Try out the new BibleStudyTools.com. Click here!

Interpretation of Scripture

Only the believer's union with Christ gives him possession of Christ's Spirit, and enables him properly to interpret Scripture. This is only to say that he who inspired the Bible can best explain its meaning.

Let us grant at once that there is a wisdom higher than the wisdom of this world, a " wisdom among those who are full-grown," as Paul declares, though it is "God's wisdom in a mystery" (1 Cor. 2:6, 7).

Our experience of union with Christ enables us to understand Paul's theology, as no merely critical or literary art could do. For Paul takes Christ's own point of view. He is lifted up with Christ into God's eternity. For a time he possesses the normal independence of the human spirit, and its freedom from the limitations of space and time.

Paul can see all human history unrolled before him; can see long processes condensed in their causes; in Adam's one act of sin all humanity is involved; and in Christ's atonement are included all satisfaction to the divine holiness and all provision for the salvation of men. As our Lord could truly say upon the cross: "It is finished" (John 19:30), Paul could also say: "Through one act of righteousness the free gift came unto all men to justification of life" (Rom. 5: 18).

Christ the Key to the Understanding of the Bible

So I hold that the only key to Paul's meaning, and to the meaning of the entire Scripture, is to be found in Christ, as the preexistent Word of God, and as God manifested in space and time. As we are creatures of space and time, God in Christ has made himself a creature of space and time, in order that we may know him, love him, and be like him. Whatever Christ is or does, God is and does. In Christ, God himself dies for me, a sinner; for death is only his change from one form of being to another, or from bodily to spiritual manifestation. In Christ's cross, I see myself, as part of the whole redeemed church, to have paid the penalty of sin, and to have emerged from death forever; so that I am now risen with him, and seated with him in " the heavenlies," which are only the antechamber of heaven itself (Eph, 1:20; 2: 7; Miscellanies, 1:460-471).

The Eternal Word and the Written Word

Let me sum up what I have said by repeating the words with which I began: The written word is the expression of the eternal Word. It is, like the eternal Word, the revelation of God in human forms and methods, but so pervaded by the divine Spirit that, when taken in its entirety and when properly interpreted, it is superior to all merely human teachings.

Scripture teaches, not how the heavens go, but how to go to heaven; it does not teach us physical science, but it "makes us wise unto salvation" (2 Tim. 3 : IS). With this understanding of its object, if I can only find out what is the testimony of Scripture, I have a divine guide for my earthly way and I can replace my guesses by certainties. But it needs the same Spirit of Christ that inspired it to teach me its true meaning.

The Bible was not given for scholars alone but for common men; and common men as well as scholars have the promise of the Holy Spirit. So the general consent of believers as to the meaning of Scripture is of more account than the surmises of critics, and the creeds and hymnology of the church are a better guide to truth than are all the conclusions of philosophers.

God has "magnified his word above all his name" (Ps. 138:2) by making the Bible, in its unity, a sufficient and authoritative rule of faith and practice. Men may mistake God's meaning; the Bible corrects their errors. Christ is "made unto us wisdom" (1 Cor. 1:30), and his wisdom is better than all the wisdom of this world.

Interpreting the Bible a Solemn Responsibility

What then is the Bible? It is the personal message of the personal God to each one of us as persons, and by our personal treatment of it we are to be judged at the last day.

I cannot shift my personal responsibility upon the critics and hide behind their utterances. When Jenny Geddes, in Old St. Giles of Glasgow, threw her three-legged stool at the minister who was introducing a papal liturgy, she was only asserting her duty to interpret the Bible for herself.

That Bible carries with it its own demonstration of genuineness and authority. In it we see the pictured struggle of the eternal Word to express himself in human methods and forms, beginning with childlike teaching addressed to the infant race, conveying truth by symbol, type, ritual, legislation, as men were able to bear it, stemming the tide of evil by providential interposition and apocalyptic prophecy, furnishing the key to all the past by the incarnation of the Word and his completed atonement, with promise of a completed understanding of that atonement through the teaching of his apostles. What Jesus "began both to do and to teach" (Acts 1: 1) he finished by the work of Paul and of John, so that we have through them " the faith once for all delivered unto the saints;" so that to this completed Bible, in the foresight of Christ, the last of its chapters might close with a warning appropriate to the whole: " If any man shall add unto them, God shall add unto him the plagues which are written in this book" (Rev. 22: 18, 19).

God's Revelation in the Bible a Final One

As Christ's atonement was finished upon the Cross, so his teaching was finished in the works of Paul and of John, for they were only organs of the posthumous Christ. What Jesus himself taught when here in the flesh was only the introductory lectures of his theological course, to be expounded and explained after his death and resurrection, by his apostles. To them, then, we must go to learn the full meaning of his teaching.

"Is the teaching of Paul or of John as authoritative as that of the incarnate Jesus?" "More so!" we reply, for what Paul and John taught was the posthumous teaching of the Lord himself.

So the earlier utterances of these same apostles are to be interpreted by the later. Paul's "God sent forth his son" (Gal. 4:4), is to be explained by Paul's fuller statement in Ephesians and Colossians, and the fourth gospel is to be regarded as Christ's own rendition of his acts and words when here in the flesh. The Deity and Preexistence of Christ assure to us the historicity of the gospel according to John (see my "Books of N. T.," 117-142), while the human methods of Old Testament teaching find their sufficient explanation in the limitations of him who "emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men" (Phil. 2:7).

Neither Athanasius nor Augustine, Martin Luther or John Calvin, John Bunyan or John Knox, have ever been able to add one jot or tittle to the truth contained in Scripture, but have rather gloried in the fact that they were only media for its circulation.

We may therefore well believe that the superintendence of Christ makes the written word, with all its literary and human shortcomings, a complete and final expression of the Eternal Word, and gives it unity, sufficiency and authority as our rule of faith and practice (see Miscellanies, 1:251-260; 288-303; 478493).

Christ the Christian's Authority

In all this chapter on the Interpretation of Scripture I claim to make Christ himself my sole authority. If there is philosophy here, it is a philosophy that antedates any philosophy of this world, though all that is genuine in modern philosophy is only a partial rediscovery of the philosophy which Christ has taught through Paul and John.

So I hold that in a larger view of Christ, as he is revealed in Scripture, is the only means of reconciling our fundamentalists with our higher critics. I would prefer the word "literalists" to the word " fundamentalists," for the trouble with the so-called fundamentalists is that they are not fundamental enough; they do not get down to the rock-foundation, the omnipresent and eternal Christ, who has supervised in past ages the evolution of Scripture, so that it represents himself in all the forms of human composition.

The trouble with the "higher critics," socalled, is that they are not high enough to see that same eternal and omnipresent Christ who in Scripture represents himself as the only life and light of men.

They can spell, but they have not yet learned to read. They can, with a telescope, see a fly on a barn-door a half-mile off, but they cannot see the door. They analyze the rind of the orange, but they throw away its contents They need to look at the Bible as a whole, and to see in it the organizing and unifying Spirit of Christ. Personal experience of union with Christ would lift them out of the region of petty criticism into a larger and sounder judgment, and would enable them to see the written word as the final and complete expression of the Eternal Word of God.

Reconciliation between these two sincere but imperfectly informed parties in controversy can come only through a new surrender to Christ. "For he is our Peace, who made both one, and brake down the middle-wall of partition . . . that he might create, in himself, of the two, one new man, so making peace" (Eph. 2: 14, 15).