Are You REALLY Interpreting the Bible Literally?

Stephen Altrogge: Interpreting the Bible literally can be a good thing. It probably means that you want to know exactly what God says and obey his words. It means you don’t want to play Bible roulette with which verses you obey. It means you’re willing to obey all the commands of the Bible, even the painful ones. It means you’re in less danger of drifting into the post-modernism, the Bible is Jello interpretations. But, interpreting the Bible literally can also get you into a lot of trouble. Harold Camping thought he was interpreting the Bible literally, which in turn led him to mispredict the end of the world…twice. Pinstripe wearing, silk handkerchief mopping, prosperity preaching pastors think they’re interpreting the Bible literally, which leads them to teach that God never wills illness. Heck, the hellfire, hate-throwing folks at Westboro Baptist Church probably think they are interpreting the Bible literally. Today there is a total solar eclipse. There are definitely some

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What Preaching Christ From All Of Scripture Does And Does Not Mean

R. Scott Clark: In recent days there has been considerable discussion about what it means to speak of “preaching Christ from all of Scripture.” Some object to this way of speaking and this approach to Bible interpretation on the grounds that it does violence to the true meaning of Scripture. For those within Dispensationalism, there are two peoples of God, an earthly people (Israel) and a heavenly people. As they read Scripture, there is a genuine sense in which God’s promises to national Israel are the center of Scripture. In this view it is held that God intends to restore national Israel, including the temple and the sacrificial system. Thus, according to most forms of Dispensationalism, those promises of an earthly kingdom are thought to be the norm by which all the rest of Scripture must be understood. Another objection is that the project of preaching Christ from all of Scripture does not do justice to the particular text at hand,

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5 Tips for Reading the Book of Revelation

Leah Baugh: The book of Revelation is a tough book to read. It is full of strange and often scary imagery, confusing numbers, time references, and much more. However, with just a few tips for understanding certain confusing elements, the book opens up as an important and helpful book for Christians. 1. The book is visual prophecy. One of the first things that help us understand the book is understanding what kind of book it is. John tells us in the opening chapter that what he has written is a prophecy from Jesus. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. (Rev. 1:3) 2. This prophecy was given to John in a series of visions.  I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see.” (Rev. 1:10-11)

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How Should We Interpret the Book of Revelation?

Sam Storms: Perhaps the single greatest controversy surrounding Revelation and the most important issue when it comes to interpreting the book, is the question of its structure. Many, perhaps most, evangelicals read Revelation as if it is describing a short period of time that is still in the future. Those who embrace what may be called the futurist view of the book most often will argue that what we have in Revelation 6-19 is a description of events that will take place in the future in a period of seven years they call The Great Tribulation. And as you know, there are many who insist that Jesus will return and rapture his people out of this world prior to the outpouring of divine judgment in the “Great Tribulation.” The result is that what we read in Revelation 6-19 has little, if any, immediate practical relevance for a lot of Christians. For them it is fascinating to talk about, but it

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Tom Schreiner on Authorial Intent and Canonical Reading

  Justin Taylor: Here is an interesting answer to the question of whether the “Let us” of Genesis 1:26 is referring to the Trinity. In The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Baker, 2013), New Testament scholar Tom Schreiner (Southern Seminary) argues that (1) it is doubtful that the author of Genesis was specifically thinking about the Trinity when he used this expression, (2) it is doubtful that the earliest Israelites read it this way, but (3) it should still be understood as a reference to the Trinity when it is read as part of the whole canon of Scripture. Here is his explanation: Recent developments in hermeneutics, however, have rightly corrected an overemphasis on authorial intent. Interpreters of sacred Scripture must also consider the canonical shape of the Scriptures as whole, which is to say that we must also take into account the divine author of Scripture. Nor does appeal to a divine

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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

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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.

Progressive Revelation

Jonathan Menn: Graeme Goldsworthy states an important hermeneutical point, “It is impossible from the Old Testament alone to understand the full measure of God’s acts and promises that it records.” The reason why the OT alone does not convey its full, underlying meaning is the doctrine of progressive revelation, i.e., the truths of the Bible were not revealed all at once but were progressively revealed over time. Thus, the OT is the preparation of the gospel; the Gospels are the manifestation of the gospel; Acts is the expansion of the gospel; the Epistles are the explanation of the gospel; and Revelation is the consummation of the gospel. Jesus and the NT authors understood this. They saw the entire OT as in some way a book about Jesus. He is its central person and integrating theme and is “the final and the fullest revelation of what the promises are really about.” Because the Bible ultimately is the story about Jesus Christ,

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What Is Biblical Theology?

James M. Hamilton: What is biblical theology? I use the phrase biblical theology to refer to the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors. So what is an “interpretive perspective”? It’s the framework of assumptions and presuppositions, associations and identifications, truths, and symbols that are taken for granted as an author or speaker describes the world and the events that take place in it. What do the biblical authors use this perspective to interpret? First, the biblical authors have interpreted earlier Scripture, or in the case of the first author on record (Moses), accounts of God’s words and deeds that were passed down to him. Second, they interpreted world history from creation to consummation. And third, they interpreted the events and statements they describe—Moses didn’t recount everything Balaam said and did in the instances presented in Numbers 22-24. Moses selected what he wanted, arranged it with care, and presented the true story. The presentation of Balaam’s oracles Moses gives us in the book of Numbers is

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Without a hermeneutic movements become memories

This post by Erik Raymond highlights a principle that must be applied to all our affinities and allegiances: “Recently I was able to sit on a panel for a discussion among some local church planters. One of the questions was, “What are you most concerned about with the gospel-centered movement?” Before expressing any concern I want to be clear: I am very encouraged by the recovery of the center, the gospel, among many, particularly younger evangelicals. This is essential for us at this hour. At the same time I have a cause for concern. My chief concern is not primarily a matter of theology but hermeneutics (the art and science of interpretation). It appears that the gospel-centered movement is very good at buying books, reading blogs and listening to sermons. We excel at catching John Piper’s passion for a God-saturated, joy-effusing, expository exultation (not to mention his penchant for hyphenated descriptors). We buy in to Tim Keller’s Center Church model. We can

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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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How to read the Bible, and how not to

                              Ray Ortlund: “Against those forms of Judaism that saw the law-covenant not only as lex [law] but as a hermeneutical device for interpreting the Old Testament, Paul insists that the Bible’s story line takes precedence and provides the proper hermeneutical key.” D. A. Carson, “Reflections on Salvation and Justification in the New Testament,” JETS 40 (1997): 585. 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

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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,

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Jesus As the New Israel

By Justin Taylor: The New Testament authors understood Jesus to be the culmination of the Old Testament. He is the Last Adam, true Israel, the suffering servant, the son of David, the faithful remnant, the ultimate prophet, the reigning king, the final priest. Here is a good, concise summary of the Israel/remnant theme from a New Testament perspective: . . . Jesus had become a remnant of one. He was the embodiment of faithful Israel, the truly righteous and suffering servant. Unlike the remnant of the restoration period, he committed no sin (Isa. 53:9; 1 Pet. 2:22). As the embodiment of the faithful remnant, he would undergo divine judgment for sin (on the cross), endure an exile (three days forsaken by God in the grave), and experience a restoration (resurrection) to life as the foundation of a new Israel, inheriting the promises of God afresh. As the remnant restored to life, he becomes the focus of the hopes for the continued

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Jesus is the interpretative key to the Bible

“…the soundest methodological starting point for doing theology is the gospel since the person of Jesus is set forth as the final and fullest expression of God’s revelation of His kingdom. Jesus is the goal and fulfillment of the whole Old Testament, and, as the embodiment of the truth of God, He is the interpretative key to the Bible.” Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, p. 33 (HT: John Fonville)

Relating the text to Christ

“The Bible is the word of God by virtue of its relationship to Christ and not by virtue of its spiritual application to our lives…any attempt to relate a text directly to us or our contemporary hearers without inquiring into its primary relationship to Christ is fraught with danger. The only thing that controls the matter of the relationship of the text to us is its prior relationship to Christ.” Graham Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, p. 113 (HT: John Fonville)