What Does It Mean To Me?
“…your word is truth.” John 17:17
Our country is in the process of confirming a new Supreme Court justice. As the process proceeds over the next few weeks, you may become aware of the chasm that exists within our government over exactly how the Constitution of the United States should be interpreted. If you will bear with me, I want to give a VERY simplified and general description of the two opposing ideologies.
- On one side, there are those that identify themselves as textualists (or originalists). A textualist is a person who gives primary weight to the text itself and the structure of our Constitution. They affirm that the document means now, what it would have clearly meant to the original recipients.
- On the other side of the argument, there are those who might identify themselves as contextualists (or intentionalists). A contextualist is a person who gives primary weight to what they believe the intentions of the framers were. In this school of thought, the words themselves could be interpreted to mean something different for us than they could have ever meant for an American living in 1789.
To be fair, this is an oversimplification and the subject itself would be worthy of your further study. Both opinions have their problems. However, I want to draw a conclusion about these two opposing views that I think will bear up under further scrutiny:
A textualist places more authority on the words themselves, while a contextualist place more authority in the person who is interpreting the words.
Regardless of where you fall in this debate over jurisprudence (and there are both conservatives and liberals on either side), I want you to know that the same chasm exists among those who study the Bible.
Some study the Bible and ask this question: “what does this mean to me?” In all fairness, it really doesn’t matter a whole lot what it means to us individually. If we seek truth from the scripture based on what it means to the individual reading it, it could mean 11 different things to 10 different people. The scripture absolutely cannot mean different things to different people! That would be chaotic! The better question, I think the necessary question, is to ask: “what did this mean to the original recipient?” Though the Bible is unquestionably for us, it was not written to us. Our job as students of the Word, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, is to uncover what God was saying to those whom the text was originally written. This requires great care and study. Indeed, even if you are committed to doing this, you may find your understanding changes over time. However, the thing that is changing is our understanding, not the text itself! God gave the Word to the Body of Christ so that we might find unity around one truth. It is a sacred and serious responsibility.
I encourage you to be increasingly diligent in the frequency and the manner that you study the Bible. We do not sit in authority over it, it sits in authority over us! It is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Within it, the mysteries of God have been revealed. I pray that it becomes more significant to you and that you become increasingly committed to it!