One of the issues that I have been exploring in thinking about my work on interpretive pluralism revolves around the language used in churches to describe the encounter with Scripture. I am pretty sure that, if we are to take interpretation seriously then we need to factor it in to our talk about the Bible, and find new ways of describing what we are actually saying when we talk about its meaning for us today. So it was great and helpful to come across Doug Chaplin’s reflections today on the phrase ‘The Bible says…’ which is usually used as a shorthand for ‘I interpret or understand the Bible to say…’. This is Doug’s conclusion:
I am arguing that there is never a “Bible says” argument that
actually is just the quotation of a verse. The very act of selecting
the verse depends on an interpretative framework or tradition. “I take
the Bible to say …” “My tradition teaches that the Bible says …” “Our
church interprets the Bible to mean…” All these are fundamentally
By contrast, use of the phrase “the Bible says …” tends to
dishonesty and self-deception. It obscures the work of interpretation
that lies behind the statement, whether individual or ecclesial, and it
replaces an honest argument for that interpretation with a statement
that labels disagreement as rebellion, and questioning as sin.
Repeat after me: “The Bible doesn’t say”.
My question here relates, I guess, to the ways in which we might creatively relate the provisional senses of language that Doug calls for here, with the proclamatory dimensions of preaching in particular. In the end I think the preacher has a responsibility to say ‘this is what the Bible is saying…’. If this is modified to read ‘this is what I think the Bible is saying’ – does the preaching lose its rhetorical power?