As we continue our search for those truths that are authentic and relevant to our quest for genuine Christianity, we need to realize that, while much has changed over the past two millennia, some things do not change. For example, we read that, in the earliest days of the ekklesia, the disciples in Jerusalem “were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42, NASB). Their continual devotion to “the apostles’ teaching” portrays their general attitudes toward truth, instruction, and learning. These were people who understood that they had been called out from the world; and called to truth. And, beloved, so have we.
Jesus’ statement, when He was put on trial before Pilate, makes this clear:
Pilate said to Him, ‘So You are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.’ Pilate said to Him, ‘What is truth?’
(John 18:37-38, NASB)
When Jesus uses the word, “everyone,” He is talking about all of His disciples; including us. But, while Jesus put a premium on “truth”—making it a prerequisite to being able to hear His voice—Pilate, like many people today, declared his willful ignorance by dismissing the very notion of there being any such thing as truth.
God’s people have always been in constant pursuit of truth. They have always longed to hear their Lord’s voice. Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27, NASB). Thus, our brothers and sisters in Christ who lived during the 1st century understood the need to continually devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching; and so must we.
From the earliest days of both Judaism and Christianity, God has always place a premium on communicating His word. God, through His prophet Moses, said to the nation of Israel:
These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
(Deuteronomy 6:6-9, NASB)
As new covenant children of God, it is essential that we understand the vital role that the written word of God plays in our lives, as well. Jesus said, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32, NASB).
The Apostle Paul encouraged the young evangelist, Timothy, who was ministering with the ekklesia in the city of Ephesus, saying:
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.
(2 Timothy 4:1-2, NASB)
The Apostle Peter admonishes us to:
like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord
(1 Peter 2:2-3, NASB)
Another reason we must read our Bibles and “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, NASB) is so that we will not be led astray. The Apostle Peter, speaking with reference to the Apostle Paul’s writings says:
…just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
(2 Peter 3:15-18, NASB)
We would do well to become like those noble Bereans of whom it is written: “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11, NASB).
With these things in mind, we now come to a very important concept, and one that needs to be discussed and addressed by every authentic, new covenant child of God—the need to establish a personal “hermeneutic” or “a method or principle of interpretation” (Hermeneutic, 2013). How we interpret the Bible—how we understand it and apply it to our own lives and to the lives of others with whom we share this world—depends a great deal on our hermeneutic.
It is my conviction that, when it comes to the Bible, establishing a sound method or principle of interpretation always begins with prayer. The Bible says, “… if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5, NASB). What better way to make sure that we are understanding the scriptures correctly than to ask God for His wisdom and guidance. We should follow the Apostle Paul’s example when he says:
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.
(Ephesians 1:18-19, NASB)
I want to ask a question of you, dear child of God: “Why do you study your Bible?” Is it just so you can learn more about God; or so that you can better understand His expectations of you? Is it really just all about obtaining more knowledge or getting the right answers? While those are, perhaps, some lofty goals, we should remember that there are plenty of educated people in this world—including many who like to think of themselves as theologians—of whom the Apostle Paul warned that they are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7, NASB).
I would like to think that, at least for me and you, studying the Bible can be about so much more than just gaining knowledge or coming up with the right answers. I love the thought that, for us, Bible study can become more about encountering God; that is, allowing Him to reveal more of Himself to us through His divinely inspired word. It is about God and His children becoming ever more intimate with one another. I hope we don’t just want to know more about Him; I hope that what we really want is to know Him, don’t you?
And so, even though I’ve been reading my Bible for years, still, I find myself continually in prayer asking the Lord for more of Him and for more intimacy with Him. When I open my Bible I ask that He will enlighten the eyes of my heart so that, as I meditate upon the promises revealed to me through His word, I can, as the Bible says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8).
Establishing a sound hermeneutic, despite the rather highfalutin sound of the word, is not a particularly difficult thing to do. When it comes to, as the Apostle Paul states, “handling accurately the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), it is important that we comprehend certain basic principles of interpretation. For example, when approaching any scriptural text, we should always begin with the big, broad picture and then work down toward a more personal application of the passage. After all, it stands to reason, doesn’t it, that a specific command given by Moses in the book of Leviticus might have a significantly different impact on the life of an Israelite living thousands of years ago under the old covenant than it would a child of God living today under the new covenant in Christ Jesus.
Beyond praying for wisdom and reading the text, we can proceed with good Bible study by asking ourselves a series of seven simple study questions:
- By whom and to whom was this passage of scripture originally written;
- When and under what circumstances was the passage written;
- What is the immediate message of the passage; that is, given the historical circumstances under which the passage was written, how would those to whom it was written have understood and applied the teaching set forth in the passage;
- How does the particular passage under review fit within the general framework and broader context of surrounding passages;
- How does the passage under review fit with other passages throughout scripture that deal with, or touch on, the same theme or topic;
- Is there an eternal principle set forth in the passage that I believe God wants me to comprehend and adhere to; and finally,
- Does the passage contain specific commandments that I am to obey, or examples that I believe God wants me to emulate?
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