“Just the Facts, Ma’am”
Written by Jeffrey A. Stivason |
Wednesday, January 4, 2023
How can we know the Christ who died for our sins, let alone anything about the world around us? The Bible is our answer. The Bible is the word of God and it is authoritative, not because it has the best narrative that we might be able to squeeze into, but because it is true.
How is it possible for humans to interpret the world around us? I mean, interpret it properly. Let me put it differently. What is the pre-condition for the ability to interpret the world around us? Well, a book might well be written on this subject, but I’ll make two brief points. First, God is all powerful and so He is in control of all things. He is what theologians call omnipotent and this has serious implications for our ability to know things. For example, Vern Poythress says, “The regularities that scientists describe are the regularities of God’s own commitments and his actions. By his word to Noah, he commits himself to govern the seasons. By his word he governs snow, frost and hail. Scientists describe the regularities in God’s word governing the world. So-called natural law is really the law of God or word of God, imperfectly and approximately described by human investigators” (In the Beginning was the Word, 67). In other words, scientists simply describe what God is doing.
Second, God knows all things, He is omniscient. As a consequence, Kevin Vanhoozer writes, “[created] reality does not exist as brute, uninterpreted fact…it is already meaningful because it is interpreted by God” (First Theology, 322). In other words, every fact is able to be interpreted because it is first known and interpreted by the God who gives all things meaning. In other words, there are no brute or uninterpreted facts because God is.
Now, all of this seems rather straight forward until you read someone like N. T. Wright. I was struck afresh by his view of history. Consider this quote from his book New Testament and the People of God,
Suppose, for example, we try to make a small but central claim about Jesus. If we say ‘Christ died for our sins,’ it is not too difficult to see an obvious element of interpretation: ‘for our sins’ is a theological addendum to the otherwise ‘historical’ statement. But even if we say ‘Christ died,’ we have not escaped interpretation: we have chosen to refer to Jesus as ‘Christ,’ ascribing to him a Messiahship which neither his contemporaries nor ours would universally grant. Very well: ‘Jesus died’. But we still have not escaped ‘interpretation’, and indeed at this point it looms larger than ever: three people died outside Jerusalem that afternoon, and we have chosen to mention only one. For that matter, thousands of Jews were crucified by the Romans in the vicinity of Jerusalem during the same century, and we have chosen to mention only one. Our apparently bare historical remark is the product of a multi-faceted interpretive decision. Nor is this unusual. It is typical of all history (NTPG, 82-83).