Saturday, 27 January 2007

A good hermeneutic

How do we interpret the Bible? With the multitude of interpretations offered is it possible or reasonable to expect agreement on the meaning of the bible? I will describe my approach, briefly: the bible is understandable, it is given to us by God, it is true and it is coherent.

God intended for the bible to be understood. Sure, there are difficult passages and some places may have more than one meaning or layers of meanings, but one can get the general gist of what the bible is saying.

God is the primary author. So while different authors may have different styles, and may use different ways of expressing themselves, ultimately it is what God intended to be written. While God's intention is in agreement with what the human author was writting, it is possible there is teaching that God intends that was not apparent to the author. While Caiaphas is not an author of scripture an analogy to this concept can be seen with his prophecy:
Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, "You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish."

He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. (John 11:49-52 ESV)
This means that we try and understand what the intention of the bible is, not what we get from it. I do think that God can speak into a person's personal circumstances from scripture, but one must be very careful; they need to be certain God has spoken and aware of the specifics of what he has and has not said.

The bible is inerrant. There is good evidence that this is how Jesus and biblical authors saw scripture.
Jesus replied, "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. (Matthew 22:29 ESV)
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,... (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV)
Even if one only thinks the New Testament is mildly accurate, in Christ and the Bible, John Wenham has made a good case that Jesus and the disciples saw the Old Testament as inerrant. It is this inerrancy that allows us to get so much from scripture. Because it is true in its entirety we can draw true conclusions from secondary elements in the text; compare Jesus refuting the Sadducees by the tense of a Hebrew verb (Matthew 22:32).

The entirety of scripture gives a coherent worldview. This raises the issue of progressive revelation which I may address at a different time.

There are also other considerations when interpreting scripture such as how did Jesus, the apostles and the authors of the bible interpret scripture.

Now if the entirety of scripture is coherent then we can have a hermeneutic that asks which interpretation does justice to all the passages addressing a topic.

In understanding a particular issue I think every scripture should be addressed. By doing justice to all passages I envisage an interpretation in which every scripture that touches on a particular topic makes sense. Some passages speak to a topic more clearly than others, but it is important to understand what all of the bible has to say about a particular topic. This is, or should be, the goal of systematic theologians. But rather than defining a theology with a few specific verses, it is important to try and review all the relevant verses to come up with an understanding that does justice to them all. Verses do not trump other verses, rather they enhance each other.

Within this framework there are some general rules. Examples include the context of the passage. The specific overrides the general. Lack of exception clauses do not exclude exceptions mentioned elsewhere.

So what is the place of reason in all this. Reason is very important, it is an attribute of God his has implanted in us. It lets us generalise what we know. It allows us to learn from analogies. It helps stop us believing mutually exclusive propositions. But it is also marred. We are made in the image of God, but we are also fallen. That means that while we must use our reason, when our reasoning from scripture leads us to contradict scripture, rather than proposing unlikely interpretations we need to go back to our assumptions and review whether what we have believed about a passage is really so. And looking at all of scripture helps us do this.

Saturday, 20 January 2007

Random quote

If you can't logically prove this, then you are giving me an opinion and I doubt that you will be able to convince me that your opinion is better than my opinion, because I am very fond of my opinion.

A.S.A. Jones

Thursday, 18 January 2007

Wrong definitions

Over on Vox Popoli there have been a few mentions of the God and the Immovable Rock paradox. The paradox can be stated:

Can God create a rock so heavy that even he cannot lift it? If he can, then the rock is unliftable, God is not omnipotent. But if he cannot, then he is still not omnipotent.

I asked my 8 year old daughter a variation on this question and I am not aware she had ever been exposed to it before. I tried not to direct her answers so I could see what she thought.

Bethyada: Can God do anything?

Daughter: Yes.

B: Can he make a rock so large he cannot lift it?

D: No.

B: Can God do anything?

D: Yes.

B: If God cannot make a rock so large he cannot lift it explain why God can do anything.

D: Well, if it is too big he can't lift it. If he can lift it he can't make it. [showing she understands the dilemma]

B: So then God cannot do everything. Can God do anything?

D: Yes.

B: How, what is wrong with the question?

D: It is a silly [read illogical] question.

So in essence she showed she understood the dilemma, this didn't shake her belief that God is omnipotent and she stated the problem is actually with the question.

This has been dealt with centuries ago, but as it continues to be mentioned in various forms so let us review it.

Starting with the first part of the question consider a group or a set of of big (immovable) rocks that God cannot lift. Call this set R (for rocks). Now if God could make such a rock, then set R would have at least 1 rock in it and therefore it would not be empty. However if God cannot make such a rock then set R is empty.

So R could be either empty or not empty. However it cannot be both. This is a logical impossibility.

The second half of the question states that of he cannot make it (R is empty) he is not omnipotent and if he cannot lift it (R not empty) he is still not omnipotent. The dilemma does not need to bring God into it because it has to do with a foolish definition of omnipotence that denies the law of no-contradiction, that a set be both empty and not empty at the same time.

Omnipotence means that God can do all meaningful things.

This applies to any dilemma that expects God to do the logically impossible but can be extended to any dilemma that expects God to have 2 mutually exclusive traits, either attributes that are intrinsic to his nature (eg. goodness) or something he wills to do (eg. second coming).

This does not say that God cannot have 2 attributes that are generally considered difficult to reconcile. God can be both just and merciful. He cannot be both just and unjust.

Are there any scriptures that discuss this. I think the following is relevant:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself. (2 Timothy 2:11-13 ESV)
God is faithful and that precludes him from being faithless.

What if someone insists on a meaning of omnipotence that includes the ability to do the illogical? Other than acknowledging the person is an idiot, one could say that in that sense God is not omnipotent.

Does all this mean God is limited by logic? No. Logic is a component of God's nature. We can understand logic because God gave us logic as part of imparting his image in us; but, this is another topic.

Now if only more people could have the insight my daughter has at 8!

Tuesday, 2 January 2007

Thoughts on salvation

I want to have a brief look at the nature of salvation. At times it seems people suggest intellectual ascension to Jesus being God is enough to be saved. Perhaps this is to insist on a faith based salvation, not works. But I think a more holistic view of scripture shows this to false.

One must be careful not to mistake a necessary requirement for the sole requirement. Scripture discusses salvation many times and in varying ways; both directly and indirectly. One should look at all these verse to see common themes and what God intends for us rather than focusing on an interpretation of a single verse.

I would claim scripture knows nothing of a prayer that secures salvation followed by a life lived according to ones own rules. Salvation taking on a life of discipleship. An exchange of one life for another. Our sentence is death. We exchange our life for Christ's. He pays our debt and we live for him and not ourselves.

Jesus often talks of another kingdom. The kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven. We become citizens of this kingdom but do so on Jesus' terms. This is the essence of repentance. Turning away from our sinful desires towards God's will.

There is a point in time when we turn from hiding our face from God to looking at him; from walking our own way to walking towards him. This "point of time" may be identified as "salvation" but the issue is that we persevere in the direction we have chosen.

Jesus stated:
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. (Joh 6:44 ESV)
So the Father has to draw us but we also have the ability to respond. Jesus said to the 12:
"Do you want to go away as well?" (Joh 6:67 ESV)
Now our salvation is a work of God. There is no way we can be a part of God's kingdom by our own power. But when Jesus offers us to be part of his kingdom it is our freedom to accept or reject this offer. For those who have been taught this is a work, it is not; it is a response. Our turning to Jesus does not make us righteous, it is he who makes us righteous; but he will not do so unless we turn.

I think this is important because it is of eternal importance which kingdom we belong to. And it is extremely dangerous to think oneself saved when he is not! Jesus says:
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Mat 7:21 ESV)
It is possible that some of these know they never chose Christ, but it is also possible that some had thought they secured salvation according to what they had been (falsely) taught by man, but have never actually given their lives to him. If someone is not in the kingdom it is best he knows this in this age than think he is secure in a false salvation.

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