doctrine

Today’s post is a transitional post. Recent word of the week posts have concentrated on various aspects of the doctrine of Revelation (Scripture). In the coming weeks, our posts will focus on the Doctrine of God and terms that further reveal the glory and wonder of God to us.

Hermeneutics is the scholarly term for interpretation. Hermeneutics is the science and art of biblical interpretation. Because we believe the Bible is inerrant and authoritative for our Christian faith and practice, it is important that we interpret the Bible accurately.

“For the classic Protestant, though the individual believer has the right to the private interpretation of Scripture, he is capable of misinterpreting the Bible. But while he has the ability to misinterpret Scripture, he does not have the right to do it. That is, with the right of private interpretation comes the responsibility of making an accurate interpretation.”

R. C. Sproul, “The Establishment of Scripture” in Sola Scriptura, 42.

One of the most important aspects of my ministry as a pastor is interpreting Scripture accurately. It is not my job to share my opinions or even primarily my convictions from the pulpit. Rather, I am tasked to proclaim “thus says the Lord.” Preaching authoritatively requires that I interpret Scripture accurately.

Following are some principles that will help us interpret Scripture as accurately as possible.

  1. Interpret Scripture in context. Often, interpretive errors happen because we pull a Scripture out of its immediate, book, or literary context. For example, we could be inaccurate interpreters if quoted a verse as true from one of Job’s three friends. Asserting one of their affirmations without considering that the book of Job understands their affirmations to be in error could lead us to be inaccurate in our interpretations.
  2. Interpret Scripture with Scripture. The clear teaching of Scripture should inform and illuminate the more difficult passages. See for example the question of eternal security raised in Hebrews 6 with a counterpart in John 10 (John 10:27-30 vs. Hebrews 6:4-6)
  3. Interpret Scripture in light of its literary genre. Narrative, Didactic, Law, Poetry, Prophetic, Apocalyptic, and Epistolary each have unique interpretive principles for determining meaning. For an example of this in an upcoming sermon, I will be preaching on Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Many have taken that proverb as a promise. But the book of Proverbs is not a book of promises, but rather general observations about life.
  4. Right interpretation derives from a recognition of biblical authority. The author, not the reader determines the meaning. Meaning then is discovered by the interpreter, not determined. In contrast, when we interpret Scripture through an interpretive lens (whether theological as in dispensationalism or personal as in our own experiences), we can read our own preconceived notions or ourselves into the text. This is a reader-response interpretive strategy that may have benefit for some kinds of literature, but has no bearing on the meaning of the biblical text. The text means today what it has always meant (what it meant to its original readers).
  5. Remember the two guardrails for correct interpretation: the Holy Spirit (John 16:13) and the church (historical orthodoxy). In order to interpret Scripture well, we need the Holy Spirit and church history. Depending on the Holy Spirit and leaning on orthodoxy will keep us from interpreting texts (difficult or clear) inaccurately. Robert Letham reminds us, “Moreover, it is impossible to come to the Bible with a blank mind, unaffected by philosophical or cultural presuppositions, or previously received teaching” (Systematic Theology, 228).
  6. Scriptural application is built upon good interpretation. Certainly, the applications we can derive from Scripture are culturally conditioned. For example, when Moses tells us to number our days (Psalm 90:12) or Paul tells us to make the best use of our time (Eph. 5:16), we can apply those admonitions to scrolling through social media apps or binge-watching tv shows. But the application must flow out of the clear meaning of Scripture. Scripture means today what it meant when it was written. To misunderstand what the Scripture originally meant can lead to serious misapplications. 

When I interpret passages of Scripture for preaching, I find word studies, commentaries, and theologies to be helpful. When I compare my own study and insights with those of commentaries and theologians, I am more likely to interpret Scripture accurately.

So, in your reading and study of the Bible, trust that it’s God’s Word, study the Bible deeply, and trust the Holy Spirit to guide your interpretations.

Photo by Jonny Swales on Unsplash

Scripture is clear with regard to its primary message: salvation.

In this post, we are still under the doctrine of Scripture. We’ve explored canon, inspiration, manuscripts, inerrancy, and sufficiency. In today’s post, we will explain the clarity of Scripture.

We need to recognize some caveats about the clarity of Scripture. First, not all texts in the Bible are equally clear. The original autographs were in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Translating from the original autographs is challenging at times because some words from one language do not have specific equivalent words in another language. Some texts of Scripture require more diligent study than others based on context and meaning. Some passages are plainly more difficult to grasp than others (see 2 Peter 3:16).

Second, the relative clarity of Scripture is also affected by the reader of Scripture. I’m indebted to Robert Letham’s Systematic Theology for this post, and he wrote on this issue:

“Some readers are less able to understand than others, whether by lack of knowledge or education, lack of Christian experience, or a deficit of intelligence… Hard work is needed to explain it. The role of the human interpreter, the knower in the process of knowing, is significant.”

Robert Letham, Systematic Theology, 207.

But just because some Scriptures might not be as clear as we’d like them to be or we may not be as certain of our interpretation of some passages as we’d like, does not mean that Scripture lacks clarity. Amazingly, the 66 books of the Bible, 40 different authors, and a variety of themes throughout these books, the primary message of the Bible is clear.

Even with the above caveats, we can nevertheless affirm the clarity or perspicuity of Scripture. Perspicuity is the theological term for lucidity or clarity. (The following affirmations are just a sampling, and they are far from exhaustive in the Scripture references that address them).

  • With regard to who God is and what God wants us to know about himself, Scripture is clear (Genesis 1:1).
  • With regard to who mankind is and what God expects of us, Scripture is clear (Genesis 1:28, OT Law).
  • With regard to who Jesus Christ is and what he did to secure salvation, Scripture is clear (Gospels, John 1, Colossians 1, Hebrews 1).
  • With regard to what it means to experience salvation, Scripture is clear (John 3:16, Romans 3:23, 5:8; 6:23, 10:9-10; Ephesians 2:8-9).

See previous posts on the doctrine of salvation: soteriology, atonement, redemption, regeneration, election, justification, adoption, union with Christ, sanctification, and glorification.

Scripture itself is the primary means for communicating the gospel. It is clear unto salvation. Two examples will suffice.

First, Scripture is clear enough for both children and adults to experience salvation. As a pastor, I preach Scripture regularly and share it personally when witnessing. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of leading both of my children to Christ as well as other children and adults. The primary communication tool that I use to explain salvation is the Scripture. Scriptures on salvation are gloriously clear. It is because of the clarity of Scripture that God has brought billions to faith in himself.

Second, Scripture is the primary communication mechanism from God to people for their conversion. I just finished a fascinating audiobook, Defying Jihad, by Esther Ahmad. Esther grew up a devout Muslim and was on the path toward becoming a suicide bomber. But a dream where she saw Jesus disturbed her devotion to Islam. Providentially, God placed a man in her life who was a Christian. Esther’s conversion to Christ was initiated by a dream, helped along by a couple of Christians, but her conversion only occurred as began reading the Bible. God brought salvation to Esther from the Bible. Esther’s only prior biblical understanding came through the false perspectives of Islam. She did not have a church, a teacher, or Bible study helps. She had the Bible. And God made it clear enough for her to reject Islam and follow Jesus.

In subsequent weeks we will discuss topics like the authority of Scripture and the need for clear and beneficial interpretive strategies regarding Scripture. But one does not have to be a Bible scholar or a trained academic to understand what the Bible has to say about salvation.

God put that information on the bottom shelf for all of us to grasp. God cares about his creatures enough that when he wrote his book to us, men and women, boys and girls, of all ages, geographical and cultural differences, anywhere and anytime, could understand the message of salvation from the pages of Scripture.

As an aside, our prayer partners at Wilkesboro Baptist Church this week are Wycliffe Bible Translators, Adam and Ruth Huntley and family. The reason we care about and prioritize the translation of the Bible in the languages of the peoples of he world is because the Bible is clear, especially about salvation and eternal life. Would you take a moment and pray for Adam and Ruth and other Wycliffe translators?

Photo by Randy ORourke on Unsplash