July 12, 2009

Harmonizing the Scriptures

Allow me to pause in our discussion of salvation to briefly consider an interpretation issue. 

Many verses in the Bible seem to make no sense, or to be contrary to what we already believe is true, or -- worst of all -- to contradict what we thought the Bible said. Consider these examples, and how some might deal with the stickiness: 
  1. The Old Testament God seems grumpy, if not downright steamed. On the other hand, New Testament Jesus seems loving. But Jesus is God, and God is the same "yesterday, today, and forever." So, God isn't actually an angry God. 
  2. Creation took only six days. Fossils suggest that species popped out of the ooze over the course of millions of years. But "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." So, creation actually took six thousand years -- and the fossils are wrong.
  3. Jesus said "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone." Therefore, Jesus is not equal to God, or Jesus doesn't realize that he is God incarnate. But Jesus also said "I and the Father are one." So, Jesus is actually equal to God -- and was probably just messing with the rich young ruler. Or it was a test.
We have a moment of doubt. We find another verse that dispels our doubt. We latch onto the second verse and ignore the first verse (or assign a new harmonized interpretation to it which may be totally contradictory to the actual words in the original verse). Verse 2 trumps verse 1. Problem solved. 

We explain away the problems by "harmonizing" the scriptures, and this is seen by many as a reasonable practice -- or even the definition of "rightly dividing" the Bible, and thus evidence of one's own advanced skill. How is this different, however, from simply picking the verses that seem true to us and declaring that these ones have the correct meaning? How objective is our filter for sifting through the contradictions? Where does our filter -- our presuppositions -- come from? 

The verses that already made sense to us? Circular reasoning. 

What we were taught in Sunday School, or at mother's knee, or in seminary? Traditions of men. 

What seems right in our own eyes? Ouch. 

More on this another day.

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