Monday, 23 March 2009

What Is The Lens Through Which You Read Scripture?

Welcome to the inaugural Adelaide Anglican Blog Conference 2009 on the place of Scripture in the Anglican Communion, and using as a point of departure the clause on Scripture in the GAFCON final statement.

2. We believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God written and to contain all things necessary for salvation. The Bible is to be translated, read, preached, taught and obeyed in its plain and canonical sense, respectful of the church’s historic and consensual reading.

I have enjoyed reading other blog conferences (von Balthasar and Barth) and thought it a simple way for Adelaide Anglicans to enjoy and participate in some locally generated theological discussion. Of course, our national and international readers are most welcome! A special thanks to our contributors whose posts will appear on Classic Theology New over the next two weeks. all are free to comment and engage, and debate, if you wish.

GAFCON is the latest result of the ongoing dispute in the Anglican Communion over the ministry of women and the sex life of (particularly ordained) Anglicans. Conceived as an alternative to the Lambeth Conference, GAFCON ended up a conference for Anglican clergy and lay alike from around the world. I have to admit to not being an avid listener or watcher of such conferences, whether official or schismatic. I have not acquainted myself with the huge amount of material GAFCONs (I will use this term throughout to mean both attenders of GAFCON and non-attending supporters) seem to be generating for themselves. However, a couple of points stand out. The first is the very unanglican Primates Council where, so it would appear, a small group determine the orthodoxy (or not) of churches and dioceses. A strange development in Anglicanism (and we should remember that GAFCONs would hold themselves out to be the traditionalists in the current debates) more at home in a church of either a more Protestant or Roman persuasion.

The second is the statement on Scripture. Unsurprising in this statement is the affirmation that the Scriptures "contain all things necessary for salvation" (from the ordinal), and the qualifier “canonical” as a tool in the correct translation and interpretation of Scripture. The surprise in this statement is the words “plain” and “consensual”. Consensual is unusual in the context because I perceive it to be a qualifier I would associate with the more catholic end of the Christian church. I am amazed that representatives of the Diocese of Sydney would put their signature to such a qualifier. Does the consensus of the church include the figurative readings of the patristic period and the middle ages? I can’t imagine how a consensual reading of Scripture could not, but such readings are anathema, I would have thought, to the theological method of Sydney. And if we are to abide by a consensual reading of Scripture, how does reform come in the church? Presumably not through the Bible! Did the Sydney representatives really think about this? Perhaps GAFCONs are thinking that their interpretation of Scripture in relation to who has sex with whom is the consensus of interpretive opinion. Whether this be true or not, for not the first time in trying to claim the whole of the tradition, GAFCONS have overstretched themselves with the qualifier “consensual”.

Perhaps of more interest is the qualifier “plain”. What could GAFCONs mean by this? I would have expected a qualifier like “literal”. Perhaps “literal” has a bit too much baggage these days. So what does “plain” mean? Take, for example, Luke 14:33:

“So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."

What is the plain meaning of the text? If we mean by plain transparent, it seems almost obvious: true discipleship is shown by your material poverty. The history of interpretation of Jesus’ admonitions to give up all one’s possessions (and there are many such counsels from Jesus to evangelical poverty) includes St Anthony (Life of Antony, 4) literally giving away everything in the early days of Christian monasticism. But is this kind of command to be applied literally to all of us at all times? Is this kind of statement from Jesus to be taken as a sine qua non of Christian discipleship?

I already hear the GAFCON response. The canonical interpretation means that this one verse is to be placed in the context of the whole of Scripture. I agree. When read (interpreted) in the context of Luke-Acts, the above verse is not a universal command. Luke makes the first disciples give away everything, not necessarily later disciples. (See Lk 5:11; “everything” is missing in Mark’s original at Mk 1:20; and notice in the sermon on the plain in Lk 6:20 the blessing of evangelical poverty seems to be applied to the already poor disciples alone; while the recipients of Jesus’ teaching are broadened as the admonitions change, see Lk 6:27. See also Lk 12:22; 19:8; Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-5:12 ) Paul does not teach the universal necessity of giving away all one’s possessions, and the Old Testament has a more balanced view of wealth. And if we were to apply a consensual reading of Jesus’ commands to give away all one’s possessions, we would most definitely not end up universalizing the command. So from the perspective of a canonical and consensual reading of Scripture we should not universalize the command to evangelical, material poverty. But if this is the case, what is the plain meaning of Lk 14:33?

If it wasn’t already plain(!), the plain meaning of the text cannot mean literal, obvious, or transparent, as if we can simply and easily and immediately extract and apply the meaning of any individual text. We must always interpret the text. This is an important point, for GAFCONs like to say that the fight in the Anglican Communion is about the authority of Scripture. However, the qualifiers “plain” (whatever it means), “canonical”, and “consensual” fall within the domain of interpretation. These qualifiers raise the question – and this is the critical question in the Anglican Communion at the moment, as it has always been in the history of the church – of what makes an authentic Christian interpretation of Scripture. I would think that the debate in the church is not about whether we use the Bhagavad Gita to determine who has sex with whom, but how the Bible is to be read on the question.

I have a suggestion to make: the plain meaning of a text can (occasionally it doesn’t!) become plain (in the sense of apparent) once a reader applies an interpretive technique and lens to the text. (See here for a plain reading of the Psalms from a Christological view, but a reading that is anything but obvious.) Clause 2 of the GAFCON Final Statement is suggesting at least parts of an interpretive model: canonical and (historic and) consensual. But if the plain sense comes after interpretation, how do we know an authentic Christian interpretation when we see it? And for that matter, is such a distinction between authentically Christian or not theologically justifiable? I would have thought that this is the issue at the heart of the fight in the Anglican Communion.

Let me state what I understand to have been the universal practice of the church. It will be a broad-brush picture requiring more refinement at some later point on my blog, but the major points will be clear enough. At the outset, though, let me say that I have sympathy with GAFCONish concerns for the authentic interpretation of Scripture. I think it is possible to make bad interpretations of Scripture which are utterly contrary to the truth Scripture embodies. I cite, as an example of a bad use of Scripture, Sydney’s bizarre doctrinal split (here and here) between the being of God from the persons of the Trinity. This is another case of GAFCONs attempting to universalize their peculiar and idiosyncratic perspective, with the result the clear difference between them and the consensus of the Christian faith. (How ironic!)

Essentially, the canon of truth revealed to us in Jesus Christ transcends any single embodiment of it, whether Scripture, Creeds or liturgy. All of the former do truly embody and carry the truth revealed to us in Christ, but we are not (meant to be) bibliolatrists and whatever the pejorative term is for those people (if they exist) who mistake the other instruments and embodiments of the truth (e.g. Creeds and liturgy) with the truth itself. True, without these instruments and embodiments of the truth, the faith would be lost. Equally true, without people who embody the truth, these instruments alone cannot carry the faith of the church. (Remember, St Paul had to be taught the faith by people; his superlative revelation was insufficient. [See 1Cor 13:23) Of all the instruments and embodiments listed above, Scripture is primary, but it is Jesus Christ who is the truth. (John 1:17; 14:6)

Where does this leave us in a search for an objective means to determine a true or false interpretation of Scripture? The temptation is to construct a rule of faith that can be applied in a logical manner to determine the soundness of a particular interpretation of Scripture. No such rule exists. The rule of faith is the truth itself that is revealed in Christ and held intuitively (but not irrationally) by the church. It is (truly) embodied in the Scriptures, but without this intuitive and complete knowledge the Scriptures will always be misused. Those who wrote (what would become) the New Testament (with its idiosyncratic interpretation of the Old Testament in comparison to the continuing Jewish tradition) and those who determined which books would be included in the canon of the Scriptures and wrote the Creeds, held this faith, wrote about it, preached it, worshipped according to it, and lived it. No one can come to a true knowledge of the God revealed in Jesus Christ in the abstract, detached from the life and teaching of the church, that body of disciples who have carried this revelation for 2000 years, and embodied this truth in their Scriptures, Creeds and liturgy.

This necessarily makes the life of the church messier than the logical application of a set of propositions would allow. However, this is not to say that all is permitted. For example, interpretations of Scripture that do not carefully attend to the text, or ignore the canon of Scripture, or offend the aesthetic whole of the truth as embodied in Scripture, Creeds and liturgy will always be suspect. Moreover, the Scriptures, read correctly through the hermeneutical lens of the Creeds, will disallow interpretations of Scripture that deny the Trinitarian theology of the church, the double homoousios of Jesus, the resurrection of the body, etc. Sometimes it takes longer to adjudicate particular claims and interpretations; sometimes not so long. This also means, however, that it is always possible that what appears to be a novel interpretation is shown to be consistent with the truth and to be upheld. (The use of the Bible against slavery is a good case.) There is no way around this.

Where does this leave the GAFCON Scripture clause? I think GAFCON in its explicit statement on Scripture missed an opportunity to further the debate. While “canonical” and “consensual” go some way, inserting “plain” doesn’t really go anywhere at all. The question we must ask of each other is this: what lens do you use to interpret Scripture? Canonical is good, as is consensual, although secondary to canonical. But alone not enough, for the great heresies can still use the canon and find some common ground in the tradition. How do you determine what is authentic and permissible? And if you say you don’t have such a lens, or that Scripture itself (perhaps more likely from a conservative framework) or Jesus himself (more likely from a liberal framework) is your lens, think again. It is the lens you bring to Scripture or Jesus in the Scriptures that is the question. For my part, the lenses I use are the traditional core doctrines of the church, functioning both theologically and hermeneutically. I will elucidate my thoughts further in the coming weeks on this blog, but here are the core doctrines which are meant to be not just theology, but hermeneutical keys. (This is one of the functions of doctrine.) The doctrines are:

  • The doctrine of the Trinity
  • The Christian doctrine of transcendence and non-competitive divinity
  • The doctrine of grace

But more on these another time!

Further Reading:

This is a superb post on the rule of faith and its relationship to Scripture. And make sure you read the dialogue Halden has with a commentator in the comments section. This is also very good from Halden.

On the deposit of faith, see T. F. Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith, pp. 30-35. On the canon of truth (or rule of faith), especially as embodied in the credal formulation of the double homoousion, see Torrance, Trinitarian Faith, pp. 125-132.

For a beautiful summary of the doctrine of transcendence and non-competitive divinity applied to Jesus, see Kathryn Tanner, Jesus, Humanity and the Trinity, pp. 1-33.

On the “plain” meaning of the text in the patristic era, see Lewis Ayres, Nicaea and Its Legacy. An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology, pp. 31-40.


  1. Perhaps by 'plain' they are aiming at interpreters who work a text for so long, using such tangential material, that they end up making the text mean anything at all.

  2. just to note that some of your html seems to not be correct

  3. You say, 'I use the traditional core doctrines and the church...' Well and good, but where do they come from? Wouldn't we want to say that they derive from Scripture? And if we would, then doesn't this imply a dialectic between the scriptures and the core doctrines. the metaphor of a lens is one that can demean the scripture principle because it can suggest that without resort to core doctrines scripture would be uninterpretable. But if so, how did the early church manage to interpret the text?

  4. Thanks for the comments so far. Yes, in answer to the first anonymous comment, it probably is the case that the Scripture clause is directed at those who GAFCONS perceive use Scripture to further an alien ideology. I have to admit to some sympathy with this. In fact a lot of sympathy. GAFCONs and I will disagree whether the product of interpretation is the application of an alien ideology and when it is a faithful extension of the faith once proclaimed. I think this worry could be better combated by asking how sensitively an interpreter uses the text. A tangential use of the text of Scripture to then fly off in another direction should be avoided. I think an interpretation can also be scrutinized from the other end as well. That is, does this interpretation fit within the bounds of the faith held by the church, as mapped out in the Creeds, liturgy, etc. This might sound a bit narrow, but once this faith is accepted and intuitively grasped for its aesthetic beauty, all sorts of deepening and novelty is possible within it. Likewise, from the perspective of this aesthetic whole certain interpretations might intuitively seem 'ugly', with further theologizing showing why.

    This leads to the next comment about the nexus between Scripture, doctrine (and the rule of faith). Such a nexus exists and is unavoidable. I think one of the biggest problems is that people think that the text does not embody a meaning which our task is to uncover, deepen and apply. In our deeply suspicious age, with its concomitant predisposition toward idiosyncratic personal interpretation, it is tempting to use the text as a jumping off point for one's own newly constructed beliefs without a sensitivity to what the texts embody.

    How did the early church make sense of Scripture? How were the Creeds constructed? At base is the rule of faith, the faith that predates Scripture as we have it, that was refined and deepened as questions arose. We still hold that faith, embodied in the instruments I mentioned, but it is always an interpretive task within the living, breathing community of faith. It is not a perfect process, as the history of the church shows, but allows the rule of faith to be renewed within the life of the church (through the use of these instruments)and bring reform when needed. I used to think this sounded like a circular argument, now I just think it is a closely knit, and sensible nexus of tools within a community to hang on to, and deepen and apply, its faith. And finally, I think we should remember that those who were at the centre of the credal debates were also those involved in setting the canon, and I am thinking here in particular of Athanasius.

    How do other readers come to acknowledge an interpretation of Scripture as right, helpful, alien, or whatever? And even if you don't like that kind of characterization, we all judge texts at a practical level of utility at least.

    I still recommend reading the posts and dialogue I have hyper-linked from Halden.

  5. You really are an old conservative.

  6. What do you mean aesthetic beauty?

  7. The Christian faith has an aesthetic beauty about it. I think it fits together so beautifully, and possesses a subtlety that leads us on further and further (or deeper and deeper). I remember when the doctrine of the Incarnation intuitively clicked for me. I'd been trying to understand it intellectually, to pin it down. Then I read that question William Temple asked (I think it was him), something like: "If you took the Word out of Jesus what would be left?" My immediate answer was his humanity. Wrong, of course. The answer is nothing. That is beautiful; and the two Christs of an assumed man is ugly. The theology is possible because of the non-competitiveness of God, and because God can love that which is not God, to the point of true union, and remain God. That is beautiful. God does not overpower our natures, neither is God distant. The hypostatic union is the great vision for all of us in Christ. We could go on with
    the Trinity, for example. What a beautiful doctrine! Freedom and relationship not competitors but directly proportional. And grace, where most us of make God's love and our freedom inversely proportional. Very ugly.

  8. Warren your point on aesthetics vis a vis the incarnation is helpful, but perhaps you can say something about how it comes into play with reading the scriptures. I'm also struggling to see just what you mean by your claim that the faith (or should that be, 'rule of faith') predate the scripture as we have it. Is this your way of saying that the church wrote the bible and therefore has the correct interpretation of it? Also, doesn't the ancient rule of faith imply a cohesiveness of 'church' (whether real or imagined) that would be unthinkable today? Maybe the multiplicity of churches suggests 'rules of faith' - but I guess that would be aesthically ugly.

  9. To begin with it should be remembered that the doctrine of the Incarnation is about the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus, not just 'becoming human' in a hypothetical sense. Anyway, when I started my PhD in 1989 (maybe I am old?) it was to prove why the doctrine of the Incarnation was wrong. Within 6 months I realised what was ugly was its misuse, and back then (so too today) I was offended by the way the maleness of Jesus was used to support patriachy. Any berk can see that a messiah who dies on a cross rejected, tortured, killed off by the ruling (male) powers is not the stalwart of patriarchy many want him to be. But then it suddenly hit me: to claim that this messiah is God in the flesh reinforces the beauty of the gospel's siding with those who are marginalised and oppressed. This is how we should read Scripture, from the point of view of the crucified God. (This is not an affirmation of Moltmann!)This leads us on straight away to the beauty of the gospel: it is not merely beauty as we would ordinarily think of it, but includes the disfigurement of the cross. I think I am digressing.

    Anyway, reading Scripture: on a simple level it tells us that when Jesus says "The Father is greater than I" this is not to be read eternally. Or when Christ is to be himself subjected to the Father, this does not mean subordination as Sydney would have us believe, but a voluntary act of self-giving love. It is as a voluntary act of self-giving love, or humility, that this should be read, not an affirmation of patriarchy. Also, it means that we must not leave the cross out of a theology of revelation. The cross is not just a step on the way, but tells us about the nature of God. Jesus' self-offering to the Father on the cross is not just soteriological, it is revelatory, because this self-offering of love is the very nature of the Son. Love actually is God, not just of God. And what of our human nature in the light of the Incarnation? Leaving aside the debate about whether Christ assumed a fallen human nature (but still did not sin) or not, our humanity must not be scorned. And what of death? Death spread through sin, sure. But maybe the Incarnation is telling us something about death too. Not only that it is to be vanquished, but also that it is part of God's plan. Anyway, that needs more development. And what of the resurrection? The resurrection is the Son's begottenness in time (Ac 13:33-33), the inclusion of history (and human flesh, wounds, etc) into the very life of the Trinity.

    Yes, I am saying the church wrote the NT, chose it, and uses the OT in an idiosyncratic way. (NT Wright is good on this last point.) The truth and our apprehension of it predates any NT writings, and the use of the OT in the light of that resurrection faith. This is not deny the authority has for us, for we inherit it as the embodiment of that faith, but we have to interpret it, work it, with the other instruments, in the body of the living, faith tradition (i.e. with other Christians). Do we have the correct interpretation of it? Do we have the correct interpretation? We have a true interpretation that is the expression of the faith embodied in it. The church's classic interpretation is not alien to it. Bizarre American sects use it, but their interpretation falls outside of its true consistency. But thereis always a 'more' to the Bible,a remainder, awaiting us. This remainder is not contrary to what is true (i.e. for instance, Trinity and Incarnation). But we have plenty of space to work out our own salvation!

    And yes, although variety is aesthetically pleasing, denominational self-sufficiency is not pretty.

  10. Subordination is self-giving.

  11. Like most church doctrines, the doctrine of Scripture and the Trinity is argued at one level by Theologians, proclaimed at another level by preachers and lived at another level by the faithful people of God. Whether there is any relationship between the three is a matter of conjecture. The curious thing is that although intuitively you would place the laity subordinate to the clergy and the clergy subordinate to their teachers, it often happens that the three are, unlike the Trinity, neither subordinate or equal. One could even say that they were not of the same being. So I would be very cautious indeed about speaking of a GAFCON approach to scripture - there is no such thing. I would be very cautious about referring to a "Sydney Diocese" approach, because there considerable divergence of opinion.
    In fact, I would argue that the reading of Scripture and the "plain" meanng one might look for will vary from person to person. Which makes nonssense of a "consensual" approach. Agreement on the meanng and authority of Scripture is actually minimal. That minimal understanding the amount and quality of understanding which any individual is prepared to tolerate before leaving the church altogether.

  12. Before I respond to this latest comment, about that old and conservative bit in a previous comment ... I think of myself as traditional. I do not share the conclusions the conservatives end up with when it comes to the 'social issues' they love to carry on about - sex, gays, the family, women. On the other hand, I could hardly be called liberal, because my method and beliefs are so traditional. And I am very suspicious of the easy importation of ideas from secular society that the liberal wing seems so fond of.

    The conservative agenda seems to someone like me to be at pains to subordinate women to men. Lots has been said about this, but in respect to the relationship between Father and Son, which is often characterised as the Son subordinate to the Father, conservatives have attempted to point to this as showing that subordination is godly. And indeed it can be; to God, and to each other. (Eph 5:21) But this is where the difference between the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity can help us hermeneutically. We cannot move from the obedience of Jesus to the Father in his earthly ministry to the relationship between Father and Son eternally as one of subordination, and then universalize this as the correct mode of self-giving love for women alone. The major reason is because it is a confusion of person and nature in Christ with persons and nature in the Trinity. The principle of unity of two natures of the incarnate Christ is his one person; in God the principle of union of the three persons is the one nature. Of course the earthly, human Jesus shows himself subordinate and obedient to the Father. Not to be too arcane about it, the earthly Jesus had two wills. How else should the earthly Jesus act if not subordinating himself to the will of God? But in the relation between Father, Son and Spirit in the Godhead, there are not three wills, only one, as their is only one nature. It is not permissible (because of the hermeneutical priority of Nicea-Constantinople and Chalcedon)to conclude from the earthly subordination of Jesus to God, that the Son is eternally subordinate. If we mean that in the inner life of God the Son gives everything that the Son is tot he Father, yes, of course. Subordination is too miserly to adequately express this though. And anyway, the Father also gives everything the Father is, except Fatherhood. (i.e. origin)

  13. G'day

    Talking about the idea of the lens is a helpful one. I remember at theological college drawing a picture of a movie camera which stood on a tripod of Scripture, Tradition and Reason. The camera needed to rest equally on these or it would fall over. The projection of an image from this movie camera onto the wall went through two lenses: one called culture and one called Experience (you could add others I'm sure). The picture viewed at the end was my experience of the faith. The metaphor is limited, but the benefit is that it gets us to acknowledge our biases, which we all surely have (cf reader response criticism?)

    The application of Critical methods to scripture have helped us ask some useful questions, which our biases would otherwise have blinded us to. For example on the question of the bible and sexulatiy (and Homosexuality in particular) , we impose our own agenda on the text (cf debate on the Sodom story and the relation of this discourse to the principle of hospitality and lack thereof) . In many such references in the Scripture, The agenda of the text at that particular point may well be preoccupied with questions of Cleanliness, Hospitality or Ownership (William Countryman's "Dirt, Sex & Greed" is a helpful overview) rather than specifically preoccupied with our own particular agenda of modern sexual relationships (many other scriptural texts deal with the quality of relationships).

    So can the bible say anything to us? And can we actually read anything beyond which our own biases will allow? And the miraculous answer is "yes". Thus we can call the bible the living word, and we can always acknowledge that we are open to conversion. But... (and its a big but) we do not control or own this process. God does. Certainly God can work through a particular phrase of scripture taken ridiculously out of context. But maybe God does not control us bludgeoning someone else over the head with it. And that is the paradoxical nature of the faith and scripture and the whole kit and kaboodle.

    For those who want clear cut answers (most of us at various times) then this paradox is difficult to cope with. But there is enough perhaps we can agree on to get us started. Love God and our neighbour. Take the log out of our own eye first (that takes about a lifetime). Judge not and we will not be judged. By our fruits we will be known. Oh and there are no male, female, slave, free, Jew, Greek nor any other birth-imposed divisions left for all are one in Christ.

    Simple yet difficult. Plenty to work on.


  14. I agree with much of what St Gwilym the Oomphoplast has said with regard to teaching, theologising and practice. And that you can't have one without the other...indeed you have a problem if you do.
    I assume that this phrase "the plain meaning of scripture" has some origin in history and may itself have a plain meaning.
    My concern is who decides what is "plain", and when there is disagreement who decides what is right.
    This then is not necessarily about truth, and indeed may be about power. After all it is a truism of the epistemology of history that "History is written by the victors."
    This could be true of theology; after all a good case could be made for the fact that in the end many of the causes-celebres of theological debate are resolved by the exercise of power rather than by the triumph of reason.
    The victors might have us believe (by the exercise of their power) that their view prevails by rationality, and then excercise their power to excommunicate/behead/incinerate anyone who thinks otherwise.
    This sort of dynamic is pretty worrying.

  15. Keep the comments coming, this is great.

    I'm one of those that thinks the Christian faith is a great surprise (why I call our reading of the OT idiosyncratic). It is not obvious, and it is not until after it is revealed to us that we can see the inherent 'theologic' of it. (And why conversion can be imaged as a move from darkness tolight etc, and the work of God.) My tendency now is to be a little more suspicious of what we bring to the text. Having said that, the interpretive process requires us to be who we are, including culture, for example. But even though we read Scripture through these prisms, does it mean that we are left with purely subjective interpretations? As Andrew says, of course not. The translation from one language to another would be impossible if this were the case! This parallels the use of models in science; models don't mean that science is entirely a subjective, personal interpretation of an unknown reality. If it were, technology wouldn't work as well as it does, and we would have given up the scientific process ages ago.

  16. I have reread my contribution in the light of Philip Tolliday's article - which, by the way is beautifully written - and I like the idea of the community of the church "owning" and "using" the text of Scripture. The danger is, of course, that as human communities become more fragmented and individualised, so the "plain sense" of Scripture becomes pixillated and individualised. My understanding is as good as yours and you have no right to criticise. This is where I find myself because although the community in which I live and move and have my being has its own "plain meaning", I am the interpreter and articulator of the tradition. So, unless I am informed by conversation with other interpreters, then gradually my idosyncratic tendencies will affect the "plain words" which the community grasps and lives by.

  17. I also wonder after all this discussion about who decides what the "plain reading" is what the role of the Holy Spirit is in all of this? Does the Spirit have a role to play in interpretation and even in interpretation in new situations? I guess what I am asking is a plain reading static or is it like scripture inspired by the Holy Spirit?