When original isn’t good

Photo by Ove Tøpfer; from Stock Xchange

I got a message on Facebook the other day, asking me to look at some Bible studies someone had prepared concerning Jesus’ return. This person told me: “I show things completely differently and in a different way than you have seen before…”

When I hear something like that, little alarms go off in my head. When it comes to Bible study, originality is not a good thing. When I reach a conclusion that I’ve never heard before, I try to find someone else who has reached that same conclusion in the past. Failing that, I show my tentative interpretation to others (sometimes here in this blog), asking them to show me where I’m wrong.

The fact is, it’s hard for me to believe that so many godly people could have studied God’s Word for years without someone arriving at the right interpretation. If I come up with a truly original interpretation, odds are that I’m truly wrong.

When it comes to Bible study, originality is not a good thing.

23 thoughts on “When original isn’t good

  1. K. Rex Butts

    I think you have good reason for being cautious but I for me the source has a lot to do with it. What I mean is, does the person have the resources to know what the other views he/she has rejected are and why advocates of those views hold their position? Are they aware of how the issue at large has been viewed throughout different periods of Christian history? To what level do they have the skill sets to engage in an in-depth study of scripture, theology, etc… (are they able to work in original languages, have access to good commentaries)?

    These are all questions that I want to know. I am not saying that because someone holds numerous theological degrees means they could not be wrong. However, the more learned a person is, the more likely their study (and whatever conclusion they’ve drawn) is going to be a thorough inductive investigation rather than a haphazzardly drawn conclusion. Does that make sense?

    Grace and peace,


  2. Tim Archer Post author

    Rex, I do see what you mean. It’s just hard for me to believe that in two thousands years of Christianity, no one has held the proper view on Subject X. To say otherwise almost smacks of Joseph Smith style of teaching: everyone is wrong; only I have the true revelation from God.

    Grace and peace,

  3. Adam Gonnerman

    A former co-worker told me once about a church he had attended for some time. It claimed to be messianic, although virtually no one in the church had any Jewish background. They incorporated elements from the Jewish synagogue and blended them with pop evangelicalism. Having seen videos, I can say it wasn’t done very well.

    The pastor wore a prayer stole with the star of David, and a yarmulke. He was also known for his “innovative” teachings. My friend said he’d often start his messages by saying, “You’ve never heard this anywhere before…”. By the time he left that church, my friend was completing the phrase under his breath “…and you’ll never hear it again.”

  4. Tim Archer Post author

    We used to, err, parody one man that taught here at ACU. We’d say things like, “The Apostle Paul thought he knew what Romans meant, but after studying the Greek, I realize he was wrong…”

  5. Bryant Evans

    Very good points. I would use caution, Rex, with your statements. Sometimes all those resources take us away from the message and into cloudy realms of opinion. The Bible was not written for theologians but for the common man. With the possible exception of Luke and Paul there was little education among the apostles or inspired writers. On a personal note, the greatest gifts I have gained from Bible study came not from the “wise men” but from just sitting down and reading the text.

    Now, I am not anti-education. I hold three degrees and teach Bible courses at a University, but I am concerned when I see new and novel approaches to the Word.

    Thanks Tim for a good article.

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  7. Adam Gonnerman

    The Bible was, for the most part, written by and for “the common man” in times and cultures very different from our own. Good scholarship helps us get a grasp on what was meant and how we can apply it today. A simple reading is always good, but can be misleading if interpreted solely through the uninformed lens of our present era.

  8. Vern

    The Spirit leads us into the truth. It has been doing so for a long time. It would be strange indeed for no one to have gotten there ahead of us. A little bit of thinking more highly of oneself than one ought to think. Nevertheless, at times there has been need to see more, just not beyond what was written i.e. reformation, etc. Grace …

  9. laymond

    “The Bible was not written for theologians but for the common man.”

    Bryant, It is refreshing to read words from not only an educated man, but a wise one.

  10. Terry

    This reminds me of something that seminary professor Haddon Robinson has said: “The Bible cannot mean what it never meant.”

  11. K. Rex Butts


    I am not trying to suggest that no one but academians can interpret scripture faithfully. However, when we are reading the Bible, we are reading writing written at least nearly 2,000+ years ago, in different languages than people speak today, to a different culture with a different worldview than held by the worlds today. Having some knowledge of the biblical languages, the backgrounds of Jewish and Greco-Roman culture, along with some knowledge of how scripture has been appropriated within history would certainly be of help. There are certainly bad theologies that have been put forth by some very well-educated theologians but from where I sit – within the Restoration tradition of Churches of Christ – that has hardly been the case. Instead, some of the most eggregious positions I have heard have been put forth by those who have decided to try and interpret scripture in a theological vacume (e.g., the Holy Spirit is nothing more than the Bible)…that is, they acted as if there was no value in doing a little homework.

    I hope that explains more of what I was meaning. We don’t need to fear theology and scholarship. What we need is good scholarship to help us develop good theology. And this is not just the work of the academy but the work of the church, of whom our academicians our part of and should see their work as serving the church.

    Grace and peace,


  12. K. Rex Butts


    You wrote: “It’s just hard for me to believe that in two thousands years of Christianity, no one has held the proper view on Subject X. To say otherwise almost smacks of Joseph Smith style of teaching: everyone is wrong; only I have the true revelation from God.”

    I agree but you do realize that in some way, that is the story of biblical interpretation within the Churches of Christ. We’ve come to some conclusions that were a pretty radical departure from the rest of Christianity throughout history.

    Grace and peace,


  13. Tim Archer Post author

    Vern and Rex, I do feel that people can come to a renewed awareness of certain aspects of Christianity. However, it does seem that none of these ideas are truly new, they have just been neglected by the main stream of Christianity. I remember seeing something, for example, that I’d never heard anyone teach. Then I discovered that John Calvin had expressed the same thought in one of his commentaries. That gave me a lot more confidence in my understanding.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  14. Jr

    The New Perspective on Paul, for example, has made an attempt to reinterpret 1st-century Rabbinic Judaism through a prism of roses. Additionally, N.T. Wright comes up with brand new definitions of words. For example, there isn’t a single use of “righteous” to mean “membership in group” or “justify” to mean “declare member in group” in ancient language. But that doesn’t matter to Wright. He has to redefine words to make his interpretation of Paul work (forcing us, I believe, into a legalistic works-based justification). These views force others to defend new interpretations that were not discussed in almost 2,000 years (at least, seriously).

    “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecc 1:9).

    Grace to you –

  15. K. Rex Butts


    I think you have the new perspective on Paul and N.T. Wright sort of backwards. He’s actually reading terms like “justification” within their second-temple Judaism context (the context of the New Testament) rather than through the prisim of the Reformation’s reactions to the errors taking place in Roman Catholicism at the time. And by the way…it’s not just N.T. Wright coming to these conclusions. There are other very well educated scholars reaching very similar conclusions and some of them (Sanders, Dunn) were doing so before N.T. Wright really became “noticed.”

    Grace and peace,


  16. heavenbound

    I find it amusing to see comments that the bible was written for the common man.
    Really when you look back at bible publishing who spearheaded the works? The Catholic church. They spent hundreds of years keeping their liturgy in Latin so the people couldn’t understand. The dead language only used by the church to keep people ignorant. The masses couldn’t read at all. Only the educated and the aristocrats of Europe had access and it was limited as well. The church saw to that.
    Today’s Christian with the ability to read, access to a plethera of commentaries and books written to help people understand, still doesn’t see truth. Most don’t care to.
    Most churches I have been in are social clubs for people to do stuff.
    Vacation bible school, plays, softball, dinners, Revivals, building activities,
    mission ministries. Some are good, some is just plain fluff.
    I never have been into that kind of thing and really don’t find it very meaningful.
    This is the reality of church in the eyes of many.

  17. Jr

    “He’s actually reading terms like “justification” within their second-temple Judaism context”
    — by coming up with a brand new definition found in no ancient texts?
    “rather than through the prism of the Reformation’s reactions to the errors taking place in Roman Catholicism”
    — which, ironically, is what Sanders, Dunn, and Wright have misinterpreted (what the Reformers were reacting to). And there lies the problem. If you read the criticisms of the NPP (you can find really well written, extensive rebuttals online – see Horton for one) you will see how amazed they are at the arguments by the NPP concerning the Reformers battle vs. the Catholic Church during the Reformation. In one rebuttal I read an author opined that it just sounds like Wright, for one, must have a bone to pick with something else because what he writes about the Reformation and the medieval church is so blatantly incorrect.

    And this is the most ironic thing: The doctrine that the NPP is now defending is the same doctrine the Reformers were battling against vs. the medieval church in the first place. (a doctrine that says you are in by grace but you must stay in by faith and works; i.e. semi-Pelagianism).

    Their interpretation of 2nd Temple Judaism is very rosy. NPP proponents allow provisional theory regarding their interpretation of Judaism prior to and contemporary with the time of the early Christians to dominate their exegesis. The biblical text takes a back seat to proposed theoretical context. I don’t get how it can be presented that Judaism (at the very least among the elites) was not a religion that taught salvation by merit (self-righteousness), particularly when you read Jesus’ encounters with his enemies and Paul’s arguments against the Judaizers. Paul was arguing against semi-Pelagianism (grace plus works), not Pelagianism (all works), and this is what the Reformers argued against as well. This is what the NPP doesn’t get.

    I understand the battle we have against “easy-believism” (hey look I’m saved now I can do what I want); but it doesn’t mean the pendulum needs to swing back to a kind of legalistic, moralistic deism, which is where the NPP goes.

    But again, in regards to the topic of this post, we have scholars who believe they know 1st C Judaism (and Paul!) better than anybody else has in almost 2,000 years. When what is ironic is that they are not even presenting the Reformation accurately, and that was only 500 years ago.

    As iron sharpens iron,

    Grace to you –

  18. Tim Archer Post author

    H.B., none of what you quote speaks to the original intent as to why the Bible was written. It was written in Koine Greek, not Latin nor classical Greek. Why? Because it was the common language. The books of the New Testament were meant to be read to the members of the church, at least in most cases. Written for common people.

    Doesn’t mean there is no place for the interpreter. Stories like Philip and the eunuch belie that.

    As for people not seeing truth, are you criticizing people for not coming to your particular understanding of Scripture or is there a broader application of that statement?

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  19. K. Rex Butts


    You do realize though that some would say that the old persepctive of Paul is rooted in Augustine and not Paul.

    I don’t think the NP of Paul is all a new view, just new to Western Protestantism. And the opponents of the NP have their biases as well. Any ways, as far as scholar espousing some new (or new to us) theology…I would be less worried about the NP of Paul since (whether you agree or not) it is grounded in a coherent exegis of scripture and historical context. Instead, I would be more worried about open theism.

    Grace and peace,


  20. heavenbound

    I guess I am very cynical when it comes to organized religion. Where would we be with out the likes of Martin Luther and others like him who challenged the church of their day. I trust all of us would be attending mass on Saturday night. Listening to and responding to Priests chants, if heros of this type didn’t stand up to the church and its doctrine of the day. I guess some have either no memory or over look the history of Inquistions, witch burning and Martys of the day. We have freedom thru the separation of church and state. THANK GOD for that. I for one remember the history of the church. We must not forget that Protestantism is a new movement when it is compared to the Universal church, the Catholic church. We also have forgotten the KKK which promoted Christian ideals to the point of segregation,
    separatists, anti Jewdiasm, anti Catholicism and white supremacy. Many protestant formations were developed in the South with similar ideas, Separation, isolation, and particular interpretation of the bible. This would have never taken place in the middle ages
    where dominance of the Catholic Church along with the monarchies that supported the church flourished. I am reminded of an old Irish ballad a song that was recorded by the Chieftains. The lyrics include Going to America, where tithes and taxes don’t rob men and he can keep a days wage…..

  21. Tim Archer Post author

    H.B., Luther was very much a part of organized religion. Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  22. Jr

    Rex: I’m with you on Open Theism. You can’t get more anti-historical/anti-biblical than that. (well, you probably could, but for affect…) :)

    Grace to you, brother –

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