Ministry Training Paper: The Authority and Interpretation of Scripture
Adapted from the School of Christian Ministry.
19th May 2011
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Last week’s paper on the authority of the Bible indicated the way in which people are using the issue of interpretation to avoid the Bible’s authority. All literature and use of words is open to misunderstanding. But that difficulty must not be overstated, for humans can accurately communicate, by language, an extraordinary amount of information.
The word “interpretation” itself has undergone a change from “establishing of meaning” to “ascribing a meaning”: from the authors expressing their meaning, and thus the document having a meaning to the reader determining what the writing means to them, and thus the document having within itself no meaning.
To understand the difference and safeguard what we are talking about it is better to use the word ‘comprehension’. The aim in reading is to comprehend or understand what the author was trying to communicate. Even the word “reading” is now tinged with the relativist claim. We now have “a feminist reading” or “a Marxist reading” of a text, denying that the text itself and its author was saying something that the feminist and Marxist should not, and worse could not, take off their bias and listen to.
It was also suggested last week that adding some authority to the Bible undermined its authority. So the authoritative interpreter of the Bible takes over and swallows up the authority of the scriptures themselves, implying that we do not need to listen to the Bible but only to the interpreter of the Bible. Furthermore, being sinful and limited in knowledge, the interpreter will inevitably contradict the Bible at some point or other.
This is not to say that there is no authority other than the Bible. God has appointed governments in authority over us (Romans 13:1ff, 1 Peter 2:13f), and we are to honour our parents (Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 6:1f) and submit to our leaders (1 Corinthians 16:16, Hebrews 13:17). Furthermore, we are not to submit to lies but to truth for the Devil is the father of lies and God is truth and does not lie (John 14:6, Titus 1:2).
However, all authority is derived from God and subservient to his declared word, which we have in His inspired scriptures.
What does the Bible say about these alternative authorities?
1 Church leaders and special people:
Gal. 1:6-10; 2:11-14; Lk. 11-27, 28
2 Human philosophy and wisdom:
Col. 2:8; 1 Cor. 1:18-25; 1 Tim. 6; 20, 21
3 Traditions of men:
Mk. 7:1-13; Col. 2:8
4 Teachers and prophets:
Mk. 13:22; 1 Cor. 14:29; Dt 13:1-5; 1 Tim 1:6, 7
5 Signs, visions and miracles:
Lk 11:29-32; Mk. 13:22; Col. 2:18, 19.
6 The view that all opinions are relative, with no absolute truth:
Gal. 1:6-10; Acts 17:30, 31
7 Man’s conscience:
Tit. 1:15, 16; 1 Tim. 4:2
8 Community standards:
1 Pet. 4:3-6
Rom 10:2; Phil. 3:2-11
10 Other religions:
Jn. 14:6; Mt 28:18; Acts 4:12; 1 Thes 1:9, 10
Examples of the consequence of allowing additional authorities:
1 a Article 8 of the Mormon Articles of Religion states:
“We believe the bible to be the Word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the Word of God”.
b JF Smith, President of the Council of the Twelve Apostles of the Mormon Church, wrote: “Guided by the Book of Mormon, ‘Doctrine and Covenants’ and the Spirit of the Lord, it is not difficult for one to discern the errors in the Bible”. Mormon Doctrines, pp 509-510.
2 a “The Bible has been my only authority. I have no other guide in the straight and narrow way of truth.” Mary Baker Eddy in ‘Science and Health’, p 126.
b “The second chapter of Genesis contains a statement of this material view of God and the universe, a statement which is the exact opposite of scientific truth as before recorded.” ibid 521.
c “To suppose that Jesus did actually anoint the blind man’s eyes with his spittle is as absurd as to think according to the reports of some, that Christian Scientists sit in back-to-back séances with their patients, for the divine power to filter from vertebra to vertebra, “Mrs Eddy, ‘Miscellaneous Writings’ 1 171.
3 a “The Sacred Scripture contain the Word of God and, because they are inspired they are truly the Word of God.” “...the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, ‘does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy scripture alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal sentiment of devotion and reverence.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 135, 82).
b “from the first instant of her (Mary’s) conception, she was totally preserved from the stain of original sin and she remained pure from all personal sin throughout her life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 508).
c Mary remained a virgin in conceiving her Son, a virgin in giving birth to him, a virgin in nursing him at her breast, always a virgin. She is called “the Ever-virgin” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 510,499).
d “...the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things...” “Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation....Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress and Mediatrix” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 966, 969).
The New Testament teaches that all have sinned without any known exception (Rom 3:23), that Mary’s place was not exceptional (Luke 8:19-21; 11:27-28), that it is Jesus who makes intercession for his people in heaven (Romans 8:34, Hebrews 7:25, 1 John 2:1), that there is one mediator (1 Timothy 2:5) and makes no mention of Mary’s place in life after Acts 1 or in our salvation other than bringing Jesus to birth.
Find the Errors
1 “Hang all the law and the prophets” - Mt. 22:40 (AV).
This was not a commandment of Jesus to kill people but rather to ignore or treat as irrelevant all the Old Testament law and the prophets.
2 “Let all the hills sing for joy together” (RSV).
This shows that either the ancient world was constituted differently to our world where hills can sing or that the Bible contains myths about absurd things like hills that sing.
3 a Genesis 1:1 is interpreted by Mrs Mary Baker Eddy as meaning “This creation consists of spiritual ideas and their identities which are embraced in the infinite Mind and forever reflected” (Science and Health, pp 502-503).
b Genesis 1:9 likewise interpreted: “Spirit, God, gathers informed thoughts, into their proper channels, and unfolds these thoughts, even as he opens the petals of a holy purpose in order that the purpose may appear”. (Science and Health, p 506)
4 That Gideon was looking for guidance to seek what he should do in Judges 6:36-40.
5 On the basis of passages such as Leviticus 17:14, the Jehovah Witnesses will not allow blood transfusions. (Note among other things verses 11 & 12 of the same chapter).
6 Jeremiah 10:3-4 condemns the building of Christmas Trees according to “The Plain Truth” and “The Watch Tower”.
7 “The old man of whom you spoke” in Gen 43:27 has been taken to refer to the old sinful nature.
8 In Lk 11:5-13 Bede maintained that the guest newly arrived is the spirit of man, weary and hungry, the host is natural man unable to satisfy his soul. The appeal to the friend is application to God for help.
9 Rev 3:20 that Jesus stands outside sinners’ hearts waiting for them to open up and let him in.
10 1 Cor 9:22 tells us that Paul would be willing to be an adulterer if this could save someone.
11 In Mt 25:41 Jesus teaches that the basis on which we are judged by him is whether we have helped people in need.
12 Lk 4:18 describes Jesus’ mission and consequently ours as a mandate to initiate a programme of social reconstruction to help those who suffer.
13 In 2 Cor 8:13 Paul teaches that social and economic equality is a Christian ideal.