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Nov 10

Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth

This evening I wrote an email to Evangelical Christian talk show host Marty Minto. I anxiously await his response. In the meantime, I’d love for my Protestant readers to give me their take.

Marty,

I mean the following as a serious question, not just some anti-"sola scriptura" taunt. I honestly want your answer to this, so please be open minded to it.

You repeatedly make reference to "rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:16) If there is a right way, there must also be a wrong way. My concern is that there seem to be so many ways. For nearly every belief you hold and defend with Scripture, I can find someone else who holds an opposing belief that they can defend with Scripture.

All who claim Scriptural support believe that theirs is the "right division" of the Word. Obviously, someone must be wrong. In fact, several must be. Is one necessarily right? Unless God’s Word returns void, there must be. Who is it? How can we know? When many reputable and born-again faithful hold differing interpretations of Scripture, who is to be trusted and believed? Does majority rule? Does one person or group hold the authoritative interpretation?

The Catholic and Orthodox churches believe that apostolic succession places interpretive authority with patriarchs (the bishop of Rome being the head patriarch according to Catholics). When the apostles, including Paul, were alive, they acted as supreme earthly authorities in disputes among the faithful. Before they died, they appointed successors to hold that authority. Until the Reformation, that succession of leaders was unbroken. Even the split between East and West did not break that. Once the Reformation began, it did not take long before very disparate interpretations and teachings arose. One need not be a trained scholar of the Reformation to know some of the differences between Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Wesley, and Fox, to name but a few. In the 400 years since that pivotal century, the number of denominations has grown exponentially. As soon as someone disagrees with the beliefs held by the majority of a denomination, they leave, often forming splinter groups of their own, where the process can repeat itself. While there are some constants between at least the mainline denominations, there are almost as many Evangelical interpretations and teachings as there are Evangelicals. With no central authority to appeal to, everyone can say theirs is the right reading of Scripture. Even among the mainlines, there are major disagreements and there is no final authority for them to appeal to. So I cannot help but ask this question of you:

Why should anyone trust your interpretations of Scripture over others? Perhaps you could answer this during Theological Thursday.

Eric

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