How do we know what the Bible means? Is extra-biblical information required to correctly understand or does the Bible stand on its own?
Certainly we could agree that context can be helpful. Certainly we can look at the natural world and see how it fits with Biblical principles. But that’s the subtle difference. Are we matching the Bible to other evidences or other evidences to the Bible?
Here’s an example. An atheist recently told me that ALL evidence has rejected a universal flood since the 1700s. But the Bible clearly teaches that the whole earth was covered in water. Which do I conform to? Evidence from scientists or evidence from the creator of science? Yet there are those Christians who would take science and say “You are King. I will now conform scripture to your likeness.” They then describe the flood as seeming like a worldwide event from the author’s limited perspective. It doesn’t matter that the Genesis passage describes in great detail that the highest mountain tops of the whole earth were covered in 15 cubits of water. That’s … maybe … a metaphor?
Here’s another example, but one with which I tread lightly. When Jesus walked on water, one must understand the scientific concept of gravity in order for the action to be miraculous. God is demonstrating, in part, that He is the master of science and can bend it to his will. With changing water into fine old wine He demonstrates His ability to rapidly age a substance when needed in order to produce its finest quality. I do not bring up these two examples to say “Who needs science?” because God loves science. He set things in order and that order is where science comes from. But He also is sometimes in the habit of manipulating things outside the natural course. This is something to keep in mind.
It is also encouraging to look at archeology and see the Biblical account justified. Or look at a natural truth and see it in scripture ahead of its time. Such as elusions to a spherical Earth in the Psalms or reference to the Hittites.
But maybe this is simply a matter of “disputable issues.” Like food offered to idols or holding the Lord’s day in higher esteem than other days. Only this isn’t one of those areas scripture simply doesn’t touch on. These are integral parts of the Bible message. These are also clearly articulated and detailed parts.
What it boils down to is that all of scripture can be explained away. It’s just a matter of necessity. If you need to change it for social reasons such as to accommodate homosexuality or updated gender roles, then you can do that. It’s been done for you already. If you need to accommodate current scientific “consensus” then helpful reinterpretations have been made there for you as well. All you have to do is search the net.
There are scriptural contortionists aplenty. Choose the one that makes you more comfortable with God’s word … or else treat it as just that, God’s word, and listen to what it has to say.
The latter is a challenge. It’s hard work. But rewarding in the end because God’s unadulterated message is always rewarding. And in the end, its not as hard as trying to alter it. Don’t end up with a serious bunch of Christians playing Twister like their life depended on it. You’ll just end up in a knot of human confusion.