A Word to the Reader
With my new book "Twelve What Abouts - Answering Common Objections Concerning God's Sovereignty in Election" due to be published in early January, 2012, I thought it would be helpful to provide something of a window as to my purpose in writing it. Here's an introductory chapter entitled "A Word to the Reader" - JS:
Question: WHY THIS BOOK?
Answer: For the glory of God
Question: WHO IS THIS BOOK WRITTEN FOR?
Answer: Christians who believe the Bible is the word of God and who wish to gain a biblical understanding of Godâ€™s electing grace in Christ.
Question: WHO WILL GAIN MOST FROM THE BOOK?
Answer: Those who are willing to test and examine their traditions and hold them up to the light of Scripture, the sole infallible rule of faith for the people of God.
This is not an easy process at times, more for emotional rather than intellectual reasons. Many of us have been told things by highly respected people in our lives (such as the person who led us to Christ, or a revered pastor or Bible teacher, or a father or mother in the faith) which, upon analysis, may not in fact be true. Sometimes, to actually test such statements can feel like an act of betrayal on our part. Yet, it is vital for all who desire to be led by the Spirit of truth to yield to His leading rather than maintain an emotional allegiance to what many call â€œtheological love lines.â€
A WORD ABOUT BIBLE INTERPRETATION
Hermeneutics is the science of biblical interpretation. One amongst many sound principles of interpretation is that we should build all doctrine on necessary rather than possible inferences.
A necessary inference is something that is definitely taught by the text. The conclusion is unavoidable. It is necessary.
A possible inference is something that could or might be true, but not something actually stated by the text. Some refer to this as the distinction between the implicit and the explicit.
An implication may be drawn from the text of scripture, but we then have to ask if the implicit interpretation is a NECESSARY ONE rather than a POSSIBLE one. We all have our theories, but a sound principle we should employ is to not believe or teach as doctrine something that is only a possible interpretation. We should build doctrine ONLY on necessary interpretation.
In practical terms, making these distinctions can sometimes be a difficult process because it means we have to take a step back and thoroughly analyze exactly why we think a verse teaches something. In other words, it means testing our traditions and doing a lot of thinking. Yet this is something we should do constantly.
THINK OVER WHAT I SAY
Paul exhorted Timothy to â€œThink over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.â€ (2 Tim. 2:7)
All of us should be prepared to hold up our preconceived notions to the light of Scripture to see if these assumptions are valid or not. The result of this process often involves the killing of some sacred cows, but thatâ€™s a good thing, if what we have held to be true cannot actually be supported by the biblical text. We all have our blind spots and traditions but we are not always aware of them. Therefore, the serious Bible student asks questions of himself and of the text constantly in order to determine what the sacred text actually says and then he builds his thinking on that.
Hereâ€™s one text as an example: John 20:19 says, â€œOn the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, â€œPeace be with you.â€
Many people read this passage and conclude that Jesus walked through the locked door in order to present Himself to His disciples.
But does the text actually say that? No, it does not. The text MIGHT be teaching that. It is certainly a possible inference drawn from the text, but by no means a necessary one. There are other possible explanations.
Concerning this verse the ESV Study Bible says (correctly in my opinion), â€œSome interpreters understand the doors being locked to imply that Jesus miraculously passed through the door or the walls of the room, though the text does not explicitly say this. Since Jesus clearly had a real physical body with flesh and bones after he rose from the deadâ€¦ one possibility is that the door was miraculously opened so that the physical body of Jesus could enter, which is consistent with the passage about Peter going through a locked door some time later (see Acts 12:10).â€
To state the principle again: we should build all doctrine on necessary rather than possible inferences, on the explicit and not the implicit. All else is speculation.
Another sound rule of Bible interpretation is that we should interpret the unclear passages in Scripture in light of the clear. Though all Scripture is God breathed, every passage is not equally clear (easy to understand). Even the Apostle Peter struggled with Paulâ€™s writings at times, as he found some of it â€œhard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.â€ (2 Peter 3:16)
When determining what the Bible teaches on a particular topic, we should find the passages which CLEARLY address the issue at hand and make this the starting point of our doctrine, rather than an obscure (or less than clear) passage. Once that which is clear is firmly grasped and understood, then we should proceed to study the passages which at first seem to be unclear, using the other interpretive rules.
These distinctions I make are not mine in terms of origin. They are carefully thought out methods or rules of interpretation employed by all sound teachers of the Bible. Of course, none of us follow our own interpretive rules consistently, which is why Christians and even scholars make mistakes, and why, even with the exact same Bible in front of us, we do not all see things the same way. We ALL have our blind spots and traditions.
One more thing: If there is a contradiction between two views, at least one of them is wrong. God is not confused even if we are. He is not the author of confusion. Our task as students of the Bible and disciples of Christ is to search out the Scriptures to find out what they actually teach.
HOW MUCH DO YOU WANT IT?
The opening verses of Proverbs 2 say:
1 My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you,
2 making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding;
3 yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding,
4 if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures,
5 then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.
6 For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understandingâ€¦
The promises of verses 5 and 6 are conditional upon heeding the requirements set forth in verses 1 through 4.
When God opens the eyes to see the beauty of Christ and His gospel, it is entirely His work. He opens our blind eyes to give us the miracle of spiritual sight. Yet once we are disciples of Christ, spiritual growth is not automatic. For this to happen, we have to pursue God, asking Him to open up our understanding, while searching out the Scriptures. This is not to be some half hearted attempt at spiritual progress. Indeed, this is no trivial pursuit. God rewards those who diligently seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6)
Note the requirements listed here in these verses: we are told to receive and treasure Godâ€™s word, make the ear attentive, incline the heart, call out for insight, raise the voice for understanding, seek it like silver, search for it as for hidden treasuresâ€¦ THEN (for those who fulfill these conditions) the promise is made that God will bring understanding of the fear and knowledge of Himself. He will give us His wisdom, knowledge and understanding. I trust that this is your strong desire.
The words of these verses have been used as a prayer of mine over a number of decades now, and I hope you the reader will make it your prayer too as we take this journey into the Scriptures. The phrase â€œmouth of Godâ€ in verse 6, is a clear reference to the Scriptures. This is how we are called to live, not by bread alone, but â€œby every word that comes from the mouth of God.â€ (Matthew 4:4)
May each of us be led by the Holy Spirit, knowing that as we continue in His word, we shall be seen to be His true disciples, experiencing the reality of Jesusâ€™ promise that â€œyou will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31, 32)
Question: WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THE BOOK?
Answer: That each Christian who reads it will enjoy more of their blessed inheritance in Christ, knowing the Fatherâ€™s love, grace and mercy in ways they might never have known before.
If so, then please read onâ€¦