The Beam in Our Own Eyes: Culture and Biblical Interpretation -- By: Fred A. Grissom

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 10:1 (Fall 1992)
Article: The Beam in Our Own Eyes: Culture and Biblical Interpretation
Author: Fred A. Grissom

The Beam in Our Own Eyes:
Culture and Biblical Interpretation

Fred A. Grissom

Professor of Church History,
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary,
Wake Forest, North Carolina

[Earlier versions of this address were delivered as Faculty Lectures at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary]

The Bible is central to all Baptist doctrine and to our identity as a Christian denomination. We are a Bible-believing people. “You don’t believe the Bible” is perhaps the most devastating charge that one Southern Baptist can hurl against another. The first article of the Baptist Faith and Message asserts that the Bible is “a perfect treasure of divine instruction” and that it has “... truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter.” The meaning of these words, and how much latitude should be allowed in defining them, have become matters of intense controversy among Southern Baptists.

The first article of the Baptist Faith and Message also says the the Bible is “the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinion should be tried.” In order to use this standard, however, we must apply it in specific situations. There seems to be an assumption among many Southern Baptists that the “correct” doctrine of the authority of the Bible, that is, an acceptable definition of the “inerrant” nature of the Bible, is a sufficient guarantee that the Bible will be applied properly and that the “soundly biblical” position on any issue will be evident to all Bible-believing people.

That assumption leaves out of account, however, the fact that the interpreters of the infallible word are fallible human beings. Even though we use Jesus Christ as “the criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted” (B.F. & M., Article I) and even though we seek the illumination of the Holy Spirit in understanding truth (Article II.C), we cannot escape the limitations of our understanding. Try as we might, and we usually do not try hard enough, we cannot transcend completely our environment, our personalities, our prejudices, and our desires—all the complex of forces and circumstances that make up our cultural context.

I would like to look briefly at some of the ways that culture influences biblical interpretation. Some of the illustrations I will use are trivial, some are of great significance; some are almost comical; some are filled with tragedy; but all of them are evidence of the distorted perceptions that our cultural blinders cause.

First, consider a relatively trivial example of the way different cultural norms cause interpreters to come to different conclusions. You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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