Christian Originalists


(The Bible is the Word of God)


With respect to the Constitution of the United States some justices of the Supreme Court are called “Originalists.” They believe the constitution is to be interpreted and applied as it was originally written to the extent it can be determined. However, it is not a simple thing to determine what the founding fathers meant in every case. Though originalists respect the Constitution and seek to understand and apply it in its original sense, there are frequently differences of opinion as to the original intent. That is not surprising.

Opposed to orginalists are those who believe the Constitution should be viewed as a “living document” with no fixed meaning.


While there is some tension within the camp of the orginalists, there is little if any tension among those who see the Constitution as a “living document.” They are comfortable interpreting it as they choose or desire. They believe it should change or bend with the times to fit personal whims, political correctness, or the changing customs of the time. The Constitution thus becomes a political pawn. Neither is that surprising.

Today we find similar differences in the churches with respect to Scripture interpretation. For example, division exists within Lutheranism between originalists, and those who see the Scriptures as a living document.


Originalists believe the Holy Scriptures are the living Word of the Lord God. “For the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The Word of God is not a dead letter, but alive and effective as Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing, the words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). Further, Jesus is the living Word. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…”(John 1:1,14).


That the Word is a living Word, does not mean that it is subject to change with the times or circumstances of the moment. God’s Word is as set and as sure and certain as God himself. His analysis of the human condition under sin does not change. He has never changed His definition of what constitutes sin. His condemnation of sin and unbelief is sure and certain in every generation. His solution to the sin problem and His desire to save the sinner does not change. The Savior promised, born, dead, and risen again is unchangeable. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). God’s Word that promises life to all who believe in Jesus Christ and His atonement is solid, unchangeable, and forever. Finally, the will of God for our life, and the exhortation to and definition of sanctified living remains the same.


On the other hand, if Scripture is seen as subject to human determination of what is God’s Word and what is not, God is made a liar. Scripture is the source of all that the Lord God speaks to us. To deny any part of it, calls into question everything else that man claims to believe of it, including the message of salvation! To those who deny any part of Scripture, or who interpret it to fit their subjective opinion of what is and is not the inspired Word, a question is in place: “If you do not believe the whole Bible is God’s Word and that it means exactly what it says for all time, who decides definitively what is and what is not? The same God who claims authorship of what you deny, is the Author of the salvation message. How do you know that you are saved?” They who interpret the Word to fit their own understanding or desire, or who select which word of God to believe or not believe, and who teach others to do the same are false prophets, and do not profit God’s people at all (Jeremiah 23:32).


But that is where the church in the world is today. We are not speaking of heathen but of those who deny any part of the Word of God within Christendom, including Lutheran churches which hitherto have confessed the Word, but now are bowing before, if not leading the way to, the altar of compromise.


Originalists believe that God said what He meant and meant what He said with respect to what He recorded in Scripture. Whereas constitutional originalists have a difficult time knowing for sure what the founding fathers had in mind, and therefore may vary among themselves in their interpretation, Bible originalists do not have that difficulty. This is not because they are wiser than others, or have better interpretive ability than others. It is because they believe that God is His own interpreter. Scripture interprets itself.


Honest and faithful interpretation of Scripture begins with an appreciation that the Scripture is divinely inspired. It is the Word of God. It acknowledges that only by the power of the Spirit of God can a faithful interpretation be given. The honest and faithful interpretation is a restatement of what Scripture actually says and teaches, and not what the interpreter wants it to say. In restating Scripture truth, the interpreter keeps in mind the context, and recognizes that any interpretation of a difficult passage contrary to a clear passage of Scripture is wrong. The Lord God does not contradict himself. The purpose of Biblical interpretation is not to prove the Bible correct to the satisfaction of reason, nor is it to make Scripture square with human opinion or to fit the times. The purpose is to learn and set forth what our God teaches for our life in time and eternity.


Faithful Christians study Scripture to grow in understanding, and by the power of the Spirit follow where it leads. That is different from those who look at the world, or the trends within the fallen world and then search Scripture to find a passage that will validate the trend, or reinterpret Scripture if they don’t. Honest Bible students do not believe they are wiser than God, or wiser than the prophets and apostles. They do not believe that in matters of theology or morals, the Lord changes His teaching to accommodate the corrupt mind of the fallen heart. They do not believe that the life of the Church depends on adopting means and customs and philosophies that appeal to society. Nor do they believe the ministry of the Church is fulfilled faithfully by satisfying itching ears.


The orginalist approach to Scripture is simple. The Bible is God’s Word. The Word of ourFather has one intended meaning. It teaches us concerning Him, His work and will for us for time and for eternity. The faithful student studies to see what God says. We reject any study or interpretation of Scripture that has as its end to look for what one thinks it should say, wants it to say, or hopes it says. We reject any interpretation that does not accept what the divine Author said and meant to say for so long as the world shall stand. “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20).

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8). “These [words] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31). As words have meaning so does the Word of God. “Thus says the Lord: ‘Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls’” (Jeremiah 6:16).To God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Who was, is, and ever shall be, be praise and honor forever and ever.