Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A Reflection on Biblical Interpretation

by Hiram R. Diaz III
In 2nd Timothy 3:16-17, Paul reveals that
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Here Paul uses several keywords to underscore that “the Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience.”[1] Firstly, the word all (πᾶς, pas) identifies which Scriptures (γραφή, graphē) are God-breathed and profitable for doctrine. As Gordon H. Clark notes, the text reveals “that every scripture, distributively every verse, has been breathed out by God.”[2] 
Secondly, the word complete/perfect (ἄρτιος, artios) reveals the intended purpose for which God has breathed out his Word, the completion and furnishment of the man of God for every good work. Commenting on the relationship of “complete” to “equipped” (resp., artios to exeertismenos), E.W. Bullinger writes —
The words “perfect” [ESV, complete] and “throughly furnished” [ESV, equipped] are cognate in the Greek, and should be similarly rendered. […] If the former άρτιος (artios) is rendered “perfect,” the latter ξηρτισμένος (exeertismenos) should be “perfected” (as in the margin). If the former is translated fitted, the latter should be fitted out-and-out. If the latter is rendered “furnished completely,” then the former should be furnished. Perhaps the best rendering would be “fitted, fitted out,” ie., “that the man of God may be fitted, fitted out unto all good works.”[3]
Thus, thirdly, Paul uses the word every (πᾶς, pas) to express the range of good works expounded upon by the entirety of the Scriptures. There is no good work that is not addressed by the Word of God. In a word, Paul is teaching us that there is no Scriptural content that does not teach us doctrine, and there is no good work that is excluded from the doctrines contained in Scripture. To assert that the Scriptures must be supplemented by any other a-theopneustos (i.e. non-Godbreathed) source of doctrine is to contradict what is plainly taught by Paul. All of Scripture teaches doctrine. All doctrine addresses the entire range of activities of a man’s life comprising what can be called “good works,” and aims at making him perfect in whatever situation he faces. Clark’s commentary is to the point —
Because God breathed out the words through Paul’s mind onto the manuscript, Timothy knows what he is obliged to teach, refute, correct, and instruct. Otherwise, neither Timothy nor any other minister down to the present day could provide his parishioners with anything better than his own personal prejudices.[4]
Phillip H. Towner, likewise, notes that the phrase “every good work” is “a general characterization that can be concretized with any number of activities.”[5] Thus, it can be said “that he who studies God's word, will be a ‘man of God,’ fitted out and provided for all the circumstances and emergencies of life.”[6]
Two Ways in Which Sola Scriptura is Rejected by Heretics

Despite the clarity of the Scripture’s teaching on this matter, however, there are many who deny the doctrine of Sola Scriptura in order to maintain their belief in a false doctrine or a system of false doctrines. This is sometimes done by taking away from the canon what one finds objectionable,[7] and/or adding to the Scriptures extracanonical writings which one elevates to the level of Scripture.[8] Other times, the process of addition and/or deletion is more subtle, being the fruit of illegitimate constraints placed upon the interpretation of Scripture. By placing such unbiblical constraints on the interpretation of the Scriptures, content is added to or deleted from the canon of Scripture, all under the guise of faithfulness to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.
R. Scott Clark calls this “attempt to understand Scripture by one’s self and by itself, i.e., in isolation from the history of the church and in isolation from the communion of the saints,” “biblicism.[9] Further noting that,
In biblicism the interpreter, not Scripture, becomes sovereign. Historically biblicists, although they boast about their devotion to Scripture, are actually devoted to the supremacy of reason. As someone, somewhere said, “All heretics quote Scripture.” It is one thing to quote Scripture but it is another to read it well and to interpret it properly.
A rationalist [i.e. biblicist] knows a priori what Scripture must say…The anti-Trinitarians in the early 16th century knew before they ever got to Scripture that God could not be one in three persons. The Socinians in the late 16th and early 17th century claimed to be following Scripture but they rejected the universal (catholic) understanding of Scripture that God is one in three persons, that Jesus is God the Son incarnate, that died as our substitutionary atonement. They were rationalists posturing as sincere students of Scripture. Before they ever came to Scripture that had a prior commitment to reason: they were willing to believe those things that they could explain and understand comprehensively. The doctrines of the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, and salvation were DOA for the Socinians. [10]
This rejection of Sola Scriptura via the mechanism of illegitimate interpretive constraints  is more subtle, widespread, and dangerous than the first mentioned.[11] Thus, the following study will highlight some popular illegitimate interpretive constraints, demonstrate how such constraints serve the purpose of affirming a heretical belief, or denying an orthodox teaching that conflicts with one’s heretical belief/s. We will further demonstrate that these constraints are in conflict with the interpretive methodology of the Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles, and then conclude our study.
§ 1. Rejection of Deductive Inferences
Among the more common interpretive constraints popular today, one finds the denigration of the use of deduction in Scriptural interpretation. Theological conclusions based on deductive inferences from the propositions of Scripture are thought to have less authority than explicitly stated propositions. We see a clear example of this in Unitarians who attempt to build refutations of the doctrine of the Trinity on their assumption that explicit propositions are more authoritative than those which are deduced from explicit propositions. For instance, in answering the charge that Unitarians “mutilate the Scriptures in some instances, and explain them away in others, in order to sustain their peculiar doctrines,” George Burnap argues —
We now come to the second charge, that we explain away those passages which we do not deny and expunge. That is to say, we put a forced construction on them, and depart from their natural meaning to a degree wholly unjustifiable. Let us examine this matter carefully, and see how it stands. In the first place, I would observe that the Unitarian has very little to explain away. It is not pretended that there is a single text in the Bible in which the doctrine of the Trinity is plainly taught. The Unitarian, then, can have but very little that is really difficult to explain away. It is not pretended that the Trinity is any thing other than a doctrine of inference. An inference may be a mistaken inference, and it is a very different thing to explain away an inference from explaining away a plain, direct, and positive declaration.[12]
Burnap’s assertion that the doctrine of the Trinity is nothing “other than a doctrine of inference” implies that doctrines based upon deductive inference are of less authority. Similarly, when he distinguishes between two kinds of “explaining away,” the first being related to inferences and the second being related to the explicit propositions of Scripture, he again assumes that the former is of lesser value than the latter.
The problem with this devaluation of thinking,[13] however, is that it is a belief that is found nowhere in the Scriptures. It is, in other words, a belief that either (i.)has been  created to function heuristically, (ii.)has been inferred from some extrabiblical source of authority (academic or religious), or (iii.)has been inferred from the explicit propositions of Scripture. If it is a heuristic principle, then it is not authoritative and cannot function as a legitimate constraint on biblical interpretation. If it is an inference drawn from some extrabiblical source, then it is also not authoritative, nor can it function as a legitimate constraint on the interpretation of Scripture. Lastly, if it is thought to have been inferred from the propositions of Scripture then it, along with the Scriptures as a whole, is self-referentially absurd. Thus, this option fares no better. The denigration of deductive inference is an illegitimate constraint placed upon the interpretation of the Scriptures.
Ultimately, the Unitarian’s goal is to place the explicit propositions of Scripture in contradiction to those implied propositions of Scripture. The assumption here is that the interpretation of the Scripture’s explicit propositions is not mistaken, whereas the implied propositions of Scripture may be in error. Thus, if p is inferred from the explicit propositions of Scripture, and p contradicts the Unitarian’s understanding of some explicit Scriptural proposition elsewhere, then it is assumed that the inference is to be abandoned. However, this is not only begging the question by assuming that the Unitarian’s interpretation of the explicit propositions of Scripture is correct — the very point under debate — it is also, as we have noted above, not found in Scripture anywhere.
In fact, quite the opposite is found in the Word of God. A cursory reading of the New Testament, for example, shows the Lord Jesus Christ using logical inference from the explicit propositions of Scripture to establish the posthumous existence of the soul,[14] as well as the pre-existence & divinity of the Messiah.[15] Likewise, the Lord Jesus is also revealed as holding the Pharisees guilty of sin for not acting in accordance with the implications of Hosea 6:6.[16] Moreover, in both instances the Lord Christ states that his opponents, Sadducees and Pharisees alike, do not know the meaning of the Scripture because they are ignorant of what it implies. Christ declares —
“You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.”[17]
“Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”[18]
“And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.”[19]
In all three instances quoted above, the Lord Jesus states that his opponents are ignorant of the teaching of Scripture. He then goes on to quote the Scriptures and deduce moral, anthropological, theological, and eschatological truths from passages of Scripture of which his opponents were well aware. Though they study the Word of God, because they fail to see what these Scriptures imply, the Lord Jesus declares that they are ignorant, without knowledge, of what the Scriptures mean. This is no small indictment. The opponents of Christ were held accountable for not believing in doctrines, moral and otherwise, that are implied by the explicit propositions of Scripture.
A similar incident is observable in John 3:1-15, wherein Christ reprimands Nicodemus for failing to understand the Old Testament’s implicit teaching of the necessity of regeneration for seeing and entering the kingdom of God, saying —
“Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?”[20]
Far from being excused for not believing what the Old Testament Scriptures imply about the necessity of regeneration for seeing and entering the kingdom of God, Nicodemus is openly rebuked by the Son of God.[21] This failure of Nicodemus to draw out the implications of the Old Testament’s teaching calls his status as “Teacher of Israel” into question, just as the Pharisees’ failure to draw out the implications of Hosea 6:6 demonstrated that they were ignorant of its meaning, and just as the Sadducees’ failure to see the posthumous existence of the soul in the Pentateuch demonstrated their ignorance of the Scriptures as well.
Moral accountability for not understanding the Scriptures is not limited, therefore, to one failing to grasp the explicit propositions of Scripture. It is required of us to know what explicit propositions of Scripture imply and, consequently, to believe and obey the full counsel of God.[22] Failure to do so indicates a kind of spiritual blindness that in some cases (e.g. the cases already mentioned) could signify that one is actually spiritually dead.[23] It is more than an interpretive shortcoming, it is an an epistemological failure deeply rooted in a profound spiritual problem.[24] This also extends to other divinely sanctioned methods of interpreting the Scriptures, such as typological exegesis.
§ 2. Rejection of Typological Exegesis
The New Testament, as has been proven elsewhere, reveals that a failure to see Christ in the Old Testament, from Genesis to Malachi, is an indication of our hardness of heart.[25] This was the case with Nicodemus. The Lord Jesus reprimands Nicodemus for failing to see that the Old Testament implies the necessity of regeneration for understanding (i.e. seeing) and entering the kingdom of God. Nicodemus’ status as a teacher is brought into question for his failure to understand “these things,” among which are the types of Christ in the Old Testament, as is evident from the Lord Jesus’ immediately ensuing declaration —
“…as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”[26]
This was not understood by Nicodemus, just as many of the Jews did not understand that the bread from heaven foreshadowed the incarnation and ministry of the Son of God. Nevertheless, as Jesus informs them —
“…it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”[27]
A failure to see Christ in these shadows and types is not a morally neutral failure, but one for which men were, are, and will be held accountable. Thus, after informing his readers of the Melchizedek Priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ,[28] the writer to the Hebrews states —
About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.[29]
The Hebrews should have been advanced in their comprehension of the Word of Righteousness. However, due to their sinfulness they had become “dull of hearing,” i.e. spiritually dull.[30]
Paul makes a somewhat similar point in 1st Corinthians 10, where he informs his readers that the Old Testament narratives “took place as examples [types] for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.”[31] A failure to learn from these historical accounts that “were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come,”[32] therefore, is a failure in our understanding the Word of God. And this is, as we have noted already, a spiritual, moral failure. Indeed, it is one that is compounded by a purposeful endeavor to reject out of hand all typological exegesis of the Old Testament.
Those who reject typological exegesis of the Old Testament can only do so partially, considering that the New Testament is replete with typological interpretations of the Old Testament. This kind of rejection is usually found either of these two forms: (i.)a wholesale rejection of typology as an exegetical method derived from the Scriptures or from divine revelation, and/or (ii.)the approval only of types which are explicitly identified as such(e.g. taking the form of “was a type of y”). (i.)is a rejection of divine inspiration altogether, and (ii.)fails to meet its own standard, identifying only a small handful of types as legitimate when the New Testament in fact teaches that historical narrative, the Aaronic priesthood, the Tabernacle and its accoutrements, animal and grain sacrifices and offerings, prophecy, and even the judicial laws of Israel are to be understood not only in their historical-literal sense but also typologically.
Many contemporary annihilationists use (ii.)as an interpretive constraint on reading of the Old Testament, thereby qualitatively limiting the judgment of God to Old Testament images of destruction, death, perishing, being consumed, et al. This effectively rules out any other interpretation of similar language in the New Testament than that which is offered by the annihilationists, reducing their argumentation to an exercise in begging the question. It also contradicts the trajectory of Divine revelation from the lesser shadows and types to the clearer reality given in the complete revelation of the New Testament.  As Thomas R. Schreiner explains, the Old Testament promises of destruction are surpassed by the eschatological reality to be unfolded at the return of Christ. Schreiner —
The death penalty was meted out to those who transgressed certain provisions in the Mosaic law. But the death penalty was an earthly punishment, and a worse punishment awaits those who reject the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. As we have seen so often in Hebrews, the earthly punishment forecasts and anticipates a heavenly punishment. Furthermore, there is escalation typologically so the greater revelation leads to a greater punishment.[33]
The Old Testament promises of destruction are qualitatively surpassed by the promised judgment to come. The former judgments are earthly, depicting what occurs in the present age and, therefore, bear an analogical, not identical, relationship to the future heavenly judgment facing the wicked in the age to come.[34]
§ 3. Rejection of Progressive Revelation
Moreover, contrary to the Scripture's teaching on the Old Testament as typologically prophesying of the Messiah’s person and work, the church’s salvation, and the reprobates’ judgment by God, the annihilationists’ illegitimate interpretive constraint also results in a practical denial of progressive revelation. For we see in the Scriptures that there is indeed a progression in clarity as we move from the Old Testament to the New Testament. The author to the Hebrews is clear —
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.[35]
Revelation centers around and culminates in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospel is central to understanding the entirety of the Scriptures, shedding light on the Triunity of God, the economic roles of the persons of the Godhead, life everlasting, the salvation of the church, and the judgment of the wicked. Hence, Paul speaks of
…the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith…[36]
Included within this general mystery mentioned by Paul we find the mystery of godliness,[37] the mystery of bodily resurrection and glorification,[38] the mystery of his will to unite Jews and Gentiles into one body in Christ,[39] the mystery of Israel’s hardening and eventual salvation,[40] and the mystery of lawlessness.[41]  Through the “prophetic writings,” God has disclosed the mystery kept secret for ages. As Peter states —
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.[42]
The Gospel unfolds the meaning of the Old Testament in light of the person and work of Christ, demonstrating that the Old Testament’s revelation is not complete but partial. As Robert A. Morey explains —
The entirety of God’s revelation was not given to humanity in a single instant but was dispersed in different ways to different people over several thousand years. Each new revelation was like a piece of a cosmic puzzle. Even when the last of the Old Testament prophets had all the pieces to those which were given before him, he still could not understand the total picture. It was only after the coming of Christ that the last remaining pieces were supplied and the puzzle completed.
The progressive character of revelation can also be understood in terms of a gradual unfolding of biblical truths which began quite vague, but slowly, little by little, came to be understood in absolute clarity. Revelation is thus progressive in a theological sense as well as in a historical sense. Each new revelation was like a turn of the knob on a pair of binoculars which would eventually change the initial blurred vision of the seer to the point of crystal clarity.[43]
Thus, the New Testament is the interpreter of the Old, making plain what was foreshadowed in the Old. Interpreting the New Testament by the Old is a reversal of the progressive revelation the authors of Scripture speak about. Reversing the relationship between the Old Testament and New Testament, in other words, flatly contradicts the teaching of the New Testament regarding its relationship to the Old Testament. The New Testament is superior as regards the whole schema of redemptive history as decreed and revealed by God to his people.
§ 4. Rejection of the Two-Age Distinction
Despite the variety of greatly differing eschatological views found within the pale of orthodoxy, among them all is a distinction between this present age and the age to come. Broadly speaking, the former has reference to the time before God ushers his elect into his kingdom and sends the wicked to eternal punishment, the latter has reference to that “new age” in which the righteous receive their reward and the wicked receive the wrath they have stored up against themselves while sinning in the body. That we are to interpret some Scripture according to this distinction is taught in several key places in the New Testament.
  1. Matt 12:32 — “And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.[44]
  2. Matt 22:30 — “…in the resurrection [men and women] neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”[45]
  3. Luke 18:29-30 — “And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”[46]
  4. Gal 1:4 —  [Christ died for sins] to deliver us from the present evil age…[47]
  5. Eph 1:21 —  [Christ has been raised and seated in power] far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.[48]
  6. Heb 6:5 9:9 — …the age to come…/…the present age[49]
  7. 1st Tim 6:17-19[50] — …this present age…/…the future…that which is truly life…[51]
  8. Titus 2:12-13 — …the present age…/…the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…[52]
The distinction between this age and the next renders a one-to-one correspondence of our present existence to what we will experience in our post-resurrection experience impossible. In the age to come, our existence will be under very different circumstances.
This is what the Sadducees did not grasp about the resurrection, i.e. the regeneration/resurrection,[53] and what rendered their application of the Mosaic law to resurrected men and women absurd. Given that the “in the age to come” men and women will not reproduce nor will they die, as men in the present age reproduce and die, but will be like the angels who neither are given in marriage nor die, the Sadducees were committing a category error. Their argument against the resurrection was based upon this false presupposition, namely that the age to come will be of the same features as the present age as regards the body and its various capacities. Put another way — the Sadducees incorrectly believed that the present age and the age to come were qualitatively identical, differing only quantitatively, i.e. as regards the duration of man’s existence.
What man experiences in this age is analogical to what man will experience in the age to come, not identical. The two-age distinction is pivotal to understanding one of the many reasons why, for instance, the doctrine of annihilationism is fundamentally wrong. For annihilationism assumes that the kind of destruction experienced in the present age will be qualitatively identical to the kind of destruction that will be experienced by the wicked who enter into everlasting punishment.[54] Yet the two ages are qualitatively distinct, as are the raised bodies of men and women universally;[55] consequently, as it is absurd to assume that the life of the raised righteous will be qualitatively identical to the life of the righteous in the present, so too it is absurd to assume that the destruction of the raised wicked will be qualitatively identical to the destruction of which we are familiar in the present age.
§ 5. Rejection of the Creator-Creature Distinction
Among those who fail to make distinctions as the ones laid out above, one often finds those who also fail to make a distinction between how the same set of actions performed by a creature must be understood, to some extent, differently when performed by God. Language about God “seeing,”[56] “knowing,” and then acting, for instance, are not to be understood as literal instances of seeing in which God is learning something about the actions of some man or men. God does not have physical eyes, for he is Spirit.[57] Neither does God learn, for “his understanding [i.e. knowledge] is beyond measure.”[58] When reading that God has seen some person’s action, has come to know something about that person, and has responded to that person’s action, therefore, we are required to understand such language about the Lord God Almighty in a somewhat different sense than our everyday understanding of it allows. Through anthropomorphisms and anthropopathisms, God accommodates himself to man’s understanding.
A failure to interpret the Word of God, in many instances, according to this ontological distinction between the Creator and his creation can result in heresy. A modern example of this can be seen in those who embrace open theism. Martyn McGeown explains —
Orthodox Christianity has traditionally understood texts which teach that God repents or changes His mind as anthropomorphisms or anthropopathisms, figures of speech according to which God accommodates His speech to human beings and presents Himself as He seems to us, not what He actually is. Open theism rejects such an interpretation.
[However,] Open theists are inconsistent in their denials of anthropomorphisms. They confess that God has exhaustive knowledge of the present and the past, yet they do not deal with passages where God seems to be ignorant of more than just future actions of free human beings. [Open theist Gregory Boyd] concedes that God’s question in Genesis 3:9 ("Where art thou?") is rhetorical, but neither he, Sanders, nor Pinnock address Genesis 18:21 ("I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me: and if not, I will know"). A literal interpretation would lead to the conclusion that God knows neither the past sins of Sodom, nor the present state of that city, and is not omnipresent![59]
This constraint reduces God to a mere creature, effectively denying the transcendence and otherness of God.
Sound biblical interpretation results in neither a pure apophaticism in which nothing about God can be positively asserted and known, nor in a pure immanentalism in which God is exhaustively comprehended by anthropomorphic, anthropopathic, symbolic, and metaphorical language about him. What such language is capable of conveying to us about God can be known comprehensively, of course, but it does not exhaust the being and attributes of God. Put somewhat differently, because God has made man in his image, he has given man the ability to know him; however, because man is a creature he cannot know God exhaustively. God alone knows himself exhaustively. Consequently, a rejection of the Creator-creature distinction in one’s interpretive methodology reduces to either atheism or polytheism, both of which contradict the explicit propositions of Scripture and what they imply.
§ 6. Rejection of the Necessity of Spiritual Illumination
As the Lord Jesus informed Nicodemus, one cannot see — i.e. spiritually perceive, comprehend, grasp as true with the intellect — the kingdom of God without first being born from above. Paul reiterates this truth in 1st Cor 2:6-16, where he declares —
Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
    nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts 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 understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.[60]
Spiritually stillborn from conception until salvation,[61] fallen men are
…darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.[62]
This serves to remind us that those who are outside of Christ are theologically corrupt, undergoing corruption, and corrupting others — even as the corpses of Israel’s dead did under the Mosaic covenant[63] — and cannot properly understand what God has revealed about himself in his Word. Apart from having Spiritual life, the mind of fallen man cannot properly understand God’s Word. They are “always learning [but are] never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.”[64] The natural man is “puffed up and understands nothing.”[65]
As the Puritans understood,
The knowledge of God can only be revealed by God Himself, which is not contrary to reason but above it…there is more at stake than just the mind. Reason assents to the truth of Scripture, but its message is not realized until the Holy Spirit imparts faith and is actualized in the affections.
Scripture has a model of knowledge (Rom. 2:20) but requires the assistance of the Spirit for illumination to move beyond its formal apprehension for actual use and spiritual practice.
…it is a mistake[, therefore,] to define faith as a purely intellectual act; belief includes judgments comprised of the senses, soul, impressions both internal and external, and reason itself, which can be lost on false appearances. For the Puritans, faith is a “whole hearted” consent to the Scriptures, initiated by the Spirit to discern the truth of God in the person and promises of Jesus Christ.[66]
Though the Scripture is a book, it is not a book just like every other book. A proper understanding of the Scriptures cannot be gained without the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit. An unregenerate man may be able to understand various bits of information contained in the Scriptures, but he will not perceive its logical unity (between explicit and implicit propositions), nor its historical unity (between the shadows of the Old Testament and the realities of the New Testament), nor its progressive maturation of doctrine (from the Old Testament to the New Testament’s completed revelation), nor the qualitative distinction between the present age and the age to come, nor the qualitative distinction between the Creator and his creatures, nor the necessity of divine illumination. He will, therefore, reject all other means of interpreting the Scriptures than those which suit that agenda toward which he, in his rebellion against God, is steadily moving.
In the past, the Socinians denied that any such special operation of the Holy Spirit in the minds of believers was necessary for them to understand the Scriptures correctly. They stressed that Scripture and reason apart from divine illumination were sufficient to lead a person to know the doctrines of Scripture. The rejection of the necessity of spiritual illumination for properly interpreting Scripture was advanced by the Socinians as a means of combatting the doctrines of the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, and the orthodox doctrine of Hell. Yet if the reason of man is sufficient to understand the Scriptures, and the Scriptures clearly teach that mind of man cannot understand the things of God properly apart from divine illumination, then the Socinian position is self-referentially absurd and must be rejected altogether.
To reiterate, the above listed illegitimate interpretive constraints used by heretics are the following —
  1. Rejection of Deductive Inference
  2. Rejection of Typological Exegesis
  3. Rejection of Progressive Revelation
  4. Rejection of the Two-Age Distinction
  5. Rejection of the Creator-Creature Distinction
  6. Rejection of the Necessity of Spiritual Illumination
The use of these constraints results in the deletion and/or addition of doctrinal content to the Scriptures, all under the guise of faithfulness to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. We began by looking at the rejection of deductive inference, for if one rejects deductive inference from the Scriptures as a proper means of interpreting them, then one will reject all others that are dependent upon deductive inference. Thus, if one rejects deductive inference he implicitly rejects typological exegesis, progressive revelation, the two-age distinction, the Creator-creature distinction, and the necessity of spiritual illumination, for these are all implied by the explicit propositions of Scripture.
As we noted from the onset, such constraints delete doctrinal content from God’s Word. They also add content to it by placing alongside Scripture other sources of interpretive authority — e.g. unaided reason, common sense/folk knowledge of some subject touched upon in the Bible,[67] historiographical conclusions drawn from archeology, philosophical schools of interpretation, etc. Thus, faithfulness to Sola Scriptura is demonstrated to be mere lip-service.
This should not be forgotten when interacting with those who hold heretical beliefs, while claiming to be strict adherents to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. The entire counsel of God consists not of merely explicit propositions but implicit propositions deducible by good and necessary consequence from them. The entire counsel of God consists not merely of a historical movement from creation’s beginning to its end and regeneration, but is unified by the redemptive work of the Holy Trinity, thus tying the Old Testament to the New Testament by means of typology, progressive revelation, and the two-age distinction. The entire counsel is God’s self-disclosure to men. Vern S. Poythress notes —
God meets us and speaks to us in power as we read the Bible. God's power and presence must be taken into account from the beginning, just as we take into account all that characterizes a human author of any human text.[68]

[1] 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, Ch. 1 Art.1.
[2] The Pastoral Epistles (Unicoi: The Trinity Foundation, 1998), 132.
[3] Figures of Speech Used in the Bible  (Delmarva Publications, 2013), Kindle, loc. 4961. (emphasis added)
[4] The Pastoral Epistles133.
[5] The New International Commentary on the New Testament, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, Ed. Gordon Fee (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2006), 367.
[6] Bullinger, Figures of Speech, loc. 4975. (emphasis added)
[7] For instance, the Gnostic heretic Marcion is famous for rejecting the Old Testament in its entirety, as well as forming his own New Testament comprised of only eleven of its books.
[8] E.g. Roman Catholicism has added the Deuterocanonical writings of the Apocrypha, Mormons have added the book of Mormon, et al.
[9] “The Difference Between Sola Scriptura and Biblicism,” The Heidelblog, Accessed November 10, 2017,
[10] ibid. (emphasis added)
[11] Regarding the deleterious effects such illegitimate constraints have already had in church history, see Stanglin, Keith D. "The Rise and Fall of Biblical Perspicuity: Remonstrants and the Transition toward Modern Exegesis" in Church History 83:1 (March 2014), 38–59.
[12] The Bible and Explaining It Away, American Unitarian Conference, Accessed November 05, 2017,
[13] And, therefore, the imago dei.
[14] cf. Matt 22:23-33.
[15] cf. Matt 22:41-45.
[16] cf. Matt 9:9-13; 12:1-8.
[17] Matt 22:29. (emphasis added)
[18] Matt 9:13. (emphasis added)
[19] Matt 12:7. (emphasis added)
[20] John 3:10.
[21] Despite efforts by some scholars to see in Nicodemus a completely ambiguous character (for example, see Hakola, Raimo. “The Burden of Ambiguity: Nicodemus and the Social Identity of the Johannine Christians,” in New Testament Studies Volume 55, Issue 04 (October 2009), 438-455; Bassler, Jouette M. “Mixed Signals: Nicodemus in the Fourth Gospel,” in Journal of Biblical Literature 108 (1994), 635-646.), the conflict between Nicodemus’ status as a leader of the Jews who is yet ignorant of the Scriptures is not unknown in the synoptic Gospels, as we have shown above in the cases of the Sadducees, Pharisees, and scribes. Christ recognizes Nicodemus not as a religiously neutral/ambiguous person, but as an unbelieving man who is ignorant of the Scriptures yet holds an honorific title among the people of God. In “Jesus as Rabbi in the Fourth Gospel” in Bulletin for Biblical Research (1998), Andreas J. Köstenberger helps bring Christ’s rebuke into relief by establishing historical background information, and comparing Christ’s exchange with Nicodemus to that of the woman at the well in John 4.  Köstenberger —
In 3:2, Nicodemus, the “Teacher of Israel”…addresses Jesus as [Rabbi]…Apparently, this represents an effort by Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member  of the Sanhedrin, to award Jesus similar status as a religious teacher. In this Nicodemus contrasts with the increasingly hostile reaction to Jesus on the part of the Pharisees in general …This must surely have been considered a gesture of goodwill and benevolence on the part of Nicodemus, since it was commonly recognized that Jesus lacked rabbinic credentials…Rather than engaging in polite platitudes, he lectures the “Teacher of Israel” on his need for regeneration. This stands in marked contrast to Jesus’ compassionate treatment of the Samaritan woman in the subsequent chapter. (109)
[22] The irony of the unitarian aversion to deductive inference from Scripture as a legitimate means of arriving at an understanding of the Word of God is evident when one considers that many have argued against Trinitarianism by appealing to “natural” reason. Sarah Mortimer explains —
All the English anti-Trinitarians viewed the clergy as the promoters of mysterious and esoteric religious doctrines designed to conceal the truth from the people and to increase their own power. By constructing their own language and metaphysics around the scriptural text, the clergy were able to elbow out other Christians from their Church. These priests seemed to restrict access to the Word of God and to deny to individuals the use of their reason – reason which God had given to humans for a purpose. According to these anti-Trinitarians, both Scripture and reason clearly spoke of a single, supreme God, to whom Jesus Christ was subordinate.
Reason and Religion in the English RevolutionThe Challenge of Socinianism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 165.
[23] cf. Matt 13:10-17; John 8:43-47; Eph 4:17-19; Rev 3:15-18. We will discuss this under § 6. of this paper.
[24] Throughout the New Testament, it should be noted, although believers are slow to understand many things we progress by the gracious illuminating work of the Holy Spirit in our understanding of God’s Truth (e.g. Mark 4:13, 6:49-52, 7:17-23, 8:16-21, 9:30-32; Luke 24:13-27; John 2:18-22, 12:16, 13:7; Col 1:9 & 2:1-3).
[25] See Diaz, Hiram R. “The Necessity of Typological Exegesis: Refuting the Annihilationist ‘Mention of Expansion’ Rule,” Biblical Trinitarian,
[26] John 3:14-15.
[27] John 6:32-33.
[28] Heb 5:1-10.
[29] Heb 5:11-14. (emphasis added)
[30] Incidentally, the doctrine of Christ’s High Priestly office after the order of Melchizedek is based on an inference as well as a type. The author draws out the logical implications of Ps 110:4’s reference to Melchizedek who is a type of Christ.
[31] 1st Cor 10:6.
[32] 1st Cor 10:11.
[33] Commentary on Hebrews, eds. T. Desmond Alexander, Andreas J. Köstenberger, Thomas R. Schreiner, (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2015), 325.
[34] § 4. of this paper covers the rejection of the two-age distinction and its impact on how we are to interpret the Scriptures.
[35] Heb 1:1-4.
[36] Rom 11:25b-26. (emphasis added)
[37] 1st Tim 3:16.
[38] 1st Cor 15:51-52.
[39] Eph 1:3-10 & 2:11-22; cf. Col 1:24-29.
[40] Rom 11:25-26.
[41] 2nd Thess 2:1-12.
[42] 1st Pet 1:10-12.
[43] Death and the Afterlife, 22-23.
[44] Emphasis added.
[45] Emphasis added.
[46] Emphasis added. cf. Mark 10:29-30.
[47] Emphasis added.
[48] Emphasis added.
[49] Emphasis added.
[50] Contextually, Paul is speaking of the eschaton. cf. 1st Tim 6:11-16.
[51] Emphasis added.
[52] This eschatological shorthand encompasses not simply the return of Christ, but also the life to come, as is implied by v.14.
[53] As Christ calls it in the Greek, cf. Matt 19:28.
[54] See Matt 25:31-46.
[55] This is deductively inferred from Jesus’ words, and from Paul’s words in 1st Cor 15:35-41.
[56] E.g. Gen 1:4, 10, 12, 18, etc; 6:5 & 12; 9:6; 11:5; 18:21; 29:31; Exo 3:4; etc.
[57] cf. John 4:24 & Luke 24:39 & 1st Tim 6:16.
[58] Ps 147:5b.
[59] “Closing the Door on Open Theism,” Covenant Protestant Reformed Church, Accessed November 14, 2017,
[60] Emphasis added.
[61] See Eph 2:1-10.
[62] Eph 4:18.
[63] For example, see Num 19:11-14.
[64] 2nd Tim 3:7.
[65] 1st Tim 6:4.
[66] Joel M. Heflin. “Omnipotent Sweetness? Puritanism Versus Socinianism,” in Puritan Reformed Journal 2 (2009), 69-70.
[67] For example, the annihilationist interpretation of death is not dependent upon the Scriptural testimony as to the nature of death, but upon the “common sense” understanding of death as lexically delimited.
[68] “The Divine Meaning of Scripture” in Westminster Theological Journal 48.2 (Fall: 1986), 278.