definition: par•a•digm (pār'ə-dīm', -dĭm')

3. A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004.

Statement of Purpose

The purpose of this blog is four-fold:
to recognize that every person functions within a basic paradigm, which affects how all information is processed;
(2) to understand the paradigms of others;
(3) to discuss, in particular, paradigms which are related to science, religion, and philosophy.

(4) to reveal the paradigm shifts in my own life, a process that has completely changed the direction and purpose of my existence.

The purpose of this blog is NOT to convince anyone that their paradigms or beliefs are correct or incorrect. I am hoping for an honest dialog, but the discussions must remain respectful of others, even if there is profound disagreement. If any comments are not respectful, they will be removed.
(Revised 1/13/09)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Biblical Interpretation--Who is correct?

The issue of literal vs. figurative interpretation of the bible has been the subject of heated debate for centuries, but perhaps never more so than in this current age. Science and the Bible appear to contradict each other so often that many scientists believe that it is simply not possible to take the Bible literally and still be taken seriously by the scientific community. There is more than one way to approach this debate.

The first is to see what the Bible says about itself. Here are some key passages.

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. [2 Timothy 3:16-17, NKJV]

For now we are looking in a mirror that gives only a dim (blurred) reflection [of reality as in a riddle or enigma], but then [when perfection comes] we shall see in reality and face to face! Now I know in part (imperfectly), but then I shall know and understand fully and clearly [1 Corinthians 13:12a, Amp]

Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much. But the person who loves God is the one whom God recognizes. [1 Corinthians 8:2-3, NLT]

knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. [2 Peter 1:20-21, NKJV]

Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. [1 Corinthians 2:11b-14, NKJV]

3 Yes, if you cry out for discernment,
And lift up your voice for understanding,
4 If you seek her as silver,
And search for her as for hidden treasures;
5 Then you will understand the fear of the LORD,
And find the knowledge of God. [Proverbs 2:3-5, NKJV]

Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? They are responsible to the Lord, so let him judge whether they are right or wrong. And with the Lord’s help, they will do what is right and will receive his approval. [Romans 14:3-4, NLT]

A second approach is to read the opinions of theologians. These three articles all discuss the importance of understanding scripture in context, and indicate that there are clearly parts that are intended to be taken figuratively. It is the question of which parts should be taken literally that inspires the most passionate disagreement.

In a Newsweek interview, the internationally acclaimed evangelist Billy Graham indicated "that the Bible is open to interpretation, and fair-minded Christians may disagree or come to different conclusions about specific points. Like Saint Paul, he believes human beings on this side of paradise can grasp only so much. 'Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror,' Paul wrote, 'then we shall see face to face.' Then believers shall see: not now, but then."

The organization Religious Tolerance . org, whose mission is to promote understanding and tolerance among different religions and religious sub-sets, when explaining the word "hermeneutics," defined it as refering "to the art of science of interpretation of written texts.... Within Christianity, the term generally refers to methods of interpreting the Bible.
Christians have reached a near consensus on what the Bible says. However, Christian denominations as well as individual Christians -- theologians, clergy and laity -- hold a wide range of assumptions about the nature of the Bible. Different assumptions lead to different methods of interpreting the text. As a result, they reach very diverse conclusions about what a given passage actually means.... This lack of consensus is so extreme that sincerely and devoutly held beliefs by very liberal Christians may well be considered blasphemy by very conservative Christians, and vice-versa. One result is that some Christians view Christianity as a collection of religions, not as a single religion." (

What is clear is that there are many opinions, even among devote Christians, about how the Bible should be interpreted. It is also clear that human beings can never fully understand the things of God, but that we can look to the Holy Spirit for guidance. In the Bible, as Jesus was nearing the end of His ministry on earth, He explained this to His disciples: "However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth." [John 16:13a, NKJV] It is comforting to realize that certain things will always be a mystery.


FishHawk said...

I don't understand why it would be comforting to you to think that certain things will always be a mystery. Could you explain?

S.S. said...

If I could understand all the mysteries of God and the universe, it would mean that I am as wise as the God of the universe. The fact that I cannot understand the mysteries of God relieves me of the pressure of trying to understand things that are beyond understanding. How can anyone understand the mystery of the Trinity or that God knows the end from the beginning?
"I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done." Isaiah 46:9b,10a
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." John 1:1
"But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory." Corinthians 2:7

FishHawk said...

Does not that last verse from 1st Corinthians, along with the complete passage of 1 Corinthians 2:6-16, make it clear that we can understand the mysteries of our Heavenly Father in accordance to His will? That is, unless you are willing to conclude that the Apostle Paul surely did not know what he was talking about, of course.

In all fairness, I can sympathize with your position. For my wife and I had a pretty good "discussion" about ignorance being bliss not so long after we got married. For I thought that harboring such a position was really pathetic, but since what has been personally revealed to me has felt more like a curse than a blessing, I have softened my attitude somewhat.

Woe is me. For the thing that causes me the most pain is knowing that most just plain do not want to know--let alone understand.

Now, would you be truly satisfied in your marriage if you knew that your husband could not care less about knowing and understanding everything that he could about you? Be assured that our Heavenly Father does care, but since it all depends upon what He wants to accomplish in and through you that determines when and to what extent, He will allow and enable you to enter into His absolute Truth, it may not be your fault.

S.S. said...

I think the key word here is, "in accordance with His will." There are many mysteries of God and of the universe that are unknowable until we meet Jesus "face to face," as it says in 1 Corinthians: For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. (1 Corinthians 13:12) "Then" refers to our life in eternity, after our body is gone (along with our conscious mind, which is limited by our body, our experience and what God's Spirit reveals to us).

FishHawk said...

If there is really nothing to find—why seek {Matthew 7:7-12; Hebrews 11:6}?

P.S.: You included 1 Corinthians 8:2-3 in this post, and this is a passage that has troubled me for quite some time. For it appears to make it quite clear that if anyone thinks that they know anything that they surely do not know what they should. Granted, the New Living Translation version that you included changes the “anything” to “everything” (in so many words) which does help, but the passage still seems to discourage us from seeking for more after we know enough to love God.

No, there certainly does not appear to be anything wrong with that at first glance, but upon closer examination, something very sinister comes clearer into focus. After all, do not Muslims talk about the love of their god, as well as do Hindus with their gods, and even pagans with theirs?

Therefore, is there not a great danger with taking too much for granted? For there is most definitely a big difference between even Allah and our Heavenly Father—is there not?

Thankfully, our Heavenly Father has finally gotten me to understand that what 1 Corinthians 8:2-3 is meant to really confirm is that anyone who thinks that they have figured anything out for themselves that they do not know what they should. For all knowledge and understanding comes from our Heavenly Father {John 16:8-11, Colossians 2:2-4}—not from our own efforts {Philippians 2:12-13}, and that His Holy Scriptures are meant to serve as written confirmation of what He Himself wants personally reveal {1 Corinthians 2:12-14}.

Yes, I understand that this is something that you do not want to believe, but what have you got without it? For if the Bible truly is wide open to our own interpretations, surely those who have used it to justify such things as slavery and spousal abuse (not to mention sex with very young children) could not be wrong.

S.S. said...

You misunderstand what I am trying to say. One continues to seek God for all the answers, knowing that one can never obtain all the answers.

FishHawk said...

Please forgive me misunderstanding. There is a great push going on that seeks to glaze over the obvious differences between "us" and "them," which includes discouraging people from trying to look too close, and I am very glad that you desire to obtain greater knowledge and understanding.