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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Does the Bible really say that? Excerpt from my book, 52.

Appendix: Bible Interpretation – Some Suggestions

The Bible is a complex book. Some parts of it are difficult to understand. Mark Twain is supposed to have remarked that it wasn’t the parts of the Bible he didn’t understand that bothered him, but the parts that he did. Perhaps he was referring to some of the things Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, where He put forward a radical morality.

I’m not an expert on Biblical interpretation. But I think there are some principles that we should follow in interpreting the Bible. Here they are:

1) Don’t take something literally it if wasn’t meant to be. If a phrase is poetry, or irony, or a figure of speech, then it wasn’t meant to be taken literally. For example, Psalm 46:2 speaks of not being afraid even though the mountains be moved into the sea. The whole Psalm is poetry, and this phrase seems to have been a figure of speech. See Psalm 114, for another example.

2) Don’t use a single verse, phrase, or sentence without considering the context, and what the rest of the Bible says on that subject. For example, in Romans 11:26, Paul says that all Israel will be saved. Does that mean that all Israelis will go to heaven? Certainly not. In chapter 10 of the same book, Paul says that his desire is that the Jews be saved, strongly implying that many of them won’t. He also calls them a disobedient people. And, more importantly, Paul’s message in the entire book, indeed in all his letters, is that salvation comes by faith in Christ as savior, not by birth into a particular ethnic group.

This principle should be applied to many passages in the Old Testament. The Jews were under a different regime than Christians. The Jews were often commanded to destroy other nations. Christians aren’t. In fact, based on the New Testament, God seems to deal much less with nations than in the Old. Instead, He now deals with us as individuals, for the most part. Various Old Testament laws, for example dietary laws, do not apply to Christians, unless they have individual convictions about these matters. The New Testament makes that clear. The context of these laws does not indicate that they apply to non-Jewish Christians today. (Several moral laws, first introduced in the Old Testament, but re-emphasized in the New, do apply to Christians, but that’s another topic.)

3) Be careful in interpreting prophecy. The New Testament points out some examples of fulfilled prophecy about Jesus. Those, it seems, we can understand, because we know how they were fulfilled. The Old Testament has some examples of fulfilled prophecy, that we can understand for the same reason. But be careful about prophecy that has yet to be fulfilled. Very careful.

4) Don’t ignore or reject scripture that you don’t like. In fact, sections of the Bible, for example about gossip being a sin, and that we don’t like (if we like to gossip) are the ones we should pay the most attention to!

Carefully consider that someone else’s interpretation, be that someone an individual, a church, an institution, or a denomination, with doctrines different than yours or mine, might be correct. God may be trying to discipline or instruct us, through scripture, or scripture interpretations, that we don’t particularly like.

Read the Bible carefully and prayerfully. Read it on a regular basis, using some plan, such as those in a devotional guide, or by reading scripture that accompanies sermons or group lessons, in your church.

The above material is an excerpt from my self-published e-book, Does the Bible Really Say That?, which may be obtained free of charge, or purchased from Amazon for $0.99, which is the lowest price Amazon lets an author set. Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible, which is in the public domain.

The previous post in this series, on the matter of a physical body after death, is here.This is the last post in the series. Thanks to anyone who may have read all or part of these posts. I didn't plan that it would take a year to finish this -- it just worked out that way. God willing, next Sunday's post will be from a more important author, whose work is in the public domain.

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