continued from part 1
RULE FOUR: Interpret personal experience in the light of Scripture, and not Scripture in the light of personal experience.
Personal experience should not become the rubric for how we understand the Bible, though it definitely is the basis for how we apply it in our lives. For example; it might lead to us distorting the truth because we argue that "in my case," the ends justify the means; or that our case is an exception. Our approach to understanding Scripture should not be to first see if it fits what makes sense to our limited and often biased perspective of life.
There was a good example--we were given a short sample 'sermon' that argued that polygamy wasn't against the Bible, and should be accepted as a legitimate alternative for Christians, citing 'proof' from church history, cultural evidence, and
RULE FIVE: Biblical examples are only authoritative when supported by a command.
This means that though it would not be wrong if we read "Go, sell all you have." in Mark 10:21 and feel convicted to do something along those lines with our own possessions, it would be wrong if we insisted that this was what Jesus commanded every single Christian to do, and started busting into our church members' homes to garage sale their furniture for the Red Cross. Unless it is a specific command, such as John 14:15--"If you love Me, keep My commandments--" we should not be interpreting and using the Bible in this way. Just as Abraham tying Isaac up as a sacrifice obviously isn't God's intention for every Christian parent, though in Abraham's case it was the right thing to do, being a test of obedience.
Likewise, there are so many different types of characters in the Bible if you look at it from a literary point of view, and not just the 'good/bad' binary characters either; so many of them, like Abraham, Gideon, Solomon, Samson, and my favourite King David, are 'good' yet essentially flawed. Do we simply follow what they did because they were people God used, they were 'good' people in that sense because they obeyed God and were used to do great works? (and in David's case, even loved God and were loved by God) No, it's so obvious that these people made mistakes too--they, like us, were cowardly, weak, lustful, selfish, proud, greedy at one time or another. The Bible does not present everything they did as something for us to emulate.
Basically, understand that the content in the Bible is in two categories: the general--content which is given for us to derive our personal application from, and benefit from accordingly within the context of our unique individual situations--and the specific, which are explicit commands applicable for all, not up to what we think they should mean for us.
RULE SIX: The primary purpose of the Bible is to change our life, not to increase our knowledge.
This was a good, if obvious reminder. In our privileged first world society where education and knowledge are prioritized and seen as indications of and means to power and superiority, we may end up having the same attitude towards studying the Bible and getting a PhD. The more obscure facts, background info, historical background, theology, and lexical analysis we absorb about the Bible, the more complacent and self-satisfied we feel, the more 'godly.' But our priority should not be how much Bible knowledge we can cram into our little brains during our time on earth. The purpose of the Bible was to change our lives. If we absorb all that knowledge only as such--head knowledge, which doesn't extend to active application; like a dietician who continues to eat sloppily, skip meals, binge on sweet treats, and live on junk food--we are not using it as God meant it to be.
continued in part 3
Recently my church ran a short study on how to interpret the Bible, a three-session series based on the first 9 General Principles of Interpretation from Walter A. Henrichsen's book, A Layman's Guide to Interpreting the Bible.
I found these short sessions very helpful, and appreciated how they were so simply and straightforwardly laid out; it didn't make you feel like you were masquerading as a theological student! To be honest, I never gave much thought on how to interpret the Bible, preferring to focus on those more straightforward passages, so yes, it was about time.
Since we all don't have the time to read as many books as we'd like to, I thought I'd summarize those 9 principles for your benefit. You're welcome.
RULE ONE: Work from the assumption that the Bible is authoritative.
Henrichsen identifies 3 forms of authority that every Christian "consciously or unconsciously" relies on:
Tradition, Reason, and the Scriptures.
According to the Reformed belief, the Scriptures should always come first, based on its authority as the Word of God, though that doesn't exclude the validity of the other two forms of authority.
This of course raises the question: how do we know the Bible is inspired by God, is the Word of God? According to Henrichsen, inspiration must follow authority, not the other way around: "Therefore in Bible Study you begin with the issues of authority. It and the question of inspiration which naturally follows are answered when you submit to the Word of God. You may study inspiration as a separate topic, but you only know the Bible to be the inspired Word of God as you place yourself under its authority." Henrichsen uses the example of a passenger about to board a plane bound for Tokyo, even though the captain cannot guarantee a safe journey: "The demand that commitment come before knowledge is not unique to the Christian faith. It is common, everyday experience for all people."
RULE TWO: Use the Bible to interpret the Bible; Scripture best explains Scripture.
When interpreting the Bible, beware of omission and addition, as the disastrous consequences in the Garden of Eden indicate. Likewise, beware of individual verses taken in isolation, as they can often be used to support both sides of an argument and can't be considered conclusive as such. Heinrichsen gives an example of how either Galatians 5:4 ("You have fallen away from grace") might give the impression--taken in isolation--that it's possible for a Christian to lose their salvation; however, as John 10:27-29 shows, this isn't the case: "My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of My hand. My Father, Who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand."
And that's why cross-referencing is important. Primary cross-referencing should be based on thought/topic rather than on specific words, which should be secondary cross-referencing.
RULE THREE: Saving faith and the Holy Spirit are necessary for us to understand and properly interpret the Scriptures.
This was an interesting thought I hadn't considered, which to me underlined the fact that studying the Bible is not like studying any other book. Don't come at it with an attitude of entitlement, expecting the formula of read-understand-benefit that might work with a Tolstoy or a Shakespeare play. When we decide we want to study the Bible it requires a humble attitude, godliness/a clean conscience before God, and prayer for the Holy Spirit's enabling. How much we understand from our study is directly related to our spiritual state.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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