The following serves as an exercise in whether or not i am still able to write a short, quick essay. The picture below was the assignment for an 11th grade AP English class i subbed for on February 13, 2020. A practice essay for the SAT (assignment time was thirty minutes).
(As I was under a time crunch while writing, I am refraining from any editing of this post. I wrote it on paper, and i copied it word-for-word here.)
How many shades of grey are there between black and white? Some would say none. Some would say fifty. And still others would say an infinite number. But in a world of absolute truth, these can’t all be right, can they? Well, it all boils down to the answer to the question: How many shades of grey are there between black and white?
The Bible says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16), and this is the context in which I want to view this question. Black represents a false interpretation of a text. White represents the inspired interpretation of a text. If we seek to “rightly divide the word of truth” (cf. 2 Timothy 2:15), then we want to end up with white. The problem is though, that a quick survey of different commentaries on the same text shows us that we usually only end up with a certain shade of grey.
How is this the case? And should we be okay with it?
First, this is the case because we are almost (if not more than) 2,000 years removed from any text we may be exegeting. We don’t understand the historical context properly. We don’t understand the language perfectly. We don’t understand the author’s background perfectly. All these factors play into a proper understanding of any text. And commentators bring their own biases and limited knowledge of history and language and authorial background to their commentaries. For this reason, we are several steps removed from the perfectly “white” understanding of any text. But, the only “black” understanding is an understanding that says, “I see it says this, but I don’t like that, so let’s ignore/change it.”
Second, we should be okay with this. The only way to not be okay with it and continue even attempting to understand the Scripture is to build a time machine and go back in time to the historical setting. Since we can’t do this, and since we must study Scripture, we must be okay with various levels of “grey” interpretations. The only question is: Have you put in the maximum amount of effort possible to reach the interpretation you have arrived at? If so, you can still trust and base your actions on the interpretation you discovered.
In conclusion, there is always going to be a “however” in biblical exegesis. However, this “however” will never contradict core theological tenets. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, according to the Scriptures alone for the glory of God alone. If your interpretation changes one of these tenets or the person of Christ or character of God, then your interpretation is “black,” not “white” or “grey,” and it must be thrown out.
In this with you.
Soli Deo Gloria
Thanks for reading.