Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Biblical Interpretation and God's Will

There is an old Jewish story about a group of rabbis debating the meaning of a particular section of the Torah.  All but one rabbi agreed on one interpretation.  The last rabbi argued with fervency.  He said that if he was right God would have the river next to them run backwards.  It did.  There were several other miracles (I don't remember the whole story as I heard it in college circa 1973) supporting the one rabbi.  Finally one of the other rabbis pointed out that the interpretation of the Torah was given to humanity so that even if God said they were wrong it didn't matter because interpretation was their job, not God's.  God's response was a laugh and, "They got me on that one." 

This is NOT a Christian story, maybe more's the pity.  We believe the Holy Spirit guides our interpretation, particularly when we do that interpretation in Church Councils.  Except, of course, when the Council is not guided by the Holy Spirit as the Reformed Confession writers like to point out.  Even Synods and Councils err, thank God.  Thus in the end all interpretation is human interpretation.  We can't tell for sure what is inspired by God and what isn't although there are some things we can all agree upon. 

So sometimes after a carefully worded argument on a blog I note (only to myself of course) that I could be wrong.  We all could be wrong, couldn't we?

24 comments:

Beloved Spear said...

I generally take the position that interpretation can be wrong, and can be right. The measures of that do allow for some grey scale. Ultimately, I think one gets closer to Truth if: 1) the interpretation actually reflects the reality to which it claims to speak and 2) the interpretation and resultant actions manifest the central and governing fruit of the Holy Spirit. Meaning, if your approach to something leads you to be cruel or demeaning or thoughtlessly dismissive to those with whom you disagree...well...you're not really in touch with the Comforter.

Kattie W. Coon said...

Bravo! Bravo!

I get so tired of hearing people claim absolute knowledge of Truth and yet show little interest in actually following what our Confessions say. "My translation of the Bible said it; I believe it; that settles it". I don't think that is very Reformed thinking at all. It's ultimately my responsibility to draw on the Holy Spirit to help interpret Scripture, and, according to Westminster, that could mean embarking on a journey in search of meaning in the original languages.

Be careful Bob, a mill stone could be awaiting you, courtesy of some of your friends.

By the way, no matter what Viola Larson might think, I really am a very traditional 5-point Calvinist, progeny of a long line of 5-point Calvinists, and will remain so until I am confronted with irrefutable evidence that I should believe otherwise. I just happen to believe that we should open up the possibility of ordination to non-celibate GLBTs. That’s where I believe the Holy Spirit is leading me through Scripture. I wish more people would understand and respect that.

Alan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alan said...

"We all could be wrong, couldn't we?"

Depends on what you mean by "we" Bob. If by "we" you mean you or me, for example, then perhaps.

If you mean your friends, the BFTSs of the PCUSA, then obviously you have not been listening to them at all.

See Bob, the real issue is right there in the title of this post: "interpretation." The BFTSs are never wrong because they don't have to interpret the Bible, they just read what it says. Period. Thus, since the Bible is inerrant, they too are inerrant. Anything else is "nonsense".

And they can back up their inerrant ideas with a phrase or two from Pope Calvin (also inerrant) or our Confessions (also inerrant.)

Anything else is heresy. And we know what they think should be done to heretics, don't we?

Pastor Bob said...

A 5 point Calvinist! You folks are hard to find in the PCUSA today! Well people who know what the 5 points are are hard to find in the PCUSA today. I personally can't buy limited atonement. It's logical but is it Biblical?

As to whether the Holy Spirit has led you to your interpretation of the Bible on the issue of homosexual sexual relationships I will respectfully disagree. I believe the Holy Spirit led me to my position. We can't both be right although there is the possibility that we might both be wrong.

Alan said...

I think the question of who is right and who is wrong is irrelevant.

Why should I care what you think? Why should you care what I think? I don't know you, we'll likely never meet. So the grown-up conclusion to this is: Who cares? Well, the BFTSs care. Because it's their nature. They can't imagine someone not agreeing with them. Their narcissism can't conceive of someone daring to disagree with their infallibility.

But for us grown-ups, the issue here is not about who is right and who is wrong, because we're never going to crack that nut. Instead the issue is about power and control. Because you and your friends think you are right, you believe it is your right -- even your duty -- to enforce your beliefs on everyone else in the PCUSA. You do so even though you know that my agreement or disagreement with you does not actually matter in the slightest. Because you don't actually care about my agreement; you'll enforce your beliefs regardless of whether I agree. Why? Because that's what BFTSs do. The meddle. They interfere. They butt in to things that are none of their business.

As a grown-up, I on the other hand, unlike the BFTSs, have no interest in forcing you to agree with me. I have no interest in condemning you because I think you're wrong on this. I have no interest in forcing you to behave against your convictions.

All it takes is acting like a grown-up.

You're asking the wrong question, Bob. Who is right or who is wrong isn't the real issue at all. And given that one side absolutely believes themselves to be inerrant and infallible, going down that path is going to be completely useless.

It's really all about power and control.

Kattie W. Coon said...

"I personally can't buy limited atonement. It's logical but is it Biblical?"

Of course you know this means I can’t consider you to be Orthodox. 

I admit it is a bit of a stretch for me, and I realize that a lot of self professed Calvinists don't hold to that, but as I said, I'll hold on to it until I'm faced with irrefutable evidence to the contrary, Biblical or otherwise. It does seem to place a rather interesting restriction on what it means to “believe” as in John 3:16, but it’s one I’m willing to go along with for now. I'm not married to my Calvinism, so I can let go of it. I'm a Calvinist by choice, but a Christian by the Grace of God.

"I will respectfully disagree."

I'm fairly certain that you do so thanks for your respect. I would respectfully say that Mark Achtemeier and Jack Rodgers had their hearts and minds changed, and so can you.

"We can't both be right although there is the possibility that we might both be wrong."

Absolutely. I'm certainly not opposed to the possibility that I am wrong, and I have never claimed my interpretation to be absolute Truth. My point of view just happens to be where I am right now. Now some might read that last statement and conclude that I will go wherever the wind blows, but I would simply point out to them that they would have to get to know me a lot better before they could rightly draw a conclusion on that.

I stayed on the fence of the GLBT ordination issue for a long time before being led (I believe by the Holy Spirit) to the position I now advocate. This was a position I came to after many years of study (the Bible, history, early church writings, etc), and prayer, paying close attention to our traditional Reformed Confessions for guidance in methodology and tradition. People in our denomination may disagree with my stated position, but I think they would have a very tough time showing that I used an invalid or haphazard approach in getting there.

I actively belong to a Confessing Church in a fairly Conservative Presbytery. My Pastor is a Conservative Evangelical who I consider to be my friend and brother in Christ. He has made it clear to our congregation that he sees many faithful Christians on both sides of this ordination issue. I’m very glad he told us that, and I am constantly thankful that I belong to a congregation that can happily get along and do the work of the Church despite our differences of opinion. I’ve noticed in my congregation and in my Presbytery that we don’t wallow in the places that divide us.

Kattie W. Coon said...

I hope you realize that my Orthodoxy comment was tongue in cheek.

Pastor Bob said...

The BFTSs are never wrong because they don't have to interpret the Bible, they just read what it says. Period. Thus, since the Bible is inerrant, they too are inerrant. Anything else is "nonsense".

Maybe I'm hanging around with the wrong crowd. Most of the folk I know are willing to discuss the various possible meanings of particular words in particular literary and social contexts. That's certainly part of what I mean by interpretation.

Pastor Bob said...

It's really all about power and control.

That is certainly part of dealing with the question of homosexuality in the PCUSA. I don't think that's all of it. If (actually the proper word is when) the PCUSA votes to remove G-6.0106b from the FoG I probably won't change my mind on the issue unless presented with an interpretation that convinces me that I am wrong. I probably won't run around and try to change the constitution back again. I have much more interesting things to do in working to help my local congregation to become truly multicultural.

If we choose a less controversial question, like the issue of limited atonement (isn't it interesting that limited atonement isn't a controversial issue today in the PCUSA?) I expressed an opinion about limited atonement. Kattie disagreed. No one will file charges against either of us.

Alan said...

"Most of the folk I know are willing to discuss the various possible meanings of particular words in particular literary and social contexts."

The BFTSs that I see posting in the PCUSA blogosphere or writing in the Layman must be rather put out that you haven't read what they've been writing for years. You must have a doppelganger who reads and comments on their blogs, then. ;)

Unfortunately they seem to be running the so-called "conservative" side of the church these days and they are not the slightest bit interested in discussing possible meanings about anything ... they "know" what the Bible says and they believe anyone who disagrees with them is a heretic and should be fitted for a millstone.

"That [power and control] is certainly part of dealing with the question of homosexuality in the PCUSA. I don't think that's all of it."

Yes, you're right. I left out homophobia.

Pastor Bob said...

I might agree with Biblical interpretation by some but suggestions of millstones are well beyond acceptable. And I don't read that many blogs.

Whether people from the right or the left refuse to accept that anything but their particular interpretation is correct (and I read such opinions from both sides) My experience is that most are willing to discuss interpretations. Most of my experience comes from reading books or from face to face conversation not blog encounters.

I would suggest that there are as you put it BFTSs on both the left and the right in the PCUSA. Consider views on Israel for example. On the one side only Israel can be correct. On the other the word apartheid is used to describe Israel.

Frankly I don't find calling people names to be helpful when interpreting the Scriptures or when interpreting politics or history. As soon as one uses the initials BFTS or suggest that someone should be fitted for a millstone or is not a Christian because of a particular Biblical interpretation dialogue stops and the possibility of changing minds on interpretation ends.

Isn't it interesting that conversations in the PCUSA almost invariably turn to homosexuality? I think there are other issues that are just as important like whether Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation or not.

Alan said...

"My experience is that most are willing to discuss interpretations. Most of my experience comes from reading books or from face to face conversation not blog encounters."

I haven't had many face-to-face encounters with the BFTSs (fortunately because I'm afraid I'd end up in a river with a millstone around my neck), so my encounters have been of the blogging variety in which they demonstrate conclusively that they're only interested in interrogation.

As for calling people names, I'm not sure how one describes someone who is clearly a busybody without using the word. It's far nicer and more honest than any of the words they use for me. And to compare my calling them busybodies with their suggesting that someone should be fitted for a millstone is a silly comparison.

Yes, there's bad behavior on both sides. And this becomes the Laodicean way out of actually making any moral distinctions. Rather than acknowledging that bad behavior happens, and yet determining that there is a right and a wrong here, some "moderates" simply stop trying to make any distinction whatsoever and lump everyone together.

"As soon as one uses the initials BFTS ... the possibility of changing minds on interpretation ends."

In my experience there is no possibility of changing minds through discussion or dialogue. You can't discuss interpretation when one side refuses to acknowledge that they interpret anything.

I used to be naive enough to think that if we talked to people they might begin to understand another side even if they didn't agree with it. I tried that on a number of blogs, and what I got back was personal attack after personal attack. Once the BFTSs found out I'm gay, the discussion immediately went from being about some issue, to personal attacks against me. Then, on any other post I commented on regardless of the topic, they would always start talking about homosexuality. Even if I agreed with something someone posted, they ended up having to argue with me about it, and then attacking me for being gay! (Seriously, if I didn't know better, I'd say their bizarre obsession with my sexuality was some sort of clumsy attempt at flirtation. The guilty dog barks loudest.)

So I found out that rational discussion isn't possible, because it is predicated on them being rational. And homophobia, by definition, is not rational.

Though I am thankful for that experience because I realized that it doesn't matter if they change their minds or not or even if they're willing to think about another side to any issue other than their own. I realized that the genius of our Presbyterian polity is that if they would simply stop being busybodies, fusspots, tattletales, and scolds long enough to be actually Presbyterian for a moment, the problem would be settled and we can move on.

So, as for changing minds, there's only one side here that's trying to change minds, and that's the side that advocates the use of electroshock therapy to turn people gay people straight and fit people for millstones. So while you set up your false equivalencies between the two sides, consider that and then try to honestly persuade me that the two sides' behavior is somehow the same.

"I think there are other issues that are just as important like whether Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation or not."

I think there are other issues even more important, like whether we're doing enough to feed the poor, care for the sick, stand up for the innocent, etc. But until the busybodies, fusspots, tattletales, and scolds decide to stop obsessively focusing on everyone else's naughty bits, we'll be stuck discussing homosexuality.

(As for the whole Israel/Palestine thing, I honestly couldn't care less.)

Ashley said...

What Do I Need To Know To Go To Heaven?

1. You Are A Sinner.
"For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23

2. There Is A Price On Sin.
"For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 6:23

"And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death." Revelation 20:14


3. Jesus Died To Pay For Your Sins.
"But God commendeth His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8

4. Salvation Is Not Of Our Works. It Is Through Jesus Christ.
"But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." Romans 4:5

5. God Wants To Save You If You Will Just Put Your Trust In Him.
"For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." Romans 10:13

If you understand these facts and want to go to Heaven, you can!
Simply put your trust in Jesus Christ and ask Him to save you.
If you need help with a prayer, I will include one in this post:

Dear Jesus,
I know that I am a sinner and deserve to go to Hell, but I believe you died for me and paid for all my sins. Please save me, Jesus, and take me to Heaven when I die.
I am only trusting you for my salvation.

In Jesus' name,
Amen.

If you prayed that prayer and meant what you said, YOU ARE SAVED !!!


Please get into a good Independent, Fundamental Baptist Church and learn as much as you can about our wonderful Saviour.


If we never meet on earth, I will see you in Heaven. =)

Pastor Bob said...

"In my experience there is no possibility of changing minds through discussion or dialogue."

Rogers and Actemeier changed their minds. And this blog started with my talking about interpretation. Maybe there are sub groups, those who use interpretation and those who are not willing to admit that there is any possibility that they are wrong?

"Seriously, if I didn't know better, I'd say their bizarre obsession with my sexuality was some sort of clumsy attempt at flirtation."

Well you are rather handsome.

Pastor Bob said...

Oh and I am VERY tired of discussions automatically turning into discussions of homosexuality too.

"I think there are other issues even more important, like whether we're doing enough to feed the poor, care for the sick, stand up for the innocent, etc."

I certainly agree with this.

Alan said...

"Rogers and Actemeier changed their minds. And this blog started with my talking about interpretation. "

I didn't say that people can't change their minds. I said that people don't change their minds through discussion, debate, dialogue, or whatever.

"Maybe there are sub groups, those who use interpretation and those who are not willing to admit that there is any possibility that they are wrong? "

Maybe. Unfortunately it is those who refuse to admit any possibility that they may be wrong seem to be running the entire show over on that side of the aisle.

Kattie W. Coon said...

"Unfortunately it is those who refuse to admit any possibility that they may be wrong seem to be running the entire show over on that side of the aisle."

If you are really right, then I see no point in your Presbytery sending forth its Overture on G-6.0106b. Nothing will change until they either leave or die.

I think both sides have their overly tightened wing nuts, and I think they really only control themselves and their self appointed/anointed Consistories with their self declared Orthodoxies. I believe the Right leaners as well as the Left leaners are pretty much independent thinkers/interpreters in our denomination, and believe they make up the vast majority. I believe those are the ones who are willing to be either moved or shaken by the Spirit.

Alan said...

"If you are really right, then I see no point in your Presbytery sending forth its Overture on G-6.0106b. Nothing will change until they either leave or die."

Because to do nothing is to participate in the evil and injustice.

And because we are on the cusp of eliminating these injustices already, which they know as well as I do. I am sure of that because their rhetoric gets more shrill and frantic every day. They now propose all sorts of ridiculous overtures to try to restrict discussion and debate on LGBT issues. These blatantly un-Presbyterian efforts at silencing free speech and perverting our polity are only going to backfire. Frankly, I'm surprised they're so tone deaf as to propose such politically desperate measures that can only serve to convince moderates how out of control the far right is and convince the rest of us how close we are to achieving justice, finally.

However, as I reiterated to Pastor Bob, just because I do not think that debate or discussion changes minds does not mean that I do not believe that the Spirit cannot work within those who wish to listen, and sometimes even within those who do not wish to listen. People have changed their minds (as the ever-growing votes for equality in the PCUSA have shown) but they have changed their minds through meeting and knowing LGBT people, not through debate. So, just because I don't think think they will change their minds doesn't mean I don't have faith that they can and I pray for them to see the truth.

But, I am also a pragmatist. So, as for the rest, in spite of their rhetoric, even if nothing else changes, everyone knows that demographics will determine the outcome for us in the end anyway. The people opposed to LGBT equality in church and society are overwhelmingly over 65. People my age and younger are overwhelmingly in favor of LGBT equality. I can do the math. While I'm happy to continue to work to push the church along faster, I'm also patient enough to realize that the outcome is already guaranteed.

After all, the Bible tells us over and over and over -- from the story of Abram, a nomad who becomes father of a nation; to David, a shepherd who became a king; to the prophets, despised by people but chosen by God to speak for Him; to the infant child of a carpenter who is also the Son of God -- that story taught over and over is that God loves us all equally, but He roots for the underdog.

Pastor Bob said...

I find it interesting when people refer to "they" on this question. Am I part of "they?" I'm not pushing for overtures that would try and limit whether an overture can be brought to this or the next GA. I find such overtures pointless. Each GA does what it wants. And anyone who thinks an amendment will be added to the FoG that will put off a particular question for 6 or 10 years hasn't been paying attention. And I'm not particularly shrill.

I did propose an overture back in 2006 to remove the AI (scrupling) from the PUP report because I found it unconstitutional. The GAPJC agreed with me.

So tell me Kattie am I they?

Pastor Bob said...

Oops! Same question to Alan too!

Kattie W. Coon said...

Well Bob,

I used the term "they" in two comments and in multiple contexts. I think I'll leave it up to you to tell me if you identify with any of them.

Alan said...

You seem to agree with the BFTSs on most things, as far as I can tell. Anti-gay down the line, just like them.

So is there a difference that I'm supposed to be able to detect?

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