Bible Study for Every Christian (Part 5): Interpretation

Selected Scriptures

Tom Pennington  •  August 14, 2011
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Most of us understand, as we approach the issue of Bible Study for Every Christian again, most of us understand the principle of private interpretation. But because of the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century, the idea that I as an individual could actually make a decision about what a passage meant was absolutely revolutionary. Here's what the response to the Reformation, the Council of Trent, had to say about private interpretation, that I, as an individual, could decide what a passage of Scripture actually meant. Here's the Council of Trent: "To check unbridled spirits, it," that is, this Council, "decrees that no one relying on his own judgment shall, in matters of faith and morals pertaining to the edification of the Christian doctrine distorting the holy Scriptures in accordance with his own conceptions, presume to interpret them contrary to that sense which Holy Mother Church, to whom it belongs to judge of their true sense and interpretation, has held or holds." Now I've underlined the key words here so you can sort of piece it together because it's a very wordy document, but you'll notice basically what they're saying is this: no one shall presume to interpret the Scripture contrary to that sense which Holy Mother Church has held or holds. That is the essence of what this statement said. You have no right, no authority, to interpret the Scripture at all. Your job is instead to embrace what the church says they mean.

Essentially what this statement is saying is that it is the Magisterium in the Catholic doctrine that has the right to interpret the Bible. Listen to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely," there's the key word, "the task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church." You say what's the Magisterium? They define it, "that is, to the Pope and to the bishops in communion with him." That's the Magisterium, those who serve as ministers, if you will, in the Catholic Church, the Pope and the bishops. They alone and solely have the right to interpret the Scripture and you have no right to question their interpretation of what the Scripture means. That was the issue that was at the core of the Protestant Reformation.

Contrast that with what Martin Luther had to say at the Diet of Worms in 1521. You remember this response when he was asked to recant on his positions and the writings that he had written? And the books were there in front of them and he was asked to recant his position. This is what he said, "Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason," in conjunction with the Scriptures, "for I do not trust either in the Pope or in councils alone, since it is well known they have often erred and contradicted themselves, I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive," not to the Magisterium, but, "to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand. God help me." Again, I've underlined the salient points in what Luther was saying. He had to be convinced by the testimony of the Scripture or by clear reason on the testimony of the Scripture. Show me from the Scripture is what he said. I have a right to interpret it as much as you have a right to interpret it.

Now is that true? Is the principle of private interpretation a Biblical idea? It certainly is. God has given His people a book they can understand and interpret. That doesn't mean, by the way, let me tell you what it doesn't mean. The fact that we have a book we can understand doesn't mean that everything is easy to understand. Peter says in 2 Peter 3 that there are some things Paul wrote that are very hard to understand. It doesn't mean that we don't have to study. We have to use what the Westminster Confession called "the use of ordinary means," reading, hearing it read, hearing it taught, personal study. We have to study. The fact that we can understand it doesn't mean that we can come to a right knowledge of it or grasp all of its richness without the illumination of the Spirit. Nor does it mean, and this is key, that we can come up with our own private interpretation separate from what the Spirit and the Scripture intended.

Charles Hodge writes this: "If the Scriptures be a plain book," in other words, it's easy to understand or the main things are easy to understand, "and the Spirit performs the function of a teacher to all the children of God," that's also true, "it follows inevitably that they must agree in all essential matters in their interpretation of the Bible. And from that fact, it follows that for an individual Christian to dissent from the faith of the true body of believers, it is tantamount to dissenting from the Scriptures themselves." In other words, you can't just decide the Scripture means this when the church and Christians, the body of Christians for two thousand years, has said it means this.

What we deny is this, in private interpretation, we deny that Christ has appointed any person or any group to whose interpretation we are bound to submit as the final authority on our consciences. That's what we deny. Now, you say does the Bible teach this? Let's look at some arguments for private interpretation because interpretation is what we're dealing with tonight. Interpretation, can we, do we even have a legitimate right to do this as individuals? Well let's look at the Biblical arguments.

First of all, clearly in Scripture the obligations for faith and obedience are personal, individual, and judgment will be personal and individual. That's why you read in a number of texts things like in Ezekiel 18, "The soul who sins will die." This is why you read in Matthew 19 where Jesus says, "Have you not read?" It's your responsibility to read, understand, interpret, and live in light of it. So the obligations before God are not corporate. We're not going to stand as a church before God and it be judged whether we lived in conformity to the Word of God. We're going to be judged as individuals and so therefore, there has to be an ability to understand at a personal level, the Scripture.

Secondly, the Scripture is almost always addressed to the people of God and not just to the leadership. There are the Pastoral Epistles, three of them, in the New Testament. The rest of the New Testament is addressed to the people of God. The prophets constantly said something like this: "Hear, O Israel" or "Listen, all you people." Christ taught the multitudes of people and most of the epistles of the New Testament were addressed to the congregation. So the Scripture is addressed to the people of God.

Another argument for private interpretation is people, individually, are called upon to study the Scripture and to teach it to their children in a number of passages that we've looked at before and I won't rehearse them again. And finally, and this is the one I want you to sort of stick with me on particularly, people are called upon and praised for evaluating what they hear taught against the teaching of Scripture. In other words, they are given the responsibility for interpreting the Scripture and what they hear taught, and comparing the two. That implies the capacity for private interpretation.

Let me show you several passages. First of all, look back in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 13. This is a key text for prophets in the Old Testament. There were a couple of standards that Moses set up for prophets; this was foundational. Deuteronomy 13:1, "If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams." Let me stop and say he's already laid down the principle that if a prophet prophesies falsely, he's a false prophet. That stands to reason, right? But what about a prophet who says something's going to happen and it happens? Is he always to be embraced and believed? Look at this passage again. Deuteronomy 13:1,

If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, [it happens,] concerning which he spoke to you, saying, [but here's what he says in conjunction with this sign or wonder, he actually does something miraculous, convincing, but he says, here's his message], Let us go after other gods whom you have not known and let us serve them.

How do you respond? You got a miracle. You got a confirmation that he's a prophet, but he's saying something that doesn't sound right, that doesn't mesh with the rest of Scripture. Verse 3, "you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul." This is the test of prior revelation, does a prophet's words measure up with previous revelation? Even if it's a miracle, if it doesn't mesh with what God has already said, he's a false prophet.

What is this implying people have the responsibility to do? To understand what the Scriptures teach, to evaluate what the prophet says against that, which implies the capacity for private interpretation. Same thing with the Bereans, and I won't have you turn there, but in Acts 17:11, you remember, the Bereans we're told are more noble than those in Thessalonica because, what? They search the Scriptures daily to see whether the things the apostle was teaching them were true. They were looking at what Paul taught, who had far more authority than the Magisterium. They were looking at what Paul taught and saying, wait a minute, let's see if it measures up to what the Scripture says. They were making private interpretation of the Scripture and comparing the apostle Paul to that.

In Galatians 1:8-9, look at that text for a moment, Galatians 1:8-9. This is the famous passage I've come to many times about, you know, Paul saying if somebody comes with the wrong gospel. Verse 8, "But even if we," that is, the apostle himself, Paul, "or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!" There is the test of prior revelation. Paul says, I gave you a gospel when I was there in person. If I show up again or an angel shows up and gives you something that doesn't mesh with that gospel, throw him out. Let me or that angel be damned. You have a responsibility to understand the gospel, what it is, and to test the apostle against it. This passage implies the people had a right to evaluate the teaching of an apostle or an angel. And they had an infallible rule in which to use in that evaluation, which was the Scripture. I love what Charles Hodge writes about that. He says, "If then the Bible recognizes the right of people to judge of the teaching of apostles and angels, they are not to be denied the right of judging the doctrines of bishops and priests." Amen and amen.

One other text I want you to look at with me. Look at 2 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians 4. Paul says this is exactly what he did when he taught. He encouraged people to evaluate what he said against the Scripture. Second Corinthians 4:1, he describes his apostolic ministry here. He says,

Therefore, since we have this ministry, [ministry of the new covenant coming over from chapter 3,] as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart, but [here's how we carry it out,] we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, [we don't have a hidden life of shame, we're] not walking in craftiness

He says, I'm setting forth the truth and people, individual people, have the responsibility to do what the Bereans did, and that is to compare what I'm teaching against the Scripture. That's the standard. And so clearly then, we have this responsibility. Again, Hodge writes: "The Bible is a plain book. It is intelligible by the people and they have the right and are bound to read and interpret it for themselves so that their faith may rest on the testimony of the Scripture and not on that of the church." So each of us individually has that responsibility.

Tonight, we're going to talk about how to carry out that responsibility. How do you interpret the Bible? Just to remind you where we are, we're learning how every Christian can study the Bible for himself or herself. Although clearly the New Testament sets a very high value on teachers that have been given to the church by Christ for its benefit, that doesn't do away with the responsibility of every Christian to study the Bible individually, privately, personally. And we talked about the arguments for that back a number of weeks ago in the first message that I did in this series.

We're looking then at inductive Bible study. How can you study the Bible? And I've reduced the process to six distinct steps. First of all, preparation, primarily this is making sure you have a reliable translation that's literal to the text of the Hebrew and the Greek. We talked about all of that, as well as acknowledging your dependence on the Lord for His illumination, praying, God help me to understand, "Open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things from Your law." Then comes the key step, observation. This is where the bulk of the study takes place and I took two weeks to sort of work our way through how to go about that. And if you missed that, that's absolutely foundational. That is what it means to study the Bible so I encourage you to go back and catch up if you missed any of these.

The last time we talked about the third step and that is meditation. You take all that study and you intentionally choose to think deeply about it in order to do two things, in order to better understand what it means and think about, consider, plan, how to use it, how to apply it, in your life. That's meditation, choosing to think deeply in order to better understand it and to consider how to do it. Tonight, we come to interpretation. We'll come back to that in a moment. And then we need to look at evaluation. This is where you evaluate your interpretation. Is it legitimate or not? And we'll talk about how to do that. And then finally application, once you understand what the passage says and what it means, now you're ready to say what am I supposed to do with it?

So, with that background then, let's move to the fourth step in our little process here, and that is interpretation. I want to begin with the importance of interpretation. I'm not going to spend a long time here, but I want you to get a sense of why this is important. Why is interpretation so important? Because only the true meaning of the passage is in fact the Word of God. Let me say that again, let that rattle around in your mind for a moment, only the true meaning of the passage is in fact the Word of God. In 2 Peter 3, Peter writes this in verse 15,

our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which [now watch this, in some of his letters] are some things hard to understand, [so unfortunately here's what happens,]

We'll come back to this text again so I'm not going to fully interpret it here for you, but what I want you to see is clearly Peter is saying this, only what the author intended to communicate is the Scripture. When we misinterpret a text, our interpretation is not the Scripture. We have distorted God's meaning because the meaning of the Scripture is the Scripture.

Let me give you a couple of examples. If you were to look, in fact turn back to the end of Mark, Mark 16. We'll talk about the ending of Mark when we get there. There are questions, but I just want you to look at the verse right now, verse 18 of Mark 16. Verse 17 says, "These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name [they're going to do these things including verse 18], they will pick up serpents." Now you can travel through the deep South, the mountains of the Appalachians, and you can find churches where they take that text, they interpret that text, to mean that if you're a true Christian really trusting God, you ought to be able to handle snakes and not be bit. I'm not making this up. How many of you, just out of curiosity, have ever seen that, snake handlers? Yeah. It's far more common than you think, people who think, have interpreted this text to mean, that we ought to bring cages of snakes into our sanctuary and you ought to come up and take those snakes out of those baskets or cages or whatever they're in, and you ought to be able to handle them in the process of worship and that will demonstrate your faith. Aren't you glad you don't belong to one of those churches? But that's their interpretation. Now that interpretation is not the Scripture because it's not the meaning of the Scripture.

Take John 1:1. If you have had a Jehovah's Witness come to your door, they love this text. And they come to John 1:1 and they say, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." And they like to say notice the Greek text says "the Word was a God," as if that means Jesus is something less than equal with the true and living God. First of all, it is such a juvenile understanding of the Greek language. What I do is take them back and say well, when is this beginning? And they'll say well it's in the, you know, the beginning, the start of everything. I say well look at your little Greek text there, notice it says in a beginning. When they interpret that verse to say that Jesus is not equal with God, that is not the Scripture because the meaning of the Scripture is the Scripture. They have distorted and abused its meaning.

Or you take 3 John 2; look at John's third letter. If you've watched any television with faith healers and prosperity gospel guys, they've cited this verse. Third John verse 2, "Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers." See there, they say. God wants you wealthy! That's not the Scripture because they're taking that text and they're making it say something that, interpreted properly in its context, it wasn't saying. It's like, this past week I heard an expression that I like, it's like refrigerator magnet Scripture. You know, you buy those, that poetry, have you ever seen this poetry, it's individual words mounted on magnets and you sort of throw the individual words up on the refrigerator, and you sort of rearrange them any way you want. That's what they're doing with the Scripture. It's like they've cut it up into little pieces and thrown it up in the air and let it fall to the ground and then they just sort of pick it up and paste it however they want, make it say whatever they want. It's refrigerator magnet Scripture. That's not the Scripture. So it's absolutely crucial that we properly interpret the Bible because if we misinterpret it, we don't have the Bible anymore. It's equivalent to refrigerator magnets. You might as well do it with War and Peace or something.

Secondly, let's consider the meaning of interpretation. Okay, it's important, but what does it mean? What is it exactly I'm supposed to do? Well, let me back up and just remind you, Bible study has ultimately three objectives. What does the text say? The process of discovering that is called exegesis. What does it mean? The science for determining the meaning of a passage is called hermeneutics. The word hermeneutics comes from the name of the Greek god Hermes. Hermes was the messenger of the gods. He was responsible to explain what the gods were saying to human beings. So then hermeneutics is the process through which we determine the meaning of the passage. That's interpretation. The third issue is what should we do with it. We call that application. So hermeneutics then has to do with the principles or rules by which we interpret the Scripture, by which we determine the meaning of the passage. It is the rulebook. When we use these rules, these hermeneutical principles, we interpret the meaning of Scripture. Interpretation is simply the process of deciding what the passage actually means. First, you have to do what we've already covered. You have to do the steps we learned back in observation, parts one and two. Then you meditate on it. Then you are ready to interpret it, to actually pull your study and your meditation together and make a decision about what it means.

So let me give you a definition. Here's what interpretation is. Interpretation is the proper use of generally accepted principles to determine the one divinely intended meaning of the passage, the proper use of generally accepted principles to determine the one divinely intended meaning of the passage. This is what God intended this passage to mean. Now obviously, that's a very critical decision. So how do you go about making a decision like that? Well, there is an art to interpretation, but the real work in interpretation is primarily a science. There are rules or guidelines that are generally accepted principles to use in helping us decide exactly what a passage mean and what it doesn't mean and what it can never mean.

All right, so let's look at the principles then of interpretation. Now, I'm just going to give you an overview, sort of a sketch. If you want to study this in more detail, let me mention some resources. Here are some resources for you to consider, and I don't agree with everything in every one of these books, but they're all helpful in and of themselves. You'll just have to use discernment as you do anything outside of the Scripture. First one is How to Read the Bible for All It's Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart. A second one, Knowing Scripture by R. C. Sproul. A third one, Hermeneutics by Henry Virkler. Again, those are the principles for interpreting the Bible. That's what hermeneutics is. And then sort of the classic, and again I don't agree with everything in here, but Protestant Biblical Interpretation by Bernard Ramm. That's a little heavier sledding. The simplest one here is R.C. Sproul's book Knowing Scripture if you just want to get your toe in the water. And then maybe the next one would be Hermeneutics by Henry Virkler, then How to Read the Bible for All It's Worth, and then lastly Protestant Biblical Interpretation. That's kind of a ranking from simplest to most challenging, but all of them can be helpful if you want to study this a little more.

But what I have done is basically synthesize the guidelines that these resources share into three main principles, three main principles of interpretation. If you get these three, you can understand what the Scripture is saying, you can interpret what it means accurately. Principle number one, interpret the Bible based on authorial intent. That is, what did the author intend to say? The author's intended meaning is the Scripture. Some Christians, frankly, come to the Bible as if it were a kind of Ouija board. You know what that is? Some of you are too young maybe to remember, but basically it was this board where supposedly, it had letters on it and two people could put their hands on this apparatus in the middle and if they moved their hands, supposedly they would be supernaturally directed to a proper letter, and it was all out of, it was all about personal messages. Because Christians often come to the Bible looking for personal messages that they can find in words and letters, they come looking for hidden messages for me in the words of Scripture that have no relationship to the context.

See if you've ever done this. Have you ever been tempted to do what, and I'm not making this up, this is a true story, what a man going into ministry who had not been taught properly how to interpret the Bible, he was trying to determine between two opportunities for ministry that were before him. And he came across in his reading, Ezekiel 8:5, "Son of man, raise your eyes to the north." There it was, God was speaking to him. God was telling him he ought to take one of those opportunities because, guess what, it was north of him. Folks, God isn't sending you personal, coded messages in the Bible. He absolutely ignored the context of that statement. He absolutely disregarded what the author, Ezekiel, intended to communicate in that sentence.

Another way that's not quite as bad, but is very common, taking this sort of Ouija board approach to the Scripture, is beginning with personal application before knowing what the passage means. What does this passage mean to me? What does this passage mean to me? If that's your approach, you can do it with any document. You don't need the Bible. A text or a passage, listen carefully, a text or a passage may have many legitimate implications or applications. There are a lot of different ways you can apply a text of Scripture, but it always and only has one meaning. Henry Virkler, in the book I recommended to you, writes this, "The primary presupposition of hermeneutical theory must be that the meaning of a text is the author's intended meaning." It means what the author intended it to mean. Think about it. If you receive a letter in the mail, which is apparently going to become more difficult according to the news recently, but you receive a letter in the mail or you receive an email, you don't look in that letter or that email for a lot of different meanings. Instead, you want to understand, what? What the person who wrote it was trying to communicate to you. In the same way, the Biblical text has only one single, unchangeable, meaning that's determined by the intention of the author, and that meaning isn't found in some mystical search for what I think he might have meant; instead, his meaning is clearly expressed in the text by means of letters, words, and grammar.

Jesus, by the way, and the New Testament authors, affirmed this principle of interpretation, authorial intent. Listen to Matthew 22:29. Jesus talking to the rabbis and the spiritual leaders of the time, the Pharisees, the Scribes, "Jesus answered and said to them, 'You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God.'" You know what Jesus was saying? You have misunderstood what the Scripture writer intended to communicate. You know what Jesus was arguing for? Authorial intent. He is affirming both the fact that a given passage has one meaning and that single truth can be understood by the mind. In John 5:39, He says, "You search the Scriptures," probably best understood as a command, "search the Scriptures because you think in them you have eternal life; but it is these that testify about Me." Jesus was telling them to keep searching the Scriptures because, so far, they had missed the point of a number of passages. And the point was based on authorial intent.

I told you we'd come back to 2 Peter 3, the passage I read to you earlier. In this passage Peter is arguing that Paul's letters are to be interpreted how? In keeping with Paul's intention, and to come to any other conclusion than what Paul intended to communicate is to distort the Scripture, and the result of that distortion brings one's own destruction. So understand, the New Testament writers are very clear about this, we are to interpret the Bible based on trying to discover what the original author intended based on context, based on the analysis of the grammar and the words he used. I love what John Calvin writes about this. He says, "It is the first business of an interpreter to let the author say what he does say instead of attributing to him what we think he ought to say." How many times have you, as I have, approached the Scripture trying to make it say what we wish it said? That's not our job. Our job as interpreters, as Bible students, is to ask ourselves, what does it say?

I've read the illustration before of a famous pastor who was teaching young pastors how to study the Bible, how to prepare sermons, and after, actually during a discussion time, during a break, one of the young students came up to this older pastor and said to him, because he was learning all of the tools and all the things, the kinds of things we're learning, but even more in depth. And this young man came up to this older pastor and said something like this, "Sir, don't you think it's important for me just to get alone with God and find out what the Holy Spirit is saying to me?" The preacher's answer was surprising for him because he said to him, "Listen, son." He said, "I'm not interested in what the Holy Spirit is saying to you. I'm not even interested in what the Holy Spirit is saying to me. I'm interested in what the Holy Spirit says and has been saying for 2,000 years since the day He inspired it, and I'm going to use every conceivable means to discern what that is." That is foundational. This is the heart of our job as students, to discover what the Biblical author intended to communicate.

One of the greatest motivations of my life, and why I am more than happy to spend 30 hours every week studying God's Word, is because I never want, either because of laziness or carelessness or lack of effort, to say a passage teaches what God never intended it to say. When anyone abuses the Scripture and makes it say what it doesn't say, the result is not the Scripture. If you misinterpret the text, what you have is not the Scripture. You have to come to what the author intended. Let me show you a couple of examples of how this is abused. Turn with me to 1 Thessalonians 5, 1 Thessalonians 5. When I was growing up, verse 22 was quoted often to me, occasionally by my mother, but more often by the spiritual influences outside of my home. Verse 22, it was quoted like this from the King James Bible, "Abstain from all appearance of evil." You ever heard it quoted that way? "Abstain from all appearance of evil." In other words, don't do anything that anybody might come to the conclusion you're doing something you shouldn't be doing. Is that what that verse says?

Well, let's look at it in its context. First of all, the New American Standard has the translation more accurate. This is why it's so important for you to have a good, literal translation. "Abstain from every form of evil." But even in context, notice where it appears. Verse 19, "Do not quench the Spirit." And verse 20 is one way to quench the work of the Spirit, to limit the Spirit's work. In the first century church, there were prophets. You come to Ephesians, and by the time you come to Ephesians, you have Paul saying the church has been built already on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. So even by the time of the writing of Ephesians, the prophetic ministry was going away because the New Testament was going to be complete. But at this point, there were apostles; there were prophets in the church. And he says, "Don't quench the Spirit, don't despise prophetic utterances." Instead, when it comes to those prophetic utterances, in other words, to prophecies from these legitimate prophets in the church, first century church, don't despise them; instead, "examine everything carefully; hold fast to those," prophetic utterances, "that are good," that reflect the Scripture, and "abstain from every form of evil," every one that doesn't measure up to the standard of Scripture. It has absolutely nothing to do with avoiding something that might look bad to somebody else. Now, there are other texts where we could make, maybe, that similar argument, but not from this text. We've abused this text if we make it say that because it doesn't say that; that's not what Paul intended to say.

Let me show you another one that's very common. Parents use this one a lot. Look at James 1. James 1:19, "This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger." So in other words, kids, listen up, close your mouth and don't get angry. Okay, is that what that verse is saying? Well, again, what is the rule to interpretation, authorial intent? How do you discern authorial intent? You discern it by context; you discern it by looking at the larger paragraph. Notice the paragraph markers. The paragraph begins in verse 19 and runs down to verse 25. Guess what the theme of that paragraph is? It has to do with responding to the Word of God. Verse 21, "in humility receive the word implanted." This paragraph has to do with our response to God's Word. So this isn't about our responding to each other; this is about how we respond to the Bible. Verse 19, "be quick to hear," be quick to listen to the Word of God, be "slow to speak," don't be arguing with the Scripture. And guess what? Sometimes when the Scripture's taught, it makes us angry. I have people walk out of church because they're angry. Hopefully not with me, usually it's with the truth of Scripture. So James is saying, don't respond like that to the Scripture. Be "quick to hear" the Scripture, be slow to argue back with the Scripture and defend yourself, and be "slow to anger" in response to what God says. And then he goes on to explain the rest of our response to the Word. So again, in context, is it saying that in normal communications and relationships I need to be slow to speak and quick to hear? No, that wisdom is elsewhere, it's in the proverbs, but that isn't what this passage is teaching. So don't make the Bible say what the original author didn't intend it to say.

All right, second principle, interpret Scripture with Scripture. First of all, interpret Scripture based on authorial intent. Secondly, interpret Scripture with Scripture. This is also called the analogy of faith. The Reformers put it like this. They said, "Scripture interprets Scripture." Now in that sentence that the Reformers used, Scripture is used in a double sense. The first occurrence of Scripture has to do with the totality of Scripture, all the Scripture. The second occurrence has to do with any part of Scripture such as a verse or passage. So we could restate it like this. This is the Reformation principle: The entire Scripture is the context and guide for understanding any particular passage of Scripture. This is based on what the Bible clearly teaches about itself.

The Bible was written over 1,500 years, from 1445 B.C. when Moses wrote Genesis to 95 A.D. when the apostle John wrote Revelation. It was written, during that 1,500 year period, it was written by over forty different authors, but at the same time, the Bible is the product of one mind, the mind of the Spirit. That's why you read in 2 Timothy 3:16, "All Scripture is inspired," or breathed out, "by God." It's spoken by God; it's the product of God's breath. He spoke it, God the Spirit. The mind of God was communicated to us by the Spirit through human authors. Let me just show you a couple of texts. Look at 1 Corinthians. I want you to see this because this is the foundation of why we can interpret Scripture with Scripture, because even though it was written over 1,500 years, over 40 different authors, ultimately it was written by one author who had one basic goal in mind. First Corinthians 2:10, here again is one of those texts that people often take out of context. Verse 9, "Things which eye has not seen nor ear heard, that which has not entered the heart of man, all that has God prepared for those who love Him." They say see, we can't even begin to know what God's prepared for us. Well, read the next verse. "For to us God revealed them through the Spirit." Uh-oh, we do know them. We have them here. God has revealed what He wants us to know about the future. And then he goes on to say the Spirit of God knows the thoughts of God just like our spirit knows our thoughts. That's his point in verse 11.

Now, when you get to verse 13, he gets even more specific. He says God the Spirit has revealed to us the truth of God, the thoughts of God, verse 11, because the Spirit of God knows the thoughts of God. "Now we have received," verse 12, "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." And as an apostle, Paul says we speak those things and when we speak God's revelation, he's talking about the Bible here, when we speak God's revelation, we do it "not in words taught by human wisdom." In other words, God the Spirit is telling us, is revealing to us, the truth of God, but we're not putting that in human words at our own choice. Instead, it's "those words taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words." This is an argument for the inspiration of even the words of Scripture. God breathed out not merely the concepts, but He united "spiritual thoughts with spiritual words." And it's all the work of the Spirit. The Spirit is behind God's revelation. That's Paul's point. He's behind the thoughts because He knows God; He knows God's thoughts. He's even behind the words that the writers chose.

If you doubt that, turn over to 1 Peter. I'm sorry, 2 Peter 1. Second Peter 1, and here Peter makes a statement about the Scripture. By the way, it's interesting, he says, you know, we saw this amazing stuff when Jesus was on earth, but we have something that's even better, and that's the Scripture. Then he says in verse 20, "But know this first of all, that no prophecy of the Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation," or origination. In other words, the writers of Scripture didn't just make this stuff up. They weren't just on the fly saying what they wanted to say, "for," here's what he means, "no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will." In other words, the Bible didn't originate because some human author said I want to write that. Instead, "men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." That is the key to understanding how we got the Bible. Men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. That Greek word for moved, by the way, is used in the end of the book of Acts when Paul is on that ship and he's being driven by the wind, that's the word. Men were driven along by the Holy Spirit and therefore spoke from God just like the wind carries a ship wherever it wants it to go.

So because of that, although there were 40 authors, there was really only one author. And because that one author is God the Spirit, He knew everything He wanted to communicate before He moved Moses to write Genesis. And so doesn't it make sense then that since the Spirit of God is truth, He's not going to contradict Himself. That means all 66 books will interconnect without contradicting each other, but rather will complement each other. And so, therefore, when you come to interpret a passage, if there are two potential interpretations to that passage and one of those interpretations contradicts another passage of Scripture, guess what? It's the wrong interpretation. You interpret Scripture with Scripture. And I hope you see that, to some extent, modeled when I'm normally preaching through the Scripture to you, as we look at the Scripture and how it interrelates and interconnects and doesn't contradict. One passage makes clear what is unclear in another.

Just a couple of implications of this principle, don't interpret a text in isolation from the rest of Scripture. That's how cults do it. That's how they get their bizarre doctrines. They just pull a text right out of the midst of the context of the rest of Scripture and make it say something bizarre when the rest of Scripture contradicts that. Secondly, the clear passages should always be used to interpret the obscure. If you have a strange passage isolated and alone and it seems to be teaching something bizarre, you get understanding and meaning of that passage from bringing in the clearer passages that deal with that same issue. So let the Scripture interpret the Scripture.

The third main principle of interpretation is interpret literally, literally. This means as you try to determine the meaning of a passage in the Bible, you follow the normal rules of interpreting any literature. The way you would interpret any literature, you examine the language, you examine the grammar, you examine the words, you look at the culture in which it was written and to which it was written, you look at the geography, you look at the history. In that sense, studying the Bible is no different than studying any other book. You are interpreting it with the same basic principles you would use to interpret the newspaper or a Nancy Drew novel or whatever it is. This is called the grammatical historical method. You're looking at the grammar, you're looking at the history, you're interpreting it literally in that sense.

Now, this doesn't deny that there are figures of speech in the Bible or allegories or symbols or word pictures. Of course there are, but those things exist in other literature as well, right? I mean, if you've read any literature, all those things exist in other literature. So you interpret them in the same way you do other literature. Are there tips in the context to tell you this is a figure of speech, this is an allegory? And if there aren't, then you don't make it one. You don't approach the Bible any differently in that sense than you would any other piece of literature.

So let me put it to you like this. As with other literature, we must interpret the Bible in the simplest, most literal sense unless there is indication in the context not to do so, it's clear it's an allegory. An example would be, you know, in Galatians when Paul starts talking about the offspring of Sarah and Hagar, and he's contrasting them and he's creating an allegory. It's very clear in the context that's an allegory. But then there are Christians who go to passages that they would never, if that passage were in a normal book, they would never make it an allegory. And yet they look at that passage and say, oh, it's an allegory. Why? There are no clues that say it's an allegory. There's nothing in the context that says that.

So read the Bible like you would read another book in that sense. Interpret it like you would interpret another book. Don't do bizarre things to the Bible that you would never do to another book. Don't look for code buried in its text. Don't look for hidden messages. Don't take the refrigerator magnet approach to interpreting the Bible. Interpret it according to its simplest, most literal sense unless there's some clue in the context to do otherwise. Clearly, there are images used in Revelation, for example, but there are other passages in Revelation that are straightforward, that there's no reason to take as allegory or impressions. So don't do that. Take the Bible literally.

Now the implications of this are context rules, context rules. If you're going to interpret it literally as we're talking about, the grammatical historical method, you have got to see what is in the context. That determines everything. Secondly, pay attention to the words, the syntax, the culture and the history. And thirdly, and I'm really just going to mention this, it deserves much more, but pay attention to the genres, that is, to the form, the different forms of literature in the Bible. Here are a few of those forms. There's law, there is narrative, you know, where it tells a story. A lot of narrative in both Old and New Testament, in the New Testament, the gospels and Acts, and in the Old Testament, all of the history books. Poetry is another form of a genre in Scripture, proverbs, prophecies, parables, and the epistles, or the letters, of Paul. Now, there are helps to interpreting each of those genres. If you want to read more about that, I encourage you to look at the book by Fee and Stuart called How to Read the Bible for All It's Worth. Essentially, that's where he's spending most of his time, but let me just give you a couple of large glimpses.

When it comes to narrative, understand that narrative, when it's telling a story, it is not normative. In other words, you don't know if God approves or disapproves of that. So don't assume God wants you to do that. The narrator sometimes makes value judgments. The narrator speaks for God. So if the narrator of the story tells you that that behavior was praiseworthy, then you can say it's legitimate to pursue that behavior. If the narrator of the story tells you that that behavior was worthy of being judged, then it's legitimate to understand that would be true of you as well. But if the narrator of the story doesn't tell you whether it's good or bad, then don't assume you ought to do it because there are a lot of things in the Bible that you shouldn't copy. The fact that it's there doesn't necessarily mean you should do it. If the author neither praises the behavior nor judges the behavior, you should interpret that narrative in light of clear teaching sections of Scripture as opposed to just sort of coming up with a moral on your own. So be very careful in narrative not to assume I'm supposed to do something with this, this is something I'm supposed to do. I'll come back to that in a minute.

With proverbs, understand that the proverbs are not an ironclad guarantee. They are descriptions of the way things normally work in the world. So when it says, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he'll not depart from it," that is not an ironclad guarantee to you. That is a statement of the way things normally work in the world. And by the way, that passage isn't teaching about, well, I hate to go there, but I will tell you that's another one of those passages that's misinterpreted. I remember in my first Hebrew class, or early on in my first semester of Hebrew, we interpreted that text. What it really says is, if you will train up a child according to his own way, that is, according to his own giftedness and skills, then when he is old he will not depart from it. It has more to do with vocation than it does spiritual results. But regardless, the point I'm making is don't imagine that a proverb is an ironclad guarantee, that it's always going to work that way.

Parables, don't press all the details of the parables. Parables are there to tell one point, to get one primary point across. So don't press every detail. An example would be when I was out at Grace I preached through Matthew 18, the end of Matthew 18, about the unforgiving slave. Well, at the end it says the king basically rescinds his forgiveness of the unforgiving slave and hands him over to the torturers. That does not mean that God forgave but now He takes His forgiveness back. Instead, the parable is making one big point, and that is, we have been forgiven so much by God, we absolutely have to forgive others. And if we don't, then we risk not being forgiven or showing that we've never experienced God's forgiveness at all. So understand parables teach one large point.

When you come to the epistles, always be looking for what's called the indicative and the imperative, the statements about who we are or what God has done and then the imperative, the commands that tell us how we ought to respond in response to that. That's how they're structured. Ephesians 1 to 3, indicative, this is what God has done. Ephesians 4 to 6, imperative, this is what you ought to do in light of that. That's what you're looking for when you come to the epistles. Again, I'm just touching on those ideas. You can read more about them on your own.

So, the three main principles of interpretation, interpret based on authorial intent, interpret Scripture with Scripture, and interpret literally. Now very quickly, there are a few dangers to avoid, some dangers of interpretation. First of all, allegorizing, this is adding levels of meaning to a narrative. In the early church they did this a lot. I think I mentioned to you before they said, you take the word Jerusalem. Okay, the word Jerusalem meant the literal city of Jerusalem in Israel. It meant the people of God in the church. It meant the soul of man. I mean, on and on it went. There were these four layers of allegory. Don't allegorize the Scripture unless there is clear reason in the context to take it as an allegory.

Secondly, spiritualizing or moralizing the Scripture, this is giving a text spiritual points that the original author never intended. At the risk of being perceived as critical, I'll tell you that there's a church right now in our area that the pastor is preaching a series of messages on Joseph's life, saying that you can go, that Joseph had a dream, God's given every Christian a dream. Joseph arrived at the destiny of that dream. You can arrive at the destiny of your dream if you'll simply do what Joseph did in the chapters there on his life at the end of Genesis. Ask yourself is that what God intended that passage to mean? No, it's being spiritualized. Don't do that.

Another example would be the Song of Solomon. How many of you have read about the Song of Solomon being a wonderful picture of Christ's love for the church? Not a thing about Christ in the church anywhere in Scripture referring to Song of Solomon. That is a celebration of married love. But good men do it. Spurgeon in his Morning and Evening, if you ever read his Morning and Evening, I mean often he'll come back to Song of Solomon. That's spiritualizing a text that there's no reason to spiritualize. There's no indication anywhere in the text or in the rest of Scripture that that has anything to do with Christ and the church.

Third danger is proof texting. This is just stringing verses together to make a point without regard for their meaning and context. An extreme example of this, I love this. Have you ever heard this? You pick from three different places. Judas went out and hanged himself. Do thou likewise. And what thou doest, do quickly. That's an extreme example, but unfortunately, people do that. They take Scripture and they just sort of string it together and make it say what they want it to say without regard for the context in which it was said. That's called proof texting. The remedy? Make sure you know what each verse means in its context, just like you would any other writing.

Number four, another danger is using a narrative as a normative, using a story as I ought to copy that. I think the most famous example of this is Gideon's fleece. How many Christians do you know who think they ought to put out a fleece to determine God's will? Well, read that text, folks. First of all, it's definitely not praised. The narrator does not say, this is a wonderful thing that he's doing; you ought to do the same. In fact, it's an example of his lack of confidence. And by the end, he's asking for it almost in an embarrassing sort of way, God, I hate to ask again, but I know I don't trust You, but maybe one more time and I'll trust You. Don't use narrative as normative for what you ought to do. Dick Mayhue, in his little book on interpreting the Bible, adds one called nationalizing, and this is big in Texas. This is reading one's own country into passages and promises given to Israel. For example, 2 Chronicles 7:14, how many times have you heard that used of America? "If My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, will heal their land." Folks, read the context, it's at the dedication of the temple. Psalm 33:12, "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance." I hate to tell you, that's not America. In context, that's Israel. So don't nationalize.

Number six, cultural back loading. This is taking a popular view in our culture and trying to read it back into the Bible. For example, trying to read theistic evolution into Genesis 1 and 2, trying to read the approval of homosexuality into Genesis 18 and 19, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. You know how they do that? They say, well, the real issue there was God was angry with the people of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their lack of hospitality. I'm not making that up. Or like Robert Schuller reading self-esteem into Jesus's command to love your neighbor as yourself. See, you need to love yourself. That isn't what Jesus was saying. He was saying you need to love others. Reading newspaper headlines into Biblical prophecy, I love that one, or the role of women in marriage or in the life of the church into Ephesians 5 and 1 Timothy 2. Don't backload our culture and what's acceptable into the Bible. Let it speak. Literalizing, making a figure of speech literal. The most famous example of this is what the Catholic Church does with John 6 where Jesus says if you're going to really know Me, you're going to have to eat My flesh and drink My blood. Well guess what He says just a few verses later? "The words which I speak to you are spiritual and they are life," nothing to do with eating and drinking His blood. Another final danger is dogmatizing, forcing a text's meaning to fit your theological system. We need theological systems, but we ought to let them be informed by the Bible, not let them inform the Bible.

So, those are the dangers. Folks, we have an amazing privilege, the privilege God has given each of us individually to interpret His Word. But may God make us faithful to do it in a way that honors Him, with authorial intent, letting Scripture interpret Scripture, and doing so in the literal sense we would approach any other piece of literature. May God make us students of His Word.

Let's pray together. Father, thank You for this time together. Lord, help us to be careful. Lord, may none of us ever be guilty, intentionally or otherwise, of making Your holy, eternal Word say something that You never intended it to say, Father, whether we do that as teachers or whether we do that as parents or whether we do that as individuals studying and interpreting Your Word. Lord, help us to cut the Bible straight. We pray for the glory of Your name, for the exaltation of Your Word. We pray in Jesus's name, amen.