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Biblical Ignorance: MacArthur on the Problem, Sproul on the Solution

June 14, 2009

During the Ligonier National Conference Q & A session, John MacArthur was asked, “What is the biggest threat to Christianity today?”

This was his answer.

Last week I got into a conversation with someone who had looked to the bible to find out what to do in a conflict with another believer who was upset with her and had accused her of sin.  She had read Matthew 5:21-26 which contains the command, that:

“…if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”

However she had also read that Paul and Barnabas had been in conflict (the details of which are vague and don’t seem to include charges of wrong doing but rather a disagreement over a staffing decision), and had parted ways, only to be reconciled later.  She decided that she would use that story as her guide and not practice the didactic teaching found in Matthew 5 by going to be reconciled to her former friend, instead hoping that things would just get better like they did for Paul and Barnabas. Years of estrangement has followed because this woman (seemingly sincerely)  believed that she didn’t have the obligation to go to her sister in Christ and ask the simple question, “What have I done wrong”, and listen to her correction.

The most upsetting thing about this story? This woman is not just a church member, was not just raised in the evangelical church for more than three decades, she is a lay leader in a position that oversees around two hundred people and has been so for around five years.

Sadly John MacArthur is right on.  Professing Christians don’t know the bible or how to interpret the bible.

So I am stealing a post by Harry over at Salvation By Grace (whom I also stole the MacArthur quote from) that outlines RC Sproul’s teaching to Christians how to interpret the Bible.

Note that we are to interpret the narrative by the didactic, the implicit by the explicit, and the obscure by the clear.

The outline is followed by the audio of Sproul’s lesson

R.C. Sproul on How to Study the Bible

  • R.C. SproulR.C. Sproul from 2005 Ligonier National Conference
  • Fundamentals of biblical interpretation, from his book “Knowing Scripture”
  • There is only one meaning in interpretation of scripture
  • 10 practical rules for biblical interpretation
    • 1. Read the bible like reading any other book
      • the bible is the only book that comes to us from the inspiration of God and in that sense it is unique among books, but a verb is a verb and a noun is a noun – there is nothing spiritual that changes the basic grammatical, historical sense in which the bible was written
      • no “lucky dip”
    • 2. Read it existentially
      • not through the prism of existential philosophy
      • do not read it as a removed ancient document
      • try to get in the sandals of Abraham
      • enter into the reality of scripture as it is presented
      • become passionately involved in what you are reading, not just a spectator
      • put yourself under the microscope and you find yourself being judged by God instead of you judging the word
    • 3. Interpret the narrative by didactic
      • the bible will tell you a story and later on like in the epistles you read the meaning of the narrative
      • if you are there watching the crucifixion, it is not immediately clear to you that what is happening here is a cosmic act of atonement – you need the didactic portion of scripture to explain those events to you
      • what happens if you interpret the didactic by the narrative?
        • his complaint with Pentecostal theology is that it interprets Pentecost in a way that is completely opposed to the NT interpretation of Pentecost
          • it’s view of Pentecost is too low, because they submerge the didactic portion of scripture to inference drawn from the narrative
        • even worse the scourge in Evangelism today is open theism – it is now trying to persuade you that the Lord God omniscient, is not the Lord God omniscient, that He does not know all things, he doesn’t know what you are going to do before you do it, because there is no way He can know the future of free events done by moral agents and the bible proves it because in the narratives we see Abraham offering Isaac and the angel coming and saying “now I know that you are going to obey Me.”
          • and they heap up these verses of God’s relenting and God’s repenting and they say see the Bible teaches that God changes His mind, He is not immutable, that God learns things, he is not omniscient, and this justifies our gastly theology – never mind the portions of scripture that God is not a man that He should not repent and teaches you didactly and that God does know what you are going to say before you say it even though in the narrative it may be told from a human perspective as if God were learning – you are kept from coming to that conclusion by the didactic portion – interpret scripture by scripture
    • 4. Interpret the implicit from the explicit, not the explicit from the implicit
      • this would be the death blow to Arminianism
      • John 3:16
        • whosoever
          • this means everybody has the moral power to choose Jesus and all who do will be saved
          • He cannot find in that passage
            • the text says all who do A, will not receive B, and will recieve C
            • all who believe will not perish – all who are in the category of believers will not be included in the category of those who perish, but will be included in the category of those who inherit eternal life
            • what the text teaches explicitly: that is what the text tells us, it tells us what happens to those who believe versus those who do not beleive
            • now what does it say to the question of who has the moral power to believe – NOTHING
            • what does the bible say explicitly about natural man’s ability to incline himself to Christ or to things of God
              • John 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”
              • People trump this explicit teaching from something implicit from the same author just three chapters earlier
            • Luther said you interpret the obscure from the clear, not the clear from by the obscure
    • 5. Pay close attention to the meaning of individual words
      • This is the danger of dynamic equivalency translations
      • So many times in the bible debates are settled on the meaning of individual words
      • Woman is to be saved in childbearing (1 Tim 2:15)
        • saved means salvation
        • saved also means from any type of danger or peril situation
        • Paul is not saying there are two ways for ultimate salvation
          • Justification by faith for men
          • Justification by having babies for women
    • 6. Be careful to recognize the presence of certain literary forms especially in poetic portions of scripture of which there are many and one thing we need to learn are the basic types of parallelism found in Hebrew literature
      • Is 45:6-7
        • God does not create evil
          • there are at least eight different types of evil the bible speaks about
          • God brings peace and prosperity and also brings calamity, there is a contrast there
      • We need to know the difference between proverbs and law
        • in addition to the different types of law in the OT (absolute law and case law) we also have proverbs and proverbs cannot be turned into law
          • Proverbs 26:4-5
            • this is not a contradiction
            • the proverbs give general principles of wisdom that in some circumstances show us what is the wise thing to do and sometimes it is wise not to answer a fool according to his folly and other times it is the better part of wisdom to show the fool the folly of his folly
    • 7. The spirit and the letter of the law
      • The Pharisees were guilty in keeping the letter of the law and ignoring the spirit of the law and what God wants from his people is to keep the spirit of the law not the letter of the law
      • No what God wants from his people is to keep the spirit of the law and the letter of the law
      • we excuse our violations of the letter of the law by saying well I am keeping the spirit of the law and trampling all over what God actually says
    • 8. Take very special care with parables remembering parables are for the most part not to be interpreted as allegories (a figurative mode of representation conveying a meaning other than the literal), one is at least, but most are not
      • most parables have one only central meaning and if you try to find meaning of each part of a parable you will find yourself in all kinds of trouble
    • 9. Be careful with predictive prophesy – take it seriously, study it deligenlty, but be very, very careful to check your interpretation particularily of imaginative language by taking the laborious task if you see a difficult symbol or image and see what its usage is in scripture
    • 10. Don’t just rely on your own relationship with the Holy Ghost – God has given teachers to the church

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    2 Comments leave one →
    1. Daniel permalink
      September 21, 2009 12:54 am

      So is the great commission taught in the didactic portion of the New Testament?
      What about tithing?

    2. Jax permalink
      October 26, 2009 1:31 pm

      I once heard someone say, “The main purpose of the Bible is not to be interpreted, but believed.” Fairly, good point.

      Another good source for studying scripture is Howard Hendrick’s “Living By the Book”

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