Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Interpreting Scripture

People make mistakes, but computers don't

Years and years ago, back in the day when computers were first making their debut, there was this idea going around that "humans make mistakes, but computers don't." Based on this idea, some people seemed to think that replacing human labor with robotic or computerized labor was an excellent idea not only because it could save money, but also because it would eliminate the possibility of human error.

Not everyone really "bought" the idea. In response to this idea, several movies were made, in which humans were replaced by computers because "computers don't make mistakes." Then, of course, things so wrong and in the end, the fate of the planet depends on the main characters stopping the mad computers! These movies seemed over-the-top, but the concepts were quite believable.

Now, it sounds rather logical to believe that humans make mistakes, and that computers cannot. Why is it, then, that computers do mess up? Why is it that we would not entrust the fate of the world to computerized machines? I think that the logical error is this: To say that humans make mistakes, but computers don't makes as little sense as saying that humans make mistakes, but programmers don't. Given that humans do make mistakes, we are can count on programmers making mistakes. So, as long as we can count on programmers making mistakes, we can count on computers messing up!

People can be wrong, but the Bible is never wrong

In a similar way, there is this idea that I heard from a few people at different points in time. The idea goes like this: Human logic is fallible, but the Bible is always true: Therefore we should never preach our opinions, but only preach what the Word of God says. The sounds pretty reasonable because first of all we know that as humans, we are wrong a lot, and also because we know that the Bible is completely accurate. However, it is incorrect to reason that "Human logic is fallible, but human interpretation of the Bible is always true." The Bible is always true, but our understanding of the Bible is rarely accurate and complete.

As long as we only quote Bible verses to one another, we are speaking truth. However, when it comes to understanding the Bible, we may get confused because of misunderstanding words, or misunderstanding concepts. If I am even to understand that "God is love," I must know what love is. Is it the same "love" that is tossed around so often in our culture? To comprehend that Paul was grieved, I must have some knowledge of what grief is. As soon as we not only quote verses, but go on to explain them or apply them to our lives, or to some topic, we are relying to some extend on our own human understanding and human logic. Because of this, we are all fallible in our understanding of Scripture.

A person may claim not to preach their own opinion, but only to preach what they see in the Word of God. However, when preaching what the "see" in the Word of God, they are speaking about what they believe it mean or logically implies, and are using their own fallible head. Unless a person only quotes the Bible word for word, without any comments or explanation, they are to an extend, preaching their own opinion.

All this is to say that although we know that the Bible contains ultimate truth, we should not give up the study of "human logic" or attempts to define words accurately. Without logic and understanding, we are practically guaranteed to interpret the Bible incorrectly. God is a God of logic, and never contradicts Himself. If we forsake logic, and read Scripture illogically, we will not truly understand what it says.

Perhaps one may think that it is an act of humility to believe the Bible (or more precisely, to believe their interpretation of the Bible) even when it seems to be illogical and contradictory. However, I would say that it is not the Bible that is illogical or contradictory, but their interpretation of the Bible. In that case, humility would be realizing that, and taking more time to question their own interpretation of the Bible.

People can be wrong, but the Bible can never be wrong. Human logic is fallible, and human interpretation of the Bible is not always true. The Bible is always true, but our understanding of the Bible is rarely accurate and complete.

There is no relation between the physical and spiritual realm

Building off of that, I have heard the idea that analogies between the physical and the spiritual realm are really quite pointless, because the spiritual realm is so different. However, I would say everything and anything we understand about the spiritual realm must be based off of our understanding of the physical realm! If I tell you that I have seen a glooflamder, you will have no idea of what that means, unless I explain in words you are familiar with how it is like things you already have experienced or understand. If something is entirely unlike anything you have experienced or have knowledge of, then you cannot understand it in the least bit! If I say "Я не понимаю, потому что я не говорю на английском языке," you will very likely not understand, because there are no understood concepts that you attach to those series of letters or sounds.

Throughout the Bible we learn by analogies between the physical and spiritual realm. God is a "rock" and a "fortress." We are all "like sheep" or "lost coins." Any analogy is sure to fall short, for no analogy is the same in every way as the concept being described. However, often an analogy will illustrate clearly one or two points being made. The spiritual and the physical realm are different, but are also similar. It is only in these similarities that we can understand that which is not tangible. This is why analogies and similes are so important, and can be found so frequently in the Bible.

To conclude, words, analogies, and human logic are not only important parts of reading and understanding the Bible, but are in fact inescapable parts of reading and understanding the Bible. The only question is whether or not you are accurate and truly logical in your reading and understanding of Scripture.