The interpretation of the Bible is integral to Christadelphian claims because the position they have adopted comes from one central claim by John Thomas. That is that everyone else had failed to correctly understand the Bible on its central teachings and that salvation was dependent upon that being correctly done. He claimed this occurred because of the lack of independence of thought and searching of the scripture and claimed God never reveals himself in another way, such as helping through the Holy Spirit.
It should be noted that difference on many of the doctrines he elaborated can be found throughout history. The position established by the Christadelphians has however been that only through correct doctrinal knowledge can salvation occur and that knowledge has to be in place prior to baptism for baptism to be valid, baptism being considered necessary for salvation. To fail to have the right doctrines or have any of the wrong ones is to not have the saving truth and if baptism has occurred prior to that then a person needs rebaptism. They believe therefore in a God who places a high value on doctrinal correctness.
This is in fact a fairly common idea in a group of churches known as restorationist which have come into existence through the belief that the founding member recovered saving truth. Some base this claim upon direct revelation such as the Mormons and Christian Science, others such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the former Worldwide Church of God have based it upon the correct understanding of the Bible. In common such groups need an historical explanation for the loss and recovery of truth, which is usually attributed to a Great Apostasy and hence other churches are labelled “the harlot and her daughters”, Great Babylon and similar labels.
Much of this site is devoted to an examination of how the Christadelphian movement operates in practice. This section is more concerned with examining what is involved in assessing the claims to have correctly interpreted the Bible. This is the only basis upon which the Christadelphians would like to be examined and it is important to therefore understand all the premises and assumptions involved in that process.
It should be noted that although the community originated from the teachings of John Thomas, they do not claim to be his followers. There is a significance to his theological role which notes that in practice his positions have been maintained through the construction of a creedal system. The personal claim however of members will often be that although he recovered the truth, they themselves have come through independence of thought and Bible study to the same conclusions.
The big claim is that the Christadelphians do not read their interpretations into scripture, unlike the majority of churches which do. They will point out that John Thomas never claimed any special knowledge or guidance from God (he was antagonistic to such beliefs), but instead promoted the way to saving truth as being the independent examination of scripture. His initial claims were that creeds and church authority were suppressive and antagonistic to that. Today the community holds a dual position of promoting the independent examination of scripture whilst dogmatically opposing all who never reach the same conclusions and maintaining that position through a creedal system. An examination of the Bible is therefore necessary to examine whether or not he did truly recover the long lost faith of the Apostles through independence of thought and to do that any potential Christadelphian has to have the same independence of thought that John Thomas had. That in essence is necessary because of the foundational premise of the community. To put it simply, without independence of thought we get misled and socially conditioned.
In practice anyone who studies or learns with the community does so from the position that the members claim intellectual supremacy. That in essence was the position of John Thomas to others: “prove me wrong or accept I have the Truth”. That means that in practice the community promotes one position (independence of thought) whilst seeking to do all it can do to control the results of any search. In practice therefore it is a community which is based upon promoting dogmatism. “the Truth” in effect has been recovered by an uninspired man (by his own admission and that of the Christadelphians) through the uniqueness of his personality and situation and it is his system of Biblical interpretation which has been maintained through both creeds and approach. To question that is to question the status quo.
In many ways the restorationist beliefs are a natural extension of the idea of “the Bible alone” which gained weight at the time of the Reformation. This study therefore has some wider interest for Protestant Christians and the Christadelphians are a textbook example of where the idea of the Bible alone can naturally lead.
This topic also then raises questions about the idea of the sufficiency of the Bible alone, which is covered to some degree in the section on the Bible. In many ways the founder, John Thomas, took that idea to the rejection of consensus, church authority, history and any present day guidance by God through the Holy Spirit. The question is does that absolute concept of the Bible alone and independence of thought really that lead to the recovery of saving truth that now requires dogmatism to protect. Or, does it instead lead to a multitude of churches all claiming the same basis but differing in interpretation. To put this another way, if mentally sound people were placed on desert islands, given the Bible alone, with no prior knowledge, with no previous conditioning as to its interpretation, and the sincere belief that truth was found within its pages, would that lead to them to all having Christadelphian beliefs. This is the essence of what is claimed to happen.
The next section therefore considers the root idea, which is Independence of Thought.
In common with many churches the Christadelphians would claim the Bible is the sole authority and is the revealed “word of God”. The common way to seek to prove this initial starting position is through the presentation of fulfilled Bible prophecy, in particular the return of the Jewish People to Israel in 1948. The claim is that belief should be a rational result from clear evidence and close Bible examination. Superstition should have no role and feeling at best plays a supporting role. The appeal is to logic and to those with little scriptural knowledge or of the difficulties involved in coming to complete certainty it does have some weight on certain issues. If it did not, after all, who would believe or continue to believe.
A few passages presented convincingly does not however give a person the complete understanding and certainty necessary to become convinced of the Christadelphian faith. To gain that a person has to become a committed Bible student. Bible prophecy is the hook that is commonly used to create the desire and interest for such a search. The question about eventual conversion is whether the comprehensive analysis of scripture and certainty necessary is truly reached, or whether in fact social and other factors play the final role in conversion. In other words just as other Christians are claimed to delude themselves, do those embracing the Christadelphian faith often end up embracing a mindset rather than having comprehensively weighed and balanced all of scripture?
The idea of the Bible alone is one that has been promoted heavily since the time of the Reformation, although the idea of scriptures has been around far longer. As a community the individual members study the Bible way more than the individual members of most churches and therefore the potential searcher if studying with the Christadelphians has a huge academic disadvantage in maintaining independence of thought from the pressure the community will apply with its dogmatic approach and constant reiteration of its positions. In fact, such pressure may frustrate the true independence of thought which would be necessary. A realisation of the difficulties in fact is why many potential Christadelphians take years to commit and why the children of Christadelphians can do so also. Feeling convinced “enough” is not easy and many folk get stuck in a half-way house because certain arguments are convincing, but they just don’t feel they know enough or have enough certainty, In fact many Christadelphians deep down are also aware of grey areas, but don’t know where else they would go.
I believe that this explains in part the huge Biblical study many Christadelphians do. They are convinced that the grey areas will evaporate with more knowledge and that the difficult verses will find more ready and self-convincing explanations. I also believe it could be a factor in why there is considerable depression within the community. People in essence can be intellectually trapped. It is important to appreciate that it is not just through a surplus of emotion that people can get unduly influenced by others, although the two are not distinctly separated. The dogmatism expected in a creedal setup also means to show uncertainty about key elements of the faith is suppressed and socially unacceptable. In fact it carries the risk of entering a route that can lead to disfellowship.
Before committing to a search for saving truth through the Bible as the method of salvation, first a person has to be convinced it is the word of God. A few careful chosen and convincing proof quotes does not make that is the case and that is a huge study in itself. It also doesn’t mean a group such as the Christadelphians has it all right. In proof quoting they will always bring up passages which best support their understandings and they will downplay those which do not. We all do that because deep down we have a worldview whether that is a secular one or a religious one. We also all have a tendency to avoid the examination of premises which we have given little weight of thought to.
It is therefore important to examine how the Bible came to us and how it was formed which is considered here. For instance it comprises two libraries of books written by multiple authors, the Old Testament and the New Testament. These books often have very different emphases. Fulfilled prophecy from one doesn’t automatically validate every word of scripture as being God’s. In addition how can we be sure we have the right interpretation? Like most Christian groups it is only in the original languages that inspiration is considered to be accurate, although a few groups claim infallibility for the King James Version of the Bible. How many of us can read or have the time or ability to learn the original languages of Hebrew and Greek. In fact the Biblical languages are different to modern day Hebrew and Greek, because languages change. A few parts are even written in Chaldean which no longer exists. Some suggest some parts of the New Testament were written in Aramaic and translated into Greek.
Many of the Christadelphian arguments centre around the root meanings of words, despite few Christadelphians having any expertise in the original languages. They therefore suggest the use of Bible dictionaries and concordances.