Author: Ron Graham
Handling the Word Aright (1)
—How to interpret the Scripture
This lesson looks at the first three of six simple principles that help us to read, study, and understand the Bible well, and to handle the word correctly.
1 Keep in mind the Bible’s main Purpose.
When we study the Bible, we ought to study it with the purpose God has in mind. I once saw a man use a bottle to hammer a six inch nail into a solid piece of timber. However a bottle was not designed for that purpose. If you keep the right purpose for Bible study in mind, and keep to that purpose, your Bible study will be profitable and enlightening.
Purpose statement 1~ Acts 20:32 Paul stated the main purpose of God’s word this way: "I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified"
Purpose statement 2~ 2Timothy 3:15 Paul makes another purpose statement when he tells us that the scriptures are "able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus"
Purpose statement 3~ 2Timothy 3:16-17 Paul continues to describe the purpose of the scriptures, calling them "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work".
Purpose statement 4~ James 1:21 James tells us to "Receive the implanted word which is able to save your souls" and so the ultimate purpose of Bible study is our eternal salvation.
Purpose statement 5~ Romans 15:4 One more example of how the scriptures show us their purpose: "Whatever was written in earlier times was written for our learning, that through patience and the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope".
2 Keep in mind the Bible’s main Person.
The Bible is a collection of sixty six books and letters, written at different times and places, in various literary styles, by many different authors, for many different reasons. They are not even all in the same language, the Old Testament books having been originally written mainly in Hebrew, and the New Testament in Koine Greek. Within the covers of the Bible you will find documents that differ widely, yet these are all agreed witnesses to one and the same central Person.
The one central theme running through the whole Bible is the story of Jesus Christ God’s Son and our Saviour.
Person statement 1~ John 1:1,14 John calls Christ the Word. "In the beginning was the Word... and the Word became flesh...". The Bible is the word of God, and Christ is the central message of the Bible, hence his title, the Word.
Person statement 2~ John 5:39, Luke 24:27 Jesus said himself, "Search the scriptures... it is these that testify of Me" and "He explained to them the things concerning himself in all the Scriptures"
Person statement 3~ 1Corinthians 15:3-4 Paul understood the scriptures in the same way, for he says "...that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised the third day according to the scriptures".
It is worth remembering that the Bible has...
- One great theme, Jesus Christ,
- Two great covenants, Old and New,
- Three great ages, Patriarchal, Mosaic, and Christian.
Your Bible study will be well guided by that simple "map" of the Bible.
3 Keep in mind a statement’s main Point
Someone has said, "A proof text out of context is a pretext". In a later lesson, "What is this thing called context?" we discuss context in more detail, but for now we will just look at some simple examples.
Example 1~ Matthew 24:17 There is a story (which I doubt is true) that a preacher became concerned that the ladies were getting too fancy with their hairdos, so he preached on the subject and took as his text, "top not go down".
Eample 2~ Colossians 2:20-22 I am a teetotaller (don’t drink anything alcoholic) but I would never support the practice with this verse, "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch" because Paul was making a point against such decrees.
Example 3~ John 3:7 A reincarnationist (who believes that when your body dies you are born into another body) once pointed out to me that Jesus said, "You must be born again". Had he examined the context, he would have seen that Jesus was not talking about reincarnation at all.
Example 4~ Acts 19:27-28 In this passage we find praise for the pagan goddess Artemis or Diana: "Great is Diana of the Ephesians!" It is clear however that the Bible is not making this claim itself, but is merely recording what Diana’s followers shouted.
Example 5~ 2 Kings 21:13 "I will wipe Jerusalem as a man wipeth a dish..." Women sometimes quote this in jest to “prove” that a man should help with the dishes!
Example 6~ Romans 9:12 If I wanted to encourage old people to help young people, I could not quote, "The older shall serve the younger" because the verse has nothing to do with that topic.
A Bible statement may be used to show something other than its native point. However any point that is derived or inferred from a statement must be obvious and natural, not dubious or forced.
The following examples illustrate this...
Example 7~ Genesis 1:27 "God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." We can infer from this that human beings are superior to the animals; that God has a special purpose for man; and that man and woman are equal in God’s sight.
Example 8~ 1Timothy 5:18 Paul quotes the law, "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain" to support the view that a labourer is worthy of his hire (cf 1Corinthians 9:6-4)
Example 9~ Mark 12:26-27 Another example of a “necessary inference” is seen when Jesus quotes God saying to Moses, "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" and infers that "He is not God of the dead but of the living" and that "the dead rise again."