I love to study Scripture, but I sometimes wonder if the effort is worth it. Some days I become more and more convinced of the impossibility of understanding Scripture.
This was impressed upon me even more so yesterday when I sorted through my stack of mail and found a newsletter from a church in Duluth, MN which has devoted several pages in the last four issues to refuting a journal article I published in 2006.
I am not trying to pick a fight with them, so I will not name the church or the publication. If you want to know what article they are attempting to refute, it is this: “The Gospel is More than ‘Faith Alone in Christ Alone‘.”
With every issue this church sends out, I am amazed at how fully and completely they misunderstood what I was saying, and as a result, misrepresent what I actually believe. To their credit, they did contact me before they ran these articles to give me the opportunity to respond, but I soon found that they were not too interested in my response, and were only fishing for more ammunition to use against me. They had made up their mind about what I believed, and nothing I could say would convince them otherwise. At one point, they told me that since what I wrote contradicted what I was telling them on the phone, I was lying in one of the two places, and so they were going to go with what was written.
I tried to explain that what was written was in full agreement with what I was saying, but that the article had been misunderstood. Maybe it was my fault for a poorly-written article. If so, I accept full blame for being unclear, but at least they could honor my desire for them to understand and properly present my position.
But they went to press anyway with a series of articles that includes numerous quotes ripped out of context and many faulty and illogical accusations about me and my theology.
Sigh. Oh well.
But it recently occurred to me: I wonder if we often do the same thing to the Bible?
Actually, I don’t wonder. I am certain.
I often think that as God listens to us as teach and explain the Bible, He is shaking His head and muttering to Himself, “Where the heck did they get that from? I said nothing of the sort! Talk about ripping my words out of context!”
If we so often misunderstand and misrepresent contemporary authors and writers with whom we can converse and discuss their ideas, how much more likely is it that we misunderstand and misrepresent the authors of Scripture who are not only dead and gone, but who write at different times, in difficult cultures, and in different languages?
Of course, some might say the analogy is flawed because we have the Holy Spirit to help us understand Scripture, whereas I cannot send my spirit to Duluth to help them understand my ideas.
This is true enough… until we consider all the conflicting reports that the “Holy Spirit” supposedly tells Christians from all over the world. I have literally had two Christians in my office yelling and screaming at each other about whose revelation from the Spirit was correct since He “revealed” the opposite thing to both men.
In the end, we are right back where we started. Understanding Scripture is not as straightforward as reading what it says. No book in history is like that; let alone the Bible.
So next time someone tells, “God said it. I believe it. That settles it” the best response is, “Yes, but what is it that God really said?”
I so agree with you, I have been a Christian for over 17 years and I have always struggled especially with the New Testament. Their are conflicting (or what appears conflicting) statements or possible ideas communicated especially in Paul’s writing.
I’am not saying it is not God’s word, all i am saying is that I don’t find it to be as cut and dry and straightforward. I have read it many times the same scriptures and find myself having more questions than answers. Now of course that is not the case with the whole bible, mostly with just Paul’s writings. I do not struggle with the old testament or other writers of the new testament like John or Peter.
I find it very frustrating that their could be so many different interpretations to the same scriptures. I’am also troubled by the fact that some words from the Greek were probably not translated correctly or other words were inserted by theologins or other religious leaders for it to to say something they want it to say.
I find that my relationship with Jesus is not based on reading the word, but in prayer and worship. I do still read the word at least the parts that i don’t find confusion, and I do find it to be helpful in my relationship with God, but not as much as spending time in prayer and quiet time with the Lord or listening to worship songs.
This is how my walk with the Lord has been. God has been good to me and I know he hears my prayer for he has answered to many. I always lift up my questions and frustrations to God most everyday and ask him to reveal his heart to me. I do hope God is not angry with me and that he understands my heart and where i’am coming from
Jeremy Myers says
Right. When it comes to some of these other issues, I don’t think the question is “who is right and who is wrong” but rather, “does this interpretation help us look more like Jesus?”
Oh Jeremy, you have had me in stitches with laughter today! My neighbours probably think I’m nuts, knowing I live alone, as they hear the peals of laughter drift up the hill to their ears! Thank you 😀
Your following statement, “They had made up their mind about what I believed, and nothing I could say would convince them otherwise. At one point, they told me that since what I wrote contradicted what I was telling them on the phone, I was lying in one of the two places, and so they were going to go with what was written.” reminds me of what you wrote in Shotgun Hermeneutics 🙁
I love your last graphic on this blog! Be encouraged. It is my guess you are helping more ‘thinkers’ than you realize!
I am interested in the discussion of the two believers it is not clear but how do you know that one was right and one wasnt? Otherwise your article suggests that whatever we believe is correct and that is dangerous and could lead us astray.Surely truth is absolute otherwise it isnt the truth.Otherwise how do we know if we are walking according to the truth surely its like walking without a compass.That is a clear example of how to navigate the wilderness for 40 years believe that you are walking in the truth.brentnz
Paul Price says
I struggle with this also. If God wanted us to understand the Truth, why is it that so many well-meaning Christians are so deeply divided on so many issues? Is the Bible not clear?
I am still learning in this department obviously– but I think the answer sounds something like,
“God is working with each of us where we are on our own personal journey to Him. He is not nearly as concerned with what confusions we may have about what He wrote as he is concerned with growing us as people and bringing us into a more genuine relationship with Him. In the course of achieving this goal in the long run, God is willing to allow us to make numerous theological mistakes in the process. Salvation is not a test of your ability to properly achieve the task of interpreting the Bible- it’s a simple matter of trusting Jesus.”