Clear verses in light of unclear verses… err, wait is it?Posted: September 1, 2015
Something many of us were taught when it came to biblical hermeneutics(the manners and methods in which we interpret the Bible) that we should interpret unclear verses in light of clearer verses. Many of us when we were trinitarians especially, had this entirely backwards.
I know for many of those who read(and/or listen) to this and have come out of the trinity–you hopefully have recognized the massive amounts of texts which clearly point to the Father being the one who alone is God. We know in the New Testament alone, that over 1,300 places in which “o theos” is used by the writers… it refers to the Father alone without debate. That’s over 99% without debate, no matter which view you hold. That’s a massively clear starting point to go with when it comes to looking at other less clear or difficult verses wherein “o theos” appears it may be describing the Messiah Jesus or any other person. So basically, that clear point should mean when you see “God” in the New Testament–you should assume it means the Father to start with and figure it out more based on the context if it warrants a different “person” or meaning. That should be a fairly healthy presupposition, but it does not mean it should never be challenged either.
I hope you understand what I’m trying to get at though… unclear verses should be best explained by starting with the most clear verses we can find. That gives us a clear starting point, though I admit it does not mean it is not possibly incorrect. I had this issue when it came to the Torah. If you start with the presupposition that the Torah has been abolished(or “fulfilled” with a definition that has the exact same meaning as “abolished”)… you will read the Bible differently than someone who does not have this presupposition or holds the opposite.
So I plan to start with some very clear verses, those in Acts. I know there are multitudes I could go to—but lets start in Acts because this was the main beginning of the preaching of Jesus as the resurrected Messiah now ascended to heaven. There was a lot going on after his resurrection, and a lot of presuppositions are tied up into this act and the preaching that followed it. So one oft heard statements is that the disciples were preaching in some form against Moses now that Jesus has finished his main purpose on the cross. Jesus now “fulfilled” the Torah and it’s gone or going to be gone.
Lets start with Stephen in Acts 6:8-15. I know this entire context continues into Acts 7, but I want to point out this first to keep this fairly short. In Acts 6 Stephen begins to do wonders and signs, then he enters into disputation with those from a certain Synagogue, that of the Freedmen. I do not personally know what the beliefs of that Synagogue are through historical texts at this point–but that’s not my aim in this message(unless you know something about them, I am welcome to hear it). The point is in verse 11 it is clearly shown these men from the synagogue began to secretly induce men to say “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” The men from the synagogue stirred up the crowds, the elders and brought him to council. Then it says in verse 13 they “set up false witnesses who said ‘This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us.”
Ohh… so now we have something interesting to look at… were these accusations against Stephen true or false? True and false? Both? Possibly. Maybe Stephen was speaking of the future destruction of the temple, as he does clearly point out the temple and the Law in his later speech in Acts 7… but why would it say “false witnesses” if all these things were true in their accusations? Why would the synagogue have to induce men secretly to say things like this against Stephen? If the disciples were clearly recognizing the end of the Torah from Moses, would this not be true? And if Stephen was preaching the destruction of the temple from the prophets, would this not also be true? The temple was destroyed decades later. This leaves us an issue, which part of the accusations are true and which are false? If it’s all true accusations, then the text is wrong to call them “false accusers” and if it’s all false then historically we know there may be an issue with the future destruction.
My current solution with this clearer text is that one accusation may be true and one is false to best judge the accusations in context. I believe the accusation about the destruction of the temple may be true, but I cannot even know that for it doesn’t say he was preaching it’s destruction in Acts 6. So the other one is likely the false one, the accusation that he was speaking against Moses and God, and the Law—changing the customs that Moses gave them from God.
If you care to contend more on this text, that’s fine. It’s not set in stone from my observation, but it’s a clear text regarding false accusers. This is just something that was pointed out to me a long time ago based on my presuppositions and caused me to sit back and question a bit more. If the disciples were truly recognizing the end of the Law of Moses, then why false accusers? What is the need of false accusers?
Can we begin to interpret more unclear verses in light of clearer verses? I hope so, because there’s more I would love to talk about in the future.