The Whole Counsel of God – Interpreting Scripture Correctly
And Commonly Used Tactics of False Teachers
Biblical illiteracy – the ‘dumbing’ down of the sheep – has become a virus. The shallow understanding of scripture most Christians have is quite astounding. Equally painful to listen to is how most Christians interpret their bible. This brief article is just a quick reference on the very basics of interpretation, if it gains any interest I will post more information.
What is extremely annoying is that false teachers hide behind hermeneutical language. (‘Hermeneutics’ is the scholarly method of interpreting scripture.) Some also claim to use the ‘grammatical-historical’ method for interpretation – which is correct – but if you analyse closer they do anything but actually follow the very principles they claim to use. Heretics are very familiar with biblical interpretation methods and think that by claiming to use them it somehow gives them more credentials.
The grammatical, historical method of interpretation is simply this; every word, vowel etc is important. The grammar is of utmost importance, change one word, comma, vowel and the meaning changes. The historical context that the particular text was written in must be taken into account as well. It’s that simple. The problem I have with scripture twisters is that they hide behind layers of deceit, yet biblical interpretation is not very difficult. It is quite straightforward to expose error; all you need is a good bible translation and common-sense. All these methods are worthless without the Holy Spirit, the author of the book, of course.
Sleight of hand
I have seen false teachers do this – they give you a kind of historical-grammatical interpretation with some really alluring illustrations but then use a bible version that no scholar worth his bean would touch with a ten foot pole….
Another trick is to use scripture without staying anchored to the text – after all he ‘used’ scripture so it must be true.
Another tactic is to throw so much scripture at you at such a pace that you cannot keep up.
Here is a quiz for you; which best-selling Christian book used 21 different translations to collaborate its views?
If the same book used only the ESV or the KJV the very fabric of the message would come apart. Also note that a ‘translation’ such as ‘The Message’ is not actually a translation but a paraphrasing of the bible.
Another commonly used tactic is false teachers sounding really smart by telling you the original Greek or Hebrew word of the translation. But then… sleight of hand; they will tell you ‘therefore what this verse REALLY MEANS’ is actually this or that. Yes, the King James English can be very polite when it could be a bit more explicit, etc… and yes, having a deeper understanding can add more resolution to what we already see but there are trustworthy and reliable translations that don’t require meddling with the Greek unless you wish to do advanced studies.
The whole counsel of God
There is no accurate view or interpretation of scripture without taking the whole counsel of God into account – that means the whole bible from Genesis to Revelation. The bible, believe it or not, anticipates attack so it uses all available bandwidth. This means that any critical doctrine is spread out across the whole book. You could rip out most pages out of the bible and still come to the same conclusion. Even if we took out the whole of the New Testament we still have a tremendous amount of description of Christ’s penal substitutionary atonement and his resurrection from the Old Testament alone.
For instance, there is not a single scripture that uses the word Trinity, neither is there a single proof text on the subject but every major scholar agrees on the doctrine of the Trinity because of the amount of references, allusions and the way scripture is written – it does not defend the doctrine but assumes it.
There are two ways that scripture is generally interpreted
Exegesis is reading FROM the text, Eisegesis is reading INTO the text. For example, if we read the whole counsel of God and come to a definitive conclusion that would be an Exegesis. If we say that ‘God told me so’ and then find scriptures here and there to back it up that would not necessarily yield accurate interpretation – you are approaching scripture with a pre conceived idea and making scripture fit that idea. That is an Eisegesis.
Interpret scripture with scripture
Here is a classic one. How do you interpret this scripture?
Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
What is this scripture saying? I have heard some really creative interpretations but all of them fall short. You have to ask what Paul had in mind when he wrote this scripture. Here, it is – applying the whole counsel of God principle to get the fuller picture; let’s go to Genesis 50:20, Joseph addressing the same brothers that tried to kill him but somehow God worked the situation for good so that the whole family is spared from famine.
But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.
This is a very simple principle, whenever you read any scripture look for a cross-reference; most bibles outline them on the side of the page. This is not to say that Romans 8:28 is referring only to Genesis 50:20, it has a slightly wider application but we also understand how inter-dependant and interwoven scripture is.
The most fundamental principle of biblical interpretation is context. You can disprove most scripture twisting and mangling by context alone. For instance, someone says to you; the bible says we must not do xyz. You reply;’ yes it does but what is the context’? Suddenly a whole different picture emerges when you ask these questions.
- Who is being addressed in the text (audience)? Is it the church, Israel, is it a person?
- Why is this being addressed? Is it a particular issue?
- What was going on at the time of writing? What is the Historical context?
- Cross reference to other scriptures.
Note: There are places where the purely context rule is actually a limitation because the passage is prophetic, therefore using the same context principle does not necessarily apply. However, as a general rule context must be applied.
Applying the just the principle
What if something is written i.e., to Jews living in the promised land? What on earth do we do with certain civil rules that do not apply to us today? You apply the principle.
Allegory versus Literal?
The bible uses many metaphors, idioms and puns. There is quite a bit of allegory as well. But these are just what they in their context (allegory, metaphors and puns) and should be treated as such. Literal is literal and allegory is allegory – we CANNOT mix the two. If you allegorize the book of Revelation you have a massive fairy tale with no real meaning. Besides, Revelations uses 500 quotes from the Old Testament, the book presumes the reader is familiar with the OT. Many Christians get so blown away that they don’t touch the book for years.
Few people realise that the Reformation was a war on bad hermeneutics – on rightly dividing the word of truth. What was the method of interpretation in the Catholic Church? The allegorical method! This method allows the imagination to run wild and is prone to the worst exaggerations. With this method there is nothing true or false.
Being led by the Holy Spirit or Ideals?
You cannot be led of the Holy Spirit and come to radically different conclusions from the same scriptures as other Christians. That just does not exist. We can, by all means, have differences on the minors but never on fundamental doctrines. This is what the whole council of Nicea was about. This is why ministries have statements of faith (although some of them just copy and paste nice sounding stuff from other ministries – this is not proof that a ministry is abiding in truth).
You cannot be led of the Spirit and have zero desire to study scripture, if that is so you are led of the flesh. We don’t dictate to others what we think or how ‘we see’ that scripture; we stand corrected by God’s word because it is forever established in heaven.
Building on false precepts
Another commonly used tactic of false teachers is that now that we have determined we have x we can establish y when in fact nothing was conclusively determined to begin with.
Assumptions to begin with before interpreting scripture:
- A = A Law of non-contradiction. There are no flaming snowflakes.
- There is such thing as truth.
- There is such thing as sound doctrine and it must be taught and defended.
- Any interpretation that makes ANY doctrine possible is not a valid method of interpretation because it contradicts the first three assumptions.
- Emotions and feelings don’t tell us what it true – God’s Word Rightly interpreted does
- Angels do not tell us what is true – God’s Word Rightly interpreted does
- Signs and Wonders don’t tell us what it true – God’s Word Rightly interpreted does
- We only listen to teachers and preachers who bring us God’s Word rightly Interpreted.
Biblical Interpretation must be….!
Since the books of the Bible were written at certain times over a 1550-year period of history and at certain places on earth and for various purposes and groups of readers, biblical interpretation must be historical. Accordingly, the exegete must carefully consider the historical circumstances under which each Bible book was written, as well as the historical contents of each book.
Since the books of the Bible were written by men in certain ordinary, human languages, no interpretation of Scripture is to be accepted which does not agree with the established rules of grammar. Here the term grammar is employed in a broad sense, signifying the study of all aspects of language. An interpreter’s primary and chief aim should be to ascertain the meaning of words according to the meaning in actual popular usage. The etymological meaning of a word may or may not have been retained in popular usage.
Because the Scripture is of divine origin and is the verbally inspired Word of God, it is wholly without inconsistency of thought or speech, without contradiction, without the slightest error (in the original manuscripts). The Bible is the inscripurated Word of God, and as such presents the truth in ordinary language in all matters of which it treats. The kind of truth the Bible claims for itself is correspondence to reality (the correspondence theory of truth)
The interpreter MUST see to it that his interpretation of the text has CHRIST as its center, teaches HIM, and glorifies HIM as Savior and Lord.