Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hermeneutics 101: Interpret Scripture with Scripture

A correct interpretation of the Bible will always be consistent with the rest of the Scriptures. Therefore, it is essential for us as students of the Bible to interpret a passage in light of what the rest of the Scriptures say on the topic. There are Scriptures that are somewhat confusing. Peter himself tells us that (2 Ptr. 3:16)! When that is the case, rather than seeking to make an interpretation based on one verse, it is essential to examine other, perhaps more clear, passages of Scripture.

You recall there in the wilderness, Jesus was fasting for 40 days, when Satan came along to tempt him. We see there in that temptation something pretty interesting. Satan knows the Word of God. He seeks to lead Jesus astray from the will of His Father, by quoting Psalm 91:11.

Satan said, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: 'He shall give His angels charge over you,' and, 'In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone (Matthew 4:6).'" [Satan left out an important phrase form that original phrase. He left out the phrase, “in all Your [God’s] ways.” According to the psalmist, a person is protected only when he is following the Lord's will.]

But Jesus replied by interpreting Scripture with Scripture. What did He do? He quoted Deuteronomy 6:16: “You shall not tempt the LORD your God.” Jesus used Scripture to interpret Scripture when he was tempted by the devil. By doing this, Jesus was saying to us that a passage of Scripture must be understood in the light of those clearer and more expressive Scriptures.

So, if the section of Scripture that you are seeking to interpret seems difficult, or vague, go to a clearer passage that speaks on the same subject more thoroughly. This is important to do, or you can easily come to wrong conclusions.

Now, look with me at John chapter 10. I’d like to show you how failing to follow this rule has led to a wrong interpretation (this is just one of many examples that could be cited). Notice that in v. 15 Jesus said, “As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep" ( John 10:15). We might conclude, based on what Jesus says here, that the death He died on the cross was only for the sheep. And that is what some have concluded. There are Christians today who believe that Jesus’ death on the cross only paid the price for a select group. They call this teaching “limited atonement.” But we need to check Scripture with Scripture. When you do, what do you find out? You find out that Jesus died on the cross for everybody.

1 John 2:2 says, “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” 1 Timothy 2:6 says that Jesus “gave Himself a ransom for all.” “Then,” someone might ask, “why not are all people saved?” Because the forgiveness of sins does not occur until a person turns from His sins to the Lord and places His trust in Jesus (Acts 17:30, John 3:16, 1 Jn. 5:12). Christ’s atonement is unlimited, but it’s application is limited only to those who believe. If a person insists on opposing God and rejecting Him, then what Christ did on the cross for that person will not be applied to them. God will not force His salvation upon somebody who does not want it. John 3:16 says, “Whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16). Unbelief is the reason that some do not receive the benefits of Christ’s death.

So, be careful not to base your conclusions, or build your interpretation of a Scripture on a single Scripture, but on Scripture as a whole. Scripture is the best interpreter of itself. Because that is the case, the first commentary you should consult on a passage is what the rest of the Scriptures have to say on the topic being examined. Commentaries, concordances, indexes in the back of your Bible and books on systematic theology can be very helpful in pointing out other verses on topics that you may be unfamiliar with.

So, let Scripture interpret Scripture; incredibly simple and yet so important to put into practice!