27 Oct 2020
We have considered Sola Scriptura in a previous sharing: whether we read or hear the Scripture, we must realise that what we receive is the speech of God Himself, conveyed to us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit through words. We need to know the importance of insisting that the inspiration of Scripture is verbal. Words signify and safeguard meaning; the wrong word distorts the intended sense. Since it is God who inspired the biblical text with the purpose of communicating His Word, it is necessary for God to ensure that the words written were such as did in fact communicate it. It is helpful to note that if the words were not wholly God’s, then their teaching would not be wholly God’s.
That brings us to the significance of proper interpretation principles of Scripture. The first principle is that the proper natural sense of each passage is to be taken; the meaning of texts in their own contexts, for their original readers, is the proper starting point for enquiring into their wider meaning and implications. We must allow Scripture to tell us its own literary character (which includes the rules of grammar) and be willing to receive it as what it claims to be (with its own place in history). This ought to be as the biblical books originated as documents addressed to contemporary audiences. Our approach must include: what God was saying through the original author to the original audience; what the passage or chapter mean in the light of the overall context of God’s salvation plan and purpose; what the passage mean for us today in our own context in terms of the application for our own lives as individuals and as a church.
The second important principle is that Scripture must interpret Scripture; the scope and significance of one passage must be brought out by relating it to other passages or biblical books. When there is doubt in a particular passage, it must be clarified and known by other passages or places that speak more clearly. We must anchor our study of Scripture on the assumption that God’s revealed truth in the Bible is a consistent unity and any disharmony between part and parts of the BIble is only apparent and not real. We need to look to God to help us see clearly (subsequently) the whole picture. A true believer can fall victim to secular philosophy and ideology; there is no guarantee that one’s interpretation of the Bible will always be right, or that secular distortions (precipitated by the evil one) will never invade one’s mind to affect one’s thoughts unwholesomely. One needs to be cautious not to read into texts that cannot be read out of them. Nothing taught by any text may be disregarded or left unapplied. It also means that the believer should not be afraid of facts, for he knows that all facts are God’s facts; nor is he afraid of thinking, for he knows that all truth is God’s truth, and right reason cannot endanger sound faith.
The task of biblical interpretation never ends. There is no such thing as an exhaustive exegesis of any passage. The Holy Spirit is constantly showing Christians facets of revealed truth not seen before. To claim finality for any historic mode of interpretation or system of theology would be to resist the Holy Spirit; there is always more to be said; the Lord has more light and truth yet to break out of HIs Holy Word. The church must receive all teaching that proves to be biblical, whether on matters of historical or of theological fact, as truly part of God’s Word.
This is in line with the spirit of Reformation, the willingness to be open to God in the understanding of His Word and its application and implication to the current issues the church is facing in this age and context. So the significance of what is exhorted by men like John Calvin – humility, humility, humility – this is essentially needful when we come before God and before His Word (in the Bible) and before His Spirit who is the author and teacher of the Scripture.
In the light of the above, we must discern that preachers may not be preaching what God preaches just because biblical passages are quoted or referred to. These passages may just be inserted to ‘support’ one’s own perculiar understanding of certain teachings and certain distorted theology.
Also, it does not mean that all those who ‘attend’ bible colleges have ‘monopoly’ of understanding of what God intends for the church; certain colleges are known to be promoting ‘liberal’ teaching – what are not acceptable to proper and wholesome understanding of the Scripture; also unwholesome influence by ‘higher criticism’, ‘analysis’, so common in modules in curriculum of many colleges, often subject Scripture
to ‘studies’ which are designed to help students to tell what are true or false in the claims of Scripture. It would be treating Scripture as something other than it is; – it is none other than God’s truth in writing! For believers to consent to study Scripture on the assumption that it is a fallible human book would not argue intellectual honesty as much as uncritical muddleheadedness. The only biblical criticism which they consistently regard as valid is that it takes as its starting point the Bible’s account of itself.