Understanding and Interpreting Old Testament Scripture


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We must be careful how we assess and interpret Old Testament scripture. The Old Testament – for centuries thought to “be God’s Word” is today better described as “containing God’s Word”. If we believe the God of the Old Testament is the same God as the God of the New Testament, we must think deeply and prayerfully about how the words are expressed in the Old Testament.  Our goal is to try and understand the many acts of violence that appear in the scriptures and how these acts fit into our understanding of who God is and what role does he play in the Old Testament.

We who are elder – lay theologians struggle mightily with many difficult and confusing sections of Old Testament scriptures. Here are statements regarding the Old Testament that should help relieve our “theological uncomfortableness “.

  • We must accept and respect the writings of the Old Testament (O.T.) as a series of stories that are intended to reveal God’s messages and truths – but not historical facts.
  • The ancient writers (1500 years later) did a marvelous job of compiling numerous oral versions of biblical stories passed down through families, scholars and priests. However, many times the stories were presented as allegories or metaphors in an honest attempt to convey God’s messages in language that the people could understand. For those who tend to accept the “literal words of scripture” as being the truth, this approach may add some confusion to biblical interpretations.
  • Our best Methodist theologians today support the following statements:

+ It is acceptable to disagree with unreasonable O.T. scriptures.

+ There are some statements in the O.T. that were not breathed by God.

+ It is acceptable to relieve God from having said certain statements and assign them to the ancient writers.

+ There are no Methodist seminaries that teach “the Bible is God’s Word”.  Baptist and most fundamental ministers are taught in seminaries that this broad statement is true.

+ Many acts of violence exist in the O.T. but it does not mean that God approves or orders harm to come to any people. God does not support acts of violence.

+ Some O.T. stories may be “divinely inspired” but not literally historical fact – because God’s truths are hidden behind the “allegorical words”.

+ Violent acts in the Bible were instigated by humans that sincerely believed they were doing God’s will. 

i.e. the Crusades

  • The literal words of some O.T. scriptures make us feel uncomfortable because they are in conflict with our understanding of who God is. The answer to this conflict rests in our understanding that many of God’s messages (truths) lie behind allegorical words created by humans.
  • With a clearer understanding of how to interpret O.T. scripture, we can now address another broad and general statement: “The Bible is inerrant and infallible.” This statement is in error for reasons outlined above. We can now conclude that “God’s Word” is inerrant and infallible because we now know that all statements in the Bible are not credited to God. However, whether stated direct or as messages presented in allegorical form, God’s truths are indeed – inerrant and infallible! God’s messages (truths) in any form are without error.
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