Four years ago, I wrote a post called “When God Communicates: Subjective or Objective?” Have you ever thought about the difference between how God communicates and how we receive what he communicates? I’m not talking about any specific type of communication, but any time God communicates with us, including through Scripture. This post is part of my thinking on this topic.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve read something similar to this a few times: Scripture is objective; but any other communication from God is subjective. This post is not directed at anyone in particular. Instead, as I’ve read the above comment a few times, I’ve been thinking about the objectivity and subjectivity of God’s communication.
By the way, I like to say “God communicates” instead of “God speaks”. Usually, the verb “speak” assumes something (audible communication) that is not always present when God communicates. So, when I say, “God communicates”, I mean many different types of communications, including but not limited to Scripture, dreams, visions, impressions, other people.
When God communicates to us, he always communicates objectively. His communication is never subjective. However, our interpretation of God’s communications is always subjective. This includes our interpretation of Scripture – it is always subjective. It is true that some interpretations are less subjective than others, but all interpretations are subjective.
It would be incorrect to say that interpretations of Scripture are always less subjective than interpretations of other communications from God. For example, when God told Abram to leave Haran, Abram did not consider that communication to be subjective. When God communicated with Saul on the road to Damascus, Saul did not consider that communication to be subjective. When God communicated to Peter while Peter was on the roof of Simon’s house in Joppa (the dream with the sheet and animals), Peter did not consider that communication to be subjective. Notice that all of these acts of communication are now part of Scripture, but they were not part of Scripture when they occurred.
(Interestingly, Peter’s dream became normative for everyone. I wonder what would have happened if Peter had thought his dream was more subjective than Scripture and had compared his dream to Scripture. But, this is another issue altogether.)
I am not questioning the importance of Scripture. I do believe that Scripture is extremely important. I believe that Scripture is inspired by God, and I believe that Scripture is inerrant in the original autographs. I believe that Scripture is authoritative. However, there are times when I’ve felt that Scripture has been placed in a position above the living presence of God Himself – and not just Scripture, but our (individual or corporate) interpretation of Scripture.
Our goal should not be to relate properly to Scripture. Our goal should be to relate properly to God. Some may suggest that studying Scripture brings one into a right relationship with God, but remember that the scribes and Pharisees studied Scripture meticulously, as do many scholars today. Studying Scripture does not guarantee that we are hearing God.
God always communicates to us objectively. Perhaps we have not heard him – as others have heard him in the past and as has been recorded for us – because we are not listening to him. Instead, we have replaced him with something else. We have made our interpretation of Scripture objective, and we’ve made God subjective.