Presbytery of Chicago: Authoritative Interpretation (1 of 3)

The Rationale text that I will discuss is from a single paragraph.  The full paragraph reads as follows.

Ministers whose study of Scripture, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, has led them to affirm same-gender marriage, are following their understanding of Jesus Christ, who placed himself on the margins with people others considered unclean, unworthy, and immoral, and lifted up love and compassion. They note that the Bible reflects many patterns and forms of legal, religiously approved marital relationships. They appeal to Presbyterian principles of biblical interpretation, including reading in context, the use of knowledge and experience, the centrality of Jesus Christ, interpretation of Scripture by Scripture, the rule of love, and the rule of faith (Presbyterian Understanding and Use of Holy Scripture, http:// http://www.pcusa.org/media/uploads/_resolutions/scripture-use.pdf). They believe that turning away same-gender couples harms gay and lesbian persons and their families, creates injustice, hinders evangelism, and violates their understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The colored text, which indicates the three-part text partitioning used for these posts, constitutes the entire Biblical / theological discussion concerning same gender marriage in this Rationale.

Given the above contextual information, here is the first of three Rationale analysis posts.


 

Ministers whose study of Scripture, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, has led them to affirm same-gender marriage,

I agree that the Holy Spirit’s leading is essential to the proper interpretation of Scripture. I trust that the Rationale authors agree that claims of the Holy Spirit’s guidance cannot be taken at face value. For example, was someone to claim that the Holy Spirit had guided them to an interpretative conclusion that contradicts Scripture’s clear teaching, we would be correct to reject their claim. That is, the Holy Spirit will not lead us to contradict Scripture.

The nature of the Holy Spirit’s role in Scriptural interpretation has been debated for centuries. The Scots Confession provides clear guidance. Substitution of “church” for “Kirk” in the following excerpt will minimize confusion.

“The interpretation of Scripture we confess, does not belong to any private or public person, nor yet to an Kirk for pre-eminence or precedence, personal or local, which it has above others, but pertains to the Spirit of God by whom the Scriptures were written. When controversy arises about the right understanding of any passage or sentence of Scripture, or for the reformation of any abuse within the Kirk of God, we ought not so much to ask what men have said or done before us, as what the Holy Ghost uniformly speaks within the body of the Scriptures and what Christ Jesus himself did and commanded. For it is agreed by all that the Spirit of God, who is the Spirit of unity, cannot contradict himself. So if the interpretation or opinion of any theologian, Kirk, or council, is contrary to the plain Word of God written in any other passage of the Scripture, it is most certain that this is not the true understanding and meaning of the Holy Ghost, although councils, realms, and nations have approved and received it.” (3.19-.20)

Note that the test for accepting any Scriptural interpretation is “what the Holy Ghost uniformly speaks within the body of the Scriptures and what Christ Jesus himself did and commanded” because “the Spirit of unity, cannot contradict himself.”

The Westminster Confession of Faith provides additional interpretative guidance.

“The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture, is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it may be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.” (6.009)

John Calvin also addressed this issue in his Institutes of the Christian Religion.

“But in promising it, of what sort did he declare his Spirit would be? One that would speak not from himself but would suggest to and instill into their minds what he had handed on through the Word [John 16:13]. Therefore the Spirit, promised to us, has not the task of inventing new and unheard-of revelations, or of forging a new kind of doctrine, to lead us away from the received doctrine of the gospel, but of sealing our minds with that very doctrine which is commended by the gospel.”

So, by claiming the Holy Spirit’s guidance for the Rationale’s interpretive conclusions the authors have not exempted themselves from careful Scriptural review.

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