Setting the Stage

John Piper, “Setting the Stage: Response from John Piper,” The Standard 73:10 (November 1983): 30. This was a response to Alvera and Berekely Micklesen, “How Do We Interpret the Bible?” The Standard 73:10 (November 1983): 27–29.


I see ample common ground for fruitful discussion with the Mickelsens—far more agreement than disagreement.

  1. I agree that we must “seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit to hear and understand what the Scriptures are saying to us.” I see the role of the Holy Spirit mainly as overcoming our sinful disinclination to submit to uncomfortable teachings.

  2. Therefore I agree “we must have the courage to follow the teachings of our Lord even though they run counter to our culture or to our traditions.”

  3. I agree that it is wrong to read “implied meanings” into the text. But I want to stress that all contemporary application of biblical principles is by the process of drawing implications out of the text. “Love your neighbor” implies not concealing the bad clutch when you sell your car.

  4. I agree that “selecting the passages we like that support our pre-conceived, comfortable ideas and ignoring those that seem to teach the opposite” is our besetting hermeneutical sin.

  5. I agree that sound interpretation requires two steps: determining a text’s original meaning and then determining how and if to apply it today.

  6. I agree that the basic issue facing us in these articles is how to determine which biblical commands are of abiding validity and which were only “regulations for people where they were.” Therefore, we both have tried to set forth criteria for making this distinction. And even here there seems to be remarkable agreement. For example:

  7. Isn’t my criterion about shifts in redemptive history very near the Mickelsens’ criterion concerning “the new order that Jesus proclaimed”?

  8. And isn’t my criterion concerning coherence with the gospel very near to the Mickelsens’ appeal to “the purpose of Christ’s ministry and the purpose of the gospel”?

  9. I’m not as sure about their first criterion. If they only mean that a command which is explicitly called a highest standard (e.g. Matt. 7:12) indeed is so, then I agree. But if they are saying that an abiding principle must be attested by both Jesus and Paul, then I am left wondering why these two among all the biblical witnesses and why only these?

  10. The major difference between our criteria is that I included one that appealed to God’s order of creation and the Mickelsens did not. Maybe even here there is no disagreement. Perhaps this criterion of mine is unnecessary. But there are several moral issues that may hang on it, for example homosexuality.

Suppose someone took the Mickelsens’ three tests and argued like this: Since the highest standard of love prohibits making any group of Christians of lesser rank than another, and since Christ’s purpose is to give us fullness of life, and since the Old Testament wineskin (say, the standard of heterosexuality) cannot contain the new wine of Christian liberty, it is wrong to denounce active homosexuals as sinners and exclude them from full membership in the church. In response would the Mickelsens appeal to this apparent fact: from creation it appears that God wills our sexuality to limit, in certain ways, the roles we assume in relation to each other? If so, then even here we agree and the stage is set for good comparative exegesis.

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