God likes to bring us back around to a deeper understanding on issues that we may have formerly thought we understood. Several incidents have led me to consider once more about how important it is for us to be committed to the primacy of Scripture when it comes to conflicts of authority. I have been presenting a seminar on Genesis, during which we discussed the various interpretations of Genesis 1 (literal, symbolic, mythic). Then, after years of it collecting dust on my shelf, I started reading Dr. C. Gordon Olson’s book Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism: An Inductive Mediate Theology of Salvation (Cedar Knolls, New Jersey: Global Gospel Publishers, 2002). In it Dr. Olson argues persuasively for approaching the Bible with an inductive method (“reasoning from particular facts or individual cases to a general conclusion”, p. 17) first and using a deductive method (“reasoning from a known principle to an unknown, from the general to the specific or from a premise to a logical conclusion”, pp. 17-18) only when the inductive method cannot bring us to a clear conclusion. The inductive study method is a truly scientific method of reading the Scriptures, as it begins with observation and then reaches a conclusion, as true science ought. Unfortunately, we often come to Scripture with a conclusion that we then try to substantiate from the Word. This is not exegesis; it is eisegesis and has led to much false teaching.
It was interesting to see how much deduction was done by the seminar participants when it came to Genesis. I was constantly having to say, “Yes, that may be true, but is it in this text?” (It was usually not.) Then my wife and I had a discussion with a young couple about the much-debated passage in 1 Timothy 2:12-15, which on the face of it prohibits women from teaching men. In the end it all came back to these two questions: What does the text say? And who or what is the authority here – I or Scripture?
This is certainly not a new topic for me, as in my younger years I wrote a long treatise on this entitled “Beating the Systems”, which you can read on my website. Over this last year especially, I have had to again and again plead for holding to “the clear meaning of the text”. What this means for me is that when I interpret the text, first, I come to it with the attitude that this is God’s Word and I will submit myself to whatever it says. Second, I make sure that I know what genre of text I’m dealing with, for poetry will be interpreted differently than prophecy or narrative. Third, I make sure that I’m looking at the literary, cultural, testamental and theological context. It is only then that I seek the application of the text for today. I am not perfect here, but I really try to make sure Scripture is primary and to change my view of things depending on what I have read. My prayer is that every believer makes sure that they are doing the same. This will prevent us from falling into error, will keep our eyes fixed on our Lord, and thus make our application of Scripture proper for our specific personality and environment.
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