Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Interpreting Scripture

I have been thinking a lot lately how the way in which we interpret Scripture determines everything in regards to our theology, doctrine, and how we answer the hard questions. Was Jesus born of a virgin? Did Jesus live a sinless life? Is Jesus fully God and fully man? Did a death on a cross really take place? Did he die on a cross and raise to life on the third day? What happens when we die? Does a place called heaven and a place called hell really exist? The questions are endless, but you get my point.

There are two reasons I have been thinking about biblical interpretation. First, I am reading 'Putting the Truth to Work' by Daniel Doriani. Second, the topic of hell seems to be on peoples minds due to the popular release of a book. Unfortunately if people are looking for real answers they will more than likely be sold short based on the hour long event of the book release, which basically portrayed the author avoiding any issue in the Bible that would come across offensive, but at least he did it in a way that LOVE WINS.

Doriani lays out three ways that people typically interpret the Bible. First, the reader over the text, as a critic. Second, the reader beside the text, in dialogue. Third, the reader below the text in submission. I am going to expound on these three in a little more detail.

In the first way of interpreting Scripture the reader has the authority over the text. If you were to look at it any other way then you would be considered a naive person of faith. You may decide to follow the teachings of the Bible, but you still ultimately have the authority. This group may admire the teachings of Jesus as seen in the Bible, but they can ultimately change them to mean anything.

In the second way of interpreting Scripture the reader is on an equal level with the text having an open dialogue. This person may believe in the power of the Bible, but can decide what parts are accurate and what parts are not. In this way they are still a critic because if they decide something in the Bible should not be there then they ignore it. It must be stated, that there is nothing wrong with dialogue, but it is not the right attitude when approaching Scripture and interpretation.

In the third way of interpreting Scripture the reader is below the text in submission. This group bows in submission to the God revealed through the Bible. These people realize that there is nothing wrong with asking questions, but once it is confirmed it means what it means then one submits to God who gave the teaching. Of this group, Doriani says, "belief that God has spoken in the Bible and given us a message beyond our own wisdom moves us, in our speech, to please God rather than people."

These are the three ways that people most often read and interpret Scripture. This is also the reason that those outside of the Christian faith are often confused by those who claim to follow the teachings of Jesus. In the words of Doriani, "In short, the root of the interpreter's courage is genuine faith, a trust in and commitment to the God of Scripture, the Savior and Lord." So, the challenge here is for you to examine your beliefs and discover where did you get them and how are you reading and interpreting the Bible. In your life are you the ultimate authority or is the God of the Bible?


  1. I think that most people who consider themselves to be Biblical believers and "conservative" would say they fit into category #3. The only people who would openly admit to being #1 or #2 would be those who believe that revelation changes over time, are relativists, etc.

    The problem is that there are many who believe they are #3, but how then is it that so many different beliefs exist amongst those who believe they are merely submitting to the text? Some believe, basing their argument on Scripture, that salvation cannot be lost once gained (many, but not all, Baptists), while others using Scripture argue that salvation can be lost through apostasy but not sin (Lutheran), while still others argue that even major unrepented-of sin can lead one into hell (Methodists). How can all these people who are in submission to the Bible come to such radically different conclusions on this and so many other issues?

    Scripture states that the Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). It is to the Church that we should turn for insight into how a particular scriptural text should be understood, or whether doctrine A or B should be believed. That is, after all, what a foundation and a pillar is; something to turn to for clarification and support. But how can this be so, if the Church consists of all believers who confess Christ as Savior? All the Christians do not agree on even such major topics of whether salvation can be lost, and all base their arguments off Scripture.

    Yet if we read the writings of those who followed the Apostles, the bishops in each generation, such as St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Ireneaus of Lyons, St. Polycarp of Smyrna, etc., we see that there was ONE Church, a visible Church, which had the authority to deliberate and settle doctrinal disputes, in continuation of the example of the Apostolic Council of Jerusalem which ruled against the Judaizers.

    I am an Orthodox Christian, a convert to the Church from Protestantism, who was eventually made a priest. I joined the Orthodox Church because I see that it is the same Church mentioned in the New Testament and consistently mentioned through the ages. The Church in Scripture had the authority to interpret Scripture, not leaving such important questions to individuals but rather to the consensus of what was believed everywhere and by all, to paraphrase St. Vincent of Lerins.

    Yes, we should be in submission to Scripture, which presupposes a visible Church with teaching authority to adjudicate disputes.

    At any rate, I look forward to discussing this further if you wish, and hearing your thoughts on the matter of visible vs. invisible Church, etc.

    In Christ,
    Fr. Anastasios Hudson
    St. Mark Orthodox Mission Church, Raleigh


    Acts 8:30-35 - 30 Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?"

    31 He replied, "How can I, unless someone instructs me?" So he invited Philip to get in and sit with him.

    32 This was the scripture passage he was reading: "Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

    33 In (his) humiliation justice was denied him. Who will tell of his posterity? For his life is taken from the earth."

    34 Then the eunuch said to Philip in reply, "I beg you, about whom is the prophet saying this? About himself, or about someone else?"

    35 Then Philip opened his mouth and, beginning with this scripture passage, he proclaimed Jesus to him.

    2 Peter 1:20 - Know this first of all, that there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation,

    2 Peter 3:16 - Speaking of these things 12 as he does in all his letters. In them there are some things hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable distort to their own destruction, just as they do the other scriptures.