- In general (but not completely), my advice is that we give careful consideration to the opinions of those who have studied the Bible more rigorously and/or longer than we.
Note that I said “more rigorously and/or longer” and not simply “who has been a ‘believer’ longer.” Scriptural truth is not had by mere seniority. A person may have been a professing Christian for 40 years and done precious little serious study of scripture. In such a case, I would probably bet on the findings of a 8 year ‘serious student of the Bible’ over such a person.
- Take a teachable posture toward one another, seeking to understand the other’s perspective and where such a person is coming from. Often, we will find richness in another person’s perspective, even if we come to alternate or opposed positions than they.
- Realize that (a) the other person may be right; (b) you may be right; (c) neither of you may be right; (d) the matter may not be discernable– in some situations where scripture is silent and a clear biblical position cannot be deduced; or (e) one or both of you may be partially right.
- One thing to keep in mind, however, is that the “Law of Non-Contradiction” tells us that two opposing positions cannot be simultaneously true at the same time, in the same sense.” That’s another way of saying that it’s NOT AN OPTION for you both to contradict one another and for both positions to be deemed “correct.” For example, infanticide cannot be BOTH right and wrong AT THE SAME TIME. Scripture DOES teach “something,” and what it doesn’t do is to contradict itself.
- Keep studying and keep evaluating your convictions, assumptions, and beliefs– as your knowledge of the Bible and as your knowledge about how to study and interpret the Bible develops.
How Do We Discern What The Bible Teaches?
When we are trying to discern which biblical view is correct, how do we decide?
1. First, we make sure our view of God’s Word is accurate.
Conservative Evangelical Christians (like me), hold that the Bible is three things: inspired (that it came from God to humanity), infallible (unfailing in the purposes God intended for it to have), and inerrant (without error in any matter it addresses). In addition, conservative Christians’ view of inspiration is typically that the Bible is inspired verbally (that each word is free from error) or is inspired in a plenary way (that the Bible, as a complete book, was given to humanity from God, not only parts of it)… or BOTH, a.k.a. verbal-plenary.
2. Second, we make sure our view of hermeneutics is correct.
Conservative Evangelical Christians (like me), hold that the Bible should be interpreted using a historico-grammatical approach. This isn’t really that confusing. A historico-grammatical hermeneutic simply means that the Bible should be approached and interpreted:
(a) as a historical collection of books that are sacred scripture, and that each book should honor and seek to understand the historical context of the people and place in which it was written. That means we do not seek to simply ask “what does this Bible reading mean TO ME” but we FIRST ASK “What does this Bible teaching MEAN” or “What did this passage mean to the original hearers/readers of this message?” In other words, “How did they take this? How did they, based on their culture, heritage, time in history, history, location, geo-political status, etc. think about what was said?”
(b) as a piece of literature having certain grammatical features. In other words, to properly interpret a passage of scripture, one cannot run rough-shod over the type of literature the book is (prophecy, history, law, poetry, letter, etc.) since each of those literature types are read and understood differently. For example, today we would read a fiction book differently than a non-fiction book or a legal brief. Likewise, literature types are grammatical features that should be taken into consideration when studying scripture. Moreover, the author who wrote a scriptural passage also used certain figures of speech (simile, metaphor, hyperbole, anthropomorphisms, etc.) and those figures of speech have certain impact on how to interpret someone. Also, there may be other devices such as specific word choice, sentence structure/syntax, dialect, or other feature that can be discovered through careful study that impact how something is rendered.
Together, these are what “historical-grammatical” or historico-grammatical method of interpretation/hermeneutic mean.
3. We Make Sure our Exegesis Does Not Become “Eisegesis.” Exegesis is the process of seeking to discern what a text means in the plain sense of reading the Bible in the way it was written and intended to be interpreted, originally. This is the process of simply reading what God has said and meant.
But many people get into the business of Eisegesis, instead. Eisegesis is actually a derisive term used when people fall into the practice of imposing their own preconceived ideas or concepts completely foreign to the plain reading of the text INTO THAT TEXT. Often, eisegesis (or sarcastically called “extra-Jesus”) places meanings into the text that are not only inaccurate, but that could or would not have been in the minds of the author or original readers when the text was received. This is spiritual malpractice and should be avoided, and should also be called out when it is present.