The Scripture is its own Servant

In Hermeneutics today we heard this quote from John Murray,

    “If the doctrine of Scripture is denied its right of appeal to Scripture for support, then what right does any other doctrine have to make this appeal.”

We are assigned a weekly question to ponder through and give some kind of response. And this quote ties in well with my response to the question.

How does one avoid the allegorical method without falling into the rationalist method? Give presuppositional as well as practical pointers.

Rationalist method: There is a desire for the supernatural accounts in the Bible to have a natural (or anti-supernatural) explanation. The intellect was seen to be the authoritative interpreter of the Word of God, but today the perspective of the individual is vehemently authoritative, making authority and truth relative at best, or worse, making the Word of God mean their opinion, speculation or feeling. This method makes all of the Bible irrelevant since God’s works are lifted from the Biblical narrative. Fallen man interacting with fallen men is what remains; no condescending, saving, powerful God.

Allegorical Method: There is a desire for the natural meaning of the text to have some deeper knowledge, some hidden spiritual meaning, some supernatural revelation incarnate within the natural, plain, superficial reading of the text. The intellect is seen as the authoritative interpreter of the Word of God, even a mediator between the “real” word of God and the words of men. This method makes all the Bible irrelevant since the true meaning is not found in any of its pages or genres, but in the symbol and type. Fallen man interacting with vague and vain speculations is what remains; no clear message of God, but a Babel-speaking god, a gnostic god.

Interestingly both of these views are dualistic in nature, that is separating the material from the immaterial, or the natural from the supernatural. The emphasis is on the antithetical nature, only seeing discontinuity of these two polar opposites. Both views refuse to see any continuity of the natural and supernatural. The Allegorical camp makes the divide, then discounts the natural reading for a “deeper” meaning, while the Rationalist camp only makes the divide simply so that they can deny the existence of the Supernatural. The Axiom seems to apply in answer here, “naturalism presupposes supernaturalism”

These 2 methods of interpretation represent 2 extremes to a balanced hermeneutic. Knowing then the tendency of these 2 extremes, One must consider the middle road, the positive position, the balance–the Literal Method. We have defined this in class as:

“The approach of interpretation that accepts the literal sense of Scripture as the only true meaning of Scripture, unless the nature of the sentence of phrase or clause within the sentence compels otherwise.”

The Westminster Confession states it well when it says,

The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture, is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it may be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly. (WCF 1.9)

So the Bible should also communicate the principles of how to interpret itself. Here are a few considerations:

1) Every portion of Scripture has one theme or unifying thought—the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.

1. Luke 24:27,44 And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself… And he said unto them, These [are] the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and [in] the prophets, and [in] the psalms, concerning me.
2. John 5:39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.

2) Use clearer passages to understand more obscure ones.

1. Matt 1:22-23 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

3) Understand what literary form or genre you are reading from.

1. Neh 8:2 And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month.
2. Col 4:16 And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the [epistle] from Laodicea.
3. Psalm 76:1 [[To the chief Musician on Neginoth, A Psalm [or] Song of Asaph.]] In Judah [is] God known: his name [is] great in Israel.
4. Luke 8:11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.

4) There are primary and secondary and tertiary principles in the Scriptures and you have to establish the priority of each so that you will add to knowledge, understanding and to understanding, wisdom – so that your knowledge will mature you in the faith.

1. Isa 28:9-10 Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? [them that are] weaned from the milk, [and] drawn from the breasts. For precept [must be] upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, [and] there a little:
2. Heb 5:12-6:2 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which [be] the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk [is] unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, [even] those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.

5) Understand and discern the context that you are reading in.

1. 2 Tim 2:15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
2. Matt 13:52 Then said he unto them, Therefore every scribe [which is] instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man [that is] an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure [things] new and old.

6) Be ready and willing to submit your thoughts, words and deeds to the authoritative rule of the Bible, which is a more sure word of prophecy than our subjective interpretation of experiences.

1. 2 Tim 3:16-17 All scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
2. 2 Pet 1:19-21 We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake [as they were] moved by the Holy Ghost.

7) The Holy Spirit is our best Bible teacher.

1. John 14:26 But the Comforter, [which is] the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
2. 1 John 2:27 But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Its striking to me that apologists still deal with the bible rationalists of the 18th century as if they still mattered. They are your inveterate enemies, but ironically, they were actually trying to be conservatives back in the day. They still believed in bible inerrancy and inspiration! So all the details are accurate but it just needed to be interpreted in a naturalist/deist context of non-miraculous interventions.

    I do think the dilemma is false. It is not a case of deistic rationalism at one pole, gnostic revelation at the other extreme, and bible literalism in the middle at the golden mean and the only remaining choice. In fact, you can jump off the inspired/inerrant continuum and be given the most compelling (IMO) hermeneutical paradigm, the historical-critical method, which allows possibilities and explanations the other three overlook, ignore, and can’t even conceive of.

    Reply

  2. The Bible rationalists don’t really matter today, but they give insight to the general direction of contemporary liberal thinking, therefore to know the historical development helps assess the contemporary scene.

    I would agree that the 2 positions are not equal opposites as well. I wrestled over using the term “polar opposites” because it just doesn’t get at the heart of the matter. I tried to identify the thing that they share in common, which is that they set up a kind of dualism and then react towards it, though granted in different ways.

    I’m no expert in the historical-critical method, but have seen that a “man-centered” or “man’s-authority-over-God’s-Word” paradigm always results in rotten fruit. I’m not interesting in tasting, but thanks for thinking of me.

    Reply

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