Friday, July 13, 2007

How we read the Bible

I've just updated my profile - does this mean I'm a different person now?

I took delivery of Kevin Giles' The Trinity and Subordination: The Doctrine of God and the Current Gender Debate this week. This is a book I've wanted to read for some time and I might take it on holiday with me.

In his introduction he talks about the need to read scripture theologically. Athanasius, he reminds us (though I have to say, I don't know a whole lot about Athanasius to be reminded of), argued that we need to do theology with 'a profound grasp of what he called the "scope" of scripture - the overall drift of the Bible, its primary focus, its theological centre.'

Now I know just how tricky this is to do - I've read Thiselton and Goldingay and wrestled enough with what is the heart of the Old Testament or even the centre of Paul's theology to know that this is not straight-forward.

But I have found the idea really helpful in tackling Galatians 4:21-31 for this Sunday. This is the trickiest part of Galatians in many ways, the end of Paul's Bible study, the clinching demolition of his rivals' argument. And yet, having said 'do you hear what the Law says..,' he then proceeds to make the story of Sarah and Hagar say the opposite of what Genesis 21 appears to be saying and to ignore the fact that Abraham circumcised both is sons. What's going on?

Well, I think it has something to do with seeing the big picture - what Athanasius might call the scope of scripture - and not getting bogged down in the detail of subsets of the narrative. More than that, it's about seeing the big picture through the coming of Christ - seeing it summed up and fulfilled in him.

And crucially, it's about seeing all that in the light of our experience of God interpreted by scripture. as the Westminster Confession (not a document I quote often!) says: 'the supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are determined ... can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the scriptures.'

So in Gal 4:6-8 Paul speaks of both Jew and Gentile crying 'abba' Father because of the Holy Spirit erupting in their lives as a result of their trust in the faithful work of Jesus. If this has happened, then scripture ought to be able to tell them why. Hence the remainder of Paul's Bible study in 4:21-31 before he outlines how life in the Spirit works - interestingly focused on how we fulfil the law by being in Christ who fulfilled the Law through his life, death and resurrection and now enables us to do the same through the Holy Spirit working through us.

I've also been continuing to enjoy the new Editors album and The Ideal Condition, the first post-Orbital work by Paul Hartnoll - lovely stuff...


Stuart Blythe said...

Hi Simon

So what are you arguing for here - a Christ centred hermeneutic worked out in community in the presence of the Holy Spirit? Very Baptist I think - not a criticism -I like it.

graham old said...

Giles' book was the thing that began the process of me re-thinking women in ministry.

Eventually, I ended up changing my mind and correcting stuff I'd been preaching for about a decade. Books like that can be a real pain in the bum!