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How Shall We Interpret Scripture? #1

The Truth Pulpit / Don Green
The Truth Network Radio
June 24, 2022 8:00 am

How Shall We Interpret Scripture? #1

The Truth Pulpit / Don Green

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June 24, 2022 8:00 am

How important is it to correctly ascertain scripture's true meaning and intent- Today, Pastor Don Green continues teaching God's People God's Word- he will show us just how critical it is to -rightly divide- or interpret God's Word, Holy Word---TheTruthPulpit.comClick the icon below to listen.

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We come to a crucial question. How shall we interpret scripture? What guidelines lead us to the truth? What should you be thinking, looking for, asking, applying, as you open up God's Word and reading? How important is it to be able to correctly ascertain the true meaning and intent of scripture? Hello there, and welcome to the Truth Pulpit with Don Green, founding pastor of Truth Community Church in Cincinnati, Ohio.

I'm Bill Wright. Today, as Don continues teaching God's people God's Word, he's going to show us just how critical it is to rightly divide or interpret God's Word, His Holy Word. Now, before we get started, Don, this is really a hot button for a lot of people, isn't it? I mean, we've all heard people say, well, that's your interpretation, or that's not what my Bible says.

What do you have to say about it? Well, Bill, that's a great question. And the important thing for us to realize is that God's Word has an objective meaning. The question is not what the Bible means to you or what the Bible means to me. The question is, what does the Word of God intend for us to understand by what it says? And scripture commands us to work hard to get our understanding correct. The Bible says in 2 Timothy 2, verse 15, to be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. My friend, understanding the Bible takes diligence over time, and that's why it's so important for us to know how to engage in effective Bible study.

That's our series for this week. Stay with us as we open God's Word together now. Thanks, Don.

And friend, if you're ready, let's get started. Here is our teacher with part one of a message called, How Shall We Interpret Scripture? here on The Truth Pulpit. We come to a message today that I feel like I need to give you just a brief introduction on. This will be a little bit different than anything that I've ever done from The Truth Community Pulpit, because it's not specifically teaching a text of scripture as much as doing something that's preliminary and giving us that which is necessary to understand any text of scripture.

It's kind of preliminary and, again, very foundational. We come to a crucial question. How shall we interpret scripture? This is another very fundamental question. In some ways, it's surprising to me as I stand here.

Why haven't we done this sooner? But we need to understand something. We need to understand that we must have the meaning of scripture if we are to have the truth. It is not enough simply to have the words on the page in front of you if you don't understand what they mean.

We need to have the meaning of scripture if we're going to have scripture itself. And so this message today is a basic introduction to what is called hermeneutics, which is the system of rules that we follow to interpret the Bible correctly. Now, let me just kind of preface this and ask you for a favor, if I may. Some of this may be a little bit technical. This may sound a little bit more like a lecture than a sermon, but that's okay. It's foundational, and so I just ask you to give me your mind and your heart, because these things are going to open up a lot of clarity for you.

And probably, again as it did for me, looking back on things that I did in the past that were misguided, and hopefully give you that which can make your scripture time and reading more productive. Let me introduce it by way of an analogy, an illustration. Suppose that you were going to go to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to visit that great Civil War battlefield, but you'd never been there before and you don't know exactly how to get there. Gettysburg isn't like Boston or Miami on a map.

You instantly know where those cities are, and Gettysburg, okay, it's in Pennsylvania somewhere, but I don't know just exactly where. Well, you have a fixed destination as your goal. I want to go specifically to one place, which is Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and if you're going to drive, you have a car that's going to transport you there to that destination to get you from where you're at to where you intend to go, and then you have a GPS on your phone or an Atlas or a AAA road map to give you directions and say, oh, we turn here, not there.

We go straight here, not there. And so there's different elements that are in play to make a successful trip to that location. But there's one destination, and you need something to get you there, and you need directions along the way.

Well, that's kind of a rudimentary analogy to help you understand what we're going to be saying here today. To properly understand the Bible, you need to understand three things, I think. First of all, you need to know what your destination is, and that destination is the author's intent.

The Bible writers intended to communicate a meaning when they wrote, and they intended to communicate a single meaning with any given sentence that they wrote. They had something in mind that they were trying to communicate, and our goal is to understand what that author meant by what he wrote. That's the goal. That's the destination.

It's a point that we are trying to get to. The vehicle, what is it that carries us to that destination? The vehicle is a literal interpretation of Scripture. I'm just giving you the outline in advance. And then the road map. The road map that we use are various principles of interpretation that we use in every passage that we look at. And so we're going to look at the destination, the vehicle of interpretation, and the road map that gets us there. And that's just a little crude illustration to help you have a sense, because some of these topics, some of these things that we're going to say are almost philosophical in nature.

And so I want to give you something that kind of gives you a word picture to point on and to hang your hat on so you can understand what we're saying. What's our goal in Bible interpretation? What's the destination? What are we trying to do? The first point, the destination is the author's intent.

The author's intent. Now, we've all been to Bible studies, and you'll instantly understand why this is so crucial when I set it up for you this way. We have all been to Bible studies, probably, where at some time or another someone says something like this. Well, you know, what this verse means to me is... And then they go and give their opinion about what those words from God mean. And other people chime in, well, what it means to me, and then you just start getting competing opinions, and you're left in a fog, and frankly, you would have been better off not even having a study like that. Well, when someone says what this verse means to me, let me tell you, that is not the question. That is utterly irrelevant. We don't care, speaking to somebody who's not here, somebody who...

This is an imaginary person, even though I'm going to use the second person singular, so don't take this personally. We don't care what that verse means to you. We don't care what that verse means to you. What we want to know is what that verse means. We want to know what that verse means if you had never been born. What did that verse mean before you existed? And see, in that little illustration helps you see that there is a meaning in the text that is independent of the person who is reading the Scripture. It had meaning before any of us existed, and it had a meaning that was fixed when the author wrote those words, either himself or through the secretary who recorded it for him. And so our question is, what did the biblical author mean by what he said?

That's crucial. There comes a time and a place for us to apply the implications of the meaning, but when we're reading Scripture and trying to understand it, we are not interested in what I think it means. We have to understand that our goal is to see what the author means and not put our self front and center in the process. This, beloved, is part of the humility that we were talking about at the end of the last session, part of the humility of deferring to the text, coming under the authority of the text, instead of arrogantly putting ourselves at the center and saying, this is what it means to me.

That's really crucial. Now, there's another crucial aspect to this, is that God inspired the author to write the exact words that he wrote. So there is an authority in the biblical text that we need to respect. The text has a fixed meaning that preceded us, and our goal in interpreting Scripture and our goal for understanding Scripture is to understand what that text means rather than simply imposing my opinion upon it and saying that my opinion is what matters and what is important. And so, the next time that someone says what this verse means to me is this, well, you can handle that according to the wisdom that God gives you at the moment. But understand that for you and I, what our desire is, we want to know what this text means.

And that's a different question. We humble ourselves and let it speak for itself. Now, tying it in with my illustration, we look for a fixed meaning, just as Gettysburg is a fixed geographic location, and it exists in one place, in space, and you have to go there to that point in Pennsylvania to get to Gettysburg. Can you imagine how ridiculous it would be for somebody to say, I know what the map says. I know that it says that Gettysburg is in Pennsylvania. But you know, in my heart of hearts, I believe that Gettysburg is in Idaho. And I just feel that way. I feel that way about it, and as I look about it, I just have this sense that God is telling me that regardless of what people have said in the past, Gettysburg is in Idaho. Well, you would look at a person like that and say, you're nuts.

You need to be admitted to a hospital where you can get help. Gettysburg is in Pennsylvania, and it doesn't matter how you feel. You can't move Gettysburg from Pennsylvania to Idaho by your feelings and baptizing it with the sense that God told you that Gettysburg is really in Idaho.

That's insane. You know what? The meaning of God's Word is a whole lot more important than where Gettysburg is. And therefore, it cannot possibly be that God would have us all have a subjective sense of our own opinion and what we feel that this text means. It's fixed, and our goal is not to impose ourselves on that text with ridiculous ideas that have no bearing in reality.

We need to get out the map and say Gettysburg is here. We need to get out the Bible and say, okay, this is what it means. That's really crucial. That's fundamental. Whenever you're reading the Bible, studying it, listening to a sermon, we're moving toward a destination, a direction.

We're doing the best that we can to say, what does this text mean? That is essential. Now, a fixed destination. Okay, that's fine, but how do we get there? How do we get from here to there? To go to Gettysburg, you get in the car and you go and you drive on that miserable Pennsylvania Turnpike. Yeah, amen. Anybody that's been on that is going to amen that statement. That's my new line. If I need an amen for encouragement, I'll just say, I don't like the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Amen.

It'll be there for me. But how do we get from where we're at in our reading as we come to the text? How do we get from the point that we start with to the point of understanding the author's meaning?

That brings us to our second point. The vehicle that we use is the literal interpretation of Scripture. We're answering the question, how do I determine what the author meant by the words that he used? And here's a simple answer. Look, all of this ties together. We talked about the clarity of Scripture, and we talked about the kind of person that you need to be to understand Scripture. And now we're asking the question, well, how do we understand?

All of these things are taken together. And the fact that Scripture is clear leads us to this very simple observation, simple, basic, but also fundamental. We take the author in the natural sense of the words that he used. We don't come to Scripture and read it as if it were full of indecipherable symbols, communicating hidden mysteries that we have to look for, as if it couldn't be understood on the face of the words that are used. No, we take the author in the natural sense of what he said.

Now, we call that method by different names. Some call this the literal principle of interpretation. And what they mean by that, and that's a good term, we read his words in the literary form that he employed. Remember that God intended his Scripture to be clear, and so as he inspired the biblical author to use particular words, he was intending for them to communicate clearly as he directed them in what they said.

Well, the only way that it can be clear is if there is a plainness and openness to the words that is obvious to those who would read them, rather than some kind of mystery. You know, years ago, there was a big splash about something called the Bible Code. And what people said was that if you use mathematical equations, for example, if you take every fifth letter of the text, you would get prophetic messages about what was going to happen in the world. And supposedly, this was used to show that the Bible text indicated world events 2,000 years before they happened.

And you'd look at the cover of the book, and there'd be these, it's kind of like a word search, and they'd draw circles around the letters that were involved, and you'd read the letters that way, and it would communicate these hidden meanings. That was all bogus from the very beginning. That's all impossible. And I want you to understand why it's impossible, even though that's something from years ago that isn't dominating anyone's attention right now. You should know, just based on what we've done already so far, that it is impossible that that was ever true, that that was ever what God intended to do with His Word.

First of all, it's not clear. You have to generate programs, and you have to use the biblical text instead of just being able to read it, and that there's clarity on the surface of it, that you have to dive into some kind of mystery mathematical formula in order to understand God's Word. Not true. Absolutely false. Sold some guy a bunch of books, and I'm sure he's got a nice house as a result, and Christians are notoriously vulnerable to that kind of nonsense because they're looking for shortcuts, because they don't want to do the work that's involved to understand God's Word.

They want something that is special and flamboyant. No, isn't that cool? Look, it showed that Lincoln was going to wear his black suit to the Ford Theater that night. The Bible predicted that, as if that's something that was going to give people a sense that God's Word was inspired. Not true. Not true. And the reason that it's not true is because that's not clear.

That wouldn't be evident on the surface to somebody like you and me. And so the Bible isn't written in these mysteries that we have to figure out. We can read the text in the natural sense in the way that the author wrote them and understand it that way. And so that's really important. Just understanding the literal interpretive principle would negate a whole genre of books that existed some years ago. And to the credit of good scholars, there were people that debunked that pretty quickly, so the guy made his money off the book and ran.

Disgusting. Now, a more technical term for what we do is called the grammatical historical method. And we're using that term synonymously with the literal method. And to use the term grammatical historical method is simply to say this. That's a fancy term.

Stay with me if you would. It's a fancy way to say that we understand the biblical author by the words and grammar he wrote to his audience in their historical context. Let me say it again. It's very simple. It's intuitive.

Really, it's basic human communication. How do you understand what I'm saying now? You take my words at the literal sense in which I use them in this historical context. You understand intuitively the nouns and the verbs that I use and the grammatical constructions and you say, okay, I'm following him. Well, it's the same way with the Bible.

Human language, the dynamics of human language are transcend time and culture. People communicate with the words that they use and they intend to be understood when they're being written in Scripture. And so that's the idea. Now, within that broad statement, we understand something important. We know that the biblical authors used different kinds of literature to express their literal meaning. Follow me here.

This will help set the stage for so much. There are different kinds of literature in the Bible. There is legal literature in Exodus and Leviticus saying you shall, you shall not.

Those things are kind of hard to read sometimes. There's historical narrative where there's a story being told that's different from the shall nots. In Revelation, you have prophetic imagery and visions being given, however you understand that. In the Psalms, you have poetry being written. In the New Testament epistles, you have a different kind of instruction going on. And so when we say that we use the literal meaning that we're after that, we understand that there are different ways, different kinds of literature that were being used. But we understand also that in whatever form it was being taken, information that was intended to be understood was being communicated. That's very basic.

That's probably as technical as I'm going to get today. If you're still with me, you're through the hard part. The wave has already hit us and now we can stand up and swim. I know, that doesn't make any sense, but I'm not a swimmer. Why would you stand up and swim? You dive in and swim is what I should say.

You stand up and walk. Get your metaphors right, pastor. Anyway, here we go. We're talking about the literal interpretation and here's what I want you to walk with me through this. In the four gospels and in the book of Acts, for example, the writers were giving a historical account to describe what happened. In the New Testament epistles, they wrote in an orderly fashion to teach about Christ and doctrine to the audience that the apostle was writing to. In other places, like the Psalms, they wrote poetically and they used figures of speech to express their meaning.

But there's not a deep mystery, an indecipherable subjectivity in that. We use figures of speech all the time in our language and we understand that it's a figure to express a real meaning. So, for example, if I came to you and I said, you know, my kid said this to me last night and I exploded with laughter. Well, you're not thinking that my body literally flew into pieces. You realize that I just burst out with a laugh and response and that explosion was simply a metaphor, a figure of speech, to say I burst out with a response. You understand that and you don't try to over-interpret that. Well, I don't, you know, your stomach lining seems to be in order now.

Was it repaired surgically? No one does that. We shouldn't do that to Scripture either. In the Psalms, David said, Psalm 23, he said, the Lord is my shepherd. Well, you know that he's not trying to say that God is a literal shepherd in a literal field in the land of Palestine overlooking actual sheep.

You know that's not true. What David is saying with that figure of speech is God watches his own and he protects them like a shepherd does his sheep. God is like a shepherd in the way that he protects and cares for me. And so you can understand that meaning. And so when we say that we interpret the Bible literally, we mean that we're trying to take the author in the natural sense in which he wrote. And that includes poetry and figures of speech. And we can get to his meaning by saying, okay, I'm going to listen to this author like I would listen to one of you.

I'm going to read the Bible expecting a natural sense that's similar to what I have when I read a magazine or a newspaper, that there is an intended clarity on the surface of the meanings. Now, that's our general principle. That's our general principle.

That's our vehicle. Remember, what we want to get to is the author's intent. And our question is, how do I get there?

We say, okay, I'm going to take him by what he said, rather than imposing my thoughts upon it, or twisting it to make it say something that is unnatural to the words and the grammar that he used. Now, this brings us to our roadmap, point number three. We're all ready to point number three.

How about that? Point number three is the roadmap. And what I just said about the literal meaning is the general idea.

And within the general idea, there are specific principles that you can follow and understand to help you understand what the author meant to say. That's Don Green bringing our time in God's Word to a close for today here on The Truth Pulpit. Friend, if you'd like a copy of today's message, or perhaps the entire audio series, we invite you to visit Once again, that's I'm Bill Wright, inviting you back next time for more of our series titled Effective Bible Study. Don Green continues teaching God's people God's Word here on The Truth Pulpit.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-29 22:01:26 / 2023-03-29 22:10:51 / 9

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