Hijacked: Getting God’s word straight
There’s no denying that we each come to the Bible with our own presuppositions, biases and assumptions, and there are a slew of contributing factors. So when you come to God’s word, your commitment must be to let the Bible say what it says and mean what it means even if it changes the way you’ve always thought about it. And when you and the Bible see things differently, you must change, not the Bible. But how do you know for sure what the Bible is actually saying? It takes hard work and careful observation. 2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” In other words, give your maximum effort to seeking to cut the word straight and understand it accurately. So what kind of tools would I need to cut it straight? Here are 5 principles of Bible interpretation:
1. The perspicuity of Scripture- This principle of interpretation reminds that God’s word will take on the elements of God’s character. In this case, you can expect that the Scriptures can be known and understood because God is clear and seeks to be known through His word. This doesn’t mean everything will click all at once. This doesn’t mean it won’t require effort. It also doesn’t mean you can do it perfectly and completely. What this is saying is that God has spoken to us in words that we can understand. God’s not trying to conceal a message behind the message. The Bible is his message, and God writes it in human language so we might know what he wants us to live and believe. So when you approach Scripture, approach it with this confidence: that whatever you’re studying, though potentially confusing, can be known and understood clearly.
2. Interpret Scripture by Scripture- When you come to any passage in the word of God that you find unclear or confusing, always seek to understand that passage in light of other clearer passages. The Bible is its own interpreter. In order to get the full sense and significance out of a particular passage, it must be understood in light of the other related passages in Scripture. The implications here then are that cross-references are essential in our study of God’s word. Furthermore, much of God’s word is written in such a way that we would be able to apply this principle, whether it be the overlap of the Kings and Chronicles, the 4 Gospel accounts, or the various letters to the churches in the New Testament.
3. Accommodation of Revelation- This means that God speaks to us in a way that we can understand and with concepts that we can understand. God has chosen to reveal himself in terms and images that we naturally grasp. It’s His way of accommodating us by taking his infinite nature and helping us finite beings understand Him. For example, God describes himself using human traits such as having arms that reach out or eyes that see or ears that hear. God also uses pictures to interact with his people in an understandable way such as the image of a sheep and a shepherd, king and servants, and a Father and sons. In this accommodation, we must be careful not to make more of the Biblical picture than it warrants us to make, otherwise you may compromise the Lord through the picture He’s using to reveal Himself.
4. Analogy of the Faith- This principle speaks to the reality that there is one, unified, harmonious system of faith in the Bible. In other words, no point when correctly understood will contradict another. So when you come to a perceived contradiction such as faith without works in Romans and faith without works is dead in James, you can be confident that God won’t contradict himself. As you look closer, you find that the passages such as these can be understood quite easily if you take the time to study. What you begin to realize about this particular perceived contradiction is that Romans is talking about the root of your salvation (faith without works) and James is talking about the fruit of your salvation (faith expressing itself in works).
5. Progressive Revelation- This is the concept that from Genesis to Revelation, God has designed the authors of Scripture to write things in a progressive order, step by step. This allows for some advanced aspects of revelation early on but in such a way that they leave to be desired a fuller picture as God’s plan of redemptive history unfolds. Obviously, not everything God wanted to reveal to man was given all at once. Also, this doesn’t mean that earlier revelation is in any way less true than that which is revealed in the New Testament. It simply means we must recognize that His word unfolds over a period of thousands of years and each portion builds upon what was previously revealed. It’s the “revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen” (Rom 16:24-25).