Tuesday, January 06, 2004

When Proverbs mean Proverbs...

I taught a class last year on interpreting the Bible. We reviewed Playing With Fire, by Walt Russell, a professor from Biola University. Essentially, Russell posits that in interpreting the Bible we need to be cognizant of the literary genres involved. This makes sense, since the information in the Bible is conveyed to us, by God, in written form. Written forms vary and that variance will influence how we interpret the intended meaning. So far so good. But I ran into a few difficulties when reviewing the genre of Wisdom Literature, in particular, the book of Proverbs. There are some Christians who believe that the Proverbs are, because they are part of the Bible, actually promises by God. I find this confusing if not for the simple fact that the the title of the book is, again, Proverbs. This brings us to the Focus on the Family website which has a question posted that asks, "You have said that the children of godly parents sometimes go into severe rebellion and never return to the faith they were taught. I have seen that happen to some wonderful families that loved the Lord and were committed to the church. Still, it appears contradictory to Scripture. How do you interpret Proverbs 22:6 (KJV), which says, "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it"? Doesn't that verse mean, as it implies, that the children of wise and dedicated Christian parents will never be lost? Doesn't it promise that all wayward offspring will return, sooner or later, to the fold?" The answer is interesting. I won't list the entire answer, but here is an excerpt, "I wish Solomon's message to us could be interpreted that definitively. I know that the common understanding of the passage is to accept it as a divine guarantee, but it was not expressed in that context... the proverbs appear to represent likelihoods rather than absolutes with God's personal guarantee attached. This interpretation of the Scripture is somewhat controversial among laymen, but less so among biblical scholars... " I believe that here we have another example of the need for us, as Christians, to be careful not to come to the Bible with pre-conceived notions in mind. It is difficult, if not impossible, to be sure; but the results are a better understanding of what God intends to tell us in the scriptures, rather than what we may hope to find.

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