What presuppositions do you carry with you into reading and interpreting Scripture? How do these presuppositions affect the lenses with which you view Scripture? These are questions that every Christians must strive to answer. We must strive to be aware of our biases when reading God’s Word. Every believer who has read the Bible for even just moderate amount of time develops presuppositions. It could be as simple as having the (accurate) presupposition of salvation by grace through faith, which causes one to strive to harmonize the “faith that works” message in other parts of Scripture. On the other hand, your presuppositions / biases could be as complicated as a theological system, such as Calvinism or Arminianism, which colors how you interpret large portions and themes of Scripture. The presuppositions that Christians bring to their reading and interpreting of Scripture can be both bad and good.
Bad presuppositions brought to Scripture are ones that are not based on Scripture, but on a person’s own reasoning and logic. These biases usually involve one’s own opinion of what Scripture should say, which then influences how he reads God’s Word. For example, a person could have the presupposition that God is nothing but love and would never send people to Hell. This individual would then ignore or wrongly interpret the portions of the Bible that contradict his view of God. Another example is a person who has the bias that God would never elect people unto salvation or damnation. This person then correspondingly ignores the chapters of Scripture that speak of God’s election of believers. Bad presuppositions / biases are those that aren’t based on what Scripture says, but are based on what one’s human logic and reasoning thinks Scripture should say. These are biases that we must be vigilant to guard against!
However, we can also bring good presuppositions to bear on our reading and interpreting of Scripture. Good presuppositions are biases based on what Scripture says, regardless of whether it conflicts with human reasoning. For example, a believer can be familiar with the following verses:
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
“knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” – 2 Peter 1:20-21
This Christian can then develop the presupposition that all of Scripture has one divine author. This view can cause the believer to then expect of Scripture a unifying message and theme, and to expect apparent discrepancies to be resolvable in light of this truth. Good presuppositions are not to be avoided; rather, they help us to interpret Scripture in light of other Scripture. Of course, one should always strive to have the conclusions that are based on the implications of presuppositions to also be rooted in sound exegesis.
Ultimately, we must strive to be aware of our presuppositions. Do we have bad presuppositions, based on human reasoning; or do we have good presuppositions, based on Biblical truth? It would be foolish of us to deny that we have presuppositions at all, because then we would be blind to their potential affects. Rather, we should strive to be cognizant of our biases, keep them in mind, and strive to be aware of when they could impede our exegesis of certain parts of the Bible. We need to be willing to suspend our biases if they could get in the way of sound interpretation of some particular Scripture. However, if our biases are truly Biblical, we can take heart in expecting them to be confirmed or refined in whatever text we’re studying.
I have intentionally kept this post short by not identifying certain denominations and theological positions that are rooted in bad presuppositions. This is because my goal is to facilitate self-reflection on one’s theological ideas; so, to point out faulty theological positions could cause people of those positions to get defensive and not self-reflect. I encourage you to find the answers to those two initial questions posed: What presuppositions do you carry with you into reading and interpreting Scripture? How do these presuppositions affect the lenses with which you view Scripture? Bad presuppositions have been a contributing factor to the proliferation of denominations and theological splits throughout church history. Let us strive to identify where we might have bad presuppositions, and, if found, let us have the courage to revise them. Let us strive to facilitate the interpretation of Scripture by other Scripture through the formation of good presuppositions in our Biblical thinking.