HOW TO STUDY THE BIBLE- interpretation; Matthew 4:5-7; 7:24-27 10/28/12 Dr. Ben Sloan
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:“‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test. (Matthew 4:5-7)
Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Mt. 7:24-27)
One of the most discouraging and yet true remarks I have heard often of the Bible is, “If you want to, you can get scripture to say whatever you want to say.” This is true. Another way to put it is the ancient saying, “The devil can quote scripture too.” My immediate reaction to that is, this means scripture is fairly useless, or it can be so easily twisted that we don’t need to use it. But please remember this- simply because people manipulate truth- does not mean truth does not exist. Simply because the right can be corrupted in this life does not mean there is no such thing as good or right. It takes faith to believe that though there are wave after wave of corruption or of falsehood- that what Is true not only still stands and lasts, but that it is absolutely important. Any kind of communication can be misinterpreted on purpose or accidentally. A 14 year old boy was told by his father, “Look out for the puppy this afternoon for me, I’ll be back tonight.” When the father came back the puppy had torn up his shoes, had eaten the legs of the furniture, and had not been fed or watered, and had gone to the bathroom in the house. The father called the son in and said, “I thought I told you to look out for the puppy for me.” The boy replied, I did. I made sure the puppy didn’t bother me, and I and nobody else bothered it.” What the father said was important, and how the boy interpreted it was important too. The Word is important, but how we interpret it is also important.
Interestingly, when Jesus first began his ministry, misinterpretation is exactly what happened. In his temptations of Jesus the devil quoted scripture. Instead of Jesus fussing at the devil for twisting or manipulating scripture- or even giving up on scripture- Jesus did something very important. He quoted scripture in refuting evil and wrong. My friends, the world will tell you to not quote it, to not read it, to not be a Bible basher, to not be a radical, or if you read it you are a fundamentalist, or out of touch with the every day world. If the Bible were not powerful or effective, there would not be so much effort to make sure we keep it turned off. Those in darkness do not want us to turn on the light. God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light for our path. Remember the example of Jesus who knew scripture enough to quote it when he needed to, and was not embarrassed by misinterpretation of scripture to give the truth of scripture.
But if the devil can quote scripture- and not just the devil, but anyone can twist and manipulate it, then it is vitally
important that we learn some basics of interpretation of scripture. It is God’s powerful Word, and we need to hear it, but also understand it correctly.
I. CONTEXT- What the context is of scripture so important. Our understanding depends on our understanding the background but also what is going on, what has been said already, and a concept of why the thing said was said in the
first place. . If I say that song is the Bomb- it means it’s a success. But if I say that song bombed- it means It failed. Ten years ago if I said “That guy is bad” to a young person it meant that guy was outstanding. Thirty years ago if I said, “That guy is bad” to anyone it meant that guy is not good. So, it is important to look at the context.
When the devil said for Jesus to throw himself down and see if God would catch him, and quoted the passage about the angels will lift us up from Psalm 91, he was taking it out of context. Jesus pointed out other passages say to not put the Lord to the test. So Jesus was using the scripture of Deuteronomy 6 to interpret scripture of Psalm 91. He was showing in this the unity of holy scripture and that God wants us to take scripture in context.
One caution here. There are some experts and scholars who spend their whole lives studying the context of the Bible. I knew a man who spent most of his career studying the words “This is a faithful saying” in I and II Timothy and Titus. There are Greek and Hebrew scholars, archaeologists who help us to understand, and there are thousands of commentaries on scripture- some saying contradictory things. The impression of this could be that there is no way an ordinary simply person can understand anything. But the scriptures are like Lake Murray- it is shallow enough for a baby to wade in and deep and wide enough to challenge an Olympic swimmer. You would expect that of God. An uneducated person can come to Christ as well as a well-educated person. The poor person who has no biblical tools at their disposal as well as the wealthy. But the cautionary tale is that every now and then there needs to be a correction. Just like a wonderful piece of furniture can have coat after coat of varnish on it, and wax it and wax it to keep it pretty. Every now and then you need to refinish it down to its original. The Bible’s interpretation can cloud its original meaning that sometimes we need to get down to what it really says- this happened in Jesus day- vs. the scribes, the Reformation, Great Awakening, and now.
2. KEY WORDS- That the eternal infinite God seeks to communicate with us and cares about us is what we celebrate every Christmas. Communication is a gift from God, and when you think about it, God makes Himself vulnerable when He communicates with us. He makes Himself vulnerable to misunderstanding, miscommunication, and to our ignoring His gift of trying to communicate with us. Jesus is a visible sign that God is not silent but cares, and the Bible is a visible concrete sign that God cares and communicates too. Words are important. Often couples argue because they misunderstand each other’s words.
If I am watching the World Series and I say “Look at that batter” that means the player standing at the plate. If my daughter Is in the kitchen, making a cake and I say, “Look at that batter” that means the ingredients about to be cooked and placed on the plate
So, when Jesus says, that person is like the one who built their house on the rock- he is not fussing that the guy couldn’t build a basement, but that he had a good foundation that held up in the storms. Communication is really a gift. When a baby is able to not just pout and cry but say what they want, it is a gift. My granddaughter is one now, and each little new word she says- and she is learning a word a day is a celebration. Peez means please; Tink yaw means thank you. Each word God gives us in scripture is a celebration- a gift not to be overlooked, ignored, or simply sped over all the time.
3. CLEAR VERSES- We touched last week on the idea of correlation- that we interpret unclear verses with clear ones.
Don’t think that there is always some mysterious secret hidden meaning for everything in the Bible. The History Channel and Discovery Channel would have us believe that there is some secret, hidden, intriguing message hidden in numerology and stuff. I will grant that the Bible is supernatural, but it is also clear. To think that the Bible is so mysterious and has so many hidden meanings that no one but a super- scholar can get anything out of it is wrong. Don’t let what you don’t know in the Bible keep you from wanting to learn more, and to simply do the things you know. The purpose of the Bible is not to conceal but to reveal.
This is really true about anything. If you are following a recipe and something doesn’t quite make sense, do the things you know. If you are putting a bike together, and you don’t know how one screw fits- put all the others in, don’t just give up- do the things you know and get through it. Sometimes looking at the clear verses clarify the unclear ones.
There is a cross reference to this passage on the rock- Jesus said, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church.” The name Peter means “rock.” But Christ was not saying that Peter alone is the rock of the church. But rather the truth of the gospel- referred in our passage is the rock.
When you solve a riddle- always begin with the part you can get- and search for the part you don’t. When you are putting a puzzle together- put the parts together you know then see how the harder parts fit in. So, when you are studying the Bible- don’t leave out the harder part- but concentrate on the clear parts.
4. KEEP IT SIMPLE- Simplicity keeps things close to reality, and help us to focus. Sir Walter Scott was the one who said, “O what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” When my children were little and the ashes in the fireplace were all over the floor, and their hands and face were black with soot; I would ask, “What happened?” Instead of telling me the truth- that they opened the glass doors and spread the ashes, I would hear something like: “This bat flew in from the chimney- and it kept banging on the glass doors- and I just had to let it out and it spread ashes everywhere.” “Well where is the bat now?” “It must have escaped somehow.” Law Enforcement detectives will tell you that usually the simplest, common and consistent story is the most accurate- and the more complicated, conflicting and tangled a story is the more likely it is to not be true to reality. So for the devil to say to Jesus- throw yourself down- so that flying angels can catch you- is probably not the simplest and best way to interpret the verse that God’s angels lift us up.
The Bible does not mean everything. If the Bible or the constitution, or the Law of the Land means everything then it means nothing. You don’t have to be a lawyer to obey the law. But it is important to listen to the clear things that you are before you. I might say- there are some who will not make a will because they don’t understand the legalese. But that is to their own detriment. You may not understand all the flowery law-language, but it is important to have a will. Too many stay away from scripture because of a fear that they might not understand it- and their prediction comes true. For you will NEVER EVER UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU DON’T TRY TO READ. It is possible to understand the Bible, we must use our heads and also our faith and hearts.