Interpreting Scripture in Light of Scripture

I wrote the following in a comment on Facebook and thought I would share it here as well:

The principle of “interpreting Scripture in light of Scripture” is a conservative excuse for picking texts that they like and then insisting that other texts cannot mean what they plainly seem to. In this way the rich diversity of Scripture is flattened and the Bible's hands are tied as parts of it are silenced in service of a conservative agenda.

See also Fred Clark's recent post on harmonizing the Bible.

 

  • claynaff

    Good point. In the end, though, it’s impossible not to interpret Scripture. Literalism is a phony “ideal.” When a person or group interprets, they usually do so in ways that comport with pre-existing moral sentiment (“Sex is dirty!”), rationalization (“God wants us to kill unbelievers and take their land.”) or the interests of the powerful (“______ is anointed by God!”).

    Liberal interpretation, representing a diffusion of power and a rise of enlightened self-sacrifice, is a step in the right direction. What’s needed is a cutting of the cord. Scripture has *no* authority. Religious people may take inspiration from the Bible or other texts, but they need to recognize that only sound moral reasoning, without reliance on bits and pieces of ancient authority, can lead to just moral actions.

    Nothing in the Bible tells you not to torture a kitten. Indeed, you can find “authority” for the conclusion that cats have no souls. But (I sincerely hope), no one reading this will find it difficult to conclude that torturing kittens is a moral abomination.

    Regards,

    Clay Farris Naff
    Science & Religion Writer

    • joriss

      “Scripture has *no* authority”. Are there parts of scripture that do have, in your opinion? E.g. that we have to confess our sins to be forgiven, that we should attend our meetings, that Jesus will come back etc.?

      • beau_quilter

        I agree with Clay that scripture has no authority. At all. Period.

        There are some good ideas in scripture. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is a great idea (and one not exclusive to the bible) that can be supported with sound moral reasoning.

        But using the bible as an “authority” inevitably leads to abuses.

        Incidentally, none of the items on your list qualify as authoritative either, as far as I can see. And scripture is demonstrably inconsistent about those items. For example, Jesus stated that he would return in clouds of glory during the lifetimes of his apostles.

        • joriss

          But what about the forgiveness of sins? 1 John 1 says that I have to confess my sins and that God will forgive me, because Jesus payed the price.
          Secondly: If the bible is not, is there an authority at all in this universe? And if so, who or what is this authority?

          • jazz

            the mayor of your town? the cops? obviously i’m just kidding. actually its your pastor.

            • joriss

              I meant: who or what is the final spiritual moral authority in this world, if the bible isn’t? Some god? Qur’an? Buddha? The Pope?

              • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                Two questions spring immediately to mind: Why assume that there would be such a final moral authority? And if there is one, why assume that it would be the Bible?

                • joriss

                  *If there isn’t a final moral authority, who tells me how to live? From what or whom does a evangelist derive his authority to preach the gospel, the minister to make his sermon?
                  *How can I know I should forgive many, many times and love my enemy, if not the bible tells me that Jesus have said: seventy times seven?

                  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                    You seem not to be understanding the things that Jesus said, presumably because you have been reading them through the lens imposed on them by fundamentalists. Jesus’ story about the Good Samaritan is not a law indicating that you should help a naked and half-dead man along the Jerusalem-Jericho road when two other people have not done so. It is a challenge to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and do to them as you would want done to you, even across boundaries of racial and religious identity.

                    So too the 70×7 does not seem to be commending that people keep a tally of offenses, but that they forgive over and over and over again.

                    Your desire for someone to tell you how to live is reflective of the sad immaturity in which people are kept by fundamentalism. The teaching of Jesus offers you a different approach. I hope that you’ll explore and discover it!

                    • joriss

                      *If there isn’t a final moral authority, who tells me how to live? From what or whom does a evangelist derive his authority to preach the gospel, the minister to make his sermon?
                      *How can I know I should forgive many, many times and love my enemy, if not the bible tells me that

                      You seem not to be understanding the things that Jesus said, presumably because you have been reading them through the lens imposed on them by fundamentalists. Jesus’ story about the Good Samaritan is not a law indicating that you should help a naked and half-dead man along the Jerusalem-Jericho road when two other people have not done so. It is a challenge to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and do to them as you would want done to you, even across boundaries of racial and religious identity.
                      So too the 70×7 does not seem to be commending that people keep a tally of offenses, but that they forgive over and over and over again.
                      Your desire for someone to tell you how to live is reflective of the sad immaturity in which people are kept by fundamentalism. The teaching of Jesus offers you a different approach. I hope that you’ll explore and discover it!

                      My problem is not that I don’t understand what Jesus meant by 70×7: to forgive endlessly the way God has forgiven us; that we should put ourselves in the other person’s shoes as the good Samaritan did and that we should love our enemies and pray for them. If we have received the Spirit of Christ in our lives, that will become more and more the practice of our lives and if not, we may have returned to our selfish ego again.
                      My problem is the denial of the Scripture’s authority. The fundament for preaching the gospel is the atonement for our sins
                      by Jesus death; without accepting this we can’t even begin to serve Him by his Spirit. We all find this in the bible, so how could the bible have no authority, as mr. Naff and others in this thread state. That was my question at the beginning.

                    • joriss

                      I’m sorry, I made a copy and paste mistake. Would you please remove the part before: My problem? Thank you!

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      I cannot edit your comments. If you log in, you can do so.

                      How was the Gospel proclaimed before there was a Bible? How did the apostles draw conclusions about matters, before those conclusions came to be reflected in texts and then given canonical status?

                    • joriss

                      The apostles remembered the words Jesus had said that they should wait for the promised Spirit and receive Him. When they were filled with the Spirit they had the power, wisdom and courage to preach the gospel of the risen Lord to the people; that they had to turn away from their sins, be baptised and they would have forgiveness and would receive the Spirit too in the same way.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      And why would that answer not be an adequate one for you, for our own time?

                    • joriss

                      jYou are right. It’s an adequate answer. But where did I get the answer from? From the bible, didn’t I?
                      The bible tells me about this promise Jesus gave to his disciples (and to us) and we, believing these words of Jesus, the words of Peter, and these events as written down by Luke in Acts 2, will receive the same gift as these first christians and have the same kind of experience, being baptised in the holy Spirit.
                      Suppose these events had not be written in a book, that we had no bible. Do you think christianity would nowadays have a reliable and clear collective memory of what happened 2000 years ago? I don’t think so.
                      In China under the strict communist regime many churches went underground; the house churches and communities. And the gospel spread very fast at that time, even under the persecutions. But there were very few bibles, because they could not be bought or imported freely. The number of available bibles was not sufficient as a supply for the increasing number of believers. So often there was no source of information for new believers how to handle with the new faith. As a result there came strange doctrines, sects and cults because there was no source of guidance. Maybe you will say: but they had the Spirit. Yes, but the Spirit works together and through the word of God, as Jesus said: My words are spirit and life. So what they needed and asked over and over again was: bibles!
                      Many brave american and european christians became “smugglers for God” and risked their lives and years of prison to import millions of bibles into China to support their persecuted brothers and sisters. Why would they take that risk for a book without authority?
                      Through the centuries the bible has been the guide for preachers, evangelists, teachers and churchplanters all over the world. Spurgeon, Hudson Taylor, Oswald Chambers, Watchman Nee and many others accepted the authority of the bible as the source to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and millions were saved and changed their lives.
                      Of course one can use the bible as a personal hobbybook or as book of law, without the Spirit, and become dead orthodox. But for millions and millions the bible is a book of spirit and life and as such highly authoritive for their way of life.
                      By the way: “God’s Smuggler” is a book by brother Andrew, the founder of “Open Doors”, an organisation that has a special ministry to support the suffering church in countries closed for the gospel, trusting that for God there
                      are no closed doors. I can recommend this book to you.

                      So saying that the bible has no authority, whatever this may mean, is wrong and does not do justice to the testimonies of the many that has written down these words and to the still many more people that have accepted the bible as the words of God that changed their lives. Words of eternal life. Words to live by.

                    • joriss

                      Billy Graham:
                      “If I thought the Bible was just another book, written by human authors and only containing various people’s ideas about God, then I wouldn’t bother to quote it or build my life on it.”

                      “Printing Jesus’ words in red doesn’t make them more important than the rest of the Bible—and the reason is because all the Bible is God’s Word, and we should take every part of it seriously.”

                      “The Bible is God’s ‘love letter’ to us, telling us not only that He loves us, but showing us what He has done to demonstrate His love. It also tells us how we should live …”

                      “God gave the Bible to us, and He wants us to understand it and apply it to our lives. He wants to teach us about Himself through its pages, and He also wants to use it to change our lives.”
                      ————————————–

                      Spurgeon:

                      “Defend the Bible? I would as soon defend a lion! Unchain it and it will defend itself.”

                      “To me the Bible is not God, but it is God’s voice, and I do not hear it without awe.”

                      “The words of this book are proved to be the words of God, because they have an infinite adaptation to the varied minds which the Lord has made.”

                      “He that reads his Bible to find fault with it will soon discover that the Bible finds fault with him.”

                      ———————————————–

                      One of Hudson Taylor’s favourite texts:
                      John 19:30
                      When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

                      (What, if we didn’t know that Jesus had said that, because it had not been recorded?)

                      ——————————————-
                      Oswald Chambers:
                      “The “words” of God and the “Word” of God stand together; to separate them is to render both powerless. Any expounder of the words of God is liable to go off on a tangent if he or she does not remember this stern, undeviating standard of exposition, namely, that no individual experience is of the remotest value unless it is up to the standard of the Word of God. The Bible not only tests experience, it tests truth. The Bible tests all experience, all truth, all authority by our Lord Himself and our relationship to Him personally.”
                      ——————————————–
                      Of course I could go on and on, quoting many other preachers and missionaries who said the same, kind of things, but you can find that yourself; christian sites are full of them. But I have chosen these, because I have read books of them or about them, that have helped me in my life.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      Well obviously people can treat the Bible as an authority, although in the process they themselves are giving it authority, and interpreting its meaning, so even then it is never their only authority.

                      But the Bible itself emphasizes the taking of responsibility, and the cultivating of wisdom and moral discernment. And so the Bible, when treated as something other than a collection of memory verses and moral maxims, resists the attempt of human beings to use it as an excuse for divesting themselves of their own responsibility for moral judgment.