A BIBLICAL STANDARD FOR

UNDERSTANDING GOD'S WORD

By
Gary Ray Branscome


 
    To help us be certain of what His Word teaches, God included in that Word specific guidelines for understanding what it says. When those guidelines are followed, we can confidently carry out the work that God intended for us to do, however, without them any confidence we think we have is an illusion.
 

THE SOURCE OF DOCTRINE

 
    The first of those guidelines has to do with the source of doctrine. Since the Bible's content was determined solely by the will of God, even though He sometimes moved His penmen to record the words of men, everything that was recorded was recorded by the will of God (2Peter 1:21). As a result, all that the Bible says agrees together to provide us with a unified, internally coherent, body of God-given knowledge (Proverbs 4:2).

    Since the truths explicitly stated in Scripture have been inspired by God, the Bible calls them “good doctrine” (Proverbs 4:2), “sound doctrine” (Titus 1:9), and “His doctrine” (1Timothy 6:1).  Furthermore, because the meaning that God intends for us to get out of His Word is nothing other than “what you read” (2Corinthians 1:13), the Bible tells us that we can  “learn” that “doctrine” (Isaiah 29:24, 1Timothy 4:6), “consent” to that doctrine (1Timothy 6:3), “abide” in that “doctrine” (2 John 9), and “teach no other doctrine” (1Timothy 1:3).

[The following passages relate to the two preceding paragraphs. John 7:16,17, Galatians 1:11,12, Psalm 19:7, Titus 2:10, Deuteronomy 6:1, 1Corinthians 14:37, John 7:17, 1Timothy 6:3,4, 2Timothy 4:3, 1Timothy 4:16, Titus 2:7, Timothy 4:13, 1Timothy 5:17, Acts 17:11, John 5:39, 1Corinthians 10:15, Romans 16:17, 2John 10, Galatians 1:8,9, Colossians 1:10, 1Peter 3:15, 2Peter 3:18, 2Peter 1:5,8, Colossians 1:9, Ephesians 1:16-18, Ephesians 3:16-18, Matthew 22:29, 1John 4:1,6, Isaiah 29:24, 2Timothy 3:14, Deuteronomy 31:12-13, John 8:31-32, Colossians 3:16, John 15:7, John 17:8, 1Thessalonians 2:13, Proverbs 2:1, Proverbs 10:8, Proverbs 4:10, Proverbs 8:10, Proverbs 19:20, Ezekiel 3:10, Zephaniah 3:7, Acts 2:41, Acts 8:14, Acts 11:1, 1Thessalonians 1:6, Colossians 2:6, Jude 3, Proverbs 22:20,21, 1Peter 3:15, Titus 3:10.]

FALSE SOURCES


    Since the only doctrine that God wants us to teach are the truths that He has plainly stated in Scripture, we should eliminate all unscriptural ideas from our theology. To that end, we should be careful not to read our own ideas into the Word of God, or confuse our own interpretations, explanations, and conclusions with what the Bible says (Proverbs 30:6, 2Peter 1:20).

    In other words, because Christ wants us to “continue in” His Word (John 8:31), we are not to “add” to, or turn “aside from,” what it says (Deuteronomy 18:20 and 28:14). Nor are we to read the philosophies and false science of this world into its text (Colossians 2:8, 1Timothy 6:20). Instead, we are to speak “according to” it (Isaiah 8:20), while “faithfully” presenting the doctrine God has given us (Jeremiah 23:28).

[The following passages relate to the two preceding paragraphs. Deuteronomy 4:2, Deuteronomy 12:32, Rev. 22:18, Deuteronomy 5:32, Deuteronomy 17:11,20, Colossians 2:8, Proverbs 3:5, Proverbs 23:4, Matthew 15:9, Mark 7:7, Jeremiah 23:16,26, 1Timothy 1:3, Galatians 1:8, 2Peter 1:20, Proverbs 3:5, Proverbs 23:4, 2Peter 3:16, 1Timothy 1:6,7, 2Corinthians 2:17, Psalm 56:5, Deuteronomy 18:20, John 7:18.]

THE INTENDED MEANING


    Since it would be dishonest for us to quote someone, while reading into their words a meaning other than that supported by the grammar and context of those words, the only authoritative meaning for the words of Scripture, is the natural grammatical meaning of the words (2Corinthians 1:13 and 4:2). The same meaning those words would have in ordinary conversation or usage.

    In other words, because the Bible uses plain language (2Corinthians 3:12), the words of Scripture are saying nothing other than what we “read” (2Corinthians 1:13). Therefore, if the meaning seems dark to us that is because our “heart” is dark (Jeremiah 17:9), not because the words are not “plain” (Proverbs 8:8-9), or because the truth is hidden (2Corinthians 4:3).
 
[The following passages relate to the two preceding paragraphs. Proverbs 22:20,21, Deuteronomy 18:20, 2Peter 1:20, 1John 5:13, 2Corinthians 1:12, Psalm 50:23, 1Corinthians 14:33.]

THE DIVINE DOCTRINE


    Since the truth that God wants us to get from His Word is nothing other than what we read, the true doctrine consists of what the Bible plainly says. Therefore, what we should be teaching, is the words and sentences that God inspired, not subjective abstractions or explanations of what is said (Isaiah 28:9-10, 2Peter 1:20, 2Corinthians 1:13).

    In other words, because the true doctrine is clearly stated in Scripture “here a little, and there a little” (Isaiah 28:9), that “doctrine” is “inspired of God” (2Timothy 3:16) and is “plain” to those who “understand” (Proverbs 8:8-9). For that reason, we can be certain of what it says (Proverbs 22:20-21), we can “continue in” it (John 8:31), and we can speak “according to” it (Isaiah 8:20).

[The following passages relate to the two preceding paragraphs. 1Timothy 1:3, Matthew 7:28,29, Mark 4:2, Mark 7:7, Matthew 15:9, 2Corinthians 3:12, 2Timothy 3:16, Proverbs 30:6, 1Timothy 5:17, Deuteronomy 18:20, Revelation 22:18, Proverbs 30:6.]

ITS AUTHORITY


    Since the true doctrine consists of what God has plainly said in His Word, every idea that contradicts that doctrine must be rejected (Romans 3:4). Man’s word must yield to God’s Word, and interpretations that contradict what the Bible explicitly says, must be discarded (1Thessalonians 2:13, 1Timothy 6:3-4).

    Moreover, because the true doctrine has the authority of God behind it (John 17:17), we can “receive” it with confidence (2 Thessalonians 2:13), knowing that it is “true” (Psalm 119:160), and that any contrary ideas we might have are false (Romans 3:4).

[The following passages relate to the two preceding paragraphs. John 16:25, John 16:29, 2Corinthians 1:13, 2Corinthians 3:12, Proverbs 8:8,9, Colossians 3:16, Proverbs 4:10, Daniel 10:21, 2Peter 1:19, Proverbs 8:8-9, John 10:34-35, Galatians 3:16, Proverbs 3:5, Proverbs 23:4, 1Corinthians 8:2, 1Corinthians 4:4, 1Corinthians 3:18,19, 2Timothy 3:16, 2Peter 1:20,21.]

HOW IT IS TO BE FOUND


    Since the truth that God wants you to get from His Word is nothing other than “what you read,” in order to know what the Bible teaches on any given topic we must first find out if there are any passages that explicitly address that topic (2Corinthians 1:13, Isaiah 28:9-10). This requires honesty, for the carnal mind is more interested in finding support for its own ideas than in learning what God wants us to learn (Romans 8:7, Jeremiah 17:9).

    In short, because God has revealed His doctrine “line upon line, line upon line; here a little and there a little” (Isaiah 28:9-10), we need to “search” (Acts 17:11) for what He says in His Word (2Corinthians 3:12), not for passages that we can interpret (2Peter 1:20). We must begin with what we “know” as fact, learn what is sure and certain (Proverbs 22:21), and not go beyond what God has revealed.

[The following passages relate to the two preceding paragraphs. John 7:17, Proverbs 2:5, Jeremiah 23:28, 2Timothy 3:16, 2Corinthians 1:13, John 8:31,32, John 5:39, Luke 24:27.]

HOW IT IS TO BE UNDERSTOOD


    Since the only valid meaning of any passage is the plain grammatical meaning of the words, we must never force a passage to address a topic it was never intended to address (2Peter 1:20, Psalm 56:5).

    Furthermore, because the intended meaning is not hidden (2Corinthians 4:3), if we have a question as to the meaning of a passage we should interpret it to teach the same doctrine that is taught in passages that are so clear that they need no interpretation (1Corinthians 3:12).

[The following passages relate to the two preceding paragraphs. Romans 7:14, John 6:63, Psalm 119:105, Isaiah 28:9,10, Romans 12:6, Romans 3:4, John 17:17.]

THE STANDARD OF FAITH


    Finally, since the Bible was written to testify of Christ and the forgiveness available through His sacrificial death in our stead (John 5:39, John 20:31), each statement of Scripture must be understood in the light of what the Bible says about Christ (2Corinthians 4:4). Furthermore, the good news of forgiveness in Christ must never be compromised to make it agree with the law (Galatians 3: 21-22, 2Timothy 2:15).

    Taken together, those truths explicitly stated in Scripture are the standard to which all teaching must conform, and by which all doctrine is to be judged (Isaiah 8:20, Romans 12:6). All unclear passages of Scripture are to be understood in the light of that standard, and any idea that contradicts it is to be rejected (1Timothy 6:3-4, Isaiah 8:20).

[The following passages relate to the two preceding paragraphs. John 17:17, 2Peter 3:16, John 16:25, Matthew 13:10-11, Psalm 119:105, 1Corinthians 2:13, Romans 7:14, John 6:63, Acts 17:11, Galatians 1:9, Romans 16:17, Titus 3:10, 2Timothy 4:3.]