelation.1
Do we always have to take it as ‘plainly written’?
Those in opposition to the grammatical-historical method (or perhaps do not truly understand what the method entails) will often bring up objections like; “What about parables and poetic language etc in the Bible, are you saying we should take that as plainly written?”
Many will argue that because there is symbolic imagery in certain passages of scripture that the grammatical-historical method is unjustifiable. “Jesus taught in parables so it’s obvious you don’t always take the ‘plain reading’ of scripture” they might say. However, this is a misunderstanding of what the method means.
When someone speaks or writes using poetry or parables to teach we should not cease to interpret their words as plainly stated. Rather, we take their words as plainly stated in context to understand what they mean quite clearly. A simple example of the principle would be if I was out with a friend and said “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse” it should be obvious to those versed in common English not to interpret that in a wooden, literal sense (he wants to/could eat a horse). Most everyone ‘gets it’ (because horses are [typically] large and impossible for a person to eat in one sitting) the plain understanding of such a phrase in context as meaning; “I am very hungry”.
Similarly someone declaring their girlfriend to be their ‘moon and their sun’ will be unlikely to be accused of believing she is both an orbiting object in near space and an enormous ball of flaming superheated gas that belong to him.
We cannot downplay the fact that the scriptures contain some very sophisticated and sometimes difficult passages to understand. However, we cannot use passages that are hard to comprehend to somehow undermine the truth of our ability to understand passages that are quite easy to understand! (This would be like saying a math student needn’t accept conclusions in basic arithmetic because some equations exist that are extremely challenging to them.)
That’s just your interpretation
Some will say that different takes on Genesis are similar to different denominational stances taken by fellow believers, so what is the fuss? The difference is that during a discussion among theologians from different denominations, each will quote scripture as their guide to their denominational stance (even many cults point to passages in the Bible to justify their views).
However, regarding their understanding of Genesis, Christians often quote sources of information outside of scripture to back up their stance regarding what scripture says (scientists have ‘proven’ the earth is millions of years old, so the word ‘day’ doesn’t have to mean a literal day in genesis etc). This of course is extremely dangerous, for it could then be applied to any biblical subject one wishes. We explained this further in End-times and Early-times.
We see this same idea in those liberal camps trying to justify their acceptance of homosexuality ‘biblically’ for example. Take well-known UK evangelical Bible expositor Dr Roy Clements (pastor of a leading Baptist Church in England for twenty years) and his view that same-sex relationships between consenting adults can be acceptable before God (rather like Rev. Dr. Keith Mascord, formerly of the compromising Moore College in Sydney, Australia). What is his justification for such a radical departure from what scripture plainly says?
He says thinking evangelicals:
… have never yielded to the blinkered dogma which insists the world must have been made in seven [sic] days because Genesis says so. [Note that he admits to what Genesis plainly says] They have recognised that it is no part of Christian discipleship to turn a blind eye to discoveries of science which indicate the earth is millions of years old … a surprising number of our most able scientists are evangelical Christians … thoroughly persuaded of the general accuracy of evolutionary theory.
Therefore he says:
… because the issue of homosexuality, no less than the debate about creation and evolution, raises key questions of a scientific nature … only a fundamentalist would suggest that, because the Bible has no idea of homosexual orientation, that this modern psychological understanding of what it means to be ‘gay’ has to be rejected.2
The implications are clear; ‘Science’ has shown the plain reading of the Bible is wrong, so ignore it and modify what scripture means in order to make it ‘get in line’ with what ‘science’ shows.
This compromise is intellectual suicide for Christians however (very far from what true ‘thinking evangelicals’ should adhere to) because what does a Christian do with the accounts in scripture that violate what modern science professes?
Modern science does not support belief in floating axe heads, talking donkeys, people walking on (unfrozen) water, virgins giving birth, dead people coming back to life etc. To be consistent with Clements’ view (and that of many other professing believers) Christians should say these events never truly occurred, which is to say the Bible isn’t true, Christ isn’t risen and that Christianity is false. That’s exactly how liberal theologians ‘reason’, and they are just being consistent.
So then what does Genesis mean?
Rather than reiterate the work of what many have done far better than I could, I suggest viewing this page containing articles that refute all of the compromise positions on Genesis (Gap theory, Progressive Creation, Framework hypothesis, Day/Age theory, Theistic Evolution, Retroactive Death etc) quite soundly. I also highly recommend Dr Jonathan Sarfati’s excellent work Refuting Compromise (above right) as a definitive work supporting the theological and scientific arguments in support of biblical creation. In the final analysis, Genesis means what it says. God created recently and the earth is around 6,000 years old. That is what the plain reading of scripture says (see How does the Bible teach 6,000 years?).
The creation/evolution, young earth/old earth debates among Christian believers are really arguments regarding sound exegetical principles rather than a battle over scientific evidence, because whatever scripture says on the matter should have ultimate authority. Christians that abandon the grammatical-historical method of interpretation are shooting themselves in the foot, and informed skeptics reveal their inconsistencies easily. Take atheist and anti-creationist biologist Jerry Coyne’s3 review of two books written by theistic evolutionists as an example:
Like Karl Giberson,4 Kenneth Miller rejects a literal interpretation of the Bible.5 After discussing the fossil record, he contends that “a literal reading of the Genesis story is simply not scientifically valid,” concluding that “theology does not and cannot pretend to be scientific, but it can require of itself that it be consistent with science and conversant with it.” But this leads to a conundrum. Why reject the story of creation and Noah’s Ark because we know that animals evolved, but nevertheless accept the reality of the virgin birth and resurrection of Christ, which are equally at odds with science? After all, biological research suggests the impossibility of human females reproducing asexually, or of anyone reawakening three days after death. Clearly Miller and Giberson … have some theological views that are not “consistent with science.”6
Christians that abandon the plain reading of Scripture have abandoned the ability to intelligently defend the Bible and hence their Christian beliefs from which they come. But Christians have been commanded to do that as we read in 1 Peter 3:15:
… but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.
Christians need to understand that the debate about Genesis is not about science but rather an interpretation of facts about the past (history). If we believe the Bible’s history in some places (Christ’s birth, death, resurrection etc) why would we not believe them in another?
- Hoeksema, H., The Clark – Van Til Controversy (based on his Standard Bearer editorials from 1944–1946), p. 8; cf. also pp. 26, 27. Return to text.
- www.psa91.com/royclements07.htm. Last accessed 22 August 2011. Return to text.
- See Woodmorappe, J., Why evolution need not be true: A review of Why Evolution is True by Jerry A. Coyne (2009), J. Creation 24(1):17–22, 2012, Return to text.
- We have reviewed some of his books in our Journal of Creation, and refuted a major article in Is the Bible one book or 66? And does this affect our understanding of creation? Return to text.
- We have demolished Miller’s books in our Journal of Creation—see the hyperlinks for refutations of his books Finding Darwin’s God and Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul.
- Web Article-Seeing and Believing (The never-ending attempt to reconcile science and religion, and why it is doomed to fail) by Jerry A. Coyne. A review of the books Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution By Karl W. Giberson and Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul By Kenneth R. Miller. The New Republic-A Journal of Politics and the Arts, tnr.com/booksarts/, 4 February 2009. Return to text.
Excellent article, and I have to say that I found the reader's comments as illuminating as the article itself.
In this article you say the following that is from the Bible: and that this salvation is by grace not by works.
But I know an educated 'sinner' and he would ask you this question if he were here: Were Noah and family, along with Mr. Lot and children saved by 'Faith' or by 'Works'? Or was it a combination of the two?
Thomas, your/your friends questions are answered clearly in the scriptures.
For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
...yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Hebrews 11: 7
By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
Here we clearly see Noah (and everyone) was saved by faith. Of course he could have said "I believe, I believe" all he wanted to but if he hadn't built the boat his 'faith' would have been shown useless.
Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?
You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works;
So works may result because of saving faith but saving faith is not achieved by works.
I hope this helps your friend :).
Creation Ministries International
Translation and Interpretation is almost ENTIRELY dependant on your theology first.
Jonathan Sarfati responds: The theology should come from the Bible. However, we should presuppose that the author didn't intend to contradict himself or the theological tenor of Scripture.
IB: LOGOS means “discourse—plan news etc.”
JS: It is far from the only meaning, as will amply be shown. By your ‘reasoning’, any foreign word could be translated only one way.
IB: But try using those in John 1 . In the beginning there was a plan etc..entirely practical and it makes sense yet you would be shouted down for trying to use it this way because everyone wants it to refer to Jesus.
JS: Of course we would be shouted down, because it would be absurd: “The discourse became flesh and dwelt among us”?
IB: Yet it doesn’t mean Jesus in any other place! Hardly using translation techniques impartially.
JS: You show that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Actually, the translation makes perfect sense of what the Rabbis taught about the Memra or word—see documentation. The Hellenistic Jew Philo, a rough contemporary of Christ, referred to the Logos as a “Second God” without denying Jewish monotheism.
On a related matter, Dr Benno Zuiddam, with earned doctorates in both classical Greek and the Patristics, pointed out about a very similar word λόγιον (logion):
“In the Bible, the same Greek word that’s used of speaking an oracle is applied to the Holy Scriptures. It is very clear that Apostolic Christianity and the early Church considered the Bible to be the actual word of God. But in many parts of the Church today, there is a departure from this historic Christianity.” [from my interview with Dr Zuiddam, Creation 34(3):32–35, 2012.
IB: Again “The devil and his angels will be tormented in the fire for ever and ever” The Greek for tormented..comes from the word for touchstone , an instrument used by refiners to test the purity of gold, and you can’t have one everlasting followed by another!
JS: This is called the ‘the root fallacy’, which evangelical New Testament scholar Dr D.A. Carson discusses in his book Exegetical Fallacies (pp. 28–33). An example in Hebrew is the word for bread, lechem (לחם), which is claimed to be derived from lacham (לחם), the main usage of which is ‘to fight’, and is contained in the Hebrew word for war, milchama (מלחמה). On this point, Carson cites (p. 30) the Hebrew expert James Barr:
It must be regarded as fanciful whether the influence of their common root is of any importance semantically in classical Hebrew in the normal usage of their words. And it would be utterly fanciful to connect the two as mutually suggestive or evocative, as if battles were normally for the sake of bread or bread a necessary provision for battles. Words containing similar sound sequences may of course be deliberately juxtaposed for assonance, but this is a special case and separately recognizable.
IB: So a fairer translation would be “… purified in the fire for an age followed by another age …” but our theology does not let the devil off the hook, so we have to translate it differently to suit our theology.
JS: Actually, the word for the eternal torment in Revelation 14:11 is basanizo, which means to vex with grievous pains, and is used to describe labour pains in Revelation 12:2 and the centurion's sick servant “tormented” by palsy in Matthew 8:6.
IB: The book of James was written by a Jacob.
JS: Yes, we know that. As a Hebrew Christian myself, I like to point this out. But it hardly affects doctrine.
IB: Matthew gets the prophet wrong with the 30 pcs of silver, but because it is “scripture” we are not allowed to correct it.
JS: No, you probably don't understand Jewish citation methods that Matthew used. Also, this question has been asked an answered. In an interview in Australian Presbyterian CMI-supporter Rev. Peter Hastie asked the scholar of ancient history, Dr Noel Weeks, about this. “Can we say that the Bible is true even though it is imprecise with some of its statements? For example, Matthew attributes a quote from Zechariah to Jeremiah in Matthew 27:9. Isn’t this an instance of imprecision?” Dr Weeks obtained his PhD in ancient history and languages at Brandeis University under Cyrus Gordon, and relates an account from his time there:
Let me tell you a story about when I was doing my PhD at Brandeis University in Boston. Brandeis is a leading Jewish university. I remember sitting in a lecture by a very fine Jewish scholar, Nahum Sarna, who was talking about the canon of the Old Testament as it was understood in early Judaism. One of the topics he touched on was the order of the books. He said, “Well, you know that there was a period in which Jeremiah was regarded as the first book of the prophets.” Of course, nobody in the class knew that. Anyway, he continued, “One proof is that you have a quote from Zechariah quoted as being from Jeremiah because in the Jewish way of labelling things you call a book by its first few words, and you call a collection of books by the first book in that collection. Thus one of the evidences that we have of Jeremiah being the first book of the prophets in the first century is the New Testament.” I was sitting there thinking, “This Jewish audience doesn’t understand why that’s an important question, because this particular text has been held up as proof that there are errors in the New Testament. All it says is that the New Testament is a Jewish document. It is speaking in the language that Jews would speak and understand.”
IB: IB: It was the word of God when it was given (culturally and historically) and when it was in the original language,
JS: Yet as shown, you have not demonstrated any error.
IB: but it has been translated into 2 further languages and is far removed from its setting and now has to be treated cautiously.
JS: Indeed—far more than you have done!
IB: As can be seen , it doesn’t matter what the words say … our theology will interpret it in a way suitable to us.
JS: Speak for yourself. We will follow the objective historical-grammatical approach.
I appreciate the reference to Herman Hoeksema in your article. He has for a long time been one of my favorite writers, along with Gordon Clark - May I say one of my heroes. Both strong defenders of the Authority of Scripture. Thoroughly enjoyed your brief discussion/defense of this subject.
Good article. There is one passage in 2 Peter 1: 19-21 which leave no doubt.
19 And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; 20 knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, 21 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
I have a new 'favorite verse' based upon my study of the authority of the scripture. Peter identifies Paul's writings as scripture, but also indicates it can be difficult to understand: " And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability."
It's good to remember that while the scripture can be understood through plain meaning, many scriptures require some work to understand. And all understanding is dependent upon the Holy Spirit's work to open eyes and hearts.
Hi Steve, thanks for your email.
I just want to make a quick comment as I think what you said may appear a touch ambiguous to some (although that may not what you have meant) and might be taken to mean that the literal/grammatical historical method need not always apply.
It is true that 'some things' are hard to understand in scripture (as mentioned in the article), but not all things. As a matter of fact the vast majority of it is quite easy to understand. And while the Holy Spirit is the one that open's our eyes to the truth of scripture, the plain meaning of it can be understood by most people, even the unregenerate.
That is why the creation/evolution debate is so prevalent, because virtually any 8th grader can see that Genesis and evolution don't 'gel'.
As stated in the article, to use these minority 'hard to understand' passages to say that we need not apply the LGH method and then apply that standard to other texts that are easy to understand (Genesis for example) is to do exactly what Peter warns against; "There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures". They don't understand the hard passages so they twist them just like they twist the other ('easy', opposite of hard) passages.
Thanks for the courteous and thoughtful way that that responded to my comments. I agree that my comments were a bit confusing.
When I ask about the fate of aborted babies, most priests/ministers/preachers give the politically correct answer, namely, that aborted babies go directly to heaven. However, you humbly responded that you did NOT know how God would deal with the fate of aborted babies.
I am impressed with you because you are an honest and humble Christian.
The key issue is faithfulness and **consistency** in applying Biblically modelled hermeneutics / **methodology** of Bible interpretation.
(In his responses to his critics, Jesus modelled the historical-grammatical methodology of Bible interpretation. It is NOT an invention of theologians of the 1600s or 1700s.)
Having consistent use of this methodology won't produce total unity of understanding regarding the obscure details of scripture. But NOT using this biblical methodology WILL GUARANTEE misinterpretation--even of clearly stated and emphasized portions of the Bible.
Some Christians properly use this methodology / hermeneutics regarding everything on which the Bible touches--except science. (And they don't see their blind spot.)
Some Christians even gain the victory regarding their interpretation of what the Bible says about biological history--but they lose that methodological victory or consistency when they inspect Biblical corrective data regarding other areas of science.
CMI (and other young-earth creationist organizations) have every right to point out such inconsistencies in methodology. They have every right to call **all** of us to use consistent interpretation **methodology** / hermeneutics regarding **all** parts of the Bible text.
They are not being arrogant when doing so. Instead they are being faithful; they are giving prophetic counsel.
The Bible has a LOT to say about this topic. A key passage I've noticed (it directly debunks the "logic" of Clements for example) is Matthew 15:1-9.
Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat."
He answered them, "And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:
“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
Jesus read the Scriptures plainly, taking literal for literal, metaphor for metaphor. Here He is saying the apparently literal law is literal. There are others where He expresses surprise that His disciples didn't understand that one of His parables was metaphoric. He also often said, "Have you not read?" with the obvious implication that reading Scripture is sufficient. Elsewhere we are commanded to be Christlike.
So there is some of both, and we are to understand which is which straightforwardly, not to try to make mystery out of it and then squeeze our modern bias in as theistic evolutionists, etc. do. So the apparently literal Genesis 1 is literal, etc. -- and believers can know from God that scientists who disagree are wrong (it happens ;)).
Yep, it still rings in the ears: DID GOD REALLY SAY........
And with every generation there are new ears to listen..........
The refrain "that's YOUR interpretation" is another manifestation of arrogant human autonomy. It implies that the individual person is the one who ultimately determines the meaning of the text. This is post-modern subjectivism couched in false-humility, and is an actual denial of Scripture's objective character as the Word of the Living and Eternal triune God. Additionally, in response to Jeff K., while it is true we do not need mediators or "priests" to explain the basic and broad message of Scripture, it is also true that Scripture itself endorses the office of teaching within the church, which implies that laymen in the pew need to depend in some measure on those called to exposit and teach the Word to the flock. Jesus Himself did such on the road to Emmaus, and so did Phillip with the Ethiopian eunuch. Jeff's "interpretations" of the virgin birth and the Flood are both false and dangerous. On what basis does Jeff claim that the Lord is "personal" to him? Scripture? His claim is just another form of autonomous existentialism. And besides...that's just HIS interpretation! :-)
Henry B. Smith Jr.
Associates for Biblical Research
I enjoy your website and read the new article nearly everyday. I particularly enjoyed this article and found the section entitled, "That’s Just Your Interpretation" to be a very strong argument. If one holds to the views of Dr Roy Clements anything can be argued to fit within the realm of "modern Christianity." I find it extremely sad to see learned men take this position but it fits with 2 Tim 4:3.
Keep up the good work. I pray your ministry continues to reach thousands for Christ.
For me it doesn't matter what old earthers say. I appreciate that they don't believe in evolution but as far as I can see, the main reason people accept millions and billions of years is because the feel they are forced to by secular science.
Yes, Hugh Ross and others will give sophisticated expositions pertaining to why they actually accept and old timescale because of the bible, but if a person reads the plain bible they don't come to a conclusion of millions of years, they only come to that conclusion AFTER hearing about millions of years from mainstream science.
It is clear that old earthers perhaps aren't being honest with themselves.
A clear contextual reading of the bible leads to the young earth position, no matter what people have argued and how vehemently they argue it, an original perfectly good creation with not being carnivore, is what Genesis records.
It is astoundingly clear that a butchery of the texts is a logical requirement if you are going to say that actually, animals ate eachother for millions of years, when Genesis clearly says they were herbivore when God created the world.
It doesn't matter what they argue, you CAN'T read such a thing from Genesis, therefore it must come from outside Genesis. More and more this frustrates me as it is clear that people are not coming to a correct understanding, basically because of their own doubts and their own opinions.
Dear Calvin, you say "salvation is by grace not by works." If you really believe this, then aborted babies and the mentally retarded/ill can NOT be saved unless you come up with a "special Calvin formula" for them. Moreover, Adam and Eve lost Paradise because of their ACTIONS or BAD WORKS; they disobeyed God.
Hi Joseph, thanks for your comments.
I am a little confused as to your point however. Aborted babies and the mentally retarded/ill etc are in the same category of every human, they can only be saved by grace, not by works. Whatever way the Lord sorts that out (we are not told specifically) will still be according to grace not works. I am confused as to what about their fate or condition could change that according to what I wrote.
As for 'actions and works' you are correct. Romans 4 says;
4 What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness...
So Adam and Eve could have 'believed God' but chose not to and to justify themselves by their own works. It is the ones '...who do not work but believe(s) in him...' by faith that are counted righteous. Adam and Eve's 'works' got them in trouble.
I am still a little confused as why you brought this up though.
Anyway I hope this helps.
I am a Christian. I do not need any other person purporting to be a Christian telling me what I should think.
I do not mean this in an aggressive, "in your face" manner. I simply maintain that my view of the Bible is as good as that of anyone else -including the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury and Prof Sarfati - and that no amount of self-justifying biblical "analysis" will persuade me otherwise. I also trust that the Lord will look after me in this life and the next even though I don't believe for one minute He sent a flood or that Jesus was a result of a virgin birth.
The Lord is personal to me.
Hi Jeff, thanks for your email.
Please do not take my comments in an 'In your face' manner either. I will be plain but do not mean any disrespect.
Firstly, the article is "Is there a universal way that CHRISTIANS should interpret the Bible". The apostles creed for example identifies Jesus being born of a virgin to be an essential, so CMI does not consider someone that does not hold to that position to be a Christian.
However, my article was certainly not meant to tell people what they have to think about scripture, but to help those that want to think about it. By the way, why did you write in telling me what you think? Is it because you think I should believe what you think? If not, why bother?)
If you are advocating that anyone's method of interpreting scripture is as valid as anyone else's then logically someone reading "For God so loved the world..." could interpret it to mean "Hot dogs dream rapidly beneath the north" and you would have no standard for saying it was wrong.
Even for us to have this exchange we are forced to use the principles of interpretation laid out in the article for understanding one another (literal, grammatical, historical method of interpretation). Should we not afford God's word the same respect?
Your 'lord' may be personal, but he becomes a fictitious made up god if it is not based on anything other than your own opinion. Your mind becomes the final 'standard' by which you stand in judgement over God's word. On judgement day God will indeed 'take care' of all people, but those that do not submit to His revealed word will be judged harshly.
I humbly encourage you to consider what the article said more fully. God has revealed Himself in His word. If you reject it you will have no excuse because it is plain to see what it says.
I support CMI because CMI is excellent at using the Scientific Method to disprove Darwinian Evolution.
Sorry, but I do NOT consider CMI an INERRANT source (a la the Catholic Pope, etc) on how to interpret the Bible ... !!!!!
Hi Joseph, thanks for your comment.
Firstly, it seems you have a misunderstanding of what CMI does. Our main purpose is not to argue science topics, but to uphold the authority of God's word. If there was no method of interpreting God's word then we would not know what it says and therefore would not know what to defend it against.
CMI does not use the 'scientific method' to disprove Darwinian (or any other type of) evolution. The scientific method is inappropriate for investigating origins because it is a method of investigation involving observation in the present (we use the term 'operational science'). No one argues about this type of science as you can set up an experiment for example in a lab and repeat it again and again and observe the results in 'real time'.
There is no repeatable test you can set up in a lab for example showing ape-like creatures turning into people. If you believe that you believe it on faith, not observational experiment (operational science).
The question of origins is in the realm of 'historical' science where we take what we see in the present and interpret it according to a framework/worldview etc (what we pre-believe).
The Bible is the framework for which CMI interprets all evidence. The article explains how we come to know what we are to defend. It was certainly not meant to be exhaustive (which should be self evident to most people reading a web article) and no where does it say CMI or its method of interpreting scripture is 'inerrant', so respectfully, I find your comment inappropriate.
Having been a Parish Minister for a good number of years, I have had many conversations of this kind. I have always found that if scripture is seemingly obscure in one place, the word or verse is made clearer in another place. Scripture always checks out with itself. This goes for the Hebrew for 'Day', like many words defined in their own context; and especially the context Jesus gives to words. In the earliest history of the Church, the 'Plain' meaning was always the most important. Only later did allegory come into the arena of interpretation. It is because many, especially in recent history, have relativised the interpretation of scripture, that the Western Christian Church is in the mess it is; a situation where just about anyone can have their own interpretation. The 'Plain' sense of scripture has stood the test of time, why change it?
We face the same question our Lord Jesus faced from the scholars of his time:
And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority? And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him? But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet. And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell. And he said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.
That's my answer to all those who are demanding such answer from me.
If they don't know about the Spirit of God, they won't understand anything of that Kind.
Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.
You and me are basically not different from Paulos. . .
Werner Gitt Ph.D. 'In the Beginning was Information' and 'Without Excuse' has some interesting things to say about what information is and is not, and is highly qualified to give an opinion. His books shows how, if we examine 'The Bible' as a source of information coded for us to understand and bless us, we will be blessed and conversely if we interpret the Bible according to our own thoughts we will not be blessed. To wrestle the plain meaning of Biblical texts to another meaning can only lead to a loss of faith as 'So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.' Rom 10:17
A consideration of the historical component of the historical-grammatical scripture-interpretation approach gives further reinforcement.
While some parts of Genesis may have been written earlier than Moses, we know from Jesus' comments in Luke that Moses presented all of Genesis to the Exodus generation of Israelites. How did they take Genesis 1? Probably, very poorly.
They were non-citizens within the largest high-civilization polity of ancient times. That sophisticated civilization had many reasons for swagger and strong self-esteem. They also had many scientists. And... all of their academics and intelligentsia were powerfully committed to belief in the existence of many gods... which Genesis 1 totally rejects.
Genesis 1 was SCANDALOUS to the original audience. God expected those Israelites to suck it up, soldier on, get proper courage, and be honestly informed by this corrective truth that Ra the sun god and all the other gods of Egypt did not exist. (The sun was merely a [wonderful] instrument that God provided, nothing more.)
This news was scary. Ra was the most prestigious Egyptian god. Ra's priesthood was centred in Heliopolis, only about 50 miles / 80 kilometres from Goshen. The Israelites didn't have full-citizen rights protection. "Don't get those priests mad at us! Let's just seek the spiritual overtones from Genesis 1!"
Yet this corrective Genesis-1 truth was spiritually vital. God demanded that the Israelites accept it in spite of the scandal. God demands the same from us.
Let us come into spiritual / psychological victory where we acknowledge that our public contending for Genesis 1's corrective truth will be scandalous... and needed. At this point, standard hermeneutics and good exegesis will operate effectively in us.
A very relevant and very timely answer to prayer in regards to the situation I find myself in. Indeed it is an independent yet gracious encouragement from the Holy Spirit - I am humbled by the Lord Jesus Christ's knowledge of me and my situation.
A great answer brother Calvin. I know your stance so can understand much of what you say and I have neither time nor inclination nor need to do more than skim read your words. I feel sorry for those who spend much time finding out what so-called science and scientists say but insufficient time ascertaining the proper attitude to the Word.
Psalm 119:99 allows us to know more than the PHD's who oppose creation science. "I have more understanding than all my teachers; for thy testimonies are my meditation." You have some cheeky characters to deal with who have quite a lot of confidence (pride perhaps with which I myself am too familiar) in opposing your teaching. God grant you patience with them and the 'mot juste' at all times and the blessing of allowing themselves to be corrected. I'm sure some do correct their understanding but I assume only a few Samaritans return and thank you.
Even as YE know the thoughest hurdle for those who reject YE is not the science but the pressure to conform or vested interest, so too in this issue.
With 8 years Bible/Theo degree training and 6 more Teaching (thus speaking from the inside), the issues are the same: filtering what the Bible teaches though their theolgical/social/peer glasses and stronger, in my expereince, it means having to accept that the teaching of a trusted teacher or family member was wrong.
Thanks Calvin, for your wellbalanced article on exegesis. I am sure it is a blessing to many.
A few decades ago I tried to use the theistic evolution workaround because the plain interpretation of Genesis conflicted with what I
was indoctrinated with for years in biology at high school . Adolescent years are so impressionable!
I could not defend the Bible against MYSELF let alone OTHERS when I doubted Genesis. I lost faith in the resurrection and eventually went astray.
The physicist Richard Feynman wrote this in a poem in his adolescent years when he became an atheist:
'Yes, we’re wanderin' away from the Lord our God',
Away from the Holy One;
But now we cannot help it,
For it is already done.'
However my belief is now in agreement with James Maxwell Clerk's, who wrote(in another adolescent poem)
'I proclaim the Eternal Creed,
Oft the glorious theme renewing
God our Lord is God indeed'
I am sure this is has happened to others too. It took a long time to return the plain Genesis to its rightful status in my belief . This return is due in no small part to the immense body of work by YEC scientists in the last few decades.