Mercy Street Church of Christ
Abilene, TX
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Faith and Understanding


A gracEmail reader writes concerning faith and understanding (his comments are bracketed (>><< ), and I respond (unmarked) as follows.

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>>I have been musing over the difference between inspiration and interpretation. We understand and believe that Holy Scripture is God's divine revelation to humanity through the Holy Spirit and human agents.<<

God's greatest revelation is Jesus Christ himself, to whom all of Scripture points, leads, and bears faithful primary witness (John 1:9, 14; 5:39-40; Heb. 1:1-2). We therefore read and study Scripture, not standing alone as a mere book, but in light of Jesus -- his identity, his work, his character, his deeds, his attitudes (spirit) and his relations with people (Luke 24:27; 2 Peter 3:15-18; Rev. 19:10). The Holy Spirit also leads us into truth as it is in Jesus. Bible study is more than academics. It also involves revelation of another sort, what some people prefer to call illumination (Eph. 1:16-17; 2 Tim. 2:7; 1 John 2:27).

>> This being true there is only one correct meaning to what God has written, correct?<<

That is true when God has only one meaning in mind. However, Scripture itself often interprets other Scripture with various levels of meaning, or different applications -- even with fulfilled prophecy (Acts 1:20-26; Matt. 1:23; 2:18, 23). God might have more in mind than one "meaning" in a Western, logical, academic sense. The Bible is a book intending to create and nurture a relationship, not just a book of "truths" or "doctrine" or "answers." Yet it is true in all that it affirms, it does supply right doctrine ("teaching"), and it provides fundamental answers to our most basic questions about ourselves as created by God to live in fellowship with him in his universe.

>>Man in his study of Scripture comes to differing conclusions and understandings of the same Scripture. Exactly when does our misunderstanding or misinterpretation become condemning? (a) When it has to do with Jesus? (b) When it has to do with "salvation issues" (of course we don't agree on what "salvation issues" are and the noble answer is, "What God says is salvation" or when there is a "thus saith the Lord").<<

This is getting at the point, as I see it. One is not condemned for misinterpreting Scripture. One is lost because of sin, and one stays lost by rejecting the knowledge and revelation of God in whatever form (John 3:19-20). Jesus brings us to God (John 14:6). Scripture points us to Jesus and testifies about him (John 5:39). To miss that purpose of Scripture is to miss salvation through it (John 5:40). Since Jesus' day, some people have searched the Scriptures, thinking to find in them eternal life, but then would not come to Jesus to whom Scripture points, that they might have life.

>>If God has given us His perfect revelation, do we not have the capacity to come to the understanding which He intended? If we do not, is it not our own fault?<<

It is sometimes our "fault," and sometimes our human weakness and limitation. Again, spiritual understanding comes from the Holy Spirit, from having God as our teacher, not merely (but not excluding) academic-type study and reverent scholarship (Col. 1:9). The spiritual person understands as much as God reveals. The less spiritual Christian does not desire and ask for God's wisdom, and therefore does not receive it -- even if he or she has much academic "knowledge" (1 Cor. 2:14). The pseudo-Christian resists God's teaching and remains in the dark.

>> Let me close with an example. I find it interesting that both "Reformists" and "Restorationsts" look at the same Scripture and use the same doctrine (issue) to condemn each other. What is it? Baptism, of course. We look at the same verses, come to differing conclusions and anathematize one another over it. But in reality, there is only one correct conclusion. So who loses?<<

Anyone whom God sees is really not trusting in Jesus for salvation. That is sometimes evidenced by willful and knowing disobedience. It is also sometimes evidenced by trusting "correct" doctrine or practice as if it were the Savior.

>>But don't we have to reason and interpret "correctly" to understand and have faith? Do you see my dilemma?<<

We hear the gospel and trust in Jesus through it (see the closing verses of John's Gospel, and the stated point of First John. The Gospel is written so we might believe and have life (John 20:30-31). The Epistle is written so we may know we have eternal life, through the Son (1 John 5:13). To this extent, our intellect is certainly involved -- as also our will, emotions and the rest of what the Bible calls our "heart."

We are not discussing a spiritual SAT. Salvation involves a relationship -- of creaturely dependence and trust in the Creator who became our Savior through his Son Jesus Christ. People who cannot read and write can still believe the gospel and find life through Christ. Many of God's best saints through the centuries have been unlettered and unscholarly people who knew him and walked with him. Our education and knowledge opportunities are blessings if used properly, but they become hindrances if misused.


Copyright 2006 Edward Fudge

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