I believe that a watershed issue facing modern Christendom is How the Bible is Interpreted.
The Literal Interpretation of the Bible means to take the Bible
literally, historically, grammatically, naturally, contextually, culturally, and with commonsense.
“Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing (teaching directly and correctly) the Word of Truth.”
2 Timothy 2:15 KJV
The Bible remains the most timeless book ever written. Its 66 books were written over the course of approximately 1,500 years, penned by about 40 different authors, and yet its message and theme are consistent throughout. In view of our ever-changing culture, it’s refreshing to know that God’s Word has never nor will ever change.
At this point in Christian history, it is vital that we associate with churches and other Christian organizations that not only adhere to the literal interpretation of the Bible but will teach the Bible from this perspective.
In the following article I am addressing a somewhat intellectual subject, that is, how to interpret the Bible. This will take some concentrated effort on your part without a lot of devotional or “heart-felt” content. However, it is imperative that we not only reach peoples hearts, but also their minds. The Bible reminds us to love God with all that we are…and this includes our minds!
“This I recall to my mind; Therefore, I have hope” – Lamentations 3:21 NKJV
“And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This [is] the first commandment”
– Mark 12:30 NKJV
As Charles Milik, said, “The problem is not only to win souls but to save minds. If you win the whole world and lose the mind of the world, you will soon discover that you have not won the world.” Charles Malik, The Two Tasks (Westchester, III.: Cornerstone, 1980), 32.
He also says, ”Responsible Christians face two tasks – that of saving the soul and that of saving the mind.” (p. 34). Charles Habib Malik was a Lebanese academic, diplomat, philosopher, politician, and outspoken Follower of our LORD Jesus Christ. He served as the Lebanese representative to the United Nations, the President of the Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations General Assembly.
I commend you for reading and assimilating this information for you are demonstrating that you are “studying to show yourself approved.”
A religion that ignores the intellectual tasks of explaining the Faith and retreats to the therapeutic realm of personal relationships and feelings will not survive in today’s spiritual battlefield.
Have you ever heard someone say, “The Bible can be interpreted in lots of different ways. After all, there are many opinions as to what it actually says and, therefore, what it means.” The conclusion of many people is that the Bible cannot be trusted and with so many divergent opinions, how can we really know which one is right?
The Importance of Presuppositions
All of us have certain presuppositions about any discipline of life. A biblical presupposition is something that is assumed to be true about the Scripture prior to opening it and discovering its riches.
Those of us who approach the Bible literally believe that all of life is directed by the inerrant (incapable of being wrong) Word of God (the Bible) as recorded in its original writings (autographs).
If we believe that Adam and Eve existed in space and time and that the Bible is giving us an accurate historical account of them, then we will come to different conclusions about that story than if we were to interpret the biblical record as allegory. An allegory is a story, poem, or picture that is not literal in what it says but can be interpreted to reveal hidden meanings, typically moral or political in nature. Allegories are not considered as “historical facts” or “objective evidence” but, in many cases, made-up stories to explain or reveal other meanings.
If we do not believe that the account in Genesis, or the rest of the Bible for that matter, is literal, but rather a made-up story in which we are to gain some kernel of truth, then we will come to vastly different conclusions than if we explained the text literally. For example: Was there a worldwide flood? Did the city of Jericho collapse? Was Jonah swallowed by a great fish? Did Jesus heal the sick? Was His resurrection a verifiable authentic account? Did Jesus talk to the Devil when tempted?
Most recently a young man I am discipling talked to a seasoned pastor who said that the Devil was not real but the story of Christ being tempted was only an allegory. This retired pastor also said that his church hired their first female lesbian as their pastor. Obviously, how one interprets the Bible will lead them to different decisions that have huge consequences.
Many Christian churches and organizations do not believe in the literal approach to Scripture. Sadly, the misinterpretation of foundational Christian doctrines is becoming the norm. Without the clear literal understanding about such topics as the Trinity, the creation account, deviant sexual lifestyles, gender blending, the promises to Israel, abortion, euthanasia, economics, socialism, social justice, or ecology, people will be led to confusion at best and the inability to speak the Truth into our culture at worst.
How we interpret the Scripture is a “watershed” issue facing
the Church of Jesus Christ!
Here is what Henry Morris said in his Introduction to the Henry Morris Study Bible regarding the Literal Interpretation of Scripture:
“It would seem that, if the Bible is really God’s Word, intended as His authoritative revelation to all men, we ought to assume He means exactly what He says. If figures of speech or symbols or metaphors are used, they are for the purpose of helping us understand, not confusing us, so they will be explained in the biblical context itself, not requiring the professional help of specially educated priests or prophets.” (Page V.)
The following are my attempts to explain the words: literally, historically, grammatically, naturally, contextually, culturally, and with common sense.
To take something literally means it is an event that has happened or is happening in space and time. For example, Genesis 5:27 states that “Methuselah lived 969 years, and then he died.” Did he? Yes, as that is what the text says. Is there a plausible explanation, while taking these statements as literal, as to why people and animals lived longer prior to the flood? Yes! A plausible explanation is not necessary because what is written is sufficient, but sometimes providing an explanation gives further insight and provides us additional information for others.
Since none of us were living during the time of Methuselah, below is a plausible explanation based on the literal approach.
6 “And God said, let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. 7 And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which [were] under the firmament from the waters which [were] above the firmament: and it was so” – Genesis 1:6-7 KJV
The waters below the space retained the elemental earth materials which would be utilized on the following day to form the land and its plant cover. The water above the firmament had apparently been transformed into the vapor state to be separated from the heavier materials and elevated above the atmosphere, where it could serve as a thermal blanket for the earth’s future inhabitants.
This is reiterated by Peter in the New Testament:
“They deliberately forget that God made the heavens by the word of his command, and he brought the earth out from the water and surrounded it with water.” – 2 Peter 3:5 NLT
Such a vapor canopy would undoubtedly have provided a highly efficient “greenhouse effect,” assuring a perennial springlike climate for the entire earth. Water vapor both shields the earth against harmful radiations from space and retains and spreads incoming solar heat. A vapor canopy would thus provide an ideal environment for abundant animal and plant life and for longevity and comfort for human life and animal life. Water vapor is invisible, and thus would be translucent, allowing the stars to be seen through it. This protection would also provide a rational for the long length of the age of humans. It is interesting that after the world-wide flood the age of humans and animals begins to drop significantly, demonstrating that the canopy theory is a plausible explanation for the ideal climate throughout the primeval earth that protected and lengthened the lifespan of humans and animals.
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 – 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 peoples, Israel, and the Church.
The historicity of the Bible is profoundly documented from the discovery of thousands of ancient copies of original manuscripts, copied not long after the actual events, as well as from archaeological finds, authenticating the accuracy of the Bible as recording actual historical events. Examples are extensive but let’s look at just a few:
- We have historical and/or archaeological records concerning the Hittites of the Bible, King Solomon’s stables, the city of Jericho with its fallen walls, King Herod’s palaces, the Dead Sea Scrolls which included most of the nearly unchanged Old Testament dated 1,000 years older than our previous ancient copies.
- The Apostle Paul consulted with eyewitnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15:6). Many of these eyewitnesses were still living at the time Paul wrote his letter to the Church at Corinth, so he would have stood corrected if his information was not true.
Again, the manuscript and archeological evidence to the historicity and historical accuracy of the Bible is overwhelming, but for sake of space lets move on to another key aspect of how to interpret the Bible. Look to Evidence that Demands a Verdict, by Josh McDowell for a most thorough treatment.
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 a parable, a historical narrative, poetry, prose, 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 consuming fire.” When looking at the previous verses in Hebrews 11, 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). Anyone who has been disciplined can easily attest that it feels like one is getting burned and it hurts to be corrected or rebuked. We know the LORD will judge and destroy all idolatry 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 lawyers 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 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 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 continuous action. In other words, “No one who abides in Him sins (that is … constantly, or as a habitual practice) …”. Clearly, understanding the tense here makes all the difference.
Every people group develops a culture (i.e., the attitudes, behaviors, customs, arts, and social values that make up their ethnic group as to who they are.) Whenever possible it is helpful to know the cultural background and context for passages 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 issues of religion and morality. In verse 25-26 Paul says, “Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience for, the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” 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 public meat markets. Newly converted believers felt guilty because they thought they would be associated with worshiping another god if they bought or ate the sacrificed meat. Paul puts their minds at rest by clarifying that everything in the earth belongs to the Lord. Therefore, “…whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it for the glory of God” (10:31).
Understanding the cultural circumstances in this passage, like so many others, provides greater insight into the proper interpretation.
When the Scriptures are understood considering this approach, there will always be one original interpretation but many applications.
In Job 38-41 God asks seventy rhetorical questions regarding the physical, and biological world. In Job 40:15 he references the behemoth (in Hebrew it means, a massive land animal) that is vegetarian, has a large tail like a cedar, and legs like logs. Most study Bibles, under secular scientific persuasion, no doubt, define this magnificent dinosaur as a hippo or an elephant. The description is simply a dinosaur much like the Brachiosaurus or an Apatosaurus. Hippos and elephants do not have tails like cedar trees.
The King James Bible was first translated in 1611. Some think because the word “dinosaur” is not found in the Bible that dinosaurs are not found in the Bible. However, the word dinosaur wasn’t coined until 1841, by Sir Richard Owen the famous British anatomist. With a closer look at the description of the “behemoth” mentioned in Job 40:15-24 it clearly is describing a dinosaur not a hippopotamus or an elephant as most study bibles record.
In addition, dragons and dinosaurs are depicted along with men. In fact, every major culture has depictions of dragons and dinosaurs found drawn on cave walls, or on artifacts. Job 40:15 NKJV states that behemoth was created along with men and therefore the notion that Dinosaurs were in existence millions of years before man is simply not true. “Look now at the behemoth, which I made along with you; He eats grass like an ox.” These worldwide drawings would be impossible if the people living did not actually live with these magnificent creatures. It is a staggering reality that these drawings are found all over the world.
In Job 41 a most powerful creature called Leviathan is referenced as a massive sea dragon that breathes fire and smoke. We know that some cattle exhale methane gas that can be ignited when it reaches the atmosphere. Embarrassingly the ESV Study Bible interprets this creature to be mythical and therefore putting an allegorical spin on the text. To give the scholars the benefit of the doubt, in other portions of Scripture the dragon is used metaphorically for Satan (Revelations 12:3-4), but the context here in Job supports a literal reptile much like the Kronosaurus. The scholars in the ESV, come to some outlandish and laughable conclusions. For example, they interpret verses 15-17 as “poetic extravagance”, and 40:17 “tail stiff like a cedar” as a “common euphemism for a phallus.” The context starting in Job 38 is totally contrary because each of the seventy questions that Yahweh God asks Job are about actual physical, geographical, and biological realities. The context demands (Job 38-41) a continuous literal interpretation meaning these powerful creatures were dinosaurs and dragons and they co-existed with men!
It is safe to say that the most commentators have been indoctrinated with evolutionary theories and are not confident enough to take the Bible for what it says.
Sometimes we as Christians are so ethereal, and spiritual that we simply do not take the text in its simplest meaning. One of the reasons we do not treat it from a commonsense perspective is because it goes against the secular indoctrination that we have been immersed in all our lives.
When we read the Bible, it has historical documentation of events in space and time. There is beautiful poetry like the Psalms, and descriptive love songs about the physical intimacy between a husband and a wife in the Song of Solomon. There are accounts of wars, miracles, court appearances, feasts, famines, rapes, judgments, and a myriad of other such topics and experiences. When we look at them with a commonsense approach, they make sense and give us insight into the realities of life and clarity of direction as how we should live.
Assimilating the above information
#1 Please go back over and look up each of the verses I referenced in this teaching and grasp the interpretation based on the literal approach.
#2 If you have children or grandchildren pay particular attention to the passages in Job 40 & 41.
#3 If you are attending church and you do not know how your pastor is interpreting the Bible give him a call and ask him.
#4 Please participate in a Church that interprets the Bible literally and is courageous enough to teach it. Of course, there are other considerations when selecting a church, but this is paramount to growing in your walk with Christ.
Once again, please do not minimize the importance of attending, supporting or participating with churches or organizations that hold to the literal interpretation of Scripture.