Thursday, March 29, 2012

Systematic Theology--Chapter 6

The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (2) Clarity
Can only Bible scholars understand the Bible rightly?

A. The Bible Frequently Affirms Its Own Clarity

  • The Bible itself emphasizes that it is the general responsibility of all believers to read and understand Scripture. Deuteronomy 6:6-7 commands the need to understand Scripture well enough to teach it to children and discuss it during the course of normal daily activities:
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

  • The "blessed man" in Psalm 1:2 is one that all believers should try to emulate by meditating on Scripture. Again, this suggests that there must be sufficient understanding in order to meditate effectively:
. . . but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

  • Psalm 19:7
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.

  • Psalm 119:130
The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.

    • Here the "simple" person (Heb. peti) is not merely one who lacks intellectual ability, but one who lacks sound judgment, who is prone to making mistakes, and who is easily led astray. God's Word is so understandable, so clear, that even this kind of person is made wise by it. This should be a great encouragement to all believers: no believer should think himself or herself too foolish to read Scripture and understand it sufficiently to be made wise by it. p. 106
  • It should be noted that Paul doesn't limit his writing to the church leaders, but instead addresses entire congregations. (See 1 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:2; and Phil. 1:1 for examples.) This is because Paul assumes that all of his hearers will understand. Often, he even encourages the churches to share their letters with other congregations.
B. The Moral and Spiritual Qualities Needed for Right Understanding

  • The New Testament writers frequently state that the ability to understand Scripture rightly is more a moral and spiritual than intellectual ability.
  • 1 Corinthians 2:14
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

  • 2 Corinthians 3:14-16
But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.

  • Hebrews 5:14
But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

  • Although the New Testament authors affirm that the Bible is written clearly, they also affirm that it will not be understood rightly by those who are unwilling to receive its teachings.
  • Because of the Holy Spirit, Scripture can be understood by all unbelievers who read it sincerely seeking salvation and by all believers who read it while seeking God's help in understanding it.
C. Definition of the Clarity of Scripture
The clarity of Scripture means that the Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who will read it seeking God's help and being willing to follow it.
D. Why Do People Misunderstand Scripture?

  • Lack of faith
  • Hardness of heart
  • Human shortcoming
   While we can never expect imperfect human beings to have perfect interpretations and responses to Scripture, the following practices can be helpful in understanding the Bible more fully.

  • exegesis: the process of interpreting a text of Scripture
  • hermeneutics: the study of correct methods of interpretation
  • To continue to increase our understanding of Scripture, we should study the principles of interpretation (hermeneutics) and then apply those principles to the biblical text (exegesis).
E. Practical Encouragement From This Doctrine

  • There are only 2 possible causes for doctrinal or ethical disagreement (over issues like baptism or church government or predestination):
    • It may be that we are seeking to make affirmations where Scripture itself is silent.
    • It is possible that we have made mistakes in our interpretation of Scripture.
  • Both of these issues tend to become less problematic with long-term practice at biblical study and interpretation. This practice should NOT be left only to the "experts."
  • There is a vast amount of agreement among vital Christians throughout all of the world on the central doctrines of the Christian faith. No matter what the society, culture, or denominational affiliation, this is true because they all have been reading and believing the same Bible, and its primary teachings have been clear. p. 110
F. The Role of Scholars

  1. They can teach Scripture clearly, communicating its content to others and thus fulfilling the office of "teacher" mentioned in the New Testament. (See 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11)
  2. They can explore new areas of understanding the teachings of Scripture. This could involve: a) application of Scripture to new areas of life, b) answering difficult questions that have been raised at each new period in history, c) refining and making more precise the church's understanding of detailed points of interpretation
  3. They can defend the teachings of the Bible against attacks. 
    • Titus 1:9: He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
    • Titus 2:7-8: Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.
    • 2 Timothy 2:25a: . . . correcting his opponents with gentleness.
     4. They can supplement the study of Scripture for the benefit of the church.

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