Bonus Post: Some Thoughts on Interpretation

There are various methods used to interpret the Bible, many of which are also used in the interpretation of other writings. Here is one that works for me, and will for you too…

There are three Scriptural sources for truth: First, the direct command of God, second, an approved Apostolic example, and third, a necessary inference. A direct command from God Himself settles the matter. The same is true for an approved Apostolic example, such as the one above: Paul is writing on behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and therefore, his writing is true. Finally, there is a necessary inference. In this case, we infer something from the writing that may not have been said directly or exactly because that is of necessity, the intended meaning. The key here is “necessary” as opposed to an inference that may possibly be taken from something. Possible inferences are matters where opinions may differ.

In our example from Titus 1, we have Paul’s teaching about church leaders. Since this is inspired by the Holy Spirit it is “approved”, therefore it is true. Yet we are still left to figure out just exactly what Paul meant here, how literal did he intend us to take it, and that is where the inferring comes into play in this particular case.

The first thing we must do is to check the context into which it is written. We saw earlier why Paul wrote this:

Instruction on the proper organization and operation of the local church, and the behavioral patterns of both church leaders and members so that they, in community with each other, might advance the cause of Christ.

Since we are looking at our text as instruction concerning the proper organization and operation of the local church, its leaders and members, we can conclude that our task is on the right track: So far, so good.

Our next task is to see if there are any parallel texts. A parallel text is one that covers the same material or subject in a similar context as the one we are trying to figure out; the closer the context, the better, and if it’s by the same author, that’s best of all… and we have one of those in 1 Timothy 3.

Titus 1:5-9 1 Timothy 3:2-7
The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

The first thing for us to consider is that these two passages are parallels that are from the same author at about the same time, in the same context, and covering the exact same subject. In short, this parallel is pure gold. As you read through both texts, the first thing you will see is that Paul uses the words elder and overseer interchangeably; they are the same thing. The next thing you should notice is that the Titus text seems a tad stricter, the Timothy text seems a bit less strict as it contains some explanation that Titus doesn’t have; these are in parentheses in the NIV. Finally, you will notice that the qualities aren’t exact matches, for example Timothy has that an elder or overseer should be able to teach, and Titus does not. As we consider these things, it becomes more and more apparent that since they are so close, yet not exact, and that so many of the items mentioned fall into line more as character traits, and less as specific requirements, most people will conclude that these are guidelines and not specific requirements of the sort that you might see on a government form in order to be eligible for something. When you combine this with the fact that Paul himself would be excluded as a church elder because he was single and childless, we move from a possible to a necessary inference.

Even so, some will disagree, and that is why we should never forget to ask God to lead and guide us into the truth- and why we shouldn’t beat each other up when we disagree on something like this.

If you are wondering about the part from yesterday about whether or not a woman can be an elder in the local church, we still have another step to go before anything can be quite conclusive, and that step is to find out which Greek words Paul has used. We would take this step because there is always the chance that the view or bias of the translators might come into play in their English word choices. In both of our texts, we find that the Greek text does not have either male or female pronouns in them, however the word aner meaning an adult male is rendered “man” and the Greek word gyne meaning adult female is rendered “woman” in both texts.

If someone was determined to find an argument to say that a woman can or should be in such a position, there is a cultural argument to be made in concert with the text containing guidelines rather than specific requirements. Even so, whether or not one would come to a necessary as opposed to a possible inference is, in my view, a judgment call in which well intentioned people would vary.

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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2 Responses to Bonus Post: Some Thoughts on Interpretation

  1. RaeBear says:

    I suggest that there is also one’s present context — it is the living word of God after all, not something static. So big picture — what “might advance the cause of Christ.” Denying leadership roles to women, LGBTQ+ would not, in these days, advance the cause of Christ. The heart that is living with love and serving with love is a really a rare and beautiful thing. So let’s be a big tent, wide open!

  2. Great thoughts Brother Don and something we call ALL use! God bless!

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