I was taught a simple hermeneutical principle long ago, one that makes sense if we actually believe the Bible is inerrant and sufficient for faith and practice.
When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense.
I realize that sometimes there are addenda to that concept. We need to understand the plain sense of Scripture as it would have been understood by the audience that received it – Ancient Israel, the First Century Greek culture, etc. Archeology and historical studies, as well as language studies can inform our “plain sense of Scripture.”
Having said all that, sometimes we can qualify, explain, and justify to the point where we mystify and the plain sense of Scripture is lost.
In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul gave the errant Corinthians a simple instruction, one that we have explained away to the point of turning the text on its head. Evidently, the Corinthians, a divided and quarreling people, tended to take their offenses with one another to secular courts instead of handling them inside the church. Paul gives a simple instruction on this.
When one of you has a dispute with another believer, how dare you file a lawsuit and ask a secular court to decide the matter instead of taking it to other believers! 2 Don’t you realize that someday we believers will judge the world? And since you are going to judge the world, can’t you decide even these little things among yourselves? 3 Don’t you realize that we will judge angels? So you should surely be able to resolve ordinary disputes in this life. 4 If you have legal disputes about such matters, why go to outside judges who are not respected by the church? 5 I am saying this to shame you. Isn’t there anyone in all the church who is wise enough to decide these issues? 6 But instead, one believer sues another—right in front of unbelievers!
7 Even to have such lawsuits with one another is a defeat for you. Why not just accept the injustice and leave it at that? Why not let yourselves be cheated? 8 Instead, you yourselves are the ones who do wrong and cheat even your fellow believers. 1 Corinthians 6:1-8
What is the plain sense of this passage?
- Paul gives us his best Greta Thunberg imitation, saying “How dare you” file lawsuits in secular court when you have grievances with one another.
- He reminds them that believers will one day rule the world and ought to be able to handle “ordinary disputes.”
- He seems to speak about grievances and lawsuits, not criminal issues. The government is ordained by God to enforce justice and reporting criminal offenses to them is justified. Civil disputes are at issue here.
- Using secular courts to adjudicate civil issues in the church is an embarrassment, demonstrating that we lack the wisdom to settle matters ourselves. We can talk about the sufficiency of Scripture, but when we go to court, we are shouting that we do not really believe God’s word and the Spirit are enough.
- Verse 6 is clear – it’s a terrible testimony to unbelievers.
- Verse 7 tells us that whether we win or lose our lawsuits with other believers, in God’s eyes, we have lost just by going to a secular court.
- Verses 7 and 8 give the judgment of God, of Scripture. It is better to lose, to be cheated, than to go to a secular court and win. God is able to handle matters of justice. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay!” Again, this is not about matters of abuse or other criminal matters, but of civil matters. It is better for us to be cheated, to lose in this world than to embarrass the kingdom by going to court.
Can someone point out how these conclusions are not the “plain sense of Scripture?” In the light of the Bible, I have questions.
- What justification can we provide for the proliferation of lawsuits we have seen recently in Christian circles?
- Why are so many Christians suing other Christians?
- Even when they are justified on HUMAN terms, can we justify them on biblical terms?
- If we SAY we believe the Bible, shouldn’t we OBEY the Bible?
What say you?