The Power of the Bible
Inspired, Inerrant, Authoritative
(Adapted from John MacArthur)
Dr. Roger G. Ford, Ph.D., P.E.
The Bible is an amazing book. There are some books that change our thinking, but this is the only book that can change our very nature. This is the only book that can totally transform us from the inside out. The Bible is the only book that is inspired by the Holy Spirit, inerrant and infallible in its entirety, and authoritative as no other writing since it is the very Word of God!
There’s a section in Psalm 19 that is Scripture’s own testimony to itself.
- The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
- The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
- The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
- The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
- The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
- The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether. (vv. 7-9)
The Bible Is “Perfect” (The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul)
First, “the law of the Lord” is a Hebrew term used to define Scripture. Psalm 19 specifies that it is “perfect”—a comprehensive treatment of truth that is able to transform the soul. The Hebrew word translated “soul” (nepesh) refers to the total person, the real you—not your body but what is inside.
The Bible is for people who have some sense of desperation about where they are, where they came from, or where they’re going, who don’t have all the answers and who want something better.
The Bible says that the key to this transformation is the Lord Jesus Christ. He died on a cross to pay the penalty for your sins and mine, and rose again to conquer death. He now lives and comes into the lives of those who acknowledge Him as their Lord and Savior, transforming them into the people God means for them to be.
The Bible Is “Sure” (The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple)
Second, Psalm 19 says that Scripture is “sure”—absolute, trustworthy, reliable—”making wise the simple.” The Hebrew word translated “simple” comes from a root that speaks of an open door. Ancient Jewish people described a person with a simple mind as someone with a head like an open door: everything comes in; everything goes out. He doesn’t know what to keep out and what to keep in. He is totally naive and unable to evaluate truth. He doesn’t have any standards by which to make a judgment.
The Bible says it is able to make such a person wise. Wisdom to the Jew was the skill of daily living. The Bible touches every area of life, including relationships, marriage, the work ethic, and factors of the human mind and motivation. It tells you about attitudes, reactions, responses, how to treat people, how you’re to be treated by people, how to cultivate virtue in your life—every aspect of living is covered in the pages of the Bible.
The Bible Is “Right” (The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart)
Third, the Word of God, called “the precepts of the Lord, is right. In Hebrew, that means it sets out a right path or lays out a right track. And the result is joy to the heart.
Even difficulty brings satisfaction, because it creates a way in which God can show Himself faithful. Even unhappiness is a source of happiness. In John 16, Jesus compares the disciples’ sorrow at His leaving to the pain of a woman having a baby. There’s joy through any circumstance. The Bible says, “[Happy] are those who hear the word of God and observe it” (Luke 11:28). Why? Because God blesses their faithfulness and obedience.
The Bible Is “Pure” (The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes)
Fourth, the psalmist says the Word of God is pure, enlightening the eyes. The simplest Christian knows a lot of things that many scholarly people don’t know. Because we know the Bible, some things are clear to us that aren’t clear to others.
Scripture enlightens the eyes, particularly concerning the dark things of life, such as death, disease, tragic events, and the devastation of the world.
The Bible Is “Clean” (The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever)
Fifth, Psalm 19:1 says that the Word of God is “clean, enduring forever.” The only things that last forever are things untouched by the devastation of evil—another word for sin. The word of God is clean. It describes and uncovers sin, but it is untouched by evil. And even though it is an ancient document, every person in every situation in every society can find timeless truth in this book, never out of date or obsolete.
The Bible Is “True” (The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether)
Finally, and most pointedly, Psalm 19:9 says that the Word of God is true. Today it seems there’s no longer a premium on truth. But that was true even in Jesus’ day. Pilate, when he sent Jesus to the cross, said, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). The context makes clear that he was being cynical.
Scripture describes some people as “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7). That’s not referring to intellectual truth; it’s referring to the truth of life, death, God, man, sin, right, wrong, heaven, hell, hope, joy, and peace. People can’t find it on their own.
So, What Is Truth?
To look at things philosophically, we live in a time-space box we can’t get out of. We are locked into a time-space continuum. As we bounce around in our little box trying to figure out God, we invent religions, but they’re self-contained. The only way we’ll ever know what is beyond us is if what is on the outside comes in. And that’s exactly what the Bible claims. It’s a supernatural revelation from God, who has invaded our box. And He invaded it not only through the written word, but also in the Person of Jesus Christ.
Where do you find truth? In the Word of God, the Bible. Consider its attributes:
The Attributes of the Bible
The Bible Is Infallible and Inerrant
The Bible, in its entirety, has no mistakes. It is flawless because God wrote it—and He is flawless. It is not only infallible in total, but also inerrant in its parts. Proverbs 30:5-6 says, “Every word of God is tested. . . . Do not add to His words or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar.” Every word of God is pure and true. The Bible is the only book that never makes a mistake—everything it says is the truth.
The Bible Is Complete
Nothing needs to be added to the Bible. It is complete. Some today say the Bible is incomplete and simply a product of its time—a comment on man’s spiritual experience in history—and that we now need something else. Some believe that preachers who say, “The Lord told me this or that,” are equally inspired, like Isaiah, Jeremiah, or any of the other prophets. That is essentially to say that the Bible is not complete. However, the last book of the Bible, Revelation, warns, “If anyone adds to [the words of this book], God shall add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book” (22: 18-19).
The Bible Is Authoritative
Since the Bible is perfect and complete, it is the last Word—the final authority. Isaiah 1:2 says, “Listen, Oh heavens, and hear, Oh earth; for the Lord speaks.” When God speaks, we should listen, because He is the final authority. The Bible demands obedience.
John 8:30-31 reports that many of the people Jesus preached to came to believe in Him. Jesus said to them, “If you continue in My word, then are you are truly disciples of Mine.” In other words, He demanded a response to His word. It is authoritative. Galatians 3:10 says, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.” That’s a tremendous claim to absolute authority. In James 2:10 we read, “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” To violate the Bible at one point is to break God’s entire law. That’s because the Bible is authoritative in every part.
The Bible Is Sufficient
The Bible is sufficient for a number of essentials:
Salvation . Jesus said, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). Salvation is the greatest reality in the universe—and the Bible reveals the source of that salvation. Acts 4:12 says regarding Jesus, “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”
Instruction . Second Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” The Bible can take those who don’t know God and introduce them to Him. Then it will teach them, reprove them when they do wrong, point them to what is right, and show them how to walk in that right path.
Hope . Romans 15:4 says “Whatever was written in earlier times [a reference to the Old Testament] was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” The Bible is a source of encouragement, giving us hope now and forever.
Happiness. James 1:25 reveals the key to happiness: “One who looks intently at [Scripture], and abides by it . . . this man will be [happy] in what he does.” Psalm 119, the longest psalm in the Bible, devotes all 176 verses to describing the Word of God. It begins, “How [happy] are those who walk in the law of the Lord.”
The Bible is Scientific – The Source of Science (or it should be)
The Bible also presents a most plausible, objective understanding of the universe and the existence of life. It presents a God who creates. That makes more sense than believing that everything came out of nothing, which is essentially what the theory of evolution says.
The study of creation helps explain how the earth’s geology became the way it is. The Bible tells of a supernatural creation that took place in six days and of a catastrophic worldwide flood. These two events help explain many geological and other scientific questions, some of which we will soon explore.
The Bible is accurate when it intersects with modern scientific concepts. Isaiah 40:26 says it is God who creates the universe. He holds the stars together by His power and not one of them is ever missing. In this way the Bible suggests the first law of thermodynamics—that ultimately nothing is ever destroyed.
We read in Ecclesiastes 1:10: “Is there anything of which one might say, ‘See this, it is new’?” The answer immediately follows: “Already it has existed for ages which were before us.” Ancient writers of the Bible, thousands of years before the laws of thermodynamics had been categorically stated, were affirming the conservation of mass and energy.
The second law of thermodynamics states that although mass and energy are always conserved, they nevertheless are breaking down and going from order to disorder, from cosmos to chaos, from system to non-system. The Bible, contrary to the theory of evolution, affirms that. As matter breaks down and energy dissipates, ultimately the world and universe as we know it will become dead. It will be unable to reproduce itself. Romans 8 says that all creation groans because of its curse, which is described at the beginning of the Bible (Genesis 3). That curse and God’s plan to reverse the curse is reflected throughout biblical teaching.
The science of hydrology studies the cycle of water, which consists of three major phases: evaporation, condensation, and precipitation. Clouds move over the land and drop water through precipitation. The rain runs into creeks, the creeks run into streams, the streams run into the sea, and the evaporation process takes place all the way along the path. That same process is described in Scripture. Ecclesiastes 1 and Isaiah 55 present the entire water cycle: “All the rivers flow into the sea, yet the sea is not full. To the place where the rivers flow, there they flow again” (Ecclesiastes 1:7). “For . . . the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth” (Isaiah 55:10). Also, Job 36:27-28 speaks of evaporation and condensation—centuries prior to any scientific discovery of the process: “He [God] draws up the drops of water, they distill rain from the mist, which the clouds pour down, they drip upon man abundantly.”
In the 1500s, when Copernicus first presented the idea that the earth was in motion, people were astounded. They previously believed that the earth was a flat disc and that if you went through the Pillars of Hercules at the Rock of Gibraltar you’d fall off the edge. In the seventeenth century, men like Kepler and Galileo gave birth to modern astronomy. Prior to that, the universe was generally thought to contain only about one thousand stars, which was the number that had been counted.
However, in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, the number of the stars of heaven is equated with the number of grains of sand on the seashore. God told Abraham, “I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is on the seashore” ( 22:17 ). Jeremiah 33:22 says that the stars can’t be counted. Again God is speaking: “As the host of heaven cannot be counted, and the sand of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the descendants of David.” Today several million stars have been cataloged, though hundreds of millions remain unlisted.
The oldest book in the Bible, the Book of Job, pre-dates Christ by about two thousand years. Yet Job 26:7 says, “He hangs the earth on nothing.” In the sacred books of other religions you may read that the earth is on the backs of elephants that produce earthquakes when they shake. The cosmogony of Greek mythology is at about the same level of sophistication. But the Bible is in a completely different class. It says, “He . . . hangs the earth on nothing” (emphasis added).
Job also says that the earth is “turned like the clay to the seal” (38:14, KJV*). In those days, soft clay was used for writing and a seal was used for applying one’s signature. One kind of seal was a hollow cylinder of hardened clay with a signature raised on it. A stick went through it so that it could be rolled like a rolling pin. The writer could, therefore, roll his signature across the soft clay and in that way sign his name. In saying the earth is turned like the clay to the seal, Job may have implied that it rotates on its axis. The Hebrew word translated “earth” (hug) refers to a sphere.
It’s also interesting to note that the earth maintains a perfect balance. If you’ve ever seen a basketball that’s out of balance, you know that it rotates unevenly. You can imagine what would happen if the earth were like that. The earth is a perfect sphere, and it is perfectly balanced. The depths of the sea have to be balanced with the height of the mountains. The branch of science that studies that balance is called isostasy. In Isaiah 40:12, centuries before science even conceived of this phenomenon, Isaiah said that God “has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, and marked off the heavens by the span, and calculated the dust of the earth by the measure, and weighed the mountains in a balance, and the hills in a pair of scales.”
English philosopher Herbert Spencer, who died in 1903, was famous for applying scientific discoveries to philosophy. He listed five knowable categories in the natural sciences: time, force, motion, space, and matter. However, Genesis 1:1, the first verse in the Bible, says, “In the beginning [time] God [force] created [motion] the heavens [space] and the earth [matter].” God laid it all out in the very first verse of Scripture.
The Bible truly is the revelation of God to mankind. He wants us to know about Him and the world He created. Although the Bible does not contain scientific terminology, it is amazingly accurate whenever it happens to refer to scientific truth. But someone might say, “Wait a minute. The Old Testament says that the sun once stood still, and if that happened, the sun didn’t really stand still; the earth stopped revolving.” Yes, but that statement is based on the perception of someone on earth. When you got up this morning, you didn’t look east and say, “What a lovely earth rotation!” From your perspective, you saw a sunrise. And because you permit yourself to do that, you must permit Scripture to do that as well.
Evidence for the authenticity of the Bible and an attribute of the Bible is its miracles. We would expect to read of miracles in a revelation from God Himself, who by definition is supernatural. Miracles are a supernatural alteration of the natural world—a great way to get man’s attention.
The Bible includes supportive information to establish the credibility of the miracles it records. For example, Scripture says that after Jesus had risen from the dead more than five hundred people saw Him alive (1 Corinthians 15:6). That would be enough witnesses to convince any jury. The miraculous nature of the Bible demonstrates the involvement of God. But to believe the miracles, we must take the Bible at its word.
The most intriguing attribute of the Bible is its predicting the future sometimes many centuries beforehand. There is no way to explain the Bible’s ability to predict the future unless we see God as its Author. For example, the Old Testament contains more than three hundred references to the Messiah of Israel that were precisely fulfilled by Jesus Christ (Christ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah).
Peter Stoner, a scientist in the area of mathematical probabilities, said in his book Science Speaks that if we take just eight of the over three hundred Old Testament prophecies Christ fulfilled, we find that the probability of their coming to pass is one in 1017. That is an inconceivable number in size, but if we look at that number in another way, it starts to become understandable.
We take 1017 silver dollars and lay them on the face of Texas. They will cover all of the state two feet deep. Now, we mark one of these silver dollars and stir the whole mass thoroughly. Next we blindfold a man and tell him he must pick up one silver dollar from anywhere he chooses across the entire state. What chance would he have of getting the right one? Just the same chance that the prophets would have had of writing these just eight prophecies and having them come true in any one man. (Chicago : Moody, 1963, 100-107) And Jesus fulfilled hundreds more than just eight prophecies!
The Bible includes many other prophecies as well. For example, the Bible predicted that a man named Cyrus would be born, would rise to power in the Middle East, and would release the Jewish people from captivity (Isaiah 44:28—45:7). Approximately 150 years later, Cyrus the Great became king of Persia and released the Jews. No man could have known that would happen; only God could.
In Ezekiel 26 God says through the prophet that the Phoenician city of Tyre would be destroyed, specifying that a conqueror would come in and wipe out the city. He said that the city would be scraped clean and that the rubble left on the city’s surface would be thrown into the ocean. The prophecy ended by saying that men would dry their fishnets there and that the city would never be rebuilt.
Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon laid siege to Tyre three years after the prophecy was given. When he broke down the gates, he found the city almost empty. The Phoenicians were navigators and colonizers of the ancient world. They had taken their boats and sailed to an island a half mile offshore. They had reestablished their city on the island during the years of siege. Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city on the mainland, but since he didn’t have a navy, he was unable to do anything about the island city of Tyre. This left the prophecy partially unfulfilled.
About 250 years later Alexander the Great came into the area of Tyre needing supplies for his eastern campaign. He sent word to the residents of the island city, but they refused his request. They believed they were safe from attack on the island. Alexander was so infuriated at their response that he and his army picked up the rubble that was left from Nebuchadnezzar’s devastation of the mainland city and threw it into the sea. They used it to build a causeway, which allowed them to march to the island and destroy the city. That exactly fulfilled what Ezekiel had predicted hundreds of years previously.
If you travel to the site of Tyre today, you’ll see fishermen there drying their nets. The city was never rebuilt. Peter Stoner said that the probability of all the details of that prophecy happening by chance is one in 75million.
The Assyrian city of Nineveh is another example. It was one of the most formidable ancient cities, which reached its apex during the seventh century B.C. Yet the prophet Nahum predicted that it would soon be wiped out. He said an overflowing river would crush the gates and that the city would be destroyed (Nahum 1:8; 2:6).
In those days when people walled in their cities and they had a water source going through the city, they would build metal gratings or bars so that the water could flow through the bars of the gates and keep out intruders. In the case of Nineveh, a great storm came and flooded the river, carrying away a vital part of the city walls. That permitted besieging Medes and Babylonians to enter the city and destroy it, just as the prophet predicted.
How should we interpret the Bible?” If we say that the only source of truth is the Bible, then how do we get the right message out of this book? Given that we’re dealing with an ancient book and with the fact that it’s a different time, a different people, a different culture, a different geographical setting, a different sociology, different in terms of language, we have to close all those gaps to interpret Scripture accurately. Whatever the Bible meant when it was originally written is exactly what it means now. We have to recreate the conditions of when the Holy Spirit inspired the some 40 writers in order to properly understand the true meaning. That is called original intent.
Sometimes you hear people say, “We need to bring the Bible into modern times.” That’s exactly the wrong thing to do. What needs to be done is to take the modern reader into ancient times, to reconstruct the setting in order that the interpretation is clear from the conditions at the time it was written.
The word that is used to describe interpretation of the Bible is hermeneutics. It is from a Greek word, hermeneuo which means to interpret or to translate, to give the meaning. It is giving the sense of what something says. We communicate with one another and we very often say, “What exactly do you mean by that?”; “What do you think that person meant?”; “What do you think this writer means?” In college, a course in American Literature, or European literature, or any other kind of literature dealing with prose or poetry, you’re going to be continually asking the question, “What did the writer mean?” The message is often not obvious on the surface. So hermeneutics, which is an English transliteration of this Greek verb, hermeneutics is the science of Bible interpretation. As a science, it operates under fixed rules. It is the crucial science behind all accurate doctrine, all sound doctrine that is faithful to the Word of God. Where you have a deviation from sound doctrine, inevitably you have a failure or a flat-out denial of the veracity and authenticity of the text itself.
We are all aware that there are a lot of interpretations that are thrown around about Bible verses. Because we are prone to presuppositions, because we may be ignorant of certain facts that have been outside our prevue and our education, we could come to a wrong conclusion. Or we could just decide that we want something to mean a certain thing and read it in.
But, every text of Scripture has one true interpretation. We might not get them all right, we might disagree, but all texts of Scripture have one interpretation, one only. That is the essence of communication. God is saying something, not anything you want Him to say, and not everything.
The mandate of hermeneutics is Second Timothy 2:15, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman that doesn’t need to be ashamed, handling accurately the Word of Truth” If we don’t handle accurately the Word, we stand before God ashamed. This is our responsibility. The Word must be handled with diligence and care and precision and accuracy and those who fail to do that will be ashamed.
There are three errors to avoid in Bible interpretation:
First, refrain from making a point at the price of proper interpretation. In other words, to make a point, you use a verse taken out of context. It’s very tempting to do that for a pastor or a teacher to sneak a foreign meaning into a text to get a desired response. This is a very ancient way of handling the Scriptures going back to the ancient Jewish rabbis who did it all the time. The Mishna is an ancient Jewish book filled with rabbinical writings supposedly based on their interpretations of the Bible. Observant Jews read the Mishna instead of the Bible. Refrain from making a point at the price of a proper interpretation. That would be “eisegesis” or reading your point into the text and manipulating it to fix it as opposed to “exegesis”, letting the text yield its own truth.
Secondly, avoid superficial study. Good accurate Bible study is hard work. It can’t be done by flipping quickly through the Bible or by fiddling around in a concordance and trying to piece things together. Understanding the Bible accurately is foreign to me because its language is foreign, its culture is foreign, its geography is foreign, its history is foreign, its philosophies are foreign, its social customs are foreign, and it is a totally alien document to me. Therefore, I can never establish the meaning of a text without knowing what it meant to the author. Therein lies the work, the immense diligence necessary for interpretation of Scripture.
But, when proper interpretation is completed, the perspicuity of Scripture, the clarity of Scripture, is astounding. I know there are people who say, “The Bible’s not clear, the Bible is an ancient document, we can’t know what it means.” But, the perspicuity of Scripture comes through. It is clear, it is revelation, it is not oblique, it is not opaque, it is not so alien that it cannot be understood, but it does take effort for it to yield its clear meaning. So at one and the same time, it’s clear but it’s hard work to get to the clarity. When you finally get there, its clarity is stunning.
How many times have you said to yourself, “Why didn’t I see that?” Because proper interpretation takes more than just reading the words, it takes study and time to read and become familiar with the context of entire sections and books, referencing resources that know more than you do and are reliable and trustworthy, and prayer and direction from the Holy Spirit. 1 Timothy 5:17 says, “Double honor is to be given in the church to those who labor in the Word and doctrine.” But why does the church give honor to those who labor in the Word and doctrine? Because the church is the beneficiary of their hard work when the clarity of scripture is brought to bear upon their hearts. God gives teachers to the church to labor in the Word and doctrine so that the people in the church can understand the Word of God clearly.
One of the real early scholars of hermeneutics wrote this, “It is often asserted by devout people that they can know the Bible completely without helps. They preface their interpretations with a remark like this, ‘I have read no man’s book, I have consulted no manmade commentaries, and I have gone right to the Bible to see what it had to say for itself.’” That is a very pious statement. That’s a very spiritual sounding statement. And you could say that and people might say, “Amen, brother, amen.” But that is not the way of wisdom. You don’t want to sit under that. Does any man have the right or the learning innately on his own to bypass all the accumulated illumination of the Holy Spirit through the history of the church? And that is about as proud and unspiritual a statement as any person could make. It’s a veiled egotism to say, “I don’t read human books, I go right to the Bible.” It’s a subtle affirmation that you are a greater source of biblical wisdom than say John Calvin, or any other who consulted every available source there was.
We can’t confuse inspiration with illumination. We have an inspired text; we need to be illumined by the Holy Spirit, that’s 1 Corinthians 2. We need to be taught by the Spirit. The Spirit knows the things of God and He teaches us. The function of the Spirit is not to communicate new truth. The function of the Spirit is not to teach or to reveal new truth; it is to bring illumination to the Bible.
Third, no one should ever spiritualize or allegorize a text. This always has been and still is a popular method of using Scripture as some kind of story and uses it to make it mean whatever you want. There is an extreme example of a young couple who came to a pastor to get counseling about marriage problems. It became clear that they should never have gotten married, not a match made in heaven. The pastor asked, “Why did you get married?” “Oh,” said the husband, “it was the sermon our pastor preached in our church.” “Really, what sermon was it?” “Well, he preached on the walls of Jericho.” “What does that have to do with marriage?” “Well,” he said, “that God’s people claimed the city, marched around it seven times and the walls fell down. And, if a young man believed God had given him a certain young girl, he could claim her, march around her seven times, the walls of her heart would fall down. So that’s what I did and we got married.” To which the pastor said, “That can’t be true, you’re kidding me, right?” “No, no, that’s true. And there were many other couples who got married because of the same sermon.” Some people think marriages are made in heaven and some are, but this one was a marriage made in an allegory.
A well-known pastor preached a series on the book of Nehemiah and he said, “Nehemiah was writing about Jerusalem’s walls being in ruin. That speaks of broken-down walls of human personality. Nehemiah represents the Holy Spirit who comes to rebuild the walls of human personality that are broken down.” When he got to the king’s pool in chapter 2, he said that meant the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the mortar between the bricks rebuilding the wall was speaking in tongues. So the message was, Nehemiah is teaching us that the Holy Spirit wants to rebuild the broken walls of our personalities through the baptism of the Spirit and speaking in tongues. Nehemiah has nothing to do with human personality, the baptism of the Spirit or speaking in tongues. But, some people hear that and say, “That’s deep. Wow, I never saw that.”
Of course you never saw that. A well known pastor who used to be the pastor of the largest church in his area preached on the Rapture of the church one night from John 11. John 11 is about Lazarus and his resurrection and essentially he said, “Lazarus allegorically refers to the church. Jesus saying “Lazarus, come forth,” was a picture of the resurrection of the church.” When asked later if anyone had ever seen that interpretation from John 11, a wise pastor knowledgeable in proper interpretation answered, “No one has ever seen that in John 11. You are the first.” And he took it as a compliment saying pridefully, “No one’s ever seen that but me? Wow!”
If you’re going to make something up, you could use the Little Bo Peep preaching method. You could say, “Little Bo Peep, bless her heart. She was little, and had lost her self-esteem. Plus, she was alienated by her name. And that made her very sad. And to make her sadder, she lost her sheep. You know, everywhere in the world people get lost, have poor self-esteem, become sad. Ah, but they’ll come home. Yes, if you’re faithful. Yes, those lost people, they’ll come home.” But, what to do with wagging their tails behind them? Oh well, you get the point.
The point is, don’t make a point at the price of a proper interpretation. Don’t do something superficial and don’t use the Bible for spiritualizing, allegorizing, and devotionalizing. Use faithful hermeneutics.
These are the five scientific principles that all Bible interpreters work with starting with the literal principle. That principle starts with interpreting the Scripture according to normal language, real people, real history, normal language. If somebody comes up to you and says, “It’s certainly a beautiful day today”, do you say, “What’s the secret meaning of that?” There is no secret meaning; it’s just a beautiful day. So, why would you do that with the Bible? If the Bible says something that is very clear, why would you assume there’s some secret hidden meaning? There isn’t. The Bible is real people, real history, normal language, real meaning. The words of Scripture are words that are to be understood in ordinary ways in the course of any daily use of normal language. Whatever the most obvious meaning, the simplest meaning, the clearest meaning, the most normal meaning, that is the meaning.
What about figurative language that appears in the Bible? We use figurative language all the time in our everyday conversations. “My feet are barking”. Our feet don’t bark. We understand metaphoric language, we understand analogies, and we speak in analogies all the time. That’s normal language. Figures of speech are normal language. Symbolism is normal language. But allegory is secret, hidden meaning that is not contained in the normal language. There are no allegories in the Bible. There is no deeper meaning, no hidden meaning, no secret meaning, and no spiritualized meaning. There are prophetic passages where there are analogies and illustrations. Zechariah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, in the book of Revelation there are images, but those images are conveying a reality. They are conveying a reality in a symbolic way.
We use those kinds of things all the time just as did Jesus in parables. Parables were fictional stories conveying actual truth. Do not ever abandon literal interpretation in favor of some mystical, hidden allegorical interpretation which discards accuracy, coherence, intelligence, and reason. This also was the way the rabbis did it. The rabbis said Abraham had 318 students because letters in Hebrew have a numerical equivalent and the consonants in Abraham’s name added up to 318, so the fact that the consonants in Abraham’s name added up to 318 meant that Abraham had 318 servants. That’s just not true, that’s irrelevant. It has nothing to do with the truth that’s being conveyed with the name Abraham. But that kind of esoteric, quasi-Gnostic sort of elevated insight was very common among rabbis. We find a lot of it today in numerology, and we have to be very careful not to fall into the trap of reading things into the text.
The second scientific principle of Bible interpretation is the historical principle. The historical context is everything. The culture, geography, politics, religion, the thinking of the people, the perspectives, the world view, what’s going on at the time, how the people think – all of that is informing us of the historical context. What are the characteristics of the city? What were the cultural conditions? What were the politics? What were the social pressures? What were the tensions? What were the problems? What were the crises? What were the customs of the people? So, what informs us of all of this? Have a really good library that contains Bible dictionaries, Bible handbooks, commentaries, books on history, books on Bible customs, and books on everything necessary to reconstruct the times.
There’s a third scientific principle of Bible interpretation – the grammatical principle. This principle is to look at the language and the syntax and lexicography of a passage. This means examining the words, the way they’re arranged, the prepositions, the pronouns, and the antecedents. This can all be accomplished with our English Bible. What do the words mean? What is the antecedent or predecessor of this? What is the preposition telling me? To what does this pronoun refer? To whom does it refer? It’s all grammatical. Studies should be done of actual words and the syntax which is how the words are connected with each other.
Word studies are called lexicography. Syntax is how the words are constructed. This is where knowing the original language is really critical. And if we don’t know Greek and Hebrew, we can get books that will give the English detail that the original languages contain. We can access the Greek from the English. We can access even the Hebrew from the English and find original meanings that can be lost in translation. Instead of just buying the end product of somebody else’s study, we can get in on the front end of it and get these kinds of books to dig out meaning ourselves.
The fourth scientific principle of Bible interpretation is the synthesis principle. The synthesis, the Reformers used the expression Scriptural Scriptorium Interpreteur, means that Scripture interprets Scripture. The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge allows us to look up every verse and find every other verse in the Bible that refers to the same idea and the same truth. This book is not a concordance. It’s not the same word, it’s the same idea. It’s the Scripture interpreting the Scripture. One writer says, “The Bible appears like a symphony orchestra with the Holy Spirit as its Toscanini, each instrumentalist has been brought willingly, spontaneously creatively to play his notes just as the great conductor desired, though none of them could ever hear the music as a whole. The point of each part only becomes fully clear when seen in relation to all the rest.” That’s a brilliant statement. The Bible is a symphony and when you study one theme, you’re just putting all the instruments together and then it becomes a symphonic presentation of that one truth.
The fifth and last scientific principle of proper interpretation is the practical principle. The final issue to cover in interpretation is what are the implications of the passage? There is a difference in application and implication. Application means making direct application to our lives from the Scripture. But, we should be much more concerned about implication than specific application. We should be processing in our minds the implications or the consequences, repercussions, and effects of the text. Then, it’s the Holy Spirit’s work to make the application. As to specifically making application of any new understanding of Scripture, the Holy Spirit directs our thinking, our experience, and our lives.
We all teach the Word of God. And in that teaching, we must be conveying the true meaning of the Word of God free of any personal interpretation. 1 Corinthians 2:12-14 says, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God, that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” The natural man cannot properly interpret Scripture, nor can those who don’t submit themselves to the principles and the science of hermeneutics. When you hear anyone say, “This is what the Scripture means to me”, remember, it is the Holy Spirit’s illumination that guides the intense process of interpretation of Scripture to completion and that drives us to the right and clear interpretation of Scripture to the glory of God.