No compromise - taking God at His word
Gary Burchnall from Answers In Genesis writes about the risk of mis-interpreting the Bible and what it means to compromise on God's Word.
Picture the scene: you are sitting and listening to a public lecture on a famous author. The speaker, so it seems, is a great authority on this well-known author. He speaks knowledgably on the subject, regaling his hearers with interesting and little-known facts, his message is sprinkled with the most intimate connections that you had never noticed in this renowned author’s works. The speaker’s smooth words flow with the confidence one would expect of somebody who had studiously immersed himself in a complete way.
All of a sudden, somebody stands up in the crowd and begins to shout: ”That’s not what that passage means.” The speaker remains unruffled and continues after, he asks the person in the crowd to sit down. “I do know what I’m talking about Sir” the lecturer smiles. “But”, replies the man in the audience “I’m the author though”.
In like manner, how do we as Christians interpret Scripture? Is it even an important question? As a Christian, it is my fervent belief that the only way we can begin to understand who God is and what He is like is through what He has told us about himself. Now that might seem to the casual observer an obvious way to approach God, and apart from those at the very fringe of liberal Christendom, I’m sure that the vast majority of Christians who have thought through this issue of biblical interpretation - would agree with me. However, when you dig a little deeper and analyse just how some people arrive at their understanding of doctrine and the science of the things of God, then we see that behind the religious-sounding language there is a secondary avenue to understand God: Naturalism. More on this later.
Ever since the Garden of Eden, there has been an urge inside every human being to ignore the plainly spoken words of God. Now, we are not talking about complicated doctrine that you need a doctorate in divinity and a degree in ancient Hebrew to understand; we are talking about simple commands, such as God saying to Adam “do not eat the fruit from that tree”. What happens? A little voice, in this instance the Devil in the book of Genesis says to Eve, “Did God really say….?” In this one scenario we have a succinct summary of relations between God and man for the last 6,000 years or so.
There is something inside us (the sin nature) that simply will not allow us to follow simple instructions from God. “Do not covet”; “that’s a nice car, I wish I had one like that”; or “I wish I was going on her holiday”; “Do not commit adultery” (while pornography is widespread and civil partnerships have already become an accepted part of our society); “Do not bear false witness” (imagine how many lies we have told in our lifetime, both small and large, to other people and ourselves), etc.
The driving force behind all of this is a gruesome little three-letter word that the bible calls sin. We would be fools to believe that this offensive spiritual odour that colours our entire relationship with God would not manifest itself also in the area of interpreting Scripture.
The author made several fallacious arguments against this commonly-held hermeneutic methodology. His views are both popular within theologically-liberal circles and growing in some corners of Evangelicalism. Although he didn’t outline a replacement hermeneutic in his article, his barely concealed contempt for the Scriptures as written was evident. His entire premise was based on a straw-man argument that refuted itself in just the first paragraph, when he outlined his targets as people who view the Bible as: “Self-interpreting or that it needs no human analysis because it stands up on its own.”
This smacks of somebody who has heard the phrase “Scripture interprets Scripture”’ and has grasped hold of the wrong end of the stick without checking his facts to find out what he really objects to.
What this phrase means is that when we come to a passage in the Bible (or any other book for that matter) which is difficult to understand, then we interpret such a passage in light of what we already know from Scripture. For example in Psalm 22 verse 16 we read;
Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet.
Now how do we know that this is a reference to the scene at Calvary? Because we interpret this passage in the light of what we read in the gospels and here in John Chapter 19: vs 16-18
So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified him...”
This is what we mean when the phrase “Scripture interprets Scripture” is applied. If you read your Bible you will use this method many hundreds of times as you make your way through the whole text, particularly when making sense of Old Testament allusions to Christ and prophetic passages.
I know of not one single person who believes that when reading the Bible it takes no human analysis to come to a correct interpretation of what a particular passage means. So unless the author can point us to a mainstream scholar who takes this view, we can presume that he is making a fallacious argument against a group of Christians who simply do not exist.
He goes on to say;
“They call it "Believing the Bible as it is written", which, of course doesn't really mean anything at all, and it smacks of the all too pervasive view that interpretation doesn’t have a bearing on Christianity. Such people are part of the “What I say the Bible says” brigade and although it may be, in some cases, a quite innocent fault, I think that those who maintain that Scripture doesn't need interpreting are so often wolves in sheep's clothing, because the underlying dogma beneath their claim is a passively aggressive “My way or the wrong way” clause.”
Leaving aside the author's misunderstanding of what proper biblical interpretation is, we can see here that he is fundamentally committed to the idea that what God said might not actually be what God meant. He says here that those Christians who believe that there is a right or wrong way to interpret Scripture are “wolves in sheep’s clothing” because they dogmatically hold to the truth.
To put this into a biblical scenario he is saying that when God writes through Moses that He took six days to create the universe, that a person is wrong for maintaining that this is what actually happened, and indeed, what God actually meant was: a span of time entirely different to six days, perhaps billions of years. My question to both you and him is this: would you interpret your bank balance using this method? Of course not. You wouldn’t walk into your local bank and say to the clerk behind the counter: “I know my statement says I have £1000 in my account but I’m sure it really means that I can have £2000!”
As with all liberals, the rejection of dogmatism is simply a manifestation of the humanistic philosophy that absolute truth is anathema to rationalism, and that in the post-modern world we need to constantly re-evaluate our pre-conceived absolutes in the light of naturalistic revelations about the origin of life. This argument is itself built on the platform of atheism which makes it all the more incredible that a Christian would use it as a vehicle for interpreting the Bible!
Jesus had no problem with “dogma” for He said: “I am the way and the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Note that Jesus does not say he is a truth but that he is “the truth”. Was Jesus dogmatic? Yes! There are many examples of this throughout the New Testament. Was he a “wolf in sheep’s clothing?” I think not.
Later the author of the article reveals:
“The pattern I've observed is twofold; in the first place, those who believe that the Bible virtually interprets itself are also anti-evolution creationists who in most cases believe in a literal eternal hell for unbelievers, and that homosexuality is a sin and unnatural, and that life should be seen through a polarising lens of black and white and right and wrong…”
This statement shows us that even individuals who reject the truth of Scripture know subconsciously that when you take God at his word, you naturally arrive at the position that: God created the world in six days, there is a place of eternal punishment called Hell and that God has a moral standard of right and wrong that He expects us to adhere to.
What is more troubling is the author's popular underlying worldview that casts right and wrong as some kind of filthy intellectual and moral stigma to be avoided at all costs because it “polarises” the issues. It is not the act of judging between what is right and wrong that God demands us to abstain from but committing acts of wrong. For God will indeed judge the world according to his perfect standard of morality as revealed in Revelation 20:12.
“And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.”
The author’s argument then takes yet another fallacious turn as he uses the ad hominem fallacy to label his subjects “extremists”.
“I hardly need point out that the extremism, dogmatism, and creationist defenses against knowledge and progress and discovery are anathema to the teachings and the attitude of Christ…”
Such a statement leaves naked the emptiness of the author’s argument, as so often happens with those who hold to such fragile positions: the focus of the argument quickly disintegrates into petty name calling.
Labelling somebody an extremist for believing that Exodus 20:11 means what it says is a bit much.
“For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”
When somebody uses the word extremist in an argument, you know they are trying to lump their subject into the same class of people who blow themselves up in crowded market places and the sort of people who would kill and maim anybody that tried to stop them getting their way. This does not describe the kind of Bible-believing Christian that I know, and if the author indeed is a Christian, I firmly believe he should apologise for making such an unnecessary and ungracious comment about his fellow brothers and sisters whom he should profess to love in the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 John 4:20)
Compromise on God’s Word happens because of our sinful nature and because we want to do our own thing. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden attempted to supplant God from His rightful place of master of every aspect of our lives, in the modern age we have attempted to silence God by ignoring what He has said to us in his Word the Bible. The ideology that has done so much to render Christians powerless to defend themselves against the sceptical questions of a post-modern world is naturalism that comes in the form of humanistic evolutionism. Sadly many in the church have chosen to try and incorporate this man-centred thinking into their interpretation of the Scriptures, and it doesn’t work.
The question we need to ask ourselves is not: can you somehow fit evolution into the Bible? But rather is the Bible true? Does God mean what He says? And does God have the power to communicate to His people accurately though His Word as He claims to? One day we will all have our day in court with the Almighty. Will you have to explain why you misrepresented Him?
Imagine how embarrassed you would be if you were you were misrepresenting a famous author and he discovered you and then rebuked you in public. Now imagine how you will feel, if on judgement day, the Almighty Creator of the entire universe finds you guilty of misrepresenting Him and His words.
As you read this, whatever time of the day it is, the chances are that somebody, somewhere in the world, is presumptuously putting words into the mouth of God. Somebody somewhere is casually applying their opinion to the Holy Scriptures without so much as the slightest thought towards the Author. This Author, however, controls the next beat of that person’s heart and sustains the oxygen that will be drawn down into this person’s lungs before he takes his next breath. He controls the very destiny of every man, woman, and child who has ever lived. And will according to the Bible exact judgement for every idle word spoken against Him.
Gary Burchnall is an administrator for Answers in Genesis UK/Europe (AiG). AiG is a non-profit, Christ –centered, non-denominational ministry dedicated to upholding the authority of Scripture from the very first verse. AiG proclaims the absolute truth and authority of the Bible with boldness and relates the relevance of a literal Genesis to the church and the world.
The views carried here are those of the author, not of Network Norwich and Norfolk, and are intended to stimulate constructive debate between website users. We welcome your thoughts and comments, posted below, upon the ideas expressed here.