Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Spurgeon on Hermeneutics

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was a very sagacious writer, and a gifted preacher. His commentaries on the Psalms and on the Gospel of Matthew are still very useful. Therefore we would like to give two quotations from Spurgeon dealing with the question of Bible interpretation. In both of these quotations Spurgeon’s main target is the early Plymouth Brethren. The original dispensationalists, they taught the famous Dispensationalist catchphrase, “if the plain sense makes sense seek no other sense”, and the notorious ‘law of first use’, which meant that a word was always to be understood in the Scriptures in the sense that it bore in its first use chronologically.

These have a show of wisdom, but both are false. Spurgeon explains below:

“In Holy Scripture the same word does not always mean the same thing. The Bible is a book meant for human beings, and therefore it is written in human language; and in human language the same word may signify two or three things. For instance, “a pear fell from a tree;” “a man fell into drunken habits.” There the meaning of the second word “fell,” is evidently different from the first, since it is not literal, but metaphorical. Again, “the cabman mounted the box; the child was pleased with his Christmas box;” “his lordship is staying at his shooting box.” In each case there is the same word, but who does not see that there is a great difference of meaning? So it is in the Word of God. You must explain the difference between a word used in a peculiar sense, and the ordinary meaning of the word, and thus you will prevent your people falling into mistakes. If people will say that the same word in Scripture always means the same thing, as I have heard some assert publicly, they will make nonsense of the Word of God, and fall into error through their own irrational maxims. To set up canons of interpretation for the Book of God which would be absurd if applied to other writings is egregious folly: it has a show of accuracy, but inevitably leads to confusion.

“The obvious literal meaning of a Scripture is not always the true one, and ignorant persons are apt enough to fall into the most singular misconceptions: a judicious remark from the pulpit will be of signal service. Many persons have accustomed themselves to misunderstand certain texts; they have learned wrong interpretations in their youth, and will never know better unless the correct meaning be indicated to them.”

CHS - The Swords and the Trowel’ Vol. 2, P. 293

The trouble is, the understanding of a text that is the ‘obvious literal meaning’ to me may be false. It may be anachronistic, so that some have understood ’through a glass darkly’ as having reference to a telescope - which had not been invented yet. The word ’mill’ may conjure up a false image to me. In my home county of Norfolk, we historically used water mills. In Kent and Sussex most mills were wind-powered. But in Biblical times they were either hand-driven or driven by an animal. Or take the word ‘corn’. In America that is usually understood of maize, but in Europe in the past it was used to describe wheat and Barkley and other cereal crops. We have laughed out loud when we have heard atheists use the mention of ‘corn’ in the Bible as evidence that the Bible is in error (what do they think, that it was made up in the last five hundred years?).

Again, in Apocalyptic and figurative language, the ‘obvious literal meaning’ as I might take it is false, because the author’s intent was to use language symbolically. What we seek in Biblical interpretation is not my ‘obvious literal meaning’, but what the Holy Spirit sought to communicate in the text.

Another caution that Spurgeon gives is against those who try to find new meanings for texts. This is always a very hazardous enterprise:

“Do not be carried away with new meanings. Plymouth Brethren delight to fish up some hitherto undiscovered tadpole of interpretation and cry it round the town as a rare dainty. Let us be content with more ordinary and more wholesome fishery. No one text is to be exalted above the plain analogy of faith, and no solitary expression is to shape our theology for us. Other men and wiser men have expounded before us, and anything undiscovered by them it were well to put to test and trial before we boast too loudly of the treasure-trove.”
- ditto, P. 296

It should be noted that Spurgeon was pre-millennial and held to a future restoration of the Jews. He was NOT, however, a Dispensationalist, and some of his harshest words about misinterpreting the Bible are reserved for the disciples of John Nelson Darby.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Further thoughts on the Todd Bentley Affair

While we are glad that Todd Bentley's false revival, that has devastated hundreds, maybe thousands who were falsely told that they had been healed from life-threatening diseases and crippling conditions, we are deeply concerned that what is causing many people to distance themselves from Bentley now is in fact the false prophet's separation from his wife. Only now are these leaders in the Charismatic movement coming out and speaking about concerns about Bentley's doctrine and behaviour that ought to have been apparent at least from June, if not May. J. Lee Grady, who in April was declaring that this was a "Holy Ghost outbreak", is now bemoaning the fact that so many were taken in by Bentley. Thankfully he has been asking questions since May, but oh how timidly he began, even when Bentley's violent techniques became apparent! It seems that the assumption was that this was a genuine work of the Holy Spirit. In May he wrote:
"But I would be dishonest if I told you that I wholeheartedly embraced what I saw in Lakeland. Something disturbed me, but I kept my mouth shut for three weeks while I prayed, got counsel from respected ministry leaders and searched my heart to make sure I was not harboring a religious spirit. The last thing we need today is more mean-spirited heresy hunters blasting other Christians."
Now, apart from the fact that 'religious' is a perfectly good word, if Mr. Grady had these concerns from the beginning, why did he not just say nothing about the events in Lakeland for those three weeks, instead of immediately calling it a "Holy Ghost outbreak"? For weeks he was one of those encouraging others to get on the Bentley bandwagon, but now he is declaring that the whole thing was wildfire. What has changed? Bentley has separated from his wife. No new false teaching from the Lakeland platform, no new false prophecy. We have always based our criticism of Bentley on his public behaviour, and we have not changed what we are saying.

We hope that men like Grady will be more wary in future, but we really have no confidence that they will not be taken in by the next false revival. And please note, despite statements to the contrary, no organic condition has been certified as healed at Lakeland.

Others have expressed similar opinions. See here, and here.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Critics of Lakeland 'Revival' Vindicated

Our deep suspicion of Todd Bentley has been further vindicated by the news that this supposed 'Man of God' is to separate from his wife. The false revival at Lakeland in Florida is over, and as the post mortem examination begins, the great question that Charismatics are asking is: "How could we be so gullible?" Here is a good example:

"Why did God TV tell people that “any criticism of Todd Bentley is demonic”?

This ridiculous statement was actually made on one of God TV’s pre-shows. In fact, the network’s hosts also warned listeners that if they listened to criticism of Bentley, they could lose their healings.

This is cultic manipulation at its worst. The Bible tells us that the Bereans were noble believers because they studied the Scriptures daily “to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11, NASB). Yet in the case of Lakeland, honest intellectual inquiry was viewed as a sign of weakness. People were expected to jump first and then open their eyes.

Just because we believe in the power of the Holy Spirit does not mean we check our brains at the church door. We are commanded to test the spirits. Jesus wants us to love Him with our hearts and our minds.

Because of the Lakeland scandal, there may be large numbers of people who feel they’ve been burned by Bentley. Some may give up on church and join the growing ranks of bitter, disenfranchised Christians. Others may suffer total spiritual shipwreck. This could have been avoided if leaders had been more vocal about their objections and urged people to evaluate spiritual experiences through the filter of God’s Word."

We have been deeply suspicious of the movement since we first heard of Bentley's claims, since we tend to treat claims of revival with caution. An examination of Bentley's teaching and behaviour convinced us that this was not the real thing, and so when Justin Peters reported that Lakeland 'healings' were nothing of the kind, we merely nodded and prayed for those who were thus deceived. And it wasn't only people in the Charismatic churches. God willing, this coming Lord's Day we shall be attending the chapel where we first heard of Todd Bentley and the goings-on in Lakeland. We may have some words of advice for friends.

John Piper has a good article on the subject. His advice to test claims of Revival with doctrine must be heeded.

While we applaud the editors of Charisma magazine, we have to ask, why did it take Bentley's marriage breaking down for them to print a critique of the man that was true whether or not he separated from his wife?

Let us also praise God that He has taken this false prophet out of the way. And let us pray that Bentley will repent of his spiritual wickedness.

We were alerted to these articles by Rhett of Rhett's Rants.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Refreshing change from Lambeth

For those readers who have read of the total failure of the Anglican Communion to decide anything on the question of homosexuality, we would recommend this paper produced by the Committee on Doctrine of the United Free Church of Scotland in 1995. This is how to deal with the issue - Biblically. What does the Bible say?

Our own favourite point of this document was this comment:
"c) 1 Samuel 18: 1, 20:30

These verses have been adduced as evidence in support of the claim that the much vaunted friendship between David and Jonathon was a homosexual relationship. There is, however, no hint of erotic behaviour in the Biblical text and the 'shame' described in 20:30 related to Jonathon's [sic] disloyalty to his father and family when siding with David against Saul. Indeed it was the Panel's view that the current preoccupation with homosexuality could devalue and cast unnecessary suspicion upon those wholesome relationships that are possible between same-sex friends."

Friday, August 8, 2008

'Correct' Spelling and the 1611 AV

A recent news report on the BBC caught our attention. A university lecturer, fed up with having to correct spelling mistakes, has suggested that English might be relaxed to allow some variation in spelling. This immediately causes us to think of the 1611 Authorised Version of the Bible that we have. Not an actual 1611 printing, we hasten to add, but the 1911 reprint. Back in 1611, English spelling was quite fluid, and as long as a word sounded right, the spelling was fine. Would it really be so bad to go back to the 17th century in this respect?

We give some examples chosen at random:

Number 34. 21: "Sonne" for 'Son'

Numbers 35.7: "Fourty" for 'Forty'

Exodus 4.4: "And the LORD said unto Moses, Put Forth thine hand and take it by the taile: and he put foorth his hand, and caught it." Note two different spellings of 'forth', and the 'e' on the end of 'tail'

Exodus 4.8: "And it shall come to passe, if they will not beleeve thee, neither harken unto the voice of the first signe, that they will beleeve the voice of the latter signe." Note spellings of 'pass', 'believe' and 'sign'

Exodus 4.9: "Powre" for 'pour'

John 3.7: "Marveile" for 'marvel'

John 3.11: "Verely, verely I say unto thee, we speake that we doe know, and testifie that wee have seen; and yee receive not our witnesse." Note that the number of 'e's in 'we' is a matter of indifference, the same is true of 'ye', and of any word with a terminal letter 'e'. The letter 'e' can be added to the end of a word or not, depending on how the writer feels. Note also variant spelling of 'testify'.

John 4.25: "Commeth" for 'cometh'

John 4.30: "Citie" for 'city'

2 Corinthians 810: "Yeere" for 'year'

Our intention is not to make fun of the 1611 AV. No, we quote it to add to the debate on how strict spelling rules ought to be. Would it really hurt to allow all these wonderful 17th century spellings to be used in modern English?

For those Americans interested in our spelling, we advise popping over to the BBC website here.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Todd Bentley 'fire' cooling

It seems that false prophet Todd Bentley's attempts to spread his strange fire through America have fallen a little flat. We pray that these failures will lead to his planned visit to the United Kingdom being cancelled.

We first heard of Bentley when he was praised from the pulpit (well, not the pulpit, it wasn't being used) of a chapel that we have preached from. Rather than instantly condemning the 'healings' when we heard of them, we looked into the Lakeland 'revival', and held back until we had certain proof that the screaming tattooed man who likes to kick sick people is a false teacher and a false prophet. We fist heard of him in connection with an alleged healing of a pastor with throat cancer. Since the man has not been healed, Bentley has given him false hope. The destruction of that false hope will be terrible, and we pray that it will not destroy the man who was told that he had been healed.

It is God's will that all of His people, save those who will be alive at the Second Advent, die. The cause of death will vary, but we will all, unless the Lord comes back first, die. We will all suffer sicknesses. God does not want us to live a healthy and wealthy life, he wants us to live a life of faith. Men like Todd Bentley undermine that faith when they falsely claim to speak for God.