Saturday, December 4, 2021

The Danger of Absolute Interpretive Relativism

"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" (2 Cor. 3:17). Recently I heard this verse used to justify a completely subjective reading of the Bible. The idea was, "To me, this text means .... And if the text means something else to you, that's okay. We can both be right. After all, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." 

This is nonsense. The early church "devoted itself to the apostles' teaching" (Acts 2:42). Today, we have this apostolic word in the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments. So I do not hesitate to say that we can't use 2 Cor. 3:17 to teach hermeneutical relativism. The Holy Spirit is "the Spirit of truth." This means that wherever the Spirit is at work, truth matters. Objective truth. It is absolutely essential for each of us to understand the importance and value of knowing the truth of God's word. 

That's exactly why I teach the historical-comparative method of Bible study. By reading the text, and by asking and answering the right questions, you can learn how to study the Bible and to discover truth for yourself. Through careful observation and interpretation you will begin to see what the text says and understand what it means. When we open the Bible, our goal is to see and understand what the original author was saying, why he said it, and how he wants us to think and act in light of it. We don't begin with our subjective experience or pre-understanding. Focusing on the text itself is an absolutely crucial step to accurately interpreting Scripture. Now, it's obvious that we have to be Spirit-filled to do this. But having the Holy Spirit to guide us into truth is no substitute for careful observation of the text itself. If we rush into application without first laying the foundation of careful observation, our understanding will be colored by our presuppositions. 

I once did a study of the theme of the book of Philippians. I concluded that the letter is all about unity in the cause of the Gospel. At the beginning of my essay, I surveyed the different books and journal articles that had been written on this topic. I concluded by writing, "All of these different interpretations obviously cannot be valid, unless one embraces absolute interpretive relativism." You and I may disagree what the theme of Philippians is. That's okay, as long as we let Scripture interpret Scripture and not read into the text the latest fad in hermeneutics. 

May God grant you a vision of what he can do in your life through your own careful study of the Bible. But you must interact with God's word personally, absorbing its message in its original context and then letting God inscribe his truth on your heart and mind. Ultimately the goal of Bible study is a transformed life and a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. Through it we are changed from glory to glory into the image of Christ. Have at it!