Author: Ron Graham

Bible Authority

Using Our Brains
—The human mind’s role in interpreting Scripture

In this lesson we think about the role of the human mind in using the scriptures as our authority in religion. We are not considering here the minds of the men who wrote the scriptures, but rather the minds, including our own, of those who are readers of the scriptures.

1 Five Requirements

Human thought and opinion contributes in five main ways to our understanding and obedience of God's inspired word. These may be summarised as:

We rely almost entirely on scholars for the first three. The work of scholars in these three areas is one of the greatest wonders of the world. Without the work they have done, and continue to do, the scriptures would not be available to us.

2 Applying the Scriptures to Self

We need, however, to take responsibility ourselves for the last two requirements in the list above, especially number 5. Teachers can help, as I try to do on this website, however we must apply our individual minds to the scriptures to ensure we understand them correctly and are being taught them correctly. Most of all, God expects us to apply the scriptures intelligently to ourselves.

God says, "My thoughts are higher than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9). But he also says, "Come now and let us reason together" (Isaiah 1:18). God wants us to put our our brains to work on what he says, so we will apply it to ourselves. We don't want to be like those of whom God spoke through the prophet Isaiah, "You hear indeed, but don’t understand; and you see indeed, but don’t perceive." (Isaiah 6:9-10).

3 Using Our Brains

The question, "How do these words apply to me?" is one that requires us to make diligent use of our brains. "Examine yourselves whether you are in the faith" (2Corinthians 13:5). Perhaps because it demands considerable thought, self application of the scriptures is often neglected. So we may hear frequent lipservice to the inerrancy of the Scriptures and to their sole authority in our faith and its practice. Vigorous thoughtful application in personal life, however, may not be apparent.

NoteLIPSERVICE: Lipservice means saying “YES” with your mouth but saying “NO” in your heart and by your actions. It is honouring God with your lips when your heart is far from him.

Of course sometimes people are discouraged from thinking for themselves. Dogma and creeds, written or unwritten, may stifle individual freedom to examine scriptural questions, making people reluctant to openly examine matters for themselves. God, however, expects us to ignore these discouragements, and to use our own brains, which he gave us, to make our own application of his word.

4 Not as Hard as it Sounds

Generally speaking, it requires little education or intelligence to work out whether and in what way a Bible passage is applicable to you. Let's look at a few examples, selected almost at random. How would you personally apply these verses to yourself?

I doubt you would have any trouble working out which of these verses applies to you, and what sort of application you should make. You can see the difference between a command and a prediction. You can understand how some commands were for certain people, but others apply to everyone. You would not, for instance, think that you should name your children only with names ending in -ah, nor would you think that you should fetch Paul's cloak. On the other hand, you would see immediately that you should recognize God as your Creator, that you should help others with their burdens, and that you should follow the example of Christ.

5 Rules Aren't Needed

Some have attempted to codify the principles involved in deciding how, if at all, a verse applies to oneself. These range from complex (and possibly dubious) rules to simple ideas that are helpful, but do rather state the obvious. Instead of letting rules get in the way, just ask a few simple questions such as...

Most passages in the Bible can be understood and applied with a simple approach like that. We just have to use our brains. Let us be encouraged to do so. The Psalmist speaks of the blessedness of one whose "delight is in the law of the Lord and in his law he meditates day and night" (Psalms 1:1-3).