According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Michael Graves: The Early Church Father's Many Methods of Interpretation of the Bible

Augustine and his figurative–and therefore not at all modern evangelical–view of the Bible
Augustine operated with a theology of Scripture that led him to interpret the Bible differently from most Christians today. To be specific, Augustine read Scripture in a figurative way that often does not correspond to modern literalist methods of interpretation.

For example, in dealing with what appear to be harsh deeds done by God or the Israelites in the Old Testament, Augustine says, “Any harsh or even cruel word or deed attributed to God or his saints that is found in the holy scriptures applies to the destruction of the realm of lust” (On Christian Teaching 3.11.17; transl. R.P.H. Green). Later he says, “But if [a statement in Scripture] appears to enjoin wickedness or wrongdoing or to forbid self-interest or kindness, it is figurative” (On Christian Teaching 3.16.24). This is not the exegesis practiced by many who today cite Augustine for support…

It is not surprising to find all sorts of figurative readings in Augustine, since he believed that “anything in the divine discourse that cannot be related either to good morals or to the true faith should be taken as figurative” (On Christian Teaching 3.10.14).

Graves ends with some sober observations that, in my experience in these matters, is too often ignored or simply not understood:

Christians today may share Augustine’s belief in the complete truthfulness of what Scripture teaches. But if we imagine ourselves as holding to a “traditional” view of inspiration, then we cannot simply borrow a quotation from Augustine about the truthfulness of Scripture and then ignore the very interpretive methods that made Augustine’s beliefs about Scripture work in the first place. That is historically and theologically incoherent.

Twenty-first-century readers may not share all of Augustine’s beliefs about how best to interpret Scripture. I think this is perfectly understandable. But this means we need to reframe how we understand biblical inspiration to function as a whole. In my opinion, this is the best way to maintain a “traditional” view. Instead of just taking a small piece of the tradition and using it to defend our own interpretive methods, we should look at the ancient system as a whole and then think constructively about how to capture the essential truths about Scripture for today.

As I see it, not only is Augustine deferring to figurative readings in these morally troubling instances of Scripture, but note that his “standard” for deciding what is morally troubling or upright does not come “from the Bible” but from outside of it. He seems to “judge” the Bible by a standard foreign to it, which in much of contemporary biblical apologetics is about as sure a sign of  harboring a “low” view of Scripture as anything.

Anyway, as I put it in my blurb, Graves “invites readers of Scripture today neither to pillage the ancients for our own agenda, nor to ignore them to our poverty, but to converse with them along our own contemporary hermeneutical journey.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Read Graves’s post and stay tuned for the upcoming interview.

* * * * * * * * *

An Interview with Michael Graves

a new book on what Christians today can learn about the Bible from people who have been dead for about 1500 years

by Peter Enns

1. Scripture Is Useful for Instruction.
2. Every Detail of Scripture Is Meaningful.
3. Scripture Solves Every Problem That We Might Put to It.
4. Biblical Characters Are Examples for Us to Follow.
5. Scripture Is the Supreme Authority in Christian Belief and Practice.

The Spiritual and Supernatural Dimension:

6. Divine Illumination Is Required for Biblical Interpretation.
7. Scripture Has Multiple Senses.
8. Scripture Accurately Predicted the Future, Especially about Jesus

Mode of Expression:

9. Scripture Speaks in Riddles and Enigmas.
10. The Etymologies of Words in Scripture Convey Meaning.
11. God Is Directly and Timelessly the Speaker in Scripture.
12. The Scriptures Represent Stylistically Fine Literature.

Historicity and Factuality:

13. Events Narrated in the Bible Actually Happened.
14. Scripture Does Not Have Any Errors in Its Facts.
15. Scripture Is Not in Conflict with “Pagan” Learning.
16. The Original Text of Scripture Is Authoritative.

Agreement with Truth:

17. Scripture’s Teaching Is Internally Consistent.
18. Scripture Does Not Deceive.
19. Scripture’s Teaching Agrees with a Recognized External Authority.
20. Scripture’s Teaching Must Be Worthy of God.

Why is ancient thinking about biblical inspiration a vital topic for evangelical Christians?

Because understanding Scripture is vital for Christians, and I think the early church makes a significant contribution to this understanding.

To be more specific, I would point out that many Christians today wrestle with how to be faithful to the teaching of Scripture in their own contexts. In this discussion, reference is often made to the “traditional” view of Scripture, but without any explanation or basis for what this “traditional” view is.

In my book, I describe ancient thinking about inspiration with many citations from patristic sources and specific biblical texts, showing the range of available ideas and the qualifications that came from grappling with specific textual issues. I believe that ancient Christian thinking about biblical inspiration is vital for Christians today who are intent on living faithfully in accordance with Scripture’s teaching.

Yet, vague or inaccurate notions about the “traditional” view of inspiration are not helpful. We need to be as specific and concrete as possible if we are to learn the right lessons. The goal of my book is not to shut down critical thinking by appealing to tradition, but to open up paths of faithful thinking by seeing the pious, critical reflections of ancient Christians about Scripture.

What is the big idea that you would like people to take away from this book?

That is a hard question to answer, because I imagine that different readers will perceive different strengths and weaknesses in patristic thinking about inspiration, and so they will legitimately take away different big ideas.

I expect that many readers will find significant elements in these sources with which they already resonate, and perhaps other elements that may challenge their thinking in constructive ways.

One big idea that arises from these sources is that the heart and soul of inspiration is that the Bible is useful and profitable for instruction (2 Tim 3:16), and so we should ask from every biblical text what God is teaching us.

Another big idea is that the discipline of discerning what Scripture teaches is complex and involves many steps, including ad litteram (“literal”) exegesis, comparison with other biblical texts, theological reflection, and spiritual receptivity. All of this was seen as part of the nature of Scripture itself as inspired by God.

Ancient Christian approaches to Scripture can set the stage for a rich encounter with the Bible. This encounter is genuine, in that is arises from the texts and makes full use of the intellectual resources we have been given. It is rich because it incorporates the full range of Christian spiritual experience in the act of interpretation.

You suggest in the book that “the example and teachings of Jesus serve as a lens through which all interpretations of Scripture must pass” (p. 136). Could you elaborate? Is this a particularly important takeaway of your book?

Yes, it is one of the major ideas from ancient Christianity that I think remains important today. Let me briefly state here two angles on this topic.

First, I try to show how the process of reading Scripture involves willingness to listen to what biblical texts actually said and also a rich and somewhat complex process of perceiving what God is teaching through any part of Scripture in the context of Scripture as a whole.

This requires from us virtues such as humility, patience, and love, so that we have genuine encounters with Scripture that can challenge us, and Scripture does not become a tool that we use to harm others. The example and teachings of Jesus provide us a tangible model and illustration of the virtues we need to interpret this way.

Second, the ultimate takeaway for our lives in reading Scripture should be love of God and love of neighbor, as Jesus taught and demonstrated. In sum, it is precisely because biblical interpretation is no simple task that we need illumination and the example of Jesus to guide us.


  1. Looking forward to reading this. I am in a discussion right now about whether we see Scriptures as the "Word of God" or Jesus (the revelation of Christ, the Son of God) as the "Word of God." I contend that Jesus alone is the revelation from God as His Word and that Scripture is a category of its own - not to be labeled as "The Word" of God without some clarification. I believe it is authoritative. I believe it is inspired. I believe it is accurate. I believe it is literally true. But, if we place any sense of authority on the Scriptures, we have to admit that by thinking that "in them you have life" we miss the reality that they "testify of Me [Jesus]" Who is the Life.

    If the question is not "where is the authority" but rather it is "where is LIFE," then there is no question that in Christ alone we have our Life and the revelation of God Himself to us as "the Word."

  2. Hi. I would encourage your further reading on the topics of "hermeneutics" and "bible interpretation" here on this blogsite as a beginning point of discussion. As the article here expressed, reading the bible literally can be misleading and there are more helpful genres of reading the bible against the cultural expectations we place on it today. The idea of "literalism" is a bag of worms neither deniable nor helpful. Generally, the Bible shares with us all that is necessary for God's plan of redemption through Jesus. However, the academic disciplines such as science, archaeology, anthropology, psychology, etc, may also help in recapturing (or "resurrecting) its ancient text. But, as you have so noted, it is Jesus who is God's highest and truest revelation of His Word. To read the Bible is to read it through our understanding of Jesus, God's flesh-and-blood expression of His Word. Importantly, how we understand the Bible will declare both Jesus and God's redemption. Pointedly, bibliotry is the err of uplifting the Bible over the Lord of the Bible as you have indicated. There is a balance with the balance tipped towards Jesus. Hence, Jesus has become the Bible's sublime hermeneutic/interpretation. But an interpretation that is still bound to us through the pages of God's Word come to us through its many oral histories and historically redactive efforts. A Word that is both ancient and relevant to us today but is also one that divides the church in its many expressions of beliefs and dogmas. How we understand Jesus is probably how we will understand the Bible. My personal preference is to overbalance to the side of God's love and grace against the wrath and judgment of God that today's church seemingly overweights. Both are true but the balance must be determined within the societal circumstances that we live. Thank you for your observations.