Hermeneutical Principles

The less clear sections of scripture must be explained by the more clear sections, not the other way around. No one claims that the parable of the unjust steward is the Sedes Doctrinae for the doctrine of justification. For that, we turn to the parables one chapter prior. Absurd example, of course. And yet, the Lutheran Church has long had to contend with those who claim that “This is my body” must be interpreted according to a less clear word of the Lord. The correct method is to interpret Paul (or, if one is inclined toward a sacramental interpretation of John 6) or the word of Christ, “I am the bread of Life”, in light of that clear and unambiguous word of our Lord.

The example of the unjust steward shows the folly of such an approach. And yet I have seen a disturbing trend toward using examples of scriptural conduct (less clear) to interpret Divine Command (more clear) regarding matters in the church. This is nonsense.  No one would say that the commandment “Thou Shalt not Kill” does not apply to Christians because God said Joshua must kill the Canaanites. No one would claim that wives should take side jobs as ladies of the evening, because God commanded Hosea to take as a wife a woman who worked in that profession. And no one would claim that sacrificing children was only forbidden in the Old Testament (Molech) not the New, based on the example of God himself, who sacrificed his own Son for us.

Yet there are those who claim that the clear command “husband of one wife” must be interpreted in light of the less clear example of King David. Those unfit for ministry especially like to make this application. Similarly, there are those who claim that the more clear command “those who work of the Gospel should live of the Gospel” should be interpreted in light of the less clear example of Saint Paul, who worked as a tent-maker. The church is commanded to behave a certain way in both of these matters. If it fails to do so, it is in violation of God’s command. Those responsible will reap the reward for their fleshly pursuit.

Yes, God is able to grant exceptions to any or all of his commandments according to his good and perfect will. But those exceptions are sui generis. They do not become examples for us of godly conduct, unless God says they are to be used that way. This is especially true when there is a clear command of God concerning these matters. In those cases, we had better stick to the clear command of God.

Anything less, as the Apostles says, would be a deception. After all, God is not mocked. And I’m pretty sure those words mean what they say.

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