Theological Fallacies (2) – Fallacies of Text6 min read
True theology is always a result of properly handling the Scriptures. Sadly, many treat the Bible as a “free-for-all,” thinking its meaning can be subjectively modified. But God’s Word must be approached with consistency, reason, and balance. Every science is governed by rules of study; while we would not degrade theology to a simple science, it too is a study which must be governed by basic principles. We must be faithful and diligent in how we approach Bible texts. The following are ways not to approach the text of Scripture.
Mysticism: No Text at All. This is the claiming of truth/revelation through an extra-biblical source, particularly the inner feelings of the mind or the ethereal claims of a teacher. It does not see the text of Scripture as a final revelation or a once-delivered faith, but envisions God as revealing new truth even today. Thus there is the Charismatic movement with its claims to “encounters with God” and such. Timothy was warned against this concept of subjective revelation when Paul said, “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to your trust [Timothy had a definite revelation to preach], avoiding profane and vain babblings [theories that waste time and have no spiritual substance], and oppositions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’ [subjective claims to a higher plane of understanding].” (1 Tim. 6:20-21). It is obviously of no help to study theology while avoiding its very basis. We need to use the text at all before knowing how to use it rightly.
Proof-Texting. This is the citation of a verse, without regard for its context or true meaning or relationship to other Scriptures, to prove one’s faulty theological claim. For instance, some would use Ecclesiastes 1:4 to say that the earth will not be destroyed and be replaced by a new earth. “The earth abides for ever.” But the context says this is a contrast with passing generations; thus the thought is permanence rather than everlasting existence. The Devil is good at quoting single proof-texts too. This is what happened in Matthew 4, “[Satan] said unto Him, If You be the Son of God, cast Yourself down: for it is written, ‘He shall give his angels charge concerning you: and in their hands they shall bear you up, lest at any time you dash your foot against a stone.’” The Lord responded with another text, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” Anyone can cite a verse reference; but for it to have theological significance, it must be properly applied. On the flip side, there is another extreme related to this: demanding that every theological statement be backed up by a single text or word. We do not find “Trinity” in the Bible, nor do we find a full development of it in a single text. Rather it is based on multiple passages and clear interpretation of Biblical texts and principles. Often this will be the case in theology, which requires a wide range of Biblical knowledge and competence in applying it.
Allegorical/Spiritualized Interpretation. This disregards the importance of a grammatically and historically consistent interpretation and replaces it with a spiritual or moral sense (subjectively defined by the reader). This traces its roots to the ancient Alexandrian school and much of its philosophy-based approach. Just as with forms of Gnosticism, the spiritual meaning had the highest value, the moral meaning less so, and the literal meaning the least of the three.
Allegorization can also be seen in Covenant Theology and is necessary to arrive at its Amillennial conclusions. Thus, when Old Testament prophecies speak of Israel and a literal earthly Kingdom, these are really just pointing to the Church and Christ’s spiritual reign. At least, this is what some would claim. The problem is, this highly compromises the exegetical value of the Old Testament; it also confuses the idea of drawing a type from the Bible and interpreting a prophecy in it. The subject is too broad to develop here, however.
What we need to understand is how the New Testament authors approached the Old Testament. There were three main ways: (1) literally, as the Lord in the synagogue showed in Luke 4:16-20 and as Paul showed in Romans 11 with his treatment of Israel and its future. (2) in application, since “These things were written for our learning.” (3) as a type, as the book of Hebrews shows concerning the priesthood. We need to be diligent in knowing these different uses of the Old Testament; this will help us avoid the trap of seeing it as a mere source of helpful allegories.
Application-First. Just as we cannot simply allegorize certain Bible passages to apply to us, so we cannot jump to applying Scriptural lessons before we interpret the initial meaning and setting of the text. For instance, when we read the Imprecatory Psalms and the curses which their authors called down on their enemies, we need to understand that we cannot imitate this kind of praying. This had a specific context: the nation of Israel, which had earthly heritage, earthly promises, and earthly manners of dealing. This is also why the Conquest of Canaan cannot be repeated today. The idea that we can repeat such things is what justified the Crusades in centuries past. We must understand the place of Scriptural texts before we apply them. These are just examples, but the principle carries throughout Scripture. We don’t have the authority to flip tables in ungodly religious circles because the Lord Jesus did, but we can take the principle from that event that anger is appropriate toward hypocrisy. We imitate the principle, but stop before the practice. This is something a good Bible interpreter knows how and when to do. He understands a passage and which ways are legitimate to apply it. As a rule of thumb, we need to remember: Everything in Scripture is written for us, but not necessarily to us. We need to understand a passage’s meaning before we understand its bearing on our lives.
Typology-First. Similarly, there is a wrong approach which uses apparent types in Scripture to prove a false doctrine. Types and shadows in Scripture serve a very distinct purpose: to reveal, in seed form, a doctrine that will be developed in the New Testament. But if a doctrine from an Old Testament shadow is developed that contradicts New Testament teaching, it simply has no place. As an example, consider this hypothetical claim: “Issac is clearly a type of Christ; thus the fact that Isaac did not die on account of the ram proves that Christ did not die on the cross, while someone took His place.” This is obviously an utter heresy. The body of Christian truth which we subscribe to is fully revealed in Scripture. There is no room for additional doctrine from supposed shadows. If the shadows are not of truth in the New Testament, they are not shadows at all. It is perfectly legitimate to see shadows of Christ in the offerings, because we find these things in other Scriptures. Outside of this approach, we have no authority to develop doctrines based on our subjective opinion of what an Old Testament shadow means.