On Interpreting Scripture in Light of Theology

A theology is a framework laid upon Scripture to provide a big picture of Bible history, past, present and future, in order to make sense of God’s dealings with people as chronicled in the 66 books of the Bible.  The word theology means the study of God and so is to be commended.  However, we must be very careful to understand that while the events a theology seeks to organize are of course Biblical and divinely inspired, the framework by which it attempts to do so is the product of man’s reasoning with all of the potential shortcomings of man’s fallen nature.  Throughout history many such frameworks have been laid upon Scripture by different individuals and groups.

The attempt of all theologies is to organize and make sense of the many things recorded in the Bible that in isolation may seem “puzzling”, by putting those individual puzzle pieces together to form a big picture.  This isn’t necessarily bad as God does want us to know Him and calls upon us to study to show ourselves approved as workmen who rightly divide the word of truth.  However, in doing so we have to be careful to neither go beyond and thus add to, nor gloss over and thus take away from that which God has clearly revealed, lest in doing so we turn aside either to the right or left and stray from the straight and narrow path that leads to life.  For unfortunately the Bible isn’t like a picture puzzle you buy at the store that has the “big picture” on the cover.  Neither do the pieces we have always fit neatly together to form the big picture the theology purports to give.  For while God has made known to us all that a good and honest heart needs to know in order to walk with Him along that straight and narrow path that leads to life, there are in fact pieces of the big picture that are missing which God in His wisdom has chosen not to reveal.

His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.
2 Peter 1:3

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.
Deuteronomy 29:29

Different theologies arrange the pieces of the puzzle in different ways to give different pictures, and in order to make all the pieces “fit” every theology must to a greater or lesser degree attempt to fill in those missing pieces.  To be sure, the finished pictures can be quite convincing, which is why there are so many different denominations or sects.  But in truth there is always a certain amount of human subjectivity and speculation that must be incorporated into each theology to create the framework and paint the complete picture.  And therein is the danger, if perhaps in the subtle pride and deceitfulness of our heart (Jer 17:9) the framework we build and the pieces we fill in mislead us to interpret Scripture not according to the simple reading of the text through the corrective lenses of the Holy Spirit, but according to a framework of human reasoning through the rose-colored glasses of our theology.

A good and honest heart will realize that every theology of man has the same problem: nowhere in Scripture is its “framework” or “big picture” clearly revealed.  Neither do such theologies of men seem to allow for the fact that our infinite God is simply too big to fit inside any framework we build or picture we draw!  As a result, those who try to fit their understanding of God and His eternal plan into a neat theological box are inevitably confronted with “difficult passages”, the plain meaning of which do not fit neatly into their framework and must therefore be reinterpreted in order to make them fit into the big picture the theology has painted.

For example, nowhere in Scripture is the framework of Roman Catholicism clearly revealed, and in order to make its understanding of Scripture fit into its theological box Roman Catholics must add to, gloss over, and/or reinterpret numerous “difficult passages”.  For instance, since according to their theology Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Christ it is necessary to reinterpret the plain reading of the Scriptures that refer to Jesus’ brothers and sisters (Mat 12:46ff, 13:55-56,etc…) to mean his cousins.  Likewise they must gloss over or add explanatory notes to reinterpret Mat 23:9 where Christ commands His disciples to ascribe to no man on earth the title of Father, and so on for numerous other passages throughout the Scriptures that would otherwise contradict their human reasoning about the mass, purgatory, papal authority, etc…

In this same way neither are the 5 points of Calvinism clearly revealed in Scripture and in order to make the Scriptures fit neatly into its framework Calvinists are also forced to add to or reinterpret the plain meaning of numerous passages.  For instance, since in Calvinism God sovereignly chooses who will be saved and who will be damned and man does not ultimately have free will, Calvinists are forced to add to and reinterpret passages like 1 Tim 2:4 (God wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth) and 2 Pet 3:9 (God does not want any to perish but for all to come to repentance) to mean that God wants all sorts of men to be saved and does not want any of His elect to perish.  But if we are honest, we will understand that this is no different than Mormons who add to and reinterpret Isa 45:22 (“For I am God, and there is no other”) to mean that He is God and there is no other over our planet.

As still another example, nowhere in Scripture are the distinctive doctrines of Seventh Day Adventists or the World Church of God clearly revealed, so that they too are forced by their theology to reinterpret the clear reading of various passages whose apparent meaning would otherwise contradict their teachings on Sabbath observance, dietary laws, soul sleep, annihilationism, etc…  The more I learn about the different theologies of man that have been applied to Scripture the more it seems that all suffer this same fault in one way or another and to some greater or lesser degree.  Indeed, it causes me to fear as I consider in what ways the same may be true of my own understanding!  For again, although the events recorded in Scripture are divinely inspired, our theologies are not, and there is therefore a great potential danger in interpreting Scripture in light of our theology rather than in light of the plain reading of the text as illuminated by the Holy Spirit.

I believe it is ultimately fleshly human pride that gives rise to every such theology of man by supposing we are somehow able to improve upon God’s revelation by painting a picture from the Scriptures that God in His wisdom chose not to paint.  Like Job before his dialogue with God beginning in Job 38, do we really suppose that our finite mortal minds, especially in our fallen state, should be able to completely understand the “big picture” that our theologies attempt to draw?  Much rather, does not any theology we draw have the potential danger to cause us to err in like manner to those drawn by others with whom we disagree, the faults of which seem so obvious to us, but so obviously not to them?

For this reason, I believe that our greatest need in rightly dividing the word of God is a good and honest heart that understands its fallen condition and propensity to be deceived and therefore accepts the word of God at face value, neither adding to it nor taking away from it.  For surely He who did not spare His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, who freely gives us all things and who knows how prone we are to deception and our willingness to believe a lie—surely He has spoken clearly in His word and has not hidden truths necessary for our understanding in the conflicting theologies of men, especially when such “truths” contradict what His word plainly says!  Because God has clearly revealed everything that we need to attain to life and godliness we have nothing to gain and everything to lose by speculating about the secret things God has left obscure.  Thus in humble faith we must turn neither to the right nor to the left from that which is clearly revealed even though we may not completely understand how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together.  In approaching the word of God we must always be careful to remove the broken spectacles of our own human understanding by laying aside the presuppositions of our traditions and theology lest, like the Jews at Christ’s first advent, we not only miss but perhaps also find ourselves opposed to the true “big picture” of God’s plan as it continues to unfold.

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