Presuppositions: Know and Evaluate Them

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Every one of us has presuppositions and those presuppositions exist in our thinking all the time. The word presupposition derives from the verb “presuppose,” meaning, “to suppose or assume beforehand; take for granted in advance” (see dictionary.com). Presuppositions exist in theology. Over time the Bible will confront our presuppositions and we have a choice, either change my presuppositions to match biblical theology or get an unbiblical theology.

Whenever sitting down to read Scripture, before deriving a conclusion, include one simple question, “Does this text really say what I think it says?” Or, another way to ask it, “Am I trying to make this text say what I want it to say?” One way to determine a presupposition exists comes when the reader tries to make the text mean what it doesn’t appear to mean. The interpreter will have to say, “Yes, on the surface it appears to mean this . . . even in its context. But since the author can’t think that way, it can’t mean that.”

I remember struggling through Hebrews 3 before finally realizing the lexical, grammatical, and context demanded I drop my presupposition. I wrestled a long time to make the text nuance some other theological position I held too. I tried to reconcile my doctrine with it. Finally, there was no way around it, there is tension in the text I must account for in my understanding of God’s will. One of the most common errors heard however comes from Acts 15:36-40.

After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also. But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and left, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord.

Most interpretations on this passage assume Mark did something wrong and Paul correctly did not want him present. But this presupposes Paul accurately discerns the issue and responds accordingly. To say Mark should not be with him also requires Barnabas erring when defending him. Verse 38 says Mark, “deserted them in Pamphylia not going with them to the work.” This allows us to believe Mark erred enough for him to not be worthy of proceeding with Paul. If the reader presupposes Paul acts righteously in all he does, then yes, this interpretation fits. However, if the reader presupposes Paul lacks grace here, then this account also makes sense revealing Barnabas to be the more gracious missionary and Mark fit for ministry.

In reality both options legitimately explain the text. There is one truth and in this case we may not know this answer. Why? Because the text is about something else. But reading this passage in light of 2 Timothy 4:11, “Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service” we can be assured that good men sometimes separate and yet it does not mean they have to divide for life. Whatever happened, Paul and Mark worked together later in life.

Who knows, maybe Paul confessed a lack of grace and sought forgiveness?

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Jason Vaughn

About Jason Vaughn

Jason is a graduate of the Master's Seminary and the pastor of Cornerstone Las Vegas, a Grace Advance church plant. He loves Christ, his wife Kyla, sometimes his kids :), the church, missions, people, and coffee. You can also follow him on his personal blog at shepherdthesheep.com.