I have not posted for some time now, and I believe that I will continue to be busy for at least a while more. Nevertheless, I feel that it might be interesting to relate a conversation I had with a certain church elder on the Lord’s Day of 18th Mar 2007. While I do not want to make the content of this conversation a point of contention, I would like to draw out certain points I had observed.
We were having a very casual discussion regarding a specified Pauline passage, and it suddenly dawned upon us that we held fairly different hermeneutical principles for this particular chapter. The elder contended that it was possible for Paul to be arguing his point against a backdrop of ancient culture in 1 Cor. 11:1-16. While we both do not want to make the issue a point for doctrinal dispute, it was amazing how two brethren-in-Christ can reason for or against a particular passage, and arrive at two different conclusions. What concerned me during the conversation were not the arguments of Paul in this passage per se, but rather how one can arrive at the conclusion that Paul was merely attempting to relate a principle of Christian living as opposed to the notion that Paul was giving didactic instructions to the church at Corinth.
In the understanding of any passage of Scripture, a Christian must be very cautious to say that a particular passage does not apply to the church today. One can concede that the underlying biblical principle is still in play, but it is a far cry from a complete acceptance and submission to the ongoing authority of the biblical text in question.
As we reformed folks ought to know: Scripture must interpret Scripture. And to say that a particular passage is inherently cultural in its context, one must be able to exegetically defend this position, not from extra-biblical sources, but from the context and text itself. Paul’s epistles may have segments “in which are some things hard to be understood (2 Pet. 3:16),” but to reject 16 verses of Scripture as authoritative for the church today, while accepting the rest of the chapter (the last 18 verses) as part of the Lord’s commandments for the church smacks of inconsistency and poor contextual analysis.
Therefore, if one is adamant that a particular text of Scripture is not applicable to the Christian Church today in view of its alleged cultural considerations, one must reflect upon these preliminary questions:
- “Did the apostle claim that the commandments were relevant only for the church being addressed to?”
- “What are the exegetical evidence of a cultural context for this passage? Am I reading into the passage or out of the passage?”
- “Does your conclusion contradict plain statements made by the author himself? For example, in this case, what did Paul mean in 1 Cor. 11:16?”
- “Did the apostle argue from culture, or from firm theological bases i.e. 1 Cor. 11:7-10?”
I can accept the fact that a passage may be interpreted wrongly. In which case, we can sit down and study further. I can likewise accept the fact that a Christian brother may have difficulty in submitting to a particular portion of Scripture. In which case, we can pray, repent, and ask the Lord to help our weaknesses. Also, we could have acted or reacted out of ignorance to the Word of God. Once again, further study with a submissive, prayerful attitude is needed. But to say that a particular passage of Scripture may be perceived in more than one way, and that both are equally acceptable “because we are all not infallible” is denying the perspicuity of Scripture, as well as the ability of the Holy Spirit to give us illumination through prayer, fasting and hard study. God’s Word can have only one true, correct, accurate meaning. And to deny this fact is to deny the Word of God itself. Error cannot be regarded at the same level with truth. Error must be repudiated, reprimanded, and rejected, while truth must be embraced, upheld, defended, and taught.
Therefore, let us submit ourselves to God’s Word, and may the Holy Ghost lead us into all truth (John 16:13).