Chapter 2 -- Assumptions
I have made some assumptions in my search for the truth.
- The Bible is the inerrant Word of God.
- The Scriptures were written by people inspired by the Holy Spirit.
- Beware of personal bias--others and your own.
- The Holy Spirit does not contradict Himself from time to time in the Scriptures.
- For #4 to be true, consider interpreting the Bible in a literal sense, not a literalist sense.
- The Bible can be read at many levels to obtain many levels of truth.
- Interpret the Bible in its entirety.
- Compare writings of the early Christians.
- See if there is already an answer.
- Have a good reason for everything you do.
- Seek THE truth; don't avoid the truth.
- To learn THE truth, you must be humble and have an open mind.
- Once you know the truth, remember what Paul taught Timothy:
- The New Testament references the Old Testament a lot. Read the references.
- The truth is elusive.
- When given a Scripture verse that purportedly proves the Church's position wrong, read the verse in context and read the verse carefully.
As you will see on the chapter on the Origins of the Bible, I make a case that the Catholic Church determined which writings were divinely inspired, and included them in the canon. Thus, by the authority of the Catholic Church, the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. The Bible itself supports this notion:
But note, one cannot claim the Bible is the Word of God because the Bible says so. The Book of Mormon claims it is the Word of God. The Q'ran claims it is the Word of God. The Hindu Vedas claim they are the Word of God. Making the claim doesn't make it so. Some trustworthy authority must declare it. God is that trustworth authority, He gave the authority to the Apostles and their successors to determine such things, and they did.
This verse confirms that prophecy comes from human beings moved by the Holy Spirit. It also confirms Scripture is not open to personal interpretation--we can't each read Scripture and come to our own, personal conclusions as to what it means. But more on that later.
If you even know the Bible exists, you probably have some ingrain prejudices about what it says. I know I do. Someone somewhere taught you something that started you on a path of expectation. You now read the Bible trying to make everything fit your pre-determined bias. Jesus confronted this problem with the Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees. They were certain they understood Scripture, and were equally certain any interpretation contrary to theirs was incorrect.
Consider approaching Scriptures with a simple mind. If there is an apparent, obvious interpretation of a verse, assume that interpretation is valid until proven invalid. Another interpretation can be considered when another series of verses contradicts the obvious interpretation of the challenged verse.
For example, if a Bible verse states "children are precious", assume children are precious. If another verse states "this child was not precious", we have a contradiction, and we could proceed per #4 below. Otherwise, we should not seek an alternate interpretation of the former verse just because we do not like what it says, or it does not fit our pre-determined bias. Don't be like the Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees. There must be a reason to not accept the obvious interpretation, and that reason can't be just because you don't want it so.
If there are two or more verses in apparent contradiction, consider an interpretation of the verses that will not be in contradiction when taken in context with the rest of Scripture. It is more likely the truth can be found there. The key is to compare it with the entire text of Scripture, not just one or two other verses. See #7 below.
Literalist - what it says is what it means. If it says the tail of the huge red dragon "swept away a third of the stars in the sky and hurled them down to the earth" , it means an awful lot of stars are scattered about the surface of the Earth. If it says "12,000 died in that one battle", it means more than 11,999 and less than 12,001 died in that battle, no more no less. If a reader adopts this sense, there will be difficulty explaining many verses that have apparent error.
Literal - it means what the sacred author intended it to mean. If it says the tail of the huge red dragon "swept away a third of the stars in the sky and hurled them down to the earth", it is highly, highly unlikely the author meant that stars were actually hurled down to the Earth (scientists would have a field day with that one). If it says "12,000 died in that battle", it could mean around 12,000, or more than 11,000 but less than 13,000, or a really lot of soldiers. It is possible that exactly 12,000 died, although that remains a question. (Battles fought in early Israelite history seemed to suffer casualties in exact multiples of 1,000.) One needs to take the writing in context, in the historical perspective of the time, considering the customs and idioms the author likely used, to understand what the author most likely intended.
If, after reading a verse, you find yourself saying "That means ..." or "That does not mean ...", stop and think about what the verse would mean to someone in the first century A.D. What it means to someone today may be quite different, or even slightly different, enough to alter the message in some way. Customs and idioms during Christ's time appear unintelligible to 21st century westerners. Interpreting scriptures in an ancient light as well as a present view will add to your understanding.
English did not exist when the Bible was written. At best, any Bible verse you read in English is an approximation of what the sacred author actually wrote. If verses appear confusing, or unlikely, it may be because something was lost in translation. If you are able to go to the original Aramaic or Greek, you will have a better understanding. This is not something most of us can do, but there are scholars who have dissected every word of scripture. Consider reviewing what they discovered.
The surface, or superficial level can give truths, but the reader may miss an understanding of even greater truths if he/she looks no further. Superficial truth is sufficient, but God has so much more for us if we go deeper. For instance, Peter related the saving of Noah's family to the saving of baptism by water (See 1 Pet 3:20-22).
Superficially, by the grace of God, Noah and his family survived the great flood. That is a truth, and it is good to know. But in a deeper sense, Peter says "And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you". This understands the Scriptures at a deeper, more spiritual level. Peter is showing us the way to view Scripture beyond the simple meaning. When viewed at a deeper level, much of the Old Testament comes alive in the New. Verses that were somewhat cryptic and seemingly meaningless make more sense.
One cannot interpret one sentence from one verse, from one chapter, from one book of the Bible by itself and ignore how that sentence affects other verses of Scripture. Likewise, one cannot ignore verses in scripture because they don't fit the reader's personal theology. If any verses don't fit, first study them to be sure of the correct interpretation, and then change your theology as necessary.
What would you give to be around in Jesus' time to witness his ministry first hand? We cannot be there, but we can read what other witnesses wrote. Several Christians who lived the life of the early church wrote about it. Some of their writings became New Testament scriptures. Other writings of theirs were not considered divinely inspired, but remain nonetheless historically accurate. We can learn a great deal of the mindset of the early church by reading the other writings of the Early Christians. And note, just because something is not in Scripture, does not mean it is false.
The New Testament has been around for the better part of two thousand years and the Old Testament is much older. The Holy Spirit was not lying in wait for you to come along so He could reveal some truth to you that was never considered by anyone before in all of history. No matter how novel your idea, no matter how clever your thought process, no matter how unique you think your revelation is, it has been considered before, probably many times. Seek what is already mentioned about your discovery. It will save you time and energy.
If you don't believe something, have a substantiated reason. If you do believe something, have a substantiated reason. And if someone disproves your substantiated reason, be open to an alternative understanding. When no one (including yourself) can challenge your substantiated reason any longer, you have found the truth.
If you seek some source that is going to tell you what you want to hear, you are not seeking THE truth. If THE truth is that fornication is a sin, and you suspect as such, but you find some Biblical scholar or church somewhere that claims fornication is OK, and you adopt that theology, ignoring proof to the contrary, you are avoiding THE truth. You are not excused for misinterpretation when you approach the Scriptures in that way.
You cannot be stubborn! God may use someone, anyone, to teach you, and you must be open to learn.
Psalm 95:7-9 - For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O that today you would listen to his voice! Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
When you converse with fellow Christians, you need cite only part of a verse in Scripture. Your listeners know the rest and furthermore, they know the point you are trying to make.
For example, if someone is gossiping about an acquaintance, you need only say "Do unto others" Without saying anything else, they immediately think "as you would have them do unto you." (see Matthew 7:12) They would also know what this verse was about, and the point you are trying to make. This is because both of you know and understand Scripture, and share the same culture.
The same was true in Jesus' time. Oftentimes, Jesus would quote part of the Old Testament to make His point. Without finishing the entire quoted verse, His audience would know His meaning. For instance, while suffering on the cross, Jesus shouted "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Some of the bystanders did not understand this, but the Jewish leaders knew exactly what He was saying. He was quoting Psalm 22:1. In the immediacy of His simple statement, He invoked the entire Psalm, and told the Jewish leaders they just made a terrible mistake.
Most of the New Testament writers did the same. Much of what you read in the New Testament is a reference to a verse in the Old Testament. By reading the referenced Old Testament verses in context with the New Testament verses that quote them, you get the full picture.
We read Scripture, we think we understand it, we develop a faith that we think reflects truth. We act based on the truth we understand. We then discover conflicts. How do we proceed?
If we cling to conclusions we have already drawn, we reach a certain comfort level, and overlook the conflict. (How often have you read a verse and didn't quite know what it meant or how it conflicted with your understandings, so you just ignored it?) Deep inside, we realize it might not be true, but we want it to be true; we don't want to spend spiritual energy trying to find the absolute truth. Many of us are content to get close and leave it at that. I encourage you to dig deeper. Don't be satisfied with just getting close. Indeed, we may think we are very close but are far off in reality.
Psalm 95 opens with praise and worship from loving children of God. You can picture they are aroused into a spiritual frenzy giving God praise. Then, halfway through verse 7, in a cold splash of reality, God states they are not open to His word, they are a stubborn, arrogant people, and do not know His ways. He refuses to let them enter into His rest. These people thought they were close to God; they thought they were obeying His will. Many of us are the same way.
Don't guess at any truth, and don't readily accept another person's guess at the truth without a substantiated reason. The truth will set you free, but only if you know it--as much of it as possible.
Oftentimes, the verse is taken out of context and reading just a few verses before or after the verse in question will shed great light. (I provide links to every verse quoted from Scripture to give the reader a chance to see what is before and after the verse.) And read the verse carefully. It probably does not say what the challenger says it does. If the verse refers to another verse, read that one carefully also. This is especially true when the referenced verse is from the Old Testament.
The vast majority of all Christians earnestly seek God with all their hearts. Everyone wants to know the truth. Everyone wants the truth to set them free. There are just so many versions of the truth being thrust at us; it is hard to know for sure which is right. Yet, we are all confident we are on the right path. We are comfortable with the truth as we now know it. We will defend our version of the truth to the death, unless and until we discover it is not true after all. We must be patient and loving of other Christians who disagree with us. Chances are they have the love of God in them and they are reaching out to us because of it. That is a good thing. Embrace their concern for your welfare. But, educate yourself so you do not stray from the straight and narrow path.
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