The Problem with Taking the Bible Too Seriously
- We used to live in Kentucky. In our town was a church that believed you must observe the Lord’s Supper with wine, not grape juice, since that is what Jesus used. As I recall, they also met in an upper room.
- Ridiculous, you probably say.
- Why would that matter? What possible good is served by such literalism.
- The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that only 144,000 people will go to heaven. This is based on a literal interpretation based on Revelation 7;14 and 14;1.
- Some churches insist that their women wear head coverings based on 1 Corinthians 11;5.
- Other churches will not allow women to participate in public ways in church based on 1 Timothy 2:12.
- A small group of churches in the Appalachians handles live, poisonous snakes during their worship service, based on Mark 16:18.
- The “science” of interpretation is called hermeneutics.
- You use hermeneutics every day, every time you read something that requires interpretation: the comic strips, a road sign, the newspaper, or a business document.
- There are certain rules that comprise good hermeneutics that we will discuss in this sermon.
I. What is the purpose of Scripture?
- When Paul wrote to the young man Timothy, he did so to instruct him about reclaiming his ministry, which Timothy had neglected for some reason.
- His instructions are a basic manual in building healthy churches.
- Among other things, Paul told Timothy to “insist on and teach” these things.
- Set the believers a [good] example so that they will respect you.
- Give attention to the public reading of scripture. Paul believed this was a necessary part of church life.
II. What does a text mean?
- First a word about the knowability of texts: In literary circles there has been a school of thought that texts have meaning apart from their author. T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound are examples of such.
- This school sought to banish the original author as the determiner of meaning and in so doing banished the only compelling normative principle that could lend validity to an interpretation.
- You can see the problems with this. A text of scripture is wrested from its original purpose and meaning. The author has no say in the future meaning of the text.
- E.D. Hirsch Jr. Validity in Interpretation, said, “…the text had to represent somebody’s meaning—if not the author’s, then the critic’s. “ Page 3.
- Further, “To banish the original author as the determiner of meaning was to reject the only compelling normative principle that could lend validity to an interpretation.” Page 5.
III. Interpretation and Apologetics:
- The subject of interpretation is important to apologetics because unless one has a credible way of reading and understanding scripture there will be no credibility with others.
- Respect and intelligence with the text builds credibility with those we seek to teach and influence.
- Additionally, teaching smart methods of interpretation helps to build maturity and strength in those being taught.
- How many times have you seen someone abandon what they had because analysis created disillusionment and cynicism?
- Maybe a church family that was inordinately strict.
- Or a favorite proof text that proved to teach something else than what it was said to teach.
- Or a failure to represent God in a way that is consistent with scripture.
- Fee and Stuart comment about how some will apply a specific portion of a text very literally but not the whole text as in the case of tongues speaking and women keeping silent in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40.
- Or the health and wealth gospel of Joel Osteen.
IV. Some Final Principles of Hermeneutics:
- The first and arguably most important principle is to understand that a text cannot mean what it never meant. The starting point of all textual work should be in trying to find what God meant when the text was originally spoken. Otherwise you have some goofy meanings being forced on the text.
- A second important principle is to understand that the Bible is not a flat document, all interpreted with the same template. So within the Bible you will find these kinds of literature.
- History such as Exodus, Kings, or Acts.
- Poetry such as Psalms or Song of Solomon.
- Wisdom such as Ecclesiastes or Job.
- Prophecy such as Isaiah or Joel.
- Gospel such as Matthew or Mark.
- Letters such as Romans, Colossians, or Titus.
- And Apocrypha such as Revelation and some parts of Daniel.
- There are some good examples in the Bible of what happens when people do not approach the Bible as it was meant to be.
- Israel after Babylonian captivity became fundamentalistic society. They majored in minutae but were unable to achieve the noble goals that God had intended for His word.
- The Essene community is known for being the keepers of what is now known as The Dead Sea Scrolls. They lived in an exclusivist community in the hills around the Dead Sea, not wanting to be corrupted by the world.
- The Mishnah is referred to without being specifically mentioned. It took the good intentions of the Decalogue and enlarged on it. Made it more demanding.