People say “Why should we believe what those churches are trying to tell us? After all, they can’t get along among themselves. They argue about this and they disagree about that. They meet in different buildings right across the street from each other, and they go on about their business like the two don’t even exist.”
The Bible is the focal point of our division. We can’t seem to even agree about what this book is. Then we have a hard time agreeing about what it says. Why is that? Is there anything we can do about it? Can’t we all see the Bible alike, can’t we all interpret Scripture the same?
I ran across this cartoon recently:
“Me? Well I believe that 21% of the Bible is literally true, 47% of it should be taken in context, 8% is valuable, 21% we can learn from, and 2%, well…..”
If we are honest, there is a lot of that in the religious world.
“If we are ever going to agree about what the Bible says, we must first agree about what the Bible is.” That is step #1.
The Bible tells us what it is; it makes some claims and the clearest one is the one you heard a moment ago in our scripture reading from 2 Timothy 3:16.
2 Tim. 3:16, 17
16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;
17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
2 Pet. 1:20, 21
20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation,
21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
1 Cor. 2:11-13
11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.
12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God,
13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.
The Bible the Word of God, it is INSPIRED Paul told Timothy, MEN WERE MOVED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT Peter says – It came to man THROUGH THE SPIRIT Paul says. Now either these passage are true, or they are false. Is the Bible absolutely God’s will revealed to man–without error, absolutely infallible–or is it just some loose-knit history of an ancient people filled with all kinds of folklore?
Step #1, you have to come to terms with what the Bible claims to be. “If we are ever going to agree about what the Bible says, we must first agree what the Bible is.” It is the Word; it is the breath of God.
Paul’s letter to Timothy (2Timothy 2:15) :
2 Tim. 2:15
15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.
If I am going to correctly handle the Word, I am going to correctly understand what we call ‘the flow of Scripture’. The Bible is not a random collection of sayings from God. There is a scheme to it; there is a flow to it. Someone once rightly noted that the Bible really has three major chapters, but they are not of equal length.
Chapter 1 is the chapter about God’s creative power, including the creation of man. You can read about that in Genesis chapters 1 and 2. Chapter 2 in the Bible is the story of the fall of man. You can read about that in Genesis 3. Then the third, the last and the largest chapter in the Bible begins at the end of Chapter 3 of Genesis and goes through the rest of the Bible. It is the story of God reaching down and redeeming mankind.
It starts with God choosing a people. He called them Israel-they were the descendants of Abraham. He led Israel through judges, kings, prophets, through captivities, and then finally as Galatians Four says,
4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law,
Jesus, the Son of Man and the Son of God, and as prophecy said he would, he delivered man from his sin. We read about that, in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Then beginning with the book of Acts and going through the rest of the New Testament, we find that everybody who comes to Jesus for the saving power of his blood, and is baptized in his name, is added to the Lord’s church.
It is important to understand that flow of Scripture to know what God is saying in the Bible.
If we are going to interpret the Bible alike, we are going to have to understand something about context. Once a scripture or scriptures are identified with respect to their place in the flow of the Bible, it is crucial to understand its immediate context. Before asking the question of, “what does this passage mean to me?”, I need to ask the question, “what was this writer saying when he first wrote it?” That is a crucial element of Biblical interpretation; otherwise, Scripture will mean anything we want it to mean.
Let me give you an absurd example: Ecclesiastes 10:19 says: Men prepare a meal for enjoyment, and wine makes life merry, and money is the answer to everything.
How would you like for that to be your life’s philosophy? Pull that verse out of context and you would live an Epicurean lifestyle that is absolutely contrary to the ways of God.
Let me give you a more up to date example that I hear abused just about every week. Look at Philippians 4:13 where Paul says,
13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
The positive mental attitude specialists have a field day on that one. How many times have you heard these television preachers get up there and say, “God wants you to be rich! God wants you to be successful! God wants you to have everything you ever wanted! “ How do we know? Paul said ‘I can do all things through him who strengthens me’.” We need to read that in context because in the four verses that surround that Paul is talking about being content, even when he is in the most adverse of circumstances. The passage is saying exactly the opposite of what is usually preached about.
Point #2 in understanding and interpreting the Bible is I have to understand context. And then,
Then #3, let the Word speak for itself.
A sub-point here I need to bring out. Let the Word govern your experience and don’t let your experience govern the Word.
Let me give you another absurd example of this: I read about a man who thought about marrying a woman. He went to the preacher and said, “Preacher, how do I know she’s the one?” Do you know what advice this preacher gave him? He (the preacher) said, “If it were me, I’d walk around her seven times like Israelites did around the city of Jericho, then if the walls of her heart tumble, you know she’s the one.”
Do you know he did it? This is a true story. He walked around her seven times and he said, “Honey, how do you feel?” She said, “Well, I feel a little strange inside.” To tell you the truth, I’d probably felt strange if somebody had walked around me seven times.
He proposed, they got married, and they were divorced less than a year later; then they wondered why God had given them a false signal.
Is that not the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever seen? God didn’t give them a signal at all! They were taking something out of the Old Testament, out of context, trying to let their experience dictate what the Word said. People, don’t do that! That is not how God designed his Word to be interpreted.
If I am going to interpret the Bible like you will interpret it, and if we will all do it the right way, let’s compare scripture with other scripture.
Be careful of commentaries which are uninspired documents written by men for men. You go get a commentary that shows me an exegesis of any passage in scripture, any passage in scripture, and I can go find you a commentary that will offer a totally different view. So, if you get right down to it, commentaries have contributed to this issue of controversy about interpretation.
The best place to find commentary on Scripture is another passage of Scripture. The Bible is its best interpreter. If you have problems with a verse, find another verse that talks about the same thing and it will make it clearer to you. Compare scripture with scripture.
Pray. When you study the Bible, pray. Satan will try to keep any one of us from correctly determining what God would have us know. The devil doesn’t want us to know what is in God’s Word. So when you read the Bible, you pray that God protect you from the evil one as you try to search for his will.