As we start out the New Year, I find it particularly important to consider how exactly we interpret God’s Word. The Bible remains the most timeless book of all time. Written over the course of 1,500 years, penned by more than 40 different authors, and yet keeping a consistent message and theme throughout, the Word of God is truly timeless. In view of our ever-changing culture, it’s refreshing to know that the God’s Word will never change. As we begin 2011, I would suggest that you do your own personal study and come to a conclusion as to how you personally, your church, home groups, or chrisitian organization actually interprets the Word of God.
Have you ever heard someone say,“The Bible can be interpreted in lots of different ways. There are many valid opinions as to what it actually means.”
I believe that the most honest, intellectually sound approach to interpreting the Word of God is to see it as being literal, historical, grammatical, natural and cultural.
All of us have certain held presuppositions. A Biblical presupposition is something that is assumed to be true based on Scripture.
For example, if I assume that there is an All-Powerful Personal God and another person assumes there is no such God, then we will come to different conclusions about the universe, Creation, the Bible, and other related subjects.
One major dimension of Dale Ebel Ministries is teaching and explaining the Word of God. Understanding a person’s hermenutic (or how they interpret Scripture) is essential as it explains how they arrive at various biblical conclusions. This article will be a bit lengthier as I belive it’s vitally important for those following this ministry to understand where I’m coming from.
Increasingly, Christian instutions including the “Institutional Church” at large are moving away from a literal intrepration of Scripture. Today a reinterpretation of foundational Christian doctines is sadly on the rise. Clear biblical truths regarding the Trinity, Creation, Prophecy, Homsexuality, Abortion, Euthensia, Economics, Socialism, Social Justice, and Ecology have all been called into question.
Linda and I interpret the Scriptures literally, historically, grammatically naturally and culturally.
Let me break this down a bit…
To take something literally means it actually is something that has happened or is happening in space and time. For example, we believe that when the Bible says that Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden they not only were real people but they actually lived in a geographical location on earth called “Eden”.
Another example: The account of the flood in Genesis.
“They (the waters) rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than twenty feet.” Genesis 7:19,20
This is a literal account and is to be literally understood. The waters covered the entire land and rose above the highest mountains to over twenty feet. It’s fairly straght forward right! There is no biblical reason we would read these words and interpret them as allegory, a metaphor, or some myth meant to illustrate a particular point. (Some liberal scholars would say that there is a kernel or kerugma of truth, but nothing more).
When a person consistently interprets Scripture literally – whether that be the six days of Creation, the prophecies about the nation of Israel, the historical accounts of the Exodus, the virgin birth, the Resurrection, or the description of the new heavens and the new earth – each of these truths give us rich insight and a strong foundation upon which to base our faith.
The Bible is primarily a history book describing the works of Yahweh (self-existent) God dealing with His Covenant people (Israel and the Church).
The historicity of the Bible is profoundly documented from the discovery of thousands of manuscripts and archological finds, authenticating the accuracy of the Bible as recording actual historical events. Examples are extensive but lets look at just a few:
We have historical records of the children of Israel wandering in the desert, of the life of Abraham and his ancestors, the record of the kings, and prophets, and the accounts of Jesus Christ and his disciples.
The Apostle Paul consulted with eyewitnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (See 1 Corinthians 15:6) Many of these eyewittnesses were still living at the time Paul wrote his letter to the Church at Corinth.
Again, the manuscript and archeological evidence to the historicity and historical accuracy of the Bible is overwhelmeing, but for sake of space, lets move on to another key aspect of how I interpret the Bible.
The word “natural” means taking the common sense understanding of the text. We don’t have to force the text but simply look at it to see if it is parable, historical narrative, poetry, prose, a prophetic speech, a song, funeral dirge or story of love. When correctly understood, the richness and variety of the text adds to the color and clarity of the Scriptures.
For example, Hebrews 12:29 says: “God is a comsuming fire.” When looking at the previous verses, we see that the writer of Hebrews is describing the discipline and the judgment of God against sin. The writer is not saying God is a literal fire, but rather that our worship of God ought to be motivated by grace and carried out with reverence and fear (v.28). This can be said because we know the LORD will judge and destroy all idolatary as fire consumes whatever it burns. By taking a natural approach to interpreting the Bible, you will save yourself from many silly and outlandish interpretations.
The Old Testament was primarily written in Hebrew, and the New Testament in Koine Greek, the common language of the day. Classical Greek was used in a more formal way, similar to the language lawyer’s use when constructing legal documents today. Each language has grammatical nuances like sentence structure, syntax, and verb tenses.
It is helpful but not necessary for the average person to be skilled with the grammar of each language in order to better understand its primary meaning. For example, the Bible says, “No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.” (1 John 3:6 NASV) At first glance, this feels pretty defeating. It helps, however, to understand the Greek tenses. In this context when John writes, “no one who abides in Him sins;” he is using a present tense verb implying continious action. In other words, “No one who abides in Him sins (that is…constantly, or as a habitual practice)…” Clearly understanding the tense makes all the difference.
Every people group develops a culture (i.e. the attitudes, behaviors, customs, arts and social values that make a people who they are.) Whenever possible it is helpful to have the cultural background and context for every passage of Scripture you study. This lends towards a more complete comprehension when studying God’s Word.
For example, in 1 Corinthians 10:23-33 the Apostle Paul addresses the freedoms and limitations that we have in Christ related to less clear issues of religion and morality. In v.25 Paul says, “Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience…” He was referencing the fact that each day meat was offered to the gods in the pagan temples and after it was sacrificed, it was sold in the meat markets. Young Christians that were newly converted felt guilty because they thought it would be worshiping another god if they bought or ate the sacrificed meat. Paul clears this up by saying, ‘everything belongs to the Lord and no piece of meat is intrinically evil because God made it all’.
Understanding the cultural circumstances in this passage, like so many others, provides great insight into proper interpretation.
When the Scriptures are understood in light of this approach, there will always be one interpretation but many applications.