What God Has Said
Friday in Pentecost 18
13 October 2017
The Bible interpreter must never stand over against the text of Scripture, like a surgeon looking down upon the internal organs of his patient on the operating table. The interpreter must never peer down upon the Word of God from above imposing interpretive order upon the chaotic waters. In this kind of interpretation, the person who should be subject to the Word of God arrogantly presumes that he stands outside of its universe of meaning. This is what we mean by the sola Scriptura principle. No one stands "outside" the text. How misguided it is to say that we draw meaning out of the text.
Here we begin to see signs of the distinction between law and gospel. The text has power to impose its own meaning upon us. Law and gospel, inevitably coming from the Word of God, are the Word of God and interpret us. We do not use them to interpret Scripture. It is an un-Christian arrogance over against the speech of God that claims to tell God what He means. Instead, the Word of God has the power to tell us what we mean. It interprets us, not we it. In modern interpretive method, we are performing surgery on the Word of God, when instead the Word of God should be taking us apart with the scalpel of the law and putting us back together with the gospel word. If we become the interpreter of the Word we will be involved in a do-it-yourself surgery in which the patient inevitably dies on the table.
This technique is all the more dangerous when we consider the power of the law and the gospel. God speaks to destroy us and our arrogance for seeking holiness apart from His justifying speech. His law kills us. The Word of God functions to tell us what our standing is over against God. How foolish, then, our claim to be interpreting the Word of God, to be manipulating God's speech with our interpretive scalpel. But this is typical of post-modern interpretive activity which presumes meaning only in our understanding, rather than in the divine speech. The heart that searches God's Word will always be searched by God (Ps 139:23).
This is especially clear in the word of holy absolution. This justifying Word does what it says. It declares us free from sin through the divine forgiveness. It tells us who we are in the presence of God. We do not tell it what it means to us. It penetrates the listening subject.
The Bible interprets the context into which God speaks. It is context creating. Perhaps this is why the Lutheran Confessions describe the Word's proclamation on our lips as "confession." We Christians are reduced to saying together with God what He has already said, literally con-fessing. We say back to God what He has said to us in doxology. We say to the world what God has said to us in the Word by confessing publicly (1Pt 3:15-16). Therefore, there is no such thing as "our own interpretation" of the Word of God. It must remain God's Word. It is only our own when we believe what God has said to us in it.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Chemnitz

"No one should rely on his own wisdom in the interpretation of the Scripture, not even in clear passages, for it is clearly written in 2Pt 1:20: 'No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation.' Whoever twists the Holy Scripture so that is understood according to his preconceived opinions does this to his own destruction (2Pt 3:16). The best reader of Scripture, according to Hilary of Poitiers, is one who does not carry the understanding of what is said to the Scripture but who carries it away from the Scripture. We also gratefully and reverently use the labors of the fathers who by their commentaries have profitably clarified many passages of the Scripture. And we confess that we are greatly confirmed by the testimonies of the ancient church in the true and sound understanding of Scripture. Nor do we approve if someone invents for himself a meaning which conflicts with all antiquity, and for which there are clearly no testimonies of the church." 

Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent
1 Kings 19:9-18
There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He said, "I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away." And he said, "Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD." And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He said, "I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away." And the LORD said to him, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him." (ESV)
Lord Christ, in these last days You have spoken to us by Your Word. Grant that by Your Holy Spirit we might listen in reverent awe to Your voice. Keep us from perverting Your Word into our possession to be manipulated by us sinners. Do not withdraw your Word from us, but mercifully maintain its proclamation among us. Amen.
For Vicar Kyle Richardson, that the Lord his God would continue to be with him and granting him insight through the Word
For all caregivers who sacrifice their time and treasures to support for those who need the loving care to which all suffering humans are entitled, that they would be strengthened in their labors
For all missionaries of the church, that they might be fully supported by God's people
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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