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"All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." (II Tim 3:16) "The sum of Your word is truth" (Psalm 119:160)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Some Primary Rules for the Interpretation of Scripture

A great many of the diverse teachings and practices which divide Christians one from another are the result of a failure to follow prudent and reasonable methods of interpreting the Scriptures. Because many have commented to me that my approach to the interpretation of the Scriptures betrays a methodology to which they are unfamiliar, I thought it best to explain the rules of interpretation which I have always followed.

1. I let the Bible instruct me (exegesis). I do not approach the Scriptures with any preconceived notions that I then try to foist onto the text (eisegesis). To this end, I let the Bible interpret itself by examining all that the Lord has to say on a particular topic. By doing this, I avoid the uncomfortable position of trying to explain away passages which do not fit neatly into a doctrinal puzzle that I am trying to construct.

2. For the Bible to be all that it claims to be (2 Tim. 3:16-17) there can be no contradictions. Any perceived contradictions are an indication of a misinterpretation. There are many hard to understand passages in the Scriptures, and many so called contradictions usually involve one of these. In these cases, I do not have to know what a passage means, to know what it does not mean. Again, letting the Bible interpret itself.

3. I keep in mind that the Bible teaches in one of four ways;

  • By express command of the Lord.

  • Through someone writing by inspiration.

  • By example (the Lord or someone acting by inspiration did the thing in question).

  • Implication or necessary inference (where the thing in question is a matter of necessary inference in order to make sense of the passage).

4. I follow the time tested elementary principles of interpretation. The following are a few which I have found to be very profitable. They are from the Elementary Principles of Interpretation by Johann August Ernesti and Moses Stuart, published 1842.

  • "To every word in Scripture there is unquestionably assigned some idea or notion, otherwise words are useless, and have no more signification than the inarticulate sounds of animals." pg. 19
  • "The literal meaning of words is the sense that is so connected with them as to be spontaneously presented to the mind as soon as the sound of the word is heard, and that is the first order." pg. 19
  • "All men in their daily conversation and writings attach but one sense to a word, at the same time and in the same passage, unless they design to speak in enigmas. The sense of a word can not be diverse or multifarious at the same time and in the same passage or expression." pg. 21
  • "There can be no certainty at all in respect to the interpretation of any passage, unless a kind of necessity compels us to affix a particular sense to a word, which sense must be one, and unless there are special reasons for a tropical meaning, it must be literal." pg 22
  • "Words are proper or tropical, literal or figurative. First: A proper or tropical is a definite name given to a certain thing. Originally, words were undoubtedly used in their proper and literal sense. Second: Tropes or metaphorical words are called by Aristotle strangers, foreigners." pg. 34
  • "In no language can a word have more than one literal meaning in the same place." pg. 34

By these rules we understand that a word can have but one literal meaning in the same place and at the same time, and that the primary meaning of a word is the literal meaning unless there is a special reason for it's removal.

I have found these guidelines to be very profitable to me and I will undoubtedly be referring my readers back to them from time to time.

I have no problem with any published 'literal' translations of the Scriptures into the English. Paraphrased versions I completely reject, and I will not allow anyone to get away with making an argument based on the wording of a passage of scripture from a paraphrased version alone. The very existence of paraphrased versions of the Bible betray a great disregard for the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures. They are an aberration which should never have been conceived. The fact that they have found a market among the faithful is somewhat disturbing.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Universalist Argument, Part 2

In the second book of Kings there is a story that is told of how God's people began to follow their own path, and put aside the commandments of the Lord. In time the Law that God had delivered to His people was lost and forgotten. In the eighteenth year of the reign of Josiah, the book of the Law was found by Hilkiah, the high priest. The book was brought before the king and read in his presence.

When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes. He gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Acbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king's attendant: "Go and inquire of the LORD for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord's anger that burns against us because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us." - 2 Kings 22:11-13.

Now, imagine that some in our current culture would have their way, and the Bible fall out of use and be forgotten. Many years pass and the Lord's church disappears from all knowledge or memory. Then Providence intervenes and a copy of the New Testament is found, read, believed, and obeyed; and the Lord adds those fortunate finders to His church ( Acts 2:37-47). These new Christians would no doubt look to the New Testament for guidance in determining the doctrines, practices, and worship of the newly restored church of Jesus Christ. What is the likelihood that the result would be a grotesque monstrosity comprised of thousands of sects, all bearing different names, teaching different doctrines, engaging in different religious practices, and worshiping in different ways, but all claiming to follow the same guide? Yet, that is the current state of the Lord's church according to the Universalists.

The absurd rationalizations of the Universalists serve no good purpose and lend legitimacy to a condition in Chistendom which is clearly condemned in the scriptures (1Cor. 1:10). When factions do exist, they exist "in order that those who are approved may ...become evident" (1 Cor. 11:19), and conversely, expose those who are not. To determine which is which, one must turn to the scriptures, our only guide in all matters of faith and religion (Acts 17:11; 2 Tim. 3:16).

There is a slogan used by many today; "God said it, I believe it, and that settles it". This is a positive statement about faith, and there is great truth in it. That truth is equally great when we examine the negative; "God did not say it, therefore, I do not believe it, and that settles it." In the practice of the Christian religion one cannot by faith do anything which is not approved by God through his revealed word (Rom. 10:17). Faith began with the revelation of His word to the world through inspired men, and faith must end where that revelation ends. If someone were to say, "As a Christian, I cannot eat meat during certain phases of the moon", this would be a practice that is not from faith since there is no justification for it in the word of God. And since it is not from faith, the incorporation of it in the practice of the Christian religion would in fact be a sin (Heb. 11:6; Rom. 14:23). The scriptures exhort us to not only test ourselves (2 Cor.13:5), but to test the teachings of others as well (1 John 4:1, 2:3-4; 2 John 9-11; Matt. 7:15).

Nevertheless, the Universalist maintain that regardless of how far a denominations teachings and practices may be from the scriptures, the members thereof are saved by virtue of their faith in Christ alone, and, as such, are members of the universal church. This is a logical argument. If a person is saved at the point of faith alone, before and without any other acts of obedience, and since the saved person is added to the Lord's church by God (Acts2:47), said person is a member of the church by virtue of their saved condition. This argument hinges on the truth of the proposition that 'a person is saved at the point of faith, before and without any other acts of obedience.

The proponents of this doctrine typically cite Rom. 3:28-30; "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law." Now, if a man is justified by faith alone, he is justified by it to the exclusion of all else. Yet, the scriptures teach that we are also justified by a number of other things. Rom. 3:24 says that we are justified by grace. Acts 13:39 says that we are justified by Christ. Rom. 5:9 says we are justified by His blood. James 2:24 says we are justified by works. 1 Cor. 6:11 says that we are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. And yet again, we are justified by faith (Rom. 5:1). Now, how can we be justified by all these things, and be justified by any one of them alone? Nowhere in the scriptures does it say that we are justified by faith alone, in fact, the word 'alone' is used only once in the New Testament to modify faith, and in that passage, the writer says that we are not justified by it (James 2:24).

Repentance is an indispensable condition of salvation (Luke 13:3,5; Acts 3:19). If persons are saved at the point of faith, before and without any other acts of obedience, they are saved before they obey the command of the Lord to repent. But an objector says, "It is true that one must repent in order to be saved, but repentance precedes faith". Now, how could this be? What would motivate a person to obey the Lord's commandment to repent before they believe in the Lord? And, even if they did, the motivation would not be faith, and without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6), therefore, that repentance would not be pleasing to God. Once more, if a person were to repent before hears and believes the word that he must (Rom. 10:17), and since whatever we do in religion which is not of faith is sin (Rom. 14:23), such repentance would be sin. The absurdity of this notion is self evident. No one can perform an act as part of a religion which they have not yet embraced.

And what of the confession spoken of by Paul in Rom. 10:9? Paul says in that passage that, "with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation". Here we have yet another act of faith in the gospel plan of salvation which may not be dispensed with, and with it we could make the same argument. We could make many more arguments to prove that the doctrine of the Universalists is false, but what we have so far is more than sufficient. The doctrine of the Universalists has no basis in the word of God, and if not from God, it is not of faith, and if not of faith, it is sinful to teach or adhere to it.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Universalist Argument, Part 1

In the book of Matthew, chapter 16, beginning at verse 13, the Bible says;

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.

Notice that Jesus says, "I will build My church". It is His church, and He is the One who built it. It was not built by John the baptist, (who by this point in the chronology was already dead, Matt. 14:8-10), nor was it built by some guy named Wesley, Luther, or Smith. Notice also that the foundation upon which He would build the church is the fact that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

As I pointed out in my last post, there are some 38,000 different sects of the Christian religion globally, each differing from on another in doctrine, practice, and traditions. The situation begs the question; which one is the one that Jesus built? To the universalist, the answer is; all of them. They reason that since they believe that Jesus is the Christ, they all have the common foundation, and therefore, are all His. They are all part of the 'universal church'. When Jesus said, "I will build My church", He was speaking of the church in a 'universal' sense. The reasoning of the universalist is sound, as far as it goes.

It is true that the scriptures speak of the church in both a universal sense (Eph: 3:21 & 5:24; Phil. 3:6) and as individual congregations (Gal. 1:22; 2 Thess. 1:4; 1 Cor. 11:8). It is true that the foundation of the church is faith that Jesus is the Christ. Where the universalist argument falls short is that faith in Christ is but the foundation. Jesus said that He would build His church on that foundation. By using the word build, Jesus is implying the erection of a structure of some sort on that foundation.

In the construction of anything, there is a foundation, yes, but there are also building blocks, mortar to bind it together, a method of construction, and a design or blueprint. We know from the scriptures that the building blocks of the church are individual Christians, (Matt. 18:20; Rom. 16:5; and Col.4:15). The word 'church' in the Greek New Testament is 'ecclesia', which literally means 'an assembly'. The 'mortar' that binds them together is 'faith', 'hope', and 'love', Heb. 11:1; 1 Cor. 13:13). The method of construction is the plan of salvation, (Acts 2, note especially verses 38-47). To these things the universalist readily agrees. But, as to the design, the blueprint; this is where the universalist argument begins to fall apart. It is the blueprint that determines the form, the shape, the appearance of a structure. The universalist must admit that the various denominations certainly do not conform to the same blueprint.

The universalists dismiss this as unimportant. There is diversity throughout all of God's creation, why not the church? Is it not also God's creation? We intend to show in part two of this series, that there is one blueprint for the church, and that it is quite important to the identity of the church as the body of Christ ( Col. 1:8).

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Page Makeover: Update

As I mentioned in a previous post, Political 411 is undergoing a change in focus. As you can see there have been a number of changes. As you can see, the name has been changed. Beneath that, you will notice that there is a 'Featured Verse' section which will always complement the most recent post, ( including this one). On the side bar you will find a link list of on-line reference materials. I thought it best to provide readers with the where-with-all to get their facts straight before taking issue with me in a comment. The Koine Greek/English Dictionary is not very 'layman' friendly, I will continue to search for a more suitable one. I have designed a header graphic which has a symbolic meaning.

Of all of the religions in the world, Christianity is the most fractionalized. There are at approximately 38,000 christian denominations in the world. In the beginning it was not so. Throughout the fist couple of centuries, Christians were united in one faith. The first split occurred in 431 at the First Council of Ephesus. God never intended these divisions.

There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. - Eph. 4:4-6

And again,

What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? - 1Cor. 1:12-13

Believers are divided into groups by ideology, practice, and traditions; yet all claim to follow the same scriptures. The main focus of this page will be to examine the things that divide us, and hopefully strip them away.

I will be challenging you, and I am sure that you will be challenging me. In the process, we will all learn from the experience.