[ 4 minutes to read ]Can you hear me now? Elementary school was a perfect place for endless energy and endless arguments. Did you ever get into a scuff on the playground? I got into a number of infinite loop arguments with a friend of mine. This was the old my-Dad-can-beat-up-your-Dad argument. This particular back-and-forth could go on forever, but it was usually ended by the bell ringing to signal the end of recess.
In this argument, we both kept repeating the same thing to each other. We didn’t support our claims with salient facts and observations. We didn’t debate one another with point and counter point. It was literally me saying, “My Dad can beat up your Dad,” and he responding, “No way! My Dad can beat up your Dad.” Sometimes I would start it and sometimes he would start it. It didn’t really matter who started it, because there was no way to truly end it.
Christians always come out with their own versions
There’s never been a cultural trend that Christians couldn’t coopt. Lord’s Gym. Catch Up With Jesus. His Way. Straight Outta Context. Well, maybe we need to keep that last one. You can also find a form of the infinite loop argument among Christians, usually of different denominations. “That’s just your interpretation.” So you make a claim that the Bible teaches a certain doctrine. Your friend says the Bible doesn’t say that. You show chapter and verse. Your former friend says, “That’s just your interpretation.” How can you exit that loop and settle the argument?
I’ve had such experiences. I remember one occurrence where I opened my Bible and showed the plain words of Scripture to my friend and pointed out the context that made the meaning inescapable, only to have my friend respond, “Well, to me, it doesn’t mean that.” That’s a tough chestnut. Where do you go from there? Let’s see if we can break the stalemate.
First, step back and analyze where we are. We are considering conversations between two or more people who profess to be Christians. The discussion centers around some teaching and whether or not it is a biblical teaching. So let’s assume that both parties believe the Bible to be the word of God but disagree about what some part of the Bible means. All parties should agree that the Bible is written revelation from God through Spirit inspired men. That’s where the answer lies, because to accept the Bible as God’s word has important implications.
- Accepting the Bible as God’s word means it is a written, fixed, objective standard of revelation. No one who is even twice removed on their mother’s side from historic orthodox Christianity believes new scripture is being written today. This also means the meaning of that word is in the text itself. When we are debating the meaning of a passage, the interpretation of that passage cannot come from outside the passage, whether by dreams, visions, impressions, new light, new revelations, ciphers, etc. The meaning is in the text.
- Accepting the Bible as God’s written word means there is a fixed, objective standard for the meaning of every passage. The text means what the author meant when it was written. It cannot mean anything else. For every passage that we may debate, there is one fixed meaning of that passage. One of the debaters may be right about the meaning, or all debaters may be wrong about the meaning. That doesn’t change the meaning or affect the meaning, because it is in the text itself and not in the readers.
- Accepting the Bible as God’s written word does not mean there are not some obscure or difficult things in the Bible. What is meant by the reference to the watchers in Daniel 4:17? The Bible as God’s word doesn’t mean we will perfectly understand every word in it. It does mean there is a fixed meaning of every passage, whether we know or interpret that meaning correctly, or not.
- Accepting the Bible as God’s written word means accepting the Bible’s own testimony to its understandability. Both the Old and New Testaments testify that the Bible is sufficiently clear and understandable (Deuteronomy 30:11-14; Romans 10:5-8). That scripture can be understood doesn’t mean it can be understood all at once, but over time through growth in knowledge and maturity of understanding (Hebrews 5:4). That also does not mean that we don’t need any help understanding the Bible. God has given teachers for this reason (Ephesians 4:11).
The conclusion of the matter
I’m not so foolish as to think I can end all debates over the meaning of scripture for all time, but having a complete, written word of God does mean that the right interpretation can be arrived at. Every passage has a meaning and it can be understood. What does this do for the that’s-just-your-interpretation argument? It breaks the stalemate by requiring the objector to demonstrate from the text with the normal means of interpretation how one interpretation is wrong and the other right.
Understanding that we have a complete written word of God also helps us as we hear the Bible taught and preached. If the Bible is being interpreted and explained properly then you should be able to see the meaning in the text. If preachers are coming up with bizarre interpretations through manipulating numbers, changing meanings, or out of nowhere finding something like a pre-trib rapture in the Song of Solomon, you know they are mishandling the word of God. The meaning is in the text. Someone may not like that meaning, but that is a different question entirely.