The Bible
LESSON SIX
"The Truth of Scripture Received"

 

Douglas Gleason, AncientLighth.org

E.    The Truth of Scripture Received

Introduction
        a) Lesson Outline

  1. Bibliology
    1. The Truth of Scripture Revealed
      1. Introduction
        1. Lesson Outline
        2. The Problem
      2. What the Scriptures Teach
        1. The Prophets
        2. Poetry and Wisdom
        3. Early Christianity and Acts
        4. Pauline Writings
          1. Israel’s Blindness
          2. Satanic Blindness
          3. Natural Blindness
          4. Carnal Blindness
          5. Johannine Writings
      3. Systematic Formulation
        1. Canonicity
          1. Definition
          2. The Tests of Canonicity
                Is the Book Authoritative?
                Is the Book Prophetic?
                Is the Book Authentic?
                Is the Book Dynamic?
                Is the Book Accepted?
          3. Application of the Principles
            1. Preliminary Observations
            2. Basic Steps in the Process
          4. The Extra-canonical Books
        2. Interpretation:  The Believer’s Responsibility
          1. An Observation
          2. Interpretation
                The Challenge of the Gaps
                The Origin of Meaning
                The Author and His Part
                The Text and Its Part
                The Receiver and His Part
          3. Application
        3. Illumination: The Holy Spirit’s Work
          1. What Is It?
          2. Why Do We Need It?
          3. How Does It Work?
          4. Some Observations
          5. What it Does Not Mean
          6. What it Does Mean
      4. Alternative Views
        1. The Birth and Development of the Allegorical Method
              The Early Church Fathers
              Medieval Scholasticism
        2. The Reformers and the Return to the Normal Method
        3. Liberal Protestantism and New Developments in Interpretive Methods
              Positive Developments
              Negative Developments
      5. Application   

b)     The Problem

So far we have seen in our study of Bibliology that God has proactively revealed Himself.  In a couple of chapters from now we are going to investigate the being of God.  I think that it bears mentioning now that, as we shall see, God’s character is such that He intended from all of eternity that men should know Him.  It is this fact that should be our motivation to immerse ourselves ever more deeply into His word.  My friend and editor, Jim Deering, had this to say,    

“I’ve always thought that one of the saddest things that I have had to face as a bible teacher is that many think that the Bible is full of “hidden” knowledge and that they can’t know it.  When people learn that God wants them to know Him and His word, they begin to grow in their comprehension of His word.”

And this is what it all comes down to.  We have seen that through the inspiring work of the Holy Spirit, an infallible and inerrant record (the Scriptures) was made to preserve His revelation.  Through this inerrant record, mankind throughout the ages could know God as He had always intended.  But now that we have the Scriptures, what are we to do with them?    There is an old Jewish saying that goes, “From God’s lips to my ears!”   After His Word hits our ears, then what?  We now turn our attention to the final element…us. 

So, what are we to do with this inspired revelation from God?  James provides the answer when he said “putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.  But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” (James 1:21-22)  Notice that there are several parts to this command.  First we are to put aside the things that contribute to a sinful and ungodly life.  Second, we are to receive the word of God into our very souls.  Finally, we are to live a life that conforms to His word.  In other words, James is calling for a complete and reasoned reception of the truth (God’s word) as the Christian grows in spiritual understanding. 

This leads one to ask, “What is included in the Word of God?”  Let me explain.  We have spoken repeatedly of the Scriptures which are the Word of God.  Protestants believe that the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments constitute the totality of the Bible.  These books are called the canon.  Roman Catholics accept the canonical books but also include the Apocryphal books, those which were written in the period between the Old and New Testaments.  Which is it?  How did a particular writing come to be included in the Bible?  What were the rules that determined a books admission to the Bible?  Who made the choice to include or not to include a particular writing? 

The second question that should be asked is “what is involved in ‘receiving the word’?  James indicated that receiving the word involves more than merely acquiring knowledge about the Bible and what it says.  But, we ask, how much more?

Finally, we have seen the involvement of God in every aspect of the forming and giving of His word.  How is He involved in the process of the reception of His word?  For example, because of the supernatural nature God’s Word, we have a special problem related to our ability to receive it.  As a result of sin’s entrance into God’s creation, spiritual darkness fell upon the world.  This darkness resulted in mankind’s inability to receive the truth of this revelation.  In other words, as a result of sin, mankind lacked the ability to properly understand and faithfully respond to God’s Word.  Sin’s power to blind was so powerful that it would require the work of the Holy Spirit to overcome the darkness brought about by sin and bring light to the heart of man. [1]  This illuminating work of the Holy Spirit is effective in the realm of salvation and the realm of Biblical interpretation and takes place in the arena of the human soul. 

We will defer our discussion of the work of the Holy Spirit in salvation to a later lesson and confine ourselves here to His work in interpretation.  The work of the Holy Spirit in interpreting the Word of God itself raises some thorny questions.  How does the Spirit guide and direct believers in the interpretive process?  What does guidance mean?  If true understanding comes through the inner working of the Spirit in the individual believer, is his understanding therefore subjective?  Does this inner working guarantee that the believer knows the correct view of a passage of Scripture?  How then do we explain the conflicting interpretations of a given passage?  In this situation, how do we determine the correct view?  It seems that what the Holy Spirit says to one He would say to another. 

2.    What the Scriptures Teach

a)    The Prophets
The Old Testament Prophets were vocal critics of Israel’s moral life.  They observed the nation’s constant drift away from the God of their fathers to serve the false gods of Canaan.  Over the years, through the preaching of the prophets, God repeatedly warned them that judgment was coming.  By the mid-7th Century BC a certain carnal blindness had settled in on the people.  Their repeated sinning had desensitized them to their moral condition.  Israel continued to ignore God’s warnings and finally reached the point of no return.  Isaiah describes what happened next.  In the year that King Uzziah died (ca 750-760 BC), God commissioned Isaiah the prophet to go to the House of Israel with a message:

 “And He said, "Go, and tell this people: `Keep on listening, but do not perceive; keep on looking, but do not understand.’  Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull and their eyes dim, lest they see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and be healed." (Isaiah 6:9-10)  [2]

God instructed Isaiah to tell Israel that their time was up.  The nation, the one that He had chosen, had aroused His wrath.  “To this wrath Israel had delivered itself up through its continued obstinacy in sinning.  And consequently the Lord now proceeded to shut the door of repentance against His people.” [3]  Notice the terms used.  God said that He would by His direct action; make the people unable to repent from their sin.  Thus a judicially applied spiritual darkness settled on Israel.  Isaiah described the result of this darkness,

“For the LORD has poured over you a spirit of deep sleep,
He has shut your eyes, the prophets;
And He has covered your heads, the seers.

And the entire vision shall be to you like the words of a sealed book, which when they give it to the one who is literate, saying, ‘Please read this,’ he will say, ‘I cannot, for it is sealed.’  Then the book will be given to the one who is illiterate, saying, ‘Please read this.’ And he will say, ‘I cannot read.’" (Isaiah 29:10-12)

The good news in this whole sad story is that this judicial blindness that God inflicted upon Israel was not a permanent judgment.  Again, Isaiah said:

"Arise, shine; for your light has come,
And the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness will cover the earth,
And deep darkness the peoples;
But the LORD will rise upon you,
And His glory will appear upon you.
And nations will come to your light,
And kings to the brightness of your rising…” (Isaiah 60:1-3)

In this passage God calls Israel to shine with the divine glory. God declares that an impenetrable darkness due to the sin of mankind covers the whole earth.  This darkness had once completely enveloped Israel when she too was not walking as she should, in the light with her God.  Now, the glory of the Lord will settle over God’s people.  This glory, so situated, would act like the sun, giving spiritual light to the nation.  This light of God would have great power of attraction extending to the nations of the world.  Geoffrey Grogan said that,   “The combination of "nations" and "kings" reminds us of [Isaiah] 52:15; and this, along with the use of chapter 60 in Revelation 21 and the linking of the glory of God and the Lamb in Revelation 21:22, prompts us to think of the divine glory here as that of the risen Christ-Servant-Lamb.” [4] This passage warrants some additional exploration in light of Grogan’s observation. 

Isaiah 52:15 is the precursor to and actual beginning of that great passage of Scripture, Isaiah 53.   This passage is one of those most often quoted in the New Testament and one of the best known predictions of Christ in the Old Testament.  Let’s see what Isaiah said:

“Behold, My servant will prosper,
He will be high and lifted up, and greatly exalted. 14  Just as many were astonished at you, My people,
So His appearance was marred more than any man,
And His form more than the sons of men. 15  Thus He will sprinkle many nations,
Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him;
For what had not been told them they will see,
And what they had not heard they will understand.

“1 Who has believed our message?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2  For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. 3  He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face,
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

“4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted. 5  But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed. 6  All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.

“7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth. 8  By oppression and judgment He was taken away;
And as for His generation, who considered
That He was cut off out of the land of the living,
For the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due? 9  His grave was assigned with wicked men,
Yet He was with a rich man in His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.

“10 But the LORD was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. 11  As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities. 12  Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors.”  (Isaiah 52:12-53:12)

Now that you have read the passage, go back and read it again.  Observe that Isaiah makes repeated clear statements about a substitutionary atonement. What do we mean by a ‘substitutionary atonement?  We will discuss this matter more completely in a latter lesson; however a brief digression is warranted here.  Erickson says of atonement

"The Hebrew word most commonly used in the Old Testament for the various types of atonement is kaphar and its derivatives.  The word literally means ‘to cover’.  One was delivered from punishment by the interposing of something between one’s sin and God.  God then saw the atoning sacrifice rather than the sin.  The covering of the sin meant that the penalty no longer had to be extracted from the sinner.

Christ’s atoning death must be seen against the background of the Old Testament sacrificial system.  Before Christ’s atoning death it was necessary for sacrifices to be regularly offered to compensate for the sins that had been committed.  These sacrifices were necessary, not to work a reformation in the sinner nor to deter the sinner or others from committing further sin, but to atone for the sin, which inherently deserved punishment.  There had been offense against God’s law and hence against God Himself, and this had to be set right.

 It should be noted that the sacrifice had an objective effect.  Sacrifices were offered to appease God.  Further, it was offered as a substitute for the sinner.  It bore the sinner’s guilt.  For the sacrifice to be effective, there had to be some connection, some point of commonality, between the victim and the sinner for whom it was offered.

While the legal portions of the Old Testament typify with considerable clarity the sacrificial and Substitutionary character of Christ’s death, the prophetic passages go even further.  They establish the connection between the Old Testament sacrifices and Christ’s death; the iniquity of the sinners was transferred to the sacrificial animal. [5]

In Hebrews 9:6-15 the work of Christ is likened to the Old Testament Day of Atonement.  Christ is depicted as the high priest who entered into the Holy Place to offer sacrifice.  But the sacrifice Christ offered was not the blood of goats and calves, but his own blood (v. 12).  The he secured ‘eternal redemption.’  A vivid contrast is drawn between the sacrifice of animals, which had only a limited effect, and of Christ, whose death has eternal effect.  Whereas the Mosaic sacrifices had to be offered repeatedly, Christ’s death was a once-for-all atonement for the sins of all humankind (v. 8).[6] 

The Old Testament concept then, is one of Substitutionary atonement, while the New Testament idea is one of Substitutionary redemption. 

Returning to Isaiah, we see that he describes the Servant of the Lord who “bore the sin of many,” who lived a singularly faultless life and suffered greatly in spite of it.  The work that this Servant accomplished will last for all of eternity.  Take in these descriptive phrases.  Meditate on them.  They fit precisely with our understanding of the work that Jesus Christ performed on the cross.

But is Jesus Christ the one portrayed in this passage as most Christian interpreters believe? Alan MacRae succinctly frames the issue when he said,

“Christians have no doubt that the One who is here described as God’s righteous servant is indeed the Lord Jesus Christ.  However, this is not the first passage dealing with the servant of the Lord. In fact, as we shall note later, it is the climax of a series of passages. Some interpreters of Isaiah 53 seek to deny its relevance to the Lord Jesus Christ by insisting that the one who is described as the servant of the Lord is really the nation of Israel.” [7]

He makes several points.  First, from Chapter 41:8 to 53:11 Isaiah uses the term servant twenty times.  In the first seven instances, the servant is clearly identified as the nation of Israel.  The context surrounding these verses indicates that the nation, as the servant of the Lord, was called for a special purpose, in order that a certain work should be performed.  Because of this call, all of Israel had the responsibility before God to accomplish that purpose.  This included those individual Israelites who had turned against God and His purposes.  MacRae argues that these individuals could not be considered as part of the ‘servant’, the nation of Israel. For this reason, the remaining verses that refer to the servant take on a more personal note.  One has only to read the passage above to observe that this singular person and not the nation is in view here.  The servant seems to have become an individual.  MacRae concludes: 

“…we noticed that the wonderful prophecy of the sufferings of Christ in Isaiah 53 comes at the end of a long series of references to the servant of the Lord in which this servant is explicitly declared to be Israel. Facing the question, how can the servant be the nation of Israel in some passages, but be the Lord Jesus Christ in others, we saw that the apparent contradiction can be explained by observing that the responsibility for the work of the servant of the Lord rests upon the entire nation of Israel, while the actual doing of the task could hardly be performed by an entire nation. Since the nation includes wicked people as well as good people, the task must be performed by a portion of the nation, perhaps even by a single individual, who would be the true “Servant of the Lord.”  [8]

What shall we say about all of this?  Grogan surely was correct in his assessment that this prompts us to think of the divine glory as that of the risen Christ-Servant-Lamb.  More importantly, it should prompt all of us, both Jew and Gentile alike to follow the example of Isaiah (chapter 6); we should fall down and worship Him.

b)     Poetry & Wisdom
“The wisdom psalms show clear affinity with the wisdom literature. [9]  The wisdom tradition upholds the virtues of godliness (wisdom), the rewards of God, the contrasting way of the righteous and the wicked, and the respective ends of both groups. Wisdom and law are closely related, as both celebrate Yahweh's revelation as the way of life.” [10]  This is clearly seen in Psalm 119.  In this psalm, the psalmist demonstrates the relationship between the responsibilities of the receiver of the word of God (His law) the work of God to instruct a man in its meaning.  The psalmist said:

“O how I love Thy law!
It is my meditation all the day.
Thy commandments make me wiser than my enemies,
For they are ever mine.
I have more insight than all my teachers,
For Thy testimonies are my meditation. 
I understand more than the aged,
Because I have observed Thy precepts.
I have restrained my feet from every evil way,
That I may keep Thy word.
I have not turned aside from Thine ordinances,
For Thou Thyself hast taught me. 
How sweet are Thy words to my taste!
Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
From Thy precepts I get understanding;
Therefore I hate every false way.” (Psalm 119:97-104)

A few observations are in order.  A man’s love of God's law is the result of his love for God, who is his Teacher.  To meditate on His law is a demonstration of a man’s devotion to the Lord himself.  For this reason the practice of meditating on His Word should be cultivated regularly for it leads to superior understanding of His Word.  The psalmist claims that his understanding is superior to that of the Nation’s teachers.  We should quickly note that he is not making a prideful assertion of superiority but a rather of exultation in the Lord Himself.  This is because the Lord is his teacher.  We conclude with the commentator that, “The word of God together with divine illumination [the teaching of God] is superior to any human interpretation. However, in setting forth the excellence of divine illumination, the psalmist would not have been so arrogant as to shun instruction from the teachers and elders!” [11]

Solomon gives additional insight.

“My son, if you will receive my sayings,
And treasure my commandments within you,
Make your ear attentive to wisdom,
Incline your heart to understanding;
For if you cry for discernment,
Lift your voice for understanding;
If you seek her as silver,
And search for her as for hidden treasures;
Then you will discern the fear of the LORD,
And discover the knowledge of God.
For the LORD gives wisdom;
From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Proverbs 2:1-6)

As with the psalmist above, Solomon too draws a similar relationship between the responsibility of the receiver of the Word of God and the work of God.  The receiver must make his ear attentive, incline his heart to understanding, and seek the Lord’s instruction.  The result will be to discover the knowledge of God.  The Lord will give wisdom, and He will give understanding to the one who seeks it.

c)      Early Christianity and Acts
In the Gospels we see reference again to the blindness that had descended upon Israel in a way that graphically indicates the need for illumination.  Luke tells us about two disciples that were on their way to a village called Emmaus from Jerusalem after the crucifixion of Christ.

“And they were conversing with each other about all these things which had taken place.  And it came about that while they were conversing and discussing, Jesus Himself approached, and began traveling with them.  But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him.  And He said to them, ‘What are these words that you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?’ And they stood still, looking sad.  And one of them, named Cleopas, answered and said to Him, ‘Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?’  And He said to them, ‘What things?’”  

And they proceeded to explain the events of the last few days.  The more they explained the more confused they became about what the events meant. 

“And He said to them, ‘O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!  Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?’  And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.”  

And what was their response to this instruction?

“And their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight.  And they said to one another, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?’  And they arose that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, saying, ‘The Lord has really risen, and has appeared to Simon.’  And they began to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread. Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures… (Luke 24:13-35, 45)

We see here that men, who were familiar with the Scriptures, had need of the kind of help that the psalmist spoke of.  We conclude that all men have need of the Lord to instruct them.

In the book of Acts, Luke gives us further insight into the teaching work of the Holy Spirit.  Philip, one of the apostles, was out in the countryside preaching the good news of the kingdom.  One afternoon he was instructed by an angel of the Lord to be on the road that connects Jerusalem and Gaza.  Obedient to the instruction of the Lord, Philip met up there with a government official who was the treasurer of the court of the Queen of Ethiopia.  This official was sitting in his chariot reading from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.

“And the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go up and join this chariot.’”

So Philip boldly walked up to the chariot.  As he approached, he heard the official reading Isaiah.  So Philip asked him,  

“‘Do you understand what you are reading?’  And he [the court official] said, ‘Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.  And the eunuch answered Philip and said, ‘Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this?  Of himself, or of someone else?’  And Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.” (Acts 8:26-39)

Notice that the Holy Spirit brought together a man with a need (understanding) and a man with the answer (instruction in the meaning of the Word of God).  The Holy Spirit worked through Philip to explain to the one with the need the meaning of the Scriptures. 

d)     Pauline Writings

Paul discusses the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit more comprehensively than all of the human authors of Scripture.  Paul describes the state of spiritual darkness that pervades the whole world.  This darkness is experienced by Jew, gentile and Christian alike.  It is because of this darkness that mankind is blind to the true meaning of the Word of God and is in need of spiritual light.  It is this light that the Holy Spirit brings.   Paul classified several kinds of spiritual blindness and its cause.  He speaks of the

(1)  Judicial Blindness
Paul spoke of a judicial blindness that was pronounced upon Israel by the Holy Spirit when he says:

“But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ.   But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. (2 Corinthians 3:14-16)

In this passage Paul described what Israel was blind to.  Because of their sin and the judgment of God, they were not able to recognize Jesus Christ as their Messiah when He came the first time.  This ‘veil’ was the unwillingness of Israel to see the need or the effectiveness of the presence of God in their sacrifice. The continued result of that blindness was to harden their hearts.  This condition exists to this day and unless the Lord supernaturally removes it they will never understand the truth of who Christ was.  As we shall see, spiritual blindness is not exclusively a Jewish problem.  All of us experience it in one form or another.  Fortunately for Israel, this blindness was not a permanent judgment but was of limited duration.  This “partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” (Romans 11:25)

(2)  Satanic Blindness
He speaks of Satanic Blindness in his second letter to the Corinthians.

“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world [Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)

Some of Paul’s detractors had claimed that his teaching was restricted to those members of a spiritually minded elite.  Conceding the point for the sake of argument, Paul counters that even if some (unbelievers) could not understand his gospel it was not his fault, it was rather that the god of this world, Satan, who was the cause.  Satan wanted to prevent them from seeing the truth of the gospel that focused the light of salvation squarely upon Jesus Christ.

(3)  Natural Blindness
Paul speaks of the natural blindness of the gentiles.  Writing to the Church at Corinth, Paul began by discussing the wisdom of God.  He said:

“When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.” (1 Corinthians 2:1)

Here the apostle reminds the Corinthians of the message that he preached when he first came to them.  His preaching was not the wisdom of the world; it was rather the secret wisdom of God, wisdom that was hidden from the world and revealed to us who believe.  He elaborates:

“For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.  For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.  Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.  But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.  But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no man.” (1 Corinthians 2:9-15)

First, notice that God has revealed His wisdom to us through the Holy Spirit.  Because we who believe are temporal we cannot know the thoughts of God.  The Spirit on the other hand (who is God) knows the thoughts of God and reveals them to us.  Second, notice that Paul speaks of two different kinds of men, spiritual men and natural men.  Spiritual men have the capacity to understand the thoughts of God for the Holy Spirit teaches them.  Natural men cannot understand the thoughts of God because they are spiritual in nature.  Finally, notice that it is the Holy Spirit who instructs the believer regarding the things of God.

(4)  Carnal Blindness
Finally, Paul speaks of the carnal blindness of the believer.  Lest we become fooled in thinking that we who are believers are always able to appraise the things of God Paul gives us some additional instruction.

“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ.  I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)

Paul uses spiritual (Greek, pneumatikos, pertaining to the spirit, spiritual) in combination with flesh (Greek, sarkinos, fleshly) and babes (Greek, nepios, infant), and applies it to believers who are spiritually mature Christians, those led into maturity by the Spirit.  He contrasts the spiritual man with the immature ones still controlled by the fleshly prejudices and viewpoints dominating the unsaved of the world.  These fleshly believers were not able to receive solid food because of their immature carnal behavior.  The solid food is used by Paul to refer to the deep things of God and these things are again, spiritually discerned.  When we who are believers drift into a state of carnal behavior, we are as the unsaved man who is unable to discern the things of God.

In all of Paul’s discussions regarding spiritual darkness that is in some form part and parcel to all men, the remedy for that darkness is the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit.  “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God.” (1 Corinthians 2:12)  We need the light of the Spirit to see the truth of God.

e)     Johannine Writings
John, as with Paul, speaks of the natural blindness that is indigenous to all mankind.  Concerning the coming of Jesus Christ, he said that, “In Him [Jesus] was life, and the life was the light of men.  And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”  (John 1:5)

Of the thirty-six times the term life (Greek, zoe) appears in John’s gospel, it refers most often, to spiritual life.  In this verse, according to John, this spiritual life was embodied in Christ, who demonstrated it perfectly by his career.[12]  Christ is the life that is the light of men.  God's purpose and power are made available to men in Him. Unfortunately, because of their natural blindness the human heart could not understand the light of Jesus Christ.  It would take something very powerful indeed to overcome the darkness and that something was the new birth.  Jesus said to Nicodemus, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3) 

Later in his gospel, John elaborates on this subject.  He tells us that the Holy Spirit is actively involved in the process of the new birth.  John was in the Upper Room with Jesus and the other disciples sharing what came to be called the ‘Last Supper’.  Jesus took that opportunity to instruct them saying,

"But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.  And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin.”  (John 16:7-8)

The key to this aspect [the new birth or salvation] of the Spirit's ministry is seen in the term convict (Greek, elencho).  The word is a legal term that means to pronounce a judicial verdict by which the guilt of the accused is defined and fixed. In the case of the Spirit, He does more than merely accuse men of sin.  He invests them with an inescapable sense of guilt that causes them to realize their shame and helplessness before God.  The man who experiences this convicting work of the Spirit can only respond as did David when confronted by Nathan the prophet of his sin with Bathsheba. [13] David said, “Against Thee, Thee only, I have sinned, and done what is evil in Thy sight.” (Psalm 51:4)  The Spirit creates an inescapable awareness of sin so that it cannot be dismissed no matter what excuse may be offered. 

Another aspect of the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit according to John is overcoming the carnal blindness of believers, a blindness that affects their spiritual development.  In the same discourse Jesus said,

“I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.  He shall glorify Me; for He shall take of Mine, and shall disclose it to you.  All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said, that He takes of Mine, and will disclose it to you.” (John 16:12-15)

Jesus promise to send the Holy Spirit would to lead the disciples (and all believers) into the full understanding of the gospel of God.  The Spirit would not present an independent message or one differing from what had already been revealed in the three years that they had followed Jesus.  Rather, they would be led into a deeper understanding of who Jesus Christ was and of the principles for a God pleasing life that He had already laid down. They would also be enlightened about future events.  This teaching ministry of the Spirit would grow ever deeper as the disciples grew in their spiritual capacity and understanding.

3.      Systematic Formulation
In section 1 above, we posed several questions related to the reception of the word of God.  Let me restate them here.  First, what constitutes the word of God?  Second, what does it mean to ‘receive’ it?  Third, what is the involvement of the Holy Spirit in reception?

a)     Canonicity
The first question before us then is what is the content of God’s message to us?  We know that God inspired men to write His word down.  Out of all of the sacred documents that have been passed down to us since the dawn of history, which are inspired and which are not?  Which of them are to be included in the canon and which are not?

(1)  Definition
Our word canon stems from the Greek word kanon which means a rod or a ruler.  The word kanon in turn stems from the Hebrew term kaneh which means measuring rod. Let’s look at an example from the Old Testament to see how it was used.  Ezekiel, reporting on a vision that he had, said,

“So He brought me there; and behold, there was a man whose appearance was like the appearance of bronze, with a line of flax and a measuring rod (kaneh) in his hand; and he was standing in the gateway.  And behold, there was a wall on the outside of the temple all around, and in the man's hand was a measuring rod (kaneh) of six cubits, each of which was a cubit and a handbreadth.” (Ezekiel 40:3, 5)

The New Testament usage was broadened to include the idea of a standard by which something was evaluated or measured.  In this vein, in the early Church, kanon came to be understood as “the rule of faith” which was their way of describing the authoritative Scriptures.  By 350 AD, “the concept of a biblical canon or normative Scriptures was developing.” [14]  Over time, the word canon has acquired two meanings.  In one sense, the Bible is the standard (canon) by which all else is to be judged.  In the other sense it is the standard (canon) or rule or rules by which a particular writing was determined to be inspired or authoritative.

(2)  The Test of Canonicity
The primary quality of a particular writing that determines its canonicity is inspiration.  Simply, if the writing is inspired of God it is canonical.  It is God who gives Divine authority to a particular writing.    Robert Cook says,

“It should be kept in mind that a distinction is to be maintained between the canonicity of a book and its collection into that grouping that we now call the Holy Bible.  All the books of Scripture were canonical from the moment of their writing, but in some cases they were not acknowledged as such and added to the collection of the acknowledged Scriptures for many years.” [15]

The problem for men of God is one of recognition; how do we recognize what is inspired and what is not?  So how are we to answer this question?  Geisler and Nix offer:

“Operating in the whole process are discernible some five basic criteria:  (1) Is the book authoritative—does it claim to be of God?  (2) Is it prophetic—was it written by a servant of God?  (3)  Is it authentic—does it tell the truth about God, man, etc.?  (4)  Is the book dynamic—does it possess the life-transforming power of God?  (5) Is this book received or accepted by the people of God for whom it was originally written—is it recognized as being from God?” [16]

We should note that each of these criterion is a hallmark of inspiration.  Full discussion of these points is properly reserved as a subject of Biblical Introduction.  However, a brief discussion is appropriate here.

Is the Book Authoritative?
Each book of the Bible makes the claim of divine authority.  This is seen most often in the use of the phrase ‘thus says the Lord’.  It is also seen in the tone of the book, i.e., in the exhortations made by the writer.  At all times there is some sort of divine pronouncement.  This pronouncement takes the form of what a believer should or should not do.  In other places it takes the form of what God has or has not done or what He will yet do.  Always, in the writing we see the authority of God.

Is the Book Prophetic?
In other words, is the writing by a known prophet of God?  The apostle Peter said, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

In his first letter, Peter stated, among other things, a cardinal test for determining what constituted God’s word when he said that “…no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”  (2 Peter 1:21)  In this phrase, Peter makes it perfectly clear that the prophetic message found its source in God and not man.  Since prophets of God were Spirit moved their writings were to be accepted as from God and therefore to be included in the canon. 

Paul makes the same argument relative to apostolic writings when he opens his letter to the Galatians, “Paul, an apostle (not sent from men, nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father.” (Galatians 1:1)  His writings were to be accepted because he was sent from God—they were apostolic writings and on the same plane as prophetic writings.

Is the Book Authentic?
We mentioned above that Peter gave us one of the tests for canonicity; is the writing by a prophet of God?   He gives another in that same passage when he said,

“Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them--bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3 In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping. (2 Peter 1:20-2:3)

Peter begins by cautioning his readers that that no prophecy of Scripture is to be interpreted by any individual in an arbitrary way.  He then gives us the source of Scripture and as we said above, one of the rules for determining what constitutes Scripture (verses 20-21).  In the next portion he gives us another rule for determining what constitutes Scripture.  This is found in his warning about false prophets and teachers.  His warning gives insight into the methods and motives of these deceivers as contrasted with the true prophets mentioned earlier.  Scripture comes from authentic prophets of God and this is the basis for the second rule, is the writing authentic?  Authentic means that the writing is in fact from God through the pen of the human author. 

Unlike the ‘destructive heresies’ of the false teachers, authentic writing bears certain identifying marks; it is factual and has no doctrinal errors, i.e., it is doctrinally consistent with other inspired writings. And this is what one would expect.  Indeed, the Bereans verified the authenticity of Paul’s preaching when they, “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11)  What they were looking for was consistency with what was written.  We should be careful to note that being consistent with other inspired books would not by itself mean that the writing was inspired.  However, contradiction would mean that it absolutely was not.

For this reason, “much of the Apocrypha was rejected [by most of Protestant Christianity] because of the principle of authenticity.  Their historical anomalies and theological heresies made it impossible to accept them as from God despite their authoritative format.” [17]

Is the Book Dynamic?

“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)  The writer to the Hebrews uses the terms living and active to describe God’s word.  This is what we mean by dynamic.  God’s word is alive and powerful, it is able to change lives.  Jesus, the living Word, said, "If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32, 33)  It is freedom from the ravages of sin that is brought to the individual who believes and abides in the life changing word of God.  “False teaching never liberates; only the truth has emancipating power.” [18]

Is the Book Accepted?
Finally, an inspired, authentic writing is recognized by the people of God to whom it was given. It would remain for later generations of believers to verify this fact.  It is reasonable to see that if a particular writing was received by God’s people, collected over time with other inspired writings, and more importantly, used as the authoritative message from God to regulate the life of the community of believers, then that writing must be inspired.  This point is readily seen in the writings of Moses, Paul, Peter and the other apostles.  As Geisler and Nix conclude:

“God determined the authority of the books of the canon, but the people of God were called upon to discover which books were authorative and which were not.  To assist them in this discovery were these five tests of canonicity.” [19]

Again, we must stress that these are rules of recognition not determination.  A book was canonical from its moment of writing if it was inspired of God.  These rules were applied and the result is reflected in today’s Bible. This collection of universally recognized inspired books is called the Homologoumena (Greek meaning a ‘collection of “same spoken” writings’).

(3)  The Application of the Principles
We should not think that a group of Rabbis or a committee of Church Fathers gathered to determine the authority of the books of what now constitutes the Bible.  The formation of the canon of the Old and New Testaments can best be described as a process that applied the five principles or canons (rules or standards) described above. 

Preliminary Observations


Observation One: Some Principles are Implied in the Process of Discovery
While all five principles of recognition are to be found in the inspired books, not all are readily apparent when deciding on each canonical book.  For example, consider the historical books of 1st and 2nd Kings and 1st and 2nd Chronicles.  Is it immediately obvious that they are dynamic and life changing?  Where is the authority of God evident?  Yet over time, the people of God did see that they were indeed dynamic and authoritative.  These principles are to be considered implied or implicit.   Consider the Book of Hebrews.  One cannot call it canonical on the basis that it was written by a prophet of God or an Apostle because the author is unknown.  However, the authority of the book is more apparent than its authorship.  Again, in this case, authority is implicit in the book.  Other books, were written by prophets and apostles or their associates.  They are automatically canonical. We must emphasize here that all five principles were involved in discovering each canonical book.  Some were used explicitly and some implicitly.

Observation Two: Some Principles Operate Negatively in the Process of Discovery
Some principles operate more negatively than others.  For example, take the principle of authenticity.  A book may be authentic in that it had no doctrinal errors and was consistent with the other canonical books.  This would serve to positively eliminate one that did have errors or was inconsistent from the canon.  However, by even if it were consistent and free from doctrinal error, this is no guarantee that it is canonical.  There are many outstanding writers today that are doctrinally correct and consistent but are not inspired.  

Another of the principles that is primarily negative is authority.  Even though a book may claim to have the authority of God, it may not necessarily be inspired.  Most of the apocryphal books make this claim.  Geisler and Nix respond to this saying,

“Much of the Apocrypha was rejected because of the principle of authenticity.  Their historical anomalies and theological heresies made it impossible to accept them as from God despite their authoritative format.  They could not be from God and contain error at the same time.” [20]

Finally, the principle of reception operates negatively.  Just because a book is received by some of the people of God does not ipso facto [21] make the book inspired of God.  Again, take the example of the Apocrypha.  Roman Catholics pronounced the Apocrypha as canonical at the Council of Trent (1545).  Protestants of the day rejected them.  Simply because a book is accepted by some believers somewhere and at some time is far from proof of that books inspiration.  Again, as Geisler and Nix say,

“The initial reception by the people of God who were in the best position to test the prophetic authority of the book is crucial.  It took some time for all segments of subsequent generations to be fully informed about the original circumstances.  Thus, their acceptance is important but supportive in nature.” [22]

Observation Three:  The Overriding Principle in the Process of Discovery
Finally, there is one overriding principle and that is the prophetic nature of the writing.  This is the foundational principle.  If a particular writing is by an accredited prophet of God, who makes the claim that he is speaking for God, then no other question needs to be asked of the writing.  It is automatically inspired.  Note that we said accredited prophet.  Many times there was no direct confirmation that the prophet was indeed called by God.  Moses is one such example.  At the burning bush, Moses was commanded by God to go to the children of Israel and lead them out of the bondage of the Egyptians.

“Then Moses answered and said, ‘What if they will not believe me, or listen to what I say? For they may say, ‘The LORD has not appeared to you.’”  (Exodus 4:1)  Although in this case, God confirmed Moses’ message immediately with miraculous signs, in other cases He did not.  The only validation then was, did the prophecy come true?  This could take some time.  In this case, the other four principles of recognition would be essential to the later recognition that the writing was inspired.  These four principles function as a check on the prophetic nature of a particular writing.  Again, once a particular writing was established that it was from a verified prophet of God, no other test was required, the writing was canonical.

The Basic Steps in the Process

Step One: Inspiration by God
As we said earlier, there was no committee of Rabbis or Church Fathers who sat down and determined what was or was not to be included in the Scriptures.  It was a process that began when “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (2 Peter 1:21)  These writings were inspired (Greek, theopneustos, “God-breathed”. (2Timothy 3:16)   Moreover, inspired writings spoke with the authority of God. It was God who inspired men to write His word and this written word had His authority.  His word alone was canon.

Step Two:  Recognition by the People of God
The second step in the process required that the people of God who were the original recipients of the inspired writing had to recognize that it was from God.  The original recipients then copied and circulated the writing whereupon the whole community recognized it as canonical.     

Step Three:  Collection and Preservation by the People of God
Finally, because the community of God’s people treasured His word, they collected and preserved it.  There are a number of references in the Old Testament that describe the collection of the sacred inspired writings that came to be called by the Jews the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings.  This gathering process began first with Moses.  At the end of his days, Moses instructed “the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, saying, ‘Take this book of the law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may remain there as a witness against you.’” (Deuteronomy 31:24-26)  Moses had spent a good portion of his life gathering the material that went into the record of the origins of the world and the early history of the Jewish people. Some have said that Moses would have relied on oral traditions.[23]  It is suggested by others that Moses had the original records of Adam, some of his descendents, as well as those of the Patriarchs. [24]

We can trace the continuing process of collecting through Joshua who, “wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the LORD,” through Samuel, who, “told the people the ordinances of the kingdom, and wrote them in the book and placed it before the LORD,”   (1 Samuel 10:25) to Daniel who observed “in the books the number of the years which was revealed as the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet for the completion of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.” (Daniel 9:2)  So, throughout the history of mankind there was a collecting of writings that bore the marks of being inspired by and coming from God.

It is evident from the fourth century BC onwards there was a general consensus among the Jews that God no longer spoke directly to men.  This can be seen in such passages as Zechariah 13:3 where the prophet laments, “It will come about that if anyone still prophesies, then his father and mother who gave birth to him will say to him, `You shall not live, for you have spoken falsely in the name of the LORD'; and his father and mother who gave birth to him will pierce him through when he prophesies.”  In other words, in spite of the claims of the one prophesying, no true prophet was to be found.  Ewart maintains that, “Although we have no accurate information, there are a number of references to the fact that the final collection of the sacred writings was made in the postexilic period.” [25] 

R. K. Harrison is correct when he writes:

“In all its essentials the [Old Testament] canon was most probably complete by about 300 BC, and while discussions concerning certain component parts was continued well into the Christian era, the substance of the canon as it existed a century and a half after the time of Ezra and Nehemiah remained unaffected by these controversies.”

Regarding the process of the collection and preservation of the writings that comprise the New Testament Eward observes, “It has often been observed that the question of the N[ew] T[estament] canon is more problematic than that of the O[ld] T[estament].” [26]  Jesus endorsed the collection of books that we regard as the Old Testament.  When He said ‘it is written’, He was affirming that He considered that passage as coming from God.  His extensive reliance on the written word indicates this endorsement.  We can be rest secure in the knowledge that “the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms,” (Luke 24:44) as Jesus called them, are indeed the Word of God.

From its foundation at Pentecost and throughout its early years, the Church relied on the same written scriptures as those in the Jewish Synagogue.  This was a period that saw the formation of an oral tradition centered on the sayings of Jesus as they were publicly proclaimed by the Apostles. There was seemingly no hurry to document these sayings for the Apostles were in effect living books.  As long as the Church had them there was no need for a written record.  Further, Israel was largely populated by common folk who were a largely illiterate people.  Jewish traditions had been passed down orally for centuries.  Why change now?

However, as the Church spread beyond the borders of Israel and into the cosmopolitan culture of the Roman Empire, she found a largely literate society.  As trustworthy as this oral tradition may have been, there was pressing need to write it down to reach newly won believers.  Perhaps it was this great missionary outreach to the empire that prompted the Apostles of the need for a written gospel.  The Gentile church frequently had no access to those who personally walked with Jesus Christ during His lifetime on the earth.  The need for a written gospel and other apostolic materials was underscored by the danger of heresy.  False prophets had been encountered by the apostles as they traveled proclaiming the gospel.  Written records of the words of Jesus Christ as well as those of the Apostles would go a long way to bolster the defenses of the Church from heresy.

As it turned out, some 25 years or so after the death of Christ, the Apostles began writing letters to the various churches that they had ministered in.  They were without doubt conscious that what they were writing was inspired of the Holy Spirit.  For example, Paul, speaking of marriage, differentiates between the instruction of the Lord and of his own preference.  He said,

“But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not send his wife away.  But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, let him not send her away.” (1 Corinthians 7:10-12)

Paul admonished the recipients of a number of his letters to circulate them to the other churches.  “There is considerable evidence that by the end of the first century the letters of Paul had been collected.” [27]

At about the same time that the Apostles began their letter writing, the gospel of Mark was written (circa 55-65 AD).  This again, indicates that the gospel message was communicated orally for some 30 years after the death of Christ.  From this time onward the other gospels were written and added to the collection.  By about 180 AD Irenaeus was found to be defending a fourfold Gospel.  Various Synods and Councils from 360 AD to 397 AD all dealt in some way with the canon of the Old and New Testaments.  “It should be said straight off that no council ever made a book of the New Testament canonical.  They simply affirmed those books that the church through long usage had found to speak with the voice of the living God.” [28]

(4)  The Extra-Canonical Books
We have spoken so far of the rules by which Israel and the Church came to recognize what writing was inspired and what was not.  In each Testament we find that there were books that were accepted by all (called the Homologoumena), books disputed by some (called the antilegomena), books accepted by some (called the apocrypha), and books rejected by all (called the Pseudepigrapha). 

In the Old Testament, thirty-four of the thirty-nine books were included in the Homologoumena.  The remaining five (Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Ezekiel, and Proverbs) were at one time or another subject to some rabbinic debate as to their fitness to reside in the canon.  These books comprised the Old Testament antilegomena.  Originally, they were considered part of the canon but over time, as differing schools of rabbinical thought waxed and waned, they were subjected to debate as to their fitness to be included in the canon.  Ultimately, the issues were settled and there they remained.

Likewise, in the New Testament, twenty of the twenty-seven books were considered canonical and are the Homologoumena by and large because the Church Fathers considered them so.  The seven books of the New Testament antilegomena were Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation.  It wasn’t until the fourth century AD that these books finally gained universal recognition.  The dispute over their recognition as part of the canon and the time that it took to so recognize them should not cause any to doubt their rightful position.  As Geisler and Nix say:

“[T]he basic problem of acceptance for most of these books was not the inspiration of the book but the lack of communication between East and West with regard to their divine authority.  Once the facts were known by the Fathers, the final acceptance of all twenty-seven books of the New Testament was not long coming.” [29]

Next, we come to the apocrypha, or those books accepted by some and not others.  When Protestants refer to these books they mean those fifteen [30] (depending on the particular list) books written in the inter-testamental period.  We say that they are accepted by some and not others because by and large, most of the Protestant world excludes them from the canon while the Roman Catholic Church has accepted them as inspired scripture since the Council of Trent (1546) pronounced them as canonical.  

A note of caution should be made at this point regarding what we Protestants mean by ‘Apocrypha’.  Roman Catholics define the Apocrypha as non-canonical books.  They are what the Protestant world calls the Pseudepigrapha.  The Catholic Encyclopedia says:

“As applied by the [Roman Catholic] Church, apocrypha means that body of writings on religious matters that are outside of the canon of Scripture and that are not inspired but at one time claimed the authority of Scripture.  The writings, though spurious still contain value: notably in the historical knowledge they offer, in the inducement they give to appreciation of the genuine Scriptures, and in the insight hey afford into the early doctrinal disputes and the items the early followers found important.  From a theological standpoint they are of slight value.” [31]

The apocryphal books as defined by Protestants were declared inspired at Trent in 1546 so are not included in the Roman Catholic definition.

According to the Roman Catholic Church, there are a number of reasons why these books should have been and were accepted at Trent as inspired.  First, there are certain allusions in the New Testament that reflect the thoughts of the Apocrypha.  Further certain events are recorded in both.  Second, Old Testament quotations made in the New Testament are from the Septuagint Version that contained the Apocryphal books.  Third, the earliest complete manuscripts of the Bible have interspersed among the Old Testament the books of the Apocrypha.  Fourth, some of the early Church Fathers accepted and used them.  Fifth, Augustine gave them the status of canon.  Finally, as we said earlier, the Council of Trent declared the Apocryphal Books as canonical.

Protestants, in general, on the other hand have rejected the Apocryphal books as being the inspired word of God as follows.  First, the Jewish community never included them.  Second, neither Jesus nor the New Testament writers accepted them.  Third, most of the great Early Church Fathers rejected their inclusion in the canon.  Fourth, no church council until the late fourth century declared them as canonical.  Fifth, John Wycliffe, that great biblical translator and martyr of the Medieval Church rejected them.  Sixth, many Roman Catholic scholars rejected them.  Seventh, the neither the Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, or Protestant churches have ever recognized them as inspired and therefore part of the canon.

Lastly, the pseudepigrapha are those books that all agree do not belong in the canon.  They are called the pseudepigrapha (Greek, meaning false writing) because they purport to have been written by biblical authors. The standard seventeen books belonging to the Old Testament were written between 200 BC and 200 AD.  Some are theologically harmless while others are heretical.  These spurious writings generally rose from within a context of religious fantasy or tradition which had in its source some kernel of truth.  Many contain historical errors. 

The number of those in written in New Testament times is difficult to determine.  By some reckonings, they number upwards of 280.  Like those of the Old Testament, they are full of wild religious fantasy and speculation.  They are generally considered heretical containing the teachings of the Gnosticism, Doceticism, and asceticism (Jim, insert links to glossary for definition of terms).

b)     Interpretation: The Responsibility of the Believer in Reception
We come now to the second question asked above, what does it mean to ‘receive’ the word of God?  Luke tells a true story that answers the question. 

Philip, one of the apostles, was instructed by the Holy Spirit to go into the desert to the southwest of Jerusalem.  Being obedient to the leading of God, he encountered a certain man who was the treasurer of the Ethiopian government.  Now, this Ethiopian had been in Jerusalem worshipping God in the Temple.  At this time he was returning home.  As many of us do while traveling, he took something along to read.  He was passing the time reading from the scroll of Isaiah.  Luke continues:

“And the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go up and join this chariot.’ And when Philip had run up, he heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’  And he said, ‘Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him…  Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself, or of someone else?’  And Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.  And as they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, "Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?"  [And Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’  And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’]  And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch; and he baptized him.” (Acts 8:27-38)

We can see here the three elements of the process of reception; observation, interpretation, and application.  Notice first that this official was reading from the scriptures.  He was observing what Isaiah had to say about things.  But he recognized that this was somehow not enough.  Philip asked him if he understood what he was reading.  “How can I since I have no one to guide me?” He responded.  This indicates his need for someone to interpret or to give meaning to what he was reading. Finally, we see the application of his new found knowledge when he is baptized.

(1)  Observation
This is the first step of reception.  The student of the word must first discover what the Bible has to say.  Observation asks the who, what, when, where, and why questions.  It gathers the facts.  It seeks to discover what God has revealed.  The work of observation is the work of an explorer.  We are reminded of the great explorers of bygone ages; of Magellan, of Columbus, of the Vikings.  They and those that followed them, pressed into the unknown to discover and make known the features of the lands that they explored.  This is what the Ethiopian was doing as he read from Isaiah.  He observed what Isaiah had to say but unfortunately didn’t know what Isaiah meant by what he said.  Note that observation does not explain or provide meaning of the facts discovered for this is the work of interpretation.

(2)  Interpretation [32]
Zuck says that “We must know the meaning of the Bible before we can know its message for today.” [33]  Interpretation is the search for meaning.  It builds on the first step of observation and leads to the third step of Bible study, application.  It is perhaps the most difficult of the three steps.  It is to the work of interpretation that we now turn our attention.

The Work of Interpretation: The Challenge of the Gaps
How are we to interpret the Scriptures?  While the answer to this question is more properly the subject matter of hermeneutics (the science of interpretation), we will briefly discuss some of the interpretive issues associated with the Bible.  We have before us an ancient written communication from God to us through the agency of human authors.  This communication was written by people of different times and different cultures to people that were definitely not of our time and culture.  We face significant challenges when we attempt to interpret or find the meaning of the books of the Bible.  Roy Zuck has identified what he calls gaps that quantify the difficulties faced with modern interpreters.  They are the time, space, customs or cultural, language, writing, and spiritual gaps. 

The time gap is the “extensive time gap that exists between ourselves an the writers and initial readers of the Bible.” [34]  We were not there when each of the books of the Bible were written and read for the first time.  We are therefore separated by time from the original authors.  We cannot discuss what they wrote with them, or ask questions, or clarify issues with them.

The space gap exists because “most readers of the Bible today live thousands of miles from the countries where Bible events took place.” [35] Indeed, most of the citizens of the known world today live in places that were beyond the imagination of those of Bible times.  We have all of us heard the ancient’s stories of mythical lands beyond the Pillars of Hercules and of monsters that devoured all who would sail upon the seas.  It is this geographical distance that puts us at a distinct disadvantage when we interpret the Scriptures.

The Customs gap describe the “great differences [that] exist between the way people in the Western world do things and think and the way people in the Bible lands lived and thought.” [36] This cultural gap exists even today among the various peoples of the modern world.  What person who has traveled to another country hasn’t at one time or another during his journey marveled at they do things.  How often has the thought passed “We don’t do such and such a thing at home…If we did….!?  If interpreters do not understand the way the ancients thought, or their social customs and their manner of life, faulty interpretations will result.

The Language gap describes the differences “between our way of speaking and writing and the way people in the Bible times spoke and wrote.” [37]  The Bible was written in three different languages, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.  They had different alphabets, different vocabularies, and often unusual and obscure expressions that don’t translate easily into modern English. 

The Writing gap speaks of the “differences [that] exist between the styles and forms of writing in bible times and the styles and forms of writing in the Western world today.” [38]  Modern people seldom speak in parables or proverbs.  Those in Bible times did.  When we add to this the fact that there are some forty authors that wrote over several thousand years, the writing style varies dramatically from beginning to end. 

Finally, the Spiritual gap is the difference “between God’s way of doing things and our way.” [39] The Bible is a unique book because God is the Author.  It is not a collection of men’s thoughts about God but rather what He thinks.  We need the mind of Jesus Christ to properly interpret God’s thoughts.

Returning to the Ethiopian official, we can see that he faced the same gaps as we do.  Although he lived in ‘Bible times’, he non-the-less suffered a time gap for Isaiah wrote in the eight century BC and the Ethiopian lived in the first century AD.  He as an Ethiopian didn’t share the culture, geography, writing, and language with Isaiah.  Although he was seemingly a spiritual man (he was in Jerusalem to worship in the Temple) he didn’t know about Jesus Christ.  And what was the result of these gaps?  He needed someone to help him understand the meaning of Isaiah’s words; he needed help to interpret them.

The challenge presented to any interpreter be they Phillip or each of us is to overcome these gaps.  Unless we do through the use of proper methods for interpreting the Bible, our entire theology may be in error.  This will result in a misdirected and ineffectual personal ministry.

The Work of Interpretation: The Origin of Meaning
The first problem that we encounter when we begin the work of interpretation is to decide where the meaning of any passage originates; with the author, the text, or the reader.  Let me explain.  In all communication there are three elements; the message (text), the receiver (reader), and the sender (author).  If any of these elements are absent there simply is no communication.  As one can imagine, linguists are divided over which of these elements is the source of meaning.

We will begin with those who believe the text determines the meaning.  How often have we heard in a Sunday sermon, ‘the Bible says…’?  In this case, this is a convenient way of saying that ‘such and such is recorded in the Bible’.  But this is not what is meant by scholars who believe that the text determines the meaning.  “This view argues that a literary text is ‘autonomous’.” [40] In other words, a literary text sets its own meaning that is independent from any meaning intended by its author or derived by its reader.  Please note that there is the qualifying term ‘literary’ text.  When a work attains the standing of ‘literature’ then the rules of normal communication no longer apply.  This is because the work has been transformed to a work of art.  “Because it is art, the original composer no longer possesses control of it; the art itself possess its own meaning completely apart from its creator.” [41]  This is a very popular view among modern critics.

We move on to the view that the reader determines the meaning of the text.  Another name for the view could be the ‘what the Bible means to me’ method of interpretation.  Quite simply, this view holds that it is each individual reader who creates the meaning of the text as he reads it.  This view allows for as many different interpretations as there are readers. 

Finally, we come to the view that the author determines the meaning of the text.  “According to this view, the meaning of a text is what the author consciously intended to say by his text.” [42] This is the more traditional view.  When Paul wrote to the Romans, he controlled the message.  He meant exactly what he wrote and the text tells us what he meant.  The text is to be interpreted not as some ‘work of art’ or other ‘great literature’ by specially devised rules.  It is to be interpreted as would any other text by the normal rules of general communication.  Indeed, all normal conversation has the goal of conveying the author’s meaning.

With all of this said, does it matter whether it is the author, receiver, or the text that should control the meaning?  To answer that question I’d like to start with a little United States history. 

For the first ten years after the war of independence with Great Britain ended the United States of America was governed by what are known as the ‘Articles of Confederation’.  For a variety of reasons that don’t concern us here, the nation realized that it was poorly organized and that something different was needed.  In May of 1787, a Constitutional Convention was called and empowered to draft a constitution that would define a new government for the United States and her people.  By September of 1787 Convention’s work was completed and a new constitution was presented to the thirteen states.  By June of 1788 the constitution was ratified and became the supreme law of the United States of America in March of 1789. 

As we are all aware, the framers of the Constitution formed three separate branches of government, the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judicial.  Each branch had carefully defined responsibilities.  The political power of each branch was carefully limited and balanced with the others.  However, the Legislative and Executive branches were the dominant powers from the start.  With the election of Thomas Jefferson this was about to change.  Just as George Washington helped shape the actual form that the executive branch would take, so the third chief justice of the Supreme Court, John Marshall, shaped the role that the courts would play.   

Under the administrations of Washington and his successor, John Adams, only members of the ruling Federalist Party were appointed to the bench, and under the terms of the Constitution, they held office for life during "good behavior."  Thus, when the opposing Republicans [not to be confused with the modern day Republican Party] won the election of 1800, the Jeffersonians found that while they controlled the Presidency and Congress, the Federalists still dominated the judiciary.  One of the first acts of the new administration was to repeal the Judiciary Act of 1800, which had created a number of new judgeships.  Although President Adams had attempted to fill the vacancies prior to the end of his term, a number of commissions had not been delivered, and one of the appointees, William Marbury, sued Secretary of State James Madison to force him to deliver his commission as a justice of the peace.

The new chief justice, John Marshall, understood that if the Court awarded Marbury a writ of mandamus (an order to force Madison to deliver the commission) the Jefferson administration would ignore it, and thus significantly weaken the authority of the courts.  On the other hand, if the Court denied the writ, it might well appear that the justices had acted out of fear.  Either case would be a denial of the basic principle of the supremacy of the law.

Marshall's decision in this case has been hailed as a judicial tour de force. In essence, he declared that Madison should have delivered the commission to Marbury, but then held that the section of the Judiciary Act of 1789 that gave the Supreme Court the power to issue writs of mandamus exceeded the authority allotted the Court under Article III of the Constitution, and was therefore null and void.  Thus he was able to chastise the Jeffersonians and yet not create a situation in which a court order would be flouted.

The critical importance of this case is the assumption of several powers by the Supreme Court. One was the authority to declare acts of Congress, and by implication acts of the President, unconstitutional if they exceeded the powers granted by the Constitution.  But even more important, the Court became the arbiter of the Constitution, the final authority on what the document meant.  With this decision, the Supreme Court became in fact as well as theory an equal partner in government, and it has played that role ever since. [43]

What does this have to do with who determines the meaning of a text?  It is this.  Over the years, the Supreme Court, in its role as the determiner of the meaning of the Constitution, has had to wrestle with this very issue.  Generally, when deciding a case before it, the court has looked to the framers’ intent to determine meaning before they would apply the law.  They would look at historical documents (such as the Federalist Papers) from the time the Constitution was written, factor in the culture of their times, and relevant decisions of later courts to understand the intent of the original authors.  Sometimes, particularly in courts of the modern era, they ignored what the authors intended and looked to the text alone for meaning. 

We now come to why it is important to determine who controls the meaning of a text.  Without concerning ourselves with the social outcome or correctness of the Court’s decision, let’s consider the case of Roe vs. Wade.  This was a case that involved the Fourth Amendment “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” 

Until Roe, the Court held that the writers meant that no citizen of the United States could have his person, his property (home, farm, etc.), or his papers searched or seized by the Government without a search or seizure warrant that was issued by a judge.  Further, no judge could issue such a warrant unless the Government had probable cause supported by ‘oath or affirmation’ [sworn testimony] to believe that a crime had been committed.  The rights granted by this amendment were always available when criminal acts of the citizen were involved.  That this was the original intent of the writers was evident from the historical documents and the history of the colonies before the war of independence. 

With Roe this was to change.  The court looked at the phrase ‘secure in their persons’ and, ignoring what the original writers intended, determined that a person had an absolute right to privacy that could not be breached without a warrant, etc.  From this interpretation of meaning, they applied this, what legal scholars call, ‘derrived right of privacy’, to a woman’s right to choose to terminate or not terminate her pregnancy. 

What we have tried to illustrate here is, in the first instance, meaning controlled by the author and in the second instance, meaning controlled by the text.  Note that two widely divergent interpretations and subsequent applications resulted from the choice of who controlled the meaning. 

So we come to the question, who should control the meaning?  To answer that question we must also ask, what is the goal of communication?  It is the transfer of meaning (in our case via a text) from one person (the author) to another (the receiver).  Since it is the author who initiates the communicative process, it is his meaning that is transferred.  Therefore, when the author does not control the meaning, then the goal of his communication has not been met. 

You will recall that we discussed in an earlier lesson the fact that God had revealed Himself to mankind.  He had revealed His existence and power by general revelation in nature.  Through special revelation in the Scriptures, He communicated to us information about His being and nature, our sin and separation from Him, His remedy for that sin in the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ, and so very much more.  If the determination of the meaning of the Scriptures was determined by the text or the receiver, how could we be sure that our interpretation was correct unless meaning was determined by the author?  The simple truth is we couldn’t. It seems reasonable, then, that interpretation should have as its goal the discovery and understanding of the author’s meaning with the subsequent application of that meaning to the interpreter’s life.

Now we must say that it is a bit more complicated than that because it is no small task to discover the author’s meaning.  This is only accomplished by the employment of sound interpretive principles.  As we said above, we should use the normal rules for interpretation of Scripture.  I hasten to emphasize the word normal.  Some scholars would follow Origen and employ the allegorical method of interpretation.  (We’ll discuss this method in more detail below.)  However, we say that the literal-normal or as some call it the historical-grammatical method is the only sound method to employ in the interpretation of Scripture.  We will discuss that methodology in the sections following.  This method considers the grammar, historical context, literary genre, and other factors when interpreting the bible.  One other thing, this method is also the method used to interpret any literature, not just Biblical literature.

Having discussed the various elements (the author, text, and receiver) in the communicative process, what part does each of them play in the process of interpretation?

Interpretation:  The Author and His Part
Besides determining the origin of meaning, what other part does the author play in this process?  He is not only the source of meaning; he is the source of the text itself.  No piece of paper ever produced a text by itself!  It took an author, setting his thoughts to words and writing them on papyrus, vellum, clay or what have you to produce a text.  A writer, the apostle Paul for example, had a meaning that he intended to convey when he wrote his letters.  And as such, that intended meaning is rooted in history.  What the text meant when he wrote it will remain the same. 

However, we can also say that what Paul consciously meant to say when he wrote has implications that he was not necessarily aware of.  Those implications were part of the meaning of his text.  Consider that Paul commanded the Ephesians to “not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation…” (5:18) His conscious thought was that the Ephesian Christians, indeed all Christians should not get drunk with the mixture of wine and water that was called wine in his day.  However, there are implications that go beyond the direct meaning to his day. Does his prohibition include beer, or scotch whiskey, or brandy, or any of those things that were not in existence in his day?  We would say yes for Paul was laying down a principle; avoid becoming intoxicated.  These modern intoxicants fall within the meaning of the text.  As Stein said,

“Thus, what an author of Scripture stated in the past frequently did not even exist at the time the text was written!  The purpose of biblical interpretation involves not just understanding the specific conscious meaning of the author but also the principle or pattern of meaning he sought to communicate.” [44]

(Please understand that the foregoing was not a commentary on whether or not it is appropriate for a Christian to consume alcoholic beverages.  That is a discussion that we’ll reserve for another time.  It was rather an illustration of the relationship of meaning and implication.  We welcome your cards and letters on the subject!)

It is an observed fact that all texts have implications or meanings not thought of by the author which none-the-less fit the meaning of the stated text.  It is this implied meaning that is more often than not of concern to the modern interpreter.  His major question is what is a legitimate implication of the author’s intended meaning?

Interpretation: The Text and Its Part
What is a text anyway?  It is a container for meaning.  It is the vehicle that carries meaning from the author to the recipient.  This vehicle is a collection of symbols (letters, punctuation marks, etc.) combined together according to some system of rules that form a language.  A writer, for example, may wish to invent a language.  Novelist J.R.R. Tolkien invented a language with an alphabet for Hobbits, Dwarves, Elves, and a variety of other mythical creatures for his Lord of the Rings stories.  Secret codes are another example of texts written using special rules and characters.  On the other hand, the author may write his text in a known language.  He must choose a language or code that is suitable for conveying his meaning to his targeted recipients. 

It is easy to see that if an author wants to restrict his meaning to as few people as possible he will choose a code for his text that only his targeted readers will understand.  Governments and businesses often use secret codes for messages so that only their desired reader can understand it.  However, if the author desires the largest number of possible readers to understand his text he will use a code that the largest number of his readers will understand.  This code will use the ‘norms of language’ he has chosen for his text; the language that is most understood by his readers.  The ‘norms of language’ are the symbols, punctuality, vocabulary, grammar, and syntax that are common to his readers.  This is the principle of ‘shareability’.  He can now share his meaning with the widest number of readers.  This is what the Biblical authors did in by using the known languages of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek for their texts.

Interpretation:  The Receiver and His Part
The Hermeneutical Circle
We come now to the part that the receiver of the text must play.  He must discern and discover the author’s meaning.  To do so, he must apply sound rules of interpretation as he works through the text.  Further he must apply these rules in a manner described by the ‘hermeneutical circle’.  Let me explain. Interpretation is a process.  When one begins the process he essentially follows the steps outlined below.  As each step in the process is completed, the interpreter gains insight into the meaning of the text.  When the interpreter completes all of the steps of the process, he has much more knowledge about the text than he did when he started.  Although he has completed all of the steps, he is by no means finished.   He has merely come full circle and is back at the beginning of the process.  With his newly gained insight he should work his way through the steps again and again as necessary building insight on insight until he has unlocked the meaning of the passage. 

The Interpretive Process
Beginning with the building blocks of the text, the words, he seeks to discover their meaning as understood by the original receivers.  Note that were we reading the plays of William Shakespeare, we would need a sixteenth century and not a twenty-first century dictionary.  Likewise, if we were reading a law treatise we would need a legal dictionary. 

Furthermore, the receiver must take note of how these words are used in phrases and sentences; how the sentences are combined to make paragraphs; how paragraphs are used in chapters, and chapters in the entire work.  In essence, he must determine the literary form of the text. Stein said that,

“It is also important for the reader to understand the particular literary form being used by the author, for different forms of literature are governed by different rules.  What is common in the interpretation of every literary form, however, is that we are in each instance seeking to understand the meaning the author willed.  Furthermore, we can assume that, since he sought to share that meaning with his readers, he was abiding by the common rules associated with the particular literary form.” [45]

We have been discussing the principles that would be applied to interpret a text; be it one that was written in ancient or modern times.  However, there is one other consideration.  We are dealing with sacred literature.  How does this effect how we interpret it?  Do we use different rules for this type of literature or do we use the same rules as we would for any literature.  It has been the maxim of conservative biblical interpreters for centuries that the Bible is to be interpreted in the same manner as any other text.  This is so because of the fundamental principles of communication that we have been discussing.  These principles of interpretation are a part of human nature because God has made it so.  Furthermore, it is reasonable to suppose that when God chose to reveal Himself to us in His word, He did so with the expectation that we would use the principles that were so much a part of us.  Moses Stuart concludes:

“The substance of all is:  The Bible was made to be understood.  It was written by men and for men.  It was addressed to all classes of people and was for the most part understood by them all, just as our present religious discourses are.  And of course it was interpreted in such a way, or by the aid of such principles, as other books are understood and explained.” [46]   

As applied to the Bible , some of the basic rules of interpretation are; 1) determine the purpose of the Bible as a whole, 2) determine the distinctive and message of each book of the Bible, 3) determine to whom the particular passage is addressed, 4) determine the context (grammatical and historical) of the passage in view, 5) marshal all Scripture on a given theme, 6) discover the exact meaning of determinative words and syntax, and 7) avoid personal prejudices.  As we said earlier, our purpose not to discuss in any detail, the rules of hermeneutics or interpretation at this time.  The reader is referred to the many good works by Conservative scholars in the field of hermeneutics or interpretation that are available today.  He would be well advised to avail himself of their knowledge.

Finally, it is important for us to realize that Biblical interpretation is a means to an end and not the end in itself.  It is the means to properly apply the Word of God to our lives.   We move on now to the application of the Word.

(3)  Application
The apostle James said to:

“…prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.  But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man shall be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:22-26)

We are to be doers ‘of the word’.  This is the true goal of the reception process.  And because it is so very important, we should have clearly fixed in our minds what we mean by application. It is ‘doing’ the Word of God and results in heart appropriation of the Word of God.

It is the work of the application to determine how to transfer the author’s meaning as given to his original receivers to the modern reader; in other words, to finding its relevance.  To find its relevance is to find a principle derived from the author’s meaning.  When we are engaged in discovering a principle, we seek from a passage its basic spiritual, moral, or theological lesson.  These lessons are buried deep in the text and it is in the process of deduction that they are brought to the surface.  It is important to note that these lessons are never imposed on the text but flow from it.

Application has a number of important aspects.  First, there must be general life-relevance.  The passage of the Bible that is in question must be relevant to life situations in general.  The relevance goes beyond the particular.  For example, the writer of Hebrews says that we should “Pursue peace with all men.”  This passage has a general application in all areas of human relationship.  We should live peacefully with one another.  It does not say “when such and such happens seek peace.”  It says live peaceably. 

Second, there must be specific life relevance in the passage.  Not only are we to pursue peace with all men in general, it is evident that this can only be done by living peaceably with individual men as well.  The general relevance must include the specific. 

Third, application requires action.  This is what James meant by being a doer.  This is the point of his comparison of faith and works.  James asks, “What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” (James 2:14-17)  Without relevance (general and specific) and response, there is no application.

According to Zuck, “Application, then, in Bible preaching and teaching and in personal Bible study involves determining how the relevance of a passage for hearers/readers today may or may not differ from its relevance for its original hearers/readers.” [47]  So how are we to determine the relevance of a passage?  The starting point, as we said earlier, is with a correct interpretation of the passage in question.  The first question that the student must ask is, “What does the passage mean?”  The answer to this question should be from the vantage point of the original receivers and not the modern receiver.  Meaning is determined in its original setting.  The meaning to the modern receiver turns on that passage’s relevance.  Application asks, therefore, “How does the meaning of the passage relate to modern receivers?” 

Bernard Ramm gives several examples of principles derived from a Biblical text.

“When David repeatedly refused to slay Saul we see the principle of obedience to powers that be.  When Saul was not patient with God’s prophet we see the principle of disobedience. When Isaiah prays for the shadow to retreat on the sundial we see the principle of great spiritual courage.  In truth, Hebrews 11 is a magnificent example of principilizing.  The great faith of a multitude of men is set before us as the true principle of their lives.” [48] 

Finally, when a believer responds to the principles found in the passage with life action, we have real application.  “Applying to today the scriptural admonitions, commands, counsel, instructions, and truths given to those audiences requires finding a point in common between the original and the current audiences.” [49] This happens when the modern receiver shares in situations similar to the original receivers.  He seeks examples from the scriptures for these shared situations.  To do this he asks the following questions:

“Is there any example for me to follow?
Is there any command for me to obey?
Is there any error for me to avoid?
Is there any sin for me to forsake?
Is there any promise for me to claim?
Is there any new thought about God Himself?” [50]  

c)      Illumination: The Work of the Holy Spirit in Reception

(1)  What is it?
Cook defines illumination as “that work of the Holy Spirit in which He makes clear, enlightens and teaches the truth of the written revelation.” [51]  Notice that Cook confines the scope of the Holy Spirit’s illuminating work to the truth of the written revelation.  Illumination is not revelation.  This is an important distinction.  Zuck says that “in illumination, the Holy Spirit’s work is not only to show what the Bible means, but also to persuade Christians of its truth.  Illumination is the Spirit’s work, enabling Christians to discern the meaning of the message and to welcome and receive it as from God.” [52] 

John records the final days of His life on earth. On the night before his betrayal, Jesus tells the disciples that He would be leaving them (John 14-16).  He promised them, though, that they would not be left alone for He would send the Holy Spirit to them.  The Holy Spirit would come to guide them into truth, calling to their remembrance the words of Jesus.  He would not speak on His own initiative but what He heard from the Father and Son.  These words would bring about conviction, witnessing to Christ.  We can see that His ministry was closely associated with divine truth.  Erickson concludes:

It seems to be not so much a new ministry, or the addition of new truth not previously made known, but rather an action of the Holy Spirit in relationship to truth already revealed.  Thus the Holy Spirit’s ministry involves elucidating the truth, bringing belief and persuasion and conviction, but not new revelation.” [53]

(2)  Why do we need it?
There are a couple of reasons why the illumination of the Holy Spirit is needed.  The first reason is related to the being and nature of God.  There is an ontological difference between God and man.  God is a being that is transcendent.  He is a being that transcends (is beyond) our abilities of description.  Human reason is inadequate to formulate concepts that would describe God.  This is evident for how does a finite man describe an infinite God?  Paul succinctly states the problem when he said, “now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:11, 12)  W. Harold Mare explains:

“Paul's thought in 12b may be expanded as follows: Now through the Word of God, I know in part; then, in the presence of the Lord I will know fully, to the full extent that a redeemed finite human being can know and in a way similar in kind to the way the Lord in his infinite wisdom fully and infinitely knows me.” [54]

It is evident that in this age, we are limited in our abilities to understand (to know fully) God.  There is a vast gulf that separates our understanding of God and the reality of His being.  It is the Holy Spirit who bridges the gulf between mankind with all of his inadequacy and God with His infinite perfection.

The second reason is related to the problem of human sinfulness.  In his letter to the Romans Paul explores the facts of human sinfulness and its effects upon mankind.  He reasons that, “[J]ust as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…” (Romans 5:12)  We see here two aspects of sin, racial and individual.  Starting with Adam the propensity to sin infected the entire race of men.  This propensity to sin in the race results in individual sin because all men personally sin.  This personal sin results in spiritual blindness.

In the case of the unsaved man, spiritual blindness means that he is incapable of understanding God’s word which calls him to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and be saved.  And likewise, the Christian man often tends to be controlled by the flesh rather than walking by the Spirit.  In both cases, light from the Holy Spirit is required to overcome this blindness.

(3)  How does it work?
The Holy Spirit came to provide the light necessary to overcome the various forms of spiritual darkness that plague mankind.  This blindness is only overcome by the Holy Spirit’s work.  One aspect of that illuminating work is salvific in nature.   The will of the unsaved man is in a state of open rebellion to God.  He is unwilling, indeed not even able, to accept that he is guilty before God and deserving of death.  Lewis and Demarest say:

“The Holy Spirit’s illuminating activity frees a person’s capacities in relation to spiritual things.  Renewing the capacities to know, love, and obey God, illumination enables sinners to understand that the gospel is objectively true, to assent to its truth for themselves personally, and to commit themselves to the Savior.” [55] 

We will discuss this aspect more fully later in our lessons on Soteriology.

In this lesson we are concerned with the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit in overcoming the endemic carnal blindness in the believer.  In His farewell address to His disciples Jesus said, "I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now." (John 16:12)  The disciples were in no condition spiritually to receive (understand) further instruction.  Jesus knew that this form of spiritual darkness existed and He warned them about it.  He also did something about it.  "But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.” (John 16:13)  The Spirit would unfold the truth as the disciples grew in spiritual capacity and understanding. He would provide additional insight of the meaning and application of the Word of God.  He would lead them into the unknown future as a guide leads those who follow him into unfamiliar territory.

We are now presented with the question, how does the Spirit work to do this leading into unfamiliar ground?  The answer to this question is there seems to be a joint working of the Spirit and the human being on an internal level.  According to Marshal “the activity of the Spirit takes place on a different level of causation in ways that we cannot fathom.” [56]  This is absolutely true. 

Further, we can say that this internal working is analogous to inspiration.  Consider what the inspired writers did.  They spoke God’s words to instruct their readers in the ways of God, to live in accordance with His ways, to correct their behavior when they didn’t, to comfort them in times of trouble, in short, to have a relationship with Him.  These are all things that modern believers need to know too.  As the Holy Spirit worked to inspire the ancient writers, so to He illumines the modern believer to enable him to receive the inspired message.   

(4)  Some Observations
Roy Zuck has observed that,

“The Holy Spirit’s involvement in teaching believers and guiding them in the truth raises some thorny questions:  If true learning comes by the Spirit’s inner working, does this mean that one’s understanding of Scripture is ultimately a subjective matter?  If a person senses the work of the Holy Spirit in his heart, does he automatically know the correct view of a Bible verse?  If the Spirit interprets the Word privately to individual believers, how can one determine the correct view among several conflicting interpretations?  If two people profess to be taught by the Spirit and yet hold differing views on some scriptural passage or issue, which view is valid?”  [57]

These are all perfectly valid questions.  One has only to watch ‘Christian Television’ or listen to ‘Christian Radio’ to observe a wide difference in opinion between the various commentators and preachers about what the ‘Bible says’.  How can this be?  The answer is that many believers don’t understand what the phrase ‘the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit’ means. 

What the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit does not mean.
We observe first that the illuminating work of the Spirit is not the source of new revelation.  His work never stands apart from nor is in addition to the word of God as delivered.  It is always through and in association with it.  It is because of this relationship that “the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12, 13)

Second, this illuminating work of the Spirit as it relates to the interpretation of Scripture does not guarantee that one’s interpretations are infallible.  Now I don’t want this to sound like a ‘cop out’ or some sort of ‘limited warranty’.    As we demonstrated earlier, inerrancy and infallibility are properties of the original manuscripts of written word of God.  Again, this is true because the Holy Spirit inspired the writers in some mysterious way that guided them to write what He wanted recorded, word for word.  We cannot point to any Scriptures that say that this same guiding is ever afforded the interpreter.  All that we can say is that illumination attests to the objective truth and meaning of the scriptures.  Zuck concludes:

“In interpretation the Holy Spirit guides but He does not guard against infallibility.  To elevate one’s interpretations to the level of infallibility would blur the distinctions between inspiration (a past, now completed work of the Spirit in the recording of Scripture) and interpretation (a present, ongoing work of the Spirit in helping interpreters in the comprehending of Scripture).” [58]

Finally, as important as this illuminating work is, it is no substitute for the diligent study of His word.  We should take Paul’s command to “be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15, emphasis mine)  Note that Paul made two points.  We should be diligent to present ourselves approved, and that we should handle accurately God’s word. 

Concerning the phrase ‘be diligent’ the King James translators put it, “study to show yourself approved…”  I like that for this idea is contained in the original Greek.  We are to diligently pursue our study of the word of God, to work until we ‘mentally sweat’.  This concept fits rather well with Paul’s second point.

 The phrase ‘handling accurately’ comes from the Greek term orthotomounta which means ‘to proceed by straight paths, hold a straight course; i.e. to teach the truth correctly and directly’.  Paul warns against taking the devious paths of deceiving interpretations in teaching the Scriptures and encourages us to hold a ‘straight course in the word of truth’.   It is only by ‘diligent’ study that we can accomplish this.

What the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit does mean.
The illuminating work of the Holy Spirit does show what the Scriptures mean and also persuades believers of its truth.  This work enables them to grasp the meaning of its message and to welcome and receive it as from God.  Paul makes this point perfectly when he says, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.”  In a backhanded way he drives the point home by contrasting the Spirit lead man with the natural or unsaved man.  He continues, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”  (1 Corinthians 2:12-14) 

This work of the Holy Spirit means that the unregenerate do not welcome and apply God’s truth.  In this vein, another point must be made.  Notice that Paul only says that the natural or unsaved man does not accept nor understand the spiritual significance the things of the Spirit of God.  It is reasonable to suggest, however, that these men may mentally grasp something of the objective data of the Bible, or understand many of the historical facts that are presented.  But we can only say that “they have cognitively grasped certain objective biblical facts—that certain Bible personalities performed certain tasks, said certain words, went to certain geographical locations, argued with certain points of logic, and so on—yet they do not personally know the God of the Scriptures.”  [59]  The work of the Holy Spirit brings about a qualitative difference in the understanding and reception of the truths of Scripture between the believer and non-believer.

I can hear the objections now.  “Wait a minute”, you say.  “After reading these last two paragraphs a few times I think you are perhaps confusing some aspects of the Holy Spirit’s ministry.  Your statements would indicate that only those who have the indwelling Holy Spirit (those who are believers) have access to His illumination.  That would certainly leave out those to whom the word of God has been made clear in their quest for salvation, wouldn’t it?  Have I misunderstood what you have been saying here?”

No you haven’t misunderstood me; you have simply not remembered another thing that I said earlier that bears repeating!  “This illuminating work of the Holy Spirit is effective in the realm of salvation and the realm of Biblical interpretation and takes place in the arena of the human soul.  We will defer our discussion of the work of the Holy Spirit in salvation to a later lesson and confine ourselves here to His work in interpretation.”  The focus of the discussion above was a comparison of an interpreter who was not a believer and one who was. 

I want to conclude this portion of our discussion with an invitation.  If you are one who is a saved person, one who has professed his faith in Jesus Christ and accepted the work that He did for you on the cross, then I pray that you would yield yourself to the illuminating work of the Spirit and would mature in your faith.  If you are one who does not know Jesus Christ as your savior, I pray that you would yield to the leading of the same Spirit to be saved.  It’s simple.  The Apostle Paul said:

“…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.  For the Scripture says, "WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED." (Romans 10:9-11)

If you do this you, like millions of others before you, will come to experience the presence of God and truly have life, and more abundantly.

4.      Alternative Views

In this lesson we have been primarily concerned with the believer’s reception of the word of God into his heart.  So far we have confined our investigations along three separate lines of inquiry; what constitutes the word of God, how are we to interpret it and how is God involved in the receptive process?  Of these lines of inquiry none is more important to the process of reception than that of interpretation.  If the word of God is to function as an effective norm in our lives, we must know precisely what it is saying to us and what it is commanding us to do.  Bromiley lists four reasons why this is so.

“First, the authority of Scripture is nullified if its real meaning is missed.  Second, understanding Scripture is not so easy as it might seem, for while the Bible means what it says and generally speaks in simple terms, it does not escape the difficulties that beset all communication.  Third, even in important matters of faith and conduct, Christians differ about what Scripture is teaching; commitment to its authority is no safeguard against disagreement.  Fourth, there is real danger of confusing authorities—that of Scripture and that of individual interpretation of it—if the hermeneutical question is disregarded.” [60]

Earlier we talked about the ‘Normal-Literal’ method of interpretation.  This was the method most generally employed from the foundation of the Church to the Early Fathers.  With them, a new methodology, the Allegorical, was formed.  This method was to dominate the hermeneutics of the Church.  The Reformers restored the Normal Method to its rightful place as the proper method for the interpretation for Scripture.  With the rise of Liberal Protestantism came new developments in methods that had both positive and negative effects on the work of interpretation.  We’ll begin our examination of these developments with the Allegorical method.

a)     The Birth and Development of the Allegorical Method of Interpretation

The Church Fathers (ca 100-300 AD)
The first two centuries after the death of the apostles were a turbulent time for the early church.  This period saw the rise of Gnosticism, on the one hand, and the heretical influence of Marcion on the other which assaulted the doctrinal orthodoxy taught by the apostles.  Furthermore, the church had by this time expanded from Jerusalem to virtually “the ends of the earth”.  Facing a negative pagan influence from the populace wherever they were, the early church sought for ways to overcome cultural bias, hatred, and persecution.

The coming of the New Testament brought additional tension.  From the earliest days of the new church, the only ‘Bible’ that they knew was the Old Testament.  As a result, the addition of these writings caused a struggle within the church to determine just how they fit with the Old Testament. 

Against the backdrop of these doctrinal and cultural issues that faced the church new interpretive principles came to be recognized by the early Fathers.  The relationship of the Old Testament Scriptures with the New was the breeding ground for several of them.  These principles were the continuity of the Testaments, the centrality of Christ, and the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit.   One other principle was the result of the Greek culture of the New Testament world, and that was the adoption of allegory as the primary interpretive method.

The continuity of the testaments was based on the belief of the Fathers that the New Testament fulfills the Old.  Because of this, neither one could be understood apart from the other.  The New Testament was replete with passages that led to this belief. [61]  The companion to this belief was the principle of the centrality of Christ in all of Scripture.  The Fathers saw in the person of Christ, the words that He spoke, and the work that He accomplished, the fulfillment of the Old Testament covenants and prophecy.  As Christianity grew and the New Testament canon was formed, this understanding became the very essence of Christianity.  As a direct result, there was a certain Christological focus in the lives and writings of the early Christians. 

Furthermore, the Fathers were strong advocates of the necessity of the Holy Spirit’s guidance for the proper understanding of Scripture.  He was, after all, its true author.  As we shall see, two main exegetical schools came into being at this time and both strongly recognized the absolute necessity of the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit in interpreting and understanding the Scriptures. The Fathers all to one extent or another came to general agreement on these principles.  However, the problem of the validity of allegory as an interpretive tool, and the intrusion of alien (pagan) influences caused much division.

From the third century a.d. on there was much debate regarding the proper methodology to be employed for the interpretation of Scripture.  The Fathers looked for an interpretive principle that would allow them to counter the erroneous interpretations of the Gnostics and Marcionites. This principle was to be found in Paul’s statement to the Corinthians that “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:6)   To certain of the Fathers (those of the Alexandrian school), the ‘letter’ was literal interpretation and the ‘Spirit’ was allegorical interpretation. 

They observed in the New Testament certain tendencies that leant to support to this view.  For example, Paul wrote to the Galatian Church:

“For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman.  But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise.  This is allegorically speaking: for these women are two covenants, one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar.  Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.  But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.”  (Galatians 4:22-26)

The Alexandrian School (founded by Clement in Alexandria, Egypt and subsequently led by Origen, Athanasius, and Cyril of Alexandria) relied heavily on the allegorical interpretive principle in their arguments with the Gnostics.  Bromily says that:

“Two important considerations inclined Origen to adopt the allegorical system.  First, he followed the Platonic principle of his predecessor Clement that the lower symbolizes [or allegorizes] the higher.  Second, he found in Scripture things so implausible in a literal sense that a higher meaning had to be sought.” [62]

The first consideration is explained by the second.  Origin firmly believed the Biblical proposition that the Scriptures were inspired of God.  However, if the Scriptures appeared in places to be irrelevant to the condition of man, deemed to be unworthy of God in their teaching, or simply foolish in the sight of men, he thought that the fault must lie in one’s failure to grasp its inner sense. If no spiritual significance was apparent on the surface, it must concluded that this surface meaning, which may or may not be factual, was intended to be symbolical.

Origen saw three senses in his allegorical system; the literal, the moral, and the spiritual which in his scheme of things corresponded to the tripartite nature of man (i.e., body, soul, and spirit).  Metaphorically, they represented three stages in the spiritual development of a man; the simple, the more mature, and the fully mature. Bromily concludes, “For Origen and his school, Scripture became a vast ocean or forest full of hidden depths to be explored.” [63]  Origen, more than any other of the Fathers, was responsible for the allegorical interpretation’s widespread use.  It became the principle method of interpretation from his day extending down through the Middle Ages to the present era.   

The Antiochan School (led by Theodore and Theodoret) looked at the allegorical principle differently.  The found allegory to be a rather dangerous method for it quickly abandoned real meaning and ended up in the realm of fancy.  Furthermore, it sought as we shall see a syncretism with the beliefs of the pagan world.   This school championed the literal methodology and adopted very stringent rules that the natural sense of the passage be retained.  It did recognize the validity of typology, but insisted that there be a connection between the real or natural meaning and the typological meaning and that it be maintained throughout the interpretive process.  The allegorical method had established itself by the end of the patristic age.  It was the influence of Antioch that provided a significant check on its extravagant interpretations.

As we mentioned earlier, the wide use of the allegorical method fostered a certain syncretism [64] (or mixing) of Christian beliefs with the pagan beliefs of the time.  This was a problem because, as you can imagine, these pagan beliefs corrupted the pure teaching of the Scriptures.  Since most of the fathers spoke Greek this compounded the problem because they thought like Greeks.  Let me explain.  The Old Testament was written in the Hebrew language.  Hebrew was a language that was no longer in common use.  However, the Old Testament was available in Greek.  For this reason, few of the fathers took the trouble to check their interpretation of an Old Testament passage with the original Hebrew.  Why was this a problem?  Hebrews thought differently than Greeks.  The inevitable result was that the Greek Old Testament Scriptures were often interpreted in terms familiar to the Greek world rather than the Hebraic or Judaic world in which they were written. 

Let me illustrate.  We twenty-first century Americans have a world view that was shaped by and large by the ancient Greeks.  Although the content of our knowledge is vastly different from a person living in the known world of the second century, how we think is very similar.  The way we interpret various terms is influenced by our Greek world view and our culture.  Consider the first verse of the Bible.  “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.”  Because we are Greek thinkers our interpretation of that verse is widely different than that of Hebrew thinkers.  We see the term ‘beginning’ as a point in time, while the saw it as an indeterminate period of time.  Greek thought forms and definition of terms that are alien to the Hebrew thought forms of the Old Testament have crept into our interpretive process and greatly influenced our interpretation of Scripture.  The same was true for the early Fathers. 

Medieval Scholasticism (ca 1100-1500 AD)
Throughout the early development of the church there was a move by the various Bishops of Rome to establish the primacy of Rome over the other churches.  They based their efforts upon their belief (however unfounded) that only the church in Rome could boast a direct and continuous line of Bishops back to the Apostles.   They felt that this line of ‘apostolic succession’ gave them leadership or primacy over the entire Church.  With this right of primacy came the sole authority to govern the Church.  By the sixth century, with Gregory the Great (holder to the allegorical method), it was stressed that only churches that stood in the succession of the apostles possessed the teaching of Christ. Therefore Gregory, the Bishop of Rome and his successors, had the sole authority to interpret the Scriptures.  With Gregory came the virtual canonization of the allegorical method.  This came with his remarks on the sense of Scripture in the preface to Job. 

As a result, Origen's threefold sense (see Figure 1) quickly developed into the fourfold sense known as the Quadriga and gained widespread acceptance among medieval interpreters.  The four senses were literal or historical, the allegorical or mystical, the tropological or moral, and the anagogical or eschatological.   The literal sense was used to teach what God and our ancestors did historically.  The allegorical sense was used to define the doctrines that Christians everywhere were to believe.  The topological sense applied Scripture to the spiritual life and behavior of the individual believer.  The anagogical sense provided hope for the Christian by viewing Scripture from the perspective of its eschatological fulfillment.

 Figure 1: The Allegorical Senses

The Quadriga or Four-fold Sense
Origin’s Three-fold Sense  
Body Soul Spirit  
Literal Moral Spiritual  
Literal Allegorical Tropological Anagogical
Historical Mystical Moral Escatological

 

This use of the Quadriga is typical in the work of Guibert of Nogent, who was born in Picardy, France about 1053.  He was a monk at Saint-Germer-de-Fly and elected Abbot of Nogent-sous-Coucy in 1104.  He was best known for his account of the Crusades that was composed from 1108-1112.  Although he was a witness to the events, his account occasionally mingled the fanciful with reality. It is nevertheless not without great value, for it shows the profound impression created throughout Europe by the conquest of the Holy Land.

For him, Jerusalem was literally the earthly city located in the central highlands of what was then Palestine.  Likewise, it was allegorically the church, morally the individual Christian, and spiritually the New Jerusalem as depicted in the revelation of John.  Accordingly, when one interpreted any passage that mentioned ‘Jerusalem’ all of these senses had to be understood with each mention of the name.  It was left to the interpreter to determine which of the four senses was the most important, a point which was hotly debated!  However, it was generally conceded that priority lay with the spiritual sense.

By the 13th century, there was a revival of Aristotelian philosophy [65], seen most notably in the works of Thomas Aquinas.  Thomas considered the interpretive method, the Quadriga, which was in vogue with his contemporaries and thought that it was faulty.  There wasn’t much difference in the way things were interpreted in his time as were in the days of Guibert.   Look back at Figure 1.  These interpreters thought that the literal sense was associated with the body or was fleshly while the remaining three senses were ‘spiritual’ (as opposed to physical) in nature and therefore superior to the literal.  They commonly sought the more ‘spiritual’ senses when they analyzed a passage of Scripture.  The result was often fanciful.

With Aquinas, the priority of the literal sense was stressed.  He argued that all the senses were based on the literal.  No argument, therefore, could be drawn except from the literal sense.  According to Aquinas, nothing necessary to faith was to be found in the spiritual sense which was not otherwise to be found in Scripture in its literal sense.  This change in emphasis meant that there was an implicit rejection of the primacy of allegorical exegesis used by the early Fathers. Unfortunately the theology of the medieval period, connected as it was to patristic allegories, abandoned its emphasis on biblical studies and turned instead to philosophy.  Scholastic theology was grounded more on philosophical systems than on the biblical tradition. This did not change with Aquinas. 

b)     The Reformers (ca 1500-1700) and the Return to the Normal Method
With the arrival of Reformers came a restoration of the ‘Normal-Literal’ or ‘Historical-Grammatical’ interpretive methods employed by the school of Antioch of the Patristic era.  They insisted that the Church was not the arbiter of the Bible, but was rather to be subject to the Bible’s judgment.  Martin Luther was representative of the reformers in his views on the interpretation of Scripture.

A survey of Luther’s early writings shows a gradual rejection of allegorical hermeneutics. Throughout his first lectures on the Psalms (written in 1513–1515) he repeatedly set forth the four senses of the Quadriga.  When he wrote his “Preface to the Glosses” Luther warned in that “no allegory, tropology, or anagogy is valid, unless the same truth is expressly stated historically elsewhere. Otherwise Scripture would become a mockery.” [66]

By 1519, when he wrote his lectures on Galatians, Luther had completed his hermeneutical journey.   He declared on the basis of Galatians 4:21–31 that allegory “may be permitted to those who want it, provided they do not accustom themselves to the rashness of some, who tear the Scriptures to pieces as they please.”  [67]  While acknowledging that allegory had use as an interpretive tool, he explained what that use was.  He warned that it served only to add “extra ornamentation to the main and legitimate sense … so that those who are not well instructed may be nurtured in gentler fashion with milky teaching, as it were.” [68]

By 1525, Luther completed his break with medieval interpreters when in the midst of the controversy with Erasmus.   He clearly stated his rejection of allegorization writing, “Let us rather take the view that neither an inference nor a trope is admissible in any passage of Scripture, unless it is forced on us by the evident nature of the context and the absurdity of the literal sense as conflicting with one or another of the articles of faith. Instead, we must everywhere stick to the simple, pure, and natural sense of the words that accords with rules of grammar and the normal use of language as God has created it in man.” [69]

Among the Reformers there was a growing appreciation of the literal sense of the biblical text that led them, like Luther, to the eventual rejection of the allegorization of medieval hermeneutics.  Randall Gleason offers three reasons why:

“The first was the growing tension between the authority of Scriptures and the magisterium of the church.  A second factor was the return by several medieval interpreters to a greater appreciation of the grammatical-historical understanding of the Scriptures.  A third factor was the influence of the humanist revival of learning, summarized in the slogan ad fontes, meaning ‘back to the sources’.” [70]

c)      Liberal Protestantism and New Developments in Interpretive Methods (ca 1700-1900)
Liberal Protestantism had its roots in the philosophy known as the Enlightenment of the late 18th Century and in Romanticism.  The Enlightenment emphasized free will, reason, and the ability of human beings to make progress in all things including religion.  It was the philosophical and literary counterpart to the rise of natural science and sought to apply methods of rational inquiry to religion, ethics, politics, and psychology. Most forms of religious authority--creeds, miracles, sacraments Scriptures, clergy, and ecstatic or mystical experience--were challenged by the philosophers of the Enlightenment, which claimed to accept only the authority of reason.

Romanticism was an artistic and intellectual movement that, like the Enlightenment, originated in the late 18th century.  It stressed strong emotion, imagination, freedom from classical correctness in art forms, and rebellion against social conventions.  Where the Enlightenment was a philosophical movement, Romanticism was an attitude or intellectual orientation that characterized many works of literature, painting, music, architecture, criticism, and historiography in Western from its inception to the mid-19th century. It rejected the precepts of order, calm, harmony, balance, idealization, and rationality that typified Classicism in general and late 18th-century Neoclassicism in particular. It was also to some extent a reaction against the Enlightenment and against 18th-century rationalism and physical materialism in general.

Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) was considered by most as the ‘father of liberal theology’. In his most important work, The Christian Faith (1821), Schleiermacher specified religious feeling as the "feeling of absolute dependence".  With the feeling of absolute dependence came a consciousness or intuition of God. Human blessedness, he taught, consisted in the strengthening of the God-consciousness, and sin was the obscuring of this consciousness. Jesus Christ shared the humanity of all human beings but was unique in the strength and constancy of his God-consciousness, and his redeeming work consisted in the impartation of his God-consciousness to the believer.

The Positive Developments
The next great change in hermeneutics came with liberal Protestantism.  There was a new attention to the humanity of Scripture. As a result of this attention there was a veritable explosion of literary, historical, and cultural investigation.  J.G. Herder, the eighteenth-century scholar, felt that the Bible was a book written by men, about men, and for men. The unremitting research of that period produced a wealth of hermeneutical material that was unmatched in church history. 

Moreover, textual study was set firmly on a scientific basis.  There was a vast improvement in the ability to fix the exact meaning of words and phrases because of diligent lexical study.  It was also an age of exploration as scholars from many disciplines sought to understand our world.  Through the work of these men, historical, geographical and archaeological information was amassed that brought to life many biblical passages and incidents.  Finally, with the tools of literary criticism, so very often destructive in their use, scholars gained a new appreciation of the form, style, character, and patterns of the individual writings of Scripture.

Although, as we mentioned above, liberal Protestantism provided a new awareness of the humanity of Scripture, their historical study naturally carried with it a focus on the religious aspect of Scripture.  This fostered the concern to use Scripture in the nurture of pure religious life.  A by-product of their studies helped to give new meaning to the concept of the historicity of God's Word and work. Up to this time not enough of the details of the historical setting of the Old and New Testaments had been known for a proper grasp of this. Only as the human element in Scripture surfaced through historical research could the distinctiveness of the divine work be perceived.

These were the pluses of liberal Protestantism’s hermeneutics.  Unfortunately, these pluses, though of great value to the Church, were accompanied by serious minuses.  Bromiley concludes, “This is why the liberal orientation, if it is not to do more harm than good in hermeneutics, must be firmly handled as a servant rather than foolishly accepted as a master.” [71]  And what were these losses?

The Negative Developments
First there was the failure to embrace Scripture as God-given.  The Scriptures were seen only as the record of the religious quest of a specific segment of mankind.  This quest was no different that that of any other segment of the human population.  This view is proper only if the Bible is not divine revelation and its concepts of God and man do not correspond to authentic realities. For this reason, Barth considered the historical objectivity of liberal Protestantism as supremely "comical" for it did not accept the object for what it was and what it claimed to be.

Second, there was an effort to change the Bible, to make a new Scripture out of the existing one.  As the liberal scholars viewed the Scriptures at the literary level, they felt the need to break it up, to divide and rearrange it; to redact parts they felt didn’t belong.  It constantly sought to reconstruct the Bible in such a way as to remove its supernatural element.  It employed the literary tools cited above in a manner that was highly destructive.  Until hard facts support any reconstruction, exegesis based on that reconstruction is itself conjectural. Hermeneutics can deal only with an objectively real document. Clearly there will never be a reliable interpretation of any Scripture that is pure conjecture.

Finally, there was a return to one of the major problems of medieval interpretation where the work of interpretation was determined to be the sole province of the experts. It has again become a matter for experts.  The work of interpretation by ordinary readers can even be discouraged.  According to Bromiley a scholars' veil was drawn over Scripture. “Reading may continue freely, but the constitution of biblical experts as a modern teaching office imposes a new authoritarianism whose destructiveness is enhanced by the fact that it is so confusing and self-contradictory.” [72]

5.      Application
In this lesson we have talked about a number of things.  We’ve talked about what constitutes the Word of God, the canon of Scripture.  We’ve talked about our need to properly interpret the Word of God.  We saw that part of the interpretive process required the employment of a sound methodology.  We saw that the ‘literal-normal’ method of interpretation was the one that should be used.  We saw that the other part of the interpretive process was a reliance on the Holy Spirit’s to help us, to guide us, to lead us. 

So, we have come full circle for we are back to the question that we posed at the beginning of this lesson, what are we to do with this inspired revelation from God?  And again turning to what James said, we are to put “aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, [and] in humility receive the word implanted…” (James 1:21)  We have discussed extensively what that means, receiving the word, and are left to just do it.  For that is the simple fact of the matter.  God has revealed Himself.  Through the inspiring work of the Holy Spirit, the record of that revelation was recorded.  Finally, we are to receive that word deep into our souls.  How is that to be done?  READ YOUR BIBLE! 

The only way to be a doer of the word is to know the word so you can do it.  Knowing the word comes from reading the word.  This requires discipline.  We cannot let the cares and business of life prevent us from daily excursions into God’s word.  When we read it enough, we will come to see it as a welcome refuge from the cares and business of life that has kept it from us.  We will find ourselves in the presence of the living God.

Once in the refuge of His word, we can begin to discover its riches.  This is done by disciplined study, the step beyond disciplined reading.  This is the time we employ the tools of hermeneutics to find the meaning of the word.  This is the time when the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit comes into play.  This is the time we can say with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?”


[1] Cf., John 14:16-17, 26
[2] Jesus affirmed this pronouncement of blindness, cf. Matthew 13:14-15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; John 12:40.
[3] C. F. Keil, F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 1973), Volume 7, p. 201.
[4] Geoffrey W. Grogan, Isaiah, Expositors Bible Commentary, (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 1979), in. loc.
[5] Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 1983), p. 822-823.
[6] Ibid., p. 829.
[7] Alan MacRae, The Servant of the Lord in Isaiah, Part 1, Bibliotheca Sacra, (Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas TX, 1964), Volume 121:482, p. 125.
[8] MacRae, The Servant of the Lord in Isaiah, Part 2, Bibliotheca Sacra, (Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas TX, 1964), Volume 121:483, April 1964, p. 218.
[9] Wisdom Literature is comprised of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and certain of the Psalms.
“There is no consensus on the wisdom psalms, as the wisdom motif transcends all formal characteristics. We treat the following as wisdom psalms: 1; 10; 12; 15; 19; 32; 34; 36; 37; 49; 50; 52; 53; 73; 78; 82; 91; 92; 94; 111; 112; 119; 127; 128; and 139.  Perdue (pp. 269-324) distinguishes between three forms of wisdom hymns: (1) proverb poems: Psalms 1; 19:7-11; 34; 37; 73; 112; 127; 128; (2) 'ashre poems: Psalms 32; 119; and (3) riddle poems: Psalms 19:1-6; 49. The wisdom psalms overlap with the psalms of praise and lament, reminding us that the forms of poetry are conventions created for our benefit. The original poets were free in their expression while being bound by certain literary conventions.” (EBC, Volume 5, p. 32.)
[10] EBC, Volume 5, p. 32.
[11] EBC, in. loc.
[12] Cf. John 14:6; 17:3
[13] Cf. 2 Samuel 11:1-12:15
[14] Norman Geisler and William Nix, From God to Us, (Moody Press, Chicago IL, 1974), p. 62.  
[15] W. Robert Cook, Systematic Theology in Outline Form, (Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, Portland, OR), Volume 1, p. 49.
[16] Geisler and Nix, op. cit., p. 67.
[17] Ibid., p. 69.
[18] Ibid., p. 69.
[19] Ibid., p. 71.
[20] Ibid., p. 69.
[21] Ipso facto, By the fact itself; by that very fact: An alien, ipso facto, has no right to a U.S. passport.
[22] Ibid., p. 72.
[23] Cf., David Ewert, A General Introduction to the Bible, (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 1990), p. 66.
[24] Cf. Marvin Lubenow, The Bones of Contention, (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1992), p. 216-222.
[25] David Ewert, op. cit., p. 70.  Ewert cites 1 Maccabees 14:41; 2 Baruch 85:3
[26] Ibid., p. 125.
[27] Ibid., p. 119.
[28] Ibid., p. 129.
[29] Geisler and Nix, op. cit., p. 117.
[30] The RSV lists fifteen, of those, the Council of Trent rejected three as non-canonical and are therefore not included in the Douay Version.  Further, that version appends four books to others in the collection reducing the count to nine.   The Roman Catholic Chir lists fourteen
[31] Broderick, Robert C., ed., “Apocrypha”, The Catholic Encyclopedia, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, New York, 1987), p. 43
[32] Most biblical scholars make the distinction that the ‘Interpretation’ of the word of God is, as we shall see, “the meaning that God had in mind when He made the revelation.”  After that, all else in the process is application.  The human author only knew that part of the interpretation that he was able to know. The readers, in similar manner can only apply to themselves and others their understanding of God’s word.  Some time after the turn of the century, writers began to substitute the term ‘Interpretation’ for ‘Application’.  Typically, to these writers, the ‘Interpretation’ was God’s mind, ‘Primary Application’ was what the human writer intended to say and for immediate audience to understand, and ‘Secondary Application’ was what we could get from God’s word.
[33] Roy Zuck, gen. ed., Rightly Divided, Readings in Biblical Hermeneutics, (Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI, 1996), p. 14.
[34] Zuck, ibid., p. 19.
[35] Zuck, ibid., p. 19.
[36] Zuck, ibid., p. 19.
[37] Zuck, ibid., p. 20.
[38] Zuck, ibid., p. 21.
[39] Zuck, ibid., p. 21.
[40] Robert H. Stein, “Who Makes Up the Rules?”, Rightly Divided, Op. cit., p. 31.
[41] Stein, ibid., p. 31.
[42] Stein, ibid., p. 33.
[43] For further information about the Constitution of the United States see (2004) Online: usinfo.state.cov/usa/infousa/facts/democrac/9.htm
[44] Stein, ibid., p. 38.
[45] Stein, ibid., p. 44.
[46] Moses Stuart, “Interpreting the Bible Like a Book”, Rightly Divided, Op. cit., p. 61.
[47] Zuck, Op. Cit., p. 279.
[48] Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, cited by Zuck, ibid., p. 288.
[49] Zuck, Op. Cit., p. 290.
[50] Frank Houghton, Quiet Time, cited by Zuck, ibid., p. 293.
[51] Cook, Op. Cit., Volume 1, p. 48.
[52] Roy Zuck, The Role of the Holy Spirit in Hermeneutics, (Bibliotheca Sacra. Volume 141, Number 562 (April 1984)), p. 124.
[53] Millard Erickson, Op. Cit.Christian Theology, (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 1983), p. 276.
[54] EBC, Volume 10, p. 269.
[55] Gordon Lewis and Bruce Demarest, Integrative Theology, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1996), Volume 1, p. 167.
[56] I. Howard Marshal, “The Holy Spirit and the Interpretation of Scripture”, Rightly Divided, Op. cit., p. 67.
[57] Roy Zuck, Op. Cit., p. 121.
[58] Roy Zuck, Op. Cit., p. 122.
[59] Ibid. p. 123.
[60] Geoffrey W. Bromiley, “The Interpretation of the Bible”, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, op. cit., Volume 1, p. 62.
[61] Cf. Matthew 5:17-18, Luke 4:14-21; 14:29-32; 20:9-18, 41-44, John 5:39—47; 10:22-38 to name but a few.
[62] Bromiley, op. cit., p. 67.
[63] Ibid., p. 68.
[64] Syncretism: the reconciliation or fusion of differing systems of belief, as in philosophy or religion.
[65] Cf. Lesson 8, The Being of God, section 4.a) Early Church Fathers.  There is a discussion of  various philosophical systems and will help the student to better understand Aristotelian philosophy and its impact on Aquinas.
[66] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann (St. Louis: Concordia, 1955), Volume 10, p. 4.
[67] Ibid, Volume 27, p. 311.
[68] Ibid.
[69] Martin Luther, “On the Bondage of the Will,” in Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation, trans. E. Gordon Rupp and Philip S. Watson (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1959),    p. 221.
[70] Randal C. Gleason, “Letter” and “Spirit” in Luther’s Hermeneutics, (Bibliotheca Sacra. Volume 157, Number 628 (October 2000)), p. 474-476.
[71] Bromiley, op. cit., p. 73.
[72] Ibid., p. 74.