An editorial in our local newspaper was critical of Amy Coney Barrett, the newest Supreme Court justice, because, in their view, she was too conservative. The writers branded her an Originalist based on the idea she would apply the rule of law according to the original public meaning at the time it became law. Our Constitution was written in 1787; the first ten amendments were added in 1789. Another 17 amendments have been adopted since then, the most recent (Congressional Pay Limitation) in 1992. The editorial suggested the Supreme Court needed a justice who is a Living Constitutionalist, someone who believes the meaning of the constitutional text changes over time, as social attitudes change, even though there might not be a formal amendment addressing a particular issue.
Both sides offer legal rulings to support their view. Living Constitutionalists claim racial segregation was not declared unconstitutional until the Supreme Court ruling of 1954. Originalists believe the 14th Amendment in 1868 (all citizens have equal protection under the laws) prohibited race discrimination, even when the Supreme Court erroneously upheld segregation in 1896.
The argument on how to interpret civil law will almost certainly continue; as will the debate surrounding the intent of God’s law found in the Bible. Unlike our Constitution, we have no original documents for either the Old or New Testaments. Non-believers argue the Bible cannot be trusted in the absence of original writings. Skeptics claim there are other books besides the Bible. Liberal scholars want to remove some quotes of Jesus. Theologians arrive at opposite meanings of the same passage of scripture.
Similar to the jurist positions on the Constitution, there are two categories for how people might interpret the Bible. One I call the Originalist Bible, comprised of those who believe scriptures are to be interpreted as originally written and remain applicable today. Developing Bible individuals would argue that as society changes so must the approach to interpreting and applying scripture. To help you decide which side you prefer, reflect on a few observations.
The Bible was not written by God on stone tablets as He did on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:12). Instead, all of God’s word was written by men who were given divine inspiration (2 Timothy 3:16) in order to prepare us to live and function by the Lord’s standards. And we cannot accurately interpret what was written without the guidance of God’s spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21).
Do you think God forgot to put something in the Bible that would be useful to people in 2020? Did the Lord provide a means to amend what He had written as society changed? To say “yes” to either question is to neglect warnings not to add or subtract from God’s word (Deuteronomy 12:32; Revelation 22:18-19).
Is the Bible as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago? The 6th Commandment, penned by Moses more than 3,000 years ago, prohibits premeditated murder (Exodus 20:6). Today, if society says human life does not begin until after birth, is it murder to intentionally kill a fetus that will develop into a human? Should we amend the 8th Commandment to allow angry protestors to steal TVs from a store? If all biblical references to hell were erased, would everyone go to heaven regardless of their behavior (which would mean heaven was the same as earth)? Could Democrats and Republicans agree on the definition, types and consequences of sin? The Bible, written by different individuals, does (for instance, read Exodus 32:33-34; Psalm 51:3-4; John 8:34; Romans 2:12, 6:23, 7:20, 8:1-4, James 1:13-15).
I am a sinner saved by grace; eternally grateful I don’t have to vote every four years on what is sin. I just have to open my Bible. Would you care to guess whether I am an Originalist Bible person or am I a Developing Bible man? What are you?
1 Barrett’s Conservative Views Already Known, by Eleanor Clift & Douglas Cohn, in The Daily Reflector, 20 October 2020, p A4
Know Doubt Ministry, LLC