From: Carl W. Conrad (email@example.com)
Date: Wed Sep 15 1999 - 09:09:24 EDT
At 4:47 PM +0200 9/14/99, Mark Markham wrote:
>I admire your honesty in explaining your position. I respect your Greek but
>(as you knew I would) take issue with your theology. It must be a tightrope
>walk to embrace the diametric sides as you do. I am not sure I could
>compromise arguments to adopt such a position, but I am sure you believe you
>have reasons. I will not debate unless that premise causes an oversight of a
>legit Greek understanding-- just as I do with others with various views on
>the list. Truth can stand examination. At least we have identified
>ourselves for future frame of reference, eh? :-)
>I agree with you entirely that, " We're just going to have to
>disagree on this one as well as whatever else we may disagree on." You know
>the premise that I and a few others hold.
>Thanks for the comments and keep up the good input on this list. I enjoy the
I appreciate your response. In the light of our exchange, you might find
this little item that came in on the "Bible Translation" list worth looking
at. It certainly made me think, because I find every one of these
alternatives important enough not to want to exclude any one. Curiously
(from my own perspective), several of those responding to this objected to
#5 ("The Bible means what the Body of Christ says it means") on grounds of
traditional Protestant rejection of ecclesiastical authority, and, I guess
a doctrine of the "priesthood of all believers." But for my part, although
I hold strongly to the Presbyterian principle that "God alone is Lord of
the conscience," I still think that a Christian believer's relationship to
God in Christ is not a strictly private and personal thing but a corporate
relationship with the whole Body of Christ--and for that reason one ought
to be wary of an interpretation that is wholly at odds with interpretations
that find no support anywhere within the corporate body of believers.
Perhaps that's another part of what you above call "walking a tightrope to
embrace the diametric sides." I will say that it is not a "comfortable"
stance for study and interpretation of the Biblical text, but then, I never
supposed that taking the Bible seriously was supposed to be "comfortable."
Keith Drury is back from summer vacation. Here is his first new column.
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So What Does the Bible Really Mean?
Search the Internet on any topic: abortion, homosexuality, election,
security, capital punishment or whatever, and what will you find? Your
search engine will likely produce a hundred different web pages with half
as many positions -- all claiming they are "Bible based" or growing from
"Biblical Christian Assumptions." Are they? How can the same Scriptures
produce so many different positions? Isn't the Bible plain and clear on
these matters? Or doesn't the Bible have any fixed meaning at all?
So what does the Bible really mean? How will you decide? Here are some
options. Which do you reject or prefer:
1. The Bible means what the writer meant when he wrote it.
To these the Bible means what the writer meant it to mean. Thus to
understand what it means one needs to figure out what the writer meant.
People holding this position yearn to become experts in Bible languages
and culture, for the meaning of the writer's words are locked up in
ancient language and culture. And, they must be prepared to adjust their
views from time to time because the view of "recent scholarship" changes
every 30-40 years. Also, be prepared to answer the complaint that you've
lifted the Bible's above many ordinary people, reversing the gains of the
reformation, merely giving the authority this time to the scholars instead
of the Pope. But by far the most common view of middle aged folk, this
view holds that the Bible means what the writer meant it to mean.
2. The Bible means what the first readers understood it to mean.
Some think it's easier to figure out what the original readers would have
understood the Bible to mean than what the writer intended. That is, to
these folk, God was communicating to real people in Corinth, and thus he
"carried along" the writer to say things in a way the Corinthians would
have understood what God meant. This view isn't that different than above
and most "modernists" combine the two so fluidly that you can't tell which
they are using. Opt for this view and you'll also need a thorough under-
standing of the culture and thinking modes of ancient times. You may not
need to become such an expert in Paul's thinking as in the thinking of
the Greco-Roman world. The goal here is to exegete the culture as well as
the verses -- the original culture, attempting to read the words the way
the first readers would have read and understood them. To these "Thou
shall not commit adultery" is read from the mind set of an ancient person
who likely did not think of having sex with a prostitute as "adultery." Or
"Honor your father and mother" is seen as instructions for dealing with
elderly parents, not a command for children to obey their parents. To
these folk the Bible means what it meant: what the first readers thought
3. The Bible means what God meant it to mean.
OK let's add the Sunday School class answer: "The Bible means what God
meant it to mean." Cute, but is there anything to it? Does the Bible mean
what God intended (through "inspiration") it to mean, even though some-
times the original writer and readers may have missed it? Could Scripture
have meaning now in a way nobody ever before understood it? Hmmmmmmm…. To
these folk there may be "hidden meaning" in the Scripture which God is
waiting to reveal to us in the 'latter days." To them the meaning is in
the intentions of God -- His inspiration, not the words or understanding
of 2000-4000 years ago. But these are not the only folk who opt for
bringing the meaning nearer to present times.
4. The Bible means what the Spirit teaches me it means.
These folk take a more dynamic view of the Bible's meaning and aren'’t
sure the Bible has any fixed meaning at all -- one verse can mean many
things to many people. They believe the Bible is a living book, packed
with meaning for all ages, and even a person totally ignorant of first
century agricultural practices can figure out the "spiritual meaning" of
the parable of the soils. To these folk, the Holy Spirit teaches truth
directly from the words off the pages, "inspiring the reader" to see
meanings even the original writer never intended. Some of these folk admit
there might be a "near and far meaning" -- an original meaning and a
distant one for today, but others unabashedly announce they understand a
passage's meaning because "the Lord told me so." He gave them this as
their "life verse." To these folk the Bible means what the Lord tells them
personally it means, sometimes called "devotional" reading of the Bible.
It leads to great spiritual intimacy with God. It also leads to Waco
5. The Bible means what the Body of Christ says it means.
Others who yearn for a more contemporary view, widen the circle of
authority to include God's whole church -- both now and through history.
To these the Bible's meaning is found with one part tradition: what
Christians down through the centuries have taken it to mean, and one part
contemporary scholarship: what Christians all around the world today hold
it to say. This view is a sort of democratized exegesis: the majority view
becomes the right one. They argue that God not only trusted human beings
to write the original words, and human beings to determine the holy canon,
but has also delegated to His church the responsibility to determine what
the Bible means for today. These folk have no difficulty rejecting slavery
even though the Bible seems to accept it, or condemning alcohol even
through the Bible seems to allow for it. To these people church creeds,
denominational positions, and the collective view of the world-wide
Christian church have heavy weight. To them the Bible means what the
church collectively says it means.
6. So what is your position?
Where do you come out on this one? One of the above? Or a combination? Are
you moving from one toward another position recently? Where do you stand?
What does the Bible really mean?
So, what do you think?
- - - - - -
Tuesday Column FREEware by Keith Drury
You are free to transmit, duplicate or publish this article without
To drop a note to the writer email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The collection of Keith Drury's other writings:
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649
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