How many times have you heard someone say God spoke to them? Usually they don’t even suggest it was verbal. They say a Bible verse leapt out at them. It’s a preemptive defense against the attack of subjectivism. To this defense the imitable pastor/theologian Jonathan Edwards says:
“… if a person in New England, on some occasion, were at a loss whether it was his duty to go into some popish or heathenish land, where he was like to be exposed to many difficulties and dangers, and should pray to God that he would show him the way of his duty; and after earnest prayer, should have those words which God spake to Jacob, Gen. 46, suddenly and extraordinarily brought to his mind, as if they were spoken to him; “Fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will go with thee; and I will also surely bring you up again.” In which words, though as they lay in the Bible before they came to his mind, they related only to Jacob, and his behavior; yet he supposes that God has a further meaning, as they were brought and applied to him; that thus they are to be understood in a new sense, that by Egypt is to be understood this particular country he has in his mind, and that the action intended is his going thither, and that the meaning of the promise is, that God would bring him back into New England again.”
Can’t you just hear someone saying this? They would prattle on about how amazing it was. It was such a “God thing”. They would insist, “I just knew this is what he was saying to me, and now I’m on my way to the foreign field to do great work and return with stories of victory”. Edwards continues with a succinct evisceration of this bad hermeneutic:
“There is nothing of the nature of a spiritual or gracious leading of the Spirit in this; for there is nothing of the nature of spiritual understanding in it. Thus to understand texts of Scripture, is not to have a spiritual understanding of them. Spiritually to understand the Scriptures, is rightly to understand what is in the Scripture, and what was in it before it was understood: it is to understand rightly, what used to be contained in the meaning of it, and not the making of a new meaning.”
Scripture already has a meaning, and it’s not what you want it to be or feel would benefit you. The only way to truly be led by the Spirit in understanding the Bible is to read the Bible and ask the Spirit of God to illuminate your mind as to what it means, not what it means to you. I frankly couldn’t care less about what the text means to someone else. Instead I want to know what it meant in it’s original context, and then let it have an impression on me. Edwards concludes with this:
“This making a new meaning to the Scripture, is the same thing as making a new Scripture; it is properly adding to the word, which is threatened with so dreadful a curse.”
Cursed is the man or woman who adds to the Bible by adding some meaning the author never intended. Remember that the next time you hear this kind of thing, and kindly remind the person to think twice before putting words into God’s mouth.