As promised, today we will look at principles for Biblical study, which we introduced in our last post. That post, the second within our Sum Truth series, focused on the idea that the sum of God’s word is truth (Psalm 119:160). Today we will finish up by looking at two more principles.
Principle #1: The Bible will Interpret Itself
What do I mean by this? Don’t pastors and teachers have a responsibility to rightly divide the word of truth? Yes, but let me give you an example of what we as pastors are actually doing. Imagine you have a connect the dots picture. What we [pastors and teachers] are called to do is rightly interpret the instructions, moving the line of teaching from one to two to three to four, etc. We are not to jump straight to fourteen. We must not overlook any details.
We have a responsibility to study the details. But details aren’t something we are typically fond of. However, if we skip our line from twenty to twenty-seven, then we will have ruined the picture. A pastor and teacher’s job when interpreting the Bible is to follow the instructions. This means letting the Bible interpret the Bible.
The job of a pastor/teacher is not—and never will be—creating their own numbers in the connect the dots puzzle. If we make our own numbers, we may come away with a really beautiful picture. But it’s not God’s picture.
This idea of letting the Bible interpret itself will end up curtailing poor interpretation because we won’t be translating based on preference or warm fuzzy feelings. We don’t get to claim promises that aren’t ours. We don’t get to base new teachings off obscure references. As we saw in the last post, Paul used an Old Testament verse to prove the teaching he was putting forth. But that was Paul. We don’t get to do that. We aren’t Paul.
Unfortunately, that is one of the most common ways of interpreting the Bible today. People see connections that they want to see and run with it. This creates all types of obscure teachings and ideas. It’s our responsibility to teach in such a way that we don’t fall into this error.Unfortunately, that is one of the most common ways of interpreting the Bible today. People see connections that they want to see and run with it. #biblicalinterpretation Click To Tweet
Principle #2: God’s Character is Unchanging
Arguably, one of the most quoted verses in the modern Church is Jeremiah 29:11. “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.”
This must have been an extremely powerful verse—to the people it was written for. But, it wasn’t written for us.
Do we understand what else was written to Jeremiah’s audience? The promise that they would go into captivity. We love to quote Jeremiah 29:11 but no Christian is claiming they’re going to go into captivity. Why? Because we cherry pick attractive verses while ignoring the others.
I believe Christians who do this do so from good motives. They’re trying to say that God, in his nature, is caring for his people. But we have new Testament references for that. God cares for the sparrow. God cares for the lilies. Are we not much more important? God’s character is loving and kind and patient. He wants the best for his children. His character is unchanging.
We don’t need to claim a promise out of context. If we can wrap our minds around this truth then we can move forward, understanding that God’s character is always there. It is always pressing. It is always true. It is always impactful.Jeremiah 29:11 must have been an extremely powerful verse for the people it was written for. But, it wasn't written for us. #biblestudy Click To Tweet
Last week, we touched on the story of Jesus leaving the ninety-nine to go after the one (Luke 15). We saw that we miss an important aspect of this story. We read it as God leaving the ninety-nine [saved] people to reach the one [unsaved] person. But what we’re doing is reading through modern lenses. We aren’t connecting the dots correctly. We are superimposing our worldview over the Bible picture.
The context of Luke 15 shows us that Jesus was talking about the lost sheep of Israel. So, what does it mean that God leaves the ninety-nine? First of all, Jesus wasn’t being sarcastic when he said that God left the ninety-nine righteous.
Think about it. Jesus isn’t irrational. If we say, “Well, no one is righteous,” then we are negating what the Bible itself says about Anna, Simeon, even Zachariah and Elizabeth. We must let the Bible interpret the Bible, and Scripture tells us that there were righteous people. Consider what it said about Abraham, Noah, Job. They were righteous.
The Luke 15 story is Jesus’s declaration that he was seeking the wandering sheep of Israel. Does this nullify the idea that God wants to save the world? Of course not. But, let’s use Scripture correctly as we prove our point. Scripture tells us that God wants none to perish, but all to come to everlasting life. Jesus went to his lost sheep in Israel and then he commissioned his disciples to seek the lost of the world. Who are his disciples? You and me.
What does Luke 15 show us about God’s character? It shows that his is a protector and a caregiver. He’s gracious. He’s merciful. He wants his people to return to him. The sum of his word shows his character and we see that God is the father who would leave his porch to go tackle his child.The sum of God's word shows his character and we see that God is the father who would leave his porch to go tackle his child. Click To Tweet
He is loving but he is also just. We need the sum of God’s word for balance. David tells us to hide God’s word in our hearts. When we do, we see his love, his justice, his faithfulness. We will also be reminded of the terms and conditions of his statutes. It reminds us to be a repentant people. It warns us to be ready for him.
God loves us with a love that we don’t often comprehend. It’s a love the David understood. It’s a love that the Prodigal remembered. It’s a love that Jesus declared. And it’s a love that Paul preached. If this word is hidden inside of us, guess what we’ll do? We’ll walk in light of that truth. But what do we need hidden inside of us? The whole of God’s word, not bits and pieces.God is loving but he is also just. We need the sum of God’s word for balance. Click To Tweet
I want to share an important truth with you. You don’t have to be a Bible scholar to understand the Bible. But you should want to be a Bible scholar. There’s a beautiful thing that pastors like to say, “The Gospel is so deep that we can drown in its truths, but it’s also shallow enough that a baby can play in its water.”
The point this quote is making is that God’s word is unbelievably deep, and we should be pursuing it all the days of our lives. We don’t want to see only a piece of the mosaic, we want to see the whole thing. Why should we pursue the Bible? To know who our God is. To help our brothers and sisters know who God is. To show the world who God is.
But the sad truth is that many of us stopped pursuing the God of the universe long ago. We must pick it back up. Pursue God because he is the one who redeemed and saved you. We don’t get to say, “Well, I’ve read enough of the Bible. I get the basic idea. I can hold my own.” No. That’s simple arrogance.
It’s our responsibility to look for errors in our ideas and ways. And when we do, we will come away stronger if our understanding is right and we’ll be corrected if it isn’t. This is powerful. It’s my hope that these principles will help you as you continue forward on your faith journey. It’s my prayer that you truly grasp what David understood, the sum of God’s word is truth. And that truth will radically change our hearts, minds, and lives.Why should we pursue the Bible? To know who our God is. To help our brothers and sisters know who God is. To show the world who God is. Click To Tweet
Are you comfortable studying the word of God? I’d love to hear your thoughts or struggles. Comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.