Where To Start?

Last post we attempted to open the door to considerations concerning the interpretation of Scripture. It must be understood and believed that the Bible is not vague, unknowable, or empty. That is, God did not write the text of Scripture in such a way that, say, there are 4 potential ways God created the world. There are not 4 potential ways that God created the world. He only created it one way. The only way to know that is through the pages of Scripture. “But,” someone will ask, “…how do we interpret the Scripture so that we will know what it says?” That is, if the answer to this question lies in the interpretation of Scripture, then how do we interpret the Scripture? That is what this blog series is about.

Our basic premise is:

STUDY THE BIBLE THE WAY IT WAS GIVEN

Since that is a bit open-ended, I must review the nature of the origin of the Bible. This is a must because when we understand the origin and transmission of the Bible, we then have grounds for interpretation. Until then, we are left to consider our own method of interpretation and that simply won’t do.

How was the Bible given? That is, how did we get the Bible? For most reading this blog, it is a simple answer. For some, however, it may not be so simple since many churches don’t even deal with the origin of God’s Word (to their shame). A quick review will be helpful.

Peter sums it up for us. He wrote,

2 Peter 1:20–21

But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

Peter tells us, on the basis of his own experience receiving divinely inspired truth (see Matthew 16:13-17), as well as the testimony of the OT prophets, that no portion of Scripture is understood by a single person’s own interpretation. That is, the written word is not subject to, nor did it originate from, what a man decides. Peter is saying that the Scripture is interpreted (see Mark 4:34) by a method, or practice, of interpretation appropriate to the written Word of God. Biblical interpretation is not the result of one’s own personal study habits. The Scripture is not subject to an individual’s unique understanding of a text, no matter how novel it sounds. Why is this the case? Because men did not originate the Scripture, so men cannot be allowed to interpret the Scripture the way they want. In other words, since the Holy Spirit moved men to write what He wanted (see 1 Corinthians 2:12-13), the Scripture, then, must be handled in a way commensurate to that reality. Peter is calling the churches in Galatia, Cappadocia etc. (see 1 Peter 1:1) to approach the Scripture they had, including his own letter (2 Peter 3:1-2, 14-16), in the same way that it was given to the prophets and apostles. Further, since God the Holy Spirit originated the Scripture and moved men to write it down in history and with actual language, we do not have a text that can change or be altered-it is fixed and propositional. If we feared God, we would never approach the Scripture being willing to assume that there are multiple meanings to a verse.

Thus, the Bible is a unique collection of books. It is the only book in existence that is inspired of God. Therefore, it is unique and holy (Romans 7:12). However, since the Holy Spirit moved men to write it, and men lived in time and history, and God is working out His redemptive plan in the history of the world, then it is read and interpreted in the same manner we would read and interpret any other book. It is literature, after all.

The summary of our discussion is that God is the source of Scripture. Since God cannot lie (Titus 1:1-2), then what He caused to be written is true and accurate. This is inerrancy. The Scripture’s that were written were themselves inerrant in every way. They contained no errors. Further, since we don’t have those originals (“autographs”), the copies of those inerrant originals are to be considered and that has been done to the extent that we can have full confidence that we can locate the inerrant text of Scripture with very high precision in the copies we have.

Now, this lays the groundwork for us. Since God wrote the Bible, the teachings and actual words are God’s (1 Corinthians 2:12-13). Thus, it bears authority and accuracy. That is, what it teaches is true and identical to what is true with God and His kingdom. It also is true in relation to discerning the realities of life in this world as well. However, God Himself did not write the text of Scripture with His own hand. He used the hands of men to do it. These men, from Moses to John the Apostle existed in an historical setting and wrote with a language that was/is verifiable and real. They did not use esoteric, heavenly language. If they did, it would not make sense to us. The languages with which they wrote Scripture were composed in the very same way that all language is composed. Therefore, what was written is subject to the laws of language. In order to interpret the Scripture, a person must understand language. By the way, we all do. We could not communicate in the world if we did not. We use nouns and verbs all the time. However, most people simply don’t consider these things when they talk or read the morning newspaper. Lastly, since the text of Scripture was written in history, and with actual languages of the day, and God has written all that He is going to write (Hebrews 1:1-3), then what we have in the Bible is fixed and unalterable. That is, what a passage meant to Ezekiel when he wrote it means the very same thing to us when we read it.

To sum up, here is what we have:

  1. We understand the Bible is from God. Thus we realize its authority, accuracy, and permanency.
  2. We understand the Bible is written by men. Thus we realize its history, language, and propositional nature.
  3. We understand the Bible is fixed. Thus we realize that it is not properly understood apart from the author’s meaning/intention for writing it (it is not from one’s own interpretation).

Therefore, since the Bible is from God, written by men in history and with actual language, we cannot interpret it any other way.

Here is an example:

Exodus 20:13

You shall not murder.

This is straightforward. From the surrounding verses we understand that God is speaking to Moses and Moses is to relay this to Israel (Exodus 20:1; 21:1). The verse is a command. Don’t do something. The translation of the original Hebrew is good here and it simply says, “Don’t kill.” That is, don’t want to kill something and thereby murder. Moses has given Israel a very straightforward and clear instruction. This would be the way that Israel would understand it as well. It is God’s intention in the meaning of the command.

However, some think that when it comes to prophetic passages there are different rules for interpretation. No there are not. How do I know? I know because no matter how fanciful something appears (Ezekiel 1, for example), it was still written down by Ezekiel in actual language. Therefore, a person cannot assign meaning to something that is arbitrary to the language of that passage.

For example, I was speaking with a man one day who refused to believe that the water flowing under the temple in Ezekiel 47:1 is actual water. It appeared too fanciful to him and since he preconceived that water has nothing to do with heavenly things, then this verse must be speaking of something else (which he assigned, i.e. “one’s own interpretation”). Therefore, he assigned a new meaning to that passage which has nothing to do with any of the context in history or language. Further, many other passages affirm water in the temple (Ps. 46:4; Is. 30:25; 55:1; Jer. 2:13; Joel 3:18; Zech. 13:1; 14:8; esp. Rev. 22:1, 17). Thus, in this example, and there are multitudes of examples, the text took on a meaning that is not evident by the history of the writer or the audience, nor does it accord with the language of the passage. There are things figurative in Scripture (John 10:6; 16:25-29). However, many attribute figurative meanings to those things that they don’t believe, or that do not fit into their theological pre-understanding of a passage, or that seem too far-fetched in their view (like water in the Temple). To reassign a meaning to a passage of Scripture is a sin. It is to call God a liar and us the truth-teller. Remember, God is the author of Scripture.

Remember, Paul commanded Timothy to handle the text accurately.

2 Timothy 2:15

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.

That is, “cut it straight” in relation to the text of Scripture. Timothy, you must handle the text in an accurate way. To reassign meaning to the propositional and completed text of Scripture is to create your own text. Thus, you can only “preach the Word” after you have actually learned that word (2 Timothy 4:1-2). And the only way to learn that word is in the same manner that it was given.  

 

Next time, I will introduce how to do this in some detail.