BIBLE STUDY OR THEOLOGY ?
When the presenter of material either spoken or written declares regarding it - This I Believe, what exactly does he mean? Is his belief a statement of his faith in the Word of God as written in Scripture? Or is he just stating a firm conviction of his mind reached by reasoned analysis, hence his opinion?
The acceptance of the full inspiration and inerrancy of the very words of the Scripture, as in their autographs, is a matter of faith; it is a committal of the human spirit no less absolute than is faith in Christ personally. Thus, having understood the meaning of a given text, it can and should be asserted positively as possessing Biblical authority. Mere human mental concepts should be presented tentatively, but such have no place in exposition of Scripture. The same assertive approach on the authority of Scripture is in order when making a refutation - whether or not the attempted correction is heeded.
Exposition is the propounding of The Truth of God's Word by the method of Exegesis; and since it is no part of the exercise to present proposals or ideas, "Scripture support" is meaningless, for Scripture itself does not need it. The expositor cannot bring conviction to the reader/hearer by reasoned argument; he can only give a faithful testimony and demonstrates just what Scripture states. Nor can the Truth of God be separated into compartments: it is integrated and homogeneous.
The theologian is one who, having an idea, theory or philosophical concept in his mind, goes to Scripture hoping to find support for it. He may not insist on a fully compatible corroboration if the portion considered can plausibly be construed in his favour; and he may even disregard contrary elements in that passage, or elsewhere. The theologian most likely affirm that Scripture is his final authority, thus admitting that lesser authorities exist. So he may quote also the opinions of other theologians so as to make and present what he will think is an acceptable case.
The result is a product of human reasoning. It is merely an opinion, about which one can only agree to disagree. Its truth can never be incontrovertibly demonstrated by Scripture. In fact, unless the theme is set forth entirely in terms of Biblical statements, it can neither be checked for verity, nor refuted, either partly or wholly, since it remains just an opinion. Providing that it is not confused with Bible teaching it is quite valid to express an opinion, either theological or otherwise, when tentativeness can be advisable. However, similar reticence is alien to the setting forth of Truth attested by the written Word of God, which by its nature is authoritative, and thus assured and certain.
The description given above, as also which follows, is not intended to apply to any particular person. They are roles which those who handle Scripture may intentionaly or unwittingly find themselves acting out.
The Bible student believes that the Truth of God is inherent in the very words of Scripture. So his is an open minded approach, whether testing a claim of another Bible student or originating a personal enquiry, to ascertain "What saith the Scripture". In doing this the mind has to be employed to read and to understand just what the Bible says using normal grammatical and literary rules; and having understood what is stated, the human mind drops out and faith takes over. That which is thus embraced by faith can and should be positively asserted and unequivocally affirmed, because it rests upon the authority of Scripture - and there is no other authority.
But the Bible student, being human, has to guard against unwittingly taking on the theologian's role. The mind must not be allowed to reason philosophically upon the revealed Truth of Scripture, though deductions may be made. The Bible does not always tell us what we wish to know, and there is a natural tendency to devise some concept to bridge a gap in revealed Truth; but that is not the way of faith. A certain evangelical broadcast used to claim, "where the Bible is silent, we are silent"; a principle commended to all who turn to its pages.
There is much commendable advice also in a booklet, titled "Bible Study - a personal quest" by Daniel Andersen. It was originally published six years ago by TIB Ministries, a second edition being Issued later by Open B1b1e Trust. One of its most apt observations is given on p.9(10), "In order to find out what something means we must first find out what it says". Precisely ! Another comment well worth stressing appears on p.32(28), "Faith, at rock bottom is believing. Believing is embracing or accepting something or someone with confidence and assurance and commitment and conviction". This Involves the whole person.
But in this booklet there is a most ill-considered remark on p.30(26), viz: "there must be a degree of tentativeness about everything understood and embraced from the pages of the Scriptures". Taken as it stands, this could be fair comment on the investigative process; but on p.38(34) a similar comment is set in the context of the author's censorious phrase, "presumptive dogmatism and cocksure assertiveness"; so it is intended to apply to the presenting of B1b1e teaching. When a speaker or writer feels a need for reticence it is a sure sign that his material is not the truth of Scripture but is theological thought, that is, opinion. Of course, there can be the dogmatic insistence of an opinion, but such is readily distinguished from positively affirmed exposition.
In his issue of TIB No.26 in August 1902 Daniel Andersen expresses himself undoubtedly as a theologian, a role In which his "tentativeness" is appropriate. What is set forth suggestively could not be called a Study in the Scriptures of Truth, since there is no Scripture stating its theme. Failing that, the theme is synthesised from two distinct passages, 2Cor.5:16. and lCor.10:18., so as to yield "the proposal that God has given up on Israel according to the flesh".
Now Scripture itself needs no support. But any theologian who has devised an artificial concept may feel reassured by any Biblical material which can be used to provide a bolster. Hence, the statement on p.31, "strong support for my thesis is given in 1Thessalonlans 2:14-16."; and the word "support" is found in four other places. Yet it seems this support is not strong enough; as recourse is also made to the writings of two theologians.
The Thessalonian verses are not cited as a principle subject for the reader to consider; no, that place is occupied by the author's "thesis", by his "Ideas" (used four times), and his "thoughts" (four times); moreover, he three times says "I like to think", and twice states "I can't help but feel". What is offered is the opinion of a theologian; nor would the author disagree it seems, since on p.32 he refers to it as "what I have proposed". But a proposition is not to be classed as right or wrong; it remains an opinion to which one may agree or not.
A year later TIB No.27 was issued dealing with the same subject, from which it may be noted that what previously had been only "ideas being proposed" has been elevated to the category of a "broad principle". This follows a commonly observed pattern with theories, whether theological or scientific; for after one has existed unchallenged for a period of time it becomes surreptitiously taken to be a truth, though never being proved or established.
The question raised is a fundamental one. Are the Scriptures a stimulating source for producing thoughts attractive to the mind ? Or are they the very statements of the mind of God, assimilable to understanding by subjection to the Holy Spirit ? If the latter, then their statements are unquestionable; and they should be declared with what has been termed "cocksure assertiveness". This is the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. It is to be wielded in the full assurance of faith.
M. S. Lloyd Glasgow. April 1994
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