Pr. Eric Swensson

2 May 2012


photo of Pr. EricThe following is some thoughts I wrote down a few years ago while putting together a Bible Study on how to best interpret Scripture. I am a Lutheran but it can be used by anyone, and indeed, the principles are tools to fight the silliness which plagues all our denominations. Back then the battle was over the gay agenda, but it will happen again and again whenever people do not grasp what is at stake and learn to defend sound interpretation.

Interpreting Scripture

Some background: The present generation has no new authority or special revelation to authorize new or additional meanings that contradict or undermine the plain sense reading of the Bible. Responsible scholarship deepens the church's understanding of the Word of God. One of the distinctive marks of such scholarship is a concern for continuity with those who came before us and builds upon what was given us. Any revision of the church's interpretation and application of the written Word can only be legitimately undertaken on the basis of the Scripture itself. Those who advocate for changes in interpretation and application are called to demonstrate how such changes are congruent with the comprehensive witness of the Scriptures and the confessions of the Church.

Some claim that both the traditional and the new contextual approaches reflect a legitimate diversity in Biblical interpretation. Not only are revisionist claims that both “are valid and irreconcilable” absurd, they are disingenuous. The contextual approach is subjective and relativistic and therefore cannot lead to anything but an ever-changing interpretation. Contextuality ignores the Lutheran teaching that “Holy Scripture remains the only judge, rule, and norm according to which all doctrines should and must be understood and judged” (Formula of Concord, Epitome I, 3). Revisionist teaching can only have a mystical understanding of passages such as “…so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11) and “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” Matthew 24:35

Introduction to the Bible Study itself:

It is perhaps best to open with a prayer such as this:

“Lord, keep us steadfast in your Word, curb those who by deceit attempt to wrest the Kingdom from your Son, and bring to naught all He has done." Illuminate us with your Spirit so we might interpret your Word to us today. Amen

You may open with this statement:

You have heard some people say that “God is doing a new thing” [The Episcopal Church] or "God is still talking" [United Church of Christ] but when that supposed new thing is something contrary to Scripture we must ask what it is that is actually going on. Scripture says, "Behold, I make all things new” (Isaiah 53) but that refers to the Day of the Lord. Is it actually possible for Scripture to become invalid? Can a present day revelation supersede something in the Bible? God is not doing a new thing so much as proclaiming the old, old story in fresh ways.

A suggested opening thought question (rather general and anticipatory, you create others of your own): What do the words of Jesus mean in John 10:35 “scripture cannot be broken”?

Talk about "Challenges to the Church" (why this is important now).

Ask, "What do you believe about Scripture?"

Further Bible reading passages:

Acts 24:14: "I worship the God of my fathers. I believe all that is written in the Law and the Prophets."

Prov. 30:5, 6:"All the words of God are purified; He is a shield to those who trust in Him. Add nothing to His words, lest He rebuke you and you be found a liar."

Ps. 12:6: "The Scriptures are pure, like silver refined in an earthen furnace, refined seven times."

Rom. 15:4: "Whatever was written before, was written to us for teaching."

2 Pet. 1:20, literally: "Every prophecy arose not by someone’s own explanation." "Every prophecy" means the entire content of Scripture, the whole of this revelation of the will of God.

Luther: "The Spirit speaks as if He did not know that there are any other books, although the whole world is full of them." (Walch, first edition, Vol. IX, p. 1364).

Other statements which may be used during the discussion include:

It is a fairly simple thing to discern if some teaching is biblically based or whether it rests on human understanding. Introducing doubt into the argument by stating that Scripture was written by humans so it is also fallible is not new. Luther wrote innumerable times that there were scholars and philosophers of his time who, in order to get Scripture to say what they wanted, said what it didn't say.

Our understanding of the Authority of Scripture and the importance of our presuppositions, that is, how we approach Scripture, is critical to what we think the Bible has a right to say to us (so to speak). We have to get honest here. Unless someone can admit that they have felt like saying, "How dare the Bible tell me what to do," they have not been addressed by the Law. Our problem, since at least the time of the Rationalists, is that we will easily dismiss the hard demands by saying, "Oh, that's not God, that's the fellow that wrote it,” and there we are, we have the contextual approach to Scripture.

According to the opening lecture on inspiration by C.F.W. Walther, we need an awareness of the importance that the Bible is THE book from God, and its status of being inspired necessitates its on-going study. We should be able to say with him "for with the doctrine of inspiration the certainty, truth, and divinity of Holy Scripture stands and falls, and with it the whole Christian religion and church. It is not only one doctrine among others, but it is rather the basis of all other doctrines, on which they are raised up."

If the Bible was produced by humans and not inspired by the Holy Spirit, then anyone, be they people who are calling for change within the church, doubters in general, or people of other faiths may say to us that since Scripture is of human origin everything is nonessential and secondary material. For example, we hear that same-sex blessings are "not pertaining to core doctrine."

When human error is mixed with God's word, the whole of Scripture is set before the reader to judge. However, the Evangelical Lutheran Church has always held that Holy Scripture to be the pure source, the norm, and judge of all doctrines and arbiter in any religious controversies.

Beware those who would warn us that we cannot understand the plain sense of Scripture.

What is the reason for one person to call another a Fundamentalist if they merely approach Scripture with confidence?

"For Further Reading you can find online, C.F.W. Walther, "The Question of Inspiration," from Walther's Evening Lectures on Inspiration, translated by Dr. Thomas Manteufel, Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis, Missouri, presented to the Walther Round Table, 2005-2007.