Monday, August 21, 2006

One Correct Meaning

We had some interesting discussion in Sunday School about the separation of church and state. We are going to study Adam Hamilton's book Confronting the Controversies: Biblical Perspectives on Tough Issues. We had some very interesting discussion, and I enjoyed it immensely. This post, however, is not about the separation of church and state. It is about a statement that was made in class. Even within our denomination, and even between husbands and wives, people read scripture and have an entirely different perspective on the same passage. I have talked some in class about this before, and not all agree. But I believe that all scripture has one correct meaning, and a multitude of applications. I have written about this before, but want to reiterate it now since it came up in discussion.

All scripture has one correct meaning, and a multitude of applications. This concept came from a study I did years ago from the book Knowing Scripture by R.C. Sproul. When I first heard this phrase, I was shocked. I didn't see how I could trust anything else that was said. However, once I understood what was truly being communicated, I had a moment where everything came together in a clear way.

Before moving on, I want to point out the difference between making a distinction between two things and separating two things. I once heard the analogy that if you make a distinction between the mind and the spirit, you have done no harm. If you separate the mind from the spirit, you have done great harm. The meaning and application of scripture are not being separated here. I am just making distinctions.

I want to begin by explaining what I mean by one correct meaning. When a passage was written, the author (human writer, but ultimately God) had a specific reason for writing what was written. The meaning of the passage for the most part is not personal. It was not written for a particular point or time in your life.

Let's start with the following example:

Matthew 26:26
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body."

There are two major arguments on the meaning of this passage, and it has caused much vigorous debate throughout church history. Is this to be taken literally? Does the bread that is eaten physically become the body of Christ, or is it to be taken figuratively? Only one of these meanings can be correct. They cannot both be true. This is what is meant by the meaning of the passage. It is the message that the words communicate.

The application of a passage is different than the meaning. While there is one meaning that is not personal and not written specifically for unique situations in our lives, there are a multitude of applications that are personal and useful for unique situations in our lives. The Holy Spirit guides us and helps us as Christians to apply what we read.

Sproul gives a great example in his book. There was a seminary professor who on the first day of class gave his students a passage of scripture and told them to write down 50 things they learn from the passage. They come back the next day, and hand in their assignments, and the professor says "tonight, find 50 more." A great truth is learned. This assignment could be repeated over and over, and all of the possible applications could not be found. The Bible is a treasure chest full of application and truth, but there is only one correct meaning.

Here is a final example the Sunday School Class may find interesting.

Matthew 25:35-40
35For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' 37Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' 40And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'

This passage does not mean that we are to pick up hitchhikers. When the passage was written, there were no hitchhikers. However, picking up hitchhikers could be an application (when led by the Holy Spirit) of this passage.

Let's look again at the statement that was made. "Within our denomination, and even between husbands and wives, people read scripture and have an entirely different perspective on the same passage." This is good and healthy if you are talking about the application of scripture. If you are talking about the meaning of scripture, then it is more serious.



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