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Studing The Bible

Interpreting The Bible, The Bible's Way

Much on this page and subsequent
section of LCM were taken from my book;

Apollo's Revival
By Walter Robinson II
©
Copyrighted 1997
®All Rights Reserved

Quick Index To Topics On This Page

  1. The Word of God is an Inspired and Completed Whole

  2. The Word of God is Singular in Interpretation

  3. The Word of God in Proper Context

  4. The Biblical Command to Labor Over the Word of God

  5. The Consequences of Shallow Interpretation


Also see the following related articles:


The Word of God is an Inspired and Completed Whole

As a biblical Christian, I believe the Bible is the true and literal Word of God that has been revealed to mankind. I also believe it can fully equip every believer to deal with every spiritual concern in life.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Due to the information explosion taking place in the closing decades of the 20th century, there are many excellent tools currently available to believers who desire to gain in-depth understanding of God’s word. This includes readily available books, CD-ROMs, and computerized access to hundreds of on-line databases and reference materials. This same media also makes it possible for many to study various languages, including the ancient Hebrew and Koiné Greek. They are the languages in which the Christian Bible was originally penned.

However, the believer must always be vigilant to remember the ultimate rule for all true understanding. Truth must be based upon the written word of God -- not history or science. Unlike the Word of God, the latter two are continually being revised due to new discoveries being made every day. Thus, they exist in a continual state of flux.

If one believes the Bible as penned in the original manuscripts is what it claims to be, then one must also believe it is never subject to revision. It is immutable because its divine revelation is complete and perfect just as its Divine author. The following passages substantiate this claim;

  • For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven. (Psalms 119:89)

  • For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed. (Malachi 3:6)

  • God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; (Hebrews 1:1-2)

  • Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. (Hebrews 13:8–9)

  • That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour: (2 Peter 3:2)

  • Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. (Jude 1:3)

Hebrews 1:1–2 above says in “these last days” God has “spoken” to believers by His Son. Spoken is in the aorist tense and the indicative mood. This denotes something that took place at some given point in time past, not an ongoing action that continues through the present.

In 2 Peter 3:2 believers are commanded to be mindful of the words that were “spoken before” by the prophets and as directed through the apostles of the Lord Jesus. Since the passage is referring to words previously spoken, it is referring to words preserved in a written record. According to this passage the only divinely designated conduits for God’s word were the prophets and also the apostles who had personally seen Jesus Christ in His resurrected body. There were no provisions for anyone else.

Likewise, Jude 1:3 says the “faith,” as embodied in the written word, has been “once delivered.” This expression also denotes an action that was completed and ceased in the past.

Thus, God’s word claims to be both complete and finished. This means divine revelation was finished when the last book was penned by the last living apostle to have seen Jesus Christ. This would have been the Apostle John whom God used to pen the Book of Revelation in the closing decade of the first century.

In referring to believers not seeing the resurrected Savior anymore today, Acts 3:21 indicates that heaven must “receive,” or literally take hold of Jesus until the time of the restoration. The restoration refers to the 1,000 year personal reign of Jesus Christ on Earth as foretold in Revelation 20:1–7.

In 2 Corinthians 5:16, Paul -- in speaking of himself and others in the plural -- said that even he had once known Jesus after the flesh. However, they “henceforth” -- or from that point on -- no longer did so. In other words, there had once been a time when Jesus had previously graced His apostles by His fleshly and bodily resurrected personal presence. (See Luke 24:39 and John 2:19–22.) However, Paul acknowledged that such divine visits were coming to an end even in his day.

Notwithstanding, it is necessary to qualify that which has been stated above by saying the following. Even though the revelation of the Word of God is complete and no longer in progress, the written word indicates that God is still granting divinely imparted understanding of what He has revealed. This occurs by the Spirit of God imparting understanding to each believer who is hungering and thirsting after righteousness.

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. (1 Corinthians 2:12-13)

“Freely given” is translated from the Greek expression charisthenta (carisqevnta) which is a passive participle in the aorist tense. The Holy Spirit could have used the imperfect or present tense here; yet, He did not. Again, the aorist tense simply denotes an action that took place at a given point in time. It does not refer to an ongoing linear activity.

The proceeding passage does indicate the Spirit of God has an ongoing involvement in helping believers to “know” those things that have been “freely given.” In the same train of thought, consider the following;

But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him. (1 John 2:27)

Therefore, divinely inspired revelation of God’s word ceased with the death of the last apostle to have seen the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, divinely imparted understanding continues to be revealed in the heart of every searching believer even today.
 


The Word of God is Singular in Interpretation

Real truth from the Word of God is not that which comes by one person reading and getting one understanding, while another reads it and gets something different. Truth is gained from the Word of God just as it was actually revealed. That is, understanding is not a matter of any one person’s private (one’s unique or personal) interpretation;

Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. (2 Peter 1:20–21)

This means the Spirit of God meticulously guided and oversaw the communication of God’s word to mankind. Yes, men were used to convey the Divine oracles. Yet, God directly supervised the process until the completion of the final product.

The written Word of God also states that the same supernatural aid is required for mankind to truly comprehend it. Consider one of the previously shared passages in its full context;

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. 10But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. 11For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. 12Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 13Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:9-14)

There is only one real Teacher to mankind, the Holy Spirit of God. God does empower and work through some as pastors and teachers. (Ephesians 4:11-12) But God is still the Teacher.

There is only one Teacher, and He never changes according to Malachi 3:6 and Hebrews 13:8, also shared earlier. Therefore, each individual taught by Him will all get the same truth in understanding any given portion of God’s word. Even though personal applications may vary, the underlying basic truth revealed will remain consistent with all properly prepared to receive it.

 


The Word of God in Proper Context

The written word of God must be read and considered in the full context in which it was originally communicated.

Literal or Allegorical

Among other things, this means one must read and consider what the text in its plain sense (or literally) means according to the context, as opposed to what it could mean in symbolic or allegorical terms.

His disciples said unto him, Lo, now speakest thou plainly, and speakest no proverb. Now are we sure that thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask thee: by this we believe that thou camest forth from God. Jesus answered them, Do ye now believe? (John 16:29–31)

Plainly” denotes straightforward bold speech, as opposed to “proverb,” which literally indicates a “way side saying” or figurative discourse. Thus, the passage demonstrates the difference between literal and allegorical, or spiritual expression. It also shows that it is important for the believer not to confuse the two.

The following passage has already been shared twice. However, it also speaks about the importance of distinguishing between literal and spiritual interpretation;

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. (1 Corinthians 2:12-13)

Comparing spiritual things with spiritual” calls for a vigilant attitude in limiting spiritual expressions to spiritual applications. The same is also true for literal expressions. It seems nearly all—if not all—errors in biblical understanding can be traced back to someone who failed to observe this biblical guideline. I will demonstrate this further in chapters 8 and 9.

 


Considering the Original Texts

In addition to literal interpretation, one must also consider the historical background from which the text was originally communicated. This means as much as possible one must consider the original text, idioms, customs, and the philosophical and religious concepts that were common in any given locale.

At least eleven times in eleven different verses in the New Testament alone, the phrase “being interpreted” or “by interpretation” has been rendered from the original Greek language;

  • “being interpreted” Matthew 1:23, Mark 5:41, Mark 15:22, Mark 15:34, John 1:38, John 1:41, and Acts 4:36

  • “by interpretation” John 1:42, John 9:7, Acts 9:36, and Acts 13:8

In addition to the above, there is also an example in the Old Testament that shows the Hebrew manuscripts were also interpreted, when necessary, by those familiar with it;

So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading. (Nehemiah 8:8)

In the era to which Nehemiah refers, most of the Jewish multitude had spent 70 years in Babylon in a Chaldean culture and speaking the Chaldean language. Even part of the Book of Daniel reflected the Babylonian cultural and linguistic effects upon the Jewish people as a whole, in that part of it was actually penned in the Chaldean tongue.

Thus, the Law (the Torah) was interpreted by those familiar with it. This helped the Chaldean-speaking Jews to properly understand and relate to it when they heard it for the first time.

In Nehemiah’s day his people’s culture and language had been separated in time from the language of the original manuscripts for only 70 years. Today some translations use language that is over 400 years old. But even more disturbing, we are separated from the languages of the original manuscripts by some 1,900–3,400 years. Consequently, how can today’s Bible teachers expect to convey the full and accurate understanding of the Scriptures without also considering the original languages after the example set forth by those in Nehemiah’s time?

Yes, Nehemiah is Old Testament. However, consider what God said about the history divinely recorded there;

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. (Romans 15:4)

The interpretation in Nehemiah’s day would have included word-for-word translation. It would also have included the explanation of any idioms and customs the Jews had not observed since the Jewish captivity had begun, which occurred when Israel came under the rule of the Babylonian empire some 70 years earlier.

 


The Biblical Command to Labor Over the Word of God

This approach to studying and teaching the Word of God does require much work on behalf of pastors, teachers, and all other students. Nevertheless, the approach is indeed biblical.

Paul actually commanded believers to labor in the Word of God. Consider the following instruction given to Timothy;

Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

The original passage translated above actually denotes someone meticulously working to produce a straight product. This rules out dull, shoddy, or shallow hermeneutics (i.e., interpretation) where one allegorizes at will to make passages fit their theology. Instead the believer is commanded to be diligent to arrive at the original divinely conveyed thought, and then form their theology accordingly.

Consequently, God has commanded all charged with teaching His word to labor at obtaining the sharpest interpretation of the original as possible. A disciple of Jesus Christ cannot approach the Word of God in a superficial cafeteria-styled manner and expect to come away with full and accurate understanding which fully honors its Divine Author.

Salvation is indeed freely offered by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. (Romans 10:9–10 and Ephesians 2:8–9) Yet, spiritual understanding and growth are progressive processes that begin with the new birth, and continues throughout the life of the believer. This inspired process is only rewarded to the diligent who “hunger and thirst after righteousness.” (Matthew 5:6)

Spiritual growth is also contingent upon whether one studies the Word of God by feeding first from its milk, and then progresses to feed from its meat;

·       And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. 2I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. 3For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? (I Corinthians 3:1-3)

·       As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: (1 Peter 2:2)

If one does not follow the above biblical instructions for gaining understanding from the Bible, one can only expect to gain shallow understanding at best, and erroneous—even demonic—wisdom at worse;

Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. 14 But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. 15This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. 16For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. (James 3:13-16)

When one forms their own convoluted theology through shallow interpretation, they usually hold to it as if it is a priceless work of art. But one cannot really blame them, since such beliefs are their own created “babies.”

Some theological perspectives are indeed works of art. They reflect a great deal of imagination and inventiveness on the part of those who concocted them. But let such “creators” be warned. When one is serving the God of heaven who revealed Himself as “the way, the truth, and the life,” (John 14:6) those who claim to serve him must strive to be “realistic” as opposed to being “abstract” in their relationship. For eternity and God are realities, not merely abstract concepts expressed in poetic terms.

 


The Consequences of Shallow Interpretation

Some common earmarks of erroneous spiritual understanding and ungodly wisdom are “envying and strife,” which are found in 1 Corinthians 3:3 and in James 3:14 and 16.

When any biblical understanding results in unbiblical separation, confusion, jealousy, arguments, and evil in general, there is usually a shallow interpretation rendered by a carnal interpreter at the point of contention. It is such carnal interpreters, and their interpretations, that often unwittingly avail themselves to demonic designs that are actually intended to work against the God of heaven and His church.

The Webmaster of LCM
February 02, 2004

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