A SCRIPTURAL GUIDE TO
UNDERSTANDING GOD'S WORD
As the children of light, we have a responsibility to deal honestly with the Word of God, to refrain from reading our own ideas into the text, and to learn from that Word the meaning that God intended for it to convey. In saying this I realize that the world in general could care less about the intended meaning. Those who want an excuse to ignore Godís Word, rationalize sin, or make the Bible say what they want it to say are quick to claim that "what the Bible says is all a matter of opinion." However, that is not what Christ taught, and a refusal to take His words seriously is not going to advance Godís kingdom, or deliver anyone from darkness. Therefore, we need to look carefully at those passages in which God tells us how we are to interpret His Word.
THE NEED FOR FAITH IN CHRIST
2Corinthians 4:4 The god of this world has blinded the minds of those who do not believe, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.
[Comment: This passage tells us that those who do not trust in Christ have been blinded to the truth of the gospel. Therefore, it should be obvious that faith in Christ is a key factor in understanding God's Word.]
Luke 18:10-14 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank you, that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but beat his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one who exalts himself shall be humbled; and he who humbles himself shall be exalted.
[Comment: This story relates to our interpretation of Scripture, not only because repentance goes hand in hand with faith in Christ, but because the Pharisee interpreted Scripture in a way that excused his own sins and shortcomings, while the publican acknowledged his sin. Applying that example to interpretation, we learn not only the importance of admitting our sin, but the importance of correcting our own opinions in order to bring them into accord with the Word of God (Romans 12:2, 2Corinthians 10:5, Isaiah 8:20).]
James 4:6 God resists the proud, but gives grace unto the humble
Isaiah 66:2 To this man will I look, even to him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at my word.
1Corinthians 11:31 If we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.
Luke 10:21 In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank you, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them to babes:
[Comment: Being wise in his own eyes, the Pharisee was too proud to admit his sin, thus the truth of salvation was hidden from him (Luke 1:51 and 10:21). In contrast, the publican judged himself, trembled at God's Word, and so received grace (Luke 18:17).]
THE CLARITY OF SCRIPTURE
2Corinthians 1:13 We write no other things to you, than what you read or acknowledge; and I trust you shall acknowledge even to the end;
2Corinthians 3:12 Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech:
[Comment: These verses tell us that the meaning God intends for us to get from His Word is not hidden or mysterious. On the contrary, it is exactly what we read, nothing more.]
Psalms 119:105 Your word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
Psalms 19:7 The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
2Timothy 3:15 From a child you have known the holy scriptures, which are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
[Comment: These verses tell us that the Word of God is so clear that it's saving truths can be known by a child and understood by the simple. In fact, it is only because it is clear that it can be a lamp unto our feet or a light unto our path.]
THE PURPOSE OF SCRIPTURE
John 5:39 Search the scriptures; for in them you think you have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.
Luke 24:27 And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.
1John 5:13 I have written these things to you who believe on the name of the Son of God; that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may believe on the name of the Son of God.
John 20:31 But these are written, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you might have life through his name.
[Comment: These verses tell us that the Bible was written to testify of Christ, so that we might believe on Him, and know that in Him we have eternal life. Moreover, because it was written to testify of Christ, its words should be understood in the light of that testimony, and no passage should ever be interpreted to contract what the Bible says about salvation through faith in Him (John 3:16).]
THE SOURCE OF DOCTRINE
John 8:31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed on him, If you continue in my word, then you are my disciples indeed;
Deuteronomy 4:2 You shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall you diminish ought from it
Proverbs 30:6 Do not add to his words, lest he reprove you, and you be found a liar
Mark 7:13 Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition.
Revelation 22:18 For I testify unto every man who hears the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add to these things, God shall add to him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of this book of prophecy, God will take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things that are written in this book.
[Comment: These words tell us that we are not to add to, or take from the words of Scripture. Christ wants us to continue in His Word, and we only do that when we do not go outside of it for doctrine. In other words, the source of our doctrine is to be Scripture alone, to the exclusion of human opinion, tradition, or any other source of revelation. This is important, because God has included in the Bible all that we need to know to be saved, and additions only obscure the truth (John 8:31).]
ďIn whatever matter Holy Scripture has definitely spoken the Christian theologian must suppress his own views, opinions, and speculations and adhere unwaveringly to the divine truths revealed in Holy Scripture. In no case is he permitted to inject into the body of divine truth his own figments and fabrications, and at no time must he allow his reason the prerogative of doubt, criticism, or denial, but every thought must everywhere be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, 2Cor. 10:5. That is the demand which God Himself makes on all who would serve Him as theologians ; in every instance they are to attest and proclaim His Word and not their own.Ē (Christian Dogmatics, by J.T. Mueller, page 39)
THE UNITY OF GODíS WORD
2 Timothy 3:16 All scripture is inspired by God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
2 Peter 1:20-21 No prophecy of scripture is of any private interpretation. Because prophecy did not originate of old by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
[Comment: Because the Bible is the Word of God, not the word of man, it only contains one theology. Therefore, nothing it says is to be interpreted in a way that makes it disagree with what it says elsewhere.]
[Note: The Law should never be interpreted in a way that contradicts the fact that it cannot make anyone righteous (Romans 3:19-20), and that true righteousness comes only through faith in Christ (Galatians 3:6, Romans 3:21-28, Romans 10:4).]
THE AUTHORITY OF GOD'S WORD
Isaiah 8:20 To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.
Romans 3:4 Let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That you might be justified in your sayings, and might overcome when you are judged.
1John 4:6 We are of God: he who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. Hereby we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.
1Corinthians 14:37 If any man thinks himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.
Psalm 107:11 They rebelled against the words of God, and condemned the counsel of the most High:
Romans 12:2 Be not conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is the good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
2 Corinthians 10:5 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;
2 Peter 1:20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.
[Comment: These verses tell us that we are to accept everything that the Bible says, conform our thinking to it, and reject any idea that is not in accord with the truth of Scripture. Any interpretation that contradicts a plainly stated truth of scripture, or is not in accord with all that the Bible says, is to be rejected.]
LETTING SCRIPTURE INTERPRET ITSELF
1Corinthians 2:13 Which things also we speak, not in the words that manís wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Ghost teaches; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
Isaiah 28:9-10 Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? those who are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. for precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:
[Comment: Since both of these passages are telling us the same thing (i.e. how God teaches), they explain each other. Together they tell us that the Holy Spirit reveals His doctrine by comparing one line of Scripture with another, or, in other words, by comparing what the Bible says in one place with what it says somewhere else.]
THE ROLE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
Without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, those who study Godís Word will be blind to the truth of the gospel, and will only twist it to their own damnation (John 16:13, Psalm 56:5, 1John 2:27). However, the Holy Spirit does not enlighten us by giving us private interpretations (2Peter 1:20), but by giving us the faith to believe what His Word plainly says (2Corinthians 1:13). It is only through the work of the Holy Spirit that we are brought to faith in Christ (1Corinthians 12:3). And, the Holy Spirit will never lead anyone to ignore or contradict the truths that have been stated above.
The rules that have just been presented are not hard to follow; however, they allow no room for self-deception. You cannot read your own assumptions into the text, teach man-made explanations as doctrine, or explain away what does not fit, and expect to have the truth. In fact, those who do so are trying to make their own word into the Word of God, and that is a form of idolatry (self-deification). Honesty requires us to admit our errors and correct our own thinking before attempting to teach others, and that means being your own worst critic. We have to be willing to look at our sins and take the criticism of others seriously, while earnestly desiring to find and eliminate every faulty opinion.
Gary Ray Branscome