Friday, June 11, 2010

The Author's Communication: Interpreting Textual Particulars

By John Ambro

Communication is a funny thing. If we don't pay attention to the particulars within the context of the whole message we miss out on the true and intended meaning of the message, and we misinterpret it to mean something completely different than the original communicator intended. We have all done this to one extent or another. A prime example of this is communication between a father and son. The son is sitting in the living room playing a video game and his father is in the kitchen. The father calls to his son to “Will you take the garbage out.” The son replies “yes” but continues to sit there. That is because he understood the particulars apart from the context. He failed to realize that his father was standing there holding a disgusting, smelly, bag of trash and wanted it taken out right then and there.

We must be very diligent that we do not do the same thing with Scripture. Taking particular verses and interpreting them apart from the full context in which we find them. Isolating particulars outside from their context leads to all sorts of issues and errors. The first issue that arrises is that when one removes the particular (i.e. an individual verse) from its surrounding context, it makes the original author mute. It places a gag order on the author and states, “what you have said has no bearing on what I read from the text”. The second thing that it does is that it not only makes the author mute but it replaces the author with the reader as the interpretive authority of the isolated particulars, and makes the reader/hearer the author.

These two things lead to all types of wacked out doctrines, heresies, and outright evil lies. No where else is this most prevalent than in the Prosperity / Health and Wealth movement. Everyday thousands of “christians” are drawn away from the true gospel of Christ, yet come running to embrace the deaf, mute, and dumb idols of “self-christianity”. Pulling scripture out from here and there, like pithy little “christian fortune cookies” focussing all on self and failing to stop and see (and read) that it is little about us and all about Christ.

But is it not just the crack pots of Christianity that this happens to. Strong Evangelical pastors and leaders, that take scripture out of context (possibly unknowingly) to fit a schema or agenda. One very respected pastor (whose name I will not mention) has isolated verses out of their surrounding context to prove a point that he wishes to drive home, unfortunately instead of knocking a home run he hits scripture out foul and knocks people out with improper isolation of texts that give others leeway to do the same. We also see the effects of isolating particulars in many Evangelical churches with their dogmatic rules and doctrine that they hold on to. This error is however in the reverse, they pull verses out of the historical, non-normative context and apply it to the 21 century church body to the detriment of the body by hindering the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the believers. For example a church that I know of has no musical instruments, and no one sings on stage (but only in the congregation) because, that is how they did it in the early church, yet they have no issues using mics for the pastor, video displays, or recording the sermons.

The error of interpreting textual particulars outside of their context can affect anyone, no one is immune to falling into this trap. So the way to stay out of this trap is to keep verses in their context of the original paragraph, chapter, book, and the whole cannon of scripture. Only then will our interpretation of scripture fall in line and under the authority of scripture itself.

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