That’s not what the Bible said!
This is an interesting season in the life of the Adventist church. We seemed to be polarized over many of the same issues that polarize our nation: social justice, race, police misconduct, etc. And then there are the endless debates over issues like women’s ordination, GC commissions, grace, perfectionism, and the role of the remnant.
I don’t want to minimize these problems, but most of them are extensions of a larger problem-how we read and understand the Bible. Hermeneutics is the culprit. It’s a 50-dollar word with a 5-dollar definition. It’s the science of interpreting scripture.
It’s not enough to know what the Bible says. It’s more important to know what the Bible means! A wooden reading of the Bible, with no regard for interpretation or context can be disastrous.
- Churches ban instrumental music because they don’t interpret the Bible.
- Women wear bonnets and refuse pants because they don’t interpret the Bible.
- Christians are crushed when God doesn’t make them healthy or wealthy, because they don’t interpret the Bible.
Now when I use the word hermeneutics and talk about the “science” of interpreting the Bible, don’t be the least bit intimidated. Most of its common sense. Let me give you a couple of guidelines that I learned years ago from the late R.C. Sproul, in his book, Knowing Scripture. This list is by no means exhaustive, but I hope it’s helpful.
Number One: Read the Bible like any other book
The Bible is the word of God and we should solicit God’s guidance as we read. But the words and sentences and paragraphs you read are bound by the same laws of grammar and literature as any other book. A verb is a verb. An adjective is still and adjective. A metaphor is a metaphor. In other words, a passage should be understood according to normal rules of grammar, speech, syntax, and context.
Number Two: Some passages are prescriptive, and some passages are descriptive.
In Matthew 17, Jesus instructed Peter to get his tax money from the mouth of a fish. Unless you plan on spending some time in jail, I wouldn’t advise you to plan with that in mind. That was Peter’s fish, not your fish. You can get mighty confused when you don’t know the difference between a historical event and a teaching passage. Every word in the Bible is a word TO you, but it might not be a word FOR you!
Number Three: Interpret what is confusing or obscure by using what is clear and obvious.
A theology that is built on a single text or limited texts is built on shaky ground. Mormons have built their entire theology of the baptism of the dead on an obscure passage. And they are not alone. An age-old recommendation is to study carefully all that the Bible has to say about a passage before you decide what it means. And the Bible itself is always its best interpreter. What is unclear in one passage will be clearer as you study related passages.
Number Four: Respect literary forms and figures of speech
Many of the writings of the prophets as well as much of Psalms, Proverbs, and other books of the Bible is poetry. Much of the language is symbolic. It must be read with poetry guidelines in mind or you’ll be looking for literal beasts and characters that don’t actually exist.
Number Five: Ask God for an accurate understanding of His word.
The same Spirit that inspired the writing of God’s word will inspire your understanding of God’s word. Ask God what He meant.
I hope these quick guidelines help you with your Bible study. So what do you think? Having trouble understanding the Bible? What’s your favorite book? Which book is hardest for you to understand?
Don’t miss the “Adventist Church at the Crossroads” online conference. Monday, October 8, at 9am. Register today at www.bcbleadership.com. You’ll receive unlimited access to the conference recordings and free resources.