Mar 212013

And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine.

Genesis 14:18 (ESV)

The Second London Confession of 1689 says in section 1.9, “It is an infallible rule that Scripture is to be interpreted by Scripture, that is to say, one part by another. Hence any dispute as to the true, full and evident meaning of a particular passage must be determined in light of clearer, comparable passages.” The Reformers were committed to destroy the prominent view of Scriptural interpretation prevalent in their day. This view of biblical interpretation began early in Church history and carried through all the way to Luther (though some even hold to this today!). This method is known by the Latin, “Quadriga”, or “the four-fold” sense. What this means is that the Medieval view was that each text of Scripture had four senses to it: 1) a literal sense, 2) an allegorical sense, 3) a tropological (pulling out the moral teachings) sense and lastly, 4) an anagogical (a mystical interpretation that detects allusions to heaven or the afterlife) sense.

Those that held to this view could look at the verse above and say:

  • 1) The literal sense – Melchizedek brought bread and wine and refreshed the soldiers of Abraham after battle and travel.
  • 2) The allegorical sense – Melchizedek offers up Christ in the Mass.
  • 3) The tropological sense – Melchizedek is giving bread to the poor. He is doing a morally good deed, so we should in like manner give to the poor.
  • 4) The anagogical sense – As Christ is in heaven, he shall be the bread of life to the faithful.

The Puritan William Perkins said that such a method of interpretation “must be exploded and rejected because there is only one sense, and the same is the literal.” A text might demand an allegorical interpretation of course, if it is in its literary style an allegory. But we are not to go hunting for interpretations that the literal reading of the text does not warrant. The Scriptures themselves must dictate how they are to be interpreted. This literal sense has also been called the literal, grammatical-historical interpretation of the Bible. It simply reads the Bible like one would read any other piece of literature, taking into account figures of speech, genres of literature, etc.

I should also make a distinction when it comes to the Bible. The Bible can be read like any other book, but it is NOT like any other book. The Bible is God’s Spirit-inspired, inerrant, infallible, all-sufficient Word, and at the end of the day, only those in whom the Spirit of God dwells will really understand its message (1 Corinthians 2). Only those indwelt by the Spirit will love it as the Word of God and desire to live their lives by its teachings. The Spirit-inspired Word must be Spirit-illumined in our hearts. Let us never take the ministry of God’s Spirit for granted. When we come to the Bible every day, our heart’s cry should be for divine assistance to understand its message and apply its message by God’s grace and power. This He gives to His people. Let us in humility and trust come to His Word in the right manner of heart, reading it in the sense that it should be understood, but acknowledging every moment that it is NOT like every other book and that we need God’s help. Let us pour our lives and hearts into the Bible. I pray that we will read it to understand it and let its truth conform us into the image of Christ.

Sola Scriptura! (Scripture alone!)

Pastor Bill

Mar 062013

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.

Luke 24:27 (ESV)

Last month in Minneapolis, I was blessed to hear an address by Dr. Joel Beeke, President of the Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. (I also was blessed to meet him afterwards!) He spoke on the subject of what Puritan pastors would say to modern pastors. It was very enlightening indeed. Dr. Beeke, along with Dr. Mark Jones, has written a wonderful new work entitled A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life. It is a Puritan systematic theology. It is a very well written, hard to put down kind of book. It stands at 971 pages! That seems a little overwhelming, but with some discipline and focused attention, I want to get through it. I thought that the best way I could stay focused in working through the book is to write some theological tidbits that I am learning from the book. Ultimately we learn theology, not only to gain knowledge of the Word, but to live lives that are glorifying to God. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy must go hand in hand.

So it is with Puritan hermeneutics (Bible interpretation). In the Puritan view, correct interpretation of the Scriptures was not only a matter of employing the right interpretive tools, but also of having and using the right spiritual tools, such as prayerful dependence upon the Holy Spirit for illumination. Likewise, interpretation without proper application was an idea utterly foreign to the Puritans. (And it should be to us!)

The Puritans brought many interpretive advances for the edification and growth of the Church. I want to take a moment and focus on one of them: the Christological focus of the Scriptures. It is very clear from the text above that Jesus Himself taught the two disciples on the road to Emmaus to view the Scriptures in light of Him. What a Bible lesson that must have been! Beginning with Moses (first five books of the Bible) and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. The Puritans were committed to interpret all of Scripture in the light of Christ. All of Scripture is Christian Scripture.

John Owen said, “The revelation and doctrine of the person of Christ and his office is the foundation whereupon all the other instructions of the prophets and apostles for the edification of the church are built, and whereinto they are resolved… There are, therefore, such revelations of the person and glory of Christ treasured up in the Scripture, from the beginning unto the end of it, as may exercise the faith and contemplation of believers in this world, and shall never, during this life, be fully discovered or understood.” Christ is not merely found here and there in Scripture, but on every page. Thomas Adams remarked that, “Christ is the sum of the whole Bible, prophesied, typified, prefigured, exhibited, demonstrated, to be found in every leaf, almost in every line… Christ is the main, the center whither all these are referred.” Richard Sibbes said, “Take away Christ, what remains?”

Believers should realize that even before Christ came to earth, the Scriptures held Him up in ceremonies, rites, figures, types, promises and covenants. There is a definite goal the Christian should have in reading the Bible: “To perceive the ever-increasing revelation of Jesus Christ found on every page of Scripture.”

Let us strive to see the “glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” in His Word. As we read, we should ask ourselves, “How does this text point me to Christ? How is God working redemptively through history to show us the glory and majesty of His Son? How am I to live in the light of this revelation?” As we see Him, let us trust Him and love Him and embrace Him and treasure Him. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2)!