February 13, 2014

What Is Truth? (Part 1)

Truth, for the true believer, is simply what God has to say about anything. It is interesting to note that in the Gospel of John this subject is dealt with often, and it is Pilate who asks the question in John 18:38. While it is correct that Jesus Himself is truth (John 14:6), John makes it clear that the Word of God is the truth (John 17:17) and that the Holy Spirit will lead the believer into all truth (John 16:13). Not only does this ministry of the Spirit as our guide and teacher lead us into truth, but that truth is used in our sanctification (John 17:17). The text also clearly states that the Holy Spirit will carry on that ministry of truth because He indwells the believer as He began to do at Pentecost (John 15:26; 16:7, 13).

In the church age, every believer has the advantage of access to the clear statements of the Bible text and the guidance of the indwelling Spirit. The Scripture, on which we depend for truth, was inspired in the original writings and is without error. Truth is stable and consistent within the text because its words and the whole were supervised by the pure oversight of the Holy Spirit.

Concepts are clarified as we stand back and look at the whole. For instance, there are only two religions in the world. One is Biblical Christianity, and the other is what I have come to call “Humianity.” All religions other than Biblical Christianity find part or all of their sources in flawed human thought. The names of those religions are irrelevant. Their beliefs are legion, but they all have the same source even if their degrees of error are wide as an ocean. Final truth is found in God’s Word. Even if those religions use some Bible and have some truth, that truth is negated by the infusion of human reason.

The same concept is true in the science of hermeneutics. There is only one biblical hermeneutic that God has given to the believer. Man has invented multitudes of hermeneutical systems, but once again they all fall into the same category. They are humanly devised so that there are only two hermeneutical systems: the one biblical system and the one whose source is man. There is a wide variety of systems outside the biblical one, but they are all one because they all use the same human source.

Truth is found in the clear statement of the text before man adds his convenient adjustments to the scripture. Theological error does not come from the Bible text; it comes from man’s attempt to force the Bible to agree with human thought. Truth is safe within the bonds of the biblical hermeneutic because this system is simply the normal, plain, consistent, literal use of language.

There are many who confess that they practice this normal use of language. They even use it some of the time…but the minute man begins to play God and gets carried away with his own ideas, truth is lost. Failure to use the biblical system and the clear rules all the time creates the same human error.
I’m constantly reading from a number of sources and am amazed at how frequently writers ruin a perfectly good study of the text by finding ways to add their own thoughts to its content.
In the biblical hermeneutic, the very first step is exegesis. We are obligated to use the appropriate grammar, definition, syntax, etc. Now, this may sound simple - but it isn’t. It is far too easy to manipulate the text by forcing a meaning into it and then making that appear to be the only possible answer. This is a favorite trick used by grammarians. Remember, the Bible was not written for scholars. While we are grateful for the ministry of these godly men, God in His grace has given the rest of us believers a way to know when our theological leg has been pulled.

When the interpreter has finished with the issues of the language, all he has is a question; but he does not have an answer until he has completed the hermeneutical process. The next step for authentication is context. We all know that a text without a context is a pretext. Unfortunately, there are few who practice the rule, and this is the big bear trap. No interpretation that rests on one text can be trusted. If the teaching is central to the faith, it will be supported by both the micro and macro texts. Even here, though, it is possible to go astray; and this is another trick used by those who ignore the biblical hermeneutic. Contextual authority must be clearly identified by the text itself. That simply means that passages being considered must actually – and without question - apply to the subject under consideration.

The next step in the one biblical hermeneutic has to do with the historical setting of the content of the passage. This step enhances our understanding of the grammatical conclusion, but it does not create the doctrine. This is one of the reasons we don’t develop doctrine from the parables. On the other hand, this step is a bright light in exposing the insertion of theological systems into a text. The Holy Spirit was not acting in a foolish manner when He gave us historical settings that allow us to ask, “Does this illustration by God confirm the interpreter’s conclusion?”

This marvelous process of the one biblical hermeneutic is an affront to theological systems and constructs that make it possible for humans to press their ideas and conclusions on the text. Is it possible for anyone to ask, “What does the text say” and get the answer God put there? Yes, it is…if only we are sufficiently humble to admit we have been playing games with a holy book at the expense of truth. (To be continued)

Shepherd’s Staff is prepared by Clay Nuttall, D. Min

SHEPHERD’S STAFF - February, 2014

A communication service of Shepherd’s Basic Care, for those committed to the authority and sufficiency of the Bible. Shepherd’s Basic Care is a ministry of information and encouragement to pastors, missionaries, and churches. Write for information using the e-mail address, Shepherdstaff2@juno.com