Interpretation and Application of the Scriptures
Okay PJ, that’s enough of this college Bible study stuff. Why does all this stuff matter? Can’t we be good Christians without worrying about what the Bible says? That’s debatable. Can you live a healthy lifestyle if you never eat? Even as babies, we need our mother’s milk or formula; as adults we learn to feed ourselves, but what we choose to eat has a big impact on how healthy we are… Case in point…my big belly.
Many Christians, who by now should be mature in their faith, will say that they come to church on Sunday to be fed. I have a very good pastor friend who will ask, “At what age did you start feeding yourself?” If you are a mature Christian, you should at some point be feeding yourself to nurture your spiritual life and growth in your relationship with God the Father through Jesus and the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. At a point in our spiritual lives, our ability to understand and apply the Word of God to our lives becomes a true matter of spiritual maturity.
‘So, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but instead as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready. In fact, you are still not ready, for you are still influenced by the flesh. For since there is still jealousy and dissension among you, are you not influenced by the flesh and behaving like unregenerate people?’
1 Corinthians 3:1-3
Last week, we talked at length about the inspiration of the scriptures. If we have established that the Bible is the inspired Word of God himself given as a gift to humanity so that we can learn to walk in a right relationship with him. If the Bible is truly written with Holy Spirit guiding every word, then the Bible itself bears witness to its full authority to direct our lives. That being the case, making sure that we read and study what is written and try to apply it to our lives today becomes of paramount importance. Wouldn’t you agree?
Jesus said in John 8:32, “you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” He also said that he was, “the way, the truth, and the life; no one come to the Father except through me.” In John 14:6. Holy Spirit is referred to as the Spirit of Truth in John 14:17, John 15:26, and John 16:13. That is the same Spirit that carried along, inspired, and breathed into the prophets and biblical writers to convey the Truth of how to relate to God, to one another, to ourselves, and to our world.
By its very nature and definition, if one thing is true, it is the actual state of the matter, conformed to fact and reality, verified or indisputable; everything contrary to it, twisting it, or accepting of only part of it, must be false. God’s inspired Word written by men directed by God’s Holy Spirit is Truth, therefore we should read and apply it with the utmost confidence.
Remember we said last week,
‘Every scripture is inspired by God (God-breathed) and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.’
2 Timothy 3:16-17
How much of the scripture is inspired? Every, or some translations say “All.” Every single scripture is inspired. All scripture is useful and meant to be used for what? Teaching. Yes. Reproof and correction. Oh boy, we don’t like those very much. Especially if it exposes sin in our lives. And, training in righteousness. Doing good and doing the correct thing and acting in a godly way, in each and every circumstance. All that, so that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work. Meaning we have work to do. Period. We all have ministry to accomplish to the glory of God.
Going back to the teaching, reproof, correction, and training stuff; what did I say last week is our default mode any time we are handling the Bible when it is applied to other people’s lives. LOVE. If people don’t know how much you care, they don’t care how much you know…or at least think you know. We do not use the Bible to condemn people. Jesus didn’t come into the world to condemn people, so we are not left in the world as Jesus’s body to condemn people. When the Bible talks about judging people, it is talking about condemning people. We don’t get to do that, even with Bible in hand. It is more hurtful than helpful. But we do teach and study the scripture to rightly apply it to our lives and use it to expose sin in our lives and correct it in others. We are not judging people, God is the judge, the word of God itself is the judge, we teach the word. What the word says is what the word means typically. However, in order to do any of that, we must know how to read and interpret what the Bible actually says.
The Bible itself does the work.
2 Corinthians 4:1-2 says,
‘Therefore, since we have this ministry, just as God has shown us mercy, we do not become discouraged. But we have rejected shameful hidden deeds, not behaving with deceptiveness or distorting the word of God, but by open proclamation of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience before God.’
We proclaim the truth clearly and without distorting the word of God. The word of God speaks for itself. And we are told in Hebrews 4:12-13,
‘For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart. And no creature is hidden from God, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.’
The word of God itself is living and active, not changing, living and active because the word itself is carrying the very will of God through Holy Spirit’s power. Holy Spirit is alive and active in the lives of believers, and the word itself is the work of the Spirit. What is the living word doing, why is the word so sharp? The word of God itself is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart. How? The word of God contains the will of God through the Spirit of God. It says, no creature is hidden from God. Including us. Through the word of God, everything we do and think is judged by the only one qualified to judge us. Everything is exposed to the only one qualified to condemn. It does not take me or you wielding the word of God as a weapon, as a hammer to beat people with, or as a rope to hang people. The word of God, when read and applied, is active and alive and does all of that for itself.
We only study and teach the word, because we are commissioned in the Great Commission to make disciples by teaching them everything God through Christ has commanded us. Our record of all those commands is found in the Bible itself.
If we are reading, studying, and teaching the Bible; we, every one of us, had better make sure we are looking at it properly.
Interpreting the Bible is NOT, and I emphatically repeat NOT, about deciphering hidden codes, finding deeper hidden meanings, pulling out little proof texts here and there to make one point or another out of context. Interpretation is NOT making the word fit what we think it should mean by how we feel or what culture thinks is acceptable. The word of God itself is NOT politically correct and we don’t have to interpret it that way. We look at the words in the literal way they were written, with first what literal meaning they would have had to the original audience historically. We look at the grammatical style they were written in. Poetry is poetry. Historical narrative is historical narrative. For those who remember English class, similes, metaphors, hyperboles, idioms, proverbs, alliteration and so on, all existed then in a similar way to what it does now.
What interpretation is, is taking the words as they were written to people 2,000 to 3,500 years ago and understanding them in our own language today, and how to apply those precepts, commands, and principles to our lives today to live the same kind of countercultural life God designed his people to live. Last week, I used one of my favorite examples. The word love.
In the original languages, to the original audiences, the word of God was not written to be confusing. It was not written to lead people astray or away from God’s will by a matter of misinterpretation. The word of God was written to clearly express the will of God to the people set apart by God. So we read the word of God and try to place our minds in the minds of the people of that time.
When we read love one another 20 times in the context of believers’ fellowship with each other. When we read God so loved the world, he gave his one and only Son. When we read husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church. When we read the two greatest commandments are love the Lord your God and Love your neighbor as yourself. When we read a new commandment I give you, to love one another. We are talking about God’s sacrificial, unconditional, compassionate, active action of love. We are not talking about the ‘60s free love movement, we are not talking about making love to anyone (married or not), we are not talking about my love of bbq ribs, or my love of Star Wars movies, or my love of driving. This is why we study the scripture and interpret it according to the time and culture it was written to…
To properly interpret the Bible, we read first and foremost and now and always the words that were written. No, we can’t read Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. At least most of us can’t. However, we have very skilled and talented people who have worked hard to do that for us. In order to understand it in English, read 4 or 5 translations of the same passages. I like the NASB, NIV or CEV, NET and NLT. I, personally, avoid the KJV because most people today don’t understand the archaic language. There are some versions or translations I don’t like, and there may be some you like better, but read several and compare them.
Read the word in its original context, read the passages around the passage you are reading within the context of the same letter, book, or chapter. Does the writer of that passage write on the same subject in a different place, of course remembering Holy Spirit inspired it all? So, does the Bible say the same thing in other contexts about the same subject? It should because the Bible doesn’t contradict itself. If we find apparent contractions, it’s because we don’t understand what God is telling correctly. Not because God is telling us two different things.
How do I apply this to my life? There are examples of what to do, what not to do, what things are good, right, and beneficial, what things are sin and against God’s will for our lives as believers. How do I align my life to what the Bible is telling me?
The number one place believers get off track is when we say, or we hear someone say, this is what the Bible says, BUT… We need to keep our butts out of it. What the Bible says and what the Bible means, has nothing to do with how we feel or what we think, We don’t change the Bible, the Bible is meant to change us….