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  • Writer's picturePastor Jared

Under the Protection of Scripture

Augustine (354-430) was one of the greatest Christian thinkers in the history of the Church. His influence on Christian theology cannot be underestimated, and many of his works still contain thinking of tremendous theological and pastoral value. His book, Confessions, is a classic of Christian literature, and is a must read for any Christian (particularly Books 1-10). It was written over the middle years of his life and is a theological reflection on his life thus far. 


There is an interesting moment in this work as Augustine recalls his life under the influence of the false teaching of the Manichee's. It doesn’t concern us at this point what it was about Manichaeism that attracted Augustine or what it was that they believed. What does concern us is how it is that such a God-reared, intelligent and reflective soul like Augustine could fall for such a wayward philosophy.


Let me set the context. Augustine states in the paragraph immediately previous to our quote below that he loved the writings and thought of the Greek philosopher Cicero but what was missing from them was the name of Christ. “Any book,” he writes, “which lacked this name, however well written or polished or true, could not entirely grip me.” So, he turns his attention to the Scriptures. Augustine reflects on his foray into Scripture thusly, 


“I resolved, therefore, to direct my mind to the Holy Scriptures, that I might see what they were. And behold, I perceive something not comprehended by the proud, not disclosed to children, but lowly as you approach, sublime as you advance, and veiled in mysteries; and I was not of the number of those who could enter into it, or bend my neck to follow its steps. For not as when now I speak did I feel when I turned towards those Scriptures, but they appeared to me to be unworthy to be compared with the dignity of Cicero; for my inflated pride shunned their style, nor could the sharpness of my wit pierce their inner meaning. Yet, truly, were they such as would develop in little ones; but I scorned to be a little one, and, swollen with pride, I looked upon myself as a great one.”


Notice the italicized words. It was Augustine’s pride that prevented him from seeing Scripture as it was meant to be seen. His pride prevented him from being affected by the beauty, wonder, mystery and sublimity of its words. Thus, he read Scripture and remained unchanged by it because he read Scripture as though he was the master of it, as though it was his decision as to its value as God’s word. He read Scripture thinking that he had to find a certain dignity in it, a certain style in it and a certain kind of ease to it, that he did not find. Since he did not find what he was looking for in Scripture, he rejected it. The last phrase above is most telling of why he rejected the Bible – “swollen with pride, I looked upon myself as the great one.” This pride led to some pretty serious consequences for the young Augustine – “That explains why I fell with men proud of their slick talk, very earthly minded and loquacious. In their mouths were devil’s traps... They used to say, ‘Truth, truth’, and they had a lot to tell me about it, but there was never any truth in them.”


Here was Augustine’s problem; notice the progression of his thought. He could not fully accept the life and worldview of the great philosopher Cicero, because it contained no reference to Christ. Then he read the Scriptures, which is replete with Christ, but since the Bible was written a way that didn’t suit his liking, lacked the style he desired, and just seemed a bit odd and confusing to him at parts, he rejected it. Then he turned to man-made philosophy / theology of the Manichee's which spoke of the Father and Christ and the Spirit, but in ways that completely altered, or outright rejected, the Scriptures. Thus, he found that in rejecting the truth, he found only falsehood disguised as truth and claiming to be truth. In other words, he found the words of which he was familiar, but with no truth in them. He became caught up in false teaching that he would later greatly lament. All because of his pride.


So how do we prevent this from happening to us? Well, put simply, we have to confess our pride and abandon our desire to be the master over Scripture. Scripture is God’s word to us, words from the Creator to the creature. Therefore, he controls it, he determines how it is to be interpreted because he has determined how it was written, and he determines how we must use it. Thus, we must humble ourselves before it, paying attention to what it is (genre), reading it according to its place in God’s progressive revelation (grammatical-historical interpretation) and as part of the greater story of redemption (redemptive-historical interpretation) listening attentively to it (through prayer and the aid of the Holy Spirit). In short, we allow it to be our master and we submit to it, even to the point of admitting that we don’t know how to read it properly and thus seek help in doing so. The beginning of knowledge and wisdom is in the Fear of the Lord; a humble acknowledgment of who God is and who we are in relation to him. Only as we approach the Scriptures in this way will we understand them properly, and be molded, shaped and changed by them.


Soli Deo Gloria

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