Tag Archives: how to interpret the bible

Accurate Hermeneutics: Interpreting The Bible Correctly (Part 4)

(This is the fourth part of a series on how to interpret the Bible correctly.  Part 1 can be found here, Part 2 can be found here, and Part 3 can be found here.)  

Jesus was asked, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (Matt. 21:23), a legitimate question even if it was asked with illegitimate motives.  It’s a legitimate question because God himself tells us to have authority from Christ in everything we do and say (Col. 3:17).  Thus, the concept of biblical authority is very important to having a proper hermeneutic of Scripture.  Authority is a major foundational precept of Christianity, for without it we have no basis for anything we believe, teach, or practice in our individual lives and in the church.

Think about it.  Look at prayer, for instance.  Prayer is a basic fundamental trait of Christianity.  We all know that Christians pray…but how do we know who to pray to, or what to pray for, or even to pray in the first place?  When all is said and done, we know to pray (Col. 4:2) to God the Father (Matt. 6:9) about numerous topics (Matt. 6:9-13; 1 Tim. 2:1-2; etc.)…because God’s Word tells us to do so.  If it wasn’t for the Holy Spirit-inspired Scriptures (2 Pet. 1:19-21), we wouldn’t know how to pray or even to pray in the first place (Rom. 8:26).  Thus, we get our authority to pray from God’s Word.

In fact, every divinely pleasing thing we do as Christians is done by authority that comes from God’s Word (2 Tim. 3:16-17).  Did you notice how Paul said that Scripture equips us for “EVERY good work”?  That means that if there is a work out there which we don’t need Scripture to give us authority to do in some way, then it is not a good work…not as far as God is concerned.  Sure, wemight think it to be a good work…but God’s thoughts are not our thoughts (Is. 55:8-9; Prov. 14:12).   So again the need for biblical authority is apparent…but how do we get that authority?  A study of the Bible reveals that God’s Word gives authority in three basic ways.

The first would be through a command, a direct statement of something can or cannot be done (e.g., John 13:34; Acts 2:38; Eph. 5:18; 1 Thess. 4:3).  Sometimes biblical commands are general in nature, not limited in scope, area, or application.  For example, the command to “go” (Matt. 28:19) is general in nature and would authorize all methods of transportation in our efforts to evangelize, since God did not specify just HOW we are to “go.”  On the other hand, sometimes biblical commands are specific in nature, like when God specified gopher wood as the type of wood Noah was to use while building the ark (Gen. 6:14).  Noah would have disobeyed God by using pine wood, because God had specified gopher wood.

Pine wood? Not allowed. Hammers, saws, and ladders? Allowed.

In like manner, a specific command may itself have a degree of general authority which would open up the use of aids not specifically mentioned in the command but which nonetheless are suitable for carrying out that which is authorized.  For example, peruse the instructions God gave to Noah about the construction of the ark, and you will see more examples of how specific God was in his requirements (Gen. 6:14-16).  However, you will find no mention of God telling Noah to use tools such as hammers, nails, saws, etc.  Yet, we know that the ark was not built miraculously in that it took over a century to build (Gen. 6:3); thus, Noah must have used construction tools to build it, tools which God did not mention in his instructions.  So did Noah go beyond what God had authorized?  Not necessarily, for when all was said and done the Bible says twice that Noah “did all that God commanded him” (Gen. 6:22; 7:5).

The second way God’s Word gives authority is through approved examples.  The divinely inspired apostle Paul taught not only through command, but also by example (Phil. 4:9).  In fact, he encouraged others to imitate him and to follow his apostolic example (1 Cor. 4:16-17; 11:1), something which the early church did with all the apostles (Acts 2:42; Phil. 3:17; 2 Thess. 3:9) and with good reason, considering that the apostles were divinely inspired (Eph. 3:3-5).  So when we have an example in Scripture that meets with apostolic approval, we know there is authority for the practice.  For example, we meet on the first day of the week to partake of communion because of the example set by the early church with the apostles’ approval (Acts 20:7; cf. 1 Cor. 10:16-17).

The third way God’s Word gives authority is through necessary implications.  These are neither explicitly stated nor specifically exemplified, but rather are necessarily implied by the clear meaning of the language the inspired writers are using, so much so that one could only logically draw a particular conclusion.  Jesus made a necessary implication in his teaching of the existence of the resurrection of the dead to the unbelieving Sadducees (Matt. 22:31).  He quoted what God said to Moses at Mount Horeb (Ex. 3:6) about currently being the God of Jewish patriarchs who at the time were centuries in their grave (“I AM the God of Abraham…Isaac, and…Jacob”) to necessarily imply that God is not “God of the dead, but of the living,”i.e., that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob still existed after their deaths.

For God so loved the world…

We do the same thing, probably without realizing it.  For example, we cite John 3:16 as biblical proof that God gave his Son because he loves all of humanity…but the verse doesn’t actually say that.  It actually says, “For God so loved THE WORLD that he gave his only Son…”  Yet, we necessarily infer that “the world” is referring to the entire human population rather than the physical planet because of what is specifically stated in other passages (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4).  In like manner, students of the New Testament know that there is no specific commandment which states, “Thou shalt not punch thy wife in the face.”  However, none of us would state that spousal abuse is therefore permitted in the New Testament…why?  Because of the necessary implications we make from certain passages (Matt. 7:12; Eph. 5:28-29).

These principles on how to establish biblical authority may seem commonplace, dull, unimaginative, or matter-of-fact, but they have proven to be very useful in correctly applying God’s Word to our lives in a consistent and logical manner.  It is my hope that you may find them useful in your quest to interpret God’s Word correctly.

(Lord willing, I’ll write an article in a few hours which will conclude this series by studying the differences between the Old and New Testaments.  Hope you check in  later today for that.  Thanks for reading, and please know that all comments and questions are welcome, provided they are given in a Christian manner.)

Accurate Hermeneutics: Interpreting The Bible Correctly (Part 3)

(This is the third part of a series of articles on how to interpret the Bible correctly.  Part 1 can be found here, and Part 2 can be found here.)

Let’s say that you uncovered your great-grandfather’s last will and testament, written way back in the 1920’s.  As you peruse through it, you are thrilled to discover that he had set aside a vast sum of money for his great-grandchildren.  “That’s me!” you think excitedly.  “I’m the only great-grandchild he ever had!  I’m about to get a lot of money!”  Thrilled, you keep reading, only to discover that he had set some parameters in place as to whether you would actually receive the wealth.  In fact, he had set only one stipulation in his will, and it reads, “The money shall be awarded to any and all great-grandchildren I would have, given that it be proven that they live lives which are profoundly gay.”

You sit back, disappointed.  “Well, so much for me getting all that money,” you think to yourself.  “I’m NOT gay, I never have been, and I never will be.  I’m happily married, I am completely in love with my spouse of the opposite sex, I’ve never even been attracted to anyone homosexually, and I never will.”  You then wonder what in the world would have possessed your great-grandfather to make such a stipulation in his will.  “Was great-grandpa secretly gay?” you might wonder.  “Is that why he was willing to give so much money to his relatives only if it could be proven that they also were homosexual?”  Puzzled, you put his will away and forget all about it…and thus unwittingly deprive yourself of a lot of money.

Why?  Because you overlooked a very important principle of hermeneutics when it came to interpreting your great-grandfather’s will and testament.  You read the term gayand immediately applied to it the modern-day definition of that term (one who is homosexual.)  However, what you failed to remember is that you were reading a document that was written long ago, in a different culture which had different definitions to words which might still be used today.  Back in the 1920’s, the term gayhad only one meaning (happy, joyful.)  It was not until recently that the homosexual movement took the term and applied it to themselves in an effort to culturally legitimize their sin.  However, that change was still years to come when your great-grandfather sat down to write his will.  So when he wrote the stipulation about being “profoundly gay,” he had in mind his wish that his great-grandchildren be “profoundly happy.”  The fact that you didn’t think of these facts is too bad for you, considering that you, his only great-grandchild, ARE in fact easily proven to be “profoundly happy” in your life.

God’s Word, the Bible, was written by Holy Spirit-inspired men a long time ago (2 Pet. 1:19-21), the last of it being written about two thousand years ago.  None of it was written in English; the Old Testament was written predominately in Hebrew with a minority in Aramaic, and the New Testament was written in Greek.  Since then it has been translated into numerous different languages, including English, and for the most part the translators have done an excellent job in conveying the intent of the inspired authors of Scripture through their translation of the original foreign words.  However, it is still easy for us to read a word in our English Bibles and assume that its original definition in the inspired Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek of long ago is the same as our modern-day definition of it in English.  Granted, in most cases we would be correct in that assumption due to the stellar work of the translators…but not in every case.  And in some of those cases, our error makes all the difference in the world in correcting interpreting the will of God for our lives and thus plays a major role in our eternal destiny (Heb. 5:9; Matt. 7:21).

Biblical baptism is immersion.

Take the biblical term baptize (Mark 16:16).  The Greek word the writers of Scripture were divinely inspired to use two thousand years ago was baptizo, which literally means “to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge…”  Literally, God was telling people in Mark 16:16, “Whoever believes and is immersed will be saved…”  However, the modern-day English word baptize has more definitions than simply immersion, some of which include sprinkling or pouring water onto someone.  There are completely different Greek words which are defined and translated as sprinkling and pouring, and none of them are used in the biblical commands which mention baptism.  So if I have water sprinkled or poured over my head, have I been baptized in God’s eyes?  No, because that was not the definition of the word he specifically chose to use in his inspired command when his Word was being written.  However, if I am submerged in water I am doing nothing more or less than what the words he chose to use command me to do via their definitions.  Countless thousands of people have thought they were being saved by being sprinkled with water, when in reality they were following “the commandment of men” (Matt. 15:9).  It all could have been avoided if they had correctly interpreted the Bible by making sure they knew and obeyed the actual definitions of the words which were originally used by inspiration in the commands given to them in Scripture.

While I am not saying that one has to be fluent in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek in order to be saved, I AM encouraging us all to take our study of the Bible seriously and, when needed, investigate further to know for sure what is required of us by our Lord and Savior.  There are countless tools available online and elsewhere which give us the original meanings of every word in the Bible, and they are easy to find and use.  (Here are two examples.)  Remember, every word of God is “tested”(Prov. 30:5), and every word will judge us in the end (John 12:48).  Let’s make sure we correctly interpret the Bible by knowing and obeying what he had actually commanded us when the Holy Scriptures were inspired all those many years ago.

(Come back tomorrow, Lord willing, for a continuation of this study on how to correctly interpret the Bible.)