“That Book in Your Hand”
In this study of the nature of the Bible, we are currently looking at the Unity of Scripture, that it is a single story by a single Author, conveying the wonderful message:
It is the story of God’s love, the story of
who gave His life that we might live in love with Him forever.
In looking at what this unified understanding of the Scriptures means for us practically, I’d like to discuss a principle of proper interpretation — the “Analogy of Faith.”
Sermons on the nature of the Bible (Bibliology):
- The inspiration of the Scriptures, their divine nature, from II Timothy 3:16.
- The moving of the Spirit in giving us the Scriptures, from II Peter 1:19-21.
- The inerrancy of God’s Word (its complete reliability).
- The preservation of God’s Word.
- The illumination of the Scriptures, the work of the Holy Spirit in helping us to understand spiritual truths.
- The perspicuity of Scripture — the Scriptures can be understood and rightly interpreted.
- The canon of Scripture — this wasn’t a sermon, but I wrote on it as an important part of Bibliology
Posts on the unity of Scripture:
- The Unity of Scripture (main article)
- The Unity of Scripture — It All Matters: examining some of the practical ramifications of the unity of Scripture
The “Analogy of Faith” Defined
This term describes the principle that Scripture is the best guide to interpreting Scripture. This principle is rooted in the unity of Scripture, a connection well-stated by Charles Hodge in his Systematic Theology (emphasis added):
If the Scriptures be what they claim to be, the word of God, they are the work of one mind, and that mind divine. From this it follows that Scripture cannot contradict Scripture. God cannot teach in one place anything which is inconsistent with what He teaches in another. Hence Scripture must explain Scripture.
“Negative” Application — No Contradictions
This is “negative” in the sense of telling us what interpretations cannot be true. No Scripture can contradict another Scripture, because they are all the work of one Author who doesn’t make mistakes. This protects us from many errors in interpretation — or it will, if we learn our whole Bible. You won’t even know that you are contradicting another Scripture if you haven’t read it enough to know what it says.
If someone cites a Scripture, you can’t just quote another Scripture to refute it, because both Scriptures are true. If two people disagree and are both using Scripture to support what they are saying, one or both is misunderstanding and / or misusing Scripture. Scripture does not contradict other Scripture.
“Positive” Application — Scripture Clarifying Scripture
This is the “positive” aspect, in that the unity of Scripture not only rules out some false interpretations, but also helps us to recognise true interpretation. The more we know the entire Scripture, the better we understand each individual Scripture.
If the Lord tells us in Exodus 34:6 that He is merciful and gracious, the rest of the Bible helps us understand what God means by those terms. When He tells us He is good (Psalm 100:5), we use all of Scripture to teach us what He means by “good.” We look especially at the total picture, the message of Scripture as described above (and more fully in the main article on the Unity of Scripture), to see what God means by these things.
Note: This positive application of the “analogy of faith” has come in for some criticism in recent years. I recently read Toward an Exegetical Theology by the evangelical scholar, Walter Kaiser. Kaiser argued for an “Analogy of Antecedent Theology” — the words of earlier Scriptures are to be interpreted without the light shed by later Scriptures . According to Kaiser, truths revealed later cannot be used in interpretation, but only later in theological synthesis and application. Kaiser is properly warning about some interpretive errors, but he goes too far.
I’ll use Kaiser’s own book to illustrate. He first mentions his “Analogy of Antecedent Theology” in chapter four but does not explain it until chapter six. We don’t say, “Oh, you can’t look at chapter six to understand chapter four, because it was written later.” His book is a single work by a single author, and so chapter six clarifies the meaning of chapter four. So also with the Bible. Kaiser’s argument emphasises the human authors (and the knowledge they had) and downplays the single divine Author of this unified Book.
Moses did not understood everything involved in the Cross when God spoke in Exodus 34. In this, Kaiser is correct. But it would be deeply wrong to say that God did not have the Cross in view when He gave us those words, nor to say that He does not want us to think of the Cross when we read them. It is all part of the same Book by the same Author, the same wonderful story of love.
Matthew 1 gives God-inspired truth about Isaiah 7. The accounts of the crucifixion in the Gospels give inspired truth about Psalm 22. Isaiah 53 helps us understand the Cross of Christ, and the Cross of Christ helps us understand Isaiah 53. God’s attitude toward sin is revealed at the Cross as well as in Numbers 25, and either one sheds light on the other.
Thus, the “Analogy of Faith”, in applying the unity of Scripture, does not just protect us against contradictory interpretations. It also can help guide us to the right interpretation, and help us to fine-tune that interpretation by seeing how a particular passage of Scripture fits into the unified whole.
More to come….