09 June, 2009

Is misusing Scripture beneficial to Christian unity and faith?

The misuse of Scripture does not help credibility for one may encounter those knowledgeable in Scriptures like those encountered by St. Paul and St. Silas in Acts 17:11. When one practices this kind of deception it makes them appear as a demagogue instead of one being a teacher in truth. It would be better if one simply stated one’s opinion without the “proof text”, which with proper exegesis does not prove or support one’s opinions. Certainly, the Bereans would have been even more skeptical if St. Paul and St. Silas had used improper hermeneutical methods in spreading the Gospel and would have had little success. The Bereans would have noticed that the use of Scriptures did not support the claims when understood using proper methodology. In fact, proper understanding of the Scriptures often illustrates the opposite of what is claimed. Much too often those attempting to convince others of their views are those that are predisposed to hate others and find it necessary to justify their own beliefs while demogoguing those beliefs held by others.

Before one uses “proof texts” to support one’s position, one should be aware that the scriptures they are using are a translation from another language that most often does not allow a word for word translation but instead the translator must seek equivalence in meaning rather than it being an exact word for word translation. Today we are two thousand years removed from the writing of the NT Scriptures, are in a different place and a different culture. For proper exegesis these things must be taken into consideration. This is why the Reformers, especially Martin Luther, were frightened and feared damnation by the misunderstanding of the new theory of “sola Scriptura”. This theory was meant to be a partnership between the layman and the scholar and not a license for each individual to become their own theologian. This is how false teaching propagates itself and is responsible for thousands of exponentially increasing schisms within the body of Christ.

This is why many of us (conservative, traditional and orthodox) in the Christian academic community use the interpretation theory of grammatico-historical exegesis. This method dictates that one coming to understanding of Scripture take into consideration the language , history and culture in which it is written or the context of the time, culture and history. To do otherwise is to allow our preconceptions to determine the meaning causing great error. We must learn and to strive to turn off our mental filter and allow the Scriptures to instruct instead of allowing our preconceptions to obscure what the Scriptures teach. When doing apologetics it is better to use “proof texts carefully as not to misuse them to spread false teaching and doctrine.

The proof text methodology of understanding Scripture meaning puts too much emphasis on the practical side of understanding. Typically the interpreter searches for topical texts to support their preconceptions. For instance, if one begins with a preconception that the Catholic Church is apostate, and that it’s various teaching and doctrines are false; one finds value in these texts and use them for their short, epigrammatic use of several key words that coincide with your presuppositional theme or topic rather than the evidence or support they actually bring from their own context. It is the ignoring of the context that makes this methodology wrong and, in fact, useless. This methodology treats the Bible as some sort of magical, mythological book where one can choose from its anthology of sayings for every occasion to support ones worldly views or fleshly desires. This is no different from the liberals or progressive Christians who use the Scriptures as a menu for creating their own personal theology and god, picking and using Scriptures without understanding. Scriptural texts always belong to larger units and address specific situations, coming out of historical purposes for which they were written and contexts for which they are now relevant. Most often, interpretation using this method shows a na├»ve reading of the text and disregards the purpose for which the text was written. There is no regard for the historical context which is relevant for understanding or the genre conventions which shape the understanding. What many have engaged in when using these texts is allegorization and other forms of reckless use of Scripture texts to support one’s prejudices against those whom they disagree, such as the Catholic Church, and have ignored their intended purpose and usage as determined by context, grammar and history. I cannot over emphasize the importance of context.

Generally in apologetics those using improper methodology are among the thousands of cult groups just making attempts to spread animosity among the body of Christ. They are not attempting to contribute to the learning of others or to participate in a discussion or debate but to proselytize their cultist views or to confuse those who are seeking and are weak in knowledge. May the Lord have mercy on them.

In Christ
Fr. Joseph

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