Hermeneutical Squabble

Author note: We are grateful to Tony McClure for this contribution. He taught upper school history for four years at Logos Academy in York, PA. Since then, he is a lifelong learner who is a Pittsburgh resident and lover of 3D puzzles, movies and books. The author clarifies that this account is purely a figment of his imagination and is not meant to represent any real-life individuals. “Andy” and “Ian” are two voices that live in the author’s head and constantly go back and forth.

The Bible study at Enliven Church ended with another argument between Ian and Andy. Well, they weren’t quite arguments – they never ended in fisticuffs or name-calling – they were just discussions that seldom ended in agreement.

The debates usually involved disagreements pertaining to the Bible. Enliven held the Bible in high regard, and if a person wanted to be a member, he or she had to confess to the statement that literally every word and phrase of the Bible is correct and without error.

Andy loved the Bible and believed it to be trustworthy in its instruction for those who practiced the Christian faith. However, recently, he discovered several authors who opened a treasure trove of how the church historically interpreted Scripture.

Ian was a staunch inerrantist and thought Andy was drifting in a theologically liberal direction and heading for a slippery slope.

Here’s the discussion between Andy and Ian. They and the other members of their Bible study were nearing the end of their discussion of 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

Ian: I love this passage because it’s clear to me that Paul is communicating to Timothy that Scripture is inerrant, or unable to be in error. I love how Paul is setting the standard for how the Bible should be viewed, experienced, and interpreted.

Andy: Ian, I do love you as a brother in Christ, but you beat this “without error” drum constantly and seem stuck on it. I hold Scripture in high regard, but I’m not sure how helpful it is to come to the Bible with an “inerrant” assumption.

Ian: I think it’s extremely important to start from an inerrant basis. If the Bible is the written Word of God, and it’s literally written by Him through humans, then our religion falls apart if there’s errors. How can it be any other way?

Andy: The problem is that approach inevitably leads to a bad interpretive lens for the Bible.

Ian: How so? I think it’s crucial to not let our assumptions or worldview affect how we read Scripture. Pastor Ken always emphasizes that we need to “let the facts of Scripture” speak for themselves. I believe then, and only then, we can fully understand the meaning of Scripture, and if only we can listen and read the Bible’s one clear and discernible voice, then we can really flourish in the faith.

Andy: Look, Ian, the key to my problem with inerrancy is that it assumes that we as imperfect humans can somehow find the “objective meaning” of Scripture. There’s been numerous tools in church tradition that uncover the key to Scripture and how to interpret it. If we approach Scripture from an “inerrant” viewpoint, then it leads to conversations about manuscript evidence and historical accuracy that I do not believe the biblical writers were as concerned about as we moderns are.

Ian: So you’re saying the Bible is wrong about things? In that case, how do we know Christ rose from the dead?

Andy: What I’m saying is that the Bible is a library or collection of books over many many years whose purpose is to attest and bear witness to the Word of God, Christ. Christ is the reason and purpose of Scripture and the interpretive key for how to interpret Scripture.

If the Bible is clear and discernible, then why are there so many different churches that understand church polity, gender roles, ecclesiology, the Lord’s Supper, Baptism, etc. so differently? And by the way, I do believe the death and resurrection historically happened, because the differences in the accounts makes me believe even more that the biblical writers saw something real and were not in cahoots.

Ian: A lot of those differences are just confusion about what the Bible actually says. Scripture alone can remove the muddled mess of church history and bring us to a common understanding of how to approach and apply those topics you brought up.

Andy: I guess I see church history completely differently. It’s because of the church that we have the Scriptures we have today. The church compiled Scripture as we know it today over many centuries, and the “measuring stick” for how the canon would be decided was through the rule of faith, which the church had due to Christ’s revelation. The Bible did not fall from heaven and magically appear in English bound in leather.

Demons can read the Bible and understand it. However, what makes the Bible sacred is that it points to Christ, something the demons cannot comprehend. Another example is the “Road to Emmaus” account where those two gents are on their way to Emmaus, Christ stops them. The gents exclaimed all the truths Scripture contained but failed to see the aim of it, who happened to be standing right in front of them. Their eyes were only opened when Christ “interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

Ian: Andy, what you are saying sounds interesting, but this all just sounds so theologically liberal to me. It just seems like you are bound for a slippery slope. If you think the Bible can err, what next? You’ll believe that the miracles in the Bible did not happen?

Andy: I guess I look at the Bible very differently than you do. I must not be explaining myself well. I’ll just say that I believe that the world is enchanted and there is a spiritual realm that we moderns do not always account for but has everyday connotations for how we live. The Bible comes from this enchanted or spiritual context, and by interpreting it through Christ’s lens brings light to how the Bible is interpreted. Too often, we don’t realize how the assumptions of modernity affect all of us, even those of us Christians who love Scripture. We need to retrieve, as best we can, the mindset of the people who wrote the Scriptures and their early interpreters. They lived in a world far different from ours.

Ian: Well, it’s getting late. You have given me some things to think about. I’m curious to know more about this enchanted world. We’ll pick this up later.

Saint Mark the Evangelist. Valentin de Boulogne known as Le Valentin (1594-1632). Palace of Versailles.

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