The baleful effects of postmodernism are not confined to the classroom nor lecture-hall. They can be heard and felt in home Bible studies, frequently run by someone unqualified to lead and unconnected to a local church. They are seen in the oft-heard inquiry, "What does that passage mean to you?"
Now, I don't want to be a Pharisee who pronounces the death-penalty for word-choice. That question can simply mean something like: "God's Spirit uses His unchanging word to touch each of us in individual ways, so that a text with one meaning can apply personally in a thousand manners. What personal application do you take from the one meaning of this text?" Sola-est Sola-ist couldn't object to a question like that... or shouldn't.
However the question sometimes is framed expressly to claim that nobody can really say what a text means. Its meaning is out of our grasp. In fact, its meaning isn't even our goal. If we ask ten people what a verse means, and we get ten irreconcilably different answers, that's a good thing, and all the answers are equally valid.
Yeah, see...that's a problem. And I do mean it.
Paul Henebury makes a great point at the start of his lectures on Biblical covenantalism, focusing on the first chapter of Genesis: God is the inventor of language, and Himself illustrates that words have distinct referents; they are adequate to convey meaning.
He is the first speaker: "Let there be light," He commands (Gen. 1:3). What happens next? Does a pyramid pop into existence? Or a quahog? Or the smell of fried chicken, the law of gravity, a Pyromaniacs T-shirt, Chicago's first album, or the concept of "boredom"?
No. Light happens. God said "light," God meant "light," light is what God created.
And so for each creative verbal act of the original Speaker:
- He said "expanse," and an expanse is what He got (vv. 6-7)
- He said "waters," and waters is what He got (v. 9)
- What He called "earth" was earth, and what He "seas" was seas (v. 10 — seeing a pattern, yet?)
- He called for vegetation, and (hel-lo?) vegetation is what He got (vv. 11-12)
- He said "lights," and lights is what He got (vv. 14-18)
- He called for land animals, and land animals is what He got (vv. 24-25)
- He said "Let us create man," and man is what He created (vv. 26-27)
enough to tell someone else what it meant (Gen. 3:2-3). There is no record of Adam blinking in hopeless befuddlement. God chose words that conveyed meaning; and that's what they did.
Scripture is a collection of God's words. They convey meaning clearly enough and adequately enough. I don't say say "always simply," but I do say clearly and adequately.
My observation from 40+ years is that the real problem is seldom the clarity of God's word. Or perhaps I should say, it is the clarity of God's word... coupled with human unwillingness to bow the knee.
But that isn't a word-problem. It's a heart-problem.