On Scripture Speaking

What does it mean when someone says that Scripture ‘speaks’ to them? That verse really spoke to me. That kind of thing. In the normal sense, it means that Scripture X disclosed a meaning to the hearer or reader. The text has a meaning which was made known to the hearer. Now this assumes that there is a kind of fixed meaning for Scripture – it has a meaning independent of whatever we happen to think/believe about the text. This verse means that, not that.

Does Scripture in fact have a fixed meaning? Lots of people have said lots of different things about what Scripture means. There are lots of interpretations of Scripture out there – minimalist, maximalist, reductionist, existential, analytic, and a million others. Broadly speaking, though, I think one can confidently say that Scripture is, in fact, about certain things. There is, in some sense, a kind of fixed meaning. Redemption, forgiveness, salvation, holiness, etc, are all things that Scripture is about – there may be various interpretations of this but one would be hard-pressed to argue that Scripture isn’t about these things in a fixed sense.

An essential aspect of Christian belief is that the spiritual truths of Scripture are revealed, not plain and available for all to see as if Scripture were any other kind of textbook. It is only through illumination by the Holy Spirit that the true Word within the words is revealed – prayerful abiding in the Holy Spirit is the key to grasping the true Word, which is Jesus Christ.

This is the second way the Scripture speaks to us – or, to be a bit more technically correct, the Holy Spirit revealing the Word in Scripture. The Holy Spirit can illuminate a certain text and reveal a meaning which may be specific and applicable to a certain time and place for a certain individual – perhaps one is reading a familiar text and suddenly sees it in a whole new light, and is able to draw a fresh application from a familiar text.

This, then, is the more dynamic way of Scripture speaking – in prayer, abiding in the Spirit. Now, one can study the text of Scripture in a non-spiritual way and still come away better for it. Even if one isn’t explicitly doing spiritual study, the Spirit is still working the hearts of all men. Perhaps someone engaged in a non-spiritual study of the text of Scripture will have an encounter with the Spirit and come away changed or transformed in some way.

Roughly then, truth about the Scriptural text can still be found through purely academic study. Historical, cultural, sociological truths can all be grasped on the basis of the Biblical data. But to truly grasp the Word, the Truth of Scripture, which is Jesus, one must abide in the spirit – as it says in the Psalms, our eyes must be opened so we can behold the wonderful things in the Law.

Reading and Context

It is terribly easy to take things out of context – but it seems moreso with written text. While written text seems like it should be more objective, it’s not really. The text is there, on the page – but that’s about the only objective thing about it. It must be read – which involves a host of things that shape how one interprets the text (presuppositions, linguistics, context of the reader, etc, etc). It is sometimes astounding to me that anything can be communicated at all with language, written or spoken.