Saturday, July 4, 2015

Progressive Christianity: Careful Study of the Scriptures

In my last post I wrote that I would like to discuss what 'a careful study of the Scriptures' looks like. Here are some quick thoughts. I think that these came to mind because they are often neglected.

1. Bear in the mind that none of the Bible was written to you. The Spirit had it written for your benefit, but the original authors had specific audiences in mind. You were not included in their audiences. As a result, you will need to first understand what the passage in question meant to the original audience. That will mean that you will need to take into consideration the cultural differences in expression and application. It's after you do that that you can discern the principle that God intends for every culture and every time.

So, when Paul talks about wisdom in the beginning of 1 Corinthians you need to remember that he was writing to Greeks whose heritage was all about wisdom, or better, about a certain kind of wisdom. It's that heritage that Paul is arguing against. Once you see that you can do a better job of applying the principles here that God intends for you.

2. You can prove anything if all you need is a verse or two. Consider this:

For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. Ecclesiastes 3.19-20

Thus, according to this passage, there is no life after death.

A careful study of the Scriptures will be a comprehensive study of the Scriptures. Search out what all the Scriptures have to say about your topic. Compare your conclusions from one Scripture with what other Scriptures teach to make sure that your conclusions are consistent with all of Scripture.

3. Just because something is not expressly forbidden does not mean that it is allowed. The point is to find what God approves and do that. So, the Bible never explicit forbids having multiple spouses. But it does state that marriage is designed for two people. And that is how we are to live when it comes to marriage.

4. The study of the Scriptures is something we are to do in community - and that includes the saints of other places and other eras. This is simply an application of the biblical idea of the communion of the saints. If we disagree with a conclusion from another time or place we need to work to understand the reasoning behind their conclusions. It just may be that they have seen something that we have missed. This is where we need to be humble. There are plenty of things that we don't know.

5. It really helps to have someone who knows the original languages of the Bible, Hebrew and Greek. Large mistakes have been made because someone understood an English translation in a way that the original language did not intend. Here's an example from a contemporary author.

When God first spoke the Ten Commandments to Moses, the first commandment he read reveals that he understands our predicament of dividing our loyalty between his way, and the ways of our own culture. The commandment reads: “You shall have no other gods before me.” The nuance of the language in this verse hints that God understands all of the competing cultural forces around us and realizes that, try as we might, it’s impossible to completely rid ourselves from all of the many things that seduce our affection and loyalty. What he does ask us to do, however, is give to him our primary loyalty — not to put any other gods before him.

Sounds good, no? However, the Hebrew of 'before me' does not refer to priority. It means 'in my presence'. And so, God is saying that for His people there are to be no other gods at all. None. That's a big difference from what this author wrote. A little knowledge of Hebrew would have prevented this error. 

6. Look at the details. And sometimes the details are really small. But they can make a huge difference. So, consider the time when Jesus was confronted by the Sadducees. They believed that there is no life after death so they wanted to catch Jesus on His teaching about resurrection. You can read it at Matthew 22.23ff. This is Jesus' response.

And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God:  ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.”

Jesus' proof of the resurrection hangs on the fact that the verb in that Old Testament quote is in the present tense. 'I am the God of…'  God is still their God. That must mean that Abraham and the others are still alive. A verb tense!!! Look at the details.

There is much more to say. (There are large books written on this topic.) But this will do for now.

Here's one point that I would like to make from even this very brief list. Interpreting the Bible requires skill. It's just a fact that there are those who are more skilled at this than others because of things like spiritual gifts, careful training, long experience and detailed knowledge of the Bible. So, for those of you who are less skilled, find those who are more skilled. Learn from them how to carefully study the Scriptures.

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