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The Importance of Interpretation of the Bible

The Dogmatic Position

The dogmatic position extended by most Christadelphians is that scripture is not subject to interpretation by themselves (unlike other churches) and therefore to be dogmatic about doctrines is to simply be a mouthpiece for God. It is to say and defend what God says and means. To not be dogmatic by contrast is to be unsure of a certainty we can achieve. A common belief is that the scripture interprets itself providing we read it sufficiently well. That has not however prevented divisions over many issues within the Christadelphians themselves, nor has it eliminated promotion of the need to have statements of faith.

Belief that the Christadelphians alone have “the Truth” is therefore often used as a basis of the right to exercise church authority and in another article we examine the divine validity question involved. If it is less possible to reach a dogmatic certainty, then the divine claim is misplaced and dogmatic certainly should be tempered with a more realistic assessment of what we can actually be sure about.

From personal experience having been brought up as a Christadelphian the comprehensive understanding of all parts of the Bible is not held by Christadelphians. Despite huge Bible reading and often holding dogmatic belief positions, there remains inconsistencies and difficult verses which do not easily fit the whole scheme. In particular the emphasis of the New Testament has to be considerably wrested to fit the emphasis of the Christadelphians on correct theology. The outsider to Christadelphians, (whether a non believer or most Christians) can be tackled because Christadelphians are taught to proof-quote using selected Biblical texts. Those with many years experience know as some Christadelphians will private admit “there are grey areas.”

Factors Involved in Understanding the Bible

If we accept that the Bible is sufficient, that any translation problems are minor, or can be overcome we then move on to how it is to be understood. In view of the multiple interpretations around we have to ask why so much variance of interpretation? If it is possible for everyone to understand by reading it there should be agreement. If it is not easily possible, then what makes one group such as the Christadelphians be so dogmatic. If it is complex then surely an infallible Bible doesn’t of itself give infallible understanding?

The method of understanding the Bible is called in theology “hermeneutics” and we would suppose it should be simple. The Bible is available in English and we would suppose that it should be read like any other book. That it is not that simple can be shown by the observable fact that Christians debate over what different verses mean.

The reality is that Christadelphians have a view of inspiration and a method of interpretation they follow where they place emphasis on which certain verses and arguments and place less emphasis upon others that any convert will need to learn. Historical principles of how the Bible should be read can be found within the first chapter of Christendom Astray written by Robert Roberts who played a prominent role in the establishment of the Christadelphians as a denomination. The general principles established are that scripture should be understood literally unless obviously symbolic or poetic. In particular he is adamant that mainstream Christinaity has been historically wrong in spiritualising segments of the Old Testament. Another Christadelphian guide specifically dealing with this topic is “Key to Understanding 

the Scriptures.

To assess these claims requires a comprehensive understanding of the Bible. It also inevitably requires explanations for why other churches have flawed explanations. This was claimed by early Christadelphians as being due to poor reading of scriptures, holding to tradition, church leaders and creedal controls and that an independent reading of scripture could overcome those influences.

An early Christadelphian considering the question of how inspiration worked (a necessary question) led to an historical division and a Foundation Statement being added to the statement of faith. The belief of Christadelphians is that the authors were vessels used by God and that their thoughts and understandings played no part in what they wrote. That is, God literally spoke through men and women in a way that the words did not represent their personal understanding. Any other view would historically be considered by a Christadelphian as “partial inspiration.” In other words they have a view of inspiration that allows no progressions of thought or understanding within the Bible and God never inspired within their cultural or time restraints. Views which do were called “partial inspiration.” In this view each word of the Bible has equal validity and every apparent contradiction has to be balanced. This is especially relevant when we come to the New Testament and examine whether it has altered the emphasis of the Old Testament.

In this view the Bible has to be accurate on every point. It has to be accurate about history, nature, science, geography, astronomy as well as not having progressions of spiritual understanding. The result is all seeming contradictions have to be explained away.

Christadelphians recognise the need for coordinating the whole Bible and call it, Balancing the Bible.






Christadelphian Quotes

You lay a great stress upon facts throughout your letters, and are incessant in your demand that I should attend to them. This is good; but facts have to be rightly put together, and then you must have all the facts. I do not think you put the facts rightly together, and you leave out some, I am sure.

(Robert Roberts, a Christadelphian Pioneer, quoted

by Ruth McHaffie in Brethren Indeed)

The Spirit of liberty, based upon the law of faith, is the Spirit of Christ; and this spirit all the Sons of God are privileged to possess, and having it, to breathe. I claim the right of exercising this privilege, as well as my contemporaries; and I require of them that they should do to me as once they loudly required others to do to them…

(written by John Thomas, the founder of the Christadelphians, when he was against creeds in 

The Apostolic Advocate magazine, August 1836)

(John Thomas, from Apostacy Unveiled, p. 137,

quoted in The Christadelphian Magazine, January 1906)

Must a man never progress? If he discovers an error in his premises, must he for ever hold to it for the sake of consistency? May such a calamity never befall me! Rather let me change every day, till I get right at last.

(from a letter written by John Thomas in 1848, quoted by Robert Roberts, in Dr. Thomas: His Life and Work)

Do what is right; be valiant for the Truth; teach it without compromise, and all lovers of the Truth will approve you. For all others you need not care a rush!

(from a letter written by John Thomas to Robert Roberts and published in The Christadelphian magazine, February 1866)