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Christians’ interpretation of Scripture a matter of perspective

Some people may confuse rules with doctrine.

The Rev. Daniel May, president of the Indiana District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. (Courtesy photo)
Associate Professor Adam DeVille, chairman of the theology-philosophy department at the University of Saint Francis. (By Kevin Kilbane of The News-Sentinel)

Along with Fort Wayne moving from the City of Churches to a city of faiths, some Christian denominations’ interpretation of the Bible also has been evolving.

Related: Is Fort Wayne now a “City of Faiths?”

Two key factors have influenced the change in the way some Christians interpret the Bible, said Associate Professor Adam DeVille, chairman of the theology-philosophy department at the University of Saint Francis:

* Urbanization

* Industrialization

When people were subsistence farming, they didn’t have time to do much other than try to survive, said DeVille, who specializes in the study of interfaith relations. The expansion of urbanization and industrial jobs meant city residents had more time to investigate and study Scripture.

People came to realize the Bible contains a variety of literary genres — biography, historical, laws and regulations, erotic love poetry and laments, “sometimes even in the same book,” DeVille said.

People need to interpret Bible verses, chapters or books based on the style in which they were written, or they risk misinterpretation, he said.

“You can’t weigh everything the same,” DeVille said. “What are the big things that get repeated and what are the small details that are not as important?”

Some examples:

* The Catholic Church no longer views the beginning of the Bible’s Book of Genesis as a literal description of how God created the world, DeVille said. Acknowledging scientific evidence of evolution, the church believes God started the world and it evolved as it did.

* One of the core beliefs of the Christian faith is the holy Trinity of God the Father, Jesus Christ his son and the Holy Spirit being three persons in one. But the Trinity isn’t spelled out specifically in the Bible, DeVille said. Christian leaders agreed on how they would understand the Trinity during meetings in the 4th century, he said.

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), which is one of the other large denominations in the Fort Wayne area, takes the view that interpretation of Scripture has grown rather than evolved, said the Rev. Daniel May, president of the Indiana District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

As people continue to study Scripture, they continue to learn from it, May said.

Scientific advances can help reinforce what Scripture says, he said. In the case of evolution, for example, science can’t prove you can turn nothing into something, such as a human being.

Viewing Scripture as a “living” document that can be changed or massaged based on the times undermines its authority, May said. If those changes make Jesus Christ less than the son of God, he becomes just another prophet or religious leader rather than the source of salvation.

May said people often confuse a denomination’s views on Scripture with rules it develops for how people should live their lives.

The LCMS, for example, once discouraged members from dancing, he said. That rule no longer exists.

“The church’s responsibility is to teach what Scripture says, and Christians are to live out life so it reflects the Scripture,” May said.

If a denomination institutes a lot of rules, people often will accept the core values of their faith but view the rules as optional and disregard them, he said.

As with the LCMS view of science and Scripture, DeVille said many Christians believe Scripture and scholarly research both can be true, even if they don’t fit together neatly.

Faiths that refuse to evolve or have some flexibility will risk becoming brittle and possibly shattering, he said.

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