“Know What God Has Said!”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
The statement I often hear in Christian circles is not the positive statement above but one that denies the very nature and character of the one true God. The statement is, “No one can know what God has said.” After all isn’t interpreting the Bible simply offering an opinion. What did God say about such a false notion? “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” Deuteronomy 29:29
God, our God is the God of revelation. He desires to be known. He revealed Himself in two ways. We know that He exists because He has revealed His “invisible attributes” by what He has made, Romans 1:19. All Creation declares the glory of God, Psalm 19:1. Further, God has fully revealed Himself in His word written and Incarnate. “Long ago at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” Hebrews 1-2.
It is reasonable, therefore, to assume that the Bible is understandable. Yet, many are lost when it comes to interpreting the Bible. Christians are faced with a myriad of interpretations. Christians don’t ask, “Who has the “right” interpretation?” Rather, I’ve heard people say, “They may all be right.” If we look at this issue of biblical interpretation logically, we must conclude that all interpretations cannot be right. When there are contradicting views of the Bible, one or both may be wrong. One thing for certain is they all can’t be right. There is only one right interpretation of a passage of Scripture. For difficult passages, we may never arrive at the right interpretation this side of heaven.
But, don’t lose heart. The entire Bible does not fall into the category of “difficult”. The vast majority of biblical doctrine is clear. For example, the doctrine of salvation is clear. God has revealed that men are born dead in sin and are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
To know what God has said, the church has applied the science of interpretation called hermeneutics. There are two principles by which we interpret Scripture. The first is called the biblical principle. The second is called the literal principle. The biblical principle is also called the analogy of faith. The Protestant Reformers recovered this principle of interpretation. They understood that the Bible interprets itself. This means the clear passages of Scripture shed light upon the more obscure ones. No one place of Scripture may be placed against another. In other words, there are no contradictions in the Bible. There may be apparent contradictions, but the Bible is consistent with itself. God does not speak with a “forked” tongue.
The second principle, the literal one, also called the historical/grammatical principle. “Text without context is pretext.” The words of Scripture find their meaning within the broader context of the passage. For example, because of the difficulty in understanding Hebrews 6:4, it would not be accurate to base a theology on the possibility of losing one’s salvation! Keeping that verse within its context makes it clear that the writer is speaking of one who may profess faith, but does not possess genuine saving faith. In other words, the writer was speaking of those who are called apostates.
The literal principle seeks to understand that which is plainly meant. It is how we read and understand any literature. Therefore, genre, grammar, meaning of words, context, and the time of the writing are involved in discovering the meaning. Figurative language is also taken into account. For example, we know that when the prophet Isaiah wrote that the “trees of the field shall clap their hands” he didn’t mean that trees have hands. God was describing the joy of all Creation when His plan of redemption is finally consummated. Or, when Jesus said that He was the “door of the sheep”, He did not mean that He looked like a door! Jesus meant that He is the only way for His people to have safety and security.
There are many good books. But there is only one that is life, Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4. I urge you to find a Church which will equip you to know the word of God and apply it for His glory!