Jim Wilson is the retired director of Community Christian Ministries in Moscow, Idaho. He will be posting regularly, so check back in soon!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Too Many Opinions (cont...)

How does this affect our study of the Scriptures? Suppose we come upon 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing” (KJV) and “Pray continually” (NIV). If we ask the group what they think it means, there will be much discussion, largely based upon the prayer habits or abilities of the people in the group. Any discussion which maintains that it could not possibly mean what it says because none of us knows how to pray continually (or because, knowing how, we do not do it) will be invalid. If that line of reasoning dominates the discussion, there will be very little to say when we come to personal application of the passage. We will have already conformed the Scriptures to our experience, so we do not have to conform our lives to the Scripture. There is no possibility of making any application.

Instead let us see what the passage says. We go back to verse fourteen for the subject, “And we urge you, brothers.” The subject of verse seventeen is “you, brothers.” The verb is “pray,” and the adverbs “without ceasing” or “continually” modify the verb, “pray.” If we understand the definitions and grammar, we now understand the sentence, for the function of sentences is to convey meaning. If God did not mean, “Pray continually,” then he would not have said it. If he did not mean what the passage says, then there is no possible way of knowing what he did mean.

Now, if we accept the passage’s meaning as we stated, we have much to discuss concerning the application, including how we must increase our prayer life. We acknowledge our need of praying lessons.

Unless our experience already conforms to Scripture, we cannot interpret Scripture in the light of experience. As long as our experiences fall short, we will be constantly tempted to pull Scripture down to our size, which may not be very big.

Whenever someone volunteers, “This is what verse two means,” you can suspect he is going to change it slightly to fit his own experience and/or theological position. This is not honest. He is attempting to hold to the inspiration of the Scriptures and also to a certain doctrinal position. Since he does not want them to be inconsistent with each other, he changes the Scripture rather than his doctrine. The same man would be very literal with a verse that seemingly agreed with his position. He would put his finger on the key words and say authoritatively, “That’s what it says!”

We must bear in mind that we cannot expect to completely understand all the passages of Scripture right now. Understanding increases only as we act and grow according to what is already clear.

Suppose we were working on a jigsaw puzzle, and after getting the square framework, I get a fixation upon a place that needs a certain shape and an odd shade of green. After looking impatiently for a while, I start trying pieces that are almost that shape and almost that shade. Finally I persuade myself that I’ve found the right one. I must have an answer now, so I pound it in, a forced fit. Unless I undo my work I am going to run into trouble later on.

True, I will get a picture. It will not be the right one but it will be a picture. I might not recognize the oddness of the picture because I have gotten used to it, and because of my pride, I will not admit I am wrong. When I finally come across the real piece that belongs in the position, I am forced to say it belongs some place else.

Foolish, isn’t it? Yet the same thing goes on in our Christian beliefs. Jigsaw puzzles have many complicated looking pieces. Nevertheless they all fit together simply and easily but not all at once. It is only when we want everything to fit together right now that we will get a wrong picture.

In our study of the Scriptures let us recognize that even complicated portions fit together easily and simply, though not all at once. We need not have the whole theological picture fitted perfectly together in order to study one chapter. We do not have to have all the answers right now, nor do we necessarily have to fit every single verse into the whole. Because we do not know how or where a verse fits does not mean it doesn’t fit. It may be enough to recognize the apparent meaning and act upon it as God enables us. It is better to have a few loose passages than it is to force any one passage into an inadequate theology now.

At this point you may be thinking, “If all we are going to do is find out what the chapter says, it will be too simple.” Well, in some ways, Bible study ought to be kept simple. But determining what a passage says will not be as easy as you might think. It will take real effort on the part of all members of the group to keep from interpreting the Scripture in the light of experience and to keep from forcing Scripture into their previous doctrinal framework.

It will also take effort on the part of the leader to formulate objective questions on the chapter. As a guide to forming questions, it is good to remember that questions beginning with who, what, or where, ask for factual answers. The answer will be somewhere in the text. Avoid questions beginning with why or how. These questions generally lead to opinion discussions not to end the study because each person wants to have the last word. The people involved are more interested in who is right, rather than what is right.

The last part of every discussion should be spent on personal application of the truths learned.

[Inter-Varsity Press publishes a book entitled Search the Scriptures. It is a book that has a series of objective textual questions about every chapter in the Bible. It gives no answers. The answers are in the text being studied.]

No comments: