TIP of the day: You're wrong (and so am I)

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Posted: Wed, Jun 1 2016 11:43 PM

Given the number of places for error in Bible interpretation:

  • incorrect reading of manuscript
  • incorrect assignment of ambiguous morphology
  • incorrect meaning of word
  • incorrect interpretation of grammar of phrase
  • incorrect interpretation of syntax
  • incorrect assignment of rhetorical force
  • incorrect interpretation of semantics
  • incorrect interpretation of pragmatics
  • incorrect interpretation of semiotics
  • incorrect assignment of underlying assumptions
  • duplicate all the above if working from a translation
  • incorrect jumps from human understanding to divine Truth

the chance that you, I or anyone is correct 100% of the time is less than a centillion (long-form) to 1. Therefore, it is a good rule of thumb that if you never change your position, clarify or revise it, your Bible study is ineffective. You are engaging in an exercise of confirming your prejudices. So how does one develop a habit of allowing your Bible study to be productive. Logos resources actually provide the tools for you to do so.

Step 1: Find an issue that the experts still disagree on. The footnotes in your Bible will give you some examples:

or the Lexham Bible Guides provides information on issues:

or the UBS handbook series while focused on translation problems often points out interesting issues:

Other commentaries, historical interpretations from the Church Fathers, theological interpretations etc. document difficulties you can find in the Passage Guide.

Step 2: Define the alternative positions making columns for assumptions, pros and cons for each position.

Step 3: Identify your position - it is often simply accepting your favorite translation, your favorite author, what you have been taught without really thinking about it.

Step 4: Identify the following for positions other than your own:

  • if you accepted this position, would it change your beliefs?
  • if you accepted this position, would it change how you worship?
  • if you accepted this position, would it change how you behave?

If you are not used to being brutally honest in observing your own thoughts and assumptions, I would suggest that if you answer yes to any of these three questions, you pick a different issue. Why? Because until you get comfortable watching your own thoughts, evaluating them as you would anyone else's and actually changing your position, it is easier to practice on things that don't matter. It is very easy to be blind in those areas where change would have a significant cost.

Step 5: Ideally, having a study partner who will argue one position while you argue another in an informal dialogue argument is the easiest way to practice. And studying for the debate should provide the information needed to fill out the chart you built in Step 2. However, most of the time we are stuck using our Logos resources to fill out the chart without the motivation and feedback provided by a partner.

Step 6: When you believe that you understand the pros and cons of all the alternatives, determine which position you think has the strongest case. You should be able to claim that your study did one of the following:

  • strengthened your arguments for your position
  • clarified your position
  • modified your position
  • changed your position

A reasonable mix of the four indicates a healthy, effective Bible study.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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Matt Hamrick | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Jun 2 2016 2:59 AM

Awesome tip MJ. I have let go of some things I learned from the church by studying the bible. Well, being a church history buff helped because I can see in history where some things the church teaches came from.

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David Ames | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Jun 2 2016 4:58 AM

MJ. Smith:

Step 5: Ideally, having a study partner who will argue one position while you argue another in an informal dialogue argument is the easiest way to practice. And studying for the debate should provide the information needed to fill out the chart you built in Step 2. However, most of the time we are stuck using our Logos resources to fill out the chart without the motivation and feedback provided by a partner.

And then switch positions and do the informal dialogue over again - Thus each needs to understand both positions to the extent that they can each take either side.  

The biggest problem here maybe in finding that partner.

Have not gone too far down that path but have had opportunities to explain what a person's church truly taught when a friend did not fully understand what their church taught and where their church was not my church.  [[Thanks to some Logos resources and a leader in their church confirmed that I put my friend back on the correct [from their view point] path]]  So it can be done.  [But it is a lot of work but maybe what we should do: Acts 17:11] 

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John Kaess | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Jun 2 2016 5:57 AM

Yes

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Dr. Michael Wilson | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Jun 5 2016 7:47 PM

Generally speaking exegetical, expository preaching will uncover these things and they can be presented, if they edify, during preaching.  Starting with the text and no tradition or preconceived ideas is the best way to preach truth.  If there is a historical disagreement, or if we just don't know what the passage means, that can be stated in the sermon as long as the known and certain truth is covered and concluded.  

The first church split was concerning where the Holy Spirit proceeded from.  So let's preach truth and not split churches.

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Jun 5 2016 8:12 PM

Dr. Michael Wilson:
Starting with the text and no tradition or preconceived ideas is the best way to preach truth.

I believe in the sense that logic uses the terms, this is impossible. Even knowing what a word "means" is a preconception in many cases. One of the most significant theological differences among preachers is whether the Word of God is the (dead) ink on paper or is the (living) revelation of God in kairos time. To my mind the question is whether or not one is aware of these assumptions and their consequences.

A resource that helped me see some of my previously unconscious assumptions re: interpretation of Scripture is Torah Through Time: Understanding Bible Commentary from the Rabbinic Preiod to Modern Times by Shai Cherry which he wrote in response to his experience as a Jew teaching Christian classes at Vanderbilt.


James Kugel, a leading contemporary scholar on the Hebrew Bible and its reception in ancient times, suggests that there were four assumptions that animated late biblical writers and early biblical interpreters. Although Kugel was not the first scholar to note these assumptions, his template will help us track the history of Jewish biblical commentary. The first assumption that Kugel lays out is that the Torah is fundamentally cryptic. We have seen how the Torah was perceived to be cryptic, which is why a special class of scribes was needed to “translate” the Torah, not only linguistically, but conceptually.


 Kugel’s Four Assumptions
     1.      The Torah is cryptic and cannot be understood from a superficial reading.
     2.      The Torah is eternally relevant and not merely a historical document.
     3.      The Torah is perfect without mistake, contradiction, or repetition.
     4.      The Torah is Divine in origin.


The process of interpreting the Torah is influenced by how one understands the nature of Hebrew. Among the legacies of the scribes is that the Rabbis of the post-second Temple era (1st–7th c. CE) held that Hebrew, unlike other languages, captured the essence of the thing described. In other words, Hebrew is not a language of conventions whereby we agree that the word book will indicate this thing you happen to be reading right now. For the Rabbis, “God spoke and the world came into being.”8 Because the world was created by the Divine language of Hebrew, language participates in the very essence of reality. The biblical word davar means both word and thing; this means that the word and the thing share an essence according to such an understanding of Hebrew. Many scholars of Rabbinic literature have observed that the Rabbis were inveterate punsters in large part because of the aural nature of their teachings. Although true, such a description belittles the seriousness with which the Rabbis felt Hebrew informed us about the nature of reality. For them, if two words sound alike or share certain root letters, it may well be because there is an underlying commonality that links the essences of those things.
Kugel’s second assumption is that the relevance of Torah precludes it from being merely a record of genealogical and historical events. In short, the Torah is no antiquarian artifact. It was a living link, a tree of life, between God and the early Jewish community. It was the responsibility of the scribes, and later the Rabbis, to translate the seemingly irrelevant sections of the Torah into a program for contemporary living. The Torah, according to this assumption, is eternally relevant.
Kugel’s third assumption that the Torah is perfect and without mistake has manifested itself in several ways. On one level, there could be no unintended grammatical mistakes in the Torah. Furthermore, one part of the Bible could not contradict another section. The Torah was a unified whole. Most importantly, the perfection of Scripture implies that nothing is superfluous or redundant. When the Torah repeats itself, as it does regularly, this assumption demands that the repetition is not for literary emphasis or the result of a combination of disparate documents. Only the scribe, and later the Rabbi, will be able to discern the divinely coded meanings that are not apparent to the untrained eye.
Given the assumption that nothing is superfluous in the Torah, any seeming violation of literary economy becomes an invitation for the assumption of relevance to express itself. Kugel notes that this characteristic of early biblical interpretation finds “its fullest expression in rabbinic writings.”9 He calls this aspect of Rabbinic hermeneutics “omnisignificance,” whereby every word, letter, and calligraphic flourish becomes available for interpretation.
Kugel’s fourth assumption is that all of Scripture is in some way Divine. Whether that means that the Hebrew Bible was the product of Divine dictation, written under Divine inspiration, or merely divinely sanctioned, varies among the commentators of antiquity and the biblical books under discussion.10 But they all assumed the Bible to be anchored, somehow, to God. A Rabbinic text claims that when two people study Torah, the Divine presence dwells between them.11 An even more daring text suggests that when one studies Torah, one comes to understand the mind of God.12 Thus, engaging in Torah study was a way to interact or commune with God, filling a pressing need in the years after the Roman destruction of the second Temple in 70 CE. Studying Torah and generating novel interpretations theoretically open to all males (unlike the Priesthood with its genealogical requirements), was the vehicle through which Rabbinic Jews in the post-Temple environment maintained and fostered a relationship with God. For many, Torah study became an obsession because it was a way, the Rabbinic way, of “living in the House of the LORD, all the days of my life” (Ps. 27:4).


Shai Cherry, Torah through Time: Understanding Bible Commentary from the Rabbinic Period to Modern Times (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2007), 9–11.

Several pages later, he offers the following table:

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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Hamilton Ramos | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Jun 10 2016 12:59 PM

Excellent MJ, both the thread and the last post.

I think the four assumptions are plausible.

My problem is with the following:

"...held that Hebrew, unlike other languages, captured the essence of the thing described. In other words, Hebrew is not a language of conventions whereby we agree that the word book will indicate this thing you happen to be reading right now. For the Rabbis, “God spoke and the world came into being.”8 Because the world was created by the Divine language of Hebrew, language participates in the very essence of reality. The biblical word davar means both word and thing; this means that the word and the thing share an essence according to such an understanding of Hebrew."

The Hebrew people were chosen way after creation, so I do not think it can be claimed that Hebrew was the language God used to create.

The above paragraph seems to me goes into the idea that words (sacred ones) have magical powers and can manipulate reality (part of the Reason why some groups were so particular about the Name of God, because they thought they could manipulate Him by using His name).

What do you think?

I do think that at some time the Torah was considered "words of fire" from God, and it does seem to be true according to Bible witness:

Luke 24:32 

They said to each other, Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?

Blessings.

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James Taylor | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Jun 10 2016 1:12 PM

Love this MJ, thanks for sharing

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Jun 10 2016 3:23 PM

Hamilton Ramos:
What do you think?

Other than my total aversion to flagrantly erroneous logic, I rarely share in the forums what I actual think or believe. Rather I report what others think or believe from resources I happen to be familiar with. The exception is when someone misrepresents what Catholics or Orthodox believe and I don't know a good resource off the top of my head.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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Hamilton Ramos | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Jun 10 2016 8:11 PM

"Other than my total aversion to flagrantly erroneous logic".

Feel free to point out if you think I make such mistake. No need to explain why, just point to the sentence, paragraph, etc. and I will check to see what can be wrong.

Blessings.

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Cynthia in Florida | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Aug 14 2016 3:30 PM

M.J.  Two things I have to say about this post:  

First, I LOVE IT!  I wrote a paper not too long ago on for my Church History class on Pierre Abelard.  It all started with a simple quote in my textbook:

The key to wisdom is this - constant and frequent questioning, for by doubting we are led to question and by questioning we arrive at the truth. As a Bible teacher, I have come to learn that the more I know, the more a realize how little I know.  Further, I need to be open to the fact that I am wrong in some areas.  I always question the Text.   I'm not questioning God's Word, but my understanding of God's Word.  Your steps here for questioning the text through analysis is succintly written. Second, do you ever sleep? :) Thanks for posts like this.  I really enjoy them!

Cynthia

Romans 8:28-38

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EastTN | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Aug 14 2016 4:06 PM

MJ. Smith:

... until you get comfortable watching your own thoughts, evaluating them as you would anyone else's and actually changing your position, it is easier to practice on things that don't matter. It is very easy to be blind in those areas where change would have a significant cost.

I believe this to be particularly important advice. It's hard to think honestly and clearly about things that you're personally invested in.  Practice makes it easier.

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