The Analogy of Faith

These are the notes from our continuing study on the 1689 Confession of Faith that took place July 21, 2021. This time we considered Chapter 1, paragraph 9 of our confession that deals with the so called- "analogy of faith."

James 2:21

“Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?”

How do we understand this verse?

Roman Catholics have taken these words to mean that God accepts a person based on their works.

How would you argue against them?

We might appeal to Romans 4:2-5:

“If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”

We might also, then, turn to Genesis 15:6, Romans 3-6, Galatians 2:15-16.

What is our conclusion?

How do we understand James in light of these other passages?

The Analogy of Faith

When we begin comparing passages of Scripture with other passages of Scripture, what we are engaged in is called “The Analogy of Faith.”

The analogy of is a hermeneutical principle. Hermeneutics refers to the methods we interpret the Bible.  

The analogy of faith is often described by the phrases “Scripture interprets Scripture” or “Scripture Interprets itself.”

While these are not necessarily wrong, it is better to say that...

the analogy of faith claims that all of the scriptures are in harmony and there are no contradictions within the Bible. Therefore, any interpretation of a given passage must be in harmony with all the other passages. If there is a passage that can be interpreted in a couple of different ways, then that passage must be compared to what the rest of the Bible teaches. If any of the interpretations clearly contradicts the clear teaching of the Bible in other places, it must be rejected.    
In addition, it is understood that clear passages must interpret unclear passages.

In other words, passages that are largely symbolic (we might think of the book of Revelation or some of the prophets) will be understood in light of the more direct teachings that we find in, for example, the letters of Paul.

A simple example might be Psalm 34:15 which speaks of God having eyes and ears, whereas John 4:24 says God is spirit. We know that these passages cannot contradict one another. As we consider Psalm 34, we recognize that the Psalmist is using metaphorical language to simply say that God watches over His people and hears their cries while Jesus is describing what God is actually like. If it weren’t for John 4:24, we might come away thinking of God in ways that are not accurate.  

A little more complex example: John 10:34

This is a good time to bring up a passage that we used earlier in our discussions about the authority of the Scriptures: John 10:34-36

These verses can be tough to understand because, in verse 34, Jesus talks about people being called “gods.”

Those who deny the deity of Jesus Christ might jump on this in an attempt to show that we are all “gods” and that Jesus did not claim to be God in any unique sense, but only “a” god.  

How do we understand what He is saying?

Well, a first good step would be to read the entire chapter of 10 to be sure we understand the context in which His using this terminology. That might, in and of itself, help us figure it out. Looking at the surrounding context, in this case, simply shows that the Jews were refusing to believe Jesus’ claims and were, in fact, ready to stone Him because He referred to Himself as the “Son of God.”

When it comes to Jesus’ statement in verse 34 that the Law says “I said, you are gods,” most commentators agree that Jesus is quoting Psalm 82:6. Most Bibles will have a footnote on that verse that points us in that direction.  

So our next step would be to read Psalm 82.

Who is God talking to?

It is not entirely clear. It could be that God is speaking to a host of heavenly beings, but this has to do with those who are responsible for judgments on earth, who are guilty of judging unjustly and, though they may think highly of themselves, will die like anyone else. Add that to Jesus’ comments of John 10 and it seems that God is talking to ordinary people who have been given a task to do and, with that task, came a divine title that our Bibles translate “gods.”

So, now what do we do?  Maybe there are some other passages that can help.

Here is where it gets a little complicated if you don’t have the right resources or, since many resources are readily available online, simply don’t know what to look for.

If we do some digging we discover that the word “gods” in Psalm 82:6 is the Hebrew word “elohim.” This is a name that is used as a name for God.  

We find it, for example, in Exodus 7:1 where we read: “And the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God (Elohim) to Pharoah…”

This ends up being an interesting verse because Moses, as a representative of the LORD, is spoken of as being like Elohim.

As another route of study to take, since Psalm 82 is talking about judging rightly, we might want to consider what the Bible says about those charged with such a task. We find something interesting in  Deuteronomy 1:16-18 where Moses is describing how he established judges to hear cases among the people and that their judgment is counted as the judgment of God (vs. 17).

Now we can turn to Exodus 21:1-6 and Exodus 22:8-9.  In these passages, there is judgment being handed down in cases among the people. The word “elohim” is used to describe those whom will render judgment. The ESV translates “elohim” as the proper name “God,” but the NIV translates “elohim” as “judge” or “judges.” Which is right?

It seems like “judges” should be the correct interpretation. As part of the Jews’ civil law, the people were told that if a man who had been a slave for six years and was to be set free in the seventh year should nevertheless have come to love his master and want to remain with him, he was to be brought to the elohim, who should pierce his ear as a sign that he had chosen to be a servant for life.

This fits both the context of Moses assigning judges, the fact that those involved in these cases are brought before someone, and Psalm 82 which seems to say that human judges are referred to as elohim.  

Taking all this together, we conclude that, in Psalm 82, God is standing in the midst of human judges whom had been charged with rendering righteous judgment in Israel and yet proved themselves to not be impartial.

Now, we can return to Jesus’ response.

If we go back a little bit further in John, we can see that, like in Psalm 82, Jesus has pointed out to the Jewish religious leaders that they were not judging rightly (John 7:24 and 8:15).

They do it again in chapter10, when the Pharisees accuse Him of blasphemy for declaring Himself to be the Son of God. So Jesus responds by taking them to Psalm 82.

His point is that, if men who merely received the Word of God were called “gods” because they were representatives of God and called to render right judgment, how much MORE should He who “IS” the Word of God—the One who is THE JUDGE- sent directly by the Father, be recognized by the divine title “Son of God.” He is THE representative of God.

Doing all this digging helps us to avoid coming to the conclusion that Jesus was saying that he was only a man and no different than any person who can claim also to be a “god.”

We can tell that the crowds knew what He was actually saying because they sought to arrest Him.

This required some deeper digging but it is another example of the analogy of faith.

This utilization of the analogy of faith is what is described in Chapter 1, paragraph 9 in our confession:

9. The infallible rule for interpreting Scripture is the Scripture itself. Therefore, when there is a question about the true and full meaning of any part of Scripture (and each passage has only one meaning, not many), it must be understood in light of other passages that speak more clearly.

Peter 1:20, 21; Acts 15:15, 16.

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