What The Bible Says About Reading The Bible
Luke 24:13-49; 2 Tim. 2:15; 2 Tim. 3:14-17
Don’t pass up the “Special Music” link at the same page. I think you’ll really enjoy “Funky Hermeneutic”
Hermeneutics: is a big word for – interpretation.
When we talk about hermeneutics we are simply referring to the principles by which we read and rightly interpret what ANY text has to say – but especially the Bible.
As you might imagine, over the centuries, scholars have assembled a number of principles for good interpretation, and they are quite commonsensical and useful.
Do I know what the words themselves mean in their written languages?
So if I read the word “bonnet” it matters if I am reading an American author who might be speaking about a lady’s hat, versus a British author who is probably referring to the hood of his car.
Do I know what the words mean in relation to one another?
Do I know what the author was trying to convey to his or her audience in their context?
Do I have some sense of how the original reader would have understood it?
Are there figures of speech, puns, hyperbole, colloquialisms, metaphors etc.?
You and I employ these principles every day when we read everything we read. We do it automatically for the most part, without really thinking about it at all.
When I was writing and producing radio and television commercials, we had an announcer who would sometimes miss his cues. He would often say: “That copy runs like a striped ape!”
Now there are several problems with that statement, not the least of which there is – there’s no such thing as a striped ape. What he was saying, was that the script led him to speed up his speech to the point it became something else altogether – unrecognizable as normal speech and thus ran too fast.
Virtually no one outside of our professional circles would have any idea what he was saying had this been printed – and especially if it were read by someone who did not speak English well.
So one must bring those same basic skills to reading the Bible.
Not only were our Bibles originally written in 3 different languages, Hebrew, Chaldean and Greek, it bears all same forms of speech we’ve just mentioned. Thank goodness for a several millennia of scholars to compare and interpret and get to the bottom of most of these issue so as to give us reliable and readable translations.
My goal this morning, is simply to point out some of the ways the Bible itself demonstrates and counsels us to read it – so as to get the best benefit from it.
- Comprehensively: Colossians 4:16 “And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.”
Rev. 2:7; 2:11; 2:17; 2:29; 3:6; 3:13; 3:22
Even these readers were not to read only what seemed to immediately apply to themselves – but were to consider all God says to His people in all cases.
It is easy for us to pay attention only to those places that are familiar to us, or seem the clearest or easiest to access. But the WHOLE Bible is the Word of God and reading it as a whole vastly improves our understanding of each part individually.
This serves also as a caution against ABSOLUTIZING! How often, one verse on a topic is cited, as though that one verse says all there is to say on a topic, and then the Word of God is distorted and becomes harmful instead of a blessing.
Example: NASB – Malachi 2:16 “For I hate divorce,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the LORD of hosts. “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.”
Jeremiah 3:6–8 “The LORD said to me in the days of King Josiah: “Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and there played the whore? 7 And I thought, ‘After she has done all this she will return to me,’ but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. 8 She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore.”
In Malachi God is addressing those who are unfaithful to their vows and getting out of a marriage to be with someone else.
In Jeremiah He is addressing the spiritual adultery of Israel and why divorcing her is the right form of punishment.
So that in Matthew 1:19 when Joseph finds out Mary is pregnant, the text says: “And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.”
How does the whole of Scripture deal with a topic? So we must read comprehensively if we are to form mature and fully orbed understandings.
- Intelligently: Nehemiah 8:5–8 “And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground…the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.”
Note the 2-fold action – It must be read CLEARLY, and, we must understand the SENSE of what is read.
The Bible is not to be approached mystically like it is a code book.
God is rational, and He communicates rationally and logically.
We must ask “WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?” before we ask, “what does this mean to me?” Without reading the Bible as though the author was intending to get ideas across to the original readers given their circumstances and situations, we cannot arrive at a legitimate application for ourselves.
2 Peter 3:15–16 “And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.”
Just because someone uses a Bible verse, it does not automatically mean they are using God’s Word correctly.
I have often said that the single must underutilized spiritual gift God has given us is grey matter!
One way we read intelligently, is not making the unique events in Scripture the normative.
Miracles are miracles for instance, precisely because they are not the norm.
Manna was but temporary – and never meant to be normative
The Pillar of cloud and fire – meant only for a time and in a unique place
Only ONE ax head was made to float – and that – only once
There was only one Samson
Not many were raised from the dead
Paul had a Macedonian vision – but not a vision to each and every place
Gideon’s “fleece” was not repeated by others
2 Timothy 2:15 “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”
It takes intelligent, thoughtful labor to study and understand God’s Word well.
- Christologically: John 5:39–40 “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”
To look at the Bible as a book of good information, even moral or ethical information, apart from Christ, is to misuse and abuse the book.
This is why we must be careful not to proof-text, and use individual verses out of their context to prove a point or beat someone over the head with.
I must ask “what does this say about who Christ is and what He has done?” And this is especially true of the Old Testament which Jesus was speaking about here.
Remember the portion we had read for us from Luke at the beginning? It is describing Jesus meeting two travelers on the road to a city called Emmaus after His resurrection.
As their discussion continues, note the 3-fold reference to the Scriptures:
After questioning them about their mindset and experiences Jesus says: ” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”
His concern here is that they did not understand what had happened in the crucifixion, because they did not understand and BELIEVE their Bibles! In this case, the OT.
Then after He reveals Himself to them, we read: 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”
Later still, when these 2 return to the Apostles we read: 44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
Notice how Jesus did not give them some new revelation at this point, but opened their minds to understand their Bibles!
- Reverently: Daniel 10:10–11 “And behold, a hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. 11 And he said to me, “O Daniel, man greatly loved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you.” And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling.”
Isaiah 66:1–2 “Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? 2 All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”
This opens up the need for prayer in our study. Recognizing that this is God speaking regarding eternal realities that are contrary to the World and our fallen natures – and how prone we are to misread, misconstrue and misapply them if we are not careful.
God’s Word is never to be approached lightly and carelessly, as though it has been corrupted and is no longer reliable.
So Jesus can remind His listeners Matthew 5:18 “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” Not the smallest particle will be lost.
And when debating with the Sadducees in Matt. 22, His entire point is built upon the present tense of a word being used in the Scripture versus the past tense. Matthew 22:31–32 “And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.”
- Conclusively: Revelation 22:18–19 “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”
With this – do not try to go beyond it. Deuteronomy 29:29 “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
Deuteronomy 13:1- “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.”
Where the Bible speaks, it has the last word on that topic.
This was a key issue in the Reformation and why we hold to “sola Scriptura”. The Bible is the final authority on what it addresses, not synods, councils, Popes, and least of all – culture!
That doesn’t mean we’ve always interpreted it correctly, but it DOES mean that what it says, what it teaches, is binding truth on all people, everywhere and at all times.
- Obediently: Ezra 7:10 “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.”
Psalm 119:9 “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.”
Deuteronomy 11:13–25 “And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, 14 he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil… Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them; 17 then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you, and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain, and the land will yield no fruit, and you will perish quickly off the good land that the LORD is giving you. 18 “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 19 You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 20 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, 21 that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth. 22 For if you will be careful to do all this commandment that I command you to do, loving the LORD your God, walking in all his ways, and holding fast to him, 23 then the LORD will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations greater and mightier than you. 24 Every place on which the sole of your foot treads shall be yours. Your territory shall be from the wilderness to the Lebanon and from the River, the river Euphrates, to the western sea. 25 No one shall be able to stand against you. The LORD your God will lay the fear of you and the dread of you on all the land that you shall tread, as he promised you.”
The things God promises to bless us with, in this case the material blessings He promised Israel as foreshadows of the spiritual blessings we may enjoy in Christ – are tied proportionally to our obedience to His Word.
We cannot expect His blessings, when we ignore His will for us.
- Memorably: Psalm 119:11 “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”
What is teaches must be really taken in and laid to heart if it is to have a transformative effect in the soul.
We have often talked about the “noetic” effects of sin. How that ever since the The Fall. Al Mohler lists them as:
Ignorance; Distractedness; Forgetfulness; Prejudice; Faulty; perspective; Intellectual fatigue; Inconsistencies; Failure to draw correct conclusions; Intellectual apathy; Dogmatism; Intellectual pride; Vain imagination – thinking about things we ought not; Miscommunication; Partial knowledge.
Now deliberate memorization is a great tool here, but in truth, simple repetition is truly effective. The more one reads it, reads in larger portions and takes time to actually think about what’s read, the more it is ingested.
And the more it is taken in, the more it shapes how we think and what occupies our chief thoughts.
- Comprehensively Not in isolated bits and pieces.
- Intelligently – Engaging our God given intellect in its highest faculties.
- Christologically – The person and work of Christ as the center-point of all of God’s plans and purposes with creation.
- Reverently – The Bible isn’t good advice or a collection of religious and moral myths, it is God speaking.
- Conclusively – Taking God’s Word as our final authority.
- Obediently – Not substituting mere knowledge for actual possession.
- Memorably – Enough so as to inform our opinions, and shape our thoughts and desires.
And why all of this? That we might know Christ, and the fullness of the salvation He has provided for us in His substitutionary death, burial and resurrection.