Doctrine, Interpretation, Correction, and Spirit

But I say unto you…

Matt 5, several times

Religion consists of two subsystems: doctrine and mysticism. Doctrine is conservative, while mysticism changes doctrine, but also threatens it.

Most charismatic churches would name these two systems slightly differently. They would call them Word and Spirit, which would be close enough.

Equating doctrine with the Word allows them, among other things, to say goodbye to doctrine. It is no longer necessary to define it, because the infallible inspired Word is clear. There is no need for doctrine or interpretation.

This, of course, is the most non-binding and vulnerable doctrine that has ever existed. Each pastor will define his own doctrine based on his own understanding as a chosen, anointed, appointed person.

Furthermore, he will demand that the other leaders communicate in full congruence with him.

According to this thinking, it is the Spirit who supports–gives witness to–the doctrine through the now-word of God, interpreted within the framework of the implicit doctrine, his own interpretation. Both the written and spoken word are therefore subject to the interpretation of the pastor.

But let’s step back for a moment and look at the common practice that Scripture forms the interpretive framework for weighing the Spirit-inspired now-word.

If this is the case, no more correction can be made.

Now most people will say that the Word does not need correction. Of course, this is basically true.

But what did Jesus correct when he said: “You have heard, but I say to you”?

It is clear to us: he was correcting the interpretation of the Jewish Bible and the tradition of the Pharisees, Sadducees and scribes.

If we claim that we no longer need such correction today, then that is narcissism and hubris. How do I know this?

There are so many different interpretations of the Bible. At least as many as there are denominations, and if we have the courage to talk openly among ourselves as pastors, then the number of interpretations expands even further without us having added the individual believers.

So if I assume that I am right, then the majority of others must be wrong–assuming that there is a right and wrong. And that’s clear, isn’t it?

But we could still say that there is a non-interpretable truth in the wording of the Bible. But we have dozens of translations into English alone, and these differ in such a way that individual verses can certainly be interpreted differently. So who is right?

Were some translators not as inspired as the others? Are translations that are closer to the Hebrew and Greek wording better, even if they miss the cultural embedding, i.e., use metaphors and constructions that do not fit into our culture and language? Or are looser, more modern translations better, and if so, which ones?

However, if translators can certainly be wrong, and any fundamentalist Bible-believing pastor will be able to cite translations that don’t suit him, what about the writers of the Bible?

We say that God preserves his word. I’m sure he does, but at the word level he obviously can’t because a translation will only ever capture part of the connotation of the underlying word, and because it has been proven that the translator’s theology feeds into the translation. Just as it happens to us when we read: I use my imprint and culture as a frame of reference. That’s how language works.

To what extent will God have dictated the Bible literally if he knows that the translations will lose this literal wording?

The Koran can only be read in Arabic because it will never say the same thing in any other language. We would therefore have to insist that only the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts are authoritative and that sermons are only meaningful and authorized in these languages.

The question then arises: which original texts? We have no original texts, but rather copies that differ from one another, some of which were penned written hundreds of years later.

So the written word can only be authoritative to a limited extent, even to the point where we do not know whether a word inspired by the Spirit contradicts the Bible, our tradition of interpretation, or our private personal interpretation.

Why did God allow this in the first place?

God built a corrective into the Old Testament in the form of the prophets. Prophets were people on whom the Holy Spirit came. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit dwells in every believer.

Of course, the Now Word of God has the same limitations and problems as the written word. It is subject to the interpretation of the speaker and the hearer, and God must refer to the cultural framework of the recipient when speaking to be understood at all.

Hence, the community of believers. Many sources, many hearers, and interpreters together limit the possibility of misinterpretation. Or they stifle any possibility of correction based on tradition.

The latter will happen much more frequently. People generally believe more in what confirms their preconceived opinion and previous beliefs. This is known as confirmation bias.

This is why it usually takes a very long time for a correction prompted by the Holy Spirit to prevail.

Let’s take an example:

In German, we translate the word katallasso as reconciliation. Katallasso means to change.

In the 4th century, Hieronimus began translating the Bible into Latin. He translates the word as reconciliare. Reconciliare means “to win back as a friend”.

Hieronimus was in a culture that was strongly influenced by the idea of having to reconcile with the gods and be on good terms with them. Hence, the choice of the word. “Making friends again” takes on the meaning of reconciliation through the train of thought that you must have messed things up with your friend beforehand. Change becomes reconciliation.

Now that the word reconciliation has been chosen, sin and overcoming it must be placed at the center of Christology. Jesus died to reconcile us.

It is then not far to the theological statement that God cannot have fellowship with us as long as we are sinners. Although he certainly spoke to Adam and Eve after the so-called fall of man, he can no longer do so today, or we can no longer do so.

Verses are used here to confirm this view: how can someone love God and hate their brother? This says nothing about God’s ability to have fellowship with sinners–which Jesus had all his life. It says something about our inner state.
Can God forgive us if we don’t forgive? Of course, but we will build our own prison from which we can only get out if we forgive.

But there is more. The Fall itself must become the Fall because it is about restitution and reconciliation. Throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites tried to be justified through sacrifice, to make amends with God. Hieronimus thus joined a long tradition–an Old Testament tradition, in addition to its Roman-pagan character.

We interpret Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross as the ultimate sacrifice in the sense of the Old Testament. God needs this sacrifice to be reconciled with the world. Change becomes exchange.

But perhaps it is also the case that we, and not God, are convinced that a sacrifice is needed so that we can be reconciled with God? God, in his infinite love, responds to us and gives us this sacrifice so that we can finally stop sacrificing animals. Although he had already asked us a few times to stop.

But we don’t have to stop there. What if we realize that no sacrifice is necessary at all? We have already realized that we have nothing to contribute, that there are no preconditions for our restoration.

What if Jesus died to show us how to live? What if it is not centrally about sin, but about living out our calling? Unconditionally and fearlessly, to the point of death if necessary?

This would allow us to detach the story of paradise from the concept of sin because the restoration on the cross would then not be the overcoming of sin in our theological sense.

If the story of Adam and Eve describes man’s becoming conscious, then this becoming conscious includes man’s ability to distinguish between himself and others. This is the basis of dualism, which automatically leads to categories such as good and evil, right and wrong.

However, as soon as people become aware of themselves, they separate themselves from God. They are no longer like God, and the loss of this unity leads them onto a path of growth that should lead them back to this unity, but on a higher level. In this way, God helps them in their growth by always meeting people on the level that they can understand.

This automatically leads to misunderstandings, simplifications, detours, corrections, relearning, new beginnings and intermediate successes.

But such an interpretation would be vehemently rejected. The web, the tradition that we have created through translation, word choice, theology, and hierarchy is too dense for such a fundamental revision of our faith, our doctrine, to be understood as even possible, let alone God-ordained. Our own fundamental principles of testing God’s word would be challenged, along with centuries of tradition. And much worse: our own interpretation, our belief system, our worldview, and our justification before God would be in question.

And what must not be, must not be.

So we take another lap around the mountain. God is faithful. The cloud accompanied the people of Israel through the desert for the entire 40 years, even if it was the wrong path, but the obviously necessary one for the stiff-necked people.

We are no better.