Authority Issues

The Bible is not a Rorschach inkblot. This seems obvious; however I’ve known many, many people over the years who tend to read it that way.

A Rorschach inkblot, as most of you probably know, is just that – an inkblot, as if you’d spill some ink on a piece of paper then fold the paper in half. You look at it, and supposedly your impressions of what you think it looks like reveals something about yourself. For example, in Batman Forever, Bruce Wayne asks the lady shrink, “why do you have a picture of a bat?” Turns out it isn’t a bat, just an inkblot. Oops.

Many people read the Bible the same way, not bothering to consider the author’s intended meaning, the cultural issues, or even the context for whatever passage they’re reading. Instead, the Bible is seen, because it’s “the Living Word,” speaking something unique to them. I’ve known people to open up the book at random and blindly put their finger on a verse that gives them their “secret message” for the moment. And, this is done by many people who would also argue the the Bible is authoritative, inerrant, and other words whose meanings they don’t really know.

I’ve read enough books and heard enough sermons over the last 30+ years to know that you can make the Bible say anything you want, as long as you read it according to your own rules. This is not what Martin Luther, Wycliffe and others had in mind when they put the Bible into the hands of the people, in their own language.

I’m not saying that the Holy Spirit can’t illuminate certain things for you, for certain occasions. What I am saying is that if you accept the authority of the Bible, anything you induce from (or perhaps more correctly, into) the Bible text is always subject to the balance of the Bible. There’s a reason that inductive Bible Studies and inductive preaching is so popular: it takes relatively little scholarship; that is, if you don’t subject your interpretation to the rest of the Bible.

Is inductive Bible study invalid? Not at all. But, we must be careful not to assign any kind of authority to our interpretation (except our own authority). What is invalid is using the Bible as a Rorschach blot, creating our own wild-eyed meanings and then blaming them on the Holy Spirit.

The issue of the authority of the Bible is really not that complex, but most people fail to understand it; in part, I think, because it means we must constantly surrender our own authority in its interpretation (and, as Americans, we just hate that).

I think of it like this: If God’s Word actually means something, if the Holy Spirit actually inspired the authors, then it’s worth a bit of work to properly understand what it means. If, however, it’s something that I can project meaning into like a Rorschach test (even with the help of the Holy Spirit), then we’d be nearly as well off reading the Oxford Dictionary (again, the issue of authority – Oxford, or Webster?).

If the Bible does indeed have “authority,” which I believe that it does, then it’s authority comes from God, and His intent. I believe that there is a meta-narrative, an over-arching, all-encompassing story that serves as the only true context for interpreting Scripture. To read the Bible as an inkblot, or to render our own isolated interpretations based on whatever, is actually to take a postmodernist approach, where we decide our own truth.

It may actually be that our personalized interpretations of Scripture act as Rorschach tests, and reveal more about ourselves that it does about God.

2 thoughts on “Authority Issues”

  1. Alden,
    Good word. I was just having this exact discussion with our son just yesterday.
    Very well put. I honestly believe the reason the bible is taken (and taught) the way you present, is so the teachers can receive the “revelatory recognition” for having brought a deep spiritual secret before the faithfull in a way no one else was able. I serves to keep them cutting edge, when in actuallity there’s nothing man can bring forth which God has not made known in the first place. For this reason, I believe, the sheep have only followed a pattern they have learned from their shepherds.

    Again, good word my friend

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