How I approach/interpret Scripture

ViaCrucis

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I am posting this here, rather than in the Scripture forum, for two reasons:

1) I am interested in critique, criticism, and input by other traditionally-minded Christians on this subject.

2) This isn't really about a particular Scripture, but rather about an interpretive methodology.

So in another thread elsewhere I mentioned a hermeneutic I try to abide by, and that got me thinking about how I, in various ways, approach Scripture and try and understand it. And while I don't think I have a systematic approach, I do have various approaches and was curious to see what the general thoughts of others here are--do you agree, do you disagree, are there things I should consider that I haven't considered yet? That sort of thing.

1) Christocentrism. I consider of chief importance the theological assumption that Jesus is the point of Scripture. The whole point of the Bible isn't as a means unto itself, it doesn't ultimately point to itself, but points to Jesus. Jesus is the Bible's central theme, He is its main subject, He is its chief point. The Bible, therefore, exists chiefly to point us--the Church--toward Him. St. Augustine says that there is a single Utterance in all of Scripture, and that Utterance is Christ. Martin Luther describes Scripture as the manger which presents Christ to us, and that we believe the Scriptures for Christ's sake, but we do not believe in Christ for Scripture's sake

"You recall that one and the same Word of God extends throughout Scripture, that it is one and the same Utterance that resounds in the mouths of all the sacred writers, since he who was in the beginning God with God has no need of separate syllables; for he is not subject to time." - Augustine

"Here you will find the swaddling clothes and the manger in which Christ lies." - Luther

"It is for Christ's sake that we believe in the Scriptures, but it is not for the Scriptures' sake that we believe in Christ." - Luther

2) Clarity over ambiguity. I hold that where Scripture is most clear it should be the presiding focus for how we understand Scripture; for there are many places in Scripture which are ambiguous, unclear, or uncertain and these should not be our starting point for understanding what Scripture wants to tell us, but instead we should look to the clear and unambiguous statements of Scripture and, in light of the clear and unambiguous then tackle the less clear and ambiguous. So, for example, the Apostle writes in 1 Corinthians 15:29, "Otherwise, what will those people do who receive baptism on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?", by this we should not say "Ah, proxy baptism for the dead is a practice which we must do" because this statement is altogether unclear--indeed even in this translation "baptized on their behalf" is in other ways translated "why also are they baptized for them?" What, precisely, is the Apostle talking about here is open to a great deal of investigation and scrutiny; we should not use this as governing our understanding and teaching when there is so much uncertainty here. But elsewhere we are always seeing what Baptism does and what Baptism is for--that we who are baptized are baptized into Christ (Galatians 3:27), baptized into His death (Romans 6:3), buried with Christ in baptism (Colossians 2:12).

3) Homolegomena > antilegomena. I do not question the canonicity of the historic antilegomena; but I do think that the homolegomena should take precedence. Our starting place for Christian teaching and practice should not begin with e.g. James or Hebrews, but instead with the Gospels and also the Epistles of St. Paul. The proper reading and understanding of the antilegomena must be in light of the homolegomena. For the historically undisputed writings of the New Testament probably should hold a greater importance than the historically disputed writings. This is perhaps one approach I have which may be the most controversial. And of first importance in the homolegomena being the Gospels--the very words of Christ-God Himself.

4) Literary context. I maintain that each book of Scripture must be understood in light of its literary sense: poetry, history, gospel, epistle, apocalypse, prophecy, etc. That understanding what kind of text we are reading is vitally important, because poetry is a very different kind of writing than, say, historical narrative. The Apocalypse of St. John is a very different kind of book than the Gospel of St. Luke; and thus different considerations must be taken, I can read in Luke that Jesus did X and believe that Jesus literally did X, but that doesn't mean that I should read in the Apocalypse where Jesus descends upon a white steed with a sword protruding from His mouth that our Lord literally has a white steed and a sword in His mouth. This literary consideration is essential and vital.

5) General context. Here are general concerns about context, that it is critical and essential to ask questions such as, "When was this written?" and "To whom is this written" or "For whom is this written", and other similar questions. Because if we fail to understand the historical context in which, say, St. Paul is writing to the Church in Rome then we miss a large point of the epistle and will inevitably miss out on what Scripture is telling us.

6) Description is not proscription. Simply because Scripture describes something as happening does not mean that this is proscribed for us. A common road block I have found many atheists and other non-believers having difficulty with is that they are under the assumption that because Christians regard Scripture as holy and divinely inspired that every jot and tittle is to be taken as guidance for living, and so they will mention horrific events described in the Bible as though that were evidence of a defect of the Bible itself. But that's simply not the case, because simply because the Bible describes something doesn't mean it is proscribing it--there are countless examples of Scripture recording horrific things, done by both "bad guys" and "good guys" and the point isn't "Do this also because it's in the Bible" but is instead quite the opposite, it is highlighting something awful to show us that it is, in fact, awful. Further, this principle does not mean only that such horrific things are not proscribed, but even generally neutral things. That David danced before the Lord when the Ark was returned from battle is not a proscription that we, as Christians, are to engage in undignified dancing in gathered Christian worship--it is simply describing what David did, and what David did wasn't wrong, but it's neither a proscription either. Description is not proscriptions, whether the description is of something good, bad, or neither--it is critical to make a distinction between where Scripture is describing a thing and where Scripture is proscribing a thing; and based upon earlier points (namely context) that proscription is not everywhere and always universally applicable. That God commanded this or that judge, king, or prophet to do a thing does not mean it is applicable as a universal rule--God did not command all His people to marry a prostitute, He commands this only of Hosea, to marry Gomer, as a prophetic illustration of Israel's unfaithfulness toward God.

7) Tradition. Fundamentally the Bible did not come to us in a vacuum, but is the result of the historical consensus of faith of the Christian Church over many centuries; and there are two millennia worth of Christian exegetes and theologians who have poured themselves into the study and application of Scripture for the good of the Church. We should therefore never read the Bible in a vacuum, but always with an ear toward the grand symphony of voices belonging to the Church. This also means that the Bible should be read in the context of community, the Bible was--after all--primarily heard by the people of God for most of history because the Bible came into existence as those writings recognized and received by the Church to be read in worship, for the sake of the Faithful that we be exhorted and taught and hear God's word and receive Christ our Lord, that our faith be built up and nurtured as God's people. Thus no one should approach the Bible as a lone individual, but as another with others. And we should therefore always be mindful of what has been said before us, and that our thoughts and opinions not deviate greatly from what has come before us.

-CryptoLutheran
 

Rodan6

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I agree you have a thoughtful, sound approach to seek truth. Your weakest link is the last one. Worship with others is certainly important and should not be neglected. We ARE social creatures and we progress greatly as we serve others as the Master has commanded. Yet, your spiritual journey for truth is an individual one. Spiritual growth depends heavily upon your willingness to follow the gift of the Son--the Spirit of Truth that dwells within you--WHEREVER that path takes you. If you limit yourself to those things you can show and prove to others, you miss great opportunity. We should care less what others think and be willing to follow anywhere the spirit leads. May God bless you in your journey.
 
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Eloy Craft

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Very good guidelines for Sacred Scriptures to remain an expression of the Word of God rather than a word that emerges from the self.
I especially like the last one that comes from a community. Since the words spoken and heard in the community that surrounded Christ in the beginning are the primary expression of the Word of God.
That the Gospel spoken by them would become written was not in their minds. Those original speakers of the Word didn't conceive that the Word of God would be transmitted any other way than through the mouth's of those who preached it. That what they preached would one day be written and become part of the tradition they were handing down.
 
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hedrick

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Clarity over ambiguity is a classic rule. But it tends to have the effect of choosing the most extreme position, because it's the clearest. Consider: we have evidence that Paul accepted women as leaders, but no explicit statement to that effect. Then we have 1 Tim 2. In traditional interpretation, 1 Tim 2 always wins. There are similar issues on the theology side, but I'm reluctant to present them here.
 
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ViaCrucis

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Clarity over ambiguity is a classic rule. But it tends to have the effect of choosing the most extreme position, because it's the clearest. Consider: we have evidence that Paul accepted women as leaders, but no explicit statement to that effect. Then we have 1 Tim 2. In traditional interpretation, 1 Tim 2 always wins. There are similar issues on the theology side, but I'm reluctant to present them here.

Which I think then can be balanced out by other approaches, such as context, which requires looking at historical and cultural issues among others. The 1 Timothy 2 passage being read in an appropriate historical and cultural context, the underlying Greek text, as well as then balanced out with a great deal of other material in the Pauline corpus; after all had the Apostle wanted to say that women were simply and flat out verboten from speaking in church then it makes entirely no sense for him to expect women to preach in church as he does in 1 Corinthians 11, "any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head—it is one and the same thing as having her head shaved.", underlying that statement is the assumption by Paul that women are praying and prophesying. We can also look at other elements of context, the letter to the Corinthians is addressed more broadly to the Corinthian community whereas the letter to Timothy is more specific as it is addressed specifically to Timothy about pastoral concerns. There's also the simple matter that Paul condemns αὐθεντεῖν, self-imposing autocracy.

-CryptoLutheran
 
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gordonhooker

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Clarity over ambiguity is a classic rule. But it tends to have the effect of choosing the most extreme position, because it's the clearest. Consider: we have evidence that Paul accepted women as leaders, but no explicit statement to that effect. Then we have 1 Tim 2. In traditional interpretation, 1 Tim 2 always wins. There are similar issues on the theology side, but I'm reluctant to present them here.

I don't agree - you also need to take context, context and more context into consideration. Cherry picking scripture to try and debunk other scripture or doctrine is just plain wrong IMHO.
 
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Tangible

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Which I think then can be balanced out by other approaches, such as context, which requires looking at historical and cultural issues among others. The 1 Timothy 2 passage being read in an appropriate historical and cultural context, the underlying Greek text, as well as then balanced out with a great deal of other material in the Pauline corpus; after all had the Apostle wanted to say that women were simply and flat out verboten from speaking in church then it makes entirely no sense for him to expect women to preach in church as he does in 1 Corinthians 11, "any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head—it is one and the same thing as having her head shaved.", underlying that statement is the assumption by Paul that women are praying and prophesying. We can also look at other elements of context, the letter to the Corinthians is addressed more broadly to the Corinthian community whereas the letter to Timothy is more specific as it is addressed specifically to Timothy about pastoral concerns. There's also the simple matter that Paul condemns αὐθεντεῖν, self-imposing autocracy.

-CryptoLutheran
Well, since the context of this specific passage is headship, not whether there can be women pastors, it probably should be reiterated that not only context but original intent and the perspicuity of scripture should also be upheld.

Also, we must always guard against adding to what the scriptures say. For example, there is nothing in the context to indicate that the praying and prophesying mentioned is happening in the regular assembly of the believers, so whether or not this passage supports or forbids female pastors is moot.

So it's important to remember that context is always king, even when we might really, really want to find scriptural support for what we already have decided to believe.

We must come to the scriptures equally prepared to be corrected as to be supported in our positions. That is also a basic hermeneutical principle that shouldn't be forgotten.
 
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ViaCrucis

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Well, since the context of this specific passage is headship, not whether there can be women pastors, it probably should be reiterated that not only context but original intent and the perspicuity of scripture should also be upheld.

Also, we must always guard against adding to what the scriptures say. For example, there is nothing in the context to indicate that the praying and prophesying mentioned is happening in the regular assembly of the believers, so whether or not this passage supports or forbids female pastors is moot.

So it's important to remember that context is always king, even when we might really, really want to find scriptural support for what we already have decided to believe.

We must come to the scriptures equally prepared to be corrected as to be supported in our positions. That is also a basic hermeneutical principle that shouldn't be forgotten.

I don't think female pastors is something that Paul is arguing for in 1 Corinthians 11; but that women did have a voice in the setting of Christian worship. I am generally of the position that "prophesying" here is closer to preaching than something like uttering divine mysteries. I'd think the key relevancy here would be on the issue of lay preaching, rather than the pastorate.

-CryptoLutheran
 
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prodromos

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Might I just add that the Scriptures were historically "heard", so when reading the Scriptures you benefit more by reading them out loud than if you read them quietly to yourself.
 
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thecolorsblend

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4) Literary context. I maintain that each book of Scripture must be understood in light of its literary sense: poetry, history, gospel, epistle, apocalypse, prophecy, etc. That understanding what kind of text we are reading is vitally important, because poetry is a very different kind of writing than, say, historical narrative. The Apocalypse of St. John is a very different kind of book than the Gospel of St. Luke; and thus different considerations must be taken, I can read in Luke that Jesus did X and believe that Jesus literally did X, but that doesn't mean that I should read in the Apocalypse where Jesus descends upon a white steed with a sword protruding from His mouth that our Lord literally has a white steed and a sword in His mouth. This literary consideration is essential and vital.
This is something people don't really do often enough, in my opinion.

There's a class of Christians out there that I won't name who (if their actions be our guide) seem to believe that "the Bible" is a single volume put down at one moment in time. Rather, it is as you say, with the different genres. Sacred scripture is intended to be dynamic and (at least in my opinion) absolutely-truthful-but-not-necessarily-always-literal. The genre thing should be ever in our minds when we read sacred scripture.
 
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ac28

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All those things are important but, if one truly wants to understand scripture, especially the NT, the very first thing they should do is to obey 1Tim 2:15 and rightly divide (correctly cut) God's word. If they don't, they will not be approved unto God and they will need to be ashamed. And, they will know nothing about the New Testament. They will get all their doctrine from Acts, which is all-Israel, instead of going to Paul's last 7 books, Eph, Phil, Col, 1&2Tim, Titus, Philemon, which are all-Gentile The only thing I know of that must be correctly cut is for the separation of God's Word written to the Jews and that that is written to us Gentiles. Why cut something if you're not going to separate it. Otherwise, many contradictions will rear their ugly head and you won't know which applies to you. It is impossible to hear the truth in ANY mainstream Denominational Church, because NONE of them, not one, obey the Biblical principle of right division. Not rightly dividing is the greatest flaw in Christendom.
1Tim 2:15
"Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."

This was written by Paul, the ONLY apostle to us Gentiles, in one the last 7 books he wrote, which was inspired from one of the last and most up-to-date special revelation he received from God. Paul's unique special revelations, always from one of the Godhead, starting with the one from Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road, are mentioned several times in his writings.
 
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icxn

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Or go straight to the source: :)

The brothers came to Abba Anthony and laid before him a passage from Leviticus. The elder went out into the desert, secretly followed by Abba Ammonas, who knew that this was his custom. Abba Anthony went a long way off and stood there praying, crying in a loud voice, “God, send Moses, to make me understand this saying.” Then there came a voice speaking with him. Abba Ammonas said that although he heard the voice speaking with him, he could not understand what it said. - The Desert Fathers
 
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Tangible

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I can't believe I didn't think of this before, but one thing conspicuously lacking from your OP @ViaCrucis, especially for a fellow Lutheran, is the proper distinction between Law and Gospel.

For those unfamiliar with this terminology, check out this short but very instructive video.

 
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Tayla

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Tradition. Fundamentally the Bible did not come to us in a vacuum, but is the result of the historical consensus of faith of the Christian Church over many centuries
Yes, but we should favor the early church fathers over those coming later (including modern theologians) because they were closer to apostolic teaching.
 
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PsaltiChrysostom

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7) Tradition. Fundamentally the Bible did not come to us in a vacuum, ... This also means that the Bible should be read in the context of community, the Bible was--after all--primarily heard by the people of God for most of history because the Bible came into existence as those writings recognized and received by the Church to be read in worship, for the sake of the Faithful that we be exhorted and taught and hear God's word and receive Christ our Lord, that our faith be built up and nurtured as God's people. Thus no one should approach the Bible as a lone individual, but as another with others. And we should therefore always be mindful of what has been said before us, and that our thoughts and opinions not deviate greatly from what has come before us.

-CryptoLutheran

This is something that always hits me when I read "The Orthodox Way" by Kallistos Ware:

"First, it is presupposed that the traveller on the Way is a member of the Church. The journey is undertaken in fellowship with others, not in isolation. The Orthodox tradition is intensely conscious of the ecclesial character of all true Christianity. Let us take up and complete an earlier citation from Aleksei Khomiakov - No one is saved alone. He who is saved is saved in the Church, as a member of her and in union with all her other members. If anyone believes, he is in the communion of faith; if he loves, he is in the communion of love; if he prays, he is in the communion of prayer.
 
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ViaCrucis

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I can't believe I didn't think of this before, but one thing conspicuously lacking from your OP @ViaCrucis, especially for a fellow Lutheran, is the proper distinction between Law and Gospel.

For those unfamiliar with this terminology, check out this short but very instructive video.


You're right, of course.

-CryptoLutheran
 
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Cappadocious

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"Our starting place for Christian teaching and practice should not begin with e.g. James or Hebrews, but instead with the Gospels and also the Epistles of St. Paul."

That is a strange distinction to draw. Here is the taxis with which I am familiar:
1. Gospels
2. Pauline Epistles, Acts, Hebrews, James, Revelation
3. Old testament including anagignoskomena like extended Daniel/the song of the youths
 
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ac28

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In a perfect world, here's what I would do:

I would start with John. His Gospel was written long after any other book was written, maybe as late as 85-90AD. Therefore, he has witnessed all of the drastic changes that had occurred, especially the total change in Paul's ministry at the end of Acts, when it became a Gentile ministry only, with a new church, a new hope and calling, and the change caused by the destruction of the temple in 70AD, which meant Israel could no longer keep the Law.

In John 20:30-31, John said
30 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:
31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

According to that passage, the book of John was written to encourage everyone to believe in Our Lord Jesus Christ, so that they might have eternal life. I usually recommend John's Gospel first, then I show them the many verses that proves Paul is THE Apostle to the Gentiles Paul's. Then I go to Paul's Gospel of Salvation in 1Cor 15:1-4. I also show them Eph 2:8-9, which shows them that it is impossible to be saved by their works and that their faith in Jesus Christ is the ONLY thing that counts, no matter what James, who wrote his Book ONLY to Israel, Jam 1:1, said.

After this, since nothing else in Acts, including the books Paul wrote during Acts, applies directly TO us Gentiles today, as far as our calling and hope are concerned, I take them to the ONLY books that tell us those things, Paul's last 7 Books, all written after Acts. These are Eph, Phil, Col, 1&2Tim, Titus, and Philemon.

I show him that all the other 58 books pertain ONLY to Israel and their hope and calling, and that their calling was either the Land on the Earth, or the Jewish city, the New Jerusalem, which isn't Heaven, that comes down out of heaven and docks on the New Earth. In those other 58, all-Jewish books, not one person had a hope of Heaven. I then show him, in many different verses, that the Gentiles in Paul's post-Acts books do have a hope of Heaven. So, this difference in calling hopefully proves to him that he should only base what will happen directly to HIM on what is provided in Eph, Col, etc.

I then tell him that Israel, today, doesn't exist, and that they were set aside in Ac 28:28. I prove this to him by showing him the nearly total absence of Israel in Paul's last 7 books. I show him the frequency of Jewish words and phrases in Paul's Acts epistles vs his post-Acts epistles, like "Abraham" and "it is written", which appear 19 times and 31 times, respectively, in Paul's Acts epistles, but not once in Paul's post-Acts epistles. I then show him that Acts was all-Israel, since all the saved Gentiles in Acts were grafted into Israel, and were therefore part of Israel.

I tell him a lot of other things, but, after I feel he is saved, the main thing, if he wants to go to Heaven, he MUST know to stay out of Acts and any of Paul's 7 books written during Acts. He must keep his head in Eph, Col, etc., ONLY, and stay out of the other 59 books (except John) until he can read them with the automatic knowledge that the other books don't apply directly to him.

He must never attend a Denominational church, and never talk to anyone, about the Bible, that does attend a denominational church or who gets doctrine out of Acts, unless, of course, he"s witnessing to them. No mainstream denominational preacher rightly divides and the therefore he knows essentially zero about YOUR hope and unique calling. They falsely believe that everybody saved goes to Heaven, every saved person that dies immediately goes to Heaven, hell, which is a pagan myth, and a jillion other myths and Jewish things that don't apply to Gentiles, at all.

He must learn to rightly divide God's word and separate Jewish things from Gentile things. He must be shown that only people that rightly divide, or correctly cut, God's word, are approved until God, 2Tim 2:15. That doesn't mean that they're not saved. It means that, their believing in Jewish things, like the rapture, does not meet God's approval.

Like I said, only in a perfect world
 
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