INTO THE LIGHT OF GOD’S WORD

A Testimony of God’s Grace

 

By

Gary Ray Branscome

 

We have not written anything to you, other than what you read

(2 Corinthians 1:13).

 

During my teen years I went through a number of struggles, one being my struggle to understand God’s Word and find the full assurance of faith that comes with that understanding (Colossians 2:2).

Although I had grown up in a Bible believing church, and had often been told that we are saved by grace through faith, I had never really understood the salvation message. As a result, when I reached my teen years I lost interest in church attendance. I could not have explained why at the time, for I actually became more interested in religion not less. However, deep down I felt a spiritual emptiness, and since the church I grew up in had not filled that emptiness I felt the answer must lie elsewhere.

However, once when I made a certain statement about religion that I thought everyone would agree with my family jumped all over me, insisting that salvation was by grace alone. As I withdrew from that conversation I was totally baffled. What, I wondered, was “grace”, and how could it save anyone. Fortunately, I took that question to God in prayer, expressed my confusion, and asked Him to show me from His Word if salvation was really by “grace”.

During that time in my life, whenever I would read the Bible my imagination would run wild. Every verse would fill my mind with questions, and I would imagine many different ways of interpreting the words. However, A few months after I prayed that prayer I picked up my Bible, turned to the Book of Romans, and decided to try to determine what the words themselves were saying instead of trying to come up with an interpretation. As a result, when I reached chapter three the words began to jump out at me. Then, as I understood what the words were saying my heart was filled with an overwhelming joy as God convinced me that salvation was by grace alone.

Now, I wish to emphasize the fact that in bringing me to faith the Holy Spirit did not give me an explanation or interpretation of the words. On the contrary, He simply caused me to believe what those words actually said.

After that experience I never doubted the fact that we are saved by grace. However, there was much that I did not understand. To an extent I was also double-minded, because even though I believed that salvation was by grace I was still trusting in works to make me “righteous” and “obedient”.  As a result, my thinking remained carnal, and I continued to try to interpret the words of Scripture instead of looking at what the words themselves said [i.e. the explicit meaning of the words].

At that period in my life, because I had lost confidence in my church, I spent a lot of time listening to radio preachers, and they generally made the situation worse. Many of them spoke on Bible prophecy, and I just loved it. Bible prophecy fascinated me, because as I read those prophecies my imagination would run wild. This was during the cold-war, and these preachers would find verses that they could interpret to fit almost anything in the news concerning Russia or the Middle East. Yet, all of that excitement never brought me satisfaction because the interpretations were continually changing, and ideas that were viewed as sure and certain one month were replaced and forgotten a few months later. As a result, the time came when I pleaded with God to help me know for certain what the Bible said.

 

Then, one day, as I was reading the book of John, God answered my prayers. As I read the words, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth,” those words jumped out at me (John 8:31-32). I could see right away that if I wanted the truth I needed to stop going outside of the Bible for ideas and stop interpreting the words of Scripture in the light of those ideas. Prior to that time I did not realize that my interpretations were an addition to God’s Word. However, as I read John 8:31-32 my eyes were opened to see that as long as I interpreted Scripture in the light of popular ideas and current events I was not continuing in it. In short, the Holy Spirit convinced me that John 8:31 was a warning not to add my own ideas or interpretations to what the Bible said or to explain away anything it said.

Here again, the Holy Spirit did not give me an explanation of the verse. He simply caused me to see that this verse is saying that same thing as other verses in which God warns us not to add to or take from His Word (Proverbs 30:6, Revelation 22:18-19), and that reading my own ideas into the text was just as much addition to His Word as writing false scriptures. The words, “no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation,” make it clear that the Holy Spirit will never give us our own private explanation of any verse (2Peter 1:20). On the contrary, the meaning that He wants us to get out of His words is not private, but is plainly stated for all to see. For, He has told us that the meaning He wants us to get out of His words is nothing “other than what you read” (2Corinthians 1:13).

 

 In giving me this understanding, the Holy Spirit impressed me with the importance of: 1- eliminating all man-made explanations of Scripture from my mind, and concentrating on those truths stated so plainly and clearly in Scripture that they need no explanation; and 2- being my own worst critic, eliminating all unbiblical ideas from my thinking (Romans 12:2, 1Corinthians 11:31, 2Corinthians 10:5).

Before I received this understanding I loved Bible prophecy and passages which others thought hard to understand, because those passages were the easiest for me to read my own ideas into. However, after the Holy Spirit opened my eyes this all changed. I could see that the only way we can have the truth is to eliminate the human element. Because all error and all false doctrine comes from reading man’s ideas into the text, the only way we can have the truth is by eliminating those ideas, and letting our doctrine consist only of those truths so clearly and explicitly stated in Scripture that they need no interpretation. In doing this we need to concentrate on the plain meaning of the words, without adding to or taking from what is said (John 8:31-32).

 

Before the Holy Spirit opened my eyes, I thought nothing of explaining away any statements of Scripture that contradicted my own interpretations. However, now I can see that that is rebellion, and is totally carnal! Every false prophet, every cult, and every false religion tries to interpret Scripture to support their own ideas while explaining away any passages that contradict those ideas. In doing so, they read unscriptural meanings into the text while rejecting what the Bible plainly says. However, when the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to see the importance of looking at what the words actually say, he also caused the words of Isaiah 8:20, “To the law and to the testimony: if they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” to jump out at me. Suddenly I could see that if God wants us to look at what the words of Scripture actually say, and to not place any meaning on those words other than what we read, then any interpretation that contradicts what the Bible explicitly says must be rejected as false (Isaiah 8:20). In short, if we are to bring our thinking into agreement with God’s Word, then man’s word must yield to God’s Word, and any opinion that contradicts the plain words of Scripture must be rejected as wrong (Romans 3:4).

 

The Literal Meaning of God’s Words

 

          Historically the plain grammatical meaning of the words, the same meaning that those words would have in everyday conversation, has been called the “literal” meaning of the words. However, the meaning of the word “literal” has changed. Today people confuse the literal meaning with the surface meaning, a meaning that excludes any figure of speech. Therefore, in order to eliminate confusion Dr. Robert Preus has said:

 

“The literal sense of Scripture is the meaning, or tenor, that the words directly and obviously convey. For instance, in John 3:16 the literal sense is immediately clear. But there is also a literal sense to those passages that are tropical and figurative. Such passages we do not read superficially according to the surface tenor of the words, as when Herod is called a fox or when we are to cut off a hand that offends us — such an interpretation would be absurd. In figurative statements of this kind, not only the words according to their native sense but also the thing or point (res) that the words express according to their quondam imagery must be considered. The literal sense, then, is the sense intended by the writer, whatever trope or genre is used. Figures of speech, words, and even ideas all have their literal sense. And the literal sense (meaning, intention) of a pericope is drawn from all these ingredients. Glassius makes it quite clear that the literal sense of a Scripture passage or pericope is not necessarily identical with the surface meaning of the words, but the genre of the text or the tropes therein must also be ascertained, when necessary, to determine the literal sense of a text.” [TTOPRL, pages 321-322.]

 

In short, the intended meaning of the words of Scripture is the literal meaning, and the literal meaning is the natural grammatical meaning of the words, not some artificial meaning that excludes any figure of speech. Or, as the Apostle Paul put it, the intended meaning is nothing “other than what you read” (2Corinthians 1:13).

Having said this, there are always some argumentative types who bring up Bible prophecy. Then, speaking as if they are so much wiser than those who take the Bible literally, they usually say something like this: “Surely you don’t believe that we should take everything written in the Book of Revelation literally? Do you?” In asking that question, they assume that only an ignorant person would answer “Yes”. However, they are the ones who are confused, not those who take God’s Word literally, and I will explain why.

In Genesis 41:1-7 the Bible describes a dream which Pharaoh had. And, in doing so it gives us a plain literal description of what he saw. However, that does not mean that the dream itself is to be taken literally! On the contrary, just because the Bible tells us that Pharaoh saw seven thin cows eat seven fat cows, does not mean that seven thin cows actually ate seven fat cows. In reading passages like this we need to distinguish between the dream (which was figurative) and the words used to give us a literal description of that dream. That also holds true for the Book of Revelation, in which we are given a literal description of a dream or vision seen by John (Revelation 1:9-10). In other words, the Book of Revelation is describing a dream or vision, not earthly events. And, it is the dream that is figurative, not the words of Scripture! Until we understand that fact we will never be able to grasp what is being said.

Let me just give one example. In chapter twelve John saw a woman, clothed in the sun, giving birth to Christ (verses 1-5). Now, it should be obvious that even though those verses are describing Christ’s birth, they are not describing the earthy events that actually took place in Bethlehem. Those verses also tell us of a great red dragon who tries to kill Christ as soon as he is born. And again it should be obvious that even though the words of the text give us a literal description of what John saw, they are not giving us a literal description of earthly events near the time of Christ’s birth. On the contrary, the people actually living in Bethlehem at that time saw Herod’s soldiers, not a red dragon. This should be a clue as to how the Book of Revelation is to be understood. Although John’s vision corresponds to past and future events, we should never assume that it is an actual description of those events. Nor should John’s vision ever be interpreted to contradict what the Bible clearly and explicitly says!

 

Now I mentioned earlier that at the time in my life when I was in darkness I loved Bible prophecy. At that time I felt no guilt over explaining away any statements of Scripture that contradicted my own ideas. And, I even thought of myself as spiritual, although explaining away the words of Scripture is just as much rebellion against God as breaking any one of the commandments (Psalm 107:11, 1Samuel 15:23). The sad thing is that I see that sort of rebellion all around me. I see those who dwell on Bible prophecy explain away the words of Scripture again and again. And, when I try to explain why that is wrong they just brush off what I say.

Let me give some examples. The second chapter of Daniel gives us a literal description of a dream that king Nebuchadnezzar had. Again, I emphasize the fact that just because the Bible gives us a literal description of the dream does not mean that the dream is a literal description of earthly events. On the contrary, the Bible plainly tells us that what Nebuchadnezzar saw represented a succession of four kingdoms (verses 31-44). I do not know of anyone who disputes that. However, there are many who ignore the words, “At the time of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom, that will never be destroyed (verse 44).” Oh, to be sure, they believe that God will set up a kingdom. But, they refuse to believe that it happened “at the time of those kings”. They refuse to believe it because they are looking for an earthly kingdom. And, because they explain that passage away they wind up explaining away everything that Jesus said about “the kingdom of God” being established at that time (Matthew 4:17, 23, 10:7, 11:12, 21:31, 24:14, Luke 8:1, 17:21, etc.).

Consider also the fourth chapter of Malachi where we read, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD”. There are some who spend a great deal of time trying to determine when that will be. Yet they refuse to believe that this prophecy was fulfilled in John the Baptist, as the words, “All the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah, who was to come” tell us (Matthew 11:13-14).

Consider also the description of the heavenly Jerusalem given to us in the Twenty first chapter of revelation. There are some who insist that this is a description of an actual city floating around in space. Yet, they ignore the fact that verse two describes this city as, “a bride adorned for her husband” and that the Bible identifies the “church” as the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:23-32, 2Corinthians 11:2, Revelation 19:7-8).

In the twentieth chapter of Revelation, John saw Christ reigning with His saints for a thousand years. And, those who are looking for an earthly kingdom immediately assume that He will be reigning on this earth. However, not only does that passage say nothing about Him reigning on this earth, He specifically said that His kingdom was, “not of this world” (John 18:36). They just ignore that fact.

In the light of these, and many other examples, it seems obvious that those who interpret the Bible that way care more about their own opinions than what God says, and palming off our own word as the Word of God is a form of self deification. To me, that is clear evidence that that approach to Bible interpretation as carnal. And, the Bible warns us that those who are not speaking in accord with what it says have “no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20).

 

How Satan Tries to Confuse the Issue

 

Although the truth that God wants you to get from His Word is nothing “other than what you read” (2 Corinthians 1:13). Because those who are in darkness have been blinded by Satan, they assume that the Bible is a book of dark sayings (2Corinthians 4:4). And, if they are teachers they assume that it is up to them to cast light on those sayings. At the same time, those who do this often claim that their own ideas are nothing other than what the Bible says.

For example: A man once asked me to read the words of Acts 2:38, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins”. After I read those words, he said, “See, those words tell us that baptism is a requirement for receiving forgiveness”. When I pointed out that the passage said nothing about baptism being a requirement, he said, “What else could it mean?” as if no other meaning was possible. Now, the point I want to make is that even though he claimed to be teaching what the Bible said, he was actually reading his own ideas into the text. He assumed that the words of Peter were a commandment even though the answer to a question is never imperative. At the same time, he failed to understand that to be baptized, “In the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins,” is to be baptized believing that there is forgiveness in Christ. In short, his interpretation did not consist of what the Bible said, but of a conclusion based on his assumption. Therefore, even though many claim to be going by Scripture, you need to be wary of anyone who claims that a passage is saying something “other than what you read” (2 Corinthians 1:13).

That being said, I need to point out that there are some who use the claim that they accept only what the Bible explicitly says as an excuse to reject what the Bible actually does say. For example: there are some who claim that they reject the doctrine of the trinity because the word “trinity” is not found in Scripture. However, in reality they reject and explain away all of the passages that teach the doctrine of the trinity. For, contrary to what they claim, the doctrine of the trinity is one of the best established doctrines of Scripture. And, it does not consist of interpretations but of what the Bible explicitly says, “line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little,” (Isaiah 28:10).

For example: The Bible explicitly tells us that there is “one God” (Mark 12:32). It also tells us that the Father is God (Ephesians 4:6), that Jesus is God (1John 5:20), and that the Holy Ghost is God (Acts 5:3-4). At the same time, there are other passages which tell us that the Father is not the Son (John 14:16), or the Holy Ghost (John 14:16), and that the Holy Ghost is not the Father or the Son (Matthew 3:16-17). The doctrine of the trinity accepts all that these passages and others explicitly say, “line upon line,” without trying to make up explanations and interpretations aimed at harmonizing those passages with man’s finite, sin-corrupted way of thinking. In contrast, all heresies regarding the doctrine of God consist of attempts to either get around what those passages say, or make up explanations aimed at reinterpreting Scripture in order to make it more palatable to man’s finite way of thinking. 

 

The Clarity of Scripture

 

Because those who are in darkness assume that the Bible is a book of dark sayings we need to constantly emphasize the clarity of Scripture. By clarity I mean not only that the words mean just what they say, but also that we can take what they say at face value and have confidence that the Bible will not mislead us. In saying this I do not deny that some passages are hard to understand. However, in the words of Dr. Francis Pieper, “these obscure passages either do not pertain directly to the Christian doctrine,… or, if they do pertain to doctrine, the same matter is elsewhere in Scripture set forth clearly and explicitly.” [“Christian Dogmatics”, Volume one, page 324.]

Furthermore, when we say that Scripture interprets itself, we mean that the clear passages explain the obscure. Nevertheless, I often encounter those who claim to be letting Scripture interpret itself when, in truth, they are attempting to reinterpret the clear passages in the light of their own contrived explanations of obscure passages. Sometimes they claim that their interpretation contradicts a clear passage, and use that claim as an excuse to reinterpret the clear passage. However, such people are not submitting to God, but are instead trying to bring the Bible into agreement with their own ideas (Romans 12:2).

When it comes to contradictions: Although two statements that actually do contradict each other cannot both be true, the claim that every contradiction one sees is proof of error is a myth. It is a myth, because many things that seem contradictory to our puny finite minds are not contradictory at all.  For example: If I said, “The Mississippi river flows south to the sea,” and later said, “I stood on the banks of the Mississippi river and watched it flowing north on its way to the sea,” someone would claim that I contradicted myself and that both of my statements could not be true. However, that claim would be rooted in their ignorance, not in fact. It is possible for both of those statements to be true because the Mississippi river does flow north in some places, one of them being in the Northwest corner of Tennessee.

Doesn’t the fact that an eagle can seemingly float on the air without flapping its wings seem to contradict the law of gravity? Doesn’t the fact that the coldest water sinks to the bottom of a pond seem to contradict the fact that ice forms on the top? Doesn’t the fact that like charges repel seem to contradict the fact that positively charged particles bind together in the nucleus of an atom? Doesn’t the fact that we need iodine in our diet seem to contradict the fact that it is a poison? If these facts seem to contradict each other that does not mean that some of them are wrong. At most, it proves only that we are ignorant of how all the facts fit together. And, for the same reason, if people see contradictions in Scripture that does not prove that the Bible has erred, it proves only that they are ignorant of how all of its statements fit together.

Not only can we have perfect confidence in what the Bible says, it sets forth truths that were far ahead of their time. For example: When the Bible speaks of man being clay it is using a metaphor. However, whenever it addresses that topic without using a figure of speech it describes man as “dust”. Now, this word “dust,” in the Hebrew language, refers to the smoke-like wisps stirred up by the feet as one walks – individual particles of which are often invisible to the naked eye. For that reason, if we were to translate the word, “molecules” into ancient Hebrew we would translate it as “dust”. And, Genesis 2:7 could be translated, “God formed man from the molecules of the earth”.

 

As I searched the Bible seeking to learn those truths that are explicitly stated in the text, I came to see that Bible history is central to all that the Bible teaches, and that all of the explicitly stated doctrinal truths relate directly or indirectly to seven key historical events. Namely, Creation, the fall, Christ’s virgin birth, His death on the cross, His resurrection, His ascension into heaven, and His future return to judge both the living and the dead. To date, the set of lessons which I subsequently wrote regarding those events has been translated into both Spanish and Hindi.

 

Conclusion

 

Once, when I told a cult member that the true doctrine of Scripture is that doctrine so clearly stated in the words of the text that it needs no explanation, he responded by saying. “If that were true we would not need to go to church, we could just stay home and read our Bible”. However, because we have a sinful nature the very opposite is true. If we all stayed home and read the Bible, most of us would read our own ideas into the text instead of correcting our thinking to make it agree with what the Bible says. That is why Dr. Francis Pieper said: “The first and foremost duty of the exegete consists in holding the flighty spirit of man to the simple word of Scripture and, where he has departed from it, to lead him back to the simple word of Scripture.” [“Christian Dogmatics”, Volume one, page 360]

In short, the truths that God wants us to believe and teach are the truths explicitly stated in His Word, not the interpretations and explanations dreamed up by men. And, the doctrinal freedom that we have in Christ is the freedom to read the Bible for ourselves, believe its words, and tell others what it says – not the freedom to palm our own opinions off on the unsuspecting public as the Word of God.