What You Think Doesn’t Matter, But It Matters That You Think

Twisting ScriptureLongtime readers have read this story before, but I want to tell it again in a slightly different context. In my freshman year of college, I took a Shakespeare class.

My Shakespeare professor scowled as I told him what the passage he’d set before our class meant to me personally. He found my comment entirely too subjective, and therefore not acceptable in the context of scholarly discussion. I tried to appeal to a 1974 mindset by explaining that my Bible Study group used that method to interpret Scripture, but he wouldn’t consider such a perspective. “What matters is not what what the passage says to you,” he explained, “but what Shakespeare intended when he wrote the play.”

That incident sobered me, teaching me one of the most important lessons in my Christian life. All too often, professing Christians read the Bible with the expectation that they can arrive at a personal, subjective interpretation. Just as I showed disrespect to Shakespeare by presuming that I could make his plays and sonnets say whatever I imagined them to say, so we show disrespect to the Holy Spirit by conforming His Word to our personal experiences and biases.

What you and I think Scripture says to us personally may be vastly different from what the Lord intended when His Spirit inspired the Old and New Testament writers to record His Word. We dare not treat it like a piece of putty that we can stretch and mold according to our preferences and ideas.

19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. ~~2 Peter 1:19-21 (ESV)

So, interpreting God’s Word isn’t determined by our subjective thoughts and opinions. What we think it says must be subordinated to what the Holy Spirit purposes it to mean.

Having said that, reading and obeying the Bible requires us to think Biblically. Rather than viewing verses as isolated fragments, we need understand Scripture as a whole. Interpreting Scripture, it turns out, takes the same kind of analytical thought that I learned to utilize in studying literature and art.

My Shakespeare professor taught me to analyze a play’s passage by examining its use of language, its historical context and (more importantly) to the context of the play itself. Additionally, it helped to study how people used certain words in 16th Century England, as well as knowing some biographical information about The Bard himself. Finally, familiarity with literary history offered insight.

Understanding Shakespeare’s intent, in other words, took work. But it could be done. And I had to do the same work in studying Homer, Virgil, Malory, Chaucer, Donne, Byron, Browning, Frost and all the writers in between. In art history, I had to do the same with Leonardo, Michelangelo and Carravargio.

How much more should Christians study Scripture in order to understand what the Lord says through it. Engaging our minds is mandatory in order to rightly understand God’s Word. As I’ll show you in my next blog post, however, a large number of evangelicals fail to use their minds in talking about God.

Imposing your opinions on Scripture is infinitely worse than imposing them on a few Shakespearean couplets. But perhaps we make such impositions precisely because we don’t bother to think carefully about what we read. It doesn’t matter what we think any given verse means to us personally,  but it matters a great deal that we think carefully about what God’s Word really means.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

I’m Not Interested In Your Opinion — And You Shouldn’t Be Interested In Mine

Open Bible 02The Bible Study leader reads a verse, and perhaps quotes a commentary before sharing how she thinks it spoke to her. Then she opens the floor to solicit thoughts from the other ladies in the room. Everyone has valid insights, she assures the group; there are no wrong answers.

Okay, usually it happens a little more subtly than my description. But many Bible Study groups do encourage subjective approaches to Scripture. All too often, women receive support for drawing personalized messages from their Bible study time.

Certainly, as we’re in Gods Word, the Holy Spirit frequently uses it to address specific situations in our lives.  In fact, we ought to search the Scriptures when we need God’s wisdom. Are you considering marriage?  Then Continue reading

If You Want To Be A Discerning Woman

Lady's BibleIs discernment ministry essentially baptized celebrity gossip? When the Bible commands us to be discerning, does it mean we should actively hunt down problems with the intention of making public pronouncements against them, thereby showing people how accomplished we are at distinguishing truth from error?

I have a feeling that some who put out the Discernment Ministry shingle do so from an attitude of pride. I did. Somehow I doubt that I’m the only one guilty of this sin. Having knowledge that So-and-so is a false teacher and such-and-such is an unbiblical practice can give a girl a huge shot of self-esteem!

But Biblical discernment (or wisdom) shouldn’t Continue reading

When I’m Less Controversial

ControversyWe all flock to articles about the latest controversy, especially if they expose the failures and hypocritical behaviors of people. Bill Cosby’s conviction as a sexual predator fascinates us precisely because it contradicts the wholesome image he projected in the 80s. Warnings to avoid yoga fascinate us because we’ve been conditioned to view it as healthy exercise.

Between Cosby’s sentence yesterday and the expected testimony of Kavanaugh’s accuser tomorrow, I could write Continue reading

They Enjoy Their Own Cleverness

OpenBible John 1How many times have people ridiculed you for believing the Bible? Have they questioned your sanity or acted surprised that you believe serpents  speak and messiahs rise from the dead? Yeah, and you’re probably already bracing for such uncomfortable conversations at Thanksgiving gatherings. So maybe I can offer a little perspective to help prepare you for conflicts around the adult table.

Ladies, we’ll resume our Monday Bible Studies on 1 Corinthians 15 pretty soon. Before you accuse me of a non sequitur, hear me out. I started working through verse 35 this morning, and I had some immediate thoughts on it that made me think about the ways some non-Christians (particularly those who are openly belligerent) try to derail us when we share the Gospel with them. Look at the verse with me.

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” (ESV) 

Okay, I didn’t get very far into my study today (I had a stressful situation last night that kept me from getting adequate sleep), so I don’t have as much of a handle on the verse as I will when we actually work through it. But the small amount of study I did reminded me that often people who raise objections to our beliefs honestly think they’re helping us understand why Christianity is intellectually untenable.

You’ll recall that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 15 in response to those who denied the doctrine of bodily resurrection. In the first 34 verses, the apostle provided legal evidence that Christ rose from the dead. Then he argued that Christ’s resurrection ensures the resurrection of believers. Verse 35 transitions to the rather childish challenge to prove the doctrine by giving specific details.

In other words, these skeptics think they’ve poked holes in Paul’s theology. They remind me of neighborhood kids who tried to prove that I was intellectually disabled by peppering me with impossible arithmetic questions that they themselves couldn’t answer.

“What’s 97,043 plus 32,017?” they ask.

I’d admit I didn’t know, and watch their smug grins steal over their little faces. With perhaps a little sadistic pleasure, I’d give them a minute to savor their cleverness before asking, “So what is 97,043 plus 32,017?”

Though I in no way recommend such a smart alec retort to non-Christians who fancy that their arguments blow holes in our Christian faith, I do want you to realize that they trust in their own cleverness. We must pray that the Holy Spirit will open their eyes the truth before they face the Lord in judgment. At that time, they won’t feel quite so clever.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Disappointing Discoveries About God’s Will

God's Will

Before becoming a Christian, I gravitated toward various forms of fortune telling (usually for the purpose of knowing whether or not my romantic aspirations would be gratified). After my conversion, I ardently sought prophecy and “words from the Lord” that would help me determine His will for my life. There’s something in human nature that demands to know how our individual lives will unfold.

In my Bible reading this morning, I thought about the quest to know God’s will as I read Continue reading