There are two things that are all important when seeking truth in the Bible. First, the Bible is true in every word and was inspired by the Holy Spirit making it His words spoken directly to us. If you can’t start from that position, then the Bible is useless. Second, we do not interpret the word of God according to our experience. Here are four principles to help guide you in your study of the Bible.
1) God’s word is true regardless of our perceptions or feelings!
Our perceptions of how God works are colored by our struggles, our tragedies, and our observations. That can often get in the way of us truly receiving the revelations God wants to give to us through Bible study.
Neither is the truth that is contained in the word of God found only through our intellectual skill at studying the word of God and what Bible study techniques we employ -- it is not a matter of how well we apply our intellect or whether we are applying the right "exegetical" methods. Here’s what I’m driving at:
2) We interpret the scriptures according to the revelation of the Holy Spirit as He reveals to us the meaning, heart, and life He wrote into it.
All of us at times run up against passages in the Bible that mystify us. Sometimes we simply have to ponder and meditate on them, perhaps for months or even years before the light of revelation turns on in our souls. Still, here is a principle that one can apply while pondering something that just doesn’t seem to make sense, something that leaves you mystified:
3) The most straightforward interpretation is usually closer to the truth than a complicated and involved explanation.
Watch out for complicated reasoning paths that try to adapt the word of God to how we think things should be or to what everyone else thinks it is saying. That type of convoluted explanation usually misses the mark. Especially dangerous are explanations and reasoning paths that attempt to reconcile the teachings of the Bible with our current culture. I like to put it this way:
4) When the teachings of the Bible conflict with our common culture, the Bible wins and, when all is said and done, it is the Bible’s teachings that we must base our lives on.
In our modern world, vast swaths of the Christian church have been sidetracked into deep error because they have not held true to that principle. Instead, they have compromised with the world and its ways, incorporating sinful and idolatrous practices into their midst.
One red flag that will help you recognize compromise of that sort is when someone makes the claim that, “That was for them, then, not for us now.” Remember, every part of the word of God is directly applicable to every culture of every age. Nothing can be set aside simply because it doesn’t fit our “advanced” and “sophisticated” modern ways. Here in these last days, humanity has gained much technology and gathered much knowledge, but mankind’s sinful nature is exactly the same now as it has always been. In truth, we are not in any way superior to even the most brutal and primitive cultures of the past. Modern mankind's sins are the same now as they were a thousand years ago. Indeed, one could easily make the argument that we are worse than the ancients. So, when the Holy Spirit uses the words of the Bible to point out a sinful and wrong practice in my (or your) life, a practice that is acceptable in the eyes of our peers and the practices of our culture, the Bible wins and it may be time for us to make some changes.
So, we have four principles that lay a basic foundation on which we may stand as we study the Bible and seek to live a Christian life. Here is a list:
Principle 1: God’s word is true regardless of our perceptions or feelings!
Principle 2: We interpret the scriptures according to the revelation of the Holy Spirit as He reveals to us the meaning, heart, and life He wrote into it.
Principle 3: The most straightforward interpretation is usually closer to the truth than a complicated and involved explanation.
Principle 4: When the teachings of the Bible conflict with our common culture, the Bible wins and, when all is said and done, it is the Bible’s teachings that we must base our lives on.
In future blog posts, I will go more in-depth with a discussion of each of these principles.
Here is a downloadable/printable poster of those four principles: