“But doesn’t the application we make just depend on our presuppositions?”
1. The line of thought we have been considering makes this question unavoidable.
2. Our conviction is that the meaning of the text of the Bible can be understood, if we approach it:
a. Believing that it can be understood.
b. Wanting to do God’s will.
c. Applying normal principles of communication.
3. But, aside from the meaning of the text, what about how it applies to us?
a. This is where “that’s just your interpretation” is more often heard.
b. How are we to be guided by the authority of Scripture? The suggestion is that we come to the conclusion we do only because of our “restoration hermeneutic” with its emphasis on commands, examples and inferences, and that such an approach is hopelessly flawed.
c. Do the applications we make just depend on the presuppositions we bring with us to the text?
1. Some preliminary responses.
a. If the answer is yes, it does not excuse any of us from seeking the truth.
i. It is true that we bring to the handling of Scripture some faith assumptions that we cannot prove. We have mentioned four in this series.
(1) God is a God of order.
(2) He reveals himself is Scripture.
(3) The scriptures are absolute and complete.
(4) The scriptures and consistent and understandable.
ii. But these are also claims made within the scriptures themselves.
iii. They are not necessarily untrue because we assume them, nor are all conclusions drawn from that point onward necessarily invalid because of where we started. The question is whether they represent reality.
iv. One critic has written, “To suggest, as some have, that, because their interpretations differ, one must be sincere and honest, while the other is not, is unconscionable.” (Maxey, “New Wineskins,” Dec. 2010)
v. But the issue is not whether either one of them is sincere and honest; the issue is what God wants.
b. Whatever may be said of any understanding of commands, examples and inferences being based on unproven assumptions may also be said of any system of knowing what God wants.
i. For example, the same critic I just mentioned suggests what he calls the “Reflective Principle” in using Scripture instead of the “Regulative Principle” he says we use.
ii. His approach would be to categorize all matters along these lines: Biblical, Non-Biblical, Anti-Biblical, Beneficial.
iii. But he will have the problem of deciding what set of assumptions will be used to determine whether something is in the non-Biblical or anti-Biblical category.
iv. And even more: who is to determine whether something is “beneficial” or not? And how?
v. I offer this observation: approach carefully systems of interpretation that are devised amidst a culture that is dominated by individual preference.
c. We are not the first or only ones to grapple with how to apply Scripture so as to know we are doing what God wants.
i. In the Reformation Period during the 1500's this was one of the basic differences between Martin Luther and Huldriech Zwingli.
(1) Luther stated his approach like this: “I favor bringing into the church of God and being part and parcel thereof anything not specifically forbidden and directly condemned.”
(2) Zwingli, however, contended that “...Only that which the Bible commands or for which distinctive authorization can be found in its pages is binding and allowable.”
ii. I have a 2005 book by John Price, a Reformed Baptist writer, in which he argues for what he calls “the regulative principle of worship” which he says is “that only what God has commanded in the Scripture is acceptable and all that is not commanded is forbidden. Only with clear biblical warrant for any element of worship can we believe that God is pleased with what we do.” (Old Light on New Worship, 16)
iii. It is true that it can be shown that there has been logical inconsistency in the way some of us, some of the time, and in some places have used these concepts. It has also been that way among other people with almost any Bible doctrine. Perhaps the weakness is in people, not in the concepts.
2. Some specific comments.
b. Commands, examples and inferences are three categories which each serve as a way to discover God’s will for our individual lives.
i. Commands are one way for us to understand what God wants us to do in response to his grace – teachings to be obeyed.
(1) A command may be a direct declaration from God to us (cf. Ex. 20:13; Acts 17:30).
(2) Commands include direct teachings that are not in the literary form of a command (cf. Mk. 16:16).
(3) The idea of a command has to be qualified by the context of the Scripture in which it is found (Matt. 27:5; Lk. 10:37).
(4) Reason has to be used in understanding the authoritative commands or teachings of Scripture.
ii. Examples are another way of recognizing God’s will for man.
(1) An example is to be regarded as a practice of the first century church or the apostolic company which is recorded with approval by an inspired writer.
(2) This category is qualified as “apostolic” example to show that practices that are pagan or immoral are not to be followed just because they are mentioned in the Scriptures.
(3) The category is sometimes called “approved” apostolic example to show that some things that even the apostles did are not to be imitated. It may be just incidental, “a” way of obeying a teaching.
iii. Inference is another way of listening for what God wants.
(1) It means what can logically be “inferred” from the plain meaning of Scripture.
(2) Inference is used to show that baptism is immersion (cf. Jn. 3:23).
(3) Sometimes “necessary” is added to inference to show that which is logically inferred cannot be otherwise (cf. Acts 2:38; 10:48). “Necessary” is not really needed.
c. All these three categories mean is that these are reasonable ways by which a person can use the Scriptures to discover the will of God. Each category has limitations and has to be qualified by the use of reason and common sense.
i. Commands or teachings is the easiest to understand.
(1) Our attitude – 1 Sam. 3:10
(2) Matt. 7:21, 26-27
(3) Must be interpreted according to the rules of reason and the rules of language
(4) It is different from the other two in that in involves an authoritative “silence of the Scriptures.”
(5) God condemns those who act in way “which I commanded not” (Deut. 17:3; 18:20; Lev. 10:1; Jer. 19:5; 23:32; 29:23).
ii. Examples have no force in and of themselves. They have authority only as they illustrate how a command or a teaching of the Scriptures can be fulfilled.
(1) There must always be an authoritative command behind an example.
(2) Acts 20:7 has Matt. 26:29 behind it, and it is confirmed by Heb. 10:24-25.
(3) An example shows what one may do and can only be used in a positive way. The non-existence of an apostolic example cannot be used to sanction a practice. It does not have the prohibitive silence of a command, either.
iii. Inference is simply applying logic in seeking truth that is not specifically stated but is consistent with all that is revealed.
(1) Acts 10:34
(2) Acts 18:8