Monthly Archives: January 2015

HOW CAN I UNDERSTAND?

The conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch is recorded in Acts 8:26-40. Once Philip joined the Eunuch he ask him the question “Do you understand what you are reading?” The Eunuch replied in all honesty, “How can I unless someone guides me,” Acts 8:30-31. Fortunately, Philip had a proper understanding of scripture and was able to teach the gospel message in a way that led to the salvation of the Eunuch’s soul. From this true story we learn the importance of correctly understanding the Biblical message. How can we understand the Bible in the 21st Century? This is a very important question.

Scholars have pondered over how to interpret Scripture for Centuries. To this very day there are different approaches on how to correctly interpret the meaning of the Biblical message. The word “hermeneutic” means “the science of interpretation”. It has been correctly stated that if we use the proper hermeneutic when we study the Bible we will arrive at the interpretation (understanding) God intended for us reach. Simply put, if you and I have two different understandings on any of the teachings found in the Bible, at least one of us is wrong. We cannot both be right but we could both be wrong. Understanding the Bible correctly is important. After all, “God is not a God of confusion,” 1 Corinthians 14:33.

The following nine methods of Bible interpretation listed below have been in my possession for nearly 50 years. Unfortunately I do not know who provided the information to me. I have elaborated on the nine ways to interpret scripture so many times that I no longer know what is my own research and what belongs to the original author. Still, it is good information to consider. Look it over for yourself and see what you think.

VARIOUS METHODS OF HERMENEUTICS (“The science of interpretation”)

  1. Mystical – Has its origin in heathenism. This theory says that an individual must be in rapport with God. This theory believes some are closer to God than others and only they can interpret Biblical meaning for the masses. This idea probably had its origin in Gnosticism. The gnostic believed he had a deep understanding of God’s will and was convinced that the ordinary person could only understand the truth if it were explained to him by a person in the know.
  2. Allegorical – This is the view that everything means something else. Therefore, nothing is certain because all you read and study is representative of something else. This method of interpretation only succeeds in confusing people. If everything is allegorical then we would need an inspired man to tell us the meaning that God intended for us to receive.
  3. Spiritual – While this is similar to the Mystical theory of interpretation it does differ in liberality. This method states that anyone can develop closeness to God and develop an inward spirit of light that guides them in the way they should go. Such people can then shed that light to those who lack this spiritual light from God and thereby pass their special knowledge on to others. If this method is correct then some of us cannot understand the truth without help from the “spiritually enlightened” individual.
  4. Hierarchical – This is the assumption of authority in presenting religious truth. This leads people to believe that the preacher or church leader is the only one who has the ability to discern truth from error. Hence if they have a question they ask the preacher. Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” John 8:32-33. The Lord clearly said that His disciples had the ability to know (understand) the truth. It is true that people of understanding can certainly help us along the way. Such people are of great value to God’s people. However, this does not change the fact that knowledge and understanding are available to all who seek it.
  5. Rationalistic – This method believes that nature is the standard and reason is the guide for religious interpretation. Those who use this approach to understanding Scripture discount such events as Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead because it is contrary to nature. They would disbelieve the creation story because it defies human reasoning. Supernatural events are disavowed by this approach to understanding Scripture hence it cannot be the correct hermeneutic.
  6. Apologetic – In contrast to the rational approach, this method states there is absolute perfection in the entire Bible as God’s word. While this sounds like a good method to use it does not distinguish between the devil’s lies and God’s truths. While the entire Bible is absolutely true, some of the dialogue recorded tells us of people who are not telling the truth. You must look at the context in order to discern who is speaking and then determine if he is telling a lie or the truth of God.
  7. Dogmatic – This method assumes something is true and then sets out to prove it from Scripture. This is the wrong way to interpret scripture. That is because the Bible is not to be used to prove that one’s beliefs are correct. Bible Study is designed to teach us what to believe. Never reason in your own mind what is true and then go to the Bible to prove it. Such a method will certainly lead you astray. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death,” Proverbs 16:25. When we study correctly we will learn the will of the Lord. The diligent student searches the Scriptures daily to see if what he has been told is true, Acts 17:11.
  8. Literal – This method of hermeneutic states that all of the Bible must be taken literally. The problem is that the prophets, the Apostles, and even Jesus Himself often used figurative language to express spiritual truths. People who use this approach are usually inconsistent because there are so many figurative statements in the Bible that should not be taken literally. Many who study the book of Revelation try to put literal interpretations upon passages that are figurative pictures of past or upcoming events. One must pray for wisdom when interpreting difficult passages of scripture. We must make sure our conclusions do not contradict other plain and clear passages of scripture.
  9. Inductive-Deductive – The student using the inductive method seeks to lead into his study all of the biblical material that deals the subject he is studying. Once this is accomplished, the person makes a warranted conclusion (a deduction) that is in harmony with all the other passages that deal with that topic. This method insists that all Scripture be interpreted in a harmonious way. Of all of the methods of interpretation discussed thus far this is the best way to study Scripture.

Studying the Bible is a lifetime task. It takes a long time to research topics such as faith, righteousness, repentance, baptism, God’s grace and a host of other important topics. Once you are a child of God there is no need to rush. You have a lifetime to increase your knowledge and understanding. Do so carefully and diligently. God will bless you efforts. Peter encouraged us to, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” 2 Peter 3:18. Once we gain knowledge we should request wisdom from God, James 1:5-8. Then, as we study, we will begin to gain understanding. It comes bit by bit and grows into an unshakable faith in God and His holy book. When God’s truth is correctly applied to our lives we live with the assurance that one day we will join the righteous as we enter our heavenly home.

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HOW INSPIRING!

When we look at the usage of the English word “inspired” we find it is much different than the meaning of the word found in the New Testament. We use “inspired” to indicate evidence of a job well done. For example, when a football player plays the game of his life we say he was truly inspired today. When we look at the work of an artist whose current painting is better any work he did in the past. We say, “He was so inspired when he did this work”. In short, the word “inspired” is used to express excellence in any field of endeavor. That is NOT the way the word is used in the Bible.

The Greek word “theopneustos” translated “inspired” means “God breathed”. In 2 Timothy 3:16 the King James Version of the Bible says, “All scripture is inspired of God”. The ESV says “All scripture is breathed out by God”. In this instance the ESV is the more accurate translation. The word means “God breathed”. Therefore, the authors of scripture did not write down their own thoughts. They wrote down the words that were given to them by the Holy Spirit of God.  Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit,” 2 Peter 1:20-21. Read this verse carefully and you will see that the human authors did not come up with the ideas and truths they wrote down all by themselves. They wrote and spoke the words that were given to them by the Holy Spirit. In 1 Peter 4:11 we learn we are to speak the oracles (teachings) of God. That makes the Bible very different from any other book ever written. The Bible is the word of God not the word of man.

Even when we believe in the inspiration of Scripture we still have difficulty understanding the message God gave us don’t we? There are so many topics in Christianity that are difficult to understand. To complicate things even more, many good people take different views on how to interpret scripture. That is because the word “Inspire” means different things to different people.

  1. NATURAL INSPIRATION: Some who claim Christianity believe the Bible to be no more inspired than any other good book. They acknowledge that the Bible contains many good lessons and wonderful moral standards but do they not really believe the Bible to be much different than any other good book. They view the Bible to be no more inspired than the writings of Dante, Homer, Shakespeare and others talented authors. This idea conflicts with 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and 2 Peter 1:20-21 (noted above) which claims the men who wrote Scripture did NOT speak from their own interpretation or their own will but they spoke as the Holy Spirit moved them to speak. This method of interpretation downgrades the Bible to the level of any other good book. The problem is: If the Bible claims to come from God but really doesn’t, then it contains lies. Therefore, it could not be a good book. This method should be rejected as flawed.
  1. PARTIAL INSPIRATION: This method claims that only the thoughts and spiritual teaching from the Bible are inspired. This group claims that every word is not inspired. They would claim that the Bible contains the word of God but it is not the word of God in its entirety. Some, who hold this view, reject the miracles of the Bible claiming human authors added these events in an effort to give more power to the Gospel message. The major problem with this method of inspiration is that it would require that we have an inspired person to tell us what part is inspired and what part is not. The apostle Paul claimed that the words he wrote were the words of God, 1 Corinthians 14:37. He did not claim that some words were inspired and others were not. He said all his words came from a Divine being. Therefore, when Paul recorded miracles he was speaking of events that actually took place. The belief that the Bible contains partial inspiration cannot be correct. Either the entire Bible is true or none of it can be trusted.
  1. PLENARY/VERBAL INSPIRATION: Those who hold this view believe that every word, every thought, every story, and every single idea found in the original text of the Bible was given by the inspiration of God. Hence the record of creation contained in Genesis chapters one and two is not some Babylonian fable adapted by Moses or others in a feeble attempt to understand the origin of man. It was not an effort by good men to explain things they did not understand. It is a book that contains a factual record of how our world came into being. It begins with the words “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” Genesis 1:1. Did God create the world or is the very first sentence in Genesis a lie or just a contemporary myth of the day? Did He do so in six days and rest on the seventh? Did God create man out of the dust of the ground and breath into his nostrils the breath of life or is this just a far-fetched story concocted by uneducated men? Our answer to this question is very important! If the Bible begins with an unrealistic fable how can we trust anything that follows?

The Bible claims to be from God. Inspiration means the message is God breathed and given to human authors by the Holy Spirit. This is the proper way to look at Scripture. I have a plaque in my office that says, “God said it … I believe it … That settles it”. That may seem simplistic but it well describes the only method of interpretation that makes sense to me.

As already stated, understanding the word of God is not an easy task. However there are some approaches to bible study that will assist us in arriving at an accurate knowledge of Scripture. Next week we will look at some study approaches that will assist us in reaching a deeper and more accurate knowledge of God’s word. Solomon wrote of understanding when he said, “If you seek it (understanding) like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God”, Proverbs 2:4-5. It is my fervent prayer and desire that we all reach a deeper and more accurate knowledge of God’s word and that we will dedicate ourselves to doing all that God has asked us to do.

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WHO WILL STAND IN THE GAP? Ezekiel 22:17-31

“And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none. Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them. I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath. I have returned their way upon their heads, declares the Lord God,” Ezekiel 22:30-31.

The prophet Ezekiel wrote during a time when the religious leaders and the political leaders of Judah were so unfaithful that God was going to melt them like dross in a furnace. It was nearing the time of their destruction (586BC), the time when God would bring His wrath upon the sinful people of Jerusalem and Judah. No one would be able to stand before His wrath. The courage and strength of the land would fail when God brought judgment upon them and they would be scattered among the nations. The people of Jerusalem and Judah were to be consumed because of their sinfulness. The deposed survivors would have to endure 70 years of captivity before a remnant would be allowed to return to their beloved Jerusalem.

Notice the way God considered the people of Judah in Ezekiel 22:17-22. The Lord likened them unto dross that drops from bronze, tin, iron, and silver when placed into the furnace. The metals mentioned were purified by the fire but the dross was unfit for further use. The people living in Judah had become like the dross. They were fit only for destruction. The question needs to be asked: How did His chosen people become so sinful that God’s blessings turned into wrath? Ezekiel 22:23-29 helps us to understand.

THEY HAD UNFAITHFUL PROPHETS: Ezek 22:23-26; 28. In verse 23 we learn that there was a conspiracy among the prophets. They were likened unto roaring lions tearing the prey. Unfortunately the prey was the souls of the men and women of Jerusalem. They took treasures away from the people and made many women widows. These lions devoured the lives of men! The priests also did violence to the law of God. These men, who were supposed to holy men, made no distinction between the holy and the profane. Neither did they teach people the difference between the clean and unclean. They even disregarded the Sabbath day. Verse 26 says, “They have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned”.

In Ezek 22:28 we learn that the prophets whitewashed God’s truth. They presented false visions that were realy lies. They claimed to speak God’s word but the Lord had not spoken to them at all. Religious leaders must speak words that are in alignment with the Holy Bible. When anyone claims, “thus says the Lord” he better have Scripture to back it up. The truth is that God had not spoken to these false prophets at all. Their words were false and they were misleading the people of God.

To summarize, the prophets were ungodly men filled with avarice. They did not regard the sanctity of human life. They did not honor nor keep the law of God and, probably due to their own ignorance, they did not teach the people the truth. It is difficult to imagine how these prophets could disregard the commandment to keep the Sabbath day. Sadly, many today that claim to love and honor God, disregard the Lord’s Day and do not consider worshipping on Sunday as a thing of importance. The truth is, God seeks people who will “worship Him in spirit and in truth”, John 4:23. If worship is important to God shouldn’t it be important to us?

The conditions among the children of Israel sounds somewhat similar to the sad state of affairs found in America today. Many religious leaders and most political leaders do not regard the law of God to be important when it comes to issues of holiness. They do not know nor do they teach God’s will on the topic of marriage, godly morality, nor even the importance of worshipping God on the Lord’s Day. Looks like America has much in common with the people of Jerusalem in Ezekiel’s day. If our Nation does not repent and turn to God we will incur His wrath just as surely as the people of ancient Judah.

THE LEADERS OF THE LAND WITHHELD JUSTICE FROM THE LAND: Ezek 22:26-29. Notice how the leaders of the land were likened unto wolves tearing the prey. The prophets were compared to vicious lions and the political leaders to raging wolves. These leaders were supposed to lead the people towards God and also provide an example of righteous living. Instead, they were destroying the people for dishonest gain. How sad when leaders are corrupt and when they lead people in a way that is opposed to the teaching of God’s word. Doesn’t that sound a lot like America today? Our leadership and the media are promoting sinful practices such as same sex marriage when the word of God says marriage is between a man and a woman, Genesis 2:24-25. Our Nation promotes homosexuality as acceptable behavior while the Bible condemns such a lifestyle, Romans 1:26-27. Political leaders want us to keep religion in the church building while they promote ungodly lifestyles in the marketplace. Followers of the word of God cannot remain silent when His word is being twisted or ignored. We must stand in the gap to proclaim His word.

THE PEOPLE WERE WICKED AND UNGODLY: Ezek 22:29. Just read the verse and you will see that the people were ignorant of God’s ways and were living in an ungodly manner. They practiced extortion, robbery, oppression of the poor, and even extorted money from foreigners (sojourners) causing there to be no justice in the land. Far too many people live just like those described by Ezekiel the prophet.

WHO WILL STAND IN THE GAP (BREACH)? Ezek 22:30-31. At this point the Lord tells of His search for a man to stand in the gap against the ungodliness and sinful practices of the day. God did not want to destroy Jerusalem and Judah so He searched for someone to stand in the gap to proclaim His word. Sadly, He could find no one. This might be compared to the time God spoke to Abraham about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Genesis 18:22-33. Abraham bargained for the city and finally reached an agreement with the Lord that if only ten righteous men could be found in Sodom and Gomorrah the city would be spared. Ten faithful people could not be found so both cities were destroyed with fire and brimstone. The smoke from those cities rose up like the smoke of a furnace. Sodom and Gomorrah were first. Ezekiel said that Jerusalem was in the process of falling. Is America next? Not if we will stand in the gap.

As Ezekiel wrote his book, the city of Jerusalem had no one to stand in the gap. Consequently, many people were killed, others were taken into captivity and a few were left in the ruins of the citiy. If only a few righteous men could have been found they could have saved Jerusalem. Where are the men and women willing to stand in the gap and proclaim the word of God to the unbelieving masses in our land? Are YOU that person? Am I?

If we know the kind of morality God wishes us to practice, and if we know the Law of God and His moral requirements then let’s stand in the gap and be heard. If we know the truth of God’s word concerning salvation and worship then let’s stand in the gap and be heard.

Join me in putting on the whole armor of God, Ephesians 6:10-20. Stand with me side by side and hand in hand. We can only stand in the gap if we are prepared (know God’s word). We can only stand in the gap if we are equipped (with the armor of God). We can only stand in the gap if we are brave enough to go to the battlefield and “having done all to stand firm”, Ephesians 6:13. Stand with me and let us fight the battle together. “And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above, and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever,,” Daniel 12:3. We can win the war because we know the battle is of the Lord. He will give the victory!

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THE PSALMIST VIEW OF BIBLE STUDY

“Oh how I love your law. It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts. I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word. I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me.”

                                                          Psalm 119:97–102 (ESV)

While we do not know for certain, many scholars believe Ezra was the human author of this particular Psalm. Others plainly say they do not know the name of the human author. However, we do believe the words were written with God’s approval and through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The section above shows the enlightenment of a man who was dedicated to studying and living by the words of God. His example is a great model for the rest of us who would like to learn God’s holy word. Notice the character and the benefits of the author as he approached  inspired Scripture:

  1. HE LOVED GOD’S LAW: (Psalm 119:97) I don’t know about you, but I generally find time to do the things that I love to do. For some it is recreation. For others it is family activities, or work, or some hobby. The love of the man who wrote this Psalm was love for the word of God. This is important because it is never a burden to do those things that we love to do. It has been my experience that the more time I spend in God’s word the more I love it. We learn to love the word even more when we apply what we learn to our everyday life.
  1. HE MEDITATED ON THE WORD: (Psalm 119:97) It is not enough just to claim that we love the word. We must study and ponder over the words we read. We need to ask ourselves some important questions as we seek to learn God’s word. Who wrote the book? Who received the book? What was the purpose of the book? When was the book written? How does it apply to us today? Be sure your application of scripture does not conflict with other plain and clear passages of scripture. Learning requires us to meditate upon the text and pray to God for wisdom.
  1. HE RECEIVED WISDOM: (Psalm 119:98) When we know the word of God we become wiser than our enemies because, regardless of the circumstances that surround us, the word that is in our heart provides us with the answer. Read the temptation of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 4:1-11. Here we learn how Jesus used His knowledge of the Word to defeat the devil when He was tempted. Never forget that ignorance leads to sin while knowledge leads to a deeper faith and the ability to defeat the wiles of the devil. From James 1:5 we learn that godly wisdom comes from God in response to our prayers. Spiritual wisdom only has one source and that is God Himself. Read about Solomon and you will learn the truth that wisdom comes from God, 1 Kings 3:10-14.
  1. HE GAINED UNDERSTANDING: (Psalm 119:99) Through Bible study the Psalmist became wiser than his enemies. Through diligent study he gained more understanding than all his teachers. He was wiser than the aged. Some believe that understanding and wisdom come to us automatically as we age but the Psalmist shows the fallacy of that idea. Study and prayer are the true sources of knowledge and wisdom. In fact, Jesus Himself is the source of all understanding and knowledge, Colossians 2:3.
  1. THROUGH STUDY HE WAS ABLE TO KEEP GOD’S PRECEPTS: (Psalm 119:100) The word “precept” means “command, instruction, teaching”. It is vital that we know and keep the teaching of God’s word. Jesus once said, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord and not do what I tell you?” Luke 6:46. It is obvious that we cannot do what we do not know. You may love the piano and have a sincere desire to play it. However, without instruction and practice you will never be able to play the piano properly. Ignorance of God’s word will bring us to ruin. The prophet Hosea wrote, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge,” Hosea 4:6. Therefore seek the word of God with diligence because only then will we be able to keep God’s commandments.
  1. THROUGH KNOWLEDGE HE WAS ABLE TO RESIST EVIL WAYS: (Psalm 119:102) We must learn to say “no” to evil and “yes” to God’s commandments. Be like Noah. When God commanded him to build an ark, he built it exactly as God commanded him to do. “Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him,” Genesis 6:22. He did not do some of what God said for him to do nor did he just do most of God’s commandments. He very meticulously did them all. No wonder God blessed him and his family.

Therefore the man of Psalm 119 was a dedicated Bible student. Because of that dedication he gained wisdom and knowledge of God’s commandments. He complemented his knowledge with wisdom that came from God. He progressed far above his contemporaries, including his teachers and the aged. He was able to resist evil and to keep God’s commandments. He not only loved studying God’s word, he acknowledged that the message as that which provided direction for his daily life. No wonder he said “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” Psalm 119:103. I think I’ll try to imitate this man of God. How about you?

George Carman

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