|Have you ever noticed how prolific is the tendency to misinterpret God's word. If you watch very much religious programming on television, you will soon notice that some very basic scriptural truths are not being interpreted the same by everyone who clams to preach the Word of God. If you study the beliefs of the major denominations you will also see that there is not agreement as to the proper interpretation of essential scriptures dealing with salvation. How can this be if we serve the same God? How can this be if we read from the same Holy Scriptures?|
I think that the Holy Spirit knew there would be a tendency for men to teach their own opinions instead of scriptural truth. Why else would there be over three hundred denominations and more than a thousand lesser "ism" in existence today who claim to be Christian. The Holy Spirit led Paul to write to Timothy concerning correct interpretation of the scriptures: "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:15)
Is it really necessary for there to be one interpretation of the scriptures? And if so, who's right? We believe that there should be unity and uniformity in such matters as the deity of Jesus Christ, the plan of salvation, the infallibility of the Bible as God's word and principles of Christian conduct. On the other hand there should be liberty in non-essential matters dealing with aspects of our Christian lives which are not specifically dealt with in scripture.
Who's right? Wouldn't it be great if there was some form of litmus test for truth that we could use. A test that would register "right" or "wrong" when a preacher on TV, radio, or even in our churches interprets God's word for us? Unfortunately, for many Christians, there is no such test. But knowing the truth is so very important. Is it possible for us to search out the truth among all that is being taught under the banner of Christianity? I think so, and Jesus teaches that we can, "Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, 'If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.'" (John 8:31,32) Jesus gives us the answer to this dilemma, "abide in My word." We must be a person who seeks the truth through honest, sincere, effective Bible study. However, there are some key ingredients necessary for the person who sincerely seeks the truth.
First, and foremost, our allegiance must be to Jesus Christ. Our allegiance cannot be to a denominational structure; local congregation; specific minister, Sunday School teacher, elder, deacon, or some other person; our favorite TV or radio evangelist; or even a particular translation of the Bible. It must be Jesus Christ and His word that we give all our love and devotion. We must have an undying love for Him and a deep abiding desire for scriptural truth. We must hunger and thirst for the righteousness which scriptural truth produces. Jesus promised that if we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we shall receive it: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled." (Matthew 5:6) He also promised that if we seek, we shall find: "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you." (Matthew 7:7)
The second key ingredient for effectively seeking and finding scriptural truth is prayer. If we are to have the scriptures opened to us so that we may discern the truths contained in them, then we must go to the Lord in prayer and ask for His guidance and direction in our studies. James tells us in his epistle, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him." (James 1:5) It is rather ridiculous for us to assume that we can study the word of God without first asking for His divine guidance in that study. And then we must allow God to speak to us through His word.
We must study the Bible in a logical systematic way. There are those that say that the average person cannot read and understand the Bible, that it is too complicated. Brothers and sisters, that is just not so. For any man to say that is slanderous to God. Why would God deliberately make His word difficult for His people (whom He loves dearly) to understand. I have a daughter whom I love dearly. There are times when I must give her commands or instructions so she can know what I expect her to do at given times or under certain circumstances. Would I make those commands and instructions so difficult to understand that she could not possibly comply with my wishes? If I did, and she was not able to comply with my wishes, whose fault would it be, hers or mine? It is just not conceivable that our Heavenly Father would treat us in that fashion.
There are others who say that the scriptures can mean different things to different people. That it is all in how you look at it. I have a friend who told me once that she believes that God is big enough to be whatever she wants Him to be. Are we really to believe that our all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God would give us His word in such a manner as this? I hardly think so! My response to my friend was, "I believe that God is big enough to be what He says He is." Truth does not mean a multiplicity of different things. If it did, then it would not be truth.
Daily, or at least weekly, Bible study is important. We cannot study God's word one day, and then allow days or weeks to go by without continuing that study, and expect to gain any knowledge from our study. We must have a regular Bible study if we are to obtain the wisdom James was speaking about. Nor can we hop-scotch all over the Bible reading a verse here and a verse there and expect to get anything out of the study. We certainly would not read a novel, a newspaper or magazine article, or anything else in that fashion. Our Bible study should be systematic and planned. There are several methods we can employ to study the Bible. We can study by: chapters, paragraphs, verses, words, topics, or through biography. The important thing is to have a plan of how you are going to study the Bible, then follow the plan.
For many of us, it is helpful if we have various Bible study aids to go along with our study of the Bible. Please allow me to give you a word of caution on this subject. Earlier in this article I stated that the Holy Spirit knew there would be a tendency for men to teach their own opinions rather than scriptural truth. This problem is just as prolific in written material as it is in the spoke word on TV or radio. My prayer is that you will be able to determine when this is happening and "see through it." Many people today who claim to preach God's word develop a theology (an organized body of opinions concerning God and man's relationship to God - The American Heritage Dictionary) and then use isolated scriptures to "prove" that they are right. Let me give you an example. Suppose that I decided that suicide was taught in the scriptures as a viable means of concluding one's own life. First I would need to locate and quote the scriptures that I wanted to use to prove that this theology was correct. Which ones would I use?
"Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself." (Matthew 27:5) "And Jesus said to them, 'Go and do likewise.'" (Luke 10:37b) "Then Jesus said to him, 'What you do, do quickly.'" (John 13:27b) Now obviously suicide is not being taught in the Bible. However, putting these scriptures together in this fashion, pulling them out of context, it can be made to appear that suicide is taught in the Bible.
You are probably saying to yourself, "that's absurd." Friends, this is no less absurd than many of the so called "scriptural truths" being taught today by men concerning salvation, baptism, the deity of Christ, and where the spirit of man goes when he/she dies. This is why it is so important that we "rightly divide the word of truth."
The point I am trying to make in this discussion is this: Do not accept the spoken word or the writings of men (mine or anybody else's) as gospel. Go to the scriptures, in prayer, using sound principles of interpretation and study to see if the scriptures are saying what men say it is saying.
What are the sound principles of interpretation?
(a) Determine who is speaking. In the Bible there are many different people speaking. It may be Jesus teaching His disciples. It could be one of the apostles in their writings to the churches. It could be a prophet, a king, Satan, or even Balaam's mule. The point is, in order to fully understand the significance of the statement, we must know who is making the statement.
(b) To whom is it being spoken to? Here again, the relevance of the statement depends on to whom the statement was given. Is the statement made to Christians, sinners, enemies of the church, a person seeking to be saved, or to entire congregations. The meaning of the statement could be entirely different if spoken to each of these examples.
(c) What is the statement speaking about? In other words, what is the content and context of the statement. Is it a command, a warning, about the nature of God or His Son, about Israel, Christians, or the church. Knowing what the content is about is very important in understanding the teaching contained therein. Also, what is the context in which it is being used. What goes before the statement and what goes after the statement. What goes before and after the statement can (and does) alter the statement. My example about suicide shows this very well.
(d) When does the passage speak? Is it written for just that time, the Patriarchal age, Mosaic age, or Christian age. This is just as important as is to who the statement is made. God has dealt with His people differently at different times. The Christian must know and recognize the difference in how God has chosen to deal with His people in the various ages. We must make a distinction between the two testaments. The Old Testament was for the Jewish nation, whereas the New Testament is for the world and the Christian gospel age.
(e) Allow Scripture to explain Scripture. Let the scriptures speak for themselves. Some passages which may seem a little unclear can be further understood in light of other passages. For example, God's plan of salvation is an excellent example of this. There are eight occasions in Acts where one or more people were converted to Christianity. In Acts 2 when the three thousand were converted we have repentance and baptism specifically mentioned. In Acts 8 when the Samaritans were converted, we have faith and baptism mentioned. And in Acts 8 when the eunuch was converted, we have confession, faith and baptism mentioned. We can then use the passages from all three occasions (and the other five as well) to see that we must have faith, we must repent of our sins, confess the Lord Jesus, and be baptized into the watery grave of baptism to receive the gift of salvation. Taking any one of these passages by itself and using it exclusively to show God's plan of salvation, we would be misinterpreting the scriptures.
If we love God and give Him all our allegiance, then we must make every effort to "rightly divide the word of truth." It is my prayer that this article has given you the desire and ability to do this.
All Scriptures quoted are from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.
About the Author
Stephen Kingery is an author, preacher, teacher and founder of The Home Bible Study Institute.
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