We like to think that we conform our behavior and our beliefs to what the Bible tells us. But how is it, then, that we come to such differing beliefs? For example, as demonstrated by vote at the general conference five summers ago, almost 60% of the church believes that women should not be ordained in the ministry. But 40% believe, just as strongly, that women should be ordained. Both sides passionately believe the Bible tells them so.
- A Church, Not An Individual
- Without A Pope, It’s Up to Us
- Be A Straight Shooter
So, which one is right? Well, that’s not for me to declare, even if I’m right.
A Church, Not An Individual
In 1859, Stephen Haskell wrote a letter to Ellen White stating that he believed that we should not eat unclean meats. She answered that, even if he was correct, “God is leading a church, not one or two individuals.” Like it or not, the church must move as one, together. No one person, however correct, can make choices for the entire church.
It turns out then, that how we read the Bible makes a great difference. This week’s lesson says the Bible is “The Authoritative Source of Our Theology.” And so it is. That is to say, the Bible is an authoritative source. But what makes an authoritative theology? The short answer is that since the Bible is the authoritative source, the closer our theology matches what the Bible actually teaches, the more authoritative our theology. But the vote mentioned above demonstrates that we disagree on what the Bible actually teaches. Apparently, keeping Jesus’ question in mind, we read the Bible differently. So that means the real question is how can we read the Bible to most accurately understand its teachings? And make no mistake, it’s a job for all of us.
Without A Pope, It’s Up to Us
We have no pope. Not the General Conference president, not the Dean of the seminary, not the collective of all the Bible professors the nomination — none of these individuals or groups can determine the beliefs and doctrines of the church. Not only is that not the way our church is set up, it doesn’t even work for those situations. Even for churches which are set up that way. There are many sincere Catholics who do not agree and do not believe what the Pope says. God understands that belief is personal, we believe because we choose believe it. And so it falls upon the membership– each one of us– to study and reason for ourselves what is God’s truth for our church. Jesus’ question is for all of us: how do you read it? So, how can we tell what God intends us to understand from a passage of Scripture? The first part of the answer is relatively simple.
What Does It (He) Say?
For example, if you want to know what I intend you to understand from this blog, you can ask me. The author knows what he or she intended people to understand, and although the biblical authors are not directly available to us, the same holds true for them. Our first step is to find out, as nearly as possible precisely what the author wrote how did he understand the message God was giving to him. In other words, the first question we must answer is, “What did he actually say?”
This is complicated by the fact that the Bible was written in languages which are foreign to us, but today we have access via books periodicals and the Internet to resources which can significantly reduce the difficulty, if not eliminate them altogether. If you want to know the meaning of the Greek or Hebrew word, you can easily find that online. So that’s the first step. Again, answering the question, “What did he say?”
Be A Straight Shooter
For example, in 2 Timothy 2:15, Paul wrote: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved,[a] a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” The Greek word here translated “rightly handling,” is orthotomeo which means literally to “cut straight.” A rough English equivalent me be “straight shooter.” In other words, in your interpretation of Scripture, be a straight shooter. So it might read “When it comes to interpreting Scripture, be a straight shooter.”
That’s our aim, too. If we want our theology to be authoritative, we begin by being a straight shooter. And that starts with “What did the author actually say.”