Editor’s note: “Matters of faith” is a column that provides local religious leaders a place to write about how their respective faiths provide hope, courage and strength in these modern times.
For those who have been paying attention to the national news for the last couple of months, you are likely aware of the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to be the next Associate Supreme Court Justice of the United States. Judge Gorsuch had served for about 11 years on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
There was much disagreement and fighting in the senate, as well as across the country, in regards to his nomination. Among other reasons, a very real point of division was the way Gorsuch tends to interpret the U.S. Constitution: he tends to interpret it literally. Some might refer to him as an originalist, somewhat in the tradition of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, whose seat in the high court Gorsuch was nominated to replace.
The reason this was an issue is because some people prefer to view the U.S. Constitution as a fluid document, as opposed to a fixed document. What they generally mean by a fluid document is that they believe it should be interpreted in the current light of societal and cultural views, and not in light of the intent of the original authors of the Constitution. They argue this because they say that our founding fathers intended our Constitution to be interpreted in the light of the constantly changing experience of the American people.
What that means is that the rulings you would get from the high court could noticeably change from time to time, depending on the way society was choosing to look at issues at the point in time those rulings were issued. In other words, you could never be certain what the law of the land would be interpreted to mean.
What does this have to do with my religious article? Since you are likely aware of the above stated reasons for the battling that occurred regarding the nomination of Judge Gorsuch, or if you at least understand what the concerns were, then you can have a feel for the battle that is going on regarding the interpretation of the Bible.
Sadly, and somewhat amazingly, there are many voices in the world that promote interpreting the Bible with a “contemporary view.” In other words, what God meant for a verse to mean in Paul’s or Moses’ day is not at all what it might mean for us today, or for our grandchildren in 40 years.
In fact, if the Bible is fluid, then what it means for you in Utah may not be what it means for me in New York. They might say that sex outside of marriage may not be OK for you, but in their social context it is a loving act, therefore it is OK for them.
What is the problem with this view? Why can’t people interpret the Bible based on their social or cultural context? Because, quite simply, the Word of God is not given by man, but by God as He moved people to write what He wanted written through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Two passages of the Bible speak clearly on this. 2 Tim 3:16-17 states that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” NASU 2 Peter 1:20-21 states “… 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.” NKJV
The truth is, people who are trying to make the Bible say what they want are doing nothing new; Jesus encountered such attitudes during His public ministry. Jesus confronted the pharisees because they chose to interpret the Word of God in the light of their social, cultural, and self-centered context, and Jesus chewed them out for their hypocrisy and their abuse of scripture. You can find that in Mark 15:1-9. They were trying to say that what was meant by God in Moses’s day, 1,500 years earlier, was no longer relevant in their day; in other words they were trying to say that the Word of God was a fluid document. Jesus said wrong!
Why would people do such a thing? The simple truth is, we want to do what we want to do, and so we sinfully try to rationalize things by shifting and slanting the Word of God in an attempt to make it say what we want. But we will get no further than the Pharisees did in Jesus’s day. Oh sure, we may falsely console ourselves by our verbal legerdemain, and we may certainly mislead many people by our efforts, but the Word of God means what God intended it to mean, and our deceitfulness does not change the true meaning at all.
I admit that some things in the Word of God are more difficult to understand than other things. Peter said as much in 2 Peter 3:15-16 when he spoke of some of the things that God wrote through the Apostle Paul. Nonetheless, the truth of God’s Word is worth the effort of serious study, even if we are not excited about what it says about our desires, attitudes or actions.
Further, it is comforting and encouraging to know that what God meant when He wrote the Bible is what it still means today. Since God and His Word do not change, you can know where you stand with God, and what you can expect from Him. In these uncertain times certainty is more than refreshing; it is eternally valuable.
Jon McCartney is pastor of First Baptist Church of Tooele.