Fundamentalists believe that every word in the Bible was dictated by the Holy Spirit to the 40 writers of the Scriptures. Thus fundamentalists view the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, as one whole book written by God, using 40 writers as amanuenses. If you press them, they will admit that God allowed the various personalities of the 40 writers to come through the writing, and they readily admit that the writers wrote in their own vernaculars or dialects.
Fundamentalists also readily admit and advise that in order to understand the Scriptures one must understand who is writing, to whom the letter or book is aimed at, who is speaking, and to whom is the speaker speaking. The old illustration they give is that the instruction: “Build an ark of gopher wood, 300 cubits long,” was not intended for us today.
Even though fundamentalists assert these principles, they will readily say things like: “The Bible says, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel.'” “The Bible says clearly that ‘women are to remain silent.'” “The New Testament is completely silent about authorizing instrumental music in worship.”
These are misleading statements, leaving out the important hermeneutic principles that fundamentalists say they believe. So an exercise in being more precise could be: to specify the particular writer when quoting a scripture: “The Gospels of Matthew and Mark record Jesus instructing his apostles to “go into all the world, preaching the gospel.” “The apostle Paul said in his letter to Timothy at Ephesus that the women were to learn in silence.” These qualifications of the biblical quotation immediately give us far more information than before, and put the quotations into a context that modifies the hearers’ impressions and understanding of the passages. Questions pop up: If Jesus were here today, would he give the same instruction to go into all the world and preach the good news? If the apostle Paul were here in the United States in 2012 would he give the same instruction to Timothy, to instruct the women to learn in silence?
Once one starts asking those questions, one can no longer remain a fundamentalist. Within a year or two of asking those questions one becomes much more specific about what actual passages say and mean to the people of the first century, and then to us in 2012.
Eventually one begins to look at how the early church established whether the Holy Spirit was moving in one direction or another. The apostle Paul seldom said, “I am an apostle and therefore everything I write is dictated word for word by the Holy Spirit, and you have to obey it.” No, almost never did he say that. Instead he engaged his readers in a reasoned journey of logic, built on the stories and traditions they already believed in. And he had a heavy task. He had to persuade his readers that the Jewish way of life, as encompassed by the Feast Days, the temple worship and even circumcision and kosher foods, was past. He had to say that the Gentiles who embraced the love and forgiveness of God, epitomized in the sacrifice of Jesus, were fully Jews without circumcision and kosher eating practices. Wow! And the apostle Paul was talking to fundamentalists!
When Paul was in Jerusalem reporting back about the work he was doing among the Gentiles, they had a big meeting in Jerusalem to determine whether the Gentile believers in Jesus were going to be part of their community or not. Paul and Barnabas had to persuade the people that what they were doing was from the Holy Spirit. Then the people compared what Paul and Barnabas were doing with the Hebrew scriptures and made a group decision.
So your homework is: Whenever you quote a passage of scripture, name the writer and the audience. I predict it will change your view of the Scriptures over the next year.