Understanding the Scriptures

We make a clear distinction between the Christian Scriptures and our understanding of them.

We actively seek to understand what God says to us through the study of the text, never forgetting His warning to the Pharisees that there is always a danger of idolatry, even of the Bible: of thinking that we have life merely because we know the texts of the Bible. Thus we emphasise the humility and care with which we must approach the text itself. We understand and seek to resist the dangers of traditional bias, cultural assumptions, individualism, subjectivism, and moral failure in understanding the text. We understand the dangers of a false literalism that gives no space for understanding thought forms and literary style, especially with respect of genre. We are also cautious of the danger of manipulation and aware of the pain caused through misuse of the Bible by proof texts. We believe it is important to re-emphasise the active work of the Holy Spirit in illuminating the Scriptures to us. The process of interpretation is possible because God is still speaking in and through the written Word given to the Apostles and the Prophets. As we open ourselves up to the Word of God, we can expect Him to speak to us in and through it and to experience the presence of the One to Whom we are listening. While God is ultimately the author of all Scripture, we must take care not to minimise the human authorship. When Scripture affirms itself to be God-breathed, it says it is more than human literature, however it is not less than literature. The Bible should be read as real literature as with any other book. God, in His work of inspiration, did not override the distinctive personalities of the writers whom He chose and prepared, but utilised them and their literary styles. There is great value in studying ancient cultures and literary texts outside the Scripture as they better help us understand the uniqueness of the Bible both in its own original context and in our own. However, such study should not be considered as a necessary pre-requisite for understanding the Word of God. The task of the reader, in conscious dependence on the Holy Spirit, with mental engagement and faithfulness, and the best tools available, is to seek to find the originally intended meaning. Thus the meaning of Biblical texts is a fixed historical reality, rooted in the unchangeable intentions of its divine and human authors, realizing that the human authors were not always aware of the full extent of the meaning of their writings, as, for example, in the case of some Old Testament prophecies. However, while meaning does not change, the application of that meaning may change in various situations. Nevertheless it is not legitimate to infer a meaning from a Biblical text that is not demonstrably carried by the words that God inspired. The Bible is made up of diverse literary forms. An identification of the genre or type of literature is relevant to its interpretation. God's revelation is a unified and coherent whole. The Old Testament is necessary fully to understand the New Testament and the New even more, fully to understand the Old. We must allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. At the same time, it is essential not to minimise the fact that each text has an historical, literary, and theological context and should to be interpreted in it. There is progression in revelation, but what comes later does not contradict what preceded it. While God revealed Himself in stages to the people of Israel, we are privileged to have a more complete picture. While there are definite and clear doctrines taught in Scripture (e.g. God as the Creator, the divinity of Christ, the resurrection, the final judgement, etc.), not all Scripture is equally clear. That which is unclear should be interpreted in terms of those parts that are clearer. As we are called to be salt and light in our present moment of history, it is important to examine contemporary issues in the light of Scripture. However, these contemporary ethical, social, sexual or philosophical issues should not control our reading and interpretation of the Biblical text. We attest that the Bible is "propositionally true", meaning that what it affirms can be stated in true propositions, in contrast to the view that its statements merely evoke a human response, irrespective of their correspondence to what is true, or that the Bible is merely the confession of the faith of various peoples' experience of God. In a time in which relativism is the dominant philosophy, we consider the Scriptures, properly read with the illumination of the Holy Spirit, to be the primary source of understanding and interpretation of how things truly are and how we are meant to live well. While we claim that the Bible is true in all it affirms, we do not claim that it addresses all issues of life. In this we have the general revelation and those insights that God has given to all human beings as part of His common grace. What we learn about God through nature we interpret through the Christian Scriptures.