The beginning of the discussion in any of these doctrinal discussions is interpretation – what do the words mean that we are reading. I have noticed this is the beginning of where we all start to go ‘one way or another’ – not that this is ‘bad’ – but this is where we choose our perspectives on what a scripture will say.
I think we all try to let the scriptures speak for themselves and that is our goal – but we cannot help but bring in some of our own biases – that’s quite normal. The real question is – does our biases hurt the interpretation or help in the ‘mining’ of it?
EX1: Blessed are the meek (gentle or humble), for they shall inherit the earth (Matt 5:5)
That sentence is going to depend on how we define the terms within it. Meekness is a word we have to define – what does it mean to us? Its blessing is interesting – ‘shall inherit the earth’ – what does that mean? It’s also antithetical in its emphasis – meek inherit the earth? How so? But that’s the task of the interpreter.
EX2: But go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners. (Matt 9:13)
Interesting teaching, when you consider its ramifications…but this is a teaching attributed to Jesus. Why does the focus on compassion mean more than the focus on sacrifice? What are the ramifications of a sentence like that on our daily lives? On our theologies? On the way we view God? On the way we view others? Meaning does, in a sense, determine your actions.
This is where we all are having the problem clicking with one another on our various interpretations of scripture and debates into the study of God (theology). This however goes a lot deeper than a few passages – we actually get into whole books, whole works of an author, and comparative frameworks.
Some see the various books as quite different but working together – some do not see this at all – the books are harmonious. Some see a difference in focus from gospel to gospel – and letter to letter…some think is not the case. So we will never see ‘eye to eye’ on all issues – that’s the obvious part – but that’s not the troubling part.
The troubling part is only select interpretation is the intent of the author – and someone knows it (to some in-depth extent). We start to discuss ideas about God (or even scriptures themselves) and apply the selected criteria to those passages – so it reads as we need it to.
EX1: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it” and “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me“. (Matt 7:13 & John 14:6)
These passages are sometimes held so in common one might think they were written one after the other in the same chapter. However, they are not – they are in different books with different authors (and in different contexts/conversations). Do those passages mean the same thing? Question is – how can they – they look nothing alike.
EX2: The gospels in their accounts of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus say little to nothing about the meaning of the atonement (fact). Many of the letters refer to this aspect of the death of Jesus.
Why do the gospels not delve into the meaning of the atonement in more depth – if it is such a huge theological breaking point for the faith? The letters, namely Hebrews, seems to make this such a central theological point that it cannot be ignored (unless one stops reading). Whose emphasis is right? The gospels or the letters?
The problem we are all facing is breaking down the teachings/scriptures to their core meanings and what is important. So what is the core meaning and how do you arrive at it?