Biblical Interpretation and the “Holy Spirit Trump Card” Fallacy

TrumpCard1This post has been boiling inside me for a while now. Invariably, when debating controversial issues like eschatology or the doctrine of creation, someone will pull the out the Holy Spirit trump card and act as if it has settled the matter.  For instance, someone might argue, “I know the rapture is pretrib because the Holy Spirit led me to this truth.” Of course, to question them further amounts to some sort of blasphemy…  But it is an abuse of the Holy Spirit’s role because it amounts to nothing more than an excuse for not offering evidence and arguments for one’s position.  Would the hypothetical pretribber have us believe she has more guidance from the Holy Spirit than Charles Spurgeon or John Wesley? It’s just not a good track to take.

When Jesus said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”(Jn 16:13) It was a promise directed toward the eleven disciples and their role writing the Gospels and the books of the New Testament. It doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit leads us to all mathematical truth, we still have to work lots of problems and gain skill. It also does not apply to interpreting scripture. We still have to struggle to learn biblical languages and history in order to do proper exegesis.

In that regard, I have been debating young earth creationists concerning the traditional misapplication of Genesis one.  My main point of contention is that Moses did not write the text with science in mind. Our western scientific worldview was utterly alien to his context. There is a massive socio-historical dvide that needs to be accounted for but is seldom discussed. Fee and Stuart explain, “As people far removed from the religious, historical, and cultural life of ancient Israel, we simply have great trouble putting the words spoken by the prophets in their proper context. It is often hard for us to see what they are referring to and why.” [1]  I have been reading In the Beginning… We Misunderstood: Interpreting Genesis 1 in Its Original Context which is an excellent introduction to Moses’ context. The book shows that Moses was addressing Egyptian cosmogony and offering a theological corrective. In fact, the creation sequence in Genesis one corresponds almost directly to the older Egyptian account.  It’s too close to be a coincidence.  Miller and Soden write, “We are suggesting that Moses is starting with the Egyptian assumptions about creation to correct Israel’s theology of creation and not their way of talking about creation. Moses seems to begin with a starting point that Israel would have already accepted.”[2]  In other words, God is using the existing nonscientific beliefs of the ancient Israelites escaping Egyptian bondage to correct their Egyptian  indoctrination.  It’s not about science.

When I point out that it is superficial exegesis to impose a modern scientific worldview on to Genesis 1…  here it comes, the Holy Spirit trump card: “The Holy Spirit told me the earth  is young” which fails for the reasons in the first paragraph. But typically it is something more like “He was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit…therefore the text is written for all time.” While it is for all time, it does not mean it is written to a scientific context. The number one rule of hermeneutics is that the original author’s intent for his original readers determines the meaning. Anything else results in relativistic chaos. A responsible Bible interpreter will seek to discover that original intended meaning. This requires some effort like reading scholarly books and employing resources like the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary Set.  Invoking the Holy Spirit is not an excuse to ignore that responsibility and it is an abuse of the Holy Spirit’s role. Genesis is “for” all time, but it still was not written “to” you and your modern Western worldview. The meaning of the text is determined by the author’s context and intent not the worldview of readers 3000 years removed.

 

[1] Gordon D. Fee and Douglas K. Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993), 184.

[2] Johnny V. Miller and John M. Soden. In the Beginning… We Misunderstood: Interpreting Genesis 1 in Its Original Context. (Kregel Publications 2012). Kindle Locations 1209-1210.

About Cris Putnam
Logos Apologia is the ministry of Cris D. Putnam. The mission of Logos Apologia is to show that logic, science, history and faith are complementary, not contradictory and to bring that life-changing truth to everybody who wants to know.

Comments

  1. Bonnie Eiben says:

    Thank you.

  2. Ron Dupree says:

    That Holy Spirit ace card certainly isn’t very helpful when conversing about controversial issues.

    I’ve tended to think many of us Western Christians are to individualistic in our Bible study and interpretation. I hope I can be humble, lean on, and learn from others who’ve spent their lives studying the text and its languages and context.

    Ben Stanhope made a post on the topic of the Holy Spirit and Bible interpretation that resonated with me: http://benstanhope.blogspot.com/2013/07/why-it-takes-phd-to-understand-bible.html

  3. Hugh says:

    Chris – your spiritual/intellectual rigor and dare I say, character; will always threaten, (perhaps, challenge is a better word choice), on some level, the multitudes unprepared for understanding.
    IMO, you should not be surprised or perplexed. Criticism aside – cognitive sobriety comes from the Holy Spirit.

    Perhaps, your “paradigm shift” hypothesis, as outlined in “The Supernatural Worldview” could be expanded – examining for example, in a compare and contrast format the supernatural worldview with author selected variants introducing the moral, spiritual, philosophical and physical changes in progress? Indeed, this may result in a reduction in the logical fallacies you encounter.
    Of course, this idea or subject is much to broad however, there is a wealth of past and developing information (that I believe) supporting your original hypothesis.
    Best Regards.

  4. John Corcoran says:

    I wish I were 30 years younger to benefit from your diligent and thoughtful research.
    Kind Regards

  5. Troy says:

    My concern is the explicitness of exodus 20:11. Looking at Genesis 1 as you do makes sense, but how is Exodus 20:11 to be intrepreted? That verse is clear and simple.

    • louthesaint says:

      “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Ex20:11

      I do not think that we need to go any further. There need not be any interpretation for that which is very clear to the understanding.

  6. Ken says:

    Chris,

    Is this to say you believe in evolution? I would hate to put words in your mouth.Or are you just saying there is a larger gap between adam and eve to today than we have traditionally thought?

    There are MAJOR flaws in Christianity mixed with evolution.

    Where do we stop questioning the miracles of the Bible? Science tells me a man can not be dead for 3 days and live again.

  7. bert says:

    It is difficult for a lay person, even one who has spent decades in serious study of Scripture, to adequately question a trained seminarian. While I acknowledge my own inadequacies, I must pose questions.

    Should one lean on the notion that Genesis through Deuteronomy was written solely to disabuse the Israelites of the pagan lifestyles they acquired in Egypt? Or, should one expand that precisely directed supposition to include all mankind throughout all the ages of time? With certainty, Scripture is a product of a supernatural mind who governs from a supernatural dimension. The very words are dynamic and living – never returning to the source without having achieved what He purposes. If one embraces an extended length of time for creation, how does one deal with the idea of death prior to the fall?

    I’ve read the positions on a young earth, and many of the countering (“Christian”) arguments for vast lengths of time. Regrettably, none of these arguments are completely persuasive. Perhaps it is nothing but intellectual laziness to cling to the Word of the LORD which claims that He created the heavens and the earth in six literal days. If so, then despite assiduous attention to private study, those who embrace this literal interpretation, including myself, are indeed, quite lazy and woefully inadequate lay Scriptural scholars.

    There is no winning with higher textual criticism. There is only lay defeat at the hands of trained seminarians. Thus, the body of Christ is without a Biblical worldview, pinging about the universe like an errant ball in a pin ball machine. Nonetheless, absolute truth, pure and unadulterated, is the claim of the Word. Believing the lie of the serpent, rather than the truth of Yehovah, was what led to the first couple’s sin and disobedience. To counter this great deception, Yehovah sent the Spirit of Truth to all who believed on the atoning sacrifice of Messiah. I guess all, both lay person, and seminarians must persist in our apprehension of His truths despite great and baffling interpretations.

    • Ken says:

      Bert, you nailed my unnamed “Major Flaw”. There are a few but sin prior to the fall is the lynch pin. It can not be reconciled. Unless you presume God’s creation was flawed from start… but then you are doing an end around on the Bible.

      Interpreting outside of literal requires gymnastics… That is obvious in view of catholicism. And every other cult…

  8. John Michael says:

    I agree about people using the Holy Spirit to validate what they’re saying or writing. I see this as blasphemy of the Holy Spirit as it’s using the name of the Holy Spirit in vain. People will do the same thing using the names of God or Jesus.

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