Your Favorite Bible Verse? | Pt. 2

Man-Reading-Bible235x275As I stated in the first part of this series, to correctly understand any passage of Scripture, we must understand a few important things about it.  Foundationally, we must understand its immediate context, its historical context, and the literary genre of the passage.

There are several reasons why we must correctly understand Scripture.  First, it communicates important things about the nature of God that we cannot afford to get wrong.  Second, we must correctly understand Scripture because it communicates God’s ultimate plan with Christ at the center of that plan (Luke 24:27).  Third, we must understand how we are to live in light of God’s Word (John 17:14-17). Misunderstanding Scripture leads us to wrong theology, wrong doxology, wrong living (misapplication) and possibly a Christless eternity.

My heart grieves over the abundance and acceptance of false teachers who prey on the ignorance of people, keeping the veil over their eyes while greatly profiting.  They will give an account for how they mishandled the Word, causing people to not see the glory of Jesus Christ.  However, false teachers are not the only ones to blame. Often we are too lazy to read and study our Bibles to test the devotionals and books we read and the sermons / talks we hear.  Scripture even tells us that sometimes we seek out false teaching for our own selfish desires (2 Timothy 4:3-4). We ought to take delight in the fact that God has sovereignly chosen to speak to us through His Word, which is readily available to us. Yes, when we read Scripture, God is speaking to us.

Another common verse that is misunderstood and misapplied is Philippians 4:13:

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Unfortunately, I’ve heard this verse used in reference to someone’s desire to excel in athletics, their careers, or some other goal they have set for themselves.  Is Christ’s main concern that we reach our temporal goals? Is that what “all things” means?  Of course it can mean that if it’s ripped out of its immediate context and isolated.  We don’t read novels, articles or other books like that. Why do it to the Bible? Reading 101 tells us that words have definitions. Words form sentences, which form paragraphs, etc. that communicate ideas. When we remove a text from its immediate context, we distort its meaning.  The context in which a passage occurs always contributes to its meaning.  Discovering a meaning of a text is called exegesis.  This is why I think expositional consecutive teaching/preaching through books of the Bible is better than “hopscotch” teaching/preaching.  So let’s look at the context of Philippians 4 starting with verse 10.

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 8 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

The context of this passage reveals that at certain points in Paul’s life (see Acts 16 for background), he received some financial assistance from the Philippians as he was on mission spreading the gospel in various cities.  Paul is expressing his gratitude for how the Philippians repeatedly expressed their love and concern though this financial assistance.  Though Paul was expressing his gratitude, he was also saying that even if they didn’t offer assistance, he would be fine because the Lord had sustained him when money was plentiful and when it was scarce. Paul knew that he would be sustained and able to do all that the Lord wanted him to do because God would give him the grace to accomplish His will regardless of his financial situation.  That’s the meaning of this text.

  • Philippians 4:13 must be understood in the context of Philippians 4.
  • Philippians 4 must be understood in the context of Philippians.
  • Philippians must be understood in the context of the New Covenant.
  • The New Covenant must be understood as the fulfillment of the Old (Mosaic) Covenant.

We need to remember that the Bible is one grand metanarrative and each book must be understood in light of that.

* Listen to a conversation by R.C. Sproul and D.A. Carson about biblical exegesis.

Grace & Peace,

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Your Favorite Bible Verse?

Chances are most of us have one of the following: a favorite Bible verse, a life verse, a verse of the day, a verse for the year, etc.

Great! We all should love God’s Word and we usually adopt these verses as a response to a memorable moment in our Christian lives. So far so good. Nothing wrong with that. We ought to cling to God’s Word for encouragement, instruction, guidance, etc. Psalm 119 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17 remind us of the value of God’s Word.

However, we must make sure we understand what these verses mean to understand if they truly apply to us. To understand what they mean, we must understand at what point in redemptive history they were written. Were they written to Christians? To Israel / Judah? Were they written during the Old Covenant or the New Covenant?  These things matter.

For example, Jeremiah 29:11 seems to offer great hope for Christians as it is often quoted. It says:

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (NIV)

Sounds very encouraging, right? But we must answer a few questions to properly understand this verse.

* Who is the human author of the book?
* To whom was the letter/book written? (Hint: It wasn’t Christians. Read 29:1)
* Where does this book chronologically fit in redemptive history? (Hint: Not during the New Covenant (the covenant for Christians))
* What are the specific events the human author is addressing?
* What does the surrounding context of verse 11 reveal? (Read 29:1-23)

Hermeneutics Spiral

Once we answer these basic questions, we’ll better understand and know how to apply the Bible to our lives more correctly. This will also aid us in being better listeners of sermons.

May we all be those who rightly divide the Word of truth!

Grace & Peace,

d.

It’s All a Matter of Interpretation

It’s all a matter of interpretation. This is the mantra of our non-absolutists friends and also, unfortunately, many in the church when it comes to the correct interpretation of Scripture.  I say unfortunately because there are many who do not believe in the absolute truth of Scripture.  Once you remove the idea of absolutes, authority is lost as well.  Therefore, the Scriptures mean whatever the reader desires them to mean, usually to coddle their sin, always to their own detriment.  But I can’t say that “it’s all a matter of interpretation”  is entirely false.  It just depends on how it’s interpreted – based on the author’s intent, not the reader’s subjective bias. Reading 101.  

It often boggles my mind (not really) how some people voraciously scrutinize the Scriptures seeking to prove its “falsehood and unreliability” without applying the same measure of scrutiny to the daily paper or current news journal. Now if you’re going to fight, fight fairly.  Also, what weakens the rejecters position is that more than likely the basic rules of the science of interpretation (hermeneutics) haven’t been applied honestly.  Now if you’re going to fight, fight intelligently.

In the realm of Scripture, correct interpretation is a must for various reasons. Some of which are (1) to understand the nature and  character of God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) (2) to understand the revealed will of God (3) to understand ourselves (4) to understand sin and (5) to understand the gospel and its implications.   Scripture clearly attests its authority and its efficacy concerning these things.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17, ESV)

With such a claim, it is our duty to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15).  Notice the emphasis on “rightly”.  This means there is a wrong way to interpret Scripture, and it is done far too often.  The first step in understanding how to correctly interpret Scripture is to submit to its authority. The ultimate Author of Scripture is God, not man.  The second step is to understand the unique literary qualities of the Scriptures.  The Bible is composed of several different genres of writings.  Within the genres, various literary devices are used to help emphasize meaning.

Genre: Law, History, Wisdom, Poetry, Gospel, Epistles, Prophecy, and Apocalyptic Literature

Literary Devices: Allegory, Anthropomorphism, Hyperbole, Simile, Metaphor, etc.

Each genre and literary device, when present, must be considered when seeking to attempt to correctly interpret Scripture due to the varying nuances.

For example, the book of James is an epistle and the book of Proverbs is wisdom literature. Because each of these belongs to different genres, certain rules apply respectively. Or when we say “the arm of the LORD”, we can’t take that literally because the LORD is Spirit. This is an example of the literary device of anthropomorphism.  Several misinterpretations of Scripture are believed due to poor hermeneutics and eisegesis, rather than exegesis.  We must know when to take the Bible literally and when to understand when a literary device is being employed to emphasize a point, lest we end up making mistakes like this.

  

A few resources worth purchasing:

* A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible: Playing by the Rules / Robert H. Stein

* Dig Deeper: Tools for Understanding God’s Word / Nigel Beynon & Andrew Sach

* 40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible / Robert L. Plummer

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