02 May 2007

No more apologies

by Frank Turk

But let our opinion and intention rather be this: that neither conclusion nor figure of speech is to be admitted into the Scriptures, unless the evident strife of the particulars, or the absurdity of any particular as militating against an article of faith, require it: but, that the simple, pure, and natural meaning of the words is to be adhered to, which is according to the rules of grammar, and to that common use of speech which God has given unto men. For if every one be allowed, according to his own lust, to invent conclusions and figure of speech in the Scriptures, what will the whole Scripture together be, but a reed shaken with the wind, or a kind of chameleon? Then, in truth, nothing could, to a certainty, be determined on or proved concerning any one article of faith, which you might not subject to sophisticated objections by means of some figure of speech. But every figure of speech ought to be avoided as the most deadly poison, which is not absolutely required by the Scriptures itself.
Usually it's Dan who comes up with the "who said that" quote, but because this fits so nicely in where I was going anyway, I thought I'd start this post with a citation which is almost google-proof because it is a harmonization of a couple of translations of the passage into English. I'll tell you who said it before I finish up here today so you don't have to suffer (or cause the rest of us to suffer through) you own guesses.

After going the long way around, over the last month, the topic of bad apologetics and apologists, let's talk about the best corrective for such a thing: the Scripture itself. That's where I was when I started, and we really haven't gone too far afield since then. It's been more like one specific little peep until it comes back home to roost as a rooster.

But in doing that, I am sure some people will have the problem, "well, cent, that's just disastrous babdiss thinkin'. Because what you’re advocating, unfortunately, is solo scriptura -- that is, just the Bible, and nothing but the Bible – rather than sola Scriptura -- which is the actual Protestant doctrine as opposed to some radical individualistic mutation of such a thing. Baptists! Pheh!"

Sadly, that's where some people do take the good and godly doctrine of Scripture, but that's not either the logical conclusion of the mystery quote, nor is it the necessary conclusion of it, either. So the first place to take that objection is to all the other posts in this series where I have already given must ado to the local church and the necessity of such a thing for the sake of the believer. If you can call what I have advocated so far foundational to solo scriptura, then you must be a very unusual person.

The church, categorically, comes forth from Scripture: Scripture precedes the church, and calls the church out, and teaches the church. Scripture is God's very word, and His words, and speaks clearly about what the church ought to be.

But it does that not to some collective cranium which resides in some gilded ecclesiological brain jar. Scripture does that by speaking to men – that is, to each man. We could go through in what sense this happens through the church, but that will take us on a pretty long rabbit trail, and eventually I want to get to the mystery quote and why it is important to getting our hermeneutic right.

Many of you have read a book called the Stand, by Stephen King. In fact, I'd be surprised if many of you have not read this book – it's a mass market classic in spite of its 1100+ pages, and since it was a made-for-TV movie, those of you who weren't alive when it was first issued in 1978 prolly read the book after sleeping through the movie.

I bring that up because there is not a lot of debate about what The Stand is all about. Everyone reads it, and everyone understands that it's about, well, something. It's about the extent of evil, painted out on a very big canvas, by a guy who seems somewhat obsessed with the extent of evil; and he doesn't have much left over for the extent of good – good always seems to happen by accident, or only just enough to keep evil from being ubiquitous.

So if we can read Stephen King's 1100+ pages and "get it", it seems to me that, if we use the same rules, we can read the Bible and "get it".

But one of the rules is this: you have to read the whole thing. In order to understand The Stand, you have to start at the beginning, read all the way through, and then maybe read it a second time to get all the really amazing inside baseball King played as he wrote the whole thing. Because it's 1100+ pages, you can't just pick it up in the middle when that bomb goes off and think that you're up to speed.

And in the same way, when the book of Matthew opens up with the Begats, you can't just say, "huh: loogit all them guys there." When Mark opens up with the words of the Prophet, you can’t just say, "huh. Loogit them fancy sayin's." When John opens up with the words, "in the beginning was the Word, ..." if you fail to understand the importance of the phrase "in the beginning" here, you're going to pretty much miss the rest of John's point all the way through.

And to bring it all home, When Luther exhorts us (writer of the Mystery Quote: Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will, section LXXVII) to read the "plain meaning" of the text, he doesn’t mean that we have to read just the words – as if the words were Lincoln Logs that somehow turn into a house if we stack them up in the right way. Luther says that the text will tell us whether there's a figure of speech or not, and that anyone who can read ought to be able to read the Scripture at face value to grasp what it is saying.

The question for you is this: have you read enough of it (the Scripture) to grasp any of it? Is the Bible a coherent whole to you in the same way the Stand is a coherent whole? If not, why not? You made the time to read Stephen King's book, and it's not much longer than the Bible. Try the Bible out. As they say in the blogosphere, read the whole thing.

After you have read the whole thing, you can then come back and ask questions like, "do we really understand John 6 in context?"


DJP said...

Good stuff, as always.

And, further to flog your analogy, it isn't really helpful to "help" the author by devising a focus or center, and then imposing it on the whole, no matter the violence done to the particulars.

For instance, if we decided that what King really was writing about was managed health care, then we'd see Captain Trips as the focal point, and would make it extend forward and backwards, reducing everything else to adiaphora. Or we could decide, "desert living," or "acne," or "communism," or even "ongoing revelation" (Mother Abagail).

To do justice to, and show respect for, the author, our picture of the whole has to do justice to, and show respect for, the parts.

Otherwise, we aren't thinking what he was thinking.

LeeC said...

Yeah, but what if what he was thinking isn't "what it means to me" Dan? g,d,r!

Amen Frank.

As Spurgeon said:
"“Search the Scriptures” (John 5:39). The Greek word here rendered search signifies a strict,
close, diligent, curious search, such as men make when they are seeking gold, or hunters when they are
in earnest after game. We must not rest content with having given a superficial reading to a chapter or
two, but with the candle of the Spirit we must deliberately seek out the hidden meaning of the word. Holy Scripture requires searching—much of it can only be learned by careful study. There is milk for babes, but also meat for strong men. The rabbis wisely say that a mountain of matter hangs upon every word, yea, upon every title of Scripture. Tertullian exclaims, “I adore the fulness of the Scriptures.” No man who merely skims the book of God can profit thereby; we must dig and mine until we obtain the hid treasure.
The door of the word only opens to the key of diligence.The Scriptures claim searching. They are the writings of God, bearing the divine stamp and imprimatur— who shall dare to treat them with levity? He who despises them despises the God who wrote them. God forbid that any of us should leave our Bibles to become swift witnesses against us in the great day of account. The word of God will repay searching. God does not bid us sift a mountain of chaff with here and there a grain of wheat in it, but the Bible is
winnowed corn—we have but to open the granary door and find it. Scripture grows upon the student. It is full of surprises. Under the teaching of the Holy Spirit, to the searching eye it glows with splendour of revelation, like a vast temple paved with wrought gold, and roofed with rubies, emeralds, and all manner of
gems. No merchandise like the merchandise of Scripture truth. Lastly, the Scriptures reveal Jesus: “They are they which testify of me.” No more powerful motive can be urged upon Bible readers than this: he who
finds Jesus finds life, heaven, all things. Happy is he who, searching his Bible, discovers his Saviour."

Or more succinctly as my pastor always says "Context is the king of all interpretation principles".

Erik said...

Good post.

No one should have an issue with reading the whole Bible.

Rant begins here:

The problem I see in some churches is this: is reading the whole Scripture being modeled by the way a pastor teaches? If you only get topical sermons preached at you, how do you know how to read the whole Bible?

The church I attend hands out bulletins with blank spaces for notes for the message. Folks fill those in when the pastor gets to the point in the message. Great. But are you just taking notes at that point?

I just see such a benefit to teaching expository - book by book. It doesn't have to be Genesis straight through Revelation, but some method that can be modeled.

Rant ends here.

Ben N said...

Good post.

I guess it's all about the big picture :)

There is a danger in emphasizing the context too much ... what do I mean by that? ... when people start going deeper into the "cultural context" and start selecting what can be applied and can't be applied today.

I guess it goes back to another well known principle: let the Bible shape your theology, not your theology your Bible.

LeeC said...

Context outside of the text itself can help fill out a view on something like the tedious process of gaining purple dye from a murex or how the certain phrases were common amongst the rabbis of the time were used. But context outside of the text should never be the point of interpretation.

That said, all principles can be misused, because that is so doesn't invalidate their value.

Here is a fun one my pastor gave me. (I hope this isn't too much of a tangent)
Some questions about ten well-known verses:

A. John 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever
believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life."

Who is speaking to whom? What is
being discussed? When is this happening?

B. Eph. 2:8-9 "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it
is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast."

Who is the author?
What has he just said in the previous 7 verses? What does vs. 10 say?

C. Psa. 118:24 "This is the day which the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it."

Who is speaking? W hat is he speaking about?

D. Prov. 23:7 "For as he thinks within himself, so he is."

Who is speaking about what situation?

E. Matt. 22:14 "For many are called, but few are chosen."

Who is speaking to whom about what?
How does this verse fit with the preceding context?

F. II Chron. 7:14 "[if] and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray,
and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive
their sin, and will heal their land."

Who is speaking to whom, about what, and when?

G. Prov. 37:4 “Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart.”

What is the near context both before and after this text talking about?

H. Mt. 7:1 “Do not judge so that you will not be judged."

Who is speaking? What is He speaking about? Is this a universal command never to judge?

I. Rom. 8:28 “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

What is the preceding
context of Rom. 8 talking about? What is the following context of Rom. 8 talking about? What
does Rom. 9 talk about?

J. II Pet. 3:8 “But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one
day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.”

What is the near context
both before and after talking about?

Stefan Ewing said...

Points well taken. I praise God that our church's senior pastor takes to heart his responsibility to preach expositorially, bringing to bear the whole of the Old and New Testaments on each chapter and verse, and conscious of the great preachers who have come before him.

"...when the book of Matthew opens up with the Begats, you can't just say, 'huh: loogit all them guys there.'" Heh, that and the Mark bit is a priceless gem! You could do a side stint working on Tom in the Box News Network.

James Scott Bell said...

Stephen King and the Bible. Hm...

The newer, author approved version of "The Stand" is one of the best arguments FOR an editor extant. Stick with the original release edition!

The Bible, OTOH, is perfect. But only for those who read the whole thing.

Good point, Cent.

Mark B. Hanson said...

"A text out of context is a pretext".

Our cult friends know that, and when we quote a verse at a JW or Mormon, they will quickly look at the verses before and after - as if that was enough to determine the context. Most of us are that way as well.

leec's items were good. When I teach about context, I start with a very simple question: How do we know that we are to obey the Great Commission? After all, Jesus gave it to the apostles, right? He also told them to go and meet him in Galilee, but we don't do that. So why do so many churches adopt the GC as their mission statement?

This helps show that we need a broader (Bible-wide) context to understanding even the most straightforward verses.

Of course, since we can't do the legwork for every verse ourselves, we learn to trust others who have. But we need to understand where that knowledge comes from.

FX Turk said...

Mark --

That point really is a leaping-off point from this subject back to the subject of (drum roll) the church.

You know: the Bible wasn't written a month before I was baptized, and some pretty bright and Godly men have read it and thought about it a little. Insofar as they have been faithful to Scripture, we should be willing and able to stand on the shoulders of giants and breath some of that thin but clean air up there.

In fact, I'd say that it is part of the church's responsibility to do this -- to capture and express the best of what its teachers throughout history have given us.

Now, here's the real rub: at what point does this process make us "smarter than the apostles". For example, at what point have we made more of the doctrine of the eucharist than the apostles did, expressing the fullness of that ordinance past the bounds of what they knew and would agree with to a place where our understanding is faulty?

I don't have an answer for that, but it's a question I have had in my mind ever since that fateful day that I realized that Baptists and Presbyterians could learn a lot from each other ...

truthkeeper said...

Really enjoy reading your stuff but a lot of it is over my head. Being an old man with not a lot of education I can't keep up with some of your writing. There must be a blog out there that writes at my level. Any suggestions?
I was always amazed at the amount of people that won't read the OT because they think or were told it is outdated and of no use in this day and age.


Unknown said...

"But every figure of speech ought to be avoided as the most deadly poison, which is not absolutely required by the Scriptures itself."

Wow - almost word for word from Arnold Fruchtenbaum in his work on prophecy "In the Footsteps of the Messiah" which is a defense of a premillenial view.


DJP said...

See, Cent?

Stefan Ewing said...

Maybe Phil just brings out the worst in people? ;)

risen_soul said...

wonderful post. I heard Dr. James White use this same rationale when debating whether or not Mary had other children. He asserted that if you simply take the text for what it says, it's pretty clear that she did.

FX Turk said...


No, I don't see. I see dispies, but I don;t see the point. Everyone's a "biblicicist" when it comes to their own pet projects.

Which may be the subject of my next post ...

Rick Weiss said...



Stefan Ewing said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stefan Ewing said...

Hey, I'm not a dispensationalist!

There, Centuri0n--there's a disagreeing comment for you, to make you feel better.

P.S.: In certain situations, the zero I typed in your name likes like a lower-case "o," but I did in fact make the extra effort to type a zero, even though it doesn't look like it.

Touchstone said...


Here's what I came to understand about sola scriptura many years ago, and it has since left me with a bit of a rash when I read rationales like yours here.

If we say, on one hand, that solo scriptura is "one-person-with-a-bible-in-hand", and on the other that sola scriptura is the Bible as singly authoritative, but in the context of the local church, then I suggest that is a distinction without a difference.

Why? Well, ask yourself this: who decides which church is "your local church"? You do of course. You, the individual, are the ultimate arbiter of what the Bible says in either case. Sola involves delegation of exegetical authority -- a good thing I say, judiciously pursued -- but it's delegation that begins from the same starting point as solo: each man is the supreme earthly authority, a pope unto himself, as it were.

You might submit to your pastor and elders, and defer to their decisions, but their authority in interpreting the Bible and developing doctrine only derives from the authority you *assign* it.

I have no problem with "biblical Authority" arguments, but I am vexed by the common commitment to this magisterium of the "local church" that you paint as transcendent. For Catholics, the case is different -- right or wrong, they have an ostensibly "chain of authority" that stretches back to Peter. You, you have a smorgasboard of local churches -- Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran and what not, that are "potential authorities" over you, but are not *actual* authorities over you until you say they are and join up.

I must be that very unusual personal you are warning about in your post, then, as I can't see the meaningful distinctions in your "foundation" apart from solo scriptura. If I can, on any given Sunday, decide that *this* pastor in front of me doesn't get it, and decide to go the that *other* local church down the street because, according to my reading of scripture, *this* pastor is wrong, then how is that functionally any different than solo scriptura???

FWIW, I don't advocate going without being a committed member of a local church. It's not God's plan for his people. But what I'm objecting to is what seems like some very shaky distinctions, astonished that you'd be mistaken as a proponent of solo scriptura, when in terms of authority, there's no difference, ultimately; you, the individual hold all the cards, and will do as you think best.

Your local church is only "authoritative" because *you* say it is. The "great Godly men men of Church history" are only "great Godly men" and not heinous heretics because *you* say they are.

Or, was Cardinal Bellarmine a "great Godly man"? If not, why not?

I realize you are driving the idea of reading the whole Bible, etc. here, but right from the inital quote from Luther, the specter of interpretational authority jumps from your post. I've nothing against saying "I'm the ultimate authority on earth for myself." But I'm not comfortable *pretending* I'm *not* my own supreme authority, when that's really how it is.


DJP said...

Wellnow, Frank, if you're going to go all "everyone has a different interpretation of the Bible" on me, then I'm going to go all "words mean things" on you.

Nathan White said...

I think due consideration must be given to the fact that many an unbeliever have taken pains to interpret scripture and then publish their views, thus influencing many.

Or, what good is the 'plain meaning of words' to an unregenerate exegete? Lord-knows there have been/are millions out there. And since we know they come dressed as sheep, and even true sheep are pretty dumb, many are led astray.

Wisdom is a gift from God. Wisdom transcends the plain meaning of words on paper, though it does not violate them.

That's why I think a 'perfect hermenutic' is both non-existent and obviously completely lacking in biblical support

Not to say that I disagree with your post, Cent, because I don't :)

Phil Johnson said...

Frank: " You made the time to read Stephen King's book, and it's not much longer than the Bible."

Here's how clueless I am about popular culture and literature: I've never heard of that Steven King book and couldn't tell you what it's about. I used to teach high school English, but I'm afraid since giving that up I've reverted to being a typical Bapto-evangelical--a drooling cultural illiterate. Hey, I can't even whistle the tunes of ANY of iTunes' current top ten downloads.

I have, however, read the Bible.

Off-topic updates from Sicily:

1. I only have an intermittent, slow, dial-up connection here and not the high-speed wireless access I was expecting, so I prolly won't post or comment any more till I get home Sunday PM.

2. I am reading the blog and discussions, however, because my cell phone is able to download e-mail, and I get every comment posted on the blog. So everyone still needs to behave.

3. You guys (Dan & Frank) are great. Thanks for keeping the blog going while I'm gone. Note: Since I won't be home till Sunday PM, one of you needs to post Spurgeon this weekend again.

4. Darlene says hi to everyone.

PS Frank: Nice use of the gobstopper graphic.

FX Turk said...


We're not going to debate dispensationalism here. We promised. Let's just remember that you're the one who brought it up, and at a future date in a neutral forum that won't get anyone in hot water, we'll take it up again.


The thing I like about your objection here is that it is an argument that has some historical foundations to it.

The thing which I don't like about your argument is that its two foundations (in historical order) are the Bishop of Rome and then later postmodernism.

That's a crumby place to leave your objection, but I have a meeting first thing today which will consume my whole morning. Here's what I'm going to talk about when I come back:

What does any written text imply? Everyone -- even guys like Derrida -- would admit that a text implies 3 things. What Derrida would overlook or downplay is a 4th "thing", and I admit I short-changed that 4th thing here.

You think about the 3 things every text implies, list them if you can, and then I'll come back after lunch and make my point as it relates to solo v. sola.

FX Turk said...

I am actually stunned that Phil has never read the Stand. It's sold like 50 billion copies (maybe not 50 billion, but like that -- it's hyperbole).

Ah, you really didn't miss anything. I find Stephen King's early work to be a little, um, exploitive of the reader. He really has written his best stuff in the last 10-15 years.

GrayDave said...

Like Phil, I have never heard of that book.

DJP said...

Centuri0nyou're the one who brought it up


FX Turk said...

All I'm sayin' is that I'm not going to get in trouble when Dad comes home and he sees donuts in the front yard ...

DJP said...


(Searching word "disp" in comment thread....)

3 hits:


Jus' sayin'.

FX Turk said...

oh, don't make me dig out the e-mail which inspired the "see, Cent?" comment.


FX Turk said...

I only have 5 minutes at lunch here, and T-stone hasn't provided the list of 3 items implied by a text. He may also be busy. I'll be waiting here for him.

DJP said...

Mm, do we really want to dig out emails?

I think NOT!

Stefan Ewing said...

Should we ask Phil to do an emergency dial-in post on the missional church movement, in order breathe new life into things?

DJP said...

He should do a prophecy chart that he received in a vision, showing NT Wright's place in the emergent movement, showing him riding on a great schmeredactyl.

Stefan Ewing said...


FX Turk said...


See, you play coy, but you know exactly what I'm talkin' about.

FX Turk said...


Anonymous said...
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