Slideshow image

The Bible passage for this Sunday asserted that Scripture is inspired, literally God-breathed. Some commentary appeals to the creation stories in Genesis to give a better understanding of this. In those stories God spoke, and the world was made. In a similiar way we can understand that God breathed into the lives of the prophets and Holy Scripture was the result.

N. T. Wright goes further to assert that if Scripture is God-breathed it is more than an inert product of God, but is itself living. The book of Hebrews would seem to affirm this view stating that: "the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit..." (Hebrews 4:12).

If Scripture is not only the product of God, but is in a sense alive, are there any limitations on what any given passage might say to us? I bring this up, because I have experienced God's word speaking into my life--jumping right off the pages as it were. And I have heard others recount the same, yet to my ears the word that they heard seemed somehow unfaithful to the Bible's intent.

I will provide the following story to illustrate.

During one summer ministry placement in New Brunswick I paid a home visit to a church family. I asked how they came to live at that place, and the patriarch mentioned that he had an opportunity to buy the property, and because he didn't know what to do, he opened the Bible randomly and read a verse. I can't recall what verse it was but it was a passage that spoke about buying property. Maybe something akin to Jeremiah 29:5 "Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce." 

What I found unsettling about his story was that his use of Scripture had no real concern for its particularly context. There was no concern about the Jewish exiles in Babylon and their spiritual survival in a pagan culture, but whether or not to buy a home. It seemed to me that he was using the Bible like a Magic 8-Ball--a tool to get quick and easy answers for his own life.

But what makes my some readings faithful and other readings superstitious?

In the Middle Ages there were four accepted readings of any passage of Scripture called the 'Quadriga' (a literal quadriga is depicted with this blog--a chariot drawn by four horses). Laid out simply they are:

  • Literal: What the passage says about past events
  • Allegorical: What the passage can tell us about Christ
  • Moral: What the passage can teach us about how to live
  • Anagogical: What the passage tells us about our ultimate fate

Using the crossing of the Red Sea as an example:

  • Literal: reflecting on how Moses and Israel actually crossed it
  • Allegorical: seeing in the crossing our baptism and new life in Christ
  • Moral: considering how we can cross over life's difficulties into earthly blessing
  • Analogical: looking forward to the final crossing-over from death to eternal life in heaven

As you can imagine these four different readings allow for myriad interpretations. The Reformers reacted against what they saw as abuses in interpretation rooted in the allegorical method. While they did not reject the other readings they saw the literal reading as the primary reading upon which the other readings must be based. (For more discussion check out this blog post from Jeffrey Fisher.)

Maybe what the Reformers understood needs to moderate our own interpretations of Scripture. However we interpret Scripture it would seem right that the original story in the context of God's work in Christ needs to remain front and center.

Comments for this post are now off.