Sunday, November 26, 2006

Does it come from God? or Testing the Spirit.

Does it come from God? or Testing the Spirit.

I’ve often heard people try to stop debate by saying, ‘but the Bible says.’ The problem with using that is often what is being discussed is the question of ‘what the Bible says.’ Whether or not scripture is infallible, inerrant, or nay of the other words thrown around is irrelevant to any theological discussion. That’s because the inerrancy, the infallibility of scripture doesn’t apply to any of us who are reading, interpreting and proclaiming the Word of God.

What applies to the word of God does not apply to those of us who lie under the authority of Scripture. We are called to test the words of those who interpret scripture. Whether the words come directly from scripture, from some authority on scripture, or our own sense of being informed by God as to the meaning of a passage, we are called to test the spirit and examine our understanding. Does what we are hearing and/or saying come from God or from another source?

To say, without context, ‘but the Bible says’ is to ignore one’s own responsibility to study scripture with both heart and mind. One scripture passage has been translated into English ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child.’ That passage has been used to justify the use of a stick to beat children. But a more justified response would be to look at the passage in the context in which it was written in which case one finds that the ‘rod’ is a measuring device.

Scripture is read as I read anything else. Books that aren’t scripture I still read with the same tools. Prayer and reflection are tools that I use to read scripture and to help to understand every part of my life. Analysis and questions are what I use to understand fiction and non-fiction and then use in scripture to help in understanding better what God desires of me. A tool or method that is valid can be used on literature whether it is or isn’t scripture, a tool or method that doesn’t work on literature won’t work on scripture.

Reading the words in the Bible is only a start to understanding what they mean. When I go to scripture I begin with prayer and reflections. I go to tools that help me understand the words in context. I go to tools that help me understand the original language. I go to tools that help me to understand the culture in which the passage was written. I go to like and unlike passages of scripture. And I return to prayer and reflection.

When I read a novel, the words are only a start to understanding. I go with prayer and reflection. I go to tools to help me understand the context of the words. I go to language tools if I’m reading a translation. I go to tools that help me understand the culture of the author if it’s not my own (and sometimes if it is my culture). And, as with everything in my life, I return to prayer and reflection.

To suggest that I use the same tools for scripture and other writings is not to say that one is the same as the other. Scripture is my witness to God. It is my authority on how and what to believe. But even with prayer and reflection my understanding of scripture only begins with reading the words. My understanding should use all the tools that have been provided – archaeology, philology, literary criticism, like and unlike theologians, and more – so that I can come to a little more understanding of where God is calling me to go. The tools are not more important than the text, but they are important to help us understand the text.

The Orthodox test of a prophet/visionary is still valid today as we seek to interpret what comes to us in visions:
1. The vision/revelation/prophecy affirms and in no way gainsaysScripture.
2. The prophet/visionary doesn't profit from the prophecy/vision.
3. If anyone suffers the prophet/visionary suffers.
4. The prophecy/vision is ultimately proven true.

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