Thursday, July 12, 2012

Colossians 4:18- A Warning About Eisegesis

My wife and I were in the car listening to the radio during a short trip through town. In the brief minutes we listened to the program on the air, the teacher made a comment, roughly paraphrased:

Paul said [in Col 4:18], " I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you. " We're not sure exactly why he wrote this, but it could be that he had a problem with his hands because he was in prison, and by writing this letter he was showing them that through God you can receive grace to overcome your physical constraints.
At this my wife piped up, "I wish these teachers would stop making up spiritual meanings when it's not there in the Bible."

We talked about it a bit after that, but I thought this particular issue was interesting because I think we can reasonably know what Paul was getting at by his statement. In 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul writes, "Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come." There apparently had been a problem through Paul's ministry that people would write forged Pauline letters to promote aberrant theology. History teaches that this was a problem for the church, and sometimes the violations came from within church leadership. So Paul would typically sign his letters even if he hadn't put pen to paper for all he had authored [2 Thess 3:17].

There is another instance of Paul mentioning his own handwriting in Galatians 6, "See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand." Hopefully a good Bible teacher knows about this reference (and similar ones in 1 Corinthians 16 and Philemon), or would have the decency to look it up. Galatians was most likely written well before Paul was in jail (probably before the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15). There is no reason to think that prison would do anything to Paul's hands if he had been writing letters in this manner before he was in jail and continued to write while in chains. Of course it's possible this teacher is right, but it's not likely, and you certainly cannot discern that from the context of Paul's letters.

The truly ironic part of this bad Bible lesson is that it commits a similar error that Paul was trying to protect against! The spiritual lesson was not of Paul, but by guessing at what Paul was really saying, it crafted a new doctrine that could be passed off with Paul's authority.

This is an important lesson about Bible study. We must let Scripture interpret Scripture. We do not have the authority to impose our meaning on it because a spiritual lesson fits well in our framework. We may not write on behalf of Paul. The best sign of genuineness we may have as we teach is to say what Paul said, and not more.

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