Reformed Guidelines for Interpreting Scripture… Why I’m Proud to be #Reformed and #Presbyterian


Note to readers: This is a slightly edited version of what I posted in the Northwood Presbyterian Newsletter The Breezeway for the month of March.

Have you ever heard someone speak with absolute certainty about who God is, based on a verse or two from the Bible? I have to admit, whenever I hear someone says “The Bible clearly says…” I get a little nervous. After all, the Bible is a complex collection of books written with profound historical, cultural and literary layers. Sometimes what the Bible says doesn’t appear to be clear at all. Often there are passages that are confusing and complicated. Christians have wrestled with particular passages of the Bible for thousands of years. Different cultures wrestle wtih different passages at times, and our understanding of what is, and is not, acceptable (according to scripture) has changed, often in line with the ways in which culture has changed. At one time in our Christian history, slavery was justified and accepted, on Biblical grounds. Folks came to change their mind on that issue based on an understanding of justice and a careful listening to the Holy Spirit. Christians still have deep disagreement on biblical matters. One of the things I most treasure about our Presbyterian and Reformed heritage are the principles we use to interpret scripture. I listed these in a recent sermon, but they are so impotant, I felt I should share them here as well. Take a look and let’s chat about which of these principles are the most interesting or challenging to you.

Rules for Biblical Interpretation in the Reformed Tradition*

  • Scripture is to be interpreted with confidence in and openness to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
  • The scripture principle: Scripture is to be interpreted in light of scripture, comparing scripture with scripture, with openness to hear the whole Word of God, not just selected parts of it.
  • The Christological principle: Scripture is to be interpreted in light of God’s central self-revelation in Jesus Christ.
  • The rule of love: scripture is to be interpreted in light of the one commandment of God that summarizes all other commandments, love for God and for all our neighbors.
  • The rule of faith: Scripture is to be interpreted with respect for the church’s past and present interpretation of scripture.
  • Scripture in to be interpreted in light of the literary forms and historical context in which it was written.
  • Scripture is to be interpreted seeking the word and work of the living God in our time and place.
  • Scripture is to be interpreted with awareness of our limitations and fallibility and with openness to change our mind and be corrected. “Reformed” means always being reformed afresh by the Word of God.

* Found HERE complete with links to relevant creeds.

I also recommend and love Rob Bell’s series What is the Bible?  You can start with part one HERE.

Happy Studying!


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