Textualism

Scalia

Antonin Scalia passed away in his sleep last Saturday (February 13, 2016). As I have been reading a bit about his life, one thing caught my attention: his view of the Constitution. He was a textualist. That is, he looked intently at the ordinary meaning of the words of the constitution to determine how to apply it. This is in contrast with the view of judicial activism, where a judge’s personal views impacts his (or her) decisions.

Scalia famously said, “If you’re going to be a good and faithful judge, you have to resign yourself to the fact that you’re not always going to like the conclusions you reach. If you like them all the time, you’re probably doing something wrong.”

The issues surrounding the interpretation of the Constitution are similar to the issues surrounding the interpretation of the Bible. The text of the Bible stands as God’s Word to us. Our task is to understand the ordinary meaning of the words of the Bible and act upon them. There will certainly be some things that we don’t like, especially when our well-loved sins are confronted. At these moments we can either accept the authority of the Bible or reject it. We can either be a textualist or a judicial activist.

The Bible clearly understands these two positions. First of all comes the textualist. This one will read the Bible and seek to apply in. Whenever something difficult to believe comes his way, he will cry out, “I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). When he fails, he will confess his sin, admitting that his behavior was in error and seeking the forgiveness of our gracious God (1 John 1:9).

On the other side is the judicial activist. He will interpret the Bible in accordance with his own views. So, if there is something he reads that he doesn’t like, he conveniently denies the Bible. Of these people, Paul writes, “Although they know God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking” (Romans 1:21). If something confronts his lifestyle, he will suppress truth so he can continue to live as he wants. Paul said that these are those who “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18).

When it comes to the Bible, are you a textualist or a political activist?

The Plow Boy

Plowboy

William Tyndale (c. 1494–1536) is best known for working tirelessly to get the English Bible into the hands of the common people. He was strongly opposed by the Church of England as they considered the English Bible to be a threat to their power. 

One of the bishops of the church argued with Tyndale, saying that it would be better for the people to have the pope’s law than God’s law. To this comment, Tyndale famously replied, “I defy the pope and his laws! If God spares my life, in a few years a plow boy shall know more of the Scriptures than you do.”

For such views, Tyndale was eventually strangled and burned at the stake as a heretic. Yet, his work carried on. It has been estimated that more than 75% of the 1611 translation of the King James Bible was Tyndale’s work. This translation made it into the hands of many plow boys.

If you have an English Bible, you can be thankful for Tyndale’s sacrifice.

 

Learning the Bible

DiscipleshipTools

I am continually amazed at how well the above items do in teaching the Bible to our children. Our two youngest children use these three items every night as they fall asleep. And they have come to know the stories of the Bible very well, even at a young age.

The first item is a DVD filled with 450 dramatized stories of the Bible. Each story is about 6-9 minutes long. All in, there are more than 56 hours of Bible stories. The cost is $49 delivered to your home. You can purchase it here.

The second item is a Sansa Clip mp3 player. We have placed all of the Bible stories on the mp3 DVD onto the Sansa Clip. Each night, we begin playing one of the stories and put this on sleep mode, so it turns off in 30 minutes. The mp3 player that we like costs about $40. You can purchase it here.

The third item is a pair of speakers. This allows the mp3 player to be heard in their bedrooms without ear buds. I remember picking up some at Walmart for less than $10. If you want to purchase it online, you can here. Or, you could use some old computer speakers that you have.

So, for less than $100, you can give your children a robust knowledge of the Bible. Be warned, they may soon become more familiar with the stories of the Bible than you are. If your children are older (or you have no children at home), you can always use these yourselves to learn the Bible.

Questions to Ask

QuestionsToAsk

In our small groups at church this year, we have been studying the texts of Scripture that I plan to preach the following Sunday. It has helped those in our congregation anticipate my message to see if what I say on Sunday matched what they saw in the text the week before. It should match! Furthermore, this practice has also given people a framework of how to study the Scriptures for themselves, so that they could approach any passage of Scripture for themselves.

In order to help everyone in this process, we have provided five questions for our groups to use. Here are the five questions with a brief comment after each question. I encourage you to use these questions when reading the Bible for yourself.

1. What is the big idea of the text? Capturing the unifying theme of a series of verses is helpful to keep us on track, lest we miss the forest for the trees. It’s also helpful to try to say the big idea in as few words as possible. This may take some work, but it is very helpful to understanding any portion of Scripture.

2. How would the original hearers hear it? We need to remember that the Bible wasn’t written to us. It was written to people who lived long ago. Before we figure out what the Bible means to us, we need first to figure out what the Bible meant to the original recipients. Then, we will be in a position to figure out how it applies to us, because it was written for our instruction (1 Corinthians 10:6, 11).

3. Where is Christ in the text? Christ is the theme of the entire Bible. Jesus told the Pharisees, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me” (John 5:39). In other words, the Old Testament Scriptures speak about Jesus. That’s the big idea of the Bible. This question forces us to understand how any particular text relates to Jesus, especially as we consider passages from the Old Testament.

4. What are the surprises of the text? This is my favorite question, because this is where you really push your understanding of the Bible. There are many times where the Bible might say some things a bit differently than we would expect, and this question helps us to wrestle with the meaning of the Bible itself rather than our ideas of what the Bible says.

5. How might we apply it today? This question, of course, is the point of all of Scripture. This is where the rubber meets the road. God detests ivory-tower theologians, who know all about God in theory, but not in practice. We aren’t called to be critics of the Bible, but to be humble followers of Christ.

So, there are the five questions. I hope that you use them in your own study of the Bible.

Tough or Tender

I remember hearing a preacher talk about his Bible reading one year. He said that he worked through the gospels, looking at the life of Christ. In the margin of each encounter that Jesus had with people, he placed the words, “Tough” or “Tender,” seeking to describe the encounter. When gathering the children to Himself and blessing them, Jesus was tender. When rebuking the Pharisees, Jesus was tough.

You may be surprised at how often Jesus was tough.

Encyclopedia, self-help book, or novel?

Too often people look at the Bible like an encyclopedia just filled with facts about God. Do you want to know what God is like? Look it up in the Bible. Do you want to know what Heaven will be like? Look it up in the Bible. Do you want to know about Jesus? Look it up in the Bible. Do you want to know about the future? Look it up in the Bible.

Too often people look at the Bible like a self-help book filled with helpful advice. Do you want to know how to have a happy marriage? The Bible tells you how. Do you want to know how to raise your children? The Bible tells you how. Do you want to know what God wants of you? The Bible tells you. Do you want to know how to get along with others? The Bible tells you how.

Now, I’m not denying that the Bible is filled with facts like an encyclopedia. Nor am I denying that the Bible is a help to us in how we live. But, fundamentally, the Bible isn’t an encyclopedia and it isn’t a self-help book. Fundamentally, the Bible is more like a novel that tells us a story. It tells God’s story.

The Bible tells the story of God creating a perfect world, only to see His creatures rebel against Him and separate themselves from their creator. But, God didn’t leave us to ourselves. No, He sent a Savior to redeem us from our sins. His name is Jesus. And through Jesus, God will restore the creation to what it should be — Jesus reigning in the new heavens and the new earth; those who have trusted in Him, surrounding Him, worshiping Him, in perfect happiness and joy forever in a perfect place.

 

Where Are The Lions?

Yesterday I mentioned the importance of reading verses of Scripture in their context. Today I want to give an example of one who read the Scripture outside of the context.

I heard of a pastor who preached a sermon entitled, “Where are the Lions?” The pastor took the title from Nahum 2:11, “Where is the den of the lions?” He then used great oratorical skill to push the people in the church to use their gifts.

I can hear the sermon now, “Where are the lions? Where are the bold one? Where are the lions? Where are those who have gifts but aren’t using them? Where are the lions? Where are those who are using what God has given to them?” What a great way to creatively call the people of God to rise up and serve the Lord!

However, the only problem is that this isn’t what Nahum 2:11 means. In the context of Nahum 2, the lions are the leaders of Nineveh whom God has destroyed in his judgment of the nation. They will not arise again, because God has destroyed them.

Nineveh is like a leaky pool, whose waters are drained out (Nahum 2:8). Israel was invited to come and plunder Nineveh (Nahum 2:9) because the land lays desolate (Nahum 2:10). You have no need to fear the roaring lions of Nineveh, because they are gone (Nahum 2:11).

Using God’s word to say something other than it’s original intent is an improper use of Scripture and is dishonoring to God.