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How to Study Your Bible: Interpretation

Grace To You / John MacArthur
The Truth Network Radio
October 24, 2023 4:00 am

How to Study Your Bible: Interpretation

Grace To You / John MacArthur

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October 24, 2023 4:00 am

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You come into the kingdom of God, as it were, according to Matthew 18. If we can spread this metaphor across to the New Testament. You come in as a child, you are a child of God, and you have certain childlike characteristics. One of them is that you need to learn the truth of God, and you have to learn it by repetition. Welcome to Grace to You with John MacArthur.

I'm your host, Phil Johnson. Did you know that every time you read the Bible, you do open heart surgery on yourself? You're using a spiritual tool that can expose the thoughts and intentions of your heart.

The question is, how effective a spiritual surgeon are you? John MacArthur helps you refine your skills today in his study, How to Get the Most from God's Word. But before we get to today's lesson, there's a letter we received that I want to get to. It's a reminder that there are many people in the world who may be impossible to connect with in a face-to-face way, and yet those people are particularly reachable.

By that, I mean they're hearing biblical truth, and they are receptive to it because they're in a place where they have come to the end of themselves spiritually. And so, John, if you would, please read the letter that you have in front of you. I'll gladly do that. It's written to me, Pastor John, and Grace to You. I'm writing to thank you for the books I have received from you while here in prison. I listen to you every day on radio from Bryan, Texas. Your teaching has reached the deepest parts of my spirit.

You speak truth that hurts and stings. It's exactly what I need to change my life and live for Christ 100%. I am changing everything I do and think about because of your Bible teaching. Before now, I never could figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Now I know exactly what I want to do.

My purpose is to tell people about Christ, especially my four grandchildren, and to use my past as a testimony to help others overcome their sin and bring them to Jesus. I'm doing that now, and all of the material you send me helps with that. Thank you for caring about me while I'm in here. Thank you for helping change my life. And she signs her name Julie.

Wow. A grandmother in prison concerned about the salvation of her grandchildren. You wouldn't necessarily know this, but Grace to You has a very robust and extensive ministry to men and women who are incarcerated in prison. We partner with a number of prison chaplains who are able to get our Bible teaching books, and especially the MacArthur study Bibles, into the prisons to the prisoners. There are people who may never again have physical freedom on this earth, but by God's grace, they are experiencing spiritual freedom even while they're in prison. Our printed materials, along with this radio program, are changing lives.

So just know this. When you support Grace to You, you are helping penetrate prison walls and cell blocks with the liberating truth of God's Word, particularly through our radio broadcasts. And on behalf of the people inside prisons and outside who are benefiting from Grace to You, thank you so much for supporting God's work as we endeavor to carry it out.

That's right, friend. Thank you for your part in this Bible teaching ministry. And with that, follow along now as John shows you how to get the most from God's Word. We told you that the Word of God says that only those who are born again, only those with a strong desire, who are diligent, who are pure and holy, who are obedient and prayerful, are able to rightly divide the Word of truth. And so we depend upon the work of the Holy Spirit in all of those areas, the Spirit who gives us new life, the Spirit who plants in us the hunger for the truth, the Spirit who grants to us the diligence and who cleanses us from sin and drives us toward holiness, the Spirit who works obedience in us, the Spirit who prompts us to pray is behind all of these requirements and qualifications for the study of God's Word. Now, given that we understand the importance of the Word of God, that it is, in fact, the Word of God, and we've endeavored to say that in a number of ways, and given that our lives are right before the Lord, we belong to Him, we have this desire, this diligence, this holiness, this commitment to obedience, and prayerfully approach the Word of God, how are we then to study Scripture? How are we to get a grip on this book?

It seems so formidable. It's such a thick book, such a long book. In fact, 66 books make up this one book. There are so many details, and since every word, therefore every phrase and every sentence and every paragraph, every chapter, every book itself is of such vital importance, how are we ever to be able to grasp the fullness of the Word of God?

What format do we use? What approach do we use for effectively studying the Bible? And I want to share with you just some of the basic things that are essential in coming to grips with an understanding of the Word of God.

Some of them will be familiar to you, and some of them perhaps will be new to you. Suffice it to say, by way of a little bit of an introduction, one of the grave problems in the church today is a misunderstanding of the meaning of Scripture. We expect unbelievers to misinterpret Scripture, don't we? Because they are natural and they cannot understand the things of God, the Bible in its truth is closed to them.

For the Bible is only understood by those who are taught by the Spirit of God, and since they are void of the Spirit and void of the life of God, we don't expect unbelievers to come up with the right answer. But it is also true that in many cases there are believers who for a number of reasons misinterpret Scripture. They come to Scripture with their presuppositions and force the Bible to conform to those presuppositions. They come to the Scripture with their pre-digested theology and their understanding of doctrine perhaps from the past, and they want to force the Word of God into that.

Or perhaps they are enamored by some prominent teacher or prominent writer, and they sort of line up with that individual and they want to affirm what he says or what that group says without regard for a careful understanding of Scripture. There has been obviously severe damage done to the work of God, severe damage done to the church of Jesus Christ by misinterpretation of Scripture. And there are so many misinterpretations of Scripture under the name of Christianity that most non-Christian people assume that there is no right interpretation of the Bible. Is that not fair to say? Most non-Christian people would say, well, it's everybody's own interpretation.

That's obvious because there are so many views. The church has come up with all kinds of very strange doctrines because of misinterpretations. In fact, bizarre kinds of things have occurred in the life of the church because of a misinterpretation of the Word of God. Cults have risen, as you know, throughout history because of misinterpretation. Very often misinterpretation categorically codified and defined by singular people like Mary Baker Eddy in the case of the Christian Science, or Special Vision supposedly come to Joseph Smith in the case of the Mormons, and those being then the interpretation or the appropriate interpretation of Scripture. But not just through those mystical means.

There still are today many Christian people who offer an interpretation or an understanding of Scripture that is utterly inaccurate. Their influence varies. Some of those people never get any influence outside their own house, for which we can be thankful to some degree. Others of them have wide influence.

They're printed, they're put in books, their books are widely distributed and the chaos reigns from pillar to post. We really understand that. We know there is much confusion. We are called to a proper understanding of Scripture so that we can truly understand God's message, so that we can put it into practice, believe it and live it. We are also to understand God's Word because when believing it, living it, putting it into practice, we therefore bring upon ourselves the fullness of God's blessing and we have the opportunity to give Him the glory His name is due. Any misinterpretation of Scripture short-circuits God's intended purpose for it, and you cannot justify that on any grounds whatsoever. So we are committed again to the study of the Bible. Now let's just talk about some basic things that are necessary. To understand the Scripture, the first thing you have to do is read the Bible.

Now that may come as a shock to you, but it's where you have to start. Most people don't know what the Bible means because they don't know what it says. And maybe there are people who sort of stand at a distance from Scripture and say, boy, I could certainly never figure this deal out so I'm not even going to try.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Perhaps if we asked people who have some familiarity with the Bible, what would be the most difficult book in the Bible? What would be the hardest book of the Bible to understand? They would probably say Revelation. Probably most people would say that the book of Revelation is hard to understand. I know many preachers who throughout the life of their ministry would never preach on the book of Revelation because they don't think they can understand it. They just don't know what to do with the book of Revelation and they leave it out. But most people would say it's probably the most difficult book to understand. Yet at the beginning of this book, it says in chapter 1 verse 3, blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy and heed the things which are written in it for the time is near.

You want a blessing? Read Revelation. Listen to what it says, understand what it says, and put it in practice. Now I believe that the book of Revelation can be understood. It can be understood if you just read it.

It's very clear what it says. It's only when people get mystical about it that it becomes confusing. Obviously there are some elements of the prophecies there that we will never understand until they actually come to pass, but that's true of all prophecy. But the message of the book exalting Jesus Christ, speaking about the glorification of the saints and the judgment of the ungodly, is very clear in the book of Revelation. You start by reading the Bible. I suggested to you that the way to do that is to read the Bible on a repetitious basis. Turn in your Bible, if you will, to Isaiah chapter 28.

And I want to just set down a principle here that I think is very basic and very important. Isaiah chapter 28. I suppose that if you were to ask the Jews of Isaiah's day where they were on the scale of spiritual maturity, they would put themselves fairly high, having received the oracles of God, having the law of God, and having the various holy writings that had been granted to them and the words of the prophets that had come to them, and certainly included in that is the preaching ministry of Isaiah. The people of Israel would have fancied themselves as students of the revelation of God, students of the Old Testament revealed Scripture. They would have fancied themselves as those who had the knowledge of God and the wisdom of God and understood God and His truth. But that was not the way God viewed it. God viewed them not as mature, but as utterly immature. He viewed them not as adults in terms of understanding, but as infants in terms of understanding. And so, Isaiah speaks to them in that sense in chapter 28 verses 9 and 10. To whom would he teach knowledge? And to whom would he interpret the message, speaking of God? Those just weaned from milk, those just taken from the breast. For he says, verse 10, order on order, order on order, line on line, line on line, a little here, a little there.

Indeed, he will speak to this people. Now when God went about to speak to His people Israel through the prophet Isaiah, He had to speak to them as if they were just infants, as if they had just been weaned from the breast, as if they had just been weaned from milk. They were infants and they had to be treated like infants. And how do you teach an infant? How do you instruct an infant in knowledge? How do you teach a child when they're in their infancy, when they're just beginning to have the capacity to learn? You teach them this way, order on order, order on order, line on line, line on line, a little here, a little there. The bottom line, repetition, simple repetition, repetition over and over and over and over again is how little ones begin to learn. That's how God's people have to learn. You come into the kingdom of God, as it were, according to Matthew 18, if we can spread this metaphor across to the New Testament.

You come in as a child, you are a child of God and you have certain childlike characteristics. One of them is that you need to learn the truth of God and you have to learn it by repetition. It's true of anything you learn, you learn it by repetition.

Even as a student in seminary, I go back to the days when I was endeavoring to pass exams in seminary and to show my proficiency in the various coursework that I had to do and perform at a level so that I could get the grade I wanted to get and proceed toward my graduation. And I found that the only way that I could really retain what was necessary to retain was by constant memorization, constant repetition in my study. That's how we all learn. You learn by repetition over and over and over and over.

And as you read the Bible, that is what will happen. I suggested to you that with regard to the New Testament in particular, you read it repetitiously. Read the same section every day for 30 days. Take about seven chapters or so, sometimes a little more, maybe a little less if you're reading a book like Philippians that only has four chapters, then read four chapters every day for 30 days. If you're reading a book like John divided into three sections of seven, read seven for 30 days, the next seven for 30, the next seven for 30, in two and a half years you can do the entire New Testament that way. That repetitious reading will cause you to remember what you've read. Now you say, well, as I go through the Old Testament, do I do the same? No, just read through it in a narrative fashion.

And when you're done, go back and read through it again and then go back and then go back and read through it again. You cannot remember the vast volume of detail and the wideness of the Old Testament, but I remind you of this, that the themes of the Old Testament and the themes of the New Testament are very clear, and there are not that many of them. Do you remember what I told you were the basic themes of Scripture?

First of all, Scripture is God's self-disclosure. It tells us about God. So as you read through the Scripture, you can start in Genesis and read right through the Old Testament, noting in your mind everything that is true about God. And you'll find things repeated again and again and again that God is wise and God is powerful and God is the Creator and God is a judge and God is just and God is merciful and demonstrates loving kindness.

You see it here, you see it there, you see it here, you see it there. And so there is a repetition of that throughout the Old Testament. Every book doesn't unveil some brand new kind of revelation heretofore never known, but rather unfolds in a new way, in a new environment, in a new context, in a new experience, the character of God, so that you are hearing about God over and over and over and over again. Secondly, we said that the Bible points out that God has a law which man violates, and as a result of that, he suffers the cursing of God.

Violation of God's law, disobedience to God brings cursing. That is clear in the Scripture. You'll start in Genesis and you'll see it immediately in the fall. You'll see it again and again and again and again as you go through the record of the Old Testament.

Everywhere you go, you're going to run into the same basic theme, illustration after illustration after illustration. Thirdly, we said that to those who keep the law of God and obey the law of God, there is promised blessing. You will see that repeated again and again and again. Where there is the honor of God, the worship of God, where the sinner recognizes his sin and comes to God and seeks to glorify Him and honor Him, believes in Him, trusts in Him, and obeys Him, there will be blessing. Repeatedly, in the Old Testament, that record is unfolded. The fourth great theme of the Old Testament is there is a Savior coming. Man is in desperate need. He is guilty before a holy God because of his sin.

He can't do anything about it himself. Someone must come to pay the penalty for man's sin. That someone will come and that is the Savior. When you're reading in Genesis, you will read about one who will come and bruise the serpent's head. You will read about a ruler who will come who will be Shiloh, as it were, who will bring peace. As you move through, you will read about the sacrificial lamb. You will read about a day of atonement.

You will read about a scapegoat that bore away sin. All of that picturing the coming Savior. And then the...the...the psalmist will begin to identify the Savior and even quote what the Savior will say when He hangs on the cross.

And then you will read the prophets and they will predict things about the Savior, about His birth, about His life, about His death, about His resurrection, and so it goes. And the Savior will be that recurring theme again and again and again and again, the One who is to come, the One who is to come. And finally, the final fifth great sweeping reality of the Old Testament is that history will end with God establishing an earthly kingdom in which His glorious Savior will rule and reign. You will find that again and again and again and again. God will take back the earth.

Paradise will be regained. Those are the five great themes that sweep through the Old Testament and, of course, through the New Testament as well. So when you read the Old Testament, just keep reading and reading and reading.

You can hang everything you read on those five hooks. So there is repetition. There are just those few themes in the Bible. Those themes obviously have various shades and significances and nuances and they break open into a myriad of truths, but they all are built around those themes. Reading the Bible will put you in touch and make you familiar with those themes and then the many explicit statements about those themes, the many illustrations of those themes in the history that God has recorded for us in the Old Testament. Another thing about the Old Testament in your reading is that the Old Testament is simple.

And I say that in this sense. The Hebrew language is simple. It is a concrete language. It is not an abstract language like Greek. Greek has many abstractions. Greek is a language of cognition where Hebrew is a language of action. The Hebrew language is very specific, very concrete, very clear.

Most of the terminology has very concrete and obvious significance. You should be able to read the Old Testament and understand what is going on. You may run across a word you don't understand. You may run across a ceremony you don't understand. You may run across a historical event that maybe is a little bit confusing to you.

But in general, the language of the Hebrew is simple and straightforward. And as you read through the Old Testament continually, and I would suggest that you read mostly in the same version, occasionally reading a different version for just a little bit of a nuance of understanding, but mostly in the same version so that you increase your familiarity with the text. Read the Scripture. Now as you read, and this is what I've always done, as you read, keep a little bit of a log alongside your reading and note the things you don't understand. Note the things you don't understand. Don't get bogged down in your reading with everything you don't understand as you're just reading through. Keep reading and start making a list. Put down a little list for each book you're reading. Put down the chapter heading and start writing down the things that you don't understand. And you'll begin to sort of feed your curiosity a little bit.

That's a very important process to do. Read and note the things you don't understand for future study so that you can go back and dig a little bit more deeply. Now in the New Testament, as you're reading, what I told you to do was take a little three-by-five card or some kind of a card, a little post-it or whatever you want to use, and write down the theme of every chapter. Write down the theme of every chapter. You're reading through 1 John. You're reading through the chapters of 1 John, five chapters. You give a little heading to each of those five chapters, which plants in your mind what's in that chapter. Memorize that, the 30 days you're reading 1 John. Keep it in your memory. Go back and rehearse it, and you'll always know where things are in the Bible. You can find them easily.

There's no substitute for this. It's almost impossible to calculate, for example, the number of sermons that someone like John Wesley preached. I've heard numbers, upwards of 30 and 40 thousand sermons that he preached.

It is recorded in history that John Wesley, of course, preached all the time. Sometimes he preached from dawn till sunset, day after day after day. He preached thousands upon thousands upon thousands of sermons. In fact, I used to wonder how in the world the man could preach that many sermons. How did he have that much material in his mind? The answer comes when you understand that every day of his life, John Wesley arose at four o'clock in the morning and proceeded on an absolutely rigorous routine of reading the Scripture, which he did for hours until he was ready to preach in the mornings. And he read the Scripture, interestingly enough, in five languages.

Now, we don't expect to be able to do that. He was able to do that, that giving him the breadth and length and depth and height and all the nuances possible in the understanding of the Scripture. He was a man literally bursting with the knowledge of the Scripture, which fed this immense capacity that he had for preaching. It all starts with reading the Scripture repetitiously. And as I told you earlier, familiarity with the text of Scripture is its own interpretation. As you begin to read Scripture, it begins to interpret itself. It begins to unfold itself because these consistent truths are repeated again and again, and the Bible becomes its own best source of explanation, one Scripture explaining another. And you'll be amazed as you begin to absorb the Word of God, reading, as I told you, through the Old Testament and then on a 30-day basis repetitiously in the New. You do that for a few years and you will begin to marvel at the grasp that you have on the meaning of Scripture because it becomes so clear just by virtue of the repetition. And as I've told you before, I just repeat briefly again, I like to interpret the Bible with the Bible. That's the best source of interpretation.

And in most cases, you can do that. In other words, nothing in the Bible is so absolutely isolated that you have to interpret in its own context and not beyond. Everything in Scripture, most everything in Scripture, is linked to other matters in Scripture that assist in the interpretation of that matter itself. An illustration of that, for example, and there could be many, but one that comes to mind, in reading through John chapter 3, Jesus talks to Nicodemus and Jesus says to Nicodemus, you must be born of the water and the Spirit.

Now somebody might ask the question, what is He talking about? What does He mean, you must be born of the water and the Spirit? And I've heard people say, well, the water there means baptism. You have to be Spirit baptized and you have to be water baptized.

And there are whole groups of people who teach that. That doesn't make any sense since Christian baptism hadn't been instituted at the time of that conversation. And furthermore, since water baptism is not the means of salvation, others have suggested, and I've heard this preached, that what it means you must be born of the water and the Spirit is you must be born physically. That's the water, you know, the water breaks and then the baby comes. And so that's the water that is part of human birth.

You must be humanly born and then you must be born of the Spirit. Problem with that is the Jews didn't refer to that as water. The right answer is simply available to you if you read Ezekiel because in the prophecy of Ezekiel chapter 36, Ezekiel says there's coming a new covenant and in that new covenant God is going to take away the stony heart of your flesh and He's going to give you a heart of flesh, a tender heart. He's going to put His Spirit within you and He's going to sprinkle water upon you and wash you. And if you further read back into the New Testament, you're going to find that it is the washing of the water of the Word.

That's what it's talking about. The Scripture gives its own explanation. You don't need a medical explanation or a clinical explanation and you don't need some kind of ecclesiastical explanation. The Bible itself is its own best interpreter. I remember when I was going through Peter's epistles and was talking about a very interesting phrase in 1 Peter, 1 Peter 1, 2, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood. And I read that phrase and I thought, what in the world does that mean? And I started reading in commentaries and I couldn't find anything that satisfied me.

I had all kinds of explanations. And as I began to study, I found that same concept in the 24th chapter of Exodus because I was familiar with what Exodus said, went back to Exodus chapter 24, verses 3 through 8, found a whole ceremony there, a ceremony when the people of Israel declared their obedience to God and that they would be faithful to the Word of God. And at that particular time, Moses splattered blood all over them as a symbol of their declaration of obedience. And that's precisely what Peter, who was a Jew, would have in mind as he was writing to Jews. He would be saying to them that when you acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior, you are like those of old affirming your obedience and in a symbolic sense being sprinkled with His blood rather than the blood of a sacrifice in the case of Exodus 24. I don't need to go into any more detail other than to say Exodus 24 gives a clear understanding of what 1 Peter 1, 2 is talking about.

So to be a student of the Bible, first of all, is to grasp the sweep of Scripture by repetitious reading. You're listening to John MacArthur, pastor, author, chancellor of the Masters University and Seminary. The title of John's current study on grace to you, How to Get the Most from God's Word. Now, friend, as John mentioned before the lesson, this ministry is made possible because of the faithful support of listeners like you. Your donations help keep this broadcast on the air in your area and around the world.

To partner with us, contact us today. Our number here, 855-GRACE. You can also mail your tax-deductible donation to Grace to You, Post Office Box 4000, Panorama City, CA 91412. And even if you're unable to give today, you can still support this ministry for generations to come by making Grace to You part of your estate plan or your life insurance policy. For more about legacy giving, you can visit our website,, or call us at 855-GRACE.

Our number again, 800-55-GRACE. And if you're enjoying John's current series, How to Get the Most from God's Word, let me remind you that you can download all five messages for free in MP3 and transcript format from In fact, you can download all of John's sermons, that's more than 3,500 sermons, free of charge. Our sermon archive is one of the many free resources available to you from And now for John MacArthur and our entire staff here at Grace to You, I'm Phil Johnson. Be back tomorrow to learn more about how to get the most from God's Word and why that's vital for your spiritual well-being. It's another half hour of unleashing God's truth, one verse at a time, on Grace to You.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-10-24 05:46:23 / 2023-10-24 05:58:05 / 12

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