(Or Hermeneutics for those who like multi-syllable words that sound funny) By Blake J. Matthews
How is it the there can be so many denominations and so many different beliefs among Christians who all say that they believe and follow the same Bible? How can so many well-meaning pastors, teachers, and Christians arrive at such a variety of beliefs? For some, I would say it could be a lack of study altogether. Others, while they may study intensely, interpret the Bible through their own presuppositions and experiences and impose their beliefs on the Bible. Some even have differing opinions of the Bible itself.
There are others, however, that humbly approach the Word of God, and allow it to unfold the truth for us, regardless of our own opinions. This is most difficult at times, especially when what we find contradicts our preconceived ideas and traditions. It causes us to wrestle with the truth. It points out our shortcomings and reminds of God’s grace.
Before you study the Bible you should size up what you believe about the Bible itself. Most churches and denominations have some sort of statement regarding their view of scriptures. Beware of any claiming that they have revelation equal to or greater than the Bible, or that you can only understand the Bible through them, or they say the Bible changes with the times.
The following is Article One of the Baptist Faith and Message of the Southern Baptist Convention along with references to the verses that support it.
I. The Scriptures
The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.
Exodus 24:4; Deuteronomy 4:1-2; 17:19; Joshua 8:34; Psalms 19:7-10; 119:11,89,105,140; Isaiah 34:16; 40:8; Jeremiah 15:16; 36:1-32; Matthew 5:17-18; 22:29; Luke 21:33; 24:44-46; John 5:39; 16:13-15; 17:17; Acts 2:16ff.; 17:11; Romans 15:4; 16:25-26; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; Hebrews 1:1-2; 4:12; 1 Peter 1:25; 2 Peter 1:19-21.
This statement or one similar to it, is vitally important to any study of the Bible. Without an absolute adherence to the fact that the Bible is the inspired, infallible and inerrant Word of God, there is room for anyone to make the Bible mean virtually anything, and there are many who do. If Christians don’t agree on that, then they certainly won’t agree on other matters of faith and practice.
In searching the scriptures ,one should use the principles of the Literal Grammatical Historical approach. Not only does it sound scholarly, butmore importantlyit also allows the Bible to speak for itself without our opinions getting in the way. Bible study should be inductive, not deductive. In other words do not impose a meaning on a passage, but seek a meaning from the passage.
The Literal Grammatical Historical approach is as follows:
- It is Literal in that the words mean what they say in the normal or plain sense. The literal method does allow for symbolism, parables, poetry, similes, metaphor, figurative language, etc. where indicated.
- It is Grammatical in that we follow the rules of literature and language, especially in the original languages (e.g. Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic). While the full working knowledge of Biblical languages would certainly aid in this area, most correct interpretations can be arrived at by using language commentaries, study aids and perhaps a few good English translations.
- It is Historical in that we determine the historical background and context before rendering an interpretation. To whom, where and when was it written?
Other principles to follow:
- Interpret according to context within passages, books, and the entire Bible. A text without a context is a pretext.
- Compare scripture with scripture. Let scripture interpret scripture. Gods Word will not contradict itself. If one particular passage is unclear, compare it to one that is clear on that subject. If a contradiction remains, then you have not yet arrived at the truth. This is not to say we will know or understand everything in scripture, but that it will not contradict itself.
In studying a passage, begin with observation. Ask the who, what, why, when, and where questions. What is the main idea of the passage? Sometimes it is a good practice to ignore chapters and verses when searching for main ideas and the context. Chapter and verse markings were not part of the original text and were added between the 11th and 16th centuries. Sometimes ideas in scriptures are divided in chapter and/or verses. For this first part, wear your detective hat and look for all the clues you can find.
The next step is interpretation. Following the literal grammatical-historical approach, determine the original intended meaning of the verse. There is only one correct interpretation for a particular passage, however, there may be many applications.
The final and perhaps the most fulfilling step is application. Application answers the question “What do I do?” It transforms a Bible study from an academic exercise to a life-changing challenge. When going through this process ask yourself the following questions:
- Is there an example to follow?
- Is there an action to take?
- Is there an action to avoid?
- Is there a challenge to accept?
- Is there an attitude to change?
As you study the Bible, either by yourself or in a group, you are presented with truth. That truth may be in line with what you already believe, do or dont do. In which case, your beliefs and/or actions are affirmed and you should continue in them with even more fervency and confidence. However, the truth revealed in scripture may also be contradictory to what you may already believe, do or dont do. Sometimes God’s Word will conflict with our experiences. It may conflict with what is taught by one who exhibits signs and wonders. It may conflict with lifelong traditions. In these cases, we must repent and follow the truths and teachings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as revealed in scripture. It is His Word that endures forever.
2 Thessalonians 2:912
9 The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, 10 and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, 12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
One last thing, discovering Biblical truth is like coming to a fork in the road. When you come to it you must take one of two paths, remaining still is not an option. Following one path makes you more of a disciple. Following the other makes you a deserter. This desertion is exactly what happened in John 6:66:
John 6:60 & 66
60 Many therefore of His disciples, when they heard this said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” 66 As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew, and were not walking with Him anymore.
My prayer for you is that as you study Gods Word, may you always leave changed and made into more of a disciple of Christ.