“Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will be abolished; whether there are other languages, they will stop themselves; whether there is knowledge, it will (also) be abolished. For we know in part and we prophecy in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end… For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, 12
A friend of mine and I have been studying biblical eschatology (the study of ‘last things’) in the past few months and I must say, though it’s been worth it, it’s been very challenging.
The extremes of belief and interpretation (even among those who love, serve and follow Jesus) are quite far apart! Some expect a universe-ending event to come in our future and point to current events as bringing this event to pass (of course, some have gone as far as predicting the very year in which this ‘end’ will come… and have been quite wrong!). At the other end, some interpret the ‘end’ having already happened when the Temple was destroyed in the year AD70 (including ‘resurrection’, 2nd ‘coming’ of Jesus, ‘new Heaven and new Earth’).
This current ‘study’ of eschatology is just one area of biblical debate I’ve listened to in my few years as a Christian. Personally, I find such debates to be very helpful and educational. I’m committed to the goal of interpreting the Bible as faithfully as possible (being as aware of my biases as I can be), and such debates are great ways of observing how a particular pattern of interpretation stands up to scrutiny.
As an aside, if a person gets angry or abusive in a debate, it can often be due (as my Dad and I both have observed) to the fact that his/her position (or at least his/her grasp of it) is less than strong.
As another aside, for me, ‘debate’ is not a dirty word, and I lament that levels of respect and relationship/trust are often not high enough for constructive debate to take place as much as I think it ought to.
Which leads me to my point. If we take on board the truth in the above verse (the truth that we ‘know in part’) it doesn’t mean that we are so ignorant that we shouldn’t bother debating with one another, but rather we ought to do so with appropriate humility. This humility can guard against someone thinking for a moment that their knowledge is anything more than ‘in part’…
Furthermore, I would desperately like to see more (to coin a phrase) ‘interpretive humility’ in Christian circles. I am weary of people saying ‘this verse clearly says’… or ‘it is obvious from this verse’… etc. If it were so ‘clear’ or ‘obvious’ then why have so many people seen it in different ways? I’m not talking about pagans or atheists either! I’m talking about people that love the Lord and want to be faithful to Him in all of their lives! We simply need to be less arrogant in the assertion our interpretations.
In my experience, the most dogmatic ‘scholars’ end up being far less credible than those whose qualifications would justify them being dogmatic, but who still choose not to be.
In closing, there is a certain amount of urgency needed in the pursuit of this humility. When Christians are unable to debate respectfully, they become more and more isolated from one another. This is bad. We end up only talking to those whom we agree with, which simply results in the exchange of a few ‘high-fives’ and produces absolutely no growth or sharpening.
If iron is to sharpen iron, then both pieces of iron must agree that they merely know in part.