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Every once in a while you hear a lecture that is not only deeply engaging but is packed with enough information as to cause your mind to spark off in multiple directions at once.  That was the case with a talk by the scholar John Walton at last week’s BioLogos “Faith & Science” conference in Raleigh, North Carolina.  Walton is the Old Testament Professor Emeritus at Wheaton College and his talk addressed uses and misuses of Scripture.

One of Walton’s key points focused on the question, “Do we have to claim that there is a ‘biblical view’ on most everything one could name?”  Do we need to force Scripture decisively to address any and every topic?   Is there, for instance, a “biblical view” on AI?  On diet and exercise?  On the use of social media?  Obviously the Bible does not per se broach any of those things and probably hundreds of other facets to modern life that were, of course, unknown to the biblical world and to every author of Scripture.  (Some of them were unknown to even us as recently as twenty years ago!)

Along these same lines Walton posed what he presented as a kind of false dichotomy.  On the one hand there is “careless prooftexting” in which someone tries to track down some definitive verse to address every topic or issue.  On the other hand there is the view that the Bible has nothing to say on a whole range of things.  Neither extreme represents a good view of the Bible or a good use of it as God’s revelation to us.

By way of a mediating position Walton affirmed that on many contemporary issues—as has been true throughout church history—what we can positively affirm is that there is biblical input on many or most issues even if we could not posit that there is only one single biblical “view” of a given topic that all believers must embrace universally.  That seems right.

Is there a single biblical view on the use and consumption of social media?  No.  Do parts of Scripture provide meaningful input on social media that we would be wise to take into account?  Yes.  Scripture forbids lying and bearing false witness.  The Heidelberg Catechism’s take on the ninth commandment says that this implies that we “twist no one’s words, not gossip or slander, nor join in condemning anyone rashly or without a hearing.”  I should instead “guard and advance my neighbor’s good  name” (Q&A 112).  That rules out a whole of lot social media posts that tell only half of what someone said, twists words taken out of context, and spreads rumors and conspiracy theories.  Scripture also has a lot to say about the need to be humble and to not, therefore, be a proud braggart.  That also should provide input in terms of how we are tempted to use social media to ratchet up our own egos or make our lives sound better than they may actually be.

Distinguishing between a universal biblical “view” on a topic and a Scripture-informed approach seems like an important distinction.  But for this blog I will mention one other insight of Walton’s talk and that was to note that it happens now and again—indeed regularly—in reading the Bible devotionally that a given person concludes that the Holy Spirit spoke to them through a text, that the Spirit provided personal guidance.  That is important and wonderful and a key way God speaks to us via the Bible.  However, that kind of personal application and guidance is not the equivalent of a proper hermeneutical interpretation of that text.  That is, what the Spirit speaks to a person’s heart is not necessarily the primary meaning of the passage in question nor does it mean that every person reading the same set of verses would have to try to apply it and feel led by it in the exact same way.  Personal guidance does not lead to a universal exegesis of the text in limiting ways.  “This verse meant X to me and therefore it should mean that for everyone else too.”  I am not sure how often anyone makes such a claim but here again is a helpful distinction between personal guidance and due diligence in a proper exegesis of a passage.

All of this feels relevant in an age when nuance and balance are not always practiced very well, including in how we approach the Bible.  A lot of people insist that the Bible has to yield “the right answer” on almost any question or topic we bring to it, and finding that right answer gets caught up in interpretations that may go off the rails.  As G. Sujin Pak said in her 2022 January Series lecture at Calvin University, past eras of church history when people tried to force the Bible to cough up thee right answer on a range of topics were usually the same eras when that quest for certainty led to inquisitions,  pogroms, and other difficulties. 

Of course, this is not to say the Bible does not give us right answers on big doctrinal issues of things like the divinity of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, and everything you could draw out of the Ecumenical Creeds.  What Pak was getting at—and what Walton was looking at—did not traffic in those major doctrines but in a host of other issues such as the ones suggested above.  And on those kinds of questions—as important and occasionally as vital as they may be—the nuance and distinctions suggested here seem important to bear in mind.

Scott Hoezee

Scott Hoezee is Director of the Center for Excellence in Preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • RZ says:

    Well said and oh-so timely. Calvin prof David Holwerda left us with a gem decades ago, quoting Emil Bruner: “Biblical truth has a higher standard than simple accuracy. There must be within it an element of goodness.”

  • Wesley says:

    Right, the questions we try to ask the Bible are not always the questions the Bible is trying to answer. That’s the point of Walton’s work on Genesis 1 and 2 – the Bible is not trying to answer our modern questions about “creationism” vs. evolution. As a side note, he ate lunch with a group of us students nearly every Tuesday and Thursday for a semester about 20 years ago, a very lovely, humble guy.

  • Keith Mannes says:

    Excellent. Thank you!

  • Al Mulder says:

    This ‘informs’ me. Thank you, Scott!

  • Duane Kelderman says:


  • James C Dekker says:

    Very helpful. Seems to speak to the tone and content of the CRC’s current battling. Thanks, Soctt.

  • Kathy says:

    I feel similarly to the textualists of the Constitution who, in my opinion, won’t consider that things have changed in the world since the constitution was written. Modern science and new inventions be damned!

    • Rodney Haveman says:

      Unless of course, the text itself says something they don’t like, then we magically turn to what was the idea proposed by the text (see recent arguments over the law used to sentence some January 6 rioters to prison for up to 20 years). Not saying which way I would “rule” on that case, but it is rich to listen to all the textualists talk about intent and purpose rather than what the actual text says. As always hypocritically “rich.”

  • Al Gelder says:

    Right on. Thank you, Scott.

  • Joyce and Wes Kiel says:

    Wes remembers his profs saying “Scripture interprets Scripture” as one of the key interpretive guidelines for understanding Scripture.

    Thanks Scott. Very helpful to me as I grow into and understanding reading Scripture.

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    That final insight by Walton is so important. Thank you for conveying it here. Sometimes it’s hard to draw a firm line between private and public interpretation, the former free and the latter bound to learned and responsible exegesis using all the tools, but the distinction is critical, and it happens be be a key to Reformed interpretation of Scripture.

  • David J Jones says:

    Well said. Thank you.

  • gvb says:

    How Synod 2023 “coughed” up the word salvific in its final analysis is beyond my understanding.

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