Sunday, July 15, 2007

Prescriptive Versus Descriptive Interpretation of the Bible

Romans 15:4,

"For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning,

that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope."

If it's in the Bible, it is written for a reason.

James 5:10,

"Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord,

for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience."

1 Corinthians 10:11,

"Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples:

and they are written for our admonition,

upon whom the ends of the world are come."

2 Timothy 3:16,

"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine,

for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:"

Is the narrative part of Scripture prescriptive for our lives today, then, or is it descriptive? Can it be a mix? By what rule do you mix? Obviously we aren't supposed to be like the Israelites as described in 1 Corinthians 10. Does the fact that they were generally "good guys" in the Bible mean that we should imitate all they do?

  • Example 1: Church assemblies. Acts is descriptive, telling when and where the Church met (daily from house to house), and some of what they did (continuing in doctrine and fellowship, breaking bread, prayers). Ephesians, 1 Timothy, and 1 Corinthians give instructive doctrines on how the Church is to assemble. Ephesians deals with the theology of the church, but addresses prayer and relationships. 1 Timothy, written to a pastor, gives a lot of instruction on leadership. And 1 Corinthians 11-14 addresses the Lord's Supper, women in church, spiritual gifts and unity, love, and teaching/prophecy/tongues in the meetings.

  • Example 2: Unmarried daughters. There is a pattern, when daughters are mentioned, of daughters living at home until married, and of women submitting to fathers. This is descriptive. 1 Corinthians 7, Exodus 20 (Fifth Commandment), and Ephesians 6 give prescriptive instructions on how single people and especially children are to live. Since Scripture is interpreted in light of Scripture, clear instruction always supercedes observations, so honoring my father is preeminent.

  • Example 3: Lying to save a life. The Hebrew midwives are accused of lying to Pharaoh to defend themselves against his instruction to abort Jewish babies as they were being born. God established them, as a reward of their disobedience to Pharaoh, with "houses" of their own. Rahab, the pagan woman in Jericho, hid the two Israelite spies and lied to the soldiers about them. She is mentioned several times in the New Testament as an example of faith. Exodus 20 (Ninth commandment) prohibits bearing false witness. Job 27:4; Psalm 101:7, 119:29, 119:163; Proverbs 6:16-17, 12:17, 12:19, 12:22, 13:5, 14:5; Ephesians 4:25; and Colossians 3:9 all command against lying, an abomination to the Lord. Again, clear instruction is the more important. It guides our interpretation of the rest.

To God be all glory.

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