I originally intended to start writing about the second rule of hermeneutics: Pay Attention to the Context. However, after writing the last one, I realized I needed to explain something else first. A question many of you probably have is “If it’s so hard, why do it?” That’s right, last time I wrote about some of the things to remember when interpreting the Bible such as “The Bible is divine and human,” “the Bible is inspired,” “remember the unity and diversity of the Bible,” “different genres have different rules,” and “remember that it is translated from three different languages.”
If there are so many things to remember, who can hope to interpret it correctly? Why should we even try if we don’t have specialized training? There are several reasons we should interpret the Bible.
The Bible is Authoritative
As discussed in part 1 of the first rule, Christians do agree that the Bible is from God (of divine origin) and inspired. Even though we may not be able to give a detailed definition of inspired that all Christians will agree on that does not in any way reduce the fact that it is inspired and of divine origin.
As an inspired work from God, it has an authority over our lives. This is the same for both Jews and Christians, though the Jewish believer will view only the Tanak as inspired and authoritative. For the Christian, both Testaments are authoritative. Jesus taught from the Old Testament and referred to it positively quite often. He taught His disciples from it and taught them how to apply it. He has rules and techniques, and in a future essay, we will examine them.
The early Christians followed His example and made it authoritative in their lives. Of important note is that at first they had only the Old Testament. They understood it to be authoritative because Jesus did, and so should we. It is sheer arrogance and folly to say the Christian has no need of the Old Testament. Not only did Jesus preach from it, but every book in the New Testament contains numerous references to the Old Testament.
As Christians, we are to follow the example of Jesus. Since He viewed the Scripture as authoritative, so should we. Jewish readers will have similar reasoning: namely, that their leaders and prophets have viewed the Tanak as from HaShem and authoritative.
One very important rule of Jesus bears discussing here. Jesus did not view the Tanak as a set of rules to be followed blindly. Indeed, He taught against that (Matthew 23:23). We will have to do the same.
This brings us back to where we started. We dare not treat the Bible lightly when attempting to interpret it. What we teach will have great impact on those who listen to us. We must not stop until we have a good reading of the Bible. God expects no less than our best.
God gave humanity the Bible with the express purpose that people would read it, interpret it, and apply it to their lives. Remember we talked briefly about how it is inspired. God would not give it and then make it impossible to understand. With work, the whole things opens to you. Anything important is worth putting work into. The more important it is, the more work you should be willing to put into it.
There is nothing more important than understanding the Bible and applying it to your life. Understanding it properly is absolutely necessary to your walk with God. Likewise, when you tell the meaning to others, it is absolutely vital that you have the correct interpretation. You are teaching another person and those who teach are held to a higher standard than those who do not (James 3:1).
Failure to study the authoritative Word of God when available to you is a failure of stewardship. We are to be ready at all times for the hope within us when people ask (1 Peter 3:15). However, if you have not studied the Word of God, you cannot be ready. You would be like a farmer who at planting time goes to the field but has not just left the seed in the barn but forgotten to buy it beforehand!
In the days when few people could read and fewer had access to a Bible, ignorance of Scripture was a valid excuse. Those had to take their priests word for it. That is not the situation today.
You may think that you can just avoid teaching the Bible, but every action you take shows your interpretation. People will see it and know how you interpret. My mother used to say that you may be the only Bible some people ever read. Think about that. Your faith and actions determine not only where and how you will spend eternity, but where and how others will spend eternity.
That’s a heavy responsibility, but there is also great reward! How you interpret the Bible leads directly to how you apply each verse. That application determines how you will lead your life. Those actions will show other people.
Knowing how to interpret the Bible properly should never be a source of pride. Proper interpretation and application should lead to humility.
The Opportunities of Study
Not only are there responsibilities for studying Scripture, there are great rewards.
First, we grow spiritually when we read and study the Bible. Doing so wrongly leads to malformed growth or even stunted growth. Only when we have studied can we help others grow when talking to them.
Secondly, those in ministry, whether pulpit, Sunday school, or cell group have an opportunity to lead corporate growth on a regular basis. Pastors and teachers who see their congregation go from babes in Christ to mature spiritual beings know the feeling that comes from seeing that. It is a great blessing and joy. One thing it should never be is prideful. With this reason and the first reason, it is obvious that others rely on you for their spiritual growth. Taking them to a deeper understanding of God blesses you.
Thirdly, finding more of God’s will for your life can only happen when seeking Him. Yes, He speaks to us through prayer, but He has given wisdom to those who came before us.
Fourthly, the blessings of a job well done are its own reward. However, you cannot attain that blessing without preparation beforehand. The task seems daunting at first, but once you start, it becomes easier and more fun. Personally, I have never found Bible study to be boring. Like any other skill, the more you work at it, the better you become.
Fifth, as you study and work, God will expand your ministry opportunities. As you study to show yourself approved (2 Timothy 2:15), God will reward you with more people to teach and influence. Those who grow in Christ are more enthusiastic.
Finally, the reward of good interpretation is that it shows the folly of bad interpretation. For years, pastors have complained that their congregations are still babes in Christ and do not grow. This is because the congregations do not study for whatever reason. Failure to study allows unsound doctrine to enter the church. Without proper methods, a person remains spiritually immature. Applying proper methods they grow and can stop problems in the church before they take root.
Good interpretation is demanding but also rewarding beyond measure.