I’ve heard more than one Christian say that, in order to understand the Bible, we need to ask the author of the book—-God—-what he meant. I find that sort of attitude to be arrogant, to tell you the truth, and I really don’t give a rip if Christians are cloaking it in humility. As far as I’m concerned, it’s false humility.
Here scholars are, struggling with what the text means—-they wrestle, they debate, and they cope with ambiguity, sometimes coming up with answers, and often concluding that we don’t know 100 per cent what the text means. And some Christians come along and dogmatically proclaim that some subjective impression that they have about what the text means is authoritative because it is from God. What so many religionists fail to recognize is that they themselves are filtering the text through their own subjective lens—-that they are prioritizing some things in the text over other things, and that they are reading the Bible in light of a larger theology, as they subordinate to that larger theology (often awkwardly) the texts that don’t quite fit it.
So do I dismiss the notion that the Holy Spirit can guide people as they read the Bible? I have a hard time doing that, notwithstanding the things that I said above. There have been times when I have seen Christians force the Bible into their own theology and call that God’s illumination of the Scriptures. But there have been other times when Christians have found something profound and applicable in the Bible, and their insight appears to be faithful (or at least consistent with) what the text appears to be saying.
Moreover, can God use an interpretation of the Scripture that is technically not correct? As I’ve gone through Leviticus for my daily quiet time, I have come across different homiletical applications of the rituals in that book. I don’t know if these applications are faithful to the Book of Leviticus itself—-the Book doesn’t even tell us a lot of the time what a ritual in question means. Some may even question whether we should be looking for deep meaning in the rituals, since perhaps there are times when a priestly school simply copied rituals from other ancient Near Eastern nations, or maybe the rituals were just there and became part of custom and people later sought significance in them. But, in my opinion, if a homiletical interpretation can encourage a person to love God and neighbor—-to admire God’s righteousness, love, and mercy, and to show kindness to others—-then the interpretation is good, whether it’s faithful to the text or not.
At the same time, I think it’s also important to be honest about the times that the text appears to violate our moral and religious sensibilities—-when the text does not appear to present God as particularly righteous, loving, and merciful, and when it seems to endorse behavior that is not especially kind. Where to go from there, however, I am not entirely sure. And, to be honest, I doubt that those who think that they’re sure have answers that are adequate.