What Would (the) Plowboy “Get”?

William Tyndale gave his life — figuratively, then literally — to his dream that every plowboy in England could read the Bible in English (Tyndale translated from Greek; Wycliffe translated the Latin translation of the Greek into English). Indeed, many of our most beloved verses are Tyndale’s words. How tragic, by-the-way, that Tyndale’s valuation of availability of Scripture to the “laity” is inversely reflected today in the devaluation of Scripture by countless professing Christians. Many read Scripture despite lack of true appetite, but most simply don’t read Scripture beyond some arbitrary obligatory “devotions”.

Tyndale’s “plowboy” can read and understand much Scripture. Much Scripture reading, however, results in — as Graeme Goldsworthy phrases it — “reader-response hermeneutic”. That is, the reader assigns meaning to what s/he reads in his/her language without regard even for context, let alone for study of what the original receptors understood the inspired Word to mean. It can’t mean to us what it didn’t mean to them; it can’t mean now what it didn’t mean then. Of course, such truism is in deference to the New Covenant Scriptures being the “lens” via which the Old Covenant Scriptures are viewed. Revelation is progressive; interpreting the New via the Old and/or the Old without regard for the New results in woeful beliefs and practices which characterize system-driven theologies.

As we consider Hebrews 6:4 – 8 (next time), we must not rely on our assignment of meaning to the content of those verses (indeed, of any verses!). We must not claim privately inspired understanding. Much of the Word of Truth simply cannot be rightly divided without the Holy Spirit’s illumination. That said, the Holy Spirit’s illumination doesn’t “guide us into all truth”. None of us “gets” all of it, and, each of us — unless we’re obdurate or devoid of appetite and concomitant understanding — recognizes that our own understanding isn’t static.

Our Lord ordains teachers. Paul and John were teachers. Each of us should be teachers unless we’re “newborns”. Teaching requires study, of course. If our study is to become fruit-bearing, we must not allow a theological system to require our understanding of Scripture to “fit” such system. If we do so, we’re either bereft of the Holy Spirit or we’re regenerate but we quench/stifle the Spirit (2 Thessalonians 5:19). Amazingly, human pride is such that even the regenerate manage to find only what they’re looking for in Scripture unless we’re deliberate to put system-driven presuppositions in check. As Paul Simon observed (forty years ago!) via “The Boxer“: “Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest”.

7 thoughts on “What Would (the) Plowboy “Get”?

  1. I live very close to a manor house where William T stayed for a while doing some translation, Jim…Would you like me to send you an essay I’ve been writing on a universal atonement , particular application schema?

  2. I could not agree more. It is lamentable the lack of Bible study today, especially with so much information so readily at our disposal. By the way, I just got a home computer, and I am amazed at how easily I can find any commentary online. At any rate, I think that a large part of the church feels that has long as they do their perfunctory “devotional” for the day, that their duty is done. And sadly, I think that their are many contemporary authors who facilitate such languid and anemic Christianity by using the Bible mearly for “encouragement” or by using it in such a way as it makes YOU the focus instead of God. Questions are asked like “what did this passage say to me?”, or “what did I get out of this passage?” Instead of simply trying to ascertain the meaning of the passage in it’s proper context.
    I was flipping through a book in a book store the other day by a very popular author, and one line stated, “It doesn’t matter why people come to Christ, what matters is that they come.” At any rate, I cannot reconcile that opinion with the whole of scripture, and I think such opinions arise from interpretations of scripture based on “reader-response hermeneutics”.

    Sorry if that seemed like I was venting a little bit.

    Eddie

  3. Thanks, Eddie (Doc), Pat, and Phil. Perfunctory is the word I realized I should have used as to “devotions”, Eddie; “languid and anemic” hadn’t occured to me, but certainly pertain to what passes for Christianity. Not having visited NCBF (“Bible” in Mesa, “Baptist” in Evans, NY), Bridgeway (San Antonio), etc., I can only assume that “languid and anemic” would be the last adjectives used to describe those Churches. I hope that their regenerate elect realize how blessedly distinct they (as individuals and as a local manifestation of the Body) are! To the extent to which I’m “preaching to the choir”, it’s in attempt to increase awareness of the infiltration of the world into the church.

    Pat ~

    We’re about to “look” at the agrarian metaphors (D.V., my next “post” will be “up” this weekend). For now, I further emphasize the word you emphasized as to John 15: “MUCH”. Those “in the vine” produce MUCH fruit; via pruning, more fruit is produced. I briefly addressed the ecclesiology issue you discuss via my “dialog” with Mike (see comments to “Tasting, tasting … warning (WARNING!).

    Phil ~

    As I stated via “Tasting, tasting … warning (WARNING!), I want the perseverance issue to be focused on how Hebrews 6:4 – 8 pertain. By-the-way, you needn’t have “split” your comment; combined, it’s not too lenghty [close, though(!); thanks for your consideration].

    I really do plan to “get to” the issue of the Writer’s receptors — again, Kerry Kinchen’s book is quite informative and I intend to link to it. “Stay tuned”, please!

  4. Jim said: “Our Lord ordains teachers. Paul and John were teachers. Each of us should be teachers unless we’re “newborns”. Teaching requires study, of course. If our study is to become fruit-bearing, we must not allow a theological system to require our understanding of Scripture to “fit” such system. If we do so, we’re either bereft of the Holy Spirit or we’re regenerate but we quench/stifle the Spirit (2 Thessalonians 5:19). Amazingly, human pride is such that even the regenerate manage to find only what they’re looking for in Scripture unless we’re deliberate to put system-driven presuppositions in check. As Paul Simon observed (forty years ago!) via “The Boxer“: “Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest”.”

    I find this last remark ambiguous on several points. Of course we are to be able teachers and without proper exegesis (2 Timothy 2:15; 3:15-7; 2 Peter 1:19-21) we will not be faithful to the propositional truths recorded in God’s Word.

    Where I disagree is with Jim’s assumption that somehow teachers re-invent the wheel with every new generation. He is to be commended for his point that we are not to read our own interpretation into the text but let the text speak for itself. It is also true that we must not “automatically” assume the creeds and confessions of faith are true. However, all of us read the text from a particular presuppositional stance whether we admit it or not. To throw creeds and confessions out the window when reading the text is essentially the same reader response technique Jim renounces.

    While we do have the right to private interpretation of the Bible, the doctrine of sola Scriptura does not mean we completely throw out confessional commitments altogether. Rather it means we acknowledge our confessional and creedal commitments up front and then test those understandings by the ultimate rule or measure of faith and doctrine: Holy Scripture. We do not put traditions, creeds, or confessions on the same level as Holy Scripture. However, Reformed confessions and ecumenical creeds are binding on a secondary level insomuch as they are faithful in summarizing and pointing us to essential propositional truths recorded in Holy Scripture.

    Re-inventing the wheel every time we read the Bible can lead to all sorts of heresies and misunderstandings every bit as much as the reader response method that Jim disavows. While I agree with him on the first point, I strongly disagree on the second point. The priesthood of believers does not give us license to re-invent Christianity. But it does mean we can question confessions and creeds by the measure of Scripture. However, ONLY as the churches come together and see errors can those confessions and creeds be overturned. These sorts of changes should not be taken ightly since they affect the way subsequent generations will understand Holy Scripture. Creeds and confessions are indeed fallible. But so are interpreters of the Bible who read and interpret individually! Jim seems to miss this point. We read the Bible together as a community or congregation of faith. Since individuals are as prone to error as church councils, we must give greater weight to Scripture as we read it in light of history, creeds, and confessions.

    Sola Scriptura!

    Charlie

  5. Thanks, Charlie, for reading the “post”; I hope that you’ve read many more (and / or that you intend to do so — how did you “find” the site?) … perhaps then you may reconsider your assertions. I neither expressed nor implied “that somehow teachers re-invent the wheel with every new generation”; also: I endorse the London Confession of Faith (1646; “First London Baptist Confession”). I affirm what I’ve written and fail to recognize any incongruity (or ambiguity) therewith. I maintain that forcing Scripture to conform to any man-made proclamation(s) — especially a system-driven “confession” {a misnomer, as, eg. the Baptist Confession of Faith (1689; “Second London Baptist Confession”) is not HOMO LOGEO [same word] as the Word wrt the law of God, inter alia} surely greives the Spirit; teaching such error results, ultimately (at best) in being saved as though through fire.

  6. Jim,

    In that case, what you’re really saying is you don’t endorse the Second Baptist Confession of 1689. Being “confessional” means that you think and believe that confessions of faith are authoritative expressions of what Scripture teaches. If you reject a common “confession” of what Scripture teaches, then in effect you’re saying that you place the doctrine of private interpretation above any confession of the local congregation or association of churches. Sola Scriptura does not mean that we throw out church confessions or councils–only that those confessions are subject to reform if they can be shown to be in error.

    Your view is essentially the same as the reader response view except you’re using your own exegesis. I reject subjective ways of reading the Bible but I also reject the idea that “professional” ministers are somehow free to contradict what the local church holds to be a confession of faith. Denominations are likewise bound to confessions of faith for the simple reason that the Bible has only one true interpretation. We might disagree about what that interpretation is but there is nevertheless only one. You’re correct to note that we never arrive because there are nuances in the text and there is much gold to be mined there.

    BTW, I’m a Christian first, a Reformed Christian second, and an Evangelical 3rd. Anglicanism is apostate in general but the 39 Articles are a thoroughly protestant and reformed confession of faith. Trouble is no Anglicans these days believe it anymore.

    I’ve been through the Reformed Baptist thing before and even have a copy of Sam Waldron’s commentary on the 1689. I’m not trying to be obtuse but I think being faithful to Scripture is important–which is the purpose of being “confessional” in the first place. Departing from your confession is justified only if you can clearly show that the churches holding to that confession are all wrong in the light of the final rule of faith, Holy Scripture.

    Sincerely in Christ,

    Charlie

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *