From the time of the Early Christian Church to the Reformation (100-1500 A.D.)
It was not long after the New Testament was written that so-called ‘scholars’ began to introduce false and misleading ways to interpret what the Bible says and means. The method of interpretation that became popular is called ALLEGORIZING.
The correct way of interpreting the Bible is to understand the words of Scripture in their simplest, clearest way. What the Bible SAYS, it MEANS.
Allegorizing was a method of interpretation that stated that a single passage of the Bible can have 2 or 3 or 4 different meanings, and a smart interpreter will be able to determine all of them, or even dream up some new ones. It is interesting to note that this method of interpretation arose in the city of Alexandria, Egypt, which was a center for Greek culture and emphasized scientific learning. Already in that day scientific thought dictated that there must be a natural cause and explanation for everything.
Consider how our areas of science (astronomy, geology, anthropology, paleontology, physics, psychology) today have adversely affected the way people think about God and religion.
Philo (1st century A.D.) added second meanings to passages when he thought it was necessary to avoid contradictions in the Bible.
Origen (250 A.D.) developed three meanings for Bible passages: literal sense, moral sense, mystical sense.
Jerome and Augustine (400 A.D.) expanded the use of allegory. Augustine developed four meanings for passages: historical, moral, allegorical, analogical.
In the Middle Ages allegory remained popular and was applied not only to Bible passages, but also individual words (for example: Jerusalem, bread, sea). Aquinas (1250 A.D.) also added the ‘dialectic method’ of Aristotle to Bible interpretation.
At the Reformation, Martin Luther returned to sound principles of interpreting the Bible. A Bible passage has one simple, intended meaning. He also emphasized that all Christians, therefore, not just priests and popes, can interpret the Bible correctly for themselves.
Pietism was a religious movement that attempted to improve the spiritual life of the Christian church.
They believed that Christians were to busy preserving sound Christian doctrine and not working hard enough at leading a sanctified, Christian life. Therefore, they wanted to develop a more EMOTIONAL Christianity.
When a Christian reads the Bible, he should try to personally discover some truth in a passage for himself, relating to the emotional condition of the original writer of the passage. This compromised the OBJECTIVE TRUTH that is to be found in the Bible, and made Bible interpretation a matter of ‘choosing for yourself’ what you think it means to you.
Rationalism taught that something is real only if it can be proved by modern methods of research. The supernatural and miraculous is impossible. (This is at the foundation of the ‘historical-critical method of interpretation popular today.)
Rationalism suggests that the history of the human race is characterized by the EVOLUTION of religious truth. They would also say the Bible shows this in the Old and New Testaments. They claim the ancient religions of the Eskimos or Indians or tribes of Africa have much in common with the Bible!
This is a philosophy founded by Kierkegaard that protested rationalism and the industrial revolution because these treat people like things and deny the uniqueness of each individual person.
Religious faith is essentially irrational. Objective truth is less important than the subjective truth that a person discovers and applies to himself.
The only important time frame for a person to consider is the present.
The ultimate goal is to discover one’s ‘authentic being’, which is a search for one’s own true existence and nature. The Bible may be helpful in this search, but will provide only part of the answer.
METHODS OF INTERPRETATION
Started by Rudolph Bultmann in the 1920’s.
He emphasized NOT the simple interpretation of the words of the Bible, but rather what the message of the Bible means for the whole of human existence.
He said that the New Testament was not written as a history book, but as a series of fictional stories that tell a basic, spiritual message.
Bultmann had his own strange ‘hermeneutical circle.’ When a person reads the Bible, he should ask basic questions like, “What does this say about human existence?” The Bible will answer this question in new and challenging ways which will help the reader ask other, more philosophical questions.
The ‘Christ event’ takes place when a reader searches the Bible and discovers the message relative to human existence (like enlightenment).
It is not important to emphasize the historical person named Jesus and what he did, but rather to discover how we should be what God intended us to be.
This method of interpretation became common in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), which is the largest Lutheran denomination in the world.
This method was introduced into the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod in the 1960’s.
This approach presumes that the only part of the New Testament that is really inspired by God is the part that deals specifically with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Bible is a combination of human and divine–written by humans, but containing a message from God. Therefore, the Bible contains errors and contradictions. The only way to discover what parts of the Bible are historically correct is to allow ‘scholars’ to investigate it. The Bible is ‘inerrant’ not because it contains no errors, but because God always accomplishes what he wants with his Word.
This approach to the Bible was founded by Harry Boer, a Dutch Reformed author of the 1970’s and ‘80’s.
He said that just as the union of true God and true man in Jesus Christ is a mystery, so the Bible is a mystery because it is God’s Word, yet was written by human authors.
So there are many inconsistencies and contradictions in the Bible, but we should not worry about them.
The Bible is infallible only in the sense that it is reliable and trustworthy.
In the same way that God uses an imperfect world to accomplish his plan of salvation, so he uses an imperfect book to convey his message.
The fact that the Bible was inspired does not mean that it is free of typical human errors and weaknesses.
An Evaluation of these three Historical-Critical Methods
All three of these methods are wrong because: 1. They say the Bible is not a clear book.
They say the Bible does not contain an accurate history of events.
They say the Bible is not God’s revelation to men.
They say the Bible cannot be perfectly united in its message.
They say the Bible does not have the supreme authority of God.
They say that Jesus Christ has not died for our salvation.
Note: Be sure to read the Postscript on pages 243-244.