I hope Nick Norelli doesn’t mind me putting this up, but he had a great comment over at his blog today on the nature and role of presuppositions as related to how we approach the revelation of God, and I thought it well worth sharing:
…We can’t allow our presuppositions to override revelation. In other words, I can’t come to the text believing XYZ and then when I find ABC say, “This needs to be interpreted to conform to XYZ” or “This must be wrong because it doesn’t conform to XYZ” or something like that.
So, for example, you’ll find that both the Modalists and the Arians approached Scripture with this presupposed philosophical understanding of God as an indivisible Monad. So what did they do when they got to Scripture and saw the affirmation that there was only one true God and the presentation of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit as God?
Modalists like Noetus and Sabellius took their pre-understanding and said that the apparent distinctions of Father, Son, and Spirit that we find in Scripture must refer to roles that God plays or masks that he wears because it would be impossible for God to actually be Father, Son, and Spirit at the same time since this would divide the Monad. They interpreted the distinctions to conform to their understanding because if they were real distinctions then it wouldn’t work for what they already believed.
The Arians on the other hand recognized the real distinction and went the other direction with it. Rather than saying that Father, Son, and Spirit were God, they said, “No, this can’t be right because God is a Monad and the Monad is indivisible,” so they relegated the Son and Spirit to subordinate creatures and said that the Father was the Monad. Again, they already knew what could or could not be true so they made Scripture conform to their system rather than making their system conform to Scripture.
So we all obviously come to the text with presuppositions. The question is whether or not we’ll modify our presuppositions according to the text or the text according to our presuppositions. Obviously I think that heretics (every last one of them) do the latter. The Modalists and Arians already knew what could and could not be true of God before they dealt with Scripture. That in turn determined how they dealt with Scripture. So I would say that our presuppositions are a starting point to be revised over time and that as we conform our thoughts to God’s thoughts we can gain confidence. I’d be much less confident in what I believed if I found the Bible always agreeing with what I believed prior to coming to the Bible.
– Nick Norelli at Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth