When Is Face-value, face-value?

My wife and I are in a new members class at our church. It’s a prerequisite class for those wanting to become members and goes for six weeks followed by an interview with one of the elders prior to being “accepted” as members.   

The class is primarily an overview of this particular church’s doctrine. I have no problem with that. What bugs me sometimes is that their beliefs are couched in words like this is what the Bible teaches.  Again, I have no problem with that, I simply wish they would add, as we understand it.  That little caveat at the end puts things in perspective when it comes to other denominations and belief systems.  Evangelicalism is heavy with differing belief systems based on how a particular denomination understands the scripture. I suppose a particular denomination could state emphatically that they are right and others are wrong. They can even imply it, but at least allow due courtesy by clarifying this is what the Bible teaches as we understand it.

During one of our sessions the leader of the class made a comment in response to a question about a certain passage of scripture. His comment was basically, “why don’t we just take the plain meaning of the  text? It seems fairly clear.”   To which I mumbled under my breathe (since my wife prefers I not rock the proverbial boat in this particular setting) “why don’t we take the plain meaning of the text in all situations?”

How often have we heard it said….  “Well, this is what Jesus meant” or this is what Paul meant, or what Peter meant.   How in heaven’s name does someone know what Paul or Peter meant in any given situation?  And if we know what they meant to say, then they apparently chose not to say what they meant to say and if that’s the case why didn’t they say what they meant to say if that’s what they meant to say? 

In our recent Bible study class on 1 Peter, there were some comments offered on these verses:

1Pe 1:20 He (Christ) was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you
1Pe 1:21 who through him (Christ) are believers in God, who raised him (Christ) from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Our teacher, who I have GREAT respect for, noted that Peter’s reference reflected the trinity and – my words not his – that Christ was God.   But the plain meaning of the text seems clearly evident. It is through Christ that we become believers in God. It is through Christ that our faith and hope are in God.  Peter didn’t say, it is through Christ that our faith and hope are in God and Christ is God, although he very well could have.   Considering the other very Jewish terms Peter uses prior to these verses, it’s clear he’s speaking to a primarily Jewish audience.  And if he meant that Christ and God are one in the same, I suspect he might have clarified that here. But he does not.  That’s not to say he didn’t believe that, it simply means he did not say that and we can’t deduce that from the text itself.   In other words, we should let the plain meaning of the text be the plain meaning of the text.

This is not a plea for dogma or orthodoxy. It’s a plea for taking the face value of the text at its face value. If  Peter meant to say something different than what he said why didn’t he just say it?  If he was inferring something that would be common knowledge to his hearers, it certainly would not have been a statement about the trinity, for example, without – it seems – some sort of continued explanation.  

The more I read the biblical text the more I find my mind flushed with the plain meaning of the text. The more I move away from my preconceived notions and former belief systems, the more I understand how blind faith can often lead to a faith that is blinded to the truth.  

 

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