Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Understanding Scripture and Righteous Living – a Two-Way Street

With this being the week of Bible Sunday in Advent, I think it a good time to mention something of import I noticed while studying in Oxford this past Michaelmas Term.  Dr. George Westhaver, Principal of Pusey House, in his thesis on Pusey’s lectures on “Types and Prophecies of the Old Testament,” notes at length that Pusey considered righteous living and right interpretation of scripture to be inseparable.  And not just that faithfully studying scripture aids righteousness, but that righteousness is necessary to the study and interpretation of scripture.
Yes, Pusey clearly thought this applied to the scholarly sphere.  He was at times frank in attributing immorality as one of the causes of the rise of rationalism in the scholarly study of the Bible.  He would even name names as he did in the case of Johann David Michaelis: “Deep insight into religion were indeed inconsistent with the intemperate habits and low moral character of Michaelis.”
I had not thought much about unrighteousness clouding one’s ability to understand scripture.  But now that Dr. Westhaver has brought Pusey’s contentions to my attention, I am now seeing that scripture contends that time and again.  Of course, a classic passage is Romans 1:18ff.  Right of the beginning of St. Paul’s withering indictment of mankind he states men “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”  And because they reject God and his righteousness, they become “futile in their thinking” as God gives “them up to a debased mind.”
If my mind were not debased by jetlag at the moment, I could surely post any number of other scriptures along these lines.  I know I keep coming across them in my Bible study now that I am more alert to them.  But to those who wish to study and even teach scripture and its interpretation, this is all the more incentive to live right, is it not?  Even if only God knows our unrighteous thoughts and dealings, others will be affected as our study and teaching become a cloudy and polluted stream.
I have not seen this for some years, but some Bibles, particularly King James Bibles, used to state at the front, “This Book will keep you from sin, and sin will keep you from this Book.” I used to laugh at that as old fashioned, but I now see there is a lot of truth in that. Dr. Pusey and scripture itself contend that prevalent sin can keep us from rightly understanding that Book as well.

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