SCRIPTURE WITH SCRIPTURE

by Garrett Soucy
 
In vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the
commandments of men.
Matthew 15:9

Hermeneutics is the branch of knowledge that deals with interpretation, especially that of texts, like the Bible. In Biblical hermeneutics, certain systems seem to naturally emerge, within which most students of Scripture can be housed: covenantalism, dispensationalism, new covenant theology, promise-plan, etc. The way most people end up identifying with these systems, if they even give these terms the time of day, is that they begin by finding the system most like what they already believe, and they proceed to bulk up by learning more about the particulars of that system. How does a dispensationalist read Revelation 20? What is the reformed reading of Genesis 2:17? This is normal human behavior. There are no pure readers. No one simply reads the newspaper. We read the paper as conservatives, as Christians, as men, as women, as middle-class citizens or poverty-line citizens. We read the Bible in a similar manner. We read as evangelicals, as ex-Catholics, as dispensationalists, or as Presbyterians. We do not need to avoid identifying with systems we believe to be most consistent with the Bible. What we need to avoid is allowing our systematic thought about the Scriptures to hold the same authority as the Scriptures themselves. There are two primary ways we can avoid this error and they are woven within one another: We need to allow all of Scripture to be the most formative agent in how we read Scripture and we need to respectfully engage orthodox Trinitarian Christians who read the Bible differently than we do.

In my first encounters with hermeneutical systems, like most young readers of theology, I had lists of strengths and weaknesses I felt needed to be addressed within each camp. I didn’t think I was simply inclining toward the one that required the least amount of change in my thinking. I began to inquire from the older men in my life how they resolved these issues of apparent Scriptural discrepancies that emerge when systems critique one another.  In a very short amount of time, I had two very smart and very Godly men from two very different camps tell me, “The only reason I’m a __________ is because that’s what the Bible teaches.’’
 
No one thinks they interpret Scripture through the lens of their biases, and yet none of us can escape them. This does not mean that it is impossible to arrive at a pure hermeneutic; it simply means that, for all of us, the purest hermeneutic may be arrived at by the interpretive pressure an opposing hermeneutic may place on the same passages whose meaning we think we’ve mastered. Our biases lose authority the more we allow the Scriptures to push against them if the Scripture actually pushes against them.
 
The issue I would like to raise here is the necessity for Christians, but especially preachers, to be men who think Biblically. Even more than a Christian worldview, we need to have a Biblical worldview. A Christian worldview, by nature of the title, can be influenced by the temporal trends that shape movements within Christianity. The Word of God, we know, is supra cultural and eternal. Because we are humans who are inclined towards our biases, and because most of our biases are shaped by secondary rings of authority (systems not Scripture), we need to work hard to have the authority we appeal to in our interpretation of Scripture not be Luther or Walvoord . . . but more Scripture. Luther and Walvoord may be employed as greater or lesser helps toward this end but they must not be confused with the end itself.
 
Most would agree that we derive our doctrine from Scripture, but when we defend our interpretation of Scripture, we are quick to call our interpretive systems to the stand before we call more Scripture. One purposeful move will do no end of good in shifting us towards a greater knowledge of Scripture and also a greater love of the Body, without which all knowledge will reduce the disciple to nothingness (1 Corinthians 13). This purposeful move is to prioritize the interpreting of Scripture with Scripture.
 
Think about how the apostle, Paul, in Romans 10, quotes Nahum 1. We should not only want to be able to identify when the New Testament is using the Old Testament but how it interprets it and what is the OT context of the cited passage, not simply in its original context. That is our starting point. But interpreting Scripture with Scripture will widen the base of an original context when Scripture interprets Scripture.
 
Nahum 1:15 Behold, on the mountains, the feet of him who brings good tidings, who proclaims peace! O Judah, keep your appointed feasts, perform your vows. For the wicked one shall no more pass through you; He is utterly cut off.
 
Romans 10:15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!”
 
We should not believe the apostle to be quoting Nahum 1 by the Holy Spirit in the same manner in which we cite colloquialisms or maxims. We shouldn’t think that Paul is taking Nahum 1:15 out of context in order to proof-text his point in Romans 10. The Holy Spirit is using the apostle not simply to cite Nahum but to preach Nahum. The Scripture now opens a wormhole for us by which we may not only travel better throughout Romans knowing that Nahum is being quoted and taught, but by which we are also now given access to Nahum in a way that would not have been possible without the Holy Spirit’s gift of Romans to the Church through the apostle Paul. This creates an inter-testamental reading of Scripture and widens the base for our being grounded in the Word.
 
The American philosopher, Mortimer Adler, used to say that the goal of all reading was to be able to properly take what we learn in one reading and apply it in another genre of reading or conversation. This kind of copiousness is sometimes referred to as intertextuality. Our emphasis wants to be on the word, properly when we take information from one place and apply it elsewhere. In order to arrive at an appropriate reading, a proper reading, our understanding of authority should exist in its highest dosage in Scripture alone. Luther called this principle analogia fidei, or the analogy of faith. The concept of analogy is that God has designed the Scripture to first and foremost relate to other Scripture.
 
There are two ways that preachers can grow in Biblical copiousness: read more of the Bible with an increased reverence and interact generously with preachers who think differently than you. These two things, if done in tandem, should increase our strength in the things which are non-negotiable and increase our generosity toward others who differ in things which are negotiable.
 
Perhaps the greatest asset to my preaching has been our weekly elder meetings. The men who serve and have served in our session of elders at Christ the King have often agreed on all of the non-negotiables, but on secondary issues, we have not been men who mirror one another with perfect similitude. Each week we discuss the forthcoming text to be preached and in the event of calling up other passages that relate or do not relate, the preacher has always emerged with a more Biblically copious message and, though all the interpretations offered have not been equally shared, they have shaped a message that is more thoroughly informed. We are all better men and better preachers for having engaged the text and the related texts with open-mindedness and fraternal love.
 
It is widely understood that what makes jingoism different from patriotism is that jingoism is the blind defense of the actions of a country, regardless of them being right or wrong . . . simply because they are the actions of one’s own country. My team, right or wrong. This is the approach that preachers will often take with the Bible. They have already decided which hermeneutical camp they belong to, and they will defend their camp’s position at any verse in the Bible. It doesn’t matter what the text says. It’s important to understand that this is not something that dispensationalists are inclined toward . . . or covenantalists  . . . this is something that humans are inclined toward . . . and they are inclined toward it in multiple arenas. It’s called bias and it not only keeps us from being able to read the Bible in a fuller sense of its glory but it also keeps us from being able to be taught.
 
The first and second rounds of interpretive authority must not be our hermeneutical camps, despite the great help that many of them have been in helping us find clarity in Biblical structures, eschatological constructs, or theological questioning. A hermeneutical system is like one’s country. All Christians can be patriots of any country on Earth, but our Christianity requires that we be jingoists of none. We must never let our love for a hermeneutical system become a blind defense of the system in the face of Biblical issues left unresolved in a Biblical way by the system. Our greatest allegiance is to the Word of God and for that reason, we must become ever increasing learners of this Word.
 
A self-imposed handicap of having not only our first round interpretive authority be Scripture itself but also our second-round will only incite in us a greater copiousness in and a greater reverence for the Scriptures. This is the very Word of God. Our understanding of the Word cannot come from any higher authority than the Word itself. May we . . . in accordance with the remembrance of John Bunyan’s love of Scripture . . . may we be people who bleed Bibline.

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