Maybe it has been ongoing for centuries, but atrocities against Scripture seems to be a norm in today’s contemporary church. The simple are deceived, the wise annoyed and the power of the Gospel is lost.
Opinions are formed and preconceived ideas are read into the Scripture. Going to the Bible is more of an act of finding what “I want” instead of what “God wants”. I think we get emotionally attached to an idea and we attempt to search out proof for the belief. In other words, we have doctrines that are in search for proof texts. However if our personal convictions are not based upon biblical theology, rather individual me-ology, we are not following Christ but rather ourselves.
It comes down to this, it is no longer the Gospel of Jesus that is being preached, but rather the “Gospel of me”, the “Gospel of my belief” or the “Gospel of my preacher”. That will not save souls. The Scriptures are inspired by the Holy Spirit and is there for our learning. We need to go back to it and accurately read it, understand it and apply it. Only that will save souls. Only the real Christ, the real Gospel and the real blood can regenerate.
Countless examples could be given. Some subtract from clear Scripture such as promoting homosexual behavior. Others add to Scripture making culture and “moral” demands where Scripture is silent, extra-biblical requirements for Christianity, like the Pharisees of old.
However, the way of the cross and salvation is narrow. Deep and rocky gulfs run on both sides, one is the subtraction from the text and the other is the addition of greater burdens than biblical specifications. However, when all is done and said, both gulfs lead the simple off the path of life – away from the gospel, all because we don’t accurately go back to the biblical text.
As postmodern ideologies infiltrate the Church, text has no definite meaning, one’s “experiences”, is king and phrases like “it is true for you, but not for me”, “that is your truth” or “this is my truth” are used. The spiritualized version of these include phrases like “the Spirit told me it means this” or “the Spirit gave me this meaning” or “that is your interpretation, this is mine”.
Truth is not relative!
No, truth in the Word of God is true for all, for all times and for all places, it called objective truth. The Bible does not change meaning per person or per culture. The meaning that the text has always had the same meaning and always will have the same meaning. Yes, there are cases the text is unclear, but that does not mean that there is no objective meaning. Nor does it mean we can abuse the text. However, the basics are so basic that even the simple can understand.
Here I want to give you ten principles as you go to the Bible, these are all logical and make sense upon reflection. These will help you gain the truth, not some postmodern “me” ideas or someone else’s “inspired” ideas. Rather this is how the Bible was meant to be read and how all communication should function.
1) Context Is King
This is the mother of all the principles. If you remember none of the others, remember this one. Consider Psalm 14 and Psalm 53, they both say this: “there is no God”… “ah” you say “that was taken out of context.” And right you are.
However, so many “Christian” and hyper-spiritualized phrases are the same way. Consider these, “knowledge puffeth up”, “our righteousness is as filthy rags” and “the truth will set you free.” Many more could be given. However, when one looks at the big picture, such as the main topics of the biblical book, the people it was written to and why it was written, when one keeps narrowing down to the specific chapter, paragraph and then verse and words that are in question, our “meanings” fade.
Arbitrarily selecting concepts from Scripture passages and trying to make conclusions is poor exegesis. You can see what happens when one does just that, the argument that “there is no God” is just as legit as the other phrases, if we want to be consistent. However, that sounds silly doesn’t?
2) What’s The Difference Between A Story and a Command?
Technically, this is called the Prescription vs. Description distinction. Prescription is when one gives you direction. Think about this way, when you go to the doctor, the doctor prescribes medication, exercises, diet, or many other things. She is telling you to do something. Compare this to description. Description means describing something, like story telling or describing occurrences and or God’s promises for specific person(s). In other words it is not “talking” to us but rather describing what happened. One is an “ought” claim. The other is a “is” claim.
Now let’s look at the practical real life application of this. When Jesus talks about loving your neighbor as yourself, this is a prescription. It’s a command, direction, instruction, he is telling us to do something as believers. Same goes when Scriptures instructs us not to lie and to live a holy life.
Compare this to the story in Judges, of a man named Jephthah who was on his way home after winning at battle. He promised God that the first thing to come from his house he would sacrifice. When he arrived, his daughter was the first to come forth. Now there are a number of interpretations of what happened next, did he really offer her upon an altar or not? No one knows for sure. However, the point is that this account is descriptive, these actions were never commanded or even encouraged for us to do the same.
Maybe we can learn things from principles and people’s success and mistakes, but the story itself is not direction for us. As we see in 1 Corinthians 10 and Romans 15, these Old Testament accounts are there for our learning.
3) Check the Address before Opening the Mail (check out my past post)
Who was the message written to? This point is similar to the one above. Now, I’m not sure about you, but there are times in the text that it is obvious that a message is being sent to one person or a specific group of people.
Consider the story of Jonah. God told him to preach to Nineveh. However, that command is not necessarily for us, we do not necessarily need to go to Northern Iraq and preach. What about when God told David to fight in some battle? I don’t think that command is for us either.
Yes, we can learn and gain wisdom from the story, but beyond that, the text is not speaking to us as in a command sense. However, I see people take a passage written for another people and for another time and say it necessarily applies to us. However, when we look at the text we see it was written at the Jews at a specific time and place (for example Jeremiah 33:3 and Isaiah 3:16-24).
4) Dictionary Christian, Make Sure Your Definitions Are Correct
What if I say “look at those barbarians”. What comes to your mind? Some sort of drum beating, island dwelling, backward group of people, maybe even cannibals? But is this what the KJV Bible means by the word in the book of Acts? Actually, no. It just means native or indigenous people.
Correct definition of words is very important. This is somewhat connected with correct context. Many times we can find the definition by the context. A dictionary is a great tool as well. However, if we are dealing with words (like the word barbarian) from the 1769 revision of the 1611 KJV and the other older translations, I would advise to stay away from modern dictionaries, they work with modern translations, but for versions that are 400 years old or more, many words have changed meaning. A better way to understand any version is using a lexicon like Strong’s or Thayer’s. This one principle of proper word definition, along with context and prescription vs. description dichotomy, is one of my main tools.
5) Council From Others Translations – Wisdom From The KJV Translators
One great secret of understanding the Bible is to look at different translations. This point goes well with the one above. A diversity of biblical translations is of great value. The KJV translators gave us two principles that I really think we should go back to. They state this in the preface:
Therfore as S. Augustine saith, that varietie of Translations is profitable for the finding out of the sense of the Scriptures: so diversitie of signification and sense in the margine, where the text is not so cleare, must needes doe good, yea is necessary, as we are perswaded. (Old English spelling.)
In other words, they agree with Augustine in that we should use a variety of translations to find the sense of the passage in question. Second, the translators make another very important point, diversities of the senses of some unclear words or phrases should be placed in the margins.In fact, many study Bibles put notes and differences between the ancient manuscripts in the margins too. Along with this, we have many Bible software programs that we can get for our computers and mobile devices. These are of great value and should be utilized to compare translations.
6) Clean the Blackboard! Aim for the Blank Slate Principle
One item that I think we all need more of is to try to go back to the text with a “blank slate”. So many times we read a passage, paragraph, sentence with preconceived ideas and we read those ideas back into the text. We come with assumptions, assumptions that the biblical writers never had. We assume the text is saying something when it is not. That is one of the foundation principles of clear thinking, question your assumptions. So, we should try to separate ourselves from our preconceived thoughts on what that passage is saying.
There has been times that I went to the text to “prove my point”, but once I started to use this tool and some of these other tools, I had to back off of my dogmatism, because the text was not saying what I assumed. In other words, preconceived beliefs are at times a wall for truth seekers. What we believe or want to be true does not change actual truth.
7) No Addition Or Subtraction Please, Take as given
Think like an attorney here, not in a bad way, but in a way how they try to read documents. They try to give the text the natural, literal or most straightforward meaning, this principle is much like the one above. As you read each sentence or paragraph look for its meaning as a whole. Don’t add anything or subtract anything. Don’t read anything into the text, don’t make assumptions. Just read it for what it says.
You know, this is how I want people to understand me. When people go beyond and subtract from what I’m saying, they get into trouble because what they say I’m saying is not what I’m saying many times.
For example, a couple years ago I was in an online theological discussion with someone. I gave some evidence and the other then mischaracterized my thoughts (and I was clear). This happened a number of times and I corrected him. Finally, I pointed out to the other that if he can’t get my statements correct, like assuming things, why should I take his view of the biblical text? Of course he did not like my comment, but it was true, why trust his view of a biblical position if he can’t even get my arguments correct?
8) “The Whole Counsel” On The Subject
Let’s say you want to learn how to cook. Well, you would want to look for some quality sources you could read and listen to that would teach you what you need to know on cooking.
The same goes with when we go to the Bible, to understand a topic, try to look at every place that talks about the subject. If a passage or paragraph applies to the topic or even could apply, check it out and try to understand what the Bible teaches on the subject. The Bible is its best commentary. Many times one unclear passage can be cleared up by another.
9) Reword For Simplicity
You are at a fast food restaurant drive through. You order your food. Before you move forward, the order taker repeats your order and asks you if you would like anything else. What is going on here is he or she is making sure that the order is correct by repeating it, sometimes simplifying it or using synonymous to make sure the order is correct.
The same applies to the Bible, sometimes when I come to a text that does not quite make sense or it does not seem to register well in my mind, I start rewording the words of the text with synonyms. I reword it, I simplify the concepts. Then the ideas begun to dawn on me and I start getting an understanding of the text.
10) Don’t Be dogmatic
I know may biblical topics where we not only should be dogmatic on, but we must. However, as I have grown older and have learned more, there are some topics that I have become less stressed about and have become less dogmatic (there are others I have become more dogmatic on too!). It’s not because the topics don’t interest me, but rather because I’m less confident that my position is correct.
No, I’m not being wishy-washy or changing with the “winds of doctrine” (many people use this phrase out of context too!), rather I have gained more wisdom and have learned more. Things that I once saw as absolute in a specific biblical interpretations, I now am a little more skeptical. Some things that I was unsure about biblically, I’ve become really sure about. One thing I’m sure about is we need to take the Word of God seriously and interpret it correctly!
I have a passion to have answers for Christianity as Peter taught us to do. I would love for you to come along with me and not miss a post! In the future, I plan on giving more resources and answers you can share with both believers and unbelievers. Plus, I want to send you a Free Quick Guide why I think science points to God. I would love for you to have this Free Quick Guide and the latest posts straight to your inbox.
What other principles do you have for reading the Bible?