What is the Plain Reading of Scripture? Part 2

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Thursday, February 11, 2021 0 comments

by Steve Risner

Last time, we began to discuss how we interpret Scripture, and if we need to use an external source to help shape our understanding of something, we cannot allow that external source to alter what the Bible says. That external source can fill in gaps or details but can never be used to change what the text clearly states. We discussed, in relation to this, that if the Bible provides a framework on a topic that external sources may be used, if necessary, to fill in the details but nothing more. Today we will look at the topic of interpreting Scripture and what a proper process for determining the original intent would look like. You can find much of this at this video by Bobby Madox.

The bottom line in this discussion is this: do you feel God is a competent communicator and was He successful in preserving His Word through the ages?

I would hope, as a believer, that one would agree that God is competent and perfectly capable of communicating what He wants us to know. If someone says they believe the Bible but do not believe in a 6-day creation about 6000 years ago, ask them, what God would have included in the Bible if He did create it in 6 days about 6000 years ago? Just because a claim is made that a portion of Scripture is ambiguous does not mean it is. The Genesis narratives on origins, the Flood, and the Tower of Babel up to Abraham are not ambiguous at all. They are written in such a way that they can be considered as or even more historical in its passages than other books like Kings, Samuel, or Chronicles, which are clearly historical narratives. It could hardly be clearer on the topic if origins.

On preservation, it has been well established for a very long time that the Bible has remained essentially unchanged throughout the centuries. The oldest sources maintain a nearly identical message to newer sources, showing us that there have been no real changes to the message of God’s Word. Most changes that can be noted are either copying errors or the changing of a name. No changes that have been documented appear to have any impact on doctrinal issues at all.

We discussed last time the difference between exegetical and eisegetical interpretations and how one of these is objective (exegesis) while the other is subjective (eisegesis). This brings us to which of these is a superior way to read the Bible. I hope it seems obvious that a more objective way is preferred since it would convey the real meaning the author wanted to bring out rather than what we want it to say. If we want to know what God intended to say to us, we must look at the writing objectively. Looking at it subjectively means we are not looking for what God intended but we are looking for the Biblical text to say what we want it to say. Looking at the text in a subjective fashion would mean we can make a passage of Scripture say anything we want it to. Sadly, this is too common these days.

One of the most subjective ways to view a passage of the Bible is to claim it is allegorical. Allegorical interpretations cannot be objective. In fact, it can be said that reading a passage as allegory, unless it specifically tells us that it is allegory with some sort of clue, is the most subjective way to interpret it. There is no way to confirm an allegory is the right way to interpret the text unless we make more assumptions. The more assumptions you read into the text, the less likely you are reading the text correctly.

When you read a passage of Scripture, I recommend using the plain reading of the text to tell you what it means. This is, of course, a general rule and not always applicable but it holds true most of the time. Language should be considered to mean what it commonly means. Understanding words by their common definitions would only make sense. If clarity is needed, use a dictionary that would give you the meanings of a word from the time of the writing. Sometimes, words have meanings that change over time. This is true of culture as well. It is important not to inject our cultural biases into the text. In the end, the meaning of a word, sentence, or paragraph should always be derived from the context within which it was written and not from some outside source unless this is the only way to make sense of the passage.

We should always interpret Scripture with Scripture. From within the confines of the Bible, we are usually able to determine a given passage’s meaning without external sources. As stated last week, those external sources can never be used to alter the clear meaning of the text but can only be used for clarification or for filling in details. If our interpretation creates a contradiction with another well-established passage of Scripture, this cannot be. An effort must be made to understand the contradiction and determine if it is real and, if it is, how to correct it reasonably with the least amount of assumption. This point cannot be overly stressed. We should generally interpret same or similar words, phrases, etc. in the same way from one passage to another. Of course, context may determine this does not work, but, again, this is a general rule. In instances where the text is very clear, external sources are inappropriate for determining meaning. Keep in mind that not all external sources are created equal. Some have much more credibility than others. Finally, the Law of Parsimony or “Occam’s Razor” is of utmost importance. This means the interpretation that involves the least number of assumptions or interpretive gymnastics is usually the right one.

Applying these rules (especially concerning context) to the origins discussion, we would have to agree that no one in the Bible and no passage of Scripture leads us to believe the Genesis account is anything but a historical narrative. No person from the Bible who speaks on a topic related to creation or the Flood indicates even slightly that they believed it was not a real series of events. None of the ten references of Jesus to creation contain any hint that the events were not to be considered actual events. There are well over 100 references to creation outside of the many references in Genesis that all seem to hang on the events described in Genesis 1 and 2 as real events. Every author of the New Testament references something from the first eleven chapters of Genesis. None of them discredit its historicity. In fact, the references only make sense if Genesis is real history. The New Testament references Genesis 1-11 over 100 times. All references in the Bible to the Flood, including four in the New Testament, appear to believe the Flood was a real event that destroyed the face of the earth. There are even some references to reshaping the earth’s surface. All references seem to think these events were real. Using this as a guideline for how we interpret Genesis 1 and 2 (or Genesis 1-11 since it is all under attack) would force us to believe that, if nothing else, the author of Genesis and everyone referenced in the Bible who speaks on Genesis believed it was giving us a credible historical account of the creation of the world and later a global catastrophe.

Let us not confuse the plain reading of Scripture with what some call literalism. Literalism means we read everything literally or exactly as it is stated. In some cases this is appropriate, but in a large number of instances, this is not the right way to read the text. Figures of speech, prophetic or poetic language, allegory/parables are all not to be read in this light, generally speaking. I know of no one who reads the entire Bible literally. I’ve seen many claims that Biblical creationists do this, but that’s absurd—usually a strawman argument. Some will refer to literalism as the historical-grammatical approach. This definition of literalism is much more agreeable to a point but is rarely what gets brought up in discussions with skeptics. This simply means we allow the text to be read considering its grammatical/word usage through the lens of the time and culture in which it was written. This does not mean we would radically change the text to say something it has never been considered to say. Too many want to inject their own beliefs into the Bible, making it say something that it clearly doesn’t.

In terms of the origins debate, we can easily point to the polemic hypothesis, which holds no water at all. Yet people still want to force the narrative to be an argument against other deities from the region and nothing more. Even at the surface this idea has no merit, but as you look more deeply into it, you find its arguments are exceptionally weak. There are other ways the Genesis narrative has been under attack for the last century or two. Sure, we have had some over the last two thousand years who have questioned certain aspects of the narrative, but never to the degree we see it today. And it is all in the name of “science” (which is not true really; it’s in the name of humanism or secularism or both).

We must be diligent to not allow our desires, beliefs, or preconceived ideas to dictate what the Bible says. We must also be diligent to not allow external sources to determine the primary message the Bible has in any particular passage. The Bible is a love story from start to finish. God is telling us He loves us over and over while humanity pushes Him away. He even goes so far as to sacrifice His own Son to pay our debt, one which we could never pay, so we can be with Him and have a relationship with Him. In my opinion, this is the absolute most important message from the Bible. However, this message is built on the fact that God made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them in six days as He said He did in Genesis and Exodus. If He didn’t create everything, why does He have authority to tell us anything? If He didn’t make man special, in His image, why does He require something from man He does not require from dogs or mushrooms or elephants or green star polyps? Nearly every major Christian doctrine has its origins in Genesis. These only make sense in light of the account being considered a narrative—a series of real events that took place about 6000 years ago. I say the time is important because God has revealed in His Word when He created Adam. This isn’t some new idea just recently brought out by those stupid “young-earth creationists.” We are Biblical creationists because we stand on the Bible as our source for truth regarding origins. I do not care at all about the age of creation beyond the fact that the Bible tells us when this happened. Aside from that, it is nothing more than a detail. The age of the universe is critical for the secular humanist origins myth; it matters very little to a Bible believer. For centuries, scientists viewed creation through the lens of the Biblical narrative on origins. It was not until recently that secular humanism gained access to the Church as a whole and scientism hijacked real science and Christianity/the Bible.

I hope this helps you see the Bible, and specifically what it says concerning origins, from the perspective of a Biblical creationist. In reality, the idea of how we should interpret Scripture is very useful for all believers. It is critical for us to know what God intended to convey to us through His timeless Word. Thank you for reading.

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