Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Biblical Interpretation: Making the Correct Distinctions

It is not hard to point out verses that appear to contradict one another. One skeptic, who protested against my essay in defense of God destroying the Canaanites, pointed out this “contradiction.”

• Deut. 24:16 Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.

• Exodus 34:7 "maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation."

While the first verse seems to indicate that God’s form of justice is in line with our own – only the guilty party is to be punished – the second indicates that He punishes the children and grand-children…for the sins of their parents.

This apparent contradiction is easily resolved by simply recognizing that the first verse mandate how we humans are to do justice, while the second is a revelation of how God does justice.

However, this raises another question – “Why should God’s way of doing justice be different from ours? Isn’t He supposed to be our role model?” This is true. However, there are areas – some forms of judgment – where we can’t act in the place of God. We are only capable of seeing the outer man, while God can judge the inner man. He’s also omniscient. Therefore, it was God who chose David to be the next King of Israel and not the wise prophet Samuel:

But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7)

Biblical interpretation requires that we make the right distinctions, but how do we know what are the right distinctions. Well, often we find these distinctions in the verses themselves. For instance, in Exodus 34:7, it reads, “Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished,” signifying that God is the Judge here. From the context of the Deuteronomy 26:14 passage, it is clear that God is giving instructions to Israel for how they must do justice. However, sometimes making the right distinction depends upon an overall understanding of Scripture.

(If you are interested in these types of questions, I will be giving a course on Thursday evenings starting in February on Biblical Interpretation: Controversial Verses.)

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