Studies in Popular Passages: A Preface

I want to begin a series of studies in popular passages that I believe have been, for the most part, misinterpreted. The effects of such folly has been an immense detriment to many evangelical communities. The passages which I hope to give the pure sense of, are portions of Scripture that have been abused by clergy and laity, alike. Thus, it has produced beliefs founded on faulty understandings of certain verses. As Christians, we must understand that God has communicated His word in ways that we can understand. Though some verses may take more work than others, our persistence in excavating the truths of the Bible will manifest precious metals and costly jewels at the end of our dig.

One of the best ways to gather information is to make inquiries. This is somewhat axiomatic. It is especially true as it pertains to Scripture. A people group by the name of the Bereans are notorious to the modern evangelical world because they were “examining the Scriptures” after receiving them from an Apostle, no less (Acts 17:11). Examine, is the Greek verb anakrinó which denotes an investigative process. As detectives search for clues to solve mysteries, so the Bereans looked into the word of God with a critical eye towards understanding it.

More than anything else, I would like for this volume to be rooted in the art and science of Bible interpretation (hermeneutics). My desire is that Bible literacy would increase in Christ’s Church, and we have the tools necessary to improve our comprehension of Biblical truth. First, the Holy Spirit dwells within the believer. He illuminates the truth so that we gain insight into what has been written. Paul states, that He [the Spirit] knows the thoughts of God (1 Corinthians 2:11). His indwelling presence in the life of a believer aids in understanding Scripture. Secondly, in 2 Timothy 2:15 Paul tells Timothy that he needs to be diligent to present himself approved to God as a workman with regards to accurately handling the word of truth.

Though, the admonishment was communicated to Timothy, the implications are far-reaching. With hard work, the Christian can accurately handle Scripture. So, we have the Holy Spirit who will help us, and hard work as our modus operandi in evincing the truth to us. There are five key questions to ask when seeking the meaning of any given text; Where does this text begin and end? What do these words mean? Are there any other passages to cross-reference my text with in order to apprehend the meaning? How am I to understand what this text says? What do the experts say? Another way to put it is read the text and its context. Define the terms. Allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. Come to a conclusion based on your findings. Check with other godly scholarship?

Before entering into an examination of Scripture, allow me to give an explanation of this five step process. The first lesson I learned in Bible College with regards to Bible interpretation is “Context is king.” Another way to put it is “Context is the mother of interpretation.” In other words, before coming to a conclusion about what a text means, be sure to have read the text itself. This means reading the verse(s) which you are studying, and the verse(s) before and after the passage you seek to understand.

Next, you need to have some working definition of the words. Remember, what Jesus told Satan when being tempted, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God”  (Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4). Every word means every word. Prepositions, verbs, nouns, objects, and direct objects are all integral to Bible literacy. They make up the healthy spiritual diet for the Christian. Jesus said, they have all proceeded from the “mouth of God.” Therefore, every one of the words in Scripture are vitally important.

Thirdly, the student of Scripture should check for any other text that will shed light on the verse which he/she is studying. This should be done by staying within the same writings of the Biblical author. For example, if you are reading the Gospel of John and you run into an interpretive problem, stay within John’s writing (the Gospel, I John, II John, III John or Revelation) to see how he uses the word or phrase in other places. Having a Bible with cross-reference columns will be extremely helpful. If the answer is not found by checking for parallel passages with the author of your text, search outside the author, but within the same genre. If it is a Gospel, check within the Gospel. If it is an Epistle check within the Epistles. The last element of this step is to go outside the Testament i.e. Old or New depending on which one your text is in. More will be said about this later.

The fourth means of action is to draw conclusions. After you have completed the first three steps you should have a good idea of what the verse means. Begin to jot down your findings and possible meanings of the text. As a good exercise it may be good for you to write them down in sentence format or paragraphs. You may want to read with pen and paper. Also, do not be afraid to write in your Bible. It is not a sin.

Lastly, check with good and godly scholarship. I will say more about this later, but suffice it to say that God has given teachers to His Church (Ephesians 4:11). You should have access to commentaries, lexicons, Bible dictionaries, and concordances. There is always someone who knows more than us about the Bible and we can learn from them. If you are faithful with this simple five step process, you will gain greater understanding concerning the word of God.

In conclusion it must be noted that the meaning of all Scripture rest in the mind of God. It is His word. We cannot turn the word of God into the word of man by making a verse say what we want it to say. Therefore, since the Bible is God’s word, He must be sought out through prayer. The Psalmist prayed in this way with regards to Scripture, “Open my eyes, that I may behold Wonderful things from Your law.” As we begin, may this be our prayer as well.

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