Archive for the 'Hermeneutics' Category

The Internet: A great place to promote false doctrine

Sunday, August 7th, 2016

Wolf in Sheep's clothing

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

A talking cross is acceptable, but the homosexual proposition concerning Lot and his virgin daughters in Genesis 19 was disgusting. This is how my dialogue with this bloke developed online:

A.  Almost everyone is a heretic

Bob:[1] Almost everyone is a ‘heretic’ to someone.

With a few exceptions who (like myself) think outside the ‘box’, and consequently are occasionally regarded as ‘heretics’ to almost everyone.

Most ‘forumites’ belong to one group or another, who regard everyone who believes differently from themselves as ‘heretics’.

Generally the worst examples of ‘forum’ membership know better, but are unable to apply their knowledge.

Such is religion……the seedbed of confrontation, insular bigotry, hatred, persecution, and even torture and murder.

Even Calvin, who so many rever (sic), fell foul to torture and murder of one of his dissidents.

Now …… how’s about another ‘biggie’ regarding the historical accuracy of my source of information re Calvin.[2]

Oz: Seems as though you are pointing the finger at yourself as well! clip_image002[3]

B. Who decides on books for the canon of Scripture?

Scarlet Scripture Button

Bob: If, by scripture, you include the canonised addition of a selection of the apostolic writings then yes, there probably are elements of truth….[4]

Oz: Are you the one who determines what is truth in the canon of Scripture?[5]

Bob: When it comes to making any determination “for oneself” who on earth, other than a mindless wimp, can make such a determination other than oneself?[6]

Oz: One does not make a determination ‘for oneself’ as to what is in the canon of Scripture. The church has already made that decision in the early centuries. Or, are you reading the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of the Hebrews, and the Gospel of the Laodiceans as equal with the books of the canon of the NT?

If ‘for oneself’ determines canonicity, it leads to anything goes. Why place any limit on the canon? Is that your view?[7]

Bob: My view is that it was not God’s intention that, centuries after ‘Christ’, post apostolic men should extend the OT scriptures to form a new Religious Text Book.

The New Covenant moves us up a rung from ‘Religion’ to ‘Faith’ and Paul battled hard and long to prevent a reversion (see “who hath bewitched you etc.) in his letter to the Galatians.

My view is that ALL of the apostolic writings should have been separately preserved, and differently regarded.

I refer to them, and quote from them, with regularity.[8] Being opposed to dogmatic theology places me at the opposite end of the spectrum to yourself (as distinct from being yet another “I am right and you are wrong” merchant).

Good heavens I even ‘allow’ for the possibility that the likes of you MIGHT be ‘right’.[9]

C. Should Gospel of Peter be in the canon of Scripture?

File:Gospel of Peter.jpg

(Gospel of Peter image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Oz: So is it OK with you that Christians should be reading, imbibing and treating as sacred writings, the Gospel of Peter which states:

And so those soldiers, having seen, awakened the centurion and the elders (for they too were present, safeguarding). [39] And while they were relating what they had seen, again they see three males who have come out from they sepulcher, with the two supporting the other one, and a cross following them, [40] and the head of the two reaching unto heaven, but that of the one being led out by a hand by them going beyond the heavens. [41] And they were hearing a voice from the heavens saying, ‘Have you made proclamation to the fallen-asleep?’ [42] And an obeisance was heard from the cross, ‘Yes.’ [43]

So a talking cross is suitable for you as the norm for biblical Christianity?[10]

Now note his response:

Bob: A darned sight more palatable than the following, which doubtless you endorse.

“And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground; and he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant’s house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways. And they said, Nay; but we will abide in the street all night.

And Lot pressed upon them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat.

But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter: And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? Bring them out unto us, that we may know them.

And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him, and said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly.

Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known a man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing” [Genesis 19:1-8 KJV].[11]

Oz: Your response demonstrates you can’t discern the difference between the fantasy of the Gospel of Peter and the sinful reality that is expressed in Genesis 19.[12]

Bob: Good heavens, would you ‘die’ if you were not able to have the final ‘winning word’ in a verbal conflict.

You’re right in respect of all that you say of me ….. there now, does that save you from ‘dieing’?[13]

D. Prevent promotion of false doctrine

Brute Teacher

(image courtesy ChristArt)

Oz: Can’t you engage in constructive dialogue with me without making the false accusation against me of a ‘final “winning word”‘?

I’m not planning on ‘dieing’ but I will be ‘dying’ one day.

I am not saying anything of you personally. However, you are promoting some strange doctrines on this forum and I will investigate – even challenge – you on these points. Why? Because the Scriptures have asked me to do so in 1 John 4:1-3 (NLT):

Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world. 2 This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. 3 But if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here.

You have provided too much teaching to demonstrate that I need to ‘test’ your teaching as it compares with the Scriptures. So far, I’ve found a number of points of contention. This is my biblical responsibility before God: ‘Test everything; hold fast what is good’ (1 Thess 5:21 ESV). ‘For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear’ (2 Tim 4:3 NLT).

That’s why I will not let you get away with teaching falsehood on this forum. The Scripture requires that I be vigilant in warning people of false teaching when I see it happening.

The Internet is a great place to propagate such false teaching.

I have nothing against you, but sound doctrine is what the Bible calls me to be as a Bible teacher. This requires refutation of false doctrine.

I have not the slightest interest in ‘winning’ a discussion. I DO HAVE a profound interest in keeping the faith and warning people about others who are promoting false doctrine – like you do.[14]

Bob: I too have a divine commission, and mine is to deflate insular bigots who think that they have access to truth that is so reliable that what they believe can be used as an infallible yardstick giving them the authority to pronounce everyone who believes differently as being promoters of false doctrine.
I’ve cross (sic) swords with you over many forums and many years and never once have you admitted that you could be less than absolutely correct in respect of any aspect of Christian doctrine.[15]

Oz: Where is your divine commission to ‘deflate insular bigots’ found in Scripture? Please show me.

It is not true that you have crossed swords with me ‘over many forums and many years’. I have met you once on a small UK forum and I was only there for a short period of time. Please inform me in a PM of these ‘many forums’. Could this be hyperbole by you?

The issue is still your false doctrine, which you don’t want to admit. Here it is false doctrine regarding the canon of Scripture and its content.[16]

E. Embarrassment: A criterion of historicity

10 Blushing Emoticon Free Cliparts That You Can Download To YouBob objected to this story:

“And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground; and he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant’s house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways. And they said, Nay; but we will abide in the street all night.

And Lot pressed upon them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat.

But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter: And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? Bring them out unto us, that we may know them.

And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him, and said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly.

Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known a man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing” [Genesis 19:1-8 KJV].

One of the criteria used by historians to support the historicity of a document is embarrassment. It needs to be used in conjunction with other criteria such as discontinuity/dissimilarity, multiple attestation, coherence, plausibility, etc. When I wrote my PhD dissertation for the University of Pretoria, South Africa (graduating in 2015), my doctoral supervisor said that he used coherence as a strong indicator of historicity. I find coherence to be too subjective a criterion as it deals with the how the various criteria of historicity fit together or cohere.

Evans (2007:51) sees a potential problem with this index of coherence because an assumption that something that is attributed to Jesus that is not supported by one or more of the above criteria, does not necessarily make the statement inauthentic.[17]

Apply the criterion of embarrassment to Genesis 19:1-8 and this horrible event of Lot offering his two virgin daughters to those seeking homosexual liaisons. Like Bob, I find this story abhorrent as it describes the wicked, sinful actions of Lot and those seeking homosexual liaisons. This is an incident that could hardly be acceptable to the Hebrew community. It should have embarrassed even the most experienced sinner. The fact that it is included and not censored from the account of the Genesis 19 narrative is a strong statement about the reliability of its history.

F. Why is Bob such an antagonist to evangelical Christianity?

Bob has made his intent clear in his personal statement of faith on Christianity Board. It reads:

Personal Statement of Faith

I major on what I call ‘circumstantial deference’ based on the fact that none can see other through a darkened glass until we finally see Christ face to face and know even as we are known.

I believe that ‘scripture’ was inspired to a degree of which we cannot be certain, but I stop short of the extreme of ‘absolute’ verbal inerrancy. I also reject the view that ‘canonisation’, centuries after ‘Christ’, was a faultless operation. For me ‘The Word of God’ is that which God “writes on the fleshy table of my heart”, using media of which scripture is a vital part, but not the only part (I am not an advocate of ‘sola scriptura’).
I am the originator and sole member of my particular creedless, non-denominational, denomination, which offers fellowship to every person who might conceivably be a member of the ‘Body of Christ’ by virtue of efficacious faith in Christ’s substitutionary sacrificial death in atonement for sin. I would prefer to err on the side of offering fellowship to someone who’s faith (like mine) is somewhat less than ‘mainstream’, rather than erring on the side of rejecting some such person who God might regard as being part of the ‘Body of Christ”.[18]

Note these emphases:

  • ‘Circumstantial deference’ means that he defers to any given circumstance to allow it to decide on his doctrinal conclusions.
  • He is uncertain about the extent of scriptural authority. He most certainly does not believe in inerrancy of Scripture, which he describes as an ‘extreme of “absolute” of verbal inerrancy’.
  • He rejects the idea of the canon of Scripture determined centuries after Christ because it was not a faultless operation.
  • The Word of God is what is written on the heart and Scripture is only one medium for this evidence.
  • He does not support ‘sola scriptura’.
  • His creed (not his language) is a creedless, non-denominational, denomination.
  • People are welcome to join his denomination as long as they are members of the body of Christ, membership obtained through faith in Christ’s substitutionary atonement for sin. Question: Why would he accept this orthodox position when he is so unorthodox in many of his other statements of faith? He is unpredictably unique or idiosyncratic in his beliefs.
  • He agrees his faith is less than mainstream.
  • He errs on the side of compromise for the sake of fellowship with people.

He told me in one of his posts that he was unable to find a church near him in northern England. I’m pleased about that as he would lead most Bible-believing church leaders to ask him to leave the church because of his contrary nature and unorthodox beliefs. He is aged 81.

G. Conclusion

Landmine Doctrine

(image courtesy ChristArt)

I encountered a fellow from England on a Christian forum who did not enjoy challenges from me concerning his unorthodox doctrines he promoted on the forum. The above dialogue demonstrated that:

  • He considered many regard those who don’t believe their theology as heretics.
  • Scripture is not limited to the canon of the Councils in the 4th century who decided on the books of the canon. Anyone should be encouraged to read what the apostles wrote. I challenged him on the Gospel of Peter’s content of a talking cross and he preferred that to the horrible, sinful action of Lot offering his virgin daughters to the men seeking homosexuals (Genesis 19:1-8).
  • I declared my responsibility to discern those who promote false doctrine and expose them on the forum. He is one such person. His response was that he had a divine commission to ‘deflate insular bigots’ – referring to me as such an example.
  • I explained the criterion of embarrassment as one of the criteria of historicity and Genesis 19:1-8 fitted into that category. Israelites would not be ready to accept such a corrupt and sinful story. It’s veracity is hence affirmed by this criterion.
  • Bob is an antagonist of evangelical, orthodox Christianity that has a high view of Scripture because of his personal, unorthodox statement of faith. He is practising what he preaches – unbiblical Christianity.

I did not encounter many on this forum who were prepared to challenge Bob’s false doctrines. Why? Many may not have the biblical knowledge and bravery to take him on. I found him to be a stubborn old man in the promotion of his false doctrine.

H. Works consulted

Blomberg, C L 1992. Form criticism, in Green, J B, McKnight, S & Marshall, I H (eds), Dictionary of Jesus and the gospels, 243-250. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Evans, C A 2007. Fabricating Jesus: How modern scholars distort the Gospels. Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press.

Meier, J P 1994. A marginal Jew: Mentor, message, and miracles, vol 2 (The Anchor Bible Reference Library). New York: Doubleday.

I.  Notes


[1] Bob is a pseudonym.

[2] Christianity Board 2016. Statement of Faith – Christian Board Christian Forum, Oneoff#166. Available at: http://www.christianityboard.com/topic/17009-statement-of-faith-christian-board-christian-forum/page-6 (Accessed 6 August 2016).

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#167. I, Spencer Gear, am this person.

[4] Ibid., Oneoff#172.

[5] Ibid., OzSpen#177.

[6] Ibid., Oneoff#183.

[7] Ibid., OzSpen#186.

[8] Ibid., Oneoff#188.

[9] Ibid., Oneoff#189.

[10] Ibid., OzSpen#193.

[11] Ibid., Oneoff#195.

[12] Ibid., OzSpen#199.

[13] Ibid., Oneoff#208.

[14] Ibid., OzSpen#210.

[15] Ibid., Oneoff#214.

[16] Ibid., OzSpen#215.

[17] Craig Blomberg (1992:249) finds coherence to be ‘a very subjective concept’. He presumes that in the minds of the Evangelists, ‘all of the Gospel material cohered’. He asked the legitimate question, ‘How is any modern scholar to say that apparent inconsistencies are sharp enough to call into question the truthfulness of accounts?’. The validity of the criterion of coherence will depend on the degree to which researchers have reached an accurate picture of Jesus by using the other criteria.

[18] Christianity Board 2016. Personal profile of Oneoff. Available at: http://www.christianityboard.com/user/6145-oneoff/ (Accessed 7 August 2016).

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 7 August 2016.

We MUST live by the law of non-contradiction

Friday, August 5th, 2016

Image result for clipart logic symbols public domain

 

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Is it possible to live life with this kind of logic: Yes, the garden has weeds in it; no, the garden has no weeds in it! I’m talking about the same garden at the same time and in the same sense. If I were to reason like that, you’d have good reason to consider that I need a psychiatric assessment.

However, many people don’t understand that this is dealing with a fundamental law of logic, the law of non-contradiction. Some call it the law of contradiction or the principle of non-contradiction. No matter what one names it, it is a fundamental to dealing with contradictory statements.

A.  Christians and contradictions

I explained in an online forum that I was ‘in the midst of preparing a Christian education curriculum for Grade 7 & 8, with some easy entry info on the nature of truth and the law of non-contradiction before I launch into details on the existence of God for 13-15 year olds’.[1]

A person responded, ‘That sounds rather dogmatic, and some of the touchy-feely posters may take exception to that’.[2]

My reply was[3] that ‘touchy-feely posters’ depend on the validity of the law of non-contradiction to live their lives. It extends to all in society, not just the existentialists. Let me explain:
Regarding the law of non-contradiction, let’s check something out from Scripture:

  • ‘God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?’ (Num 23:19 ESV).
  • ‘So that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us’ (Heb 6:18 ESV).

So, God cannot lie.

The law of non-contradiction is a fundamental of all logic, whether in Christian or non-Christian circles.

B.  The law of non-contradiction explained

#  Bill Pratt has stated the law of non-contradiction in this way:

What is the law of non-contradiction? There are at least three ways to state it:

1. A thing cannot both be A and not-A at the same time and in the same sense.

2. A thing cannot both exist and not exist at the same time and in the same sense.

3. A statement cannot both be true and not true at the same time and in the same sense.[4]

Bill Pratt explained further:

It is impossible to deny this law without invoking it in your denial, yet time and again I have heard people try do just that!

Why would I spend a blog post writing about this?  Because a person who thinks that this law is not true will become a thoroughly confused individual whose thought life is a complete mess, full of contradictions and inconsistencies.  I have met a few of these people, and they both sadden and scare me.

All of our beliefs, thoughts, and knowledge are built on top of the law of non-contradiction, so when a person tries to deny this foundation, they are bound to go way off track in their pursuit of understanding reality as it really is.

If you have any doubts about this fundamental law of rationality, try and deny it, but then write out your denial in a sentence – “The law of non-contradiction is false” – and ask whether your statement is both true and false at the same time and in the same sense.[5]

C.  God and the law of non-contradiction

Logic Bomb by utrescuFrom a biblical perspective, we cannot say that Jesus is the only way to eternal life (John 14:6 ESV) and that Jesus is one of many ways to eternal life. That statement violates the law of non-contradiction and makes God a liar. In this day of postmodern multicultural values, it is all the more important to maintain biblical integrity with the law of non-contradiction.

It’s fundamental to life. I’m expecting a fellow to deliver to my front door this morning a cartridge refill for my HP laser printer. He said: I will deliver your cartridge on Friday morning. With that statement, he did not mean, I will deliver the cartridge on Saturday or Sunday morning. That would be a lie.

In defending biblical truth, we have to stick with this fundamental of logic: God does not lie and what he says in Scripture he means. Of course we need to understand the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant in interpretation. If the law of non-contradiction does not hold up, we are doomed as a society. Why? There will no longer be truth promoted and lived in the marketplace.

The law of non-contradiction says that something cannot be A and non-A at the same time and in the same relationship.

D.  A Christian example of violation of the law of non-contradiction

#  I have read Christians who accept contradictory interpretations of Scripture and others who ‘hear’ from God with a message that violates Scripture. Here is one with which I contended with as I was writing this article.

On another forum I encountered a person who stated, ‘The Holy spirit created The Lord of Hosts, from sperm taken from The Lord God Almighty. The Holy Spirit later implanted The Lord of Hosts in Mary, as an embryo/fetus’.[6] He told us:

Have ANY of them experienced Numbers 12:6, as I have? I prayed for wisdom, knowledge, understanding and experience, for about 10 years, daily (sometimes several times per day), before He answered me. He took me through the Bible, giving me an understanding of how He feels. I spent nine years in research on the internet, prayer, visiting churches, communicating with many ministers, and so on, after receiving the vision and dream ‘in riddles’. Missing scriptures appeared while I was reading the NT scriptures, on several occasions, and after reading them, they disappeared again. None changed the basic ‘story’ of The Son of Man. They were informative, in nature.[7]

I told him that this is fantasy – his fantasy. There is not a scrap of biblical evidence to support this statement. Has he come onto this forum to plant and grow this kind of false religion?[8] In fact, the biblical evidence is:

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus (Matt 1:18-25 ESV).

This fellow had violated a fundamental of life and of Scripture. Contradictory messages cannot both be true. He breached the law of non-contradiction. He contradicted Scripture.

His contradictions (violations of the law of non-contradiction) continued in a repetitive fashion:

No, this is NOT fantasy. I asked God for this understanding, and He gave it to me. Have you ever asked God for a true understanding of the scriptures? Start with the scriptures, and then ask God for a true understanding of them. Forget what the ‘blind’ ministers have taught you. They rely on college or university degrees/diplomas, and man’s ‘ordination’.

When you read the historical generations pertaining to the Israelites, in the Book of Genesis, you will find the term ‘BEGAT’ being used. This is one of the tenses of the verb ‘begit/beget’ (sic). The Lord of Hosts was ‘begotten’ of/from God. In all cases, male sperm is used. In the case of The Lord of Hosts, no female was involved, thus, an exact duplicate, is created. In the case of The Son of Man, The Lord of Hosts ‘WAS IN’ the Christ Child [‘God with us’]. The body of Mary did NOT change the physical appearance of Christ. God showed me, that there is only ONE ANSWER to how this could happen. The Holy Ghost implanted The Lord of Hosts in Mary, as a human embryo/fetus, that contained The Lord of Hosts. Remember, man is created in the image of God. ‘The Lord of Hosts/Son of Man’ is in the ‘exact image’ of The Lord God Almighty.[9]

How should I reply? This was my understanding of what he was doing.[10]

His view that ‘I asked God for this understanding, and He gave it to me’ contradicts Scripture. It violates the law of non-contradiction. God cannot tell you that ‘The Holy spirit created The Lord of Hosts, from sperm taken from The Lord God Almighty. The Holy Spirit later implanted The Lord of Hosts in Mary, as an embryo/fetus’ and yet the Scriptures tell us that the Trinitarian Lord God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – has always existed: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’ (Gen 1:1 ESV). There was no such sperm from God that was used to create the embryo. No such information is given in Scripture. It is contrary to Scripture.

God does not contradict himself by telling you something about the Lord of Hosts who was created by sperm taken from the Lord God Almighty. The Lord God is spirit. He does not have the ability to have sperm within himself. ‘God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth’ (John 4:24 ESV).

This fellow was hearing a voice that was giving him a message that is not from God. He is providing us with deceptive information in what he was posting here. It was false.

He continued his ‘God told me’ line: ‘I experienced Numbers 12:6 KJV Bible, before God began His teachings. Satan CANNOT duplicate Numbers 12:6’.[11] To this I replied that I have already shown you that you are listening to another voice that is not God’s. God cannot give contradictory messages.[12]

I’m asking: Is this fellow Christian or into hearing other voices (perhaps of the occult) that he thinks are Christian. I cannot imagine what it would be like to have this kind of anti-Christian theology in a church where he’s of the view that ‘this is what God told me when I experienced Numbers 12:6 KJV.

E.  Conclusion

# In all of our actions, whether by Christian or non-Christian, we cannot violate the law of non-contradiction without causing a massive upheaval in society, the church, and in online forums.

Could you imagine working for an organisation where you couldn’t depend on the honest words and actions of people?

We must live out the law of non-contradiction in our lives. This states that

something cannot be both A and non-A at the same time and in the same sense. Something cannot be both true and false at the same time and in the same circumstance.

That’s a fact of life.

F.  Notes


[1] Christian forums.net 2016. The Church Father’s anthropological teaching on the psyche and passions of man, OzSpen#9. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/the-church-father%E2%80%99s-anthropological-teaching-on-the-psyche-and-passions-of-man.65962/#post-1229092 (Accessed 5 August 2016).

[2] Ibid., By Grace#10.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#16,

[4] Bill Pratt 2011. ‘What is the law of non-contradiction?’ Tough Questions Answered (online), 28 December. Available at: http://www.toughquestionsanswered.org/2011/12/28/what-is-the-law-of-non-contradiction/ (Accessed 5 August 2016).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Christianity Board 2016. The KJV Bible contains errors, Thorwald#2. Available at:

http://www.christianityboard.com/topic/22963-the-kjv-bible-contains-errors/#entry282073 (Accessed 5 August 2016).

[7] Ibid., Thorwald #3.

[8] Ibid., OzSpen#4.

[9] Ibid., Thorwald#6.

[10] Ibid., OzSpen#8.

[11] Ibid., Thorwald#9.

[12] Ibid., OzSpen#17.

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 5 August 2016.

The Wedding at Cana Led to Divorce

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

clip_image002

By Spencer D Gear PhD

I read the Brisbane Times online (28 June 2016) and the story, ‘Koala in pain for hours after dog attack’. It stated:

A koala was left lying in pain for five hours after being attacked by a dog north of Brisbane before finally being put out of its misery.

The koala, a young male coming into his first breeding season, was attacked about 2.30am on Tuesday at Petrie, but the dog’s owners did not contact the RSPCA until 7.30am.

The animal had to be euthanased due to the severity of its injuries (Brisbane Times 2016).

clip_image004(photo of koala, courtesy Wikipedia)

 

Do you think it is reasonable to understand this as referring to a cuddly marsupial koala that was attacked by an actual dog in the Brisbane suburb of Petrie? The real pain lasted hours until the koala was euthanised after the RSPCA, an animal welfare organisation, had been contacted.

Or would you prefer that I interpret this story as referring to pain that was a symbol of what God wanted to teach Christians about the benefits of suffering, according to James 1:2-4 (NASB):

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

You would be justified in calling for the mental health people if I came up with such a crazy allegorical interpretation of imposing on the text of the Brisbane Times a meaning that was in no way found in the newspaper’s wording about the injured koala.

But that’s exactly the kind of interpretation I encountered when I visited a Christian forum online with allegorical interpretations of Jesus’ miracle of converting the water into wine at the wedding at Cana of Galilee (John 2:1-11 NLT).

If you want to screw up the meaning of Jesus’ first ‘sign’ miracle and cause it to be divorced from the fundamental narrative of the text, there is a way to do it. Read on and you’ll be exposed to some glaring examples of what people do to reject an objective interpretation of a biblical text.

When I speak of the wedding at Cana leading to a divorce, I’m referring to a divorce from the meaning presented by the text. It is disarming to see how some Christians can do it but not see the danger of what they do. We will see this as this article unfolds.

Two people did this on a Christian forum with their allegorical interpretations of the Wedding at Cana. I’ll use a back and forth dialogue with me as the format for this engagement although the original was in posts that could have been separated by a day or two.

1. Divorce in view: Allegorical interpretation of the wedding at Cana

FHG[1]

This person started the thread with a lengthy statement of interpretation. I can see the divorce in motion: [2]

God’s word can be literal and Spiritual as in the case of the wedding in Cana. The wedding represents the Spiritual being the union between Jesus and his bride whom are the children of God through repentance. Jesus brings his disciples to the wedding to show them the wonders of God through the renewal of his Spirit. I want you to see the relationship we have between the old self in the flesh and the new Spiritual rebirth in Christ. We are called the bride of Christ and I could not find any better example of this as in the story of the first wedding Jesus attended with his disciples, (Ref: John 2:1-11).

The word marriage represents our relationship with Jesus. We are called the bride of Christ which means when we ask Jesus into our life through repentance we become one in the Spirit that is in Christ and have communion with his life, death and resurrection. We are united with Jesus as one body that has been renewed through the Spirit that is God. We become as a bride to the bridegroom as we are joined together as one. (Matthew 9:15; Rev 21:9)

The word call means that we do not just happen to fall into a relationship with Jesus as we are called of God or predestined before the world began for Gods purpose and grace. Jesus and his disciples were called to the wedding to witness the testimony of Gods power and authority through the miracle of changing water into wine, which was Jesus first miracle. The water and the wine represent the word of God and his Spirit as a renewal of our body and soul through the salvation of Jesus. (Jeremiah 1:5; 2Timothy 1:9; John 3:5)

Wanting wine meant the disciples wanted understanding of those things Jesus was teaching them as they could not understand with their carnal minds, but did know that Jesus was a prophet sent by God. When Jesus said to his mother my time has not come yet he was speaking of his death and resurrection. Spiritual understanding could not come until Jesus ascended unto the Father and the Holy Spirit that is the Spirit of God be brought down from heaven to open our Spiritual eyes and ears to understand those teachings of Jesus while he walked the earth with his disciples. (Romans 8:5-8; John 14:26)

The water pots in themselves are a Jewish tradition of placing these pots outside the wedding feast so everyone could wash their hands and feet before entering into the feast. The significance of there being six water pots of stone is that the number six represents the number of the beast or sinful nations that are being controlled by Satan using others to deceive man like he used a serpent to deceive Adam and Eve as Satan is a spirit that has no form and has to use whatever or whomever he can to work through to deceive man.

When Jesus asked the servants to fill the water pots with water and then he changed the water into wine is a Spiritual representation of the water being the word of God and the wine being the Holy Spirit as it is only by the word of God and his Holy Spirit that we can see the kingdom of God through a renewed Spiritual rebirth through repentance.

The governor asked Jesus why was the good wine served last after everyone was already drunk as he could not understand such a thing. In the beginning man was pure and knew no sin until they allowed themselves to be deceived by Satan who used the serpent to deceive them thus the knowledge of sin was revealed to them and extended to all generations. The good wine (Gods Spirit come to flesh in Jesus) was sacrificed for the atonement of sin as through repentance we now have the Holy Spirit (Spirit of God – new wine) that renews our inner man through the word of God that we can now have life eternal with the father. (Rev 13:18; John 1:14; Colossians 3:5-14; Genesis 3:6, 7)

Before the dispensation of grace (Jesus) men were bound by the laws and traditions enforced by the Priest and the Scribes. The laws that were established by God were changed daily by the Pharisees so they could justify their own deeds of unrighteousness, By changing the laws this put men under bondage and they ended up dying in their sins for if you broke even one you were guilty of breaking them all because the law had no saving provisions in it and became a curse to men because they could not e justified by the laws. (Galatians 3:10-12)

Jesus gave a parable about the old garment and old bottle which represents our old sin nature. When we accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior through repentance this created a new Spiritual inner man and old things are passed away (sin) and remembered no more by God and all things become new once again. You have two masters you can choose to serve as one is God and the other is self. If we have truly died to self (old garment, old bottle) and serve God then he clothes us in his robe of righteousness and we drink from the new bottle from the fountain of living water. There is no fence riding when it comes to our relationship with Jesus. You either trust him in all things or you deny him in all things. You can not put a new piece of garment on an old piece as it ruins the new garment if you cut into it. (Note: wine bottles were made from the hide of animals and if used to much the hide would wear out and split.) (Luke 5:36-39; Matthew 6:24)

When the Pharisees saw Jesus sitting with such undeliverable type of people in their opinion they question his disciples why he would waste his time on those they deemed unworthy and Jesus overhearing their conversation told them that he came to call the sinner not the righteous back to the grace of God through repentance as the righteous already hold that which is of God in their hearts. The Pharisees could not understand what Jesus meant as they felt that anyone who did not support their interpretations of the laws of Moses would become an outcast forever. Their interpretations of the laws, as they changed them daily, became more authoritative than the original ones God gave to Moses. The laws had become bondage and caused many to die in their sin for they could not keep all the laws as there were over 613 of them as I said before the Pharisees added to them daily to try and justify their own deeds. Jesus was sent of God to make an end to the curse of the law as he was made the final blood sacrifice to redeem us all from sin through repentance to bring us back to the grace of God. (Matthew 9:10-13; Galatians 3:10-14)

Once again the Pharisees came against Jesus and his teachings for what he was teaching came against their own interpretations and traditions of the laws and as he was also teaching to the gentiles who were thought to be heathens as they worshipped other gods this angered those who held high office in the Priesthood in the Jewish nation. The Jewish people were bound by the laws as they were taught by the Priest and Rabbi in the Synagogue they also questioned Jesus about why his disciples did not fast as fasting was part of the law of purification and Jesus told them why would one fast for something they already had. He also told them that he would not always be with the people and they would fast again, but it would be another type of fast that the disciples of Jesus (us) would loose the bands of wickedness, to undo heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free and to break every yoke of bondage. The fast Jesus was talking about was to feed the hungry, help the poor and clothe the naked.

Fasting was not afflicting the soul as what would that bring about, but only ones own emotions of pain. Fasting is to take the word of God out to those who need to hear of Gods salvation and showing the actions of the word of God by helping those in need. The old bottle or the old wineskin (man under the law) was bound by the law or the interpretation of it, which only brought Spiritual death and literal death, but the new bottle or new wine skin (man under grace) has been set free from the curse of the law as the Holy Spirit has been given to us that renews Gods Spirit in us and teaches us the true knowledge of Gods spoken word. (Matthew 9:14-17; Isaiah 58:5-8)

We have to be careful for what we are being taught by others so we will not fall into the bondage of traditional interpretations and preach a deceptive gospel that will cause others to stumble and separate themselves from grace, but rather we need to be teaching the acceptable word of God in all truths no matter what tries to come against us. You might think that anything taught from the pulpit is truth because after all these people are our teachers and they should know what they are speaking, but we are warned many times in the word of God to watch out for wolves in sheep’s clothing because Satan as a roaring lion is seeking to whom he can use to devour us. Learn to discern what is being taught to you so you can rightly divide the word of God to know what is truth or what is error as we will stand before God individually to give an account for what we have learned and taught others and there will be no excuses before the father as he has given us truth by his Spirit, but it was up to us to accept it or reject it.

Never take anyone’s word for what they teach unless they can back themselves up with scripture and you study it for yourself by asking the Holy Spirit to confirm if what you have been taught is truth or error and if you find error in those teachings it is up to you to go to them in love and compassion to show them where they have erred as when you do this you gain a brother, but if they refuse to hear you then shake the dust from your feet and move on. Never argue or debate Gods word for this will only bring foolishness on you and is not pleasing to the Father, but in all things let us bring glory and honor to the Lord by living in his will of love and show forth the good fruits of his grace. (1 Peter 5:8; 1Timothy 1:4-7).

This lengthy interpretation is a classic piece of creative innovation that makes the text state what is not included in it. The interpreter has not separated the subject from the object in interpretation.

1.1   Adding to the text with alleged ‘spiritual’ interpretation

clip_image005Here is my response:

Oz:[3]

The above interpretations[4] you have made from John 2:1-11 are not in the text. They are added to the text in these ways:

  1. ‘God’s word can be literal and Spiritual as in the case of the wedding in Cana. The wedding represents the Spiritual being the union between Jesus and his bride whom are the children of God through repentance.’
  2. ‘The water and the wine represent the word of God and his Spirit as a renewal of our body and soul through the salvation of Jesus’.
  3. ‘Wanting wine meant the disciples wanted understanding of those things Jesus was teaching them as they could not understand with their carnal minds, but did know that Jesus was a prophet sent by God’.
  4. ‘six water pots of stone is that the number six represents the number of the beast or sinful nations that are being controlled by Satan using others to deceive man like he used a serpent’;
  5. ‘The good wine (Gods Spirit come to flesh in Jesus) was sacrificed for the atonement of sin as through repentance we now have the Holy Spirit (Spirit of God – new wine) that renews our inner man through the word of God that we can now have life eternal with the father’,
  6. Etc, etc, etc.

None of these interpretations came from the text; they were your inventive creations. The early church Father, Origen (ca. 185-254) , would have been proud of your allegorical interpretations as he was one of the famous allegorisers in the early church and his method of interpretation has been condemned because it means that anyone can come along and say what he or she wants about a text – a long as it has spiritual overtones. See, ‘The rise of allegorical interpretation‘.

You exhort us: ‘Never take anyone’s word for what they teach unless they can back themselves up with scripture and you study it for yourself by asking the Holy Spirit to confirm if what you have been taught is truth or error’.  As I have mentioned briefly, the teachings you have given from the Wedding at Cana of Galilee are not in the text and are thus in error. I’m using your call to assess whether it is truth or error.

You see, if I accept your allegorising, there is no way that you can reject my responses as well. Here goes:

  1. God’s word can only be interpreted literally and that means all figures of speech are included in literal interpretation. This is the case for the incident of turning water into wine at Cana of Galilee.
  2. The water and the wine are literal products involved in the miracle at Cana.
  3. For the disciples to understand what Jesus taught, they interpreted him as one would any conversation or piece of literature – literally – which includes acceptance of figures of speech.
  4. Six water pots of stone were just that – 6 water pots of stone – no more and no less.
  5. The good wine was kept until last to demonstrate the importance of Jesus’ first sign at Cana.
  6. Etc, etc, etc.

When one allegorises Scripture, one can make it say anything one wants. It’s really imposing on the text a meaning that is not there. It is like postmodern, reader-response interpretation where the reader determines the meaning of a text and does not allow the intention of the original author to speak.

I did not state this in the thread and I was negligent in not doing it. I should have provided a definition of allegorical interpretation and a list of its dangers. Here goes for this article:

1.2   Definition of allegorical interpretation

clip_image007Let’s check on three leading texts from the past on hermeneutics (i.e. biblical interpretation.

Berkeley Mickelsen, in a text I used in seminary, warns that

allegory, a very legitimate way of teaching truth, should not be confused with allegorizing, which takes a narrative that was not meant to teach truth by identification. By a point by point comparison, allegorizing makes a narrative convey ideas different from those intended by the original author. Thus allegorizing is an arbitrary way of handling any narrative (Mickelsen 1963:231).

Milton Terry’s definition is:

The allegorical method of interpretation is based upon a pro­found reverence for the Scriptures, and a desire to exhibit their manifold depths of wisdom. But it will be noticed at once that its habit is to disregard the common signification of words, and give wing to all manner of fanciful speculation. It does not draw out the legitimate meaning of an author’s language, but foists into it whatever the whim or fancy of an interpreter may desire. As a system, therefore, it puts itself beyond all well?defined principles and laws (Terry n d:164).

Bernard Ramm, in a text I used in Bible college, stated that:

Allegorical interpretation believes that beneath the letter (rhete) or the obvious (phanera) is the real meaning (hyponoia) of the passage. Allegory is defined by some as an extended metaphor…. But if we presume that the document has a secret meaning (hyponoia) and there are no cues concerning the hidden meaning interpretation is difficult. In fact, the basic problem is to determine if the passage has such a meaning at all. The further problem arises whether the secret meaning was in the mind of the original writer or something found there by the interpreter. If there are no cues, hints, connections, or other associations which indicate that the record is an allegory, and what the allegory intends to teach, we are on very uncertain grounds (Ramm 1970:24).

We’ll discuss the dangers of allegorical interpretation after my discussion with two promoters of the allegorical method below.

Now we return to the Christian Forum dialogue. The stereotype continued:

1.3   ‘Spiritual meaning’

FHG:

Can we quit making this a battle field and please stay on topic. My whole point of starting this thread was to show how something that is literal can also have a Spiritual message to it. Thank you.[5]

Oz[6]

Your supposed ‘spiritual message’ is really allegorical interpretation, which means that you impose your own alleged spiritual meaning onto the text. That ‘spiritual message’ is not stated in the text (John 2:1-11). It is invented by you. It is a battlefield of your own making because of your invented method of adding to the text.

Roy Zuck’s practical definition of allegorical interpretation (what you have done) is:

Allegorizing is searching for a hidden or secret meaning underlying but remote from and unrelated in reality to the more obvious meaning of a text. In other words the literal reading is a sort of code, which needs to be deciphered to determine the more significant and hidden meaning. In this approach the literal is superficial, the allegorical is the true meaning.[7]

FHG:

Just as Nicodemus did not understand that of the Spiritual in John 3 that Jesus was telling him so the same as many will not see the Spiritual teaching in the wedding in Cana. Words have literal meaning like water and wine, but some, like water and wine, have very Spiritual meaning within the literal as I have already explain in my OP with scripture.

John 3:11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. 12 If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?[8]

1.4   We should not go beyond the text of Scripture

Another came in to offer support of the position I was advocating.

Wondering:

I must, however, agree with Oz. He’s right in making the point that we should not go beyond what is actually in the scripture. Anyone could come up with any concept and put it forward as a teaching. How would we ever know which is correct and which isn’t correct?

We should try to adhere to what the original writer intended us to know. Wine is held in jars. It’a normal everyday thing. It’s okay to see some spirituality in this – but it should not be a teaching, an official teaching. If John had meant to say what is being expressed here, then he would have just said it.

John made it a point to say what he believed to be important.
Scripture looses all meaning when we give our own private interpretation and then pass it along as a factual teaching. If you believe anything – believing becomes meaningless.[9]

1.5   Spiritual meaning ‘given to me’

FHG:

From where did this ‘spiritual meaning’ come that was given to the person?

I already stated that this was something that was personally given to me and no, I am not adding anything to the text, but only showing things that are also Spiritual within the literal. Spiritual usually is never stated, but can be applied, as it is given to one by the revelations of the Holy Spirit when one seeks understanding.

Changing water into wine was Jesus first miracle at the beginning of His ministry. We can also apply this to we (sic) being the water only having the word, but not yet having the new wine which represents the indwelling of the Holy Spirit like that of what Jesus taught Nicodemus in John 3.[10]

Wondering:

The advocate, against allegorical interpretation, continued:

THIS is what happens when we read too much into a scripture.
You mention the discourse between Jesus and John in John 3.
There are already 2 different theological theories as to what Jesus meant about being born of water.
1. One big denomination believes that Jesus is speaking about baptism. Baptismal water. This brings up problems but we won’t get into that.
2. Protestantism believes that Jesus is speaking about being born naturally since Nicodemus asks how it could be possible to return to the mother’s womb.
Now, YOU are introducing a new idea. You’re saying:
We can also apply this to we (sic) being the water only having the word,

You’re saying that WE are the water (the new idea) only having the word.
(And I still haven’t gotten some scripture as to how you can relate water to being the word …)
According to you, I must add a number 3 to my list above.[11]

Oz:

This is rank eisegesis, so I replied:[12] When you engage in allegorical/figurative interpretation of any text, you are adding to the text – adding your own ‘spiritual’ interpretation that is not stated in the text of John 2:1-11 (ESV).

All right, let me try my own allegorical interpretation. Changing the water into wine means that Jesus promoted the view that it is spiritually uplifting to indulge in drinking large quantities of alcoholic wine when I gather with God’s people, to assist my spiritual life in developing miraculous, spiritual understanding and development.

What I have written here is just as suitable as what you have written because both of us have added to Scripture of John 2 (ESV) what is NOT in the text. However, your use of allegorical interpretation allows me to use the same method and make the text mean whatever I want it to mean. I can add all the spiritual words I want, but that does not detract from the fact that you and I have engaged in eisegesis with our allegorical/figurative interpretation.

Allegorical interpretation destroys the meaning of any text.

FHG:

Predictably, the emphasis continued:

It’s not an allegorical interpretation, but a Spiritual understanding of that which is literal. It’s like all the parables Jesus taught. They were literal fiction stories, but each story had a Spiritual reference to our salvation through the Spiritual new birth as we take the part and combine it with the whole of scripture for our understanding. Your interpretation would have no merit for it has no scriptural founding in it and actually comes against what Jesus already taught about gluttony in Proverbs 23:20; Ephesians 5:18. Nicodemus only saw the literal in John 3:1-6, but was then given the Spiritual meaning. Water-word, wine-Holy Spirit.[13]

What could I do but have a laugh over the continued refusal to listen to the exposure of her unbiblical interpretations.

Oz:

So I wrote:[14] I’m chuckling FHG! clip_image008Your ‘spiritual understanding’ is nothing more and nothing less than allegorical interpretation of infusing into the text of Cana of Galilee something that was not there. It’s an invention.

Cana of Galilee is NOT a parable but you are trying to make it into your own special variety by infusing your own imaginative stuff. You claim that my interpretation has no merit because it has ‘no scriptural founding’. Do you mean foundation? Yours has no more scriptural foundation than mine in interpretation of Cana of Galilee.

‘Spiritual meaning’ is your individualistic invention of spiritual sounding words that add to the text and make it say what it is not saying.

1.6   Unnecessary conclusion: Bible literal and not spiritual

FHG:

The promoter of allegorical teaching continued:

So what you are saying is that the whole Bible is literal and contains nothing Spiritual in it for our understanding? How do we become born again without the Spirit? How do we learn the mysteries of Gods word without the Spirit revealing those things that confound the carnal mind, Deuteronomy 29:29; Proverbs 25:2 Matthew 13:11-13; Colossians 1:26, 27; 1Timothy 3:16 ? Not all private interpretations are to be shared unless God says it’s time to share them to those who have ears to hear. This is why God told Daniel to shut up the words and seal the book (visions) that were revealed to him until the time of the end when knowledge would increase, Daniel 12:1-4. The time of the end was when Jesus was taken up and the Holy Spirit was sent down to indwell us and teach us all things as then Spiritual knowledge was increased, John 14:26.
The book was opened in the end with John who was indwelled with the Holy Spirit who received these visions in Revelations from the angel Jesus sent to him while he was being held captive on the isle of Patmos for his witness and testifying of Christ. John was in the Spirit, not caught up to the third heaven where God sits on His throne, when these visions of Daniel were given to him to share with the seven Churches in Asia and all generations after him. It’s only understood by those whose knowledge has been increased by the Holy Spirit.[15]

1.7   John 3:5: Born of water and the Spirit

clip_image009FHG:

A portion of the allegorical promoter’s post read:

John 3:5 never mentions the word baptize, but says only by being born of water and spirit, which means water as living water (word) that no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are Spiritually renewed (born again) by the word, which is Christ Jesus and by the Holy Spirit that came on them in the OT and indwells us in the NT. Many do read into the passage a preconceived idea or theology, but baptism is never mentioned in this verse. Word in John 3:5 is living water as described in John 4:10; 7:38; 1John 5:6; Jeremiah 2:13; Isaiah 55:1-3 to name a few.[16]

Oz:

Therefore, I asked: ‘Please share with us how you obtain the meaning of John 3:5 (ESV), ‘unless you are born of water and the Spirit’ in context’.[17] The reply was:

FHG:

Can we be born again by literal water like that of John the Baptist, no, for John’s baptism in water was for repentance and had nothing to do with being Spiritually born again. Ephesians 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. We are saved through faith by Gods grace, not by being dunked or sprinkled with water as that would be by works. Jesus being the word of God made flesh, John 1:1-14, as being the water in John 3:5 or a better word would be living water we are then born again by the word of God and the regeneration of the Holy Spirit as then we are baptized into Christ, Galatians 3:22-27.[18]

Oz:

How should I reply? This was my retort:[19] This is a wonderful example of avoidance. I asked: ‘Please share with us how you obtain the meaning of John 3:5 (ESV), ‘unless you are born of water and the Spirit’ in context’, and this is what I got.

You assert that ‘as being the water in John 3:5 or a better word would be living water we are then born again by the word of God and the regeneration of the Holy Spirit as then we are baptized into Christ’. This does not tell us HOW you obtain the meaning of ‘unless one is born of water and the Spirit’ (John 3:5 ESV).

I still don’t know how you obtain the meaning you have given in the context of John 3:5 (ESV). In this thread you have imposed your allegorical/figurative interpretation on the text of the Wedding at Cana. Is that what you are doing here? Your imposition of your own idiosyncratic meaning on the text! Seems so!

Let’s get back to the Wedding at Cana. Why don’t you accept the literal interpretation of John 2:1-11 (ESV) instead of inventing your figurative understanding that is found nowhere in the text?

FHG:

I did share the meaning, but will bring maybe a better light to what I said about the water in John 3:5 meaning the word of God:
Word is living water as described in John 4:10; 7:38; 1John 5:6; Jeremiah 2:13; Isaiah 55:1-3 to name a few.
I never said I didn’t accept the literal wedding. I’m just showing how it can be compared to the Spiritual new birth and there is nothing wrong with that as even Jesus compared different things in scripture. It’s called “likened”. I’m not interpreting it, but likening it to John 3:3-6 with the water, wine and six water pots.[20]

Oz:

The evidence is obvious: ‘You are engaging in allegorical interpretation with adding to Scripture what is NOT in the text of John 2:1-11 (ESV)’.[21]

FHG:

It’s not an allegorical interpretation, but a Spiritual understanding of that which is literal. It’s like all the parables Jesus taught. They were literal fiction stories, but each story had a Spiritual reference to our salvation through the Spiritual new birth as we take the part and combine it with the whole of scripture for our understanding. Your interpretation would have no merit for it has no scriptural founding in it and actually comes against what Jesus already taught about gluttony in Proverbs 23:20; Ephesians 5:18. Nicodemus only saw the literal in John 3:1-6, but was then given the Spiritual meaning. Water-word, wine-Holy Spirit.[22]

There were two consecutive comments here by FHG because there was an interjection by a moderator who was complaining about ‘no trolling’ and it’s a Bible Study forum where no debate is allowed.[23]

FHG:

The whole point of my OP was not only based on the water and wine, but more importantly what is said in:
John 2:11 This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.
The water can be related to the word as well as the new wine being the best wine can be related to the Holy Spirit in that of our Spiritual rebirth and seeing the glory of the Lord when we first begin to follow Him as He is our Bridegroom and we His Bride. Many if not all of the teachings of Christ are directed to our need of a Savior as we put off the old man (flesh) and put on the new man (Spirit). We are renewed by the word of God and through the Holy Spirit teaching us of all things. John 3:1-6, 14:26, Colossians 3:1-4.[24]

Oz:

My response was that this is allegorical interpretation because it adds to the text what is not in the text of John 2:1-11 (ESV).[25]

FHG:

‘It adds nothing to the text, but draws a reference from the text that not everyone can see unless light is brought to it’[26]

Oz:

That’s your adding to the text the alleged ‘deeper meaning’, which is the method of interpretation called eisegesis – reading into the text what is not there. To call it ‘light’ is to redefine the meaning of ‘light’ to make it equal eisegesis and allegorical interpretation. This is an example of the fallacy of appeal to authority.[27]

2.  Another supporter of allegorical interpretation

While I was engaged in the above challenge of allegorical interpretation, I was doing battle with another promoter of figurative, ‘spiritual’ hermeneutics.

The discussion on spiritual meaning and allegorical interpretation in this thread had been rolling along with much acceptance until I interrupted with my posts. It was at this point that this person stated:

Jethro:[28]

There’s no question that Jesus came to transform the knowledge of the word–the water of the word–into the joyful infilling of the Holy Spirit. This is unique to the New Covenant….unless you were a king, or a priest, or a prophet, or a handful of other privileged people in the old covenant.
We can speculate as to specific details beyond that fundamental truth, and each one of us is free to take them or leave them, but the fundamental truth being illustrated by the story stands.[29]

2.1   Transforming knowledge with water

clip_image010Oz:

To the statement, ‘There’s no question that Jesus came to transform the knowledge of the word–the water of the word–into the joyful infilling of the Holy Spirit’, I asked him to ‘please provide book, chapter and verses in the NT to confirm your statement here’.[30]

Jethro:

Are you asking because you do not think Jesus makes it so mere written words become the Holy Spirit in a person?
I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. 9It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt10This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.” (Hebrews 8:8-10 NIV bold mine)[31]

Oz:

How should I reply?[32] Your statement was: ‘There’s no question that Jesus came to transform the knowledge of the word–the water of the word–into the joyful infilling of the Holy Spirit’.

I asked for you to provide book, chapter and verse to confirm what you stated. The reference you have given here from Heb 8:8-10 (NIV) in no way relates to the question I asked. Thus, this makes your reply a red herring. We can’t have a logical conversation when you engage in this kind of erroneous reasoning.

2.2   The first covenant of words transformed to the New Covenant of the Spirit

Jethro:

Then came this lengthy reply:

The first covenant, as we know, was a covenant of words, witnessed by a carving of stone. Those words provided a ceremonial outward cleansing. The New Covenant is a Covenant witnessed by the Spirit. It writes the words of the law on the heart by the Spirit and provides a complete inner and outer cleansing. Jesus did that. Jesus transformed the witness of the words of scripture carved in stone into the witness of the indwelling Holy Spirit for the people of God. Just like in the story, the very best was saved until last. And all to the pleasure of the Master of the Banquet.
Now, let’s look at the passage I provided, again: As was said, the first covenant was a covenant of written words, and which provided outward cleansing for the people of God as necessary. That fact is contained in this part of the NT scripture you requested:
I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. 9It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt
Then the NT author reminds his audience of God’s promise to write those words on the heart in a New and subsequent Covenant (which we know is done by the Holy Spirit – 2 Corinthians 3:3 NASB):
10This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.” (Hebrews 8:8-10 NIV bold mine)
So you can see, the words of the old covenant used for ceremonial outward cleansing, likened unto the outward cleansing of water, become, like the best of wines, the very life and joy of God in us in this New Covenant. Jesus did that. It’s the miracle and glory of the New Covenant. It’s the miracle that he was to effect, scheduled to happen at a particular time in history, and after the time of ceremonial cleansing.
This could be hard to see for a person if they’re still in a ‘word only’ relationship with God and only attend churches where the promise of the life and joy and abundance of the Holy Spirit in the believer is suppressed and not taught, let alone experienced. This can be likened to only having John’s baptism–repentance in response to hearing the words of the gospel. In these kinds of churches, the Holy Spirit is just a factual reality, not a felt reality. For most Christians this is true. They simply do not get taught about, let alone experience, the joy and life of the Holy Spirit. In fact, it seems they get taught to resist that experience. This was the very first thing I realized when I was born again. I could see how the church of the world was devoid of the Spirit and how, sadly, even among the true believers in the church of the world, these promises remain unclaimed:
“And their heart will be glad as if from wine;
Indeed, their children will see it and be glad,
Their heart will rejoice in the LORD.” (Zechariah 10:7 NASB)
5“…you will see and be radiant,
And your heart will thrill and rejoice” (Isaiah 60:5 NASB)
And so it is that most of the ceremonial jars of clay in the church filled with the water of the word have yet to have that water turned into the wine of the Spirit. And worse, are terribly offended for you telling them that.[33]

2.3   Eisegesis of Wedding at Cana

I could not let him get away with this falsehood so I responded: This is false teaching. That is NOT what the Wedding at Cana of Galilee teaches at all in John 2:1-11 (ESV). You have imposed a foreign meaning – your idiosyncratic understanding – on the text. You have not obtained the meaning of the text from out of the text. You have imposed YOUR meaning on the test. This is called eisegesis.
This means that I could make John 2:1-11 (ESV) mean whatever I wanted and you would have no objective means to oppose my false or even heretical views. That’s what allegorical meaning does. It adds to the text. You have done just that in your response to me.[34]

Instead of pursuing his previous thought, I reverted to commenting on what I said above:

All right, let me try my own allegorical interpretation. Changing the water into wine means that Jesus promoted the view that it is spiritually uplifting to indulge in drinking large quantities of alcoholic wine when I gather with God’s people, to assist my spiritual life in developing miraculous, spiritual understanding and development.

Jethro:

Predictably, he did not like this and stated:

That’s impossible. Not because I personally don’t agree with it, which is the reason some people choose not to believe other people’s insights into scripture. See, it’s important to know that Biblical insights come from the Bible itself. This is not about knowing things pulled out of thin air and calling it from the Spirit and then insisting everyone agree with it. It’s about knowing what the Bible says about a particular subject in the places where it says that and then using that information to spiritually discern more veiled or less understandable passages of scripture.
This being true, we know that we can immediately discard the interpretation of the water into wine passage that you developed for purposes of illustration. Not only does it have zero Biblical support, it actually contradicts the Bible. So we know without a doubt that these pretend spiritual insights into the story are false. And again, not just because I don’t agree with them, but because they have no support from the Bible itself and actually contradict it.
The ‘water into wine’ meaning the converting of the water of the word in to the wine of the Spirit in this New Covenant is developed through other scripture. That’s how and why it can be received as a legitimate spiritual insight. In fact, here we see the water of the word being changed into the wine of the Spirit in an actual recorded Biblical account:
43“Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.”
44While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. (Acts 10:43-44 NASB)
The servant, Peter, filled the clay ‘vessels’ of Cornelius’ household up with the word of the prophets and it in effect became the wine of the Spirit in those vessels. That’s what happens in this New Covenant. It’s the miracle of the New Covenant.[35]

Oz:

This gave me an ideal opportunity to expose the destructive nature of his hermeneutics:[36]

You don’t seem to understand how destructive your allegorical interpretation is to the actual statements of Scripture. I’ve tried to show you over and over how your invention of the meaning is nothing more than allegorical-figurative eisegesis. See the article, What is the difference between exegesis and eisegesis? (Got Questions) which explains the difference between exegesis and eisegesis:

Exegesis and eisegesis are two conflicting approaches in Bible study. Exegesis is the exposition or explanation of a text based on a careful, objective analysis. The word exegesis literally means “to lead out of.” That means that the interpreter is led to his conclusions by following the text.
The opposite approach to Scripture is eisegesis, which is the interpretation of a passage based on a subjective, non-analytical reading. The word eisegesis literally means “to lead into,” which means the interpreter injects his own ideas into the text, making it mean whatever he wants.
Obviously, only exegesis does justice to the text. Eisegesis is a mishandling of the text and often leads to a misinterpretation. Exegesis is concerned with discovering the true meaning of the text, respecting its grammar, syntax, and setting. Eisegesis is concerned only with making a point, even at the expense of the meaning of words.

I continued: This is how you have engaged in allegorical interpretation in this quote of yours:

  • ‘It’s about knowing what the Bible says about a particular subject in the places where it says that and then using that information to spiritually discern more veiled or less understandable passages of scripture’ (Here you are searching for the ‘deeper meaning’ behind the words – this is your invention of what is in the text but all done ‘ to spiritually discern more veiled or less understandable passages of scripture’ (your language). That is not how Scripture asks us to read it. Take a read of Acts 17:11 (ESV).
  • ‘we know that we can immediately discard the interpretation of the water into wine passage that you developed for purposes of illustration. Not only does it have zero Biblical support, it actually contradicts the Bible’. You have no basis to make this judgment of what I stated because the method I used (allegorical interpretation) was exactly the same as you used. The only difference is that you don’t like the content of what I wrote. That’s hardly a reason to reject it when it is true to your methodology – the deeper allegorical meaning which I gained. Your method contorts and distorts Scripture, as I did when I gave my example.
  • ‘The ‘water into wine’ meaning the converting of the water of the word in to the wine of the Spirit in this New Covenant is developed through other scripture‘. This is another allegorical invention that has no connection with Acts 10:43-44 (NASB). Zero connection!
  • ‘The servant, Peter, filled the clay ‘vessels’ of Cornelius’ household up with the word of the prophets and it in effect became the wine of the Spirit in those vessels. That’s what happens in this New Covenant. It’s the miracle of the New Covenant’. That is nothing more than your figurative invention. It is not based on exegesis of the text but is your insertion, which is called eisegesis as a method of interpretation.

You are so enraptured with this method that you can’t see the damage done by it to meaning of a biblical text. I suggest that you learn to use the historical-grammatical method of interpretation that will enable you to get to the meaning of the text and not engage in a spiritually esoteric meaning.

Jethro:

Oz, I want to preach a sermon about people–you know, clay vessels on the earth (2 Corinthians 4:7 NASB)–receiving the word of God and it resulting in the Holy Spirit being in them. Can you think of some Biblical stories and/or accounts I can use to illustrate this miraculous experience?[37]

Oz:

It is fairly easy to respond to this kind of challenge. If you want to preach a sermon about anything, I suggest that you quit allegorical interpretation and learn some sound exegesis of the text that you will use as the foundation of expository preaching/teaching. Then preach your way through books of the Bible and engage in historical-grammatical interpretation.
I’m not interested in fuelling any of your imagination with figurative hermeneutics.[38]

Jethro:[39]

Here’s water being symbolic of the washing of the word:
“…having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word” (Ephesians 5:26 NASB)
3“You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” (John 15:3 NASB)
Here’s wine being symbolic of, and likened to, the joy of the Holy Spirit:
“And their heart will be glad as if from wine” (Zechariah 10:14 NASB italics in original)
“do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18 NASB)
Here’s people being referred to as earthen vessels (you know–bodies made of the clay of the earth):
6For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 7But we have this treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7 NASB)
And here’s an actual Biblical account of the water of the word being changed into the wine of the Spirit in earthen vessels:
44While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message.” (Acts 10:44 NASB)
The word becoming the wine of the Spirit in earthen vessels is a miracle of the New Covenant. And all scheduled to happen at the appointed time through Christ’s ministry:
“when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law” (Galatians 4:4 NASB).

Jethro:

Oz, I guess your argument would mean something if you could show us how it is unBiblical that water = the word, wine = the Holy Spirit, earthen vessels = people, and so on. I’ve shown you where they are Biblical. edited . Just because you don’t see it (even though the interpretation is right in the Bible) doesn’t mean it’s false. What it means is you can’t see it.[40]

Oz:[41]

I’ve already shown you that nowhere in the story of the Wedding at Cana is anything said about the water = word and the wine = the Holy Spirit and earthen vessels = people. That’s your allegorical invention – imposing a meaning on the text that is not there.

Showing me where you gain your figurative interpretation does not make the view legitimate when it is imposed on a narrative where that information is not contained.

I have zero misguided fear. My only concern is over what allegorical interpretation does to propositional revelation – what the text actually says. It prostitutes the text.

Your statement, ‘even though the interpretation is right in the Bible’, is not a fact. Your allegorical interpretation of John 1:1-11 (ESV) is NOT in the Bible. It is Jethro’s creative invention.

Jethro:

Well, this is the Bible study forum, so perhaps you can provide some Biblical study material to show that water can not be interpreted as the word, wine can not be interpreted as the Holy Spirit, and earthen vessels can not be interpreted as people. Then you will have some Biblical foundation to resist interpreting the wedding at Cana in the way it is in the OP.
Until then we’ll go with the Biblical material that has been presented that does allow the wedding at Cana to be interpreted per the OP. I think that’s only reasonable. I think it entirely unreasonable to say one can not interpret those things that way when in fact the Bible itself sets the precedent to interpret them that way. This has nothing to do with Jethro’s creative invention. It doesn’t come from me. It comes from the Bible itself. I proved that in post #119 which you are free to discuss (not debate) using the Bible per the guidelines of this particular forum. I’m interested in what you say is in the Bible that makes it so water can not be interpreted as the word, and so forth.
So tell us, what Bible material do you have to show that water can not be interpreted as the word, wine can not be interpreted as the Holy Spirit, and jars of clay can not be interpreted as people? And then, tell us Biblically, what to do with the examples in the Bible of the word of God going into a person and it becoming the Holy Spirit in that person?[42]

Oz:[43]

Since my reply was edited, a moderator claiming I was ‘trolling’, I do not have my exact words of reply. However, this is approximately what I wrote: Since it is a Bible study forum, I have shown you over and over that nowhere in the text of John 2:1-11 is it ever stated that water = the word and wine = the Spirit. That is foreign language you have inserted in the text. It is not a ‘fact the Bible itself sets the precedent to interpret them that way’. That water, wine, word, Spirit interpretation is an invention of Jethro.

I have repeated this over and over to you but I’ll not hold my breath waiting for you to see that you have added to the text. If you come back with a repeat of what you’ve already said, I’ll not respond.

2.4   What are the dangers of allegorical interpretation of the Bible?

Bernard Ramm has already hinted at one of them:

1. If the secret meaning was not stated by or hinted at by the original writer, then the allegorical is on ‘uncertain grounds’ of interpretation (Ramm 1970:24). I would go beyond that to state that the interpretation is irresponsible and should not be accepted.

2. It is an imposition of meaning on the text that is creatively invented by the reader. Therefore, it promotes eisegesis when exegesis is needed to obtain the meaning directly from the text. Reading into the text meaning that is not there is a travesty of hermeneutics that no responsible interpreter should support.

3. It sounds remarkably like a contemporary postmodern, reader-response interpretation. By reader-response, I mean that ‘all reading is ideological and guided by certain interests…. The text, with no aims nor interests of its own, is at the mercy of the reader. With only slight exaggeration, Mark Taylor characterizes interpretation as “a hostile act in which interpreter victimizes text”’ (Vanhoozer 1998:28).[44]

Scholar of the Jesus Seminar, John Dominic Crossan’s plays reader-response with the text when he says of Christ’s conception:

My position as an historian trying to be ethical and a Christian trying to be faithful is this: I do not accept the divine conception of either Jesus or Augustus as factual history, but I believe that God is incarnate in the Jewish peasant poverty of Jesus and not in the Roman imperial power of Augustus (Crossan 1998:29).

4. One of the fundamental principles in our quest for knowledge is the subject-object distinction. By this I mean that the subject is the thing or person who is the observer. The object is the thing or person observed. There needs to be a distinction between these for objective knowledge to be obtained. So knowledge of any object is independent of the subjective if ‘objective knowledge’ is to be acquired.

So, Norman Geisler makes this pointed statement about how to obtain objective meaning from any text:

The objective meaning of a text is the one given to it by the author, not the one attributed to it by the reader. Readers should ask what was meant by the author, not what it means to the reader. Once a reader discovers what the author meant by the text, he has obtained its objective meaning. Thus, asking, “What does it mean to me?” is the wrong question, and it will almost certainly lead to a subjective interpretation. Asking of the author, “What did he mean?” will almost certainly lead the reader in the right direction, that is, toward the objective meaning (Geisler 2002:173).

What allegorical interpretation does not do is separate the subject and object so that objective knowledge can be obtained about any text. Suppose I refuse to separate the subject and object in this story that appears in Queensland Country Life (June 28, 2016):

Cattle station announces plans for a yacht club in the outback

With the announcement last week that the Longreach community is to host an Outback Yacht Club, many could be forgiven for thinking that seeing their dams filled for the first time in years has made the locals a little over-excited.

If you were to have driven over the bank of a turkey’s nest at Camden Park, east of Longreach, last Thursday evening and spotted some red sails in the sunset belonging to a tiny boat hitched to the bore water outlet, you might be forgiven for thinking it was a mirage.

It was all fair dinkum though and all in aid of building bridges between city and country, according to “commodore” James Walker, who conceived the idea along with his brother Dan and some urban mates in the depths of last year’s drought (Cripps 2016).

If I meld the subject and object in this story and introduce allegorical interpretation or reader-response ideology, I can arrive at this understanding: The parched lives of unbelievers who lack the living water was ended with the living water of the Gospel coming to the spiritually dry people of outback Queensland, especially Longreach. This town is a symbol of the lengths to which God goes to reach people and the Yacht Club is a reminder of Jesus’ desire to turn water into the wine of his Holy Spirit. Drought becomes life when God is involved.

That inventive, spiritual, ‘deeper meaning’ of the Country Life story is an example of creative nonsense that is associate with imposing the reader’s reader-response understanding on the text (my creation). This is parallel to allegorical interpretation. It destroys the objective interpretation of the text.

Therefore, Geisler hit the target with his pursuit of objective meaning: ‘Look for meaning in the text, not beyond it’. He explains:

The meaning is not found beyond the text (in God’s mind), beneath the text (in the mystic’s mind), or behind the text (in the author’s unexpressed intention); it is found in the text (in the author’s expressed meaning). For instance, the beauty of a sculpture is not found behind, beneath, or beyond the sculpture. Rather, it is expressed in the sculpture.

All textual meaning is in the text. The sentences (in the context of their paragraphs in the context of the whole piece of literature) are the formal cause of meaning. They are the form that gives meaning to all the parts (words, punctuation, etc.)….

Look for Meaning in Affirmation, Not Implication

Another guideline in discovering the objective meaning of a text is to look for its affirmation, not its implication. Ask what the [text] affirms (or denies), not what it implies. This is not to say that implications are not possible or important, but only that the basic meaning is not found there. Meaning is what the text affirms, not in how it can be applied.

There is only one meaning in a text, but there are many implications and applications. In terms of meaning the sensus unum (one sense) view is correct; however, there is a sensus plenum (full sense) in terms of implication (Geisler 2002:174, 175, emphasis in original).

5. Another dangerous aspect of allegorical interpretation is that it sounds so spiritual. The language used comes from other portions of Scripture, mingled with aspects of the wedding at Cana. What could be so dangerous in allegorising when it sounds so harmless?

The peril is in seducing the reader into believing this is the objective meaning of the text when it is not. It is a deceitful way of spiritualising Scripture with the intent of getting a supposed ‘deeper understanding’, but it is a fabricated meaning that comes out of the mind of the reader or interpreter.

3.  Which is a better method of interpretation?

Surely this encounter with a couple people on a Christian Forum should provide evidence to refute allegorical interpretation. Pursue principles of objective biblical interpretation that acknowledge the subject-object distinction.

Also see my articles:

clip_image012 What is literal interpretation?

clip_image012[1] What is the meaning of the literal interpretation of the Bible?

clip_image012[2] Is the Bible to be interpreted as literal or metaphorical?

clip_image012[3] Dangerous church trend: Subjective spiritual knowledge

4.  Conclusion

Two people in this Christian Forum thread cannot see the damage they are doing through allegorising the Wedding at Cana. Both inserted their own, idiosyncratic ‘spiritual deeper meaning’ into the narrative text. This means they invented content what was not in the Wedding at Cana narrative in John 2:1-11. No matter how one wraps the package, the end result is that allegorical interpretation is destructive to the meaning by an author of any text because it adds to the text, reads into it content that is not there, and thus engages in eisegesis.

It is a parallel perspective to that being promoted by postmodern reader-response advocates such as John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar.

The need was demonstrated for an interpretation methodology that is objective and maintains the subject-object distinction.

What caused the divorce following the wedding at Cana? It was a divorce between the literal words of Scripture and a subjective, spiritualised, allegorical interpretation. When the subject-object relationship in interpretation is lost, a divorce is inevitable. It is a divorce that sends the subject (the reader) into the arms of another ‘lover’ – a lover of spiritual, deeper meaning that is divorced from the literal interpretation.

Works consulted

Brisbane Times 2016. Koala in pain for hours after dog attack (online), June 28. Available at: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/koala-in-pain-for-hours-after-dog-attack-20160628-gptg4b.html (Accessed 28 June 2016).

Cripps, S 2016. Cattle station announces plans for a yacht club in the outback. Queensland Country Life (online), June 28. Available at: http://www.queenslandcountrylife.com.au/story/3995190/red-sails-in-the-sunset-at-longreach/?src=rss (Accessed 28 June 2016).

Crossan, J D 1998. The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately After the Execution of Jesus. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Geisler, N 2002. Systematic Theology, vol. 1. Minneapolis, Minnesota: BethanyHouse.

Mickelsen, A B 1963. Interpreting the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Ramm, B 1970. Protestant Biblical Interpretation: A Textbook of Hermeneutics, 3rd rev ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Terry, M S n d (first reprint 1974). Biblical Hermeneutics. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Vanhoozer, K J 1998. Is There a Meaning in This Text? Leicester, England: Apollos (an imprint of Inter-Varsity Press).

Notes


[1] FGH is an abbreviation for a poster by the name of for_his_glory. I think the person is a female.

[2] Christian Forums.net, ‘Wedding in Cana’, now a dead thread that has been closed. for_his_glory#1. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/the-wedding-in-cana.64985/ (Accessed 21 June 2016).

[3] Oz is an abbreviation for my posts as OzSpen.

[4] This is my response, OzSpen#75, 21 June 2016.

[5] Ibid., for_his_glory#62.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#78.

[7] In Bible Study Tools 2014, ‘The rise of allegorical interpretation’. Available at: http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/revelation/introduction/the-rise-of-allegorical-interpretation.html (Accessed 28 June 2016).

[8] ‘Wedding in Cana’ loc cit., for_his_glory#80.

[9] Ibid., wondering#81.

[10] Ibid., for_his_glory#82.

[11] Ibid., Wondering#83.

[12] Ibid., OzSpen#102.

[13] Ibid., for_his_glory#109.

[14] Ibid., OzSpen#112.

[15] Ibid., for_his_glory#84.

[16] Ibid., for_his_glory#86.

[17] Ibid., OzSpen#91.

[18] Ibid., for_his_glory#94.

[19] Ibid., OzSpen#96.

[20] Ibid., for_his_glory#99.

[21] Ibid., OzSpen#101.

[22] Ibid., for_his_glory#108.

[23] Ibid., reba#109, reba#110.

[24] Ibid., for_his_glory#111.

[25] Ibid., OzSpen#112.

[26] Ibid., for_his_glory#113.

[27] Ibid., OzSpen#120.

[28] Jethro is a shortened form of the poster, Jethro Bodine.

[29] Wedding at Cana, op cit., Jethro Bodine#76.

[30] Ibid., OzSpen#79.

[31] Ibid., Jethro Bodine#95.

[32] Ibid., OzSpen#97.

[33] Ibid., Jethro Bodine#98.

[34] Ibid., OzSpen#100.

[35] Ibid., Jethro Bodine#104.

[36] Ibid., OzSpen#105.

[37] Ibid., Jethro Bodine#108.

[38] Ibid., OzSpen#112.

[39] Ibid., Jethro Bodine#119.

[40] Ibid.., Jethro Bodine#122.

[41] Ibid., OzSpen#125.

[42] Ibid., Jethro Bodine#126.

[43] My reply, ibid., OzSpen#128, was edited by reba and then the thread was closed

[44] Vanhoozer (1998) provides a superb critique of postmodern hermeneutics.

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 28 June 2016

What is literal interpretation?

Monday, December 7th, 2015

(St Anthony of Padua reading a book, image courtesy publicdomainvectors.com)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

You wouldn’t believe the confusion some Christians can get into with their distorted views of the meaning of ‘literal’ interpretation. Let’s pick up a few examples that I gathered from a forum on the Internet.

  • The discussion was on, ‘Can you trust the Muslims?’[1] One fellow asked, ‘Which Muslims? Are they all the same?’[2] A reply was, ‘If they all take that book of theirs literally yes’.[3]
  • A retort was, ‘Your answer is not clear. You said “IF they all take it literally”. I doubt that ALL of them (100%) take it literally so that would be a “no” answer, but I’m not sure that’s what you meant’.[4]

Moderate Muslims and literal interpretation

The above examples provided an opportunity for me to investigate how to consider ‘moderate’ Muslims and their interpretations of the Quran.[5]

Recep Tayyip Erdogan.PNG (Recep Tayyip Erdogan, 12th president of Turkey, photo courtesy Wikipedia)

 

Let’s check on a supposed ‘moderate’ Muslim country such as Turkey. Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the former Prime Minister and from 2014 he has been the President of Turkey for the AKP Party (source). When he was mayor of Istanbul in the late 1990s, he stated, ‘Thank God, I am for Sharia’ and ‘one cannot be a secularist and a Muslim at the same time’. He added, ‘For us, democracy is a means to an end’ (cited in Yavuz 2009). BBC News reported of Erdogan in 2002:

‘His pro-Islamist sympathies earned him a conviction in 1998 for inciting religious hatred.

He had publicly read an Islamic poem including the lines: “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers…”

He was sentenced to 10 months in jail, but was freed after four’ (BBC News 2002).?

For Erdogan, democracy was like a streetcar which you ride ‘until you arrive at your destination, then you step off’ (Yavuz 2009:100, n. 40). Concerning ‘moderate’ Islam, Erdogan, a Muslim, does not believe there is such a thing. His view was that ‘these descriptions are very ugly. It is offensive and an insult to our religion. There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that’s it’ (cited in Carol 2015). Or, is Erdogan a voice for the extremist Muslim, even the terrorists?

See the ‘Answering-Islam’ Christian website and the article, ‘Moderate Muslims & Moderate Islam’ by Jacob Thomas.

So where do you think the ‘moderate’ Muslims are heading with their present approach of not taking the Quran seriously or literally? Are they like Erdogan and are on the streetcar of democracy until its time is right to get off and implement Sharia?

Troubles over ‘literal’ continue

Obtaining an understanding of the meaning of ‘literal interpretation’ seems to elude some Christians. These are further examples:

  • ‘If they [Muslims] take their book 100% literally the way i take Gods word 100% literally, is that better?’[6]
  • This kind of response could be expected to that last comment: ‘Not really. I do not know how you “take God’s word 100% literally.” I would hope you recognize that the Bible contains metaphors, parables, and every other literary device which are definitely NOT to be taken literally. It also contains apocalyptic literature which is, essentially, the best effort of the writer to put into human language the astonishing and often incomprehensible visions he has seen’.[7]

A way forward with literal interpretation

The Malmesbury Bible (Bible, image courtesy Wikipedia)

 

How does one clear up the meaning of literal hermeneutics? I began to explain:[8]

When I was in seminary way back when, we used A Berkeley Mickelsen’s text on hermeneutics, Interpreting the Bible (1963 Eerdmans). There he stated that for the School of Antioch, it used historical interpretation as not referring to wooden literalism as this included the full use of typology:

“Literal” here means the customarily acknowledged meaning of an expression in its particular context. For example, when Christ declared that he was the door, the metaphorical meaning of “door” in that context would be obvious. Although metaphorical, this obvious meaning is included in the literal meaning (Mickelsen 1963:33).?

Therefore, ‘by literal meaning the writer refers to the usual or customary sense conveyed by words or expressions‘. The contrasting meaning is that of figurative: ‘By figurative meaning the writer has in mind the representation of one concept in terms of another because the nature of the two things compared allows such an analogy to be drawn‘ (Mickelsen 1963:179, emphasis in original).

So when I read my local newspaper online, I assume that metaphors and similies are included in the literal meaning. This has been the case throughout my life. However, this is changing with postmodern, reader-response impositions on texts. Literal meaning of a text has often been thrown out the window by preachers who engage in allegorical preaching – thus destroying the literal meaning of a text. Allegorical preachers are close to the postmodern preachers of today who make a text mean whatever they want it to mean – and the more spiritual sounding the better.

This thoughtful response came to the above information:

There are a variety of ways to understand what is meant by the word “literally” as you have pointed out.

Unfortunately, many people who imagine themselves to be competent to interpret scripture tend to impose what they think is a literal meaning on a passage when, in fact, they are forcing the meaning of a modern English word into the Jacobean translation of an ancient Koine Greek, Hebrew or Chaldean word. Along with their modern English word they insert the modern English context of of a western, scientific, culture. So the go to their Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary and assume it is a great source for understanding what Isiah had in mind. (sigh)

By rights they should be taken out and hung for the cold blooded murder of the English Tongue.” (Rex Harrison as Prof. Higgins in the screen version of Shaw’s “Pygmalion”, “My Fair Lady.)[9]

Tough theological nuts to crack

I’m not talking about a person’s mental state. Some folks are hard heads with their lack of responsiveness to additional information. They are tough nuts to crack with getting beyond their limited understanding of the meaning of literal understanding. Here is an unusual response from a tough nut:

Jim, i for one will tell you I take the scriptures literally, period. I can say that and be serious about it because in the Parables there are very literal lessons. Most of us here, that were here before you arrived, agree with the statement I just made. This community is built on faith and because it is we do trust God to mean what He has said and we will not quetion (sic) it,, even and especially if it sounds or seems foolish to men.[10]

So the deal is: I take the Scriptures literally, no question, full stop, period. In parables there are ‘literal lessons’. What on earth has that to do with literal interpretation of a parable? In addition, Bill and others came to the forum before Jim, so they have the high ground on biblical interpretation and we/they will agree with Bill’s analysis. This elitist view of ‘our community is built on faith, trust in God, and we know what he means literally and we will not question God’s view’ is nothing more than attempt at Christian snobbery.

Problems with elitism and biblical interpretation

That’s a red herring logical fallacy.[11] The issue of whether who was on this forum first, second or later is irrelevant to deciding on the meaning of literal interpretation.

I see that you have modified the meaning of parables to arrive at ‘very literal lessons’ from them. That does not get around the fact that the nature of parables is that they are similitudes, i.e. extended similies.
Some examples may help to understand the differences.[12]

3d-red-star-small A simile: ‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth’ (Acts 8:32 ESV, emphasis added). The eunuch is quoting from Isa 53:7 (ESV) but it is a figure of speech known as a simile.

3d-red-star-small A metaphor: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29 ESV, emphasis added).

3d-red-star-smallWe have an example of a similitude, i.e. parable, in the story of the lost sheep in Luke 15:4-7 (ESV), ‘What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?’ (Luke 15:4 ESV) In this same context of Luke 15 (ESV) Luke tells us the parable of the lost son (Luke 15:11-32 ESV).

3d-red-star-small There is an example of an allegory of the door for the sheep and the good shepherd in John 10:1-16 (ESV). ‘I am the door of the sheep…. I am the good shepherd’ (John 10:7 ESV; John 10:11 ESV).

All of these are examples of the sheep, lamb or shepherd but different figures of speech are used.

I take the Scriptures literally but this does not exempt me from understanding the use of figures of speech in that literal language – figures of speech such as simile, metaphor, similitude/parable and allegory.

This is why it is so important to explain what ‘literal interpretation’ means. From the examples I’ve given here, it does not mean an acceptance of dead letterism that does not include figures of speech. Letterism ‘is a wooden, thin interpretation that fails to go beyond the standard meanings of words and expressions … or to discern the manner in which an author attends to these meanings…. Hence literalism short-circuits the literal sense insofar as it fails to appreciate the author’s intention to give his or her utterance a certain kind of force’ (Vanhoozer 1998:311).

This is probably not what this person wanted to hear, but I’ve gained these examples directly from Scripture. Scripture supports the use of figures of speech in literal hermeneutics.

Extreme literalism and Mormonism

The Mormon view of God is that ‘we are created in His image (Genesis 1:27). He has a body that looks like ours, but God’s body is immortal, perfected, and has a glory that words can’t describe’. Matthew Lino added, ‘He has a body of flesh and bone. We were created in His image, therefore, he clearly is not simply a Spirit’ (What do Mormons believe about the nature of God? mormons.org.au).

This is a view that is contrary to the Scriptures which state, ‘God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth’ (John 4:24 ESV).

So what does Gen 1:27 mean, ‘So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them’ (ESV)? See my explanation under the heading, ‘Responding to God having a body’, in my article Does God have a physical body?

Three verses clarify this:

  •  John 1:18 (NIV) states: ‘No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known’.
  • Scripture tells us in John 4:24: ‘God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth’.
  • Jesus, after his resurrection, is recorded as saying in Luke 24:39, ‘See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have’. (ESV).

Mormons are not the only ones who believe God has a body. I struck it with a fellow in the thread, ‘God’s likeness’, on Christianity Board.[13]

Conclusion

There was confusion over literal interpretation meaning letterism among some on a Christian forum. It was shown by others that literal interpretation includes the use of figures of speech, including simile, metaphor, parable and allegory.

Examples of extreme literalism were seen among the Mormons and those who claim that God has a literal, physical body of flesh and blood.

This is a call for all Christians to be careful interprets of Scripture, taking into consideration the grammar, linguistics, context and culture.

Works consulted

BBC News 2002. Turkey’s charismatic pro-Islamic leader. World edition (online), 4 November. Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/2270642.stm (Accessed 26 November 2015).

Carol, S 2015. Understanding the Volatile and Dangerous Middle East: A Comprehensive Analysis. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse.

Mickelsen, A B 1963. Interpreting the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Vanhoozer, K J 1998. Is There a Meaning in This Text? Leicester, England: Apollos (an imprint of Inter-Varsity Press).

Yavuz, M H 2009. Secularism and Muslim Democracy in Turkey. Cambridge Middle East Studies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (introduction available online at: http://assets.cambridge.org/97805218/88783/excerpt/9780521888783_excerpt.pdf (Accessed 26 November 2015).

Notes


[1] Christian Forums.net, 2015. ‘Can you trust the Muslims?’ Gnostic#1. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/can-we-trust-the-muslims.62206/ (Accessed 6 November 2015).

[2] Ibid., Jim Parker#5.

[3] Ibid., turnorburn#6.

[4] Ibid., Jim Parker#10.

[5] Ibid., OzSpen#16. This was a piece I copied from my article, Is Islam a religion of peace at its core?

[6] Christian Forums.net, ibid., turnorburn#21.

[7] Ibid., Jim Parker#27.

[8] Ibid., OzSpen#33.

[9] Ibid., Jim Parker#35.

[10] Ibid., th1.taylor#42.

[11] This is my response at ibid., OzSpen#44.

[12] These examples are taken from Mickelsen (1963:212-213).

[13] The promoter of God’s having a body was ewq1938. I interact on this forum as OzSpen.

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 May 2016.

Unbelievers and the apostle Paul’s preaching[1]

Saturday, December 14th, 2013

People

PublicDomainPictures.net

A Calvinist on Christian Forums wrote: ‘He [Paul] didn’t preach to unbelievers. He witnessed to them. Find in Acts where he presented the gospel in the manner that you suggest’.[2]

I was asked by an Arminian, ‘Did Paul preach the gospel to unbelievers?’[3]

1.  Did Paul preach to unbelievers?

Let’s use Acts 17:16-21 as an example with Paul in Athens and provoked by its idolatry:[4]

16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the market-place every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new (ESV, emphasis added).

It’s a BIG stretch of the imagination to say that there were no unbelievers among:

clip_image002 people ‘in the market-place every day with those who happened to be there’.

clip_image002[1] ‘Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers’. Were these all Christian philosophical believers that Paul preached to in Athens?

clip_image002[2] Who would address this preacher with the question, ‘What does this babbler wish to say?‘ Are you telling me that a person who heard preaching on Jesus and the resurrection who was a believer would accuse Paul of being a ‘babbler’?

clip_image002[3] I am dumbfounded to think that a born-again, regenerated, atoned-for believer would say: ‘you bring some strange things to our ears’ with preaching on Jesus and the resurrection;

clip_image002[4]all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there’ were all believers???? That’s a stretch.

And I haven’t dealt with Paul’s audience at the Areopagus (Acts 17:22-34). Among Paul’s audience at the Areopagus were those who, ‘when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked’ (Acts 17:32). So these mockers of the resurrection of the dead were all believers, were they?

We could continue with evidence of unbelievers among the audience where Paul preached, as recorded in Acts. When Paul and Silas were in Berea, it states that ‘many of them therefore believed’ (Acts 17:12). So is it saying that believers now believed? That again is stretching my imagination beyond belief.

2.  How would a Calvinist respond?

John Calvin LogoWhen this Calvinist claimed that Paul did not preach to unbelievers and I supplied this information from Acts 17, how do you think he might respond? He didn’t deal with the content of what I wrote, but asked a further question, ‘Where does it say he preached?’[5] He also stated:

It’s been my understanding that preaching is for believers. It’s the work if the preacher/teacher. Witnessing is what you do with unbelievers.

I also understand that these terms can be a bit ambiguous. So it won’t be a hill I’m dying on.[6]

The Calvinist’s persistence and dogmatism on Paul not preaching to the unbelievers is exposed by careful exegesis of Acts 17.

3.  Paul did preach to unbelievers!

St Paul preaching in Athens

 

Therefore, I provided this exegesis:[7] He preached in Athens to unbelievers about Jesus and the resurrection, according to Acts 17:18.

In the portion I quoted from Acts 17:18, it stated: ‘ Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection‘ (ESV).

 

 

clip_image004The Greek word translated ‘preacher’ (ESV) is kataggeleus, which is a masculine noun, based on the verb, kataggellw.[8] What is the meaning of kataggellw?

According to Arndt & Gringrich’s Greek lexicon, it means ‘proclaim (solemnly) … the gospel 1 Cor 9:14’. In Acts 4:2; 13:5; 15:36 and 17:13 the meaning is ‘proclaim in the person of Jesus the resurrection from the dead’ (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:410).

It is straining at a gnat to make ‘proclaim’ not mean preaching today as with Billy Graham’s preaching/proclaiming the Gospel. It meant ‘proclaim’ in the Book of Acts, just as it does today.
clip_image004[1]‘Preaching’ (ESV) is the imperfect, middle, indicative verb of euaggelizw. What is the meaning of euaggelizw? It means ‘bring or announce good news … mostly specifically of the divine message of salvation, the Messianic proclamation, the gospel … proclaim, preach’ (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:317). According to the ‘bible’ of Greek dictionaries (lexicons), Arndt & Gingrich, when Paul was in Athens he proclaimed, preached the good news of the Gospel of salvation, according to Acts 17:18.

Therefore, it is incorrect to write that Paul did not preach to unbelievers according to the Book of Acts. The unbelievers knew he was proclaiming/preaching, and claimed he was ‘a preacher of “foreign divinities” – because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection’ (Acts 17:18). It is this Calvinist who is wrong by claiming that Paul did not preach to unbelievers in the Book of Acts. The etymology of the Greek words confounds that understanding.

Also see the article, ‘Clues for preaching to an unbelieving world’ (including clues from the Book of Acts).

Works consulted

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.[9] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Notes:


[1] This is my post as OzSpen #410, Christian Forums, General Theology, Soteriology, ‘What did Paul preach to the Corinthians?’ available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7787859-41/ (Accessed 23 November 2013).

[2] Ibid., Hammster #327, http://www.christianforums.com/t7787859-33/#post64529689.

[3] Ibid., janxharris #364, http://www.christianforums.com/t7787859-39/.

[4] Ibid., OzSpen #391, http://www.christianforums.com/t7787859-40/.

[5] Ibid., Hammster #395.

[6] Ibid., Hammster #394.

[7] Ibid., OzSpen #410, http://www.christianforums.com/t7787859-41/.

[8] I have used ‘w’ to transliterate the omega, to differentiate it from ‘o’, as a transliteration of omicron, as the regular transliteration of omega is not accepted by the html of Christian Forums website. The usual transliteration of the Greek omega is ‘?’.

[9] This is ‘a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörtbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur’ (4th rev & augmented edn 1952) (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:iii).

 

Copyright (c)  2013 Spencer D. Gear.  This document is free content.  You can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the OpenContent License (OPL) version 1.0, or (at your option) any later version.  This document last updated at Date: 13 December 2013.

What is the meaning of the literal interpretation of the Bible?

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

File:Bible.malmesbury.arp.jpg

(image courtesy Wikipedia: A Bible handwritten in Latin, on display in Malmesbury Abbey, Wiltshire, England)

By Spencer D Gear

When I affirm that I support the literal interpretation of any document, whether that is the reading  of my local newspaper, the Brisbane Times, Shakespeare’s King Henry the Fourth (which I studied in high school), or the Bible, it is not uncommon to get the following kind of reaction. It normally comes when I support a literal understanding of my reading of the Bible. Here goes with an example from an online forum where I contribute:

So you take EVERYTHING in the Bible literally? Balaam’s donkey really talked? Really? Really? REALLY??

Why Does Nearly Every Culture Have a Tradition of a Global Flood?clip_image001[1]

[2]With this kind of statement, she has told me a great deal of what she thinks ‘literal’ means but she has created a straw man fallacy in respect to my views. Her understanding is a far cry from my view.

What is a literal meaning of a text?

When I was an MA student in Ashland Theological Seminary, I used A Berkeley Mickelsen’s (1963) text in hermeneutics (biblical interpretation). Mickelsen provided this definition:

‘Literal’ … means the customarily acknowledged meaning of an expression in its particular context. For example, when Christ declared that he was the door, the metaphorical meaning of ‘door’ in that context would be obvious. Although metaphorical, this obvious meaning is included in the literal meaning (Mickelsen 1963:33).

This is the method of interpretation that I use to read her post (and all posts on that Christian forum) and the Bible.

Bernard Ramm, another promoter of orthodox, historical, cultural and literal biblical hermeneutics,  wrote:

We use the word “literal” in its dictionary sense: “. . . the natural or usual construction and implication of a writing or expression; following the ordinary and apparent sense of words; not allegorical or metaphorical” (Webster’s New International Dictionary). We also use it in its historical sense, specifically, the priority that Luther and Calvin gave to literal, grammatical, or philological exegesis of Scripture in contrast to the Four Fold Theory of the Roman Catholic scholars (historical meaning, moral meaning, allegorical meaning, eschatological meaning) developed during the Middle Ages and historically derived from Augustine’s Three Fold Theory. It was particularly the allegorical use of the Old Testament that the Reformers objected to, and the manner in which Roman Catholic dogma was re-enforced by allegorical interpretation. Hence the “literal” directly opposes the “allegorical”….

The accusation so frequent in current theological literature that Fundamentalism is a literalism is not at all what we have in mind when we use the word “literal.” The word is ambiguous. To some scholars the word “literal” means “letterism” and this is really what they mean when they say Fundamentalists are literalists. Ordinarily we think that the word “bear” means an animal in its literal sense; and that a speculator in the stock market who is called a “bear” is a bear by metaphor. But if the population uses the word “bear” three times more frequently for the stock speculator than for the animal then the literal meaning of “bear” is the stock speculator….

When we assert that the literal meaning of a word or a sentence is the basic, customary, socially designated meaning we do not underestimate the complexity of language…. The spiritual, mystical, allegorical, or metaphorical usages of language reflect layers of meaning built on top of the literal meanings of a language. To interpret Scripture literally is not to be committed to a “wooden literalism,” nor to a “letterism,” nor to a neglect of the nuances that defy any “mechanical” understanding of language. Rather, it is to commit oneself to a starting point and that starting point is to understand a document the best one can in the context of the normal, usual, customary, tradition range of designation which includes “tacit” understanding (Ramm 1970:119-121)

Bernard Ramm cited Thomas Hartwell Horne (AD 1780–1862),[3] British theologian and researcher, who wrote what Ramm described as ‘a very excellent definition of what is meant by literal in literal interpretation’ (Ramm 1970:121, emphasis in original). Horne’s words about literal interpretation were:

Although in every language, there are very many words which admit of several meanings, yet in common parlance, there is only one true sense attached to any word; which sense is indicated by the connection and series of the discourse, by its subject-matter, by the design of the speaker or writer, or by some other adjuncts, unless any ambiguity be purposely intended. That the same usage obtains in the Sacred Writings there is no doubt whatever. In fact, the perspicuity of the Scriptures requires this unity and simplicity of sense in order to render intelligible to man the design of their Great Author, which could never be comprehended if a multiplicity of senses were permitted. In all other writings, indeed, besides the Scriptures, before we sit down to study them, we expect to find one single determinate sense and meaning attached to the words; from which we may be satisfied that we have attained their true meaning, and what the authors intended to say. Further, in common life, no prudent and conscientious person, who commits his sentiments to writing or utters anything, intends that a diversity of meanings should be attached to what he writes or says; and, consequently, neither his readers, nor those who hear him, affix to it any other than the true and obvious sense. Now, if such be the practice in all fair and upright intercourse between man and man, is it for a moment to be supposed that God, who has graciously vouchsafed to employ the ministry of men in order to make known his will to mankind, should have departed from this way of simplicity and truth? Few persons, we apprehend, will be found in this enlightened age, sufficiently hardy to maintain the affirmative (Horne 1841:322; emphasis in original).

Then Horne defined the literal sense as it applied to Scripture:

The Literal Sense of any place of Scripture is that which the words signify, or require, in their natural and proper acceptation, without any trope [a figure of speech], metaphor, or figure, and abstracted from mystic meaning…. The literal sense has been called the Historical Sense, as conveying the meaning of the words and phrases used by the writer at a certain time….

Interpreters now speak of the true sense of a passage, by calling it the Grammatico-Historical Sense…. The object in using this compound name is, to show that both grammatical and historical considerations are employed in making out the sense of a word or passage (Horne 1841:323; emphasis in original).

We have similar meanings for understanding a literal meaning of Scripture from Thomas Horne in the early nineteenth century, Mickelsen in 1963, Ramm in 1970 and with a contemporary promoter of a literal interpretation of Scriptures in Mal Couch who wrote:

A normal reading of Scripture is synonymous with a consistent literal, grammatico-historical hermeneutic.  When a literal hermeneutic is applied to the interpretation of Scripture, every word written in Scripture is given the normal meaning it would have in its normal usage.  Proponents of a consistent, literal reading of Scripture prefer the phrase a normal reading of Scripture to establish the difference between literalism and letterism (Crouch 2000:33, emphasis in original). 

J I Packer related hermeneutics and theological perspective:

J. I. Packer

J I Packer (photo courtesy InterVarsity Press)

The truth is that ever since Karl Barth linked his version of Reformation teaching on biblical authority with a method of interpretation that at key points led away from Reformation beliefs, hermeneutics has been the real heart of the ongoing debate about Scripture. Barth was always clear that every theology stands or falls as a hermeneutic and every hermeneutic stands or falls as a theology (Packer 1992:325).

However, Packer does see an interaction taking place between the interpreter and the text. It is not that of postmodern deconstruction, but he acknowledged that for both evangelicals and liberals, the text and interpreter have mutual impact on each other. He wrote:

A major insight is focused by what Gadamer, following Heidegger, says of horizons[4] . The insight is that at the heart of the hermeneutical process there is between the text and the interpreter a kind of interaction in which their respective panoramic views of things, angled and limited as these are, ‘engage’ or ‘intersect’ – in other words, appear as challenging each other in some way. What this means is that as the student questions the text he becomes aware that the text is also questioning him, showing him an alternative to what he took for granted, forcing him to rethink at fundamental level and make fresh decisions as to how he will act henceforth, not that he has realized that some do, and he himself could, approach things differently. Every interpreter needs to realize that he himself stands in a given historical context and tradition, just as his text does, and that only as he becomes aware of this can he avoid reading into the text assumptions from his own background that would deafen him to what the text itself has to say to him (Packer 1992:338-339; emphasis in original).

Melissa has imposed on my understanding of a post that I made to the Forum, a wooden literalism that really is a false view of my view of hermeneutics of the Bible. Thus she has used a straw man logical fallacy in presenting a false perspective of my approach to biblical interpretation. I suggest that it would have been better to pursue my view of hermeneutics, asking questions of me regarding definition and exposition of hermeneutics, rather than imposing what she thought I meant.

J I Packer has a realistic explanation of my view inThe Interpretation of Scripture‘. The plain, normal meaning of the text, whether it be reading Shakespeare, the Brisbane Times, or the Bible is what I use and Melissa’s words want to attribute a wooden literalism to my understanding. This is a false view.

What about the talking donkey? Isn’t that an ass of an idea?

(photo courtesy Wikipedia)

What about Balaam’s donkey talking? Isn’t that a stupid, ridiculous, nincompoop idea that Christians support and promote? That’s what some have said to me and in even more blasphemous, profane, anti-God sentiments!

But doesn’t this get down to one’s view of God?

Since the Lord God who created the universe out of nothing and raised Jesus from the dead, is the God of absolute omnipotence perfectly capable of doing what he chooses to do that is consistent with his nature? Therefore, we need to seriously consider what the Scriptures state. If one has an anti-supernaturalist perspective (presupposition), there is no way that you will want to consider the speaking donkey as one of God’s supernatural miracles.

This is what the Scripture says concerning Balaam and the speaking donkey – for a detailed description of the incident with Balaam’s donkey talking, see Numbers 22:22-41 (ESV). The specifics of the speaking donkey are:

26 Then the angel of the Lord went ahead and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. 27 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she lay down under Balaam. And Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. 28 Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” 29 And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” 30 And the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” And he said, “No.”

31 Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face. 32 And the angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse[a] before me. 33 The donkey saw me and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live.” 34 Then Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood in the road against me. Now therefore, if it is evil in your sight, I will turn back.” 35 And the angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only the word that I tell you.” So Balaam went on with the princes of Balak (Numbers 22:26-35 ESV).

Ronald Allen has noted in his commentary on Numbers 22:21-28,

We see the prophet Balaam as a blind seer, seeing less than the dumb animal. In this graphic representation of Balaam pitted against the donkey, we also see a more important contrast, as Goldberg avers, the contrast of Balaam and Moses. The long shadow of Moses falls across the pages of the Balaam story even though Moses is never named once. Moses spoke face to face with God [see Numbers chapter 12]. Balaam does not even know that God is near—but his donkey does!

This section is the ultimate in polemics against paganism. It is well known that the ass has been depicted from the earliest times as a subject of stupidity and contrariness. Yet here the “stupid” ass sees the angel of the Lord and attempts to protect her rider from God’s drawn sword. Three times the hapless Balaam beat his donkey.

Then the donkey spoke (v.28). Some have imagined too much here. The donkey did not give a prophetic oracle; she merely said what a mistreated animal might say to an abusive master if given the chance. There was no preaching from the donkey! Others have stumbled at the improbability of an animal speaking, for such is the stuff of fairy tales. What keeps this story from the genre of legend or fairy tale is the clear factor that the animal did not speak of its own accord but as it was given the power to do so by the Lord. Only an exceedingly limited view of God would deny him the ability to open the mouth of a dumb animal; such an objection should lead one to a rereading of Job 40 – 41.

Noth observes that the speaking of the ass is not particularly stressed but is an integral part of the story and is attributed to a miracle on the part of the Lord, “which indicates how directly and unusually Yahweh acted in this affair of blessing or curse for Israel” (p. 179). The speaking of the donkey is affirmed by the NT (2 Peter 2:16), a genuine element in the righteous acts of the Lord. It is not that this miracle is the focus of the text; it is not. It is just an amazingly humorous way to humiliate the prophet Balaam. Before the Lord revealed himself to Balaam, he first “got his attention” in this dramatic fashion. Balaam had to learn from a donkey before he could learn from God. This is one of the most amusing stories in the Bible (Allen 1990:891-892, emphasis added).

Therefore, the answer to the doubting Melissa and all others who doubt the credibility and authenticity of God’s using a speaking donkey to get through to Balaam, is: It is your extraordinarily low view of God that causes you to deny God, the Omnipotent One’s, ability to speak through a dumb animal – and an ass at that.

I invite you to read carefully Job 40-41.

Melissa is imposing on Scripture her anaemic understanding of God who cannot perform supernatural events – including speaking through an ass!

Works consulted

Allen, R B 1990. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 2, 655-1008. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Regency Reference Library (Zondervan Publishing House).

Couch, M 2000 (gen ed). An introduction to classical evangelical hermeneutics: A guide to the history and practice of biblical interpretation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Farrar, A S & Lardner, N 2009-2010. Horne, Thomas Hartwell (online), Library of historical apologetics. Available at: http://historicalapologetics.org/horne-thomas-hartwell/ (Accessed 23 September 2013).

Horne, T H 1841.[5] An introduction to the critical study and knowledge of the Holy Scriptures (online), 8th edn, vol 1. Philadelphia: J Whetham & Son. Part of it is available as a Google Book HERE  (Accessed 23 September 2013).

Mickelsen, A B 1963. Interpreting the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Packer, J I 1992. Infallible Scripture and the role of hermeneutics, in Carson, D A & Woodbridge, J D (eds) Scripture and truth, 321-356, 412-419. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books / Carlisle, Cumbria, United Kingdom: Paternoster Press.

Ramm, B 1970. Protestant Biblical Interpretation: A Textbook of Hermeneutics, 3rd rev ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Notes:


[1] Melissa #71, Christian Fellowship Forum, The Fellowship Hall, ‘Dumb Dr. Lyn’, available at: http://community.compuserve.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?tsn=71&nav=messages&webtag=ws-fellowship&tid=122328 (Accessed 19 September 2013). I had supplied Melissa with this link to an article by creationist, John Morris, on flood stories.

[2] This is my response as ozspen #72, ibid.

[3] Thomas Horne’s lifespan dates and other biographical details are from Farrar & Lardner (2009-2010).

[4] Packer footnotes his edition of Gadamer as pp. 217ff (Packer 1992:415, n. 44). However, a discussion of Gadamer’s understanding of the concept of ‘horizon’ is in my edition of Gadamer (2004:301-305).

[5] Volume 1 of this writing was first published in 1818 and the last and eighth edition was published in 1840-1841 (Farrar & Lardner 2009-2010).

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 May 2016.

Did Moses write the Pentateuch?

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

By Spencer D Gear

The Pentateuch consists of the first five books of the Bible – Genesis to Deuteronomy. Here is an overview of the JEDP theory:[1]

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(courtesy www.cs.umd.edu)

The JEDP theory (sometimes called the Graf-Wellhausen or Documentary Hypothesis) was developed in the 18th and 19th century by critical scholars of the Bible. Under this view, the Pentateuch was not written by Moses. Instead, it was the result of a later author/editor, who pieced multiple sources together. Among these sources were:

J: From the German “Jahweh” or Yahwist source (dated ~950-850 BC).

E: From the Elohist source. Northern kingdom (~750 BC).

D: From the Deuteronomistic source. Southern kingdom (~650 BC).

P: From the Priestly source. Post-exilic (~587 BC).

An online discussion re JEDP

I engaged in discussion online with Jim, a promoter of the JEDP theory. Here is a copy of the discussion:[2]

OZ: The biblical evidence is right before us of Mosaic authorship.

JP: Does that evidence include Moses referring to himself in the third person and writing about his death, burial and 30 days of mourning AFTER he died?  believe it is from Moses’ time but not necessarily from his hand. (He was rather busy, you know.)

OZ: The Pentateuch claims in many places that Moses was the writer, e.g. Exodus 17:14; 24:4–7; 34:27; Numbers 33:2; Deuteronomy 31:9, 22, 24.

JP: It also has many places where Moses is referred to in the third person. So what? That means that Moses is reported to have written portions of “the Book of Moses.” It does not require that he wrote the whole thing. (Unless you are willing to hold to his continued, post-mortem, writing.)

OZ: Many times in the rest of the Old Testament, Moses is said to have been the writer, e.g. Joshua 1:7–8

JP: “Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you”.That does not say Moses wrote the entire Pentateuch. It says he commanded Israel to keep the Law.
Joshua 8:32–34 Ditto.  Judges 3:4 Ditto.

Here’s what the Bible DOES say Moses wrote:

Exodus 24:4, And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD. (The Laws)  And he rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars according to the twelve tribes of Israel (NKJV).

Numbers 33:2, Now Moses wrote down the starting points of their journeys at the command of the LORD. And these [are] their journeys according to their starting points:

Deuteronomy 31:9, So Moses wrote this law and delivered it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel.

Deuteronomy 31:22, Therefore Moses wrote this song the same day, and taught it to the children of Israel.

OZ: In the New Testament, Jesus frequently spoke of Moses’ writings or the Law of Moses,

JP: This is a very common and simplistic “proof.” The Torah was referred to as “The Book of Moses.” That name does not carry with it a statement of authorship. I have a “Webster’s Dictionary.” I have no misconception that it is a copy of what Noah Webster personally wrote.

OZ:   it seems likely that a sole author was responsible. Their exhaustive computer analysis conducted in Israel suggested an 82 percent probability that the book has just one author.

JP: I think Genesis is the work of a sole author. And a sole author can include more than one tradition and relating of the same story. It takes a great deal of skill and sophistication to do it well. I believe it was written by a sole author, most probably a contemporary of Moses and probably at the direction of Moses.

You seem to be rejecting out of hand, without consideration, the possibility that there could be more than one version of the creation and flood stories among these ancient people. That flies in the face of the existence of a variety of creation and flood stories among the ancient Mesopotamian people.

You also seem to be hung up on the idea that one author would, of necessity, have only one view to relate. That is not only unnecessary but, considering the text, it is unreasonable.

Further, you seem to assume that if I can see more than one tradition reflected in the text that I must agree with the whole of the documentary hypothesis, lock, stock and barrel. I do not. I think it is the result of over-analyzation combined with fertile imaginations and the need to publish.

I do see the two traditions, both representing valid recitals of the story of beginning from God’s creation of the heavens and earth through the dispersion. (Gen 1:1 – 11:9).

The dispersion is followed by a genealogy which connects the creation story to the story of the Hebrews who are the sons of Abraham, the descendant of Shem (SHem means “Name” and apparently refers to those who called upon Ha-Shem) the descendant of seth the son of Adam.

There is a felt need among many people that only Moses be allowed to be the author of the Pentateuch. It is an irrational need that flies in the face of the words of which Moses is demanded to be sole author. It is an imposition of man’s desire upon the word of God which detracts from it by restricting our understanding of His message to the views of one sect among God’s people.

Let my people go.

The Pentateuch and the JEDP theory

See my brief article, ‘JEDP Documentary Hypothesis refuted’.

This is not the place for a detailed critique of JEDP, but a few criticisms given by R. N. Whybray, who is certainly not a conservative, are in order:

1. While those espousing the documentary hypothesis assume that the biblical writers avoided repetitions, ancient literature from the same period reveled in repetitions and doublets as a mark of literary artistry.

2. The documentary hypothesis breaks up narratives into different sources thereby destroying their inherent literary and artistic qualities.

3. The source critics assume that variety in language and style is a sign of different sources, but it could just as well be a sign of differences in subject matter that carry with them their own distinctive vocabulary and style.

4. Inadequate evidence exists to argue for a sustained unique style, narrative story line, purpose and theological point of view in each of the four main documents that are thought to be the sources for the contents and message of the Pentateuch (cited in Kaiser 2001:137).

This we know from Scripture

The Pentateuch often refers to Moses as the author (eg Ex. 17:14; 24:4; 34:27; Num. 33:1-2; Deut. 31:9). Christ and the apostles gave unequivocal support for Moses as the author of the Torah (Law), eg John 5:46-57; 7:19; Acts 3:22 [cf. Deut. 18:15]; Rom. 10:5.

Works consulted

Kaiser Jr., W C 2001, The Old Testament Documents: Are They Reliable & Relevant? Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

Notes:


[1] This summary of JEDP is provided by James Rochford of Xenos Christian Fellowship, ‘Authorship of the Pentateuch’, Evidence Unseen, available at: http://www.evidenceunseen.com/authorship-of-exodus/ (Accessed 31 July 2013).

[2] This is based on an interaction I (ozspen) had with Jim Parker on Christian Fellowship Forum, Contentious Brethren, ‘Dawkins won’t debate creationists’, FatherJimParker #41, 5 June 2012, available at: http://community.compuserve.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?msg=121081.41&nav=messages&webtag=ws-fellowship (Accessed 6 June 2012).

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 3 November 2015.

Corn or grain? KJV or NIV in Matthew 12:1

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

                                         

       Corn or maize (Wikipedia)       Oats, barley & food products from cereal grains (Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

In Matthew 12:1, the KJV states that Jesus and his disciples went “through the corn”. The NRSV and NJB use “cornfields”. The NIV translates as, “through the grainfields” on the Sabbath. The ESV, NET, NLT, and NASB agree with the NIV’s “grainfields”. Which is it? Corn or grain?

There was a discussion of this on Christian Forums. One poster came across this difference in translation between KJV and NIV:

I don’t think that the KJV is the best translation. I just came across this verse today.

At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred (sic), and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat. (Matthew 12:1 King James Bible, Cambridge Edition)

Corn was discovered in the western hemisphere and brought back to the eastern hemisphere. Corn was not grown in Israel. Other translations say “grain” which is more accurate. The greek word is stachuas[1] and means “the heads of grain”.[2]

A KJV-only supporter responded,

Nope. Corn and grain are the same thing. Always have been just like wheat, barley, and oats are also grain.
Def; grain – A small, dry, one-seeded fruit of a cereal grass, having the fruit and the seed walls united: ( it even includes sugar according to the Free Dictionary definition). [3]

[4]When we seek a definition of a NT word, we do not go to dictionary.com for an English definition. We go to the Greek language. The word used for “the corn” (KJV) and “the grainfields” (NIV) is stopimos in the plural. Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek Lexicon tells us that:

  • The etymology of the word is “sown”, i.e. that which is sown;
  • The meaning is “standing grain, grain fields”.[5]

So the meaning is NOT corn, but the generic grain fields. Therefore, the NIV is the more correct translation. The word is also used in Mark 2:23.
In Mt. 12:1ff, the context tells us that when the journey by the disciples through the grain fiends was made, it happened during or shortly before harvest time as they “began to pick some ears of grain” (NIV). It is literally, “began to pick ears [of grain]”.

Notes:


[1] This is the word for “head” and not “grain”.

[2] Christian Forums, Christian Scriptures, ‘King James Version why the best?’, Timothew #72, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7656653-8/ (Accessed 11 July 2012).

[3] Martyrs44 #73, ibid.

[4] The following information is my response as OzSpen #78, ibid.

[5] Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.[5] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House), p. 770.

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 October 2015.

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Incorrect translation of New International Version 2011 for John 11:25

Monday, September 12th, 2011


(Courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

In the church I attended on Sunday, 11 September 2011 (North Pine Presbyterian, Petrie, Brisbane, Qld.), John 11:25 was read publicly from the NIV 2011. This verse in the NIV 2011 edition has incorrect grammar when compared with the Greek (I read and have taught NT Greek) and in English. This is how the two versions of the NIV for this verse read.

John 11:25, NIV 2011: ‘Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die”‘;

John 11:25, NIV 1974, 1984: ‘Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies”‘;

John 11:25 in the English Standard Version reads: ‘Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live”‘.

The NIV 2011 rendering is incorrect grammar while the 1974 version is correct grammar. What is wrong with the grammar of “the one who believes in me will live even though they die” in NIV 2011?

(1) In English the antecedent to which the plural “they” refers is the singular, “the one”. Therefore, since “the one” is singular, “they” must be replaced with the singular. In English, these dynamic equivalent translations are possible: (a) “the one who believes in me will live even though he/she should die”, or (b) “the one who believes in me will live even though that one/person should die”.

(2) In Greek, the verb which is translated in NIV 2011 as “they die”, is an incorrect translation as the verb is apothanw, which is 3rd person singular, aorist 2, active, subjunctive of apothaneskw. Therefore, the verb needs to be translated with the singular, “that one should die”. If you want to translate with dynamic equivalence, the meaning could be, “those who believe in me will live even though they die”.

However, as it stands, the grammar in both Greek and English of the second half of John 11:25, NIV 2011, is incorrect with the words, “the one who believes in me will live, even though they die”. I urged the International Bible Society[1] (publishers of the NIV 2011) to change this for the sake of English speakers and to be consistent with the Greek language.

At the street level when I was living in theUSA, Canada and here in my home country of Australia, many people confuse the singular antecedent with a plural pronoun which follows. However it did surprise me that the NIV 2011 inserted this grammatical error. I wonder how many other times this happens in this new revision.

I consider the NIV to be an excellent translation, as long as we understand that it is a meaning-for-meaning translation (i.e. dynamic equivalence).

This is what is stated about the NIV translators on BibleGateway, “The New International Version (NIV) is a completely original translation of the Bible developed by more than one hundred scholars working from the best available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts”.

I look forward to hearing from the International Bible Society that this grammatical error is corrected in future printings of the NIV.

Here’s a list of the NIV translators. I know of many of these and they are fine Bible scholars in the evangelical Protestant tradition.

This Biblica (home of the NIV) article contains a section on “What Was Decided About Inclusive Language” for NIV 2011. In short, it means that inclusive language was used for “mankind” but definitely not for God.

Appendix A

This is the email response I received in Australia (received 13 September 2011) from the International Bible Society (Biblica) in response to my inquiry about the above information about John 11:25:

Thank you for your feedback regarding the NIV translation. We appreciate your opinion and welcome your prayers for us and the Committee on Bible Translation. We always seek to faithfully translate the meaning of the original biblical texts.

Though your grammatical explanation is correct as far as it goes, languages are inconsistent. As you know, the Greek word teknon (often “child”) is neuter, even though people of all ages have gender. What’s more, Mathew 9:2 Jesus uses it to address a seemingly a grown man. Furthermore, an inanimate plural subject in Greek often takes a singular verb (e.g., Mt. 10:2, which reads literally “the names is [sic] these”). The CBT’s response to the use of “they” as a singular referent in English is explained, along with other matters, on the following web page: http://www.niv-cbt.org/niv-2011-overview/ An excerpt is here added for easy reference:

The gender-neutral pronoun ?they” (?them” / ?their”) is by far the most common way that English-language speakers and writers today refer back to singular antecedents such as ?whoever,” ?anyone,” ?somebody,” ?a person,” ?no one,” and the like. Even in Evangelical sermons and books, where the generic ?he,” ?him” and ?his” are preserved more frequently than in other forms of communication, instances of what grammarians are increasingly calling the ?singular they” (?them” or ?their”) appear three times more frequently than generic masculine forms. In other words, most English speakers today express themselves in sentences like these: ?No one who rooted for the Chicago Cubs to be in a World Series in the last sixty years got their wish. They were disappointed time and time again,” or ?The person who eats too many hot dogs in too short a period of time is likely to become sick to their stomach.” It is interesting to observe that this development is a throwback to a usage of English that existed prior to the solidification of the generic ?he” as the only ?proper” usage during the nineteenth century in Victorian England. Even the KJV occasionally used expressions like ? . . . let each esteem other better than themselves” (Philippians 2:3). For that matter, so did the Greek New Testament! In James 2:15-16, the Greek for ?a brother or sister” (adelphos ? adelph?) is followed by plural verbs and predicate adjectives and referred back to with autois (?them”).

May the Lord bless you as you follow his Word.

Biblica, 1820 Jet Stream Dr., Colorado Springs, CO 80921, www.biblica.com

I do not find this a satisfactory explanation as it violates a fundamental of English grammar. Because other translations such as the KJV in Phil. 2:3 use this incorrect English grammar, does not justify the NIV 2011 translation of John 11:25. Because the use of they/their ‘is by far the most common way that English-language speakers and writers today refer back to singular antecedents’ is not an adequate explanation for violation of English grammar rules.

I’m not the only one with discomfort over an NIV 2011 translation. The Southern Baptist Convention in the USA resolved on June 14-15, 2011, as reported by Baptist Press:

The resolution states:

WHEREAS, Many Southern Baptist pastors and laypeople have trusted and used the 1984 New International Version (NIV) translation to the great benefit of the Kingdom; and

WHEREAS, Biblica and Zondervan Publishing House are publishing an updated version of the New International Version (NIV) which incorporates gender neutral methods of translation; and

WHEREAS, Southern Baptists repeatedly have affirmed our commitment to the full inspiration and authority of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:15-16) and, in 1997, urged every Bible publisher and translation group to resist “gender-neutral” translation of Scripture; and

WHEREAS, This translation alters the meaning of hundreds of verses, most significantly by erasing gender-specific details which appear in the original language; and

WHEREAS, Although it is possible for Bible scholars to disagree about translation methods or which English words best translate the original languages, the 2011 NIV has gone beyond acceptable translation standards; and

WHEREAS, Seventy-five percent of the inaccurate gender language found in the TNIV is retained in the 2011 NIV; and

WHEREAS, The Southern Baptist Convention has passed a similar resolution concerning the TNIV in 2002; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 14-15, 2011 express profound disappointment with Biblica and Zondervan Publishing House for this inaccurate translation of God’s inspired Scripture; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we encourage pastors to make their congregations aware of the translation errors found in the 2011 NIV; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we respectfully request that LifeWay not make this inaccurate translation available for sale in their bookstores; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we cannot commend the 2011 NIV to Southern Baptists or the larger Christian community.

References:

[1] I sent this information to the International Bible Society, which translated the NIV, on Monday, 12 September 2011, at: http://www.biblica.com/contact-us/.

 

Copyright (c) 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 9 October 2015.

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Isn’t it obvious what a literal interpretation of Scripture means?

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

By Spencer D Gear

File:Gutenberg Bible, New York Public Library, USA. Pic 01.jpg

Gutenberg Bible (image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

It is not uncommon to be in discussion with evangelical Christians who state that the Bible should not be read literally and that it should be read allegorically or figuratively. Some have even interacted with me and said that when we consider the customs of the first century, we know that these shouldn’t be applied to the 21st century. How should we respond?

We need to investigate the meaning of “literal” interpretation. Does a literal understanding include the use of figures of speech or should we adopt another view of hermeneutics?

I have been an evangelical for about 50 years and I have never belonged to an evangelical church in Australia, Canada and the USA[1] that had/has this view of what “literal” means for evangelical.

I’m a graduate of an evangelical theological college and seminary in the 1970s and 1980s. My courses in hermeneutics (biblical interpretation) made it very clear what “literal interpretation” meant and it is not what Max was accusing evangelicals of believing.

We need to understand that there was a differentiation of meaning in the early church between the School of Alexandria and the School of Antioch. The Alexandrian School did not include metaphorical meaning while the School of Antioch insisted that the literal meaning cannot exclude metaphor. This difference was there in the early days of the church. There’s no need to blame it on the evangelicals. In fact I’ve been to quite a few liberal churches where allegorical interpretation was alive and well.

However, the Antiochian School, which was the one followed in the seminary I attended, used A. Berkeley Mickelsen’s text Interpreting the Bible (1963. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company). Here the definition of Antiochian literal interpretation is that it

means the customarily acknowledged meaning of an expression in its particular context. For example, when Christ declared that he was the door, the metaphorical meaning of “door” in that context would be obvious. Although metaphorical, this obvious meaning is included in the literal meaning (p. 33).

Therefore, Mickelsen rightly states that literal interpretation means that “the writer refers to the usual or customary sense conveyed by words or expressions (p. 179).

Therefore, the true meaning of literal interpretation is that it incorporates metaphor, simile, hyperbole, any figure of speech. That’s what I mean by literal interpretation and I’m an evangelical. But don’t blame it on the evangelicals. The distinction was alive and well in the early church. Too often the concept of “letterism” is used as a synonym for literal interpretation. Letterism means.

What does letterism mean? Don Closson provides this definition:

“While often ignoring context, historical and cultural setting, and even grammatical structure, letterism takes each word as an isolated truth. A problem with this method is that it fails to take into account the different literary genre, or types, in the Bible. The Hebrew poetry of the Psalms is not to be interpreted in the same way as is the logical discourse of Romans. Letterism tends to lead to legalism because of its inability to distinguish between literary types. All passages tend to become equally binding on current believers”.[2]

My college text in hermeneutics was Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation.[3] Ramm rightly states that “literal” interpretation uses literal in its dictionary sense,

The natural or usual construction and implication of a writing or expression; following the ordinary apparent sense of words; not allegorical or metaphorical (Webster’s New International Dictionary).[4]

By contrast, “letterism … fails to recognize nuances, plays on words, hidden metaphors, figures of speech, lamination of meanings in a word”.[5][6]

It seems to me that there is some confusion about an evangelical literal interpretation of Scripture versus a wooden letterism which some evangelicals could use. It is not unusual for this to happen by those from the liberal stream of theology, but it is a false characterisation as I’ve explained above.

The literal method of interpretation is what I use when I read my local newspaper, when I used to read Shakespeare when in high school, and when I read the Bible. You may have met some evangelicals who do not follow what I’ve outlined above, but it certainly is not what was taught in the evangelical institutions I attended.

Don Closson’s conclusion is pointed:

[Martin] Luther argued that a proper understanding of what a passage teaches comes from a literal interpretation. This means that the reader must consider the historical context and the grammatical structure of each passage, and strive to maintain contextual consistency. This method was a result of Luther’s belief that the Scriptures are clear, in opposition to the medieval church’s position that they are so obscure that only the church can uncover their true meaning.[6]


Notes:


[1] My family and I have lived in all three countries, but I’m a citizen of Australia.

[2] Don Closson, Hermeneutics, Probe Ministries, available at: http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/hermen.html (Accessed 18 August 2011).

[3] 1970. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

[4] Ibid., p. 119.

[5] Ibid., p. 122.

[6] See bibliographic details in footnote 2.

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 May 2016.

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