Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Theology of Pen and Ink

"I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink." 3 John 13

We must be careful in how we interpret scripture. Our goal should always be to determine what the original author meant. We do not bring our own meaning to the text; rather, we strive to know what the Holy Spirit inspired through the person who penned it. There is one meaning. We must find it.

It is possible to make mistakes in this process. One classic way of coming to the wrong conclusion about a text is to look at only one verse at a time devoid of context. Meaning in the bible comes from the paragraph and/or entire book. Single verses certainly carry meaning, but if we look at them in isolation we run a great risk of drawing conclusions that the original author never intended.

Let's look at a silly example for the purposes of illustration. In the epistle of 3 John, the apostle writes, "I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink."

Taken alone we could draw the following erroneous conclusions:

1. John generally preferred not to write with pen and ink.
2. Writing with pen and ink is a sin.
3. We must not write with pen and ink.
4. Writing with pen or ink is fine, but avoid the two together.
5. Writing with something else like pencil is better and safer.

Ridiculous and absurd. However, if we are to look solely at 3 John 13, then these are at least semi-legitimate conclusions. It is only in the broader context that we see how silly they are.

Let's remember that context is always, without fail, key to correctly understanding any bible verse. Even if a single verse supports a doctrine that we hold dear, we cannot yank it out of context for our own selfish purposes. The verse must remain firmly entrenched in the wider paragraph. Only then do we have a chance at accurate interpretation.

9 comments:

Alan Knox said...

I'm glad to hear that writing with keyboard and pixels is allowed.

-Alan

Alan Knox said...

Seriously, Eric, you're absolutely right. Context is important for interpretation. For example, 3 John 14 explains exactly what he's talking about. True Christian talk happens when our faces are touching.

"I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face." (3 John 14 ESV)

-Alan

John said...

Hey brother, very good thoughts. Context is king. We should also remember the importance of other "contexts" like the historical context. We commit untold anachronisms by reading the 21st century into a 2,000 year old document.

John

Aussie John said...

Eric,

Such a serious problem, yet as I remember the times I've heard,"But John, doesn't the Bible say.....?", I've got to smile.depowed

Eric said...

Alan,

That is certainly the best for of communication. I suppose that's one of the reasons why it is so important for the church to gather regularly.

Eric said...

John,

That's a good reminder. We certainly do tend to read our current definitions back into scripture. What a mess that makes!

Eric said...

Aussie John,

It is a challenge when we hear faulty interpretations. How hard it is to correct others. I suppose this amplifies the importance of relationships. We hope that those we know and love will be willing to accept correction from us, as we will also need correction from time to time.

Alan Knox said...

I guess I didn't communicate my joke very well... "faces touching"?

-Alan

Eric said...

Alan,

I must be too tired. Slow on the uptake on this end.