Here is the latest paper from my Biblical Interpretation Class:
1. A response to the interpretation of Acts 4:32-36 as an endorsement of a type of communal living as being normative for the Christian church.
a) The interpretation rules broken here are that no doctrine be based solely on one passage of scripture and that no verse or phrase can mean something in isolation that it does not mean within its wider context.
b) The interpretation rule that should have been followed here was when contradictions appear to exist, emphasis should be given to the multiple and clear passages over the isolated and obscure ones. The historical occurrence of an event cannot be the only basis for establishing a doctrine and the only valid interpretation of a Bible passage is the one that is based upon the original writer’s intent.
c) I believe that Luke had a couple of reasons for writing this passage and communal living was not one of them. The first was to convey how Barnabas and the rest of the church differed from Ananias and Sapphira in their giving. The church and Barnabas gave generously while Ananias and Sapphira gave selfishly. Luke was conveying the principle of being of one heart and of one soul, meaning that they were spiritually unified by the power of the Holy Spirit. Because of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, followers of Christ chose to help others in need. The selling of their goods was voluntary and the distribution was according to the need. We see in verse 36 that Joseph sold a field that he had owned, but there is no mention that he sold all of his belongings or cut-off communication with the outside world, so this passage of scripture should be considered descriptive to the modern church and not prescriptive. Since most of Acts in narrative, one must remember, “Some actions, customs, and events are more important only as they help to form a broader concept” (Gibbs, 2004, p.265). Here, this broader concept is to be generous and to see and meet the needs of brothers and sisters in Christ. “Unless Scripture explicitly tells us we must do something, what is only narrated or described does not function in a normative way – unless it can be demonstrated on other grounds that the author intended it to function in this way” (Fee/Stuart, 2003, p.118).
2. A response to the belief that Christians are still obligated to adhere to Old Testament rules regarding sacrifices, clothing, and diet.
a) The rule of interpretation violated here is that the Bible is absolutely consistent and cannot contradict itself in matters of doctrine, ethics, or historical fact.
b) The rule of interpretation that should be followed here is when contradictions appear to exist, emphasis should be given to the multiple and clear passages over the isolated and obscure ones. A doctrine should not be considered biblical unless it sums up and includes all that Scripture says about it.
c) Biblical revelation was given in a progressive manner so that some passages reflect a partial teaching of a truth. The Old Testament Law was a covenant between God and His children. The Law’s role in Israel’s history was to show them how to live. “It was God’s gift to his people to establish the ways they were to live in community with one another and to provide for their relationship with and worship of Yahweh, their God” (Fee/Stuart, 2003, p.163). This sounds easy on paper, but there were over 600-plus commandments the Israelites were expected to keep. They were held to laws about sacrificing animals to purify them of their sins, laws about food preparation and consumption, and laws about righteous living. They had to work daily to keep themselves clean and worthy of God’s mercy. God’s desire has always been to redeem the lost and because of this, He sent Jesus Christ to fulfill the Law, which required a blood sacrifice for the remission of sins. The law required that nearly everything be cleansed with blood and that without the shedding of blood there could be no forgiveness.
Praise God, the New Testament is our covenant with God under the blood of Christ. In it, we are instructed about living a moral lifestyle and serving others so that they may know God. Jesus was the final, pure, spotless lamb, sacrificed as payment for the sins of man, so that we might have everlasting life. “The Old Testament represents God’s previous covenant with Israel made on Mount Sinai, which is one we are no longer obligated to keep” (Fee/Stuart, 2003, p.167). None of the previous laws are binding unless they are restated, renewed, or reinforced in the New Testament. This being said, some laws still do apply because most of the Old Testament stipulations not renewed were either civil or ritual laws. However, ethical/moral laws were renewed in the new covenant so it is often said that aspects rather than simply the laws themselves are renewed from the old covenant to the new.
3. A response to (or rebuttal of) the belief on an interpretation of Galatians 5:1, that Christians may ignore New Testament commands as long as they feel that they are being led by the Holy Spirit.
a) The interpretation rule ignored here is that the Bible is completely consistent and cannot contradict itself in matters of doctrine or ethics or historical fact. The only valid interpretation of a Bible passage is the one that is based upon and consistent with the writer’s original intent.
b) The interpretation rule that should have been followed here would be to understand the immediate context and basing it upon the original writer’s intent. The interpretation of a passage must be consistent with the flow of thought of the chapter and book in which it is found. The teaching of clear and multiple passages should have been given precedence over singular or obscure ones.
c) God has called each of His children for a specific purpose in which we are to glorify our Heavenly Father by doing what He commands us to do, living lives that are pleasing to Him, and having hearts that are like His. To do so, “The Bible interpreter must be (1) regenerated by the Holy Spirit, (2) obedient to the Scriptures, (3) guided by the Holy Spirit, and (4) diligent in study (Gibbs, 2004, p.31).
Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen; will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-20) Jesus was not only the fulfillment of the Law, He was the teacher of it and He did so by obeying it perfectly.
The role of the Holy Spirit is not to reveal new truths, but to give us a deeper understanding of existing truths. “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26) Being regenerated with the Holy Spirit makes everything we do more effective, but that does not justify breaking New Testament commands. In this passage, Paul is illustrating that being a Christian is having a life apart from the Law. Just as they were previously in slavery to heathenism, they were yet again becoming slaves, this time to Mosaic Law. They were seeking righteousness by works and in doing so Paul declared that Christ would be of no value to them. You cannot understand a verse in isolation without understanding the context around it. Christ had already set them free, so Paul was urging them to stand firm and not become slaves again.
4. A defense that the early Christians might have given to pagans in Rome who mistakenly thought that Christ had instituted cannibalism as a rite in the early church because of his words in John 6:53.
a) Multiple interpretation rules would be broken if one argued this point. Every passage has only one meaning to discover and the only valid interpretation of a Bible passage is the one that is based upon the writer’s original intent.
b) The interpretation rule that should be instituted here would be to understand that all principles and applications of a Bible passage must be consistent with the writer’s original intent. This scripture would also be easier to understand once applying the principle of who wrote it, who it was written for, and why it was written. One must also remember that every passage of scripture has only one meaning and sometimes that meaning is expressed directly and in this case indirectly through figurative language.
c) This passage of scripture does not say we are supposed to cannibalize each other. Drinking “His blood” is a figure of speech. The Jews knew this command because it was a forbidden practice, so they must have been shocked to hear these words from Jesus’ mouth. “When God gave His written revelation He did not communicate it in the language of angles for celestial beings to read and interpret to people. His message was given in normal human language for people to read and share with each other” (Gibbs, 2004, p.24). John was illustrating that just as food and water sustain physical life, that Jesus sustains His believers spiritually. “It is His flesh and blood that gives everlasting life to those that chose to receive salvation. For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” (Leviticus 17:11). Jesus commonly used metaphors that His listeners misunderstood and interpreted to be literal. If He had been teaching them to be cannibals, instead of being buried in a tomb, His disciples would have cannibalized Him after the crucifixion. Eating His flesh is only another expression for believing and putting your faith in Christ. A doctrine or practice should not be considered Biblical unless it sums up and includes all that Scripture says about it.
Fee, Gordon D., Stuart, Douglas. 2003. How to Read the Bible for All it’s Worth: Third Edition, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Gibbs, Carl, B., 2004, Principles of Biblical Interpretation: An Independent-Study Textbook, Springfield, MO: Global University