There are two ways to read the Bible. We can read it as law or as promise. If we read the Bible as law, we will find on every page what God is telling us we should do. Even the promises will be conditioned by law. But if we read the Bible as promise, we will find on every page what God is telling us he will do. Even the law will be conditioned by promise. In Galatians 3 Paul explains which hermeneutic is the correct one. “This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise” (Galatians 3:17-18). So, if we want to know whether we should read the Bible through the lens of law or grace, demand or provision,
Certainty, openness, and theological wisdom
Ray Ortlund: Some Christians seem “all certainty.” Maybe it makes them feel heroic. But they see too few gray areas. Everything is a federal case. They have a fundamentalist mindset. Other Christians seem “all openness.” Maybe it makes them feel humble. But they see too few black-and-white areas. They have a liberal mindset—though they may demonstrate a surprising certainty against certainty. The Bible is our authority as we sort out what deserves certainty and what deserves openness. For example, 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 defines the gospel of Christ crucified for our sins, Christ buried and Christ risen again on the third day, according to the Scriptures, as “of first importance.” Here is the center of our certainty. From that “of first importance” theological address, we move out toward the whole range of theological and practical and worldview questions deserving our attention. The more clearly our logic connects back with that center, the more certain and the less open we should be. The further
8 Questions to Help You Understand and Apply the Bible
Matt Harmon: Sometimes the most important things in the Christian life can be the most difficult. That can certainly be true of understanding and applying the Bible. As believers we know that reading Scripture is essential to following Jesus. But if we’re honest, we often find it difficult to understand and apply. The Bible talks about so many different things; how do we know what to focus on? It’s set in a world very different from ours; how do we apply it to our lives today? One simple and effective tool is asking good questions. The questions we ask when we read the Bible largely determine how we understand and apply the Bible. So we need to make sure we are asking the right questions, the kind of questions the Bible was designed to answer. But how do we know what those questions are? The Bible is first and foremost a story about God displaying his glory through creating and
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10 Things You should Know about Interpreting the Bible
Sam Storms: Today we look at 10 things we should know about how to interpret the Bible (or conversely, how not to interpret it). But before we begin, it’s important to remember that the Bible is not an answer-book that provides ready-made explanations for all problems or solutions to puzzling questions. When I run into a problem with my computer, I click the Help button and find a topically organized list of solutions to virtually every difficulty I may be facing. But the Bible did not come to us with an Index of topics or a Table of Contents. With that in mind, we begin. (1) We should never forget the incredible privilege and responsibility that falls on every Christian to interpret the Bible for himself/herself. This is the principle of private interpretation, based on the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. But don’t misconstrue what it means. Private interpretation does not mean that we should rely solely on
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One Indispensable Rule
Tim Challies: The Bible is a long and at-times complicated book centered upon a short and simple truth: Jesus Christ died to save sinners. The Bible tells the great narrative that is unfolding in this world: the story of God creating, man falling, Christ redeeming, and the end coming to all sin and evil. The Bible serves as our guide to this story and to the characters who play roles in it. It does this through 66 books that span genres, cultures, authors, and centuries. It is a remarkable work that could only have come from the mind of God. The Bible is a sure and steady guide to life and doctrine, but to be that sure and steady guide it must be properly understood and interpreted. Proper understanding and interpretation is dependent on one indispensable rule: Before you ask, “What does it mean to us now?”, ask “What did it mean to them then?” In other words, before you
Jesus is the Fulfillment and the Fulfiller
“The Old Testament is an incomplete book; it is revelation developing towards a climax. There is the constant prediction of a ‘day of the Lord,’ a consummation, a unique revelation of the power and glory of God. . . . This hope is expressed in terms of the past, yet exceeds anything experienced in the past. There is to be a new David, but a greater than David; a new Moses but a greater than Moses; a new Elijah or Melchizedek, but one greater than those who stand out from the pages of the old records. There is to be a greater and more wonderful tabernacling of God, as his presence comes to dwell in a new temple. There is to be a new creation, a new Israel, redeemed, revived, a people made up of those to whom a new heart and a new spirit are given that they may love and obey their Lord. Old Testament prophecy .
Jesus is the Key to the Bible
J. C. Ryle: In every part of both Testaments, Christ is to be found – dimly and indistinctly at the beginning – more clearly and plainly in the middle – fully and completely at the end – but really and substantially everywhere. Christ’s sacrifice and death for sinners, and Christ’s kingdom and future glory, are the light we must bring to bear on any book of Scripture we read… Some people complain that they do not understand the Bible. And the reason is very simple. They do not use the key. To them the Bible is like the hieroglyphics in Egypt. It is a mystery, just because they do not know and employ the key. In the last place, read the Bible with Christ continually in view. The grand primary object of all Scripture is to testify to Jesus. Old Testament ceremonies are shadows of Christ. Old Testament judges and deliverers are types of Christ. Old Testament history shows
To teach the bible well…
Andy Naselli: When I teach the Bible, I focus on five disciplines: Exegesis analyzes what the authors who wrote the Bible intended to communicate. The authors of the Bible make arguments, and the best exegetes are simply good readers who accurately trace arguments. Biblical theology makes organic, salvation-historical connections, especially regarding how the Old and New Testament integrate. How do major themes like covenant and law and the people of God progress throughout Scripture? How much continuity and discontinuity is there? Historical theology surveys and evaluates how significant exegetes and theologians have understood the Bible and theology. The attitude that “all I need is just me, my Bible, and the Holy Spirit” is arrogant because the Holy Spirit has illumined the minds of so many others. Systematic theology builds on the former three disciplines to draw systemic conclusions (organized on atemporal principles of logic) with reference to the whole Bible. What does the whole Bible teach about _______ (fill
Common Interpretive Pitfalls
by John MacArthur Every paratrooper knows precisely where he is supposed to land, but no paratrooper will jump without also knowing the surrounding territory. To do otherwise can leave one disoriented and lost, which can have disastrous consequences. In the same way, to randomly parachute into Bible passages, trying to glean spiritual gems devoid of context, can lead to wasted time and stunted spiritual growth. Regular Bible reading according to a strategic plan is the right foundation for successful Bible study. And the principles of accurate interpretation will take that Bible study to the next level of spiritual blessing and benefit. Reading God’s Word answers the question: What does the Bible say? But interpreting it answers the question: What does the Bible mean by what it says? Proper Bible interpretation is a critical element of successful Bible study. The reader does not have license to decide what it means. He has to learn what it means. Paul’s pastoral counsel to
Will Christians be secretly raptured?
Jeramie Rinne: This past weekend the eschatological thriller Left Behind opened in theaters. It joins a flood of Christian movies this year including Exodus, Son of God, God’s Not Dead, Heaven Is for Real, andNoah. Okay, let’s not count Noah. Yet Left Behind stands out among this surge of Christian films, not just because it stars Nicholas Cage, and not just because it’s based on the wildly successful Left Behind novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. Perhaps more than the other films, Left Behind captures believers’ imagination because it portrays a future, world-changing event: the secret rapture, that moment Jesus suddenly snatches up all Christians to himself years prior to his visible second coming. As producer and writer Paul LaLonde put it, “It’s a Bible-based movie, it’s a biblical story, it’s a true story—it just hasn’t happened yet.” As a result, it can cause us to wonder, What will it be like when all the Christians suddenly disappear? How close
G.K. Beale on interpreting OT Prophecy
Justin Taylor: G.K. Beale, writing in The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God (Apollos/IVP, 2004), argues that “We should want to follow an interpretive method that aims to unravel the original intention of biblical authors, realizing that that intention may be multi-layered, without any layers contradicting the others. Such original intentions may have meaning more correspondent to physical reality (hence so-called ‘literal interpretation’) while others may refer to ‘literal’ spiritual realities…” This means that “the progress of revelation certainly reveals expanded meanings of earlier biblical texts. Later biblical writers further interpret earlier biblical writings in ways that amplify earlier texts. These subsequent interpretations may formulate meanings that earlier authors may not have had in mind but which do not contravene their original, essential, organic meaning. This is to say that original meanings have ‘thick’ content and that original authors likely were not exhaustively aware of the full extent of that content. In
Only in the New is the Old revealed
William Everett Bell: The final test for the meaning of an Old Testament passage is not necessarily its literal meaning, but the meaning given to it by the inspired New Testament writers, whether that meaning be literal or typical. . . . The dispensationalist practice of deciding the meaning of a concept at its first embryonic appearance in the Old Testament, together with the refusal to expand, restrict or otherwise modify the concept in the light of additional and fuller subsequent revelation, must be rejected as an unacceptable hermeneutical method, because it must frequently distort New Testament revelation in order not to disturb a premature “literal” Old Testament interpretation, and thus it simply does not account satisfactorily for the totality of the Biblical data. In: Menn, Jonathan (2013-09-04). Biblical Eschatology (Kindle Locations 3306-3310). Resource Publications – An Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Calvin on Typology
John Calvin: “For this is eternal life, to know the one and only true God, and Him who He sent, Jesus Christ, whom he constituted the beginning, the middle, and the end of our salvation. This One is Isaac the well-beloved Son of the Father, who was offered in sacrifice, and yet did not succumb to the power of death. This is the vigilant Shepherd Jacob, taking such great care of the sheep He has charge over. This is the good and pitiable Brother Joseph, who in His glory was not ashamed to recognize His brothers, however contemptible and abject as they were. This is the great Priest and Bishop Melchizedek, having made eternal sacrifice once for all. This is the sovereign Lawgiver Moses, writing His law on the tables of our hearts by His Spirit. This is the faithful Captain and Guide Joshua to conduct us to the promised land. This is the noble and victorious King David, subduing
The Danger of Forgetting How to Read the Bible
Dan Doriani: In the past month, I learned that two more Christian leaders whom I know have either tarnished or destroyed their ministries. Neither was a friend, in the full sense, yet I’ve been friendly with both men and respected their talents and the fruit of their labors. Once again, I wonder: How could a man who studied and knew Scripture and taught it faithfully to others, brazenly violate its most basic principle of love and self-control? Even as I ask the question, I know I’m liable to self-destructive sin too. Everyone needs Paul’s admonition: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). Self-aware leaders know that we can violate principles we thought we knew. But how can we repent quickly and keep from hardening ourselves to God’s voice as he calls us back to himself? Leaders stumble for
G. K. Beale on New Testament Interpretation
(HT: Dane Ortlund)
Joseph and the Gospel of Many Colours: Reading an Old Story in a New Way
From Justin Taylor: Vodie Baucham Jr.’s new book is Joseph and the Gospel of Many Colors: Reading an Old Story in a New Way (Crossway, 2013). Here are a couple of commendations from biblical theologians: “Here is a popular-level reading of the life of Joseph as it is found in Genesis—an approach that reads the narrative both within the framework of Genesis and within the framework of the entire Bible. It avoids mere moralism, but does not overlook the morals implicit in the story; it avoids finding Jesus hiding behind every verse in some earnest but skewed and uncontrolled appeal to typology, yet it shows how the narrative prepares the way for Jesus. In many ways these chapters foster quiet, patient, faithful Bible reading, while driving readers toward the gospel.” —D. A. Carson, Research Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School “Voddie Baucham has thrown a spanner in the works of those writers and preachers who see little more in the
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Should We Interpret a Bible Verse Literally or Figuratively?
David Roach: It depends on context. A person’s soul is in peril if he thinks Jesus was using poetic exaggeration when He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). On the other hand, a Bible reader might maim himself unnecessarily if he fails to recognize the hyperbole in Jesus’ statement that we should cut off our hands and gouge out our eyes to avoid sin (Matthew 5:29-30). Like all people who have ever spoken or written, biblical authors use different styles of communication at different times. Of course, everything the Bible affirms is true, regardless of its literary genre. Still, every time we open our Bibles, we must determine what style of communication is being used and read accordingly. As a primer, here are a few of the literary styles used in Scripture and some rules for interpreting them taken from Robert Stein’s helpful book, A
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The congregation as a living commentary
“Biblical interpretation involves performance. Think of a pianist who interprets a Beethoven sonata. We speak of Alfred Brendel’s interpretation as opposed to Glenn Gould’s. Can we really “perform” texts? Can we put prophecy, wisdom, apocalyptic, narrative into practice? Can we perform doctrine? psalm? Certainly! We do so all the time: the fundamental form of interpretation is the way we live our lives each day. Our behaviour is the true index to what we believe about biblical authority. The Bible lays claim to our whole being. Some of God’s words require our intellectual assent, others our pious submission, others our moral obedience, and others our cultural faithfulness. Christian life and thought alike, then, are interpretations of Scripture. Our doctrine is our theoretical interpretation of the Christian story; our life is our practical interpretation. In the postmodern world, the best way to defend biblical authority may be to create a kind of community life in which the Bible functions as authoritative (and liberating). No
How to Read the Bible
Tim Keller: There is, in the end, only two ways to read the Bible: is it basically about me or basically about Jesus? In other words, is it basically about what I must do, or basically about what he has done? If I read David and Goliath as basically giving me an example, then the story is really about me. I must summons up the faith and courage to fight the giants in my life. But if I read David and Goliath as basically showing me salvation through Jesus, then the story is really about him. Until I see that Jesus fought the real giants (sin, law, death) for me, I will never have the courage to be able to fight ordinary giants in life (suffering, disappointment, failure, criticism, hardship). For example how can I ever fight the ‘giant’ of failure, unless I have a deep security that God will not abandon me? If I see David as my example,
What Does It Mean To Be Biblically Balanced?
By Tullian Tchividjian: I increasingly hear people talking about the need to be “Biblically balanced” and I think I’m starting to understand what they mean. As I talk to people who speak about the need for our theology and preaching to be “balanced”, they mean that we need to spend the same amount of time talking about everything the Bible talks about. So, for example, since the Bible talks about what God in Christ has done and also what we ought to do in light of what Christ has done, to be balanced we need to give both themes equal airtime. Since the Bible talks about Jesus and it talks about us, to be balanced we need to spend the same amount of time talking about both. The list could go on: since the Bible talks about x and y, to be balanced we need to talk about x and y the same amount. But, this is NOT the balance