A couple of weeks ago, Supreme Court Justice Scalia died. That is to our loss. Although some would argue with me, he was beyond question a great man. Above all, he was an unwavering “originalist” when it came to interpreting the U.S. Constitution.
He believed that the obvious, self-evident reading of the Constitution was exactly what the framers of the Constitution intended throughout the course of the life of our nation.
This view stands in stark contrast to many today, who see the Constitution as what they like to refer to a “living document” that was intended to be interpreted in the cultural and social context of whatever time you are in.
In other words, some think that what the Constitution says changes with circumstances or contemporary viewpoints. That simply means that the way it was interpreted 50 years ago is not the way it should be seen today.
I disagree with them, and I agree wholeheartedly with Justice Scalia. How can anything truly have meaning, if you can interpret it to say what you want it to say? If I lay out a last will and testament or a trust that goes into effect when I die, and yet my descendants, from time to time, choose to reinterpret what it says so that they can access my legacy as they wish, then my stated desires mean nothing at all. Clearly my descendants may be happy at the moment, but my clear and obvious intentions will have been violated.
Having said that, I am not surprised there are many who oppose Justice Scalia’s perspective. Why? Because people want to do what they want, and they do not mind violating the clearly stated edicts and laws laid out for all of us to honor and follow. I see this all the time, in regards to the interpretation of the Bible.
For example, Christians can differ as to who might be a candidate for baptism or the Lord’s Supper, simply because the Bible only tells us to do those things, but it doesn’t specify how, or how often. We are told to gather together with the saints on a regular basis, but we are not told at what time of day, or how we should proceed through the various parts of our worship, other than that it should be in a way that honors and glorifies our Lord. Thus we should be gracious toward each other in these matters.
But without question, the Bible makes clear that we are not to intentionally sin against the Lord, or against each other, and the Bible helps us in that it makes most sins explicitly clear. Nonetheless, many in our world, even within the church community today, want to reinterpret the Bible to make it say what they want it to say, as opposed to accepting the obvious, self-evident edicts of God.
We are told from almost every quarter that Moses or Paul or John wrote from a different cultural perspective, and that our clearly different cultural setting allows, even demands, a different interpretation. There are many pastors or theologians who tell us that the homosexuality of Abraham’s day, or even Paul’s day, is not the same as it is today, and thus such sexual activity is OK, even “blessed” by the Lord. The same reinterpretation of sex outside of marriage is promoted within our culture today to the point that many single young people who regularly attend church have no problem having sex with other singles.
There are many churches that openly teach that salvation is by works, although the Bible makes it extremely clear that it is “not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” At the other end of the spectrum are those who claim to be Christians of the Bible, yet teach universalism, in other words, that everyone is saved, even though it is made clear in the Bible many times that that is not at all the case.
So as you can probably tell, like Scalia, I am an “originalist.” I firmly believe that the Bible must be interpreted prima facie, that is, according to the obvious and self-evident reading of the text. Certainly, the poems or the allegories in the Bible cannot generally be interpreted in that fashion, but to be honest, such grammatical style is very limited in the Bible overall, and those parts can easily be understood by what the Bible says in the otherwise regular text.
Sadly, the further we go forward in history, the more people want to reinterpret the Bible according to their culture and their wants. This is not what God intended. He has said what He has said plainly, and He expects us to plainly accept and obey what He has said.
I suspect the Scalias of the Christian community are fewer than they likely were 50 or 100 years ago, but that does not change the true and clear meaning of the Bible one iota. For the sake of your eternal soul, I encourage you to read the Bible as it is, not as you would like it to be.
McCartney is pastor of First Baptist Church of Tooele.