Author: Paul A. Bartz
How do we determine what to believe about what Scripture is saying? There are really three methods open to us to establish what Scripture is telling us. One method is to establish a group of church authorities who determine “official policy” on what Scripture is saying and therefore what we are to believe. Historically this has been tried and found wanting. When the Messiah came to the Jews, He was officially found lacking as the promised Savior. It was those who ignored the official interpretation who came to faith. The “official interpretations” of the medieval church were often contradictory, and many of them were rejected by the Reformation.
In reaction to this approach to determine what Scripture is telling us, another method for establishing the teaching of Scripture was tried by some. This second method could be called the individualistic method. The theory behind this method was that each Christian was free to make his or her own interpretation of Scripture. Ideally, and as often practiced today, this particular method leads to error more than it leads to a realization of the Truth because of the wide range of choices involved in the method, all but one of which is wrong in each case. The fact that we humans are imperfect, especially in spiritual matters, and the fact that the Truth of a Scriptural text cannot be a number of contradictory propositions, makes this particular method unusable.
These approaches to the interpretation of Scripture are doomed to fail from the beginning because we do not interpret Scripture in the first place. The Bible Itself indicates that it is Scripture that interprets Scripture. 2 Peter 1:21-22 specifically and clearly says that Scripture is not a matter of human interpretation since Its Source is not human – the Holy Spirit gave the Words, spoken by God to men to write down. This basic approach to Scripture rests on the supernatural rather than the naturalistic. Is it any wonder then that those who reject the supernatural origin of Scripture also reject Scripture’s own statement of Its means of authorship? The supernatural in Scripture, beginning with the creation, was already rejected when such people decided to reject the supernatural origin of Scripture in the first place!
The principle that Scripture, not man, interprets Scripture is not simply an inference drawn from Scripture. Besides the clear statement of 2 Peter 1:21-22, we find that Jesus Himself used the principle, providing a Divine example for us to follow. In Matthew 15:3-9 the Pharisees confront Jesus about the fact that the disciples were not following some of their religious traditions. Jesus points out to them in no uncertain terms that their traditions, based as they are on human approaches to Scripture, actually undermine the given Word of God. In verses 8 and 9 Jesus shows how their human interpretations actually lead to an honoring of God in word only, but in fact their hearts are far from God. And this is why Scripture must interpret Scripture; human interpretation always leads away from Him. Matthew 23 further deals with this matter of hypocrisy.
In Matthew 22:23-33 Sadducees confront Jesus with a problem concerning the resurrection, in which they did not believe, although it is clearly taught in the Old Testament. They did not accept the resurrection because they were not letting Scripture interpret Scripture – and perhaps they had some sort of naturalistic bias. Jesus confronts them very clearly by asking them whether they have read the Scriptures and stating that they do not realize God’s power. Their problem, too, was human interpretation of Scripture rather than Scripture interpreting Scripture; of which, in both these cases, Jesus provides the best example.
Placed into practical terms this principle means that Scripture indicates to us just how to understand: what it is saying. A parable is called parable and is meant to be understood as we normally understand parables (see texts such as Psalm 78:2, Matthew 13:18, Luke 5:36, and Luke 21:29). Likewise, picture language such as we find in Psalm 23 is indicated very clearly, not by the form of verse, but by the content of the imagery (i.e. Psalm 23 does not teach that we are literal sheep, but uses the description as a point of comparison with commonly-known things). Prophecy, which in the broad Scriptural meaning refers to the preaching of law and Gospel with or without foretelling some future event, is likewise identified by both content and label (Daniel 9:24 and Matthew 13:14). Each form of expression is identified in enough places in Scripture so that, by comparison, we can easily identify the same form when it is not clearly identified in Scripture.
Establishing this principle that Scripture interprets Scripture we can now address the problem of whether the Genesis creation account is allegorical or factual, real world, narrative.
An examination of Genesis 1 reveals no statement that the language is a parable or allegory (for example Galatians 4:24), or any other unusual form. The construction of the language itself suggests that we have a straightforward narrative of events. But this is exactly the point which theistic evolutionists debate, so let’s compare the form of expression in Genesis 1 with other examples of the same form of expression in Scripture and see what this suggests. 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 offers an almost identical parallel in language. Here St. Paul is relating the order of events that document the physical resurrection of Christ. Of course, if this form of language is allegory then this, the strongest statement in Scripture on Christ’s physical resurrection is allegory, too. Other narratives of the same form in Scripture include the announcement to Mary of the virgin Birth of Christ (Luke 1:26-38), the Transfiguration of Christ (Matthew 17:1-8), and Christ’s Ascension (Acts 1:6-11), to name a few: It should not be surprising to learn, then, that many theistic evolutionists have also questioned the factuality of each of these events which are recorded in the same form of expression as the creation account, which they reject as literal history.
If we let Scripture interpret Itself for us, we will find that there is no question about the fact that Scripture intends the account of creation to be understood as a historical record of the events that actually took place at the beginning of time. If we abandon this objective approach (in that it does not depend on man) to understanding Scripture, it really doesn’t matter which other approach we use because wrong conclusions are guaranteed. Theistic evolution is a conclusion based on an alternate approach to Scripture that is ultimately, and if consistently applied, dangerous to the spirituality of the theistic evolutionist.
1984 Bible Science Newsletter.
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