Part the Third, How do I Interpret the Bible?
Ever think of the Bible as….a grocery store? I worked at grocery stores for a long time. People come into the store with their grocery lists, and they know what they are looking for. They need some bananas, ice cream, a case of root beer, a head of lettuce. They run up and down the aisles finding what they want, find everything on the list, check out and go home.
That’s how evangelicals increasingly approach the Bible. They have a list of what they need. Parenting principles. Verses for healing. Advice for marriage. Rules for children. Stories to inspire. Challenges to give. Information on Heaven. Predictions of the future. We run into the “Bible” looking for these things, and when we find them, we leave.
This “grocery store” view of the Bible is built on the idea that the Bible is an inspired “library” of true information. A “magic book” as some have called it, where passages contain unquestionable information and authoritative rules. This approach to the Bible is flattering to the human ability to catalog information, and it is used in many churches to build confidence that the use of scripture puts a person on a foundation of absolute certainty.-Michael Spencer
Where to begin? There is some good stuff in this section. Too many times we look at the Bible as a grocery list. That’s true. Not that we shouldn’t sometimes. But our focus in Biblical Interpretation should not primarily be, “What does the Bible say about ——?”
I suspect that I say this for a different reason than Spencer. Spencer says the ‘grocery list’ method is improper because the Bible isn’t a ‘library’ of true information. Based on what Spencer has already said in this essay, it’s pretty clear what he means. The Bible contains errors, and should not be trusted as being infallibly true.
I say that the ‘grocery list’ method isn’t proper because God did not write an encyclopedia. The Bible isn’t arranged by topic. It is a progressive revelation of God. This revelation of God is, however, built upon a foundation of true words from God. Listen, if I can’t trust what the God has said in his Word about the origins of the universe, or the history of the exodus, or the even the virgin birth, how is it that I can trust what he has said about himself?
Spencer then goes on to use the analogy of a cake, and the Bible contains the ingredients for the cake.
All these ingredients, of course, are the contents of the Bible. The eggs are Genesis 1-3. The flour is Leviticus. The salt is Proverbs. The sugar is Psalms. And so on. These are good ingredients. Crucial ingredients. Now…we need to ask an important question: What are we baking?
The cake the Bible is baking is Jesus Christ, the mediator of our salvation, and the Gospel that comes in him.-M. S.
The problem with Spencer’s analogy is that it does exactly what he has set out not to do. The Bible has become a ‘grocery list’ that we carry to the store and pick out the right ingredients in order to make our cake. Only in this case, our cake is Jesus. Spencer tries to use this to show us that he really does believe the Bible is inspired, but the fact of the matter is that when he has denied inerrancy, he has also denied inspiration. God has spoken, he has used true words, and he has done this to reveal himself. The final Word of revelation comes in the incarnation of the Logos, the eternal Son of God. (Heb. 1:1-3)
One of the first times I brought out my thoughts on this approach to the Bible was at a seminar for local pastors, where I was asked to teach Genesis 1-11. I am sure most of the men in the room were ready for the usual approach to Genesis, with lots of hat-tipping to the creation-evolution controversy and explanations for how these events could “really happen.”
Instead, I said that Jesus was the one for whom and by whom all things were made. I said Jesus was in the beginning with God. I said we are made in God’s image, in a way similar to the way Jesus is the image of the invisible God, and that this is why Jesus is made like us so he can save us. I said Christ came to destroy the works of the devil. I said Jesus loves us when we are cast out of paradise, and he left paradise for us. I said Abel was a picture of Jesus, and his offering a portrait of faith. I said the ark was Christ, and the flood the wrath of God Jesus endured for our sake. And so on, for four hours.
At the end, one man said I was trying to be “provocative.” Let’s hope so, because the grocery store approach to Genesis is boring me and turns preachers of the Gospel into lecturers in creation science.-M. S.
This really resonates with me. Christ is the reason for creation. Too many times I have heard ‘Christ-less’ sermons preached form these passages, and I appreciate the fat that Spencer desires to make Christ the focus of his preaching. My problem with his statements here, are with the fact that he seems to be unwilling to let Scripture say what it says. How can I pretend to preach Genesis 1-3 and not mention the controversies surrounding the creation narrative? These are the opening passages of Scripture and the point at which the Scriptures are under attack in our day. I’m just wondering why we can’t preach both the fact that the Bible says that God created the world in six days and at the same time preach Christ!?
Why can’t we preach Christ Jesus from Genesis? Why do we talk about the length of days and the location of Eden and whether women should submit, when the whole story exists to send us to Jesus to be clothed in his righteousness? Do we really think God wanted us to have a book of inspired science and trivia? I need a savior, not a set of facts. As Robert Capon says, if the world could be saved by good advice, it would have been saved ten minutes after Moses came back from Mt. Sinai.-M. S.
The logic here is truly dizzying. “I need a savior, not a set of facts.” The reason you need a Savior is that Genesis 1-3 are true. Do you really not see the connection? God created us from dust to worship him, and in Adam we all rebelled. We deserve death, but God promises a Savior. You can’t accept the last part as true if you are unwilling to accept the whole as truth.
Supporters of the traditional view of Biblical inerrancy find themselves in a quandary with an issue like the terrible violence in the Old Testament book of Judges. The quandary comes when the text must bear the burden of God-spokenness. How do we understand the inspiration of a book that reports- even advocates- violence that is clearly at odds with Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount.
What we see in Judges isn’t to be harmonized with Christ, so that Christ becomes a warrior-judge defeating the “pagans.” It is this kind of sinful violence that will be judged by Christ, when his Kingdom beats all swords into plowshares, and brings God’s peace to the universe.-M. S.
First, Inerrancy has no such quandary. There is no reason we can’t believe that Judges is true history without saying that God affirmed everything that happened in the book. Inerrancy is not to say that God affirms sin just because an otherwise righteous person may have committed it.
Second, over and over in Judges the writer says that God raised up judges to deliver Israel from their enemies. We’ve either got to accept that writer is being truthful in those statements and in the rest of the history of the judges, or we’ve got to dismiss him as a liar and we know what that does to the trustworthiness of the history related in Judges.
Third, Christ is a warrior-judge who will deliver his people from their oppressors. He comes to judge the world.
Primarily, my approach would say that when sin is compared to the law of God, we see it differently than when it stands next to the grace of God in Christ. Let’s use the thief on the cross as an example. The thief was guilty of breaking the law, and was being punished as a result. Compared to the law, the soul that sinned was dying. On the other hand, coming to Christ who is dying for sinners, this man is a believer welcomed into the gates of paradise. His sin is forgiven by Jesus, and not even mentioned. This is the same lesson of the woman caught in adultery in John 8. Compared to the law, sin is a large matter. Compared to Christ, it is overwhelmed in grace.-M .S.
I agree with a lot of what Spencer says about homosexuality. It is very clear that homosexuality is sin, but it is equally clear that adultery, lying, disobedience to parents, etc. are sin as well. And Christ can cover it all. He died for it all.
But then again, the biblical position on homosexuality is under attack, in ways that adultery, disobedience to parents and lying are not. Everyone recognizes these to be sin. The adulterer knows he/she is sinning, that sin may be justified in their minds, but they still recognize it as immoral behavior and many times that is exactly what entices them about it. But in homosexuals we see a different trend. They demand that their behavior be accepted as normal and moral. They have made great strides in even evangelical churches pushing this agenda. It is only right that Christians proclaim the truth about homosexuality more loudly at this time. It is sin. It is only when we preach this that we can offer homosexuals hope for their souls through Jesus.
Next, The Conclusion: What Does Inspiration Really Mean?