“The notion that all language statements and assertions stand in need of interpretation and may be interpreted in many different ways – including those that contradict the explicit meaning – is wreaking all kinds of havoc. Especially when treating the Bible. Theology has often become an exercise in interpreting away Biblical statements that the theologian does not agree with.
“To be sure, some language calls for interpretation, but other language is clear on its face. Some of the controversies involve questions about which is which. But even interpretation is supposed to help us understand what has been said, rather than undoing what has been said.”
These were words written this morning by Dr. Gene Veith (italics and bold are mine), in his blog post, Cranach: How to interpret "kill Americans", in response to an apology offered by South Korean "Gangnam Style" rapper, Psy. Eight years ago, Psy preached/rapped the following message to a crowd at an anti-war concert:
- “Kill those f—— Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captive / Kill those f——- Yankees who ordered them to torture / Kill their daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law, and fathers / Kill them all slowly and painfully.”
- “While I’m grateful for the freedom to express one’s self, I’ve learned there are limits to what language is appropriate and I’m deeply sorry for how these lyrics could be interpreted. I will forever be sorry for any pain I have caused by those words” (bold emphasis mine).
While a former member of a "conservative" Lutheran church body (not WELS, not ELS, not LCMS), I learned that "all doctrine is taken from direct positive statements of Scripture, only." Positive statements are identified by the grammar and vocabulary of the texts, and distinguished from comparative or normative statements. Direct statements are identified by the context, whether the author is speaking directly, or repeating what someone else said. Only the author is recognized as inspired and empowered by God to issue prescriptive statements, so, unless he is quoting God, indirect statements of the author – that is, statements he is making through another human – are not sufficient to prescribe doctrine. This categorically rules out anecdotal sections of Scripture as offering prescriptive statements or of having sufficient authority to qualify other direct positive statements of Scripture. This is a significant fact to remember, especially when considering, for example, the Bible's teaching on "The Roles of Men and Women." Many advocates of feminist theology among confessional Lutherans (nearly all such advocates, by my estimation), fixate on anecdotal sections of Scripture and set those sections at war against what the Bible says in direct positive terms. "B-b-b-but, what about Deborah?" (attempt to build doctrine from anecdotal sections of Scripture); "B-b-b-but, what about Priscilla?" (another attempt to build doctrine from anecdotal sections of Scripture); "B-b-b-but, what about Lydia?" (more anecdotal references...). WELS advocates of feminist theology were quoted extensively in my post, Post-Modernism, Pop-culture, Transcendence, and the Church Militant, displaying this very hermeneutical approach – attempting to derive meaning from anecdotal sections, even those which have nothing to do with the teaching of "Gender Roles," and vaunting that derived meaning over the clear statements of Scripture.
When my wife and I joined WELS, we learned that the statement "all doctrine is taken from direct positive statements of Scripture, only," is no longer used. Instead, the phrase "all doctrine is taken only from clear statements of Scripture," is used, alongside the warning to "distinguish prescriptive from descriptive statements." I thought that was odd, because the former of these two statements is not a "clear" statement at all. The term "clear" is relative. What is clear to one person may or may not be clear to another. Moreover, if it is unclear what a 'clear statement' is, then it is also unclear whether a statement may be 'prescriptive' or 'descriptive'. So I asked my pastor about this.
- "I learned that 'all doctrine is taken from direct positive statements of Scripture, only.' Is this what you teach? Is this what you mean by 'clear statements'?" I asked.
He replied, "Well, essentially, yes. We don't use that phrase anymore because the terms 'direct' and 'positive' require a knowledge of grammar that people don't have anymore. They wouldn't know how to apply it. So we just say, 'clear statements', now."
"So how do they know what a 'clear statement' is?" I further inquired.
"Well, I know the grammar, of course... but for the most part, it's pretty obvious. If someone has a question, though, I am able to clarify it."
The reality is, Psy's offensive and inciting anti-war message doesn't need "interpreting." It is a direct positive statement, and stands on its own. In fact, it was issued as a series of command statements, and, thus, is categorically clear. But, as Dr. Veith intimates, post-Modernism would rob us of such clarity – the clarity of "direct positive statements." Hence, it is not only at war with the political and legal structures of the West (a war which is contributing mightily to social upheaval), but is at war against that on which these structures are ultimately founded, and that which gives us the Message of Jesus Christ and the Hope of Salvation: the Holy Scriptures, the very Word of God. In the opening paragraph of Part 1 of our series, "Relevance," and Mockery of the Holy Martyrs, we introduced this war as the same war that the World, one of the Christian's three great enemies, has always waged against Christ's Church:
- “The Christian's three great enemies are the devil, the world, and his own flesh. They each work to lure him into sin, in order to separate him from his Saviour, Jesus Christ. The World especially, Jesus tells us, hates us on account of Him (John 15:15-25), therefore, we should not marvel when the World conspires against us to rob us of His sustaining Word (1 John 3:13), which includes all aspects of Scripture: not just every word, as Jesus tells us directly in Matt. 4:4, but the form, or grammar, as well – as St. Paul amply demonstrates, the central teaching of Scripture hinging on a single point of Hebrew grammar (Gal. 3:13-16).”