Tag Archives: religion

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.)

It Doesn’t Taste The Same: The Problem of Denominationalism

Ladies, have you ever been invited to dinner at a friend’s house, and been served a dish you knew you just had to have the recipe to because it tasted so good? When you ask the host or hostess for the recipe, they gladly comply and give it to you. Your husband gets excited at the prospect of having this delicious dish at home without having to sneak over to the Joneses from now on to get it. A week or two goes by, and you decide to try fixing it yourself. You’re a health nut, however, and so when the dish calls for milk, you substitute half & half. When it calls for sugar, you put in artificial sweetener instead. When it calls for vanilla, you put in artificial vanilla instead. You mix it all together and proudly serve it to your husband, who dives right in with gusto…for the first bite. You notice that he takes his time with the second bite…and appears to suddenly have a great desire to eat it out on the balcony by himself with the third bite. He comes back in ten seconds later, claiming a big bird swooped right in and snatched it right off his plate…but “Honestly, honey, I really enjoyed the three bites I had. However, I did notice that it tastes a little different than it did at the Joneses. Did you follow the recipe?” You think it sweet of him to try to butter you up so he doesn’t spend the entire night on the couch, and so you explain to him that, in the interests of eating healthy, you substituted the less healthier items on the recipe for healthier items. Being male, he then tries to explain to you that eating tastefully, not healthy, is what really matters to him, and urges you to follow the recipe fully next time so that it will be exactly like it was at the Joneses. You thank him for his advice, and tell him that you’ll ponder it all night long while he’s sleeping on the couch…

It is interesting how many of us think substitutions can be made and still be the same. It should be apparent that one cannot make substitutions and have the “real thing.” It is that way with recipes, and it is also that way with the church of our Lord Jesus. Sadly, denominationalism has brought about many substitutions and changes. Why is it that people think they have the real thing when so many substitutions have been made?

The fulfillment of Paul’s prophecy about the man of lawlessness (2 Thess. 2:1-12)

Some don’t realize it, but there are all kinds of differences between denominations and the church you read about in the New Testament. In most denominations there is a clergy system with priests, pastors, and/or “Reverends” and “Fathers.” Often times there is a national, and sometimes an international, governing body. Some denominations have deacons, but a “Pastor” rather than elders. Others have elders who are bachelors, or women serving as elders.

Yet, the Bible teaches that Christ is the only head of the church (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18), and therefore there is no authority in the New Testament for a church hierarchy. Every member of the Lord’s church is a priest (1 Pet. 2:9), so there is no authority in the New Testament for a clergy system. The church is overseen by a plurality of elders (Acts 20:17) and served by deacons (Phil. 1:1), so there is no authority in the New Testament for a lone man being an elder. Elders are to be married and have believing children (1 Tim. 3:2,4; Tit. 1:6), so there is no authority for bachelor elders. Women are not to exercise authority over men in the church (1 Tim. 2:12; 3:14-15), and elders are required to be the husband of one wife (1 Tim. 3:2), which negates the idea of a female elder.

The New Testament does not give one example of anyone being saved by praying a prayer (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21).

Denominationalism is different than what is taught in the Bible. How different depends upon which denomination. Many denominations teach that one becomes a Christian, a child of God, merely by “asking Jesus to come into one’s heart.” One is then accepted into the denomination based upon a testimony of conversion. Sometimes one is voted into the denomination. In other cases, one is sprinkled (not baptized) as a non-believing infant. Years later, after taking instruction, one is “confirmed.” One then is a member of the denomination. Other denominations have even different requirements.

However, the Bible teaches that one enters the body of Christ which is the church through baptism (1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 1:22-23). When one who has confessed his faith in Christ as the Son of God and has repented of sins is baptized into Christ for the remission of sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 8:35-38), God adds that person to the church (Acts 2:47). It is not a matter of “joining” the church or a denomination. It is also at that point that one becomes a child of God (Gal. 3:26-27) and has his or her sins washed away (Acts 22:16).

“This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matt. 15:8-9)

Substitutions and changes have been made in denominations. Many denominational worship services center around entertainment, having bands, concerts, skits, drama presentations, and even aerobatic acts. Musical instruments have been added, and the Lord’s Supper has been taken away, being served only at certain times. In other denominations, burning of incense and the counting of beads have been added, along with statue worship. Saturday worship has replaced or been added to the first day of the week.

Yet, the Bible sets out God’s authorized manner of worship. The early church met upon every first day of the week to eat the Lord’s Supper and to give as they had prospered (Acts 20:6-7; 1 Cor. 11:20-34; 16:1-2). Prayers were offered up in worship (Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 14:15) as well as songs of praise sung by saints with the instrument they plucked being their hearts (1 Cor. 14:15; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). There was also edification as they were taught God’s doctrine (Acts 2:42; Acts 20:7).

The Bible is all you need to go by (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Friends, we all should realize and teach others that the same principle that applies to recipes applies to Christianity. If you want the real thing, there can be no substitutions and/or changes. Deuteronomy 4:2 says, “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.” Proverbs 30:5-6 says, “Every word of God is tested…Do not add to his words or he will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar.” Paul warned the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 4:6 to “learn not to exceed what is written…” The Bible closes with the warning of Revelation 22:18-19: “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.”

If you want the church of the Bible, the church of God’s choice, it must be according to his instructions found in his Word alone. Otherwise, you have a man-made substitute, not the real thing.  If you don’t have the real thing, then salvation is not yours because Jesus is the Savior of those who are in his body, the church (Eph. 5:23).  It’s something to think about.

Should Religion Be A Conversation Taboo?

We’ve all heard the proverbial wisdom, “There are two things you should never discuss:  politics and religion.”  Admittedly, the reason this advice is often because these two topics tend to cause heated arguments, as more than likely the participants strongly hold to their individual beliefs and choose to defend them passionately, usually at the expense of an open mind and polite discourse.  That’s why most people today tend to avoid religious debate and discussion with as much zeal as they avoid telemarketers and pneumonia.

Yet, the greatest men you read about in the Bible did not shy away from discussing religion with others.  On the contrary, they debated religion at every turn.  Moses admonished Israel for idol worship (Ex. 32).  Elijah confronted and opposed false prophets (1 Kings 18:17-40).  Peter and John preached to the religious leaders of their day who were in error and pointed out their sins (Acts 3-4).  The apostle Paul debated Jews who did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah (Acts 9:29; 17:16-17).  He also debated polytheistic Greek philosophers about their need to worship the One True God (Acts 17:18-34).  In fact, he even disputed with fellow Christians who were caught up in religious error (Gal. 2:1-5; cf. Acts 15:1ff).

These men tried to correct those who held to religiously erroneous beliefs, and they did so because religious error is just as sinful as moral error or ethical error.  Many today cannot see that, in part because they mistakenly assume that Jesus Christ himself would never tell someone who believed in God that they were wrong.  “After all,” they say, “Jesus said, ‘Judge not lest ye be judged…’ (Matt. 7:1).”  Not only do they ignore the irony that they themselves are doing what they condemn when they tell others that they shouldn’t judge, they also overlook the fact that immediately after giving that command, Jesus commanded his followers to “remove the speck from your brother’s eye” in a manner that is free from hypocrisy (Matt. 7:2-5).  In other words, he commanded us to judge, only without hypocrisy and not according to appearance (John 7:24).  He wants us to expose sin and error (Eph. 5:11).

Christ himself was in constant conflict with those in religious error when he was on earth.  For example, on one occasion he pointed out the error of the Sadducees who didn’t believe in a bodily resurrection.  He very pointedly told them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matt. 22:29).  By telling them this, he was basically saying that the Sadducees were wrong in their religious beliefs.  Their error was not that they were ignorant of the Scriptures, but rather that they did not understand what the Scriptures were actually teaching.

How would we react if someone pointed out to us that our religious beliefs were incorrect?  Would we get angry and accuse the person who challenged our beliefs of being hateful?  Would we ignore them and walk away, assuming that we are correct without investigating the Scriptures to be sure?  (2 Cor. 13:5; 1 Thess. 5:21)  Many believe that it doesn’t matter what one believes as long as they are a basically good person and call themselves a Christian, but an open-minded investigation of the Bible shows that Jesus, the apostles, Moses, and many other godly men and women thought otherwise (Matt. 7:21-27; Eph. 4:4-5; 1 Cor. 1:10-13; 4:6; Phil. 2:1-2; Rev. 22:18-19; Rom. 16:17-18; Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:5-6; 2 Tim. 4:1-5).  They risked their lives to teach the truth of God’s Word (John 17:17) and point out the error in which many religious people found themselves.

“As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”

So the next time someone wants to discuss our religious beliefs with us, let’s choose to avoid anger.  Let’s choose to not ignore them and walk away.  Instead, let’s remember that this person is only following the example of some of the greatest people in the Bible.  Let’s also remember that the possibility exists that we may be incorrect about a doctrine or practice we hold to, and thus our soul would be in danger (Matt. 7:21-23).  If this person shows us something from the entirety of God’s Word (Ps. 119:160) that contradicts what we believe, they are doing us an eternal favor (James 5:19-20).