How To Interpret Scripture

PART ONE

Many will see that title, shrug, and move on, assuming the subject is simplistic and burned over. But it isn’t simplistic at all, and it has endured the flames of assumption, yet  stands there before us an unfazed monolith. In that title, you see, hangs Heaven or Hell for every soul ever born. We owe it to our own destiny to GET interested on purpose. The Scriptures even say of themselves, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105 KJV). Without this Word, and properly understood, our path is dark and our feet aimless. We will most certainly stray from that path without its true light.

There is a philosophical science in our world so unimaginably complex that only minds of genius can deal with it in depth. It is so comprehensive that no other science can even be processed without it. Basic to who we are and all that we do, without it we would have never left Eden and attempted to make any sense of our fallen world. What is it? It is the science of logic. It is a part of our God-given nature, but, alas, neither did that part of us escape human depravity as a result of our sin against God. Reason though we may, our power of logic also fell to ruin at its base.

But we should give careful thought to each Scripture regarding the Divine Word of God, the light it gives, the direction it points us to. Why? Because the synonym for what we do with the Word of God is DOCTRINE, a product of our logic. We hear or see a thing, reason about it, and then decide what we believe about. That is called DOCTRINE. It’s what you personally have believed is the truth. Simple as that.

One day when Jesus preached to the multitudes, his words were so exclusive that many of his listeners walked away and ceased following him. He turned to his disciples and asked, “Will you also go away?” But Peter spoke powerfully: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:67,68). In Peter’s staggering words stands also the truth of Jesus shocking statement regarding the Kingdom of God: “Few there be that find it” (Matt.  7:14). The Greek word there for “few” means puny, little. It does not mean anything like a third of humanity, or even a fourth. It means only a pinch of it!

Now, this truth is startling. Jesus came, died, and was resurrected for the entirety of humanity, and yet he foresaw that only a smattering of us will escape the Hell prepared for those who reject their only source of redemption. That, friends, should sober us all! What we believe about the Word of God is lighted dynamite in our hands. We don’t play with a lighted stick of dynamite, and we’d better not play with Bible doctrine. DOCTRINE IS EVERYTHING when it comes to spiritual truth.

Ministers of God’s Word who fail to emphasize sound doctrine each time they mount the pulpit, and fail to carefully point out false doctrine, are failing at their task before God. The truth is that simple and uncomplicated in its logic. This is difficult if ministers are comfortable fellowshipping inter-denominationally with ministers who preach false doctrine from their pulpits under the compromising belief that God called them all to different purposes, so who are we to say they are wrong? This is erroneous Biblical logic. God’s church is not a cyclopes with 700 heads pulling in 700 different directions of so-called Biblical truth, all of them right. No, the lost human race desperately needs the pure truth once for all delivered to the saints, and anything else will lead to no good in the end. Oh, yes, we can have our civic responsibilities in common, but we’d do well to part company with doctrinal error, and keep a safe distance.

Nevertheless, the science and logic debate is ever with us. Thank God for it. Unfortunately, very early the church backslid away from the pure truth once delivered to it and failed, as she still is doing today, to repent and do her first works over again (Rev. 2:5). So, the natural human compensation for the loss gave rise to the need for the philosophical sciences to come forward in the defense of the Christian faith on the platform of debate. This sends a glitch into Christianity. You see, Ancient Greeks and Romans such as Plato, Aristotle, Socrates and others virtually cut their teeth on the science of logic and debate. With the cooling of the church’s original zeal for God, there emerged a gradual blending of Christianity with the culture of the ancient world. It never left us. Most early church fathers adopted it, including the great Saint Augustine. Perhaps the greatest champion of it was the famous John Calvin, who was meticulously schooled in it from his youth.

Today, church leaders, ministers, theologians, and professors pride themselves in their skill of logic and debate so as to prove Christianity and shut the mouths of scientific atheists and agnostics. But this emphasis overlooks an important fact: In accommodating such non-Christians, the church has entered an arena of scientific skill where both sides have equal intellectual footing in the science of debate. The best man at the skill wins, even if he is wrong. This points to a vital Scriptural truth often overlooked: It is found in Ephesians 6:10-17. Paul admonishes Christians to “Put on the whole armor of God.” Of that armor, he tells us which pieces of it are most vital to us: The Shield of Faith, the Helmet of Salvation, and the Sword of the Spirit (VV 16,17). Look very carefully at this. The shield of faith does not exist apart from our deliberate willingness to HAVE faith. That belongs to US. The helmet of salvation does not exist without, again, our deliberate willingness to have faith to receive it. That also belongs to US. But note most carefully that the Sword of the Spirit is NOT ours. The Greek is genitive. Put another way, the equivalent expression of “The sword of the Spirit” is “The Spirit’s sword”, not ours, but His! We take OUR shield, we take OUR helmet, but we take the SPIRIT’S sword. This is vital to see. We can hold the sword (The Word of God) in our hand, yes, but if we start wielding it in our own strength, genius, wisdom, and skill, we have seized the sword from the Spirit’s hand and lit out on our own prideful vanity. It is a good way to get butchered! We can never win, but the Spirit can never lose.

The Apostle Paul, in his zeal, dealt with the intellectuals on Mars Hill (Acts 17). One wonders if it was time well spent, considering the meager results. For every intellectual on Mars Hill, trained to doubt, the streets of Athens and other gentile cities were flooded with hungry, simple souls eager to believe some good news. Paul seemed to realize this later, for he refrained from such future engagements.

Indeed, logical geniuses have come to realize that logical debate finds it impossible to “study the genesis or the sequential order of time of man’s beliefs and cognitive activities.”* Why? Because “logic is not a positive factual science of nature…” because “its principles are rules for evaluating or criticizing the validity of arguments.”* That is, because both deductive and inductive reasoning merely ANALYZES the arguments, it does not itself argue, because it is only a tool in the hand of he who is believing something, right or wrong, and is engaged in arguing for it or against it. Do we see this truth? This is what Acts 17:21 means in saying these intellectuals spent their time in merely either telling or hearing something new. You see, only humans intellectually reason on evidence, and assume a posture based upon it. We have heard the saying regarding debate, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” All of us are fully aware of that fact, and act it out. How? Our depraved nature prompts us to shrink from correcting ourselves from something erroneous which we came to believe, only to discover we were in error. Instead, we stubbornly blunder on anyhow, refusing to change courses, knowing inside that we are blundering. Pride is the culprit.

A classic example of this truth is Bible Prophecy. You see, a study of it cannot be resolved with deductive nor inductive reasoning because of the universal fact of the God-given human free will’s ability to change direction in order to avoid the trouble prophecy predicts. Example? If an angry man is bearing down on you with an ice pick drawn, despite the fact that a policeman just told you that was impossible under his watch, would you calmly stand there trusting the policeman, or would your feet take over? I’d place my money on your feet. If you ran it would be perfectly natural. God made you that way. Logic, then, is not a “positive factual science” of Bible doctrine, because it is operating in man’s beliefs, not in the laws of nature.

This brings us to Part Two, the heart of our subject matter, interpreting Scripture.

*Dr. Ernest Nagel, former Professor of Philosophy, Columbia University.


PART TWO

The Apostle Paul admonished Timothy to rightly divide the Word of Truth (II Tim. 2:15). We should see this not as a tool to debate, for we must remember that in any arena of combat one of the opponents is left bleeding in the sand, vowing to return and win another day. This is not what the Gospel is about. The idea is not to hack our way to victory and walk over the backs of our opponents, but to let the light within us awaken the hunger in the lost for restoration with their Creator. As Billy Graham so aptly put it, “Evangelism is simply one beggar telling another one where he can find bread.” There is no better definition.

The problem the church has fallen into is the lack of light within. How can we ever shine our light in a dark world when we have cloaked it in pride, selfishness, and a bent to be right in the face of detractors? So here is the heart and soul of this article: Friends, the correct perspective on the Word of God is to stop figuring out how to interpret Scripture, and see the cold truth SCRIPTURE MUST BE ALLOWED TO INTERPRET US! When we absorb ourselves in full attention on how to interpret it, we plug its own flow into our souls with its purpose to examine and change us instead. Never forget this rule: The Word of God will not flow through human pride and vanity, but only through a simple, elusive thing called humility.

This is the true spirit of Christianity and evangelism. The idea is not to run around cornering folks, prying open their ears and eyes so we can shine our prideful lights into them. Rather, it is to simply ALLOW our own lights to shine brightly for all to see. Jesus said a great deal about our lights in Matthew Chapters 5 and 6, as well as in Luke and John. He even mentioned a black light and how intense such a light can be. Read about it in Matt. 6:23.

Perhaps no Scripture speaks so eloquently of our relationship with God’s Word as Hebrews 4:12,13: “For the Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight: But all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do”(KJV). There is a Scriptural objective in this for us, and we are told what it is in verse 16: “…that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” That’s the idea. We must not read this Scriptural reference with a mind that we use it on the other guy; rather, WE personally need mercy, and WE personally need God’s grace to help us. Such food is candlepower for our inner light.

So there is the key to Scriptural interpretation: We must cast OURSELVES purposely upon it like sprawling on an X-ray table so that IT may interpret US, not the other way around. Pride uses it for ammunition, whereas humility uses it for food to grow spiritually. If we dare lay the Word of God on a shelf for display; if we take it to church under our arm as though it’s truth will bleed into us without effort; if we only spot read it out of curiosity once in a while; if we think our mate’s dedication to it will sanctify our lack of it, well, such foolishness misses the entire purpose of God’s word—to change US, not the other person! That, friends, is the only way to the narrow way, instead of the broad way. Yes, we should fall on it, eat it daily with prayer, ask God to X-ray us with it, to expose our pride, our stubbornness, to humble us, to make us better by making us more like our Lord Jesus. That, friends, is the true definition of Scriptural interpretation. Any other is a waste of our time and God’s purpose in us. If the Word of God doesn’t interpret us, we do the opposite—we employ pride, foolishness, and plain stupidity in our interpretation of God’s Word of truth, and wind up hollow within.

This is not to say, however, that there is not a legitimate debate in life’s arena in such areas as politics, the sciences, and social/moral issues. Christians should engage in them enthusiastically. God’s people are desperately needed there. But when it comes to formally debating Bible doctrine, we start spinning our wheels. I would say, though, that the church should take note of who is winning the most souls to Christ whose walk exhibits all the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22,23), and come to the logical conclusion that where the fruit of the Spirit is, is where HE is and where His church SHOULD be!

Part of the process of examining Scripture is comparing Scripture with Scripture, “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, and there a little:” (Isa. 28:10), until we understand its meaning, who said what and why, the Persons of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To do this we may need the aids of Bible dictionaries, lexicons, concordances, maps, and references to the original languages of Scripture. God has inspired great men to just such purposes. These are the tools we normally use as ammunition to debate and inform others, even to direct their lives. But proper Scriptural interpretation comes with the PURPOSE in doing it: Our aim should be to do those vital things to direct, enlighten, change, transform, even CONSUME OURSELVES, and no one else! Only then can God use us to SHINE HIMSELF THROUGH US, and lighten the lives of others by His mighty Spirit. But remember, He only shines THROUGH a transparent substance called HUMILITY. The countenance of every child of God who does that always glows with God’s OWN presence. THAT is the only thing that will win the lost and light their way to their Savior.

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