Monday, March 3, 2008

Ockham's Razor and the Bible

I recently posted about the necessity for humility in what we believe. However, I in no way want to suggest that we cannot know the truth. If we can't, then everything is relative. God has given us His word to keep us from falling into a relativistic trap.

We must be able to correctly interpret the bible in order to know what God is saying to us. How do we do this? What methods can we use to assist us when we read the scriptures? One of the most important things to keep in mind is that there are some sections of the bible (verse, passage, or chapter) that are easier for our fallen minds to comprehend than are others.

When we run into a difficult passage, we must interpret it by looking to clearer passages that deal with the same or similar topics. In other words, the bible must be used to interpret the bible.

Closely related to this is the extreme importance of context. Single verses rarely carry the writer's full meaning in the bible. It is the paragraph that is the key. Furthermore, we must always remember the meaning of the chapter, book, and full canon. Context is key.

What else can we do? We need to believe that the writers of the bible meant what they said. We must assume that a passage should be taken literally unless there is an obvious reason not to do so. So, when Jesus says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me," we must believe that He literally meant it. If we do not do this, then the bible simply becomes a book that we bring are own meaning to. Then all meaning is "up for grabs."

When I read the bible, I try to keep in mind Ockham's Razor. William of Ockham was a 14th century English philosopher and logician. His principle has been used over the years in many ways. Simply put, Ockham's idea means: All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best.

Although Ockham's theory is not found in the bible, I still believe it has relevance for our study of scripture. When approaching a passage, if we believe that the straightforward reading of the text is simplest and almost always correct, then we will do well in understanding what the original author meant. Most of the time, when we try to look for something more complicated, we run into trouble (by "trouble," I mean coming to an incorrect understanding of the text).

I'll admit that all scripture should not be taken literally. For example, in John 10:9, Jesus says, "I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture." I think we'll all agree that Jesus is not a literal wooden door with a handle and hinges. Writers of scripture sometimes employ literary techniques such as allusion, anthropomorphism, hyperbole, irony, metaphor, parable, simile, etc. However, when the writers do this, they make it obvious. Why? They do this because God wants us to be able to understand His book. He is not playing games with us. (For very helpful information about literary techniques and figures of speech in scripture, check this out).

I say all this as encouragement to all of us. Our faith in God is based upon the truth revealed to us in His book. We must be able to understand it in order to know Him. The glorious thing is that we can understand it. We do well in this by keeping things simple - God means what He says.

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