About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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'the art of Biblical Interpretation'






1  - Inspiration Of Scripture

2  - Biblical Context

3  - Historical Context

4  - No Presupposition

5  - Admit To Your Interpretation

6  - Scripture Interprets Scripture

7  - Importing Scripture Into Scripture

8  - Reading Between The Lines

9  - So-called Holy Spirit Interpretation

10 - Allegorizing

11 - Analogies

12 - Word Studies

13 - Verse By Verse Exegeses

14 - Our Personalities

15 - Original Languages

16 - Idioms

17 - Pet Doctrines

18 - The Old Testament Is Our Example

19 - Types And Shadows In The Old Testament

20 - The Law Of Moses Is Prophetic

21 - The Fulfillment Of The Law

22 - The New Meaning Of The Law

23 - The Law Was Nailed To The Cross

24 - The Law Is Obsolete

25 - Jesus Obeyed The Law

26 - Jesus Redefines The Ten Commandments 

27 - Divorce Laws

28 - Implications Of The New Testament Reality  

29 - The Acts 15 Decision  

30 - Law, Grace, Or License  

31 - The New Testament View Of The Old Testament

32 - God Doesn't Change

33 - The Cross

34 - Culture In Scripture

35 - Faulty And Flimsy Premises

36 - Defining A Word By Context

37 - In Conclusions




Websterís online dictionary defines hermeneutics as "the study of the methodological principles of interpretation."  I define hermeneutics as the attempt to understand what others say as they understand it, not as I think they understand it or as I want to understand it.  You might say that hermeneutics is the art of common communication. 


Upon hearing my definition of hermeneutics one wife said that she wanted to hermeneutic with her husband over lunch the next day.  Obviously, she had something she wanted to communicate to him.  She wanted him to hear something from her point of view, not from his point of view.  I guess she wanted him to understand something that he didn't quite understand as yet.    


The most common mistake we make in attempting to understand others is that we put words into their mouths, something none of us like others doing to us.  We do this by defining their words and statements based on our thinking, not their thinking.  Whether we intentionally do this or not, it misrepresents what others intended to say.  At this point the attempt to communicate fails. 


In Biblical terms, hermeneutics is the ability to understand the Bible and its authors, including the Lord, as it wants it to be understood, not as we want to understand it.  If we fail to understand the Bible the way its authors intended, we do damage to the Bible and our understanding of the Bible.  Therefore, Biblical hermeneutics incorporates common sense rules to help us interpret the Bible in the way it is meant to be interpreted.  It's not an easy process at times but it is an important process.           


The most well known common sense rule in interpreting the Bible is that we donít take a statement out of its context.  When we do that, we make the statement say something it was never meant to say.  Any Biblical statement must be understood in the context of the paragraph it's in.  Beyond that, it must be understood in the context of the book in which it is written; the context of the whole Bible; the context in the life of the one who made the statement, and, the context of the culture in which it was written.  This obviously takes serious thought and study, but once you go through the process you'll understand the statement much better.       


Another simple example of a common sense rule is to understand a statement in light of whom it was written or spoken.  Jesus told a rich young ruler to sell all that he had and give the proceeds to the poor (Matthew 19:21).  Jesus spoke this to one specific man.  He did not speak that to you or I.  What Jesus told that man doesn't necessarily apply to me.  Unless the Holy Spirit clearly tells me to sell all I have and give it to the poor, I keep what I have.   That doesn't mean there are lots for me to learn in this passage about money, the poor, and following Jesus.  There are lots for me to learn.      


Studying the Bible in a logical, systematic, and methodical way is becoming a lost skill in today's postmodern church.  The western world church, in my opinion, is fast becoming a lazy church when it comes to Bible study.  I believe we are paying the price for our laziness in that real spiritual growth and our representation of Jesus to the world is being hindered.  There is no growth as a Christian or a church apart from the Holy Spirit led study of the Bible.  The Apostle Peter, in 1 Peter 2:2, encourages us to crave, as the NIV puts it, the sincere milk of the Word, as the KJV puts it.


Some Christians read the Bible purely as a devotional book.  They hope the Holy Spirit will simply drop the understanding into their hearts.  I do believe in what I would call Biblical revelation where the Holy Spirit hits us with a truth we've never seen before, but that does not discount our responsibility to seriously study the Bible.  There is nothing inherently wrong with viewing the Bible as a devotional book to be inspired by, but, it's also a book to educate us in the ways of our Lord.  That requires study, not just reading.    


Few churches teach Biblical hermeneutics and that is to the detriment of both the church and the Christian.  You would think any kind of help to understand what God wants us to know would be important, but apparently it's not in many Christian circles today.  So here we go.  Let's see if we can learn some common sense rules of Biblical interpretation.         


1 - Inspiration of Scripture  

Unlike Islam, Christians do not believe God dictated the words of the Bible to those who penned it.  The historical belief among Christians is that God inspired, not dictated, what the writers of the Bible wrote.   This means that men wrote in their own words, their own writing style and mannerism.   They were moved upon, or inspired, by the Holy Spirit as they wrote.   This is seen in the different writing styles of Biblical writers.  These differences donít suggest that they werenít inspired.  They suggest the words were not dictated.


We need to note that the traditional view of the doctrine of the Inspiration of Scripture applies only to the original writings, not to any copies or versions of these original writings.  This means that the King James Bible is not more inspired than any other version.  The KJV is called the "authorized version" because King James authorized it to be written, not because it's more authoritative than any other version.  


We do not have any original copies of any of the books found in the Christian Bible.  We only have copies and fragments of copies.  It is important to understand that the Bible stands out alone as authentic among other historical writings.  Our copies or partial copies of the original writings are closer to the original writings in date than any other historical writings.  We also have more copies and fragments of copies than these other historical books written in the same time period.  If you question the Bible, you must question Plato and a whole host of other books of history that historians claim as credible and valid.  


This may cause some to question the reliability of the Bible.  Can we trust what the Bible says as being the Word of God if we don't have the original inspired version?  As Christians we have an underlying element of trust in Jesus that helps us with this question.  Beyond any doubt, Jesus has convinced us of His existence.  We, therefore, trust that His Word that we hold in our hands is sufficient for Christian maturity.  If we cannot trust Jesus on this matter, we canít trust Him for our salvation or for any other matter of life.  The real question that remains is whether Jesus is really who He and we claim Him to be.  Does He really exist in the first place as the Bible claims?  Thatís a topic for another day.  I trust the Lord Jesus Christ in all matters of life.    


2 - Biblical Context  

There is one hermeneutical rule that is well known but not always followed in its entirety.  It is the rule of context that Iíve mentioned in my introduction.


We often donít follow this rule in life let alone in interpreting the Bible.  One reason why people communicate poorly with one another is because they take things that are said out of context.  Husbands and wives often do this.  A husband may say something to his wife and his wife may respond by saying something that has little relevance to what her husband just said. She might be upset at what her husband said or did yesterday and so her response is a reaction to that and not what he just said.  She is, thus, responding out of context.  At this point the communication between the two becomes disjointed; the original train of thought introduced by the husband is broken and shifts in a different direction.  Then, the husband may follow his wife by doing what she did.  He introduces something into the conversation that was said by his wife on a prior occasion.  This shifts the attempt to communicate even farther away from the husband's original comment.  The conversation gets even more disjointed.   Nothing usually gets accomplished in this kind of dialogue.   


This out of context communication often happens when we attempt to interpret the Bible.  Taking words and phrases out of context leads to a disjointed misunderstanding of Biblical truth.  Our response to a particular verse or passage may be influenced by what we think the verse means or want it to mean.  


Hereís an example of taking a verse out of context.  Paul, in Romans 4:17 says that "God Ö calls things that are not as though they were."  The misconception here is that God calls things that are not as though they are, and therefore, so should we.  This means that if you want a new car, you name it and claim it.  You speak it into existence and act as if you already have the new car.  In other words, you call your new car, something that is not, as though it was, that is, already in your driveway.  That is not what this passage is saying.  Many people have gone astray by misrepresenting Romans 4:17.  This misappropriation of Scripture is often seen in what is commonly called the Hyper Faith and Prosperity Movement, which in my thinking, is an unhealthy influence by our hedonistic western culture on Christianity.     


Hereís how to understand Romans 4:17 in its context.  The things that are not are Gentiles who possess the same faith as Abraham, who Paul says is the father of many nations, meaning, Gentile nations.  Gentiles who have the same faith as Abraham are now considered to be part of the people of God along with faithful Jews.  God considered Gentiles, those who are not, as though they were, the people of God.  Beyond this contextual understanding there is no secondary meaning to this verse that says we can call things that are not as though they were.  There is no hint of this assertion in the passage.  Romans 4:17 has nothing to do with positive thinking, naming and claiming, or speaking things into existence as those in the Hyper Faith Movement teach.        


Iíve just spoken of the context of a sentence within a paragraph, but thereís more to context than that.  There is the context of a verse in the book or letter in which it is found.  For example, we need to consider what Paul says in the rest of the book of Romans that would shed light on Romans 4:17.  If you read the previous chapters of Romans you will note that both Jews and Gentiles are condemned by God as sinners.  Therefore, both Jews and Gentiles can find favour with God through faith in Jesus.  There is no hint in the context of the entire book about us speaking things into existence or us calling things that aren't as though they are.      


Beyond this, there is the context of the whole Bible.  We should know what the rest of the Bible says about a particular issue found in a particular verse that might shed some light on the subject.  There are many other Biblical passages to consider when thinking about Romans 4:17.   


Beyond the context of the Bible, it's important to understand a statement in light of who wrote the statement.  Paul wrote Romans 4:17.  Knowing and understanding who he was, other things he wrote, and how he thought, at least to a limited degree, will help us understand what he meant in Romans 4:17.


The context of the culture in which a passage was written is also important.  This is an important one.  We often fail to understand a Biblical passage because we interpret it in light of our western world's 21st century culture.  That is a mistake.  The historic culture, whether religious or secular, in which a statement is made sheds much light on a passage.  For example, in 1 Timothy 2:9 Paul says that a woman should not have braided hair.  Such a statement sounds foreign to us today.  I've seen many Christian ladies with braided hair.  Are they sinning?  This statement must be understood in its cultural context, where, prostitutes often had braided hair.  In short, today's Christian women should not dress like prostitutes.    


Real-estate agents say that location is everything when selling a house.  Bible teachers say that context is everything when attempting to interpret the Bible.


3 - The Historical Context  

In 1 John 2:27 the Apostle John said that we do not need anyone to teach us because of the anointing of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Some Christians have taken this verse to mean that they donít need any human teacher to teach them the things of God from the Bible.  Is this what John is really saying?


First of all, there are other Biblical passages that tell us that we need teachers.  In Ephesians 4:11 we see that teachers are a gift of Christ to the church.  So, in the context of the Bible as a whole we see the need for teachers in the church. 


Logic tells us that a church without teachers isnít Biblical.  If John believed that we donít need human teachers, then why was he teaching in this letter?  Why would he teach others if others didnít need him to teach them?  It's just a matter of common sense, something Christians should use more often in their interpretation of the Bible.       


The point of this chapter is that the context of history says something important to what John is saying in his first letter.  In his letter John mentions that false teachers were trying to sway his readers from the truth of the gospel.  The historical record fills in some gaps for us.  Church history tells us that there was a man named Cerinthus, who among other things, did not believe in the Deity of Christ.  Cerinthus and others like him were promoting the idea that Christians didn't need teachers.  Of course, in his promotion of a teacherless church, he was actually teaching.   It was for this reason that John wrote this letter and said what he said about teachers.  He was warning his readers of false teachers.  He was not saying they did not need teachers.   


When John told his readers that they didnít need man to teach them, history clarifies what he was saying by telling us that the readers didnít need men like Cerinthus to teach them.  Itís not that Johnís readers didnít need teachers.  They didnít need false teachers.  The anointing of the Spirit in John's readers lives should help them distinguish between true and false teachers, and thus his reference to the Holy Spirit.  


The teaching of Cerinthus and others like him was the reason why John wrote this letter.  History tells us about Cerinthus.  John doesnít tell us this detail, but his readers would have understood it. Knowing some history is an important hermeneutical tool in Biblical interpretation.  


4 - No Presuppositions  

The word "presupposition" comes from the word "presuppose."  Presuppose is made up of "pre," meaning before, and "suppose," meaning "to consider or think about."  To presuppose something is to consider something in advance.  A presupposition is thus something that you have previously thought through and have adopted into your thinking.      


There is a place for presupposing.  If you are entering a debate or a negotiation, you want to consider all of the pertinent information in advance.  That's only logical.  That being said, presuppositions can have their downfalls.  If you are trying to understand what someone is saying, you don't want your presuppositions entering your attempt to understand the person.  You want to listen intently and understand exactly what the other person is saying from his viewpoint.   


Christians have the tendency to bring their presuppositions into the study of the Bible.  This means our pre-thought conclusions influence how we interpret the Bible.  This in turn causes us to mix our thinking with Biblical thinking, resulting in misunderstanding of what the Bible is saying.       


When we bring our presuppositions into our Bible study we often put words in the Bible's mouth.  If the Bible says, "donít steal" that means "donít steal."  It doesnít mean donít steal on certain occasions or in certain circumstances.  Thereís no need to put words in the Bibleís mouth by interpreting "donít steal" to mean anything different than "don't steal." 


A less simple and more debatable example of what I'm saying is when the Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 2:24 quotes Isaiah 53:9.  "By His wounds you were healed."  Many Christians see the word "healed" in this verse and because of their presupposition of healing being associated with sickness say that Peter and Isaiah are speaking of physical healing.  That might not be the case.  A study of the context of both passages tells us that the healing spoken of is healing of the sickness of sin in our lives.  Beyond this, both the Greek word "ailomai" and the English "heal" is often used in the New Testament in context with sin, not just healing physical ailments.  In this example, bringing one's presupposition into Bible study misrepresents this verse.  I personally have had to work my way through this passage because in past days I have brought my physical healing presupposition into this passage.


My point here is simple.  As much as possible, leave our presuppositions out of Bible study and let the Bible speak for itself.                             


5 - Admit To Your Interpretation  

Some Biblical passages may be difficult to understand on the surface.  The "donít steal" passage that I mentioned above is easy to understand.  We donít need to interpret don't steel.  We just accept it, agree with it, and repeat it as Biblical truth.  There are, however, other passages that arenít so clear that needs to be interpreted.  We need some help in understanding what these verses are saying.  We have a variety of tools at our disposal these days that help us with the process of interpretation.  As a matter of fact, we have so many tools at our disposal that we as western world Christians should be the most Biblically literate Christians in human history, but we aren't. 


This is how I proceed with the process of interpreting harder to understand passages.  I check out credible commentaries that fill me in on such things as history and culture that relates to the text I'm studying.  I check the original languages to see if there is something I can learn there.  Grammar and meaning of words are important.  I then attempt to form my interpretation in the context in which it is written.  Once I reach a conclusion I will often say that this is how I view this passage.  I don't say that this is the truth of God concerning this passage.  Too often in Christian circles we confuse Biblical truth with our interpretation of Biblical truth.  Beyond this, I often say that this is my understanding of a particular passage to date, suggesting that as I learn more, my interpretation may be modified.  


Here is an example of personal interpretation of a passage that goes beyond the scope of the passage.  Revelation 4:1 says that "there before me was a door open in heaven.  And the voice I first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, 'come up here and I will show you what must take place after this.'"  Here is what is happening in this verse that we know for sure.  The voice is speaking to John, the writer of the book of Revelation.  Without putting any words into the Bibleís mouth, this verse simply says that a voice invited John to come up to heaven so he could see what happens next.  That's all we learn from this particular verse.  It is a literal happening.  John, whether through a vision or a literal transportation to heaven, is going to see the future.  Any thought beyond this fact is an interpretation, an interpretation that might be right or might be wrong.  


Some teachers of Biblical prophecy say that this verse represents, or is really speaking of, a pre-tribulation rapture.  They say that John's invitation to heaven represents the church being taken out of this world and thus can no longer be seen on earth in the rest of the book of Revelation.  This verse, therefore, has a secondary meaning beyond the primary meaning.  The problem with this secondary meaning is that it is pure interpretation, interpretation that may vary from one person to another person.     


This verse says nothing about a pre-tribulation rapture.  The idea of a pre-tribulation rapture from this particular verse is a personal interpretation of certain Bible teachers based on their presuppositions of a pre-tribulation rapture being Biblical truth.  There might well be a pre-tribulation rapture but this verse is not confirming that.  It is a mistake to put a personal secondary meaning to a verse and claim it as Biblical truth.  If you want to teach a pre-tribulation rapture from this verse you must admit that it is your personal secondary preferred interpretation. 


We lead people astray when we claim our personal interpretation as truth.  We should let the Bible speak for itself, and if necessary, we should state that our interpretation is only our interpretation.  Let others decide for themselves how to understand a particular passage once you have informed them of how you view the passage at hand. 


Many Bible teachers donít want to admit the possibility of being wrong so they teach their interpretation as gospel truth.  One of the characteristics of a good Bible teacher is humility.  When it comes to interpreting difficult passages, and really, Revelation 4:1 isn't a difficult passage, the humble way of teaching is admitting that this is how you understand the passage, and, that your understanding might be wrong.  

6 - Scripture Interprets Scripture  

Iíve said that there are various passages that require some kind of interpretation for various reasons.  As I said before, we donít need to interpret "donít steal."  We simply believe "don't steal" as Biblical truth.  On the other hand, other passages need some help in interpreting.  Help often comes from other Biblical passages.  This is called Scripture interprets Scripture.  One verse is a commentary on another verse. 


This kind of assistance in interpreting a passage is often used when interpreting the imagery found in the book of Revelation.  Many prophetic teachers say that all the imagery we read in Revelation can be found elsewhere in the Bible.  When you consider these other verses and compare them with the imagery verses in Revelation youíll understand what the imagery in Revelation means much better. 


Acts 8:9 to 25 tells the story of Philip meeting up with some Samaritans.  Verse 12 says that many of these people believed Philipís preaching and accepted the Word of God.  Verse 15 tells us that the Holy Spirit had not yet come to these people when Philip preached to them.  For this reason Peter and John came from Jerusalem to pray for them at a later date.  Verse 17 says that these people received the Holy Spirit when Peter and John laid hands on them.


A pastor friend once told me that Scripture interprets Scripture.  He said the word "believe" in the above passage indicates that the Samaritans were "in Christ" as the Apostle Paul called salvation in other passages.  My friend thus said that because these people were in Christ they would have received the Holy Spirit when they first believed Philipís message.  That being the case, when Peter and John prayed for these people, they received what Pentecostal doctrine calls the Baptism in the Spirit, which they understand to be a second work of grace.  In other words, once receiving the Spirit when they received the message, they then received the power of the Spirit after hands were laid on them.


His explanation was based on the phrase "being in Christ" as seen in Ephesians 1:3 and elsewhere.   He said that if you believe, you are in Christ, and therefore must have the Holy Spirit living within you.  Therefore, the Samaritans had received the Spirit when they first believed Philip's message and not when Peter and John laid hands on them.  The laying on of hands was the Baptism in the Spirit.  


His attempt to convince me of his point based on Scripture interpreting Scripture failed.  It was a leap of logic to use Ephesians 1:3 as a commentary on Acts 8, even though for the most part I agree that one who is in Christ is a true believer and has the Holy Spirit, but not in this case.  


We need to be clear.  The text does not support my friendís thinking.  It plainly says that they "believed and accepted the Word."  Thatís it.  There is no hint of these people receiving the Spirit when they believed the gospel message.  Verse 15 specifically says that "the Holy Spirit had not yet come on them."  The convincing verse is verse 17.  It says that "they received the Holy Spirit" at the laying on of hands by Peter and John.  Thatís clear and simple.  These people did not receive the Spirit when they first believed as my friend taught.


My friend, in the name of Scripture interpreting Scripture actually imported a new idea into Acts 8 that changed the textís meaning.  The new idea was that these people were in Christ and received the Spirit when they believed Philip's preaching.  There is no such statement in the text.  Itís not even alluded to.  His use of Ephesians 1:3 as a commentary on this passage was not appropriate. 


Once again, we need to let the text speak for itself before we go looking elsewhere for help.  Thatís a rule weíve already talked about.  Importing ideas from other verses into a text can be helpful at times but the importation cannot change the original meaning of the text.  It should only add clarity to the meaning of the text. 


Hereís a good example of Scripture interpreting Scripture.  The Apostle John, in his first letter uses the phrase "born of God" a number of times.  One might wonder what he means by this.  We can turn to his gospel record for clarity.  In John 3:5 Jesus uses this phrase.  He tells Nicodemus that he needs to be born again.  Jesus clarifies His own words by saying that being born again means being born again by the Holy Spirit.  When we receive the Holy Spirit into our lives we are born into a new world of the Spirit.  John 3:5 is a valid commentary on 1 John.  In this instance Scripture interpreting Scriptures is valid.       


7 - Importing Scripture Into Scripture  

Iíve just mentioned how Scripture can interpret Scripture.  One Biblical passage often helps us understand another Biblical passage.  There is, however, some danger in this process.  If we import a thought into the passage we are attempting to understand that changes its original meaning, then that is bad hermeneutics.  Another passage should only add to the meaning of the passage we are studying, not change its meaning.  That being said, there are instances where we can import an idea from another verse that does not change the original meaning of the passage we are interpreting.  It actually adds clarity to the meaning of the passage at hand.   


In Mark 10:11 Jesus says that anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery.  From this statement we learn that when a man divorces his wife and remarries, he is committing adultery when he remarries another woman.  Is there more to be learned on this subject from other passages?  Yes there is.  In Matthew 19:9 Jesus says that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and remarries commits adultery.  Matthew inserts a clause that Mark leaves out.  Weíve called this clause "the exception clause."  Matthew adds to what Mark says by saying, if a wife is unfaithful to her husband, the husband is permitted to divorce her and remarry without committing adultery.


Is Matthew contradicting Mark?  No he isn't.  Matthew is adding a clause that Jesus said that for some reason Mark omitted.  From Matthewís account we learn something about divorce and remarriage that we donít learn from Markís account.  We are indeed importing a clear statement from Matthew into our understanding of divorce and remarriage that we derived from Mark.  This imported thought doesnít change the basics of our understanding from Mark.  It adds some clarity.


It may be a bit unfair for me to have chosen the above example of how one passage brings clarity to another because there are even more passages that bring clarity to what I've just pointed out from Matthew and Mark.  Concerning divorce and remarriage, which is a difficult Biblical subject to work through, you must begin in Genesis and work your way through the whole Bible to even begin to get clarity on this subject.  There are other passages that bring clarity to this issue that does not change what Mark said.  These passages must also be studied in detail.       

8 - Reading Between The Lines  

In weekly Bible studies I lead we often have fun reading between the lines of certain Bible passages.  For example, in Galatians 2 Paul speaks about some false teachers infiltrating the ranks of the Galatian Christian community.  You could consider these men to be spies. You might say they worked for the C. I. A..  No, not that C. I. A..  I call this C.I.A. the Circumcision Inspection Agency.  Through their surveillance techniques they somehow discovered that Titus was not circumcised.  How these spies discovered this intimate fact and what techniques were involved, Paul doesnít say.


We can easily let our imaginations run wild concerning how these spies discovered that Titus was not circumcised and come up with some pretty funny stuff.  Itís probably best that I donít fill you in on our imaginative ideas at this point.  Actually, I shouldnít blame the ideas on the others in our Bible study group.  They were mostly my ideas. 


Reading between the lines is helpful for a Bible study group to get people relaxed, comfortable and thinking about the passage at hand.  We certainly donít want to make Bible study boring, as is often the case in church.  As fun as reading between the lines might be, we should never take reading between the lines seriously.  It's pure speculation, and speculation can never be incorporated into the process of interpretation.  When it is, it distorts the truth of Scripture and does harm to our understanding.   


9 - So-called Holy Spirit Based Interpretations  


Over the years I've heard people claim that they only need the Holy Spirit to help them interpret Biblical passages.  Common sense rules of hermeneutics mean little to these people.  It's simply foolish human reasoning as some say Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:18.  Of course Paul said no such thing.  It was the preaching of the gospel of grace that was foolish to unbelievers according to Paul, not the way we approach the Bible. 


I do believe the Holy Spirit's input is important, when studying the Bible.  He speaks to our hearts as well as our intellect.  He inspired the words we read so it only makes sense we need His presence as we read what He inspired.  Still, that does not negate simple common sense in our attempt at Bible study. 


In Galatians 4:19 Paul says this.  "My little children, for whom I am again in pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you."  Paul introduced the Galatians to Jesus and the gospel of grace. They were now in the process of replacing salvation by grace with salvation by works.  Paul was in great emotional and spiritual pain over this.  He related his pain to be like a woman giving birth.  


You wouldnít think Paul's sorrow over the Galatians departure from faith could be construed to be anything else but sorrow, but it has been.  One Bible teacher claimed that the Holy Spirit told him the real meaning to this passage.  He called it the "doctrine of travailing."  The word "travailing" is the word the KJV Bible uses in Galatians 4:19.  The NIV uses the word "pain." 


This is how the doctrine of travailing played out in a meeting.  This teacher would pray for a person by the laying on of his hands.  Supposedly, the Holy Spirit would fall on the person and rage a war against the human nature within that person.  The battle between flesh and Spirit caused the person to travail.  The travailing would produce physical manifestations.  Women would beat their fists into pillows while men would smash an old car tire with a baseball bat.


I watched all this from the sidelines as if it was some kind of sporting spectacle.   Things got wild, loud, and real crazy at times.  I was afraid that some neighbour would call the police and have us all arrested for disturbing the peace on an otherwise quiet Sunday morning.  Being arrested for my faith in Jesus was one thing but being arrested for this weird doctrine didnít sit well with me. 


Such a so-called Holy Spirit led interpretation of this verse is bad hermeneutics.  If Paul says that he was in pain as if he was giving birth, thatís the simple fact.   Logic dictates that nothing else needs to be read into Paul's statement.  Let us not lay aside our God given ability to logically think things through.  We didn't lose our minds when the Holy Spirit came into our lives. 


10 - Allegorizing  

In Galatians 4:21 to 31 Paul tells the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar.  Sarah was Abrahamís wife and Hagar was Sarah's slave.  Sarah had no children, even though God promised her a son, so she told Abraham to sleep with Hagar.  He did and she gave birth to a son.  Finally, in her old age, Sarah had a son which made Abraham the father of a son born from Sarah's slave Hagar and a son born from the free woman Sarah.  All this was a literal and historical event that took place centuries before Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians, yet he allegorizes this historical event.   


Allegorizing is the process by which we give a secondary meaning to an event.  This method of Biblical interpretation was a pagan influence in the church of Egypt in the second century that found its way into much of Catholic doctrine.    


Paul says in Galatians 4:24 that these things can be taken figuratively, or, allegorically.   He then said that Hagar represents the covenant God gave Moses and the earthly city of Jerusalem .  Sarah represents the new covenant of grace and the heavenly city of Jerusalem where true believers in Jesus live in the Spirit.  The son born from Hagar was a slave and represents the Jews of Paulís day.  The son born from Sarah represents true believers in Jesus that are free from the Law.  Paul was allegorizing an historical event by applying a symbolic or secondary meaning to it.  He spiritualized these women and their sons and created a New Testament teaching.     


I believe Paul could allegorize Scripture. I don't think we can do the same.  He, and other Biblical writers, are on a higher level of Scriptural authority than you and I.  What you or I write is not on the same authoritative level as the writers of the Bible. 


Many people have claimed their writings to be equally inspired and authoritative as the Bible.  The Book of Mormon is one example, but neither the Book of Mormon nor what you are reading right now is equal to the Bible as being the inspired Word of God.  The Bible stands alone in this respect.    


The doctrine of covering is an example of what I believe is unhealthy allegorizing.  In the Old Testament we see Ruth desiring a husband.  She found Boaz one night while he was sleeping and she laid at his feet.  He woke up and covered her with the hem of his garment.  Some people have allegorized this historical event and have made a New Testament teaching out of it.  They say Boaz represents pastors while Ruth represents Christians.  As Ruth was covered by Boaz, so a Christian must be covered by his pastor.  The details of this teaching vary from place to place, but some teach that one must have his pastor's blessing on most everything he does.  Many decisions, both personal and ministerial, can only be made after consulting the pastor because he is the Christian's covering.  One lady refused my request to attend a home Bible study because she would be leaving the covering of her pastor. 


When we symbolize or allegorize an Old Testament historical event as many preachers do, weíre walking on hermeneutical thin ice.  How do we know our allegory is correct?  I believe Paul could allegorize, but I'd be very careful about you and I doing the same.          

11 - Analogies  

An allegory is a symbolic representation of something.  An analogy is the use of an illustration to help explain something.  Usually the illustration has two or more things in common with that which is being explained.  Beyond that, analogies tend to fall apart and can actually misrepresent what you are explaining.  Using analogies can help in Biblical interpretation as long as we don't carry the analogy too far.  In that case you misrepresent Scripture.    


When we allegorize an Old Testament event to create a New Testament teaching we create a teaching out of a symbol.  We shouldnít do that.   We can, however, take a New Testament teaching and explain it with an analogy.  When we use analogies properly we are not inventing a new teaching.  We are explaining a Biblical teaching.       


Paul used analogies to explain a point.  He spoke of our life with Jesus as being a race.  By using this analogy he helped explain that we need to persist in our faith to the very end, as runners do in a race (1 Corinthians 9:24).   The analogy of a race is meant to provide a mental picture of what persistence of faith means.


There is a proper use of analogies that help explain a Biblical passage, but as I've said, at some point an analogy breaks down.  If we move beyond that point we do more harm than good to the Bible.  Some have gotten carried away in their analogies and have changed the meaning of a particular passage by making too much out of an analogy.  The analogy thus becomes the basis for false doctrine and becomes no different than allegorizing in this respect.   


An example of a bad use of an analogy to explain a teaching is this.  I'll use the race analogy to explain Paulís teaching on endurance.  If we say that weíre competing with other runners, which one does in a race, and if we say these runners are our brothers in Christ, then we abuse the analogy.  We are taking the analogy too far.  We are in a race, but weíre not in competition with our brothers in Christ.  This explanation goes beyond the scope of Paulís teaching of persistence.  Paul did not have competition with our brothers in mind when he used his analogy to explain persistence.   


There is nothing wrong with analogies as long as you don't take the analogy to the extreme and change the meaning of the passage you are attempting to explain.



12 - Word Studies  

Iíve done many word studies in my life but Iíve come to the conclusion that they have their limitations.  For example, if you do a word study on the word "faith" you look up every place in your English New Testament where the word "faith" is used.  You gather all of these verses together and formulate your thinking from the information you gather.  The problem is that there is more information about faith than what you have gathered from your study.  There are other words related to the word "faith" that you need to consider to get a more complete understanding of faith.  Examples of other related words for faith are, trust, believe, trusting, believing, believed, and so on.  All these words need consideration in our attempt to understand Biblical faith.    


There is another problem to consider as well.  If you only look up the English word "faith" and its related words you will still miss some important verses.  The reason is because some Greek words are translated into more than one English word.  For example, "pistis" is the Greek word commonly translated as faith in our English New Testament, but, "pistis" is also translated into other English words as well.  So, in order to get the full understanding of faith you need to get a full understanding of pistis and how and where it is used throughout the New Testament.  This shows you the importance of the word "pistis" when studying faith.  This is where the original languages of the Bible are important in Bible study.


I know this sounds difficult and youíre probably ready to throw up your hands and give up on Bible study.  There is hope for the ordinary person.  There are many books and online aids that can help us be the most Biblical literate Christians in history.  There are also some very good Bible teachers who can be found on the internet that are educated in the original languages of the Bible, history, and other related subjects that provide a balanced hermeneutical approach to Scripture.   


I wouldnít throw out word studies altogether, but Iíd certainly understand their limitations.  I believe there is a better way of Bible study.  It's called "a verse by verse exegesis of Scripture."  It will help you understand each verse in its immediate context.


13 - Verse By Verse Exegesis  


The word "exegesis" is a fancy word that theologians have used throughout the centuries to describe one form of Bible study.  Websterís Dictionary defines exegesis as "an explanation, or critical interpretation of a text."  


When you add the words "verse by verse" to the word "exegesis" youíre speaking about a verse by verse explanation of a certain portion of Scripture.  Unlike the topical and word study approach to gathering Biblical information, a verse by verse approach is a systematic working through each phrase in its entire  passage.

The importance of this approach of studying and explaining Scripture is that you get to understand each and every phrase in the context of what is being said throughout the larger body of what is written.      


Matthew 7:1 is often misunderstood because people consistently rip it from its context.  "Do not judge, or you too will be judged."  If you take this statement all by itself youíll think that we should never judge anyone.  Many believe this is what Jesus meant because theyíve failed to do a verse by verse exegesis of the passage in which this verse is found. 


In order to understand Jesusí statement you need to understand the first six verses of Matthew 7, not just verse 1.  In verse 2 Jesus says, "In the same way you judge others, you will be judged."  Thatís common sense.  How we treat others is how they will treat us.  If we judge others unfairly, you can bet theyíll judge us back unfairly.  


Jesus goes on to say this.  "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brotherís eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?"  Jesus is talking about the person who is judging unfairly, or unrighteously as we will see later.  Heís talking to the person who is pointing out a little sin to someone else but is committing an even bigger sin. 


In verse 5 Jesus says, "You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brothers eye."  If weíre judging others for their sin and are committing the same sin, then we are hypocrites.


Jesus says that once you remove the sin in your life then you can help a brother remove the sin in his life, which requires judging. At this point Jesus clearly says that we can judge. 


Good exegetical understanding of this portion of Scripture tells us that we can make judgments as long as we are not committing a worse sin in our own lives. To say that Jesus told us never to judge in Matthew 7:1 is not what He was saying.  As a matter of fact, Jesus, in John 7:24 tells us to judge righteously.  When studying anything that one says in the Bible we need to consider all he said which we do in a verse by verse exegeses of the Bible. 

14 - Our Personalities  

Earlier I spoke about bringing presuppositions into our interpretation of Scripture.  Many times our doctrinal presuppositions influences the way we interpret particular passages which in turn can pollute the text.


Like presuppositions, our personalities can also influence how we interpret the Bible.  If you are a loving and caring person, Scriptures that speak of Godís love may stand out in your mind more than verses that speak of Godís justice.  This in turn may lead you to emphasize Godís love at the expense of His justice. Those who may be more judgmental by nature may over emphasize verses speaking of GodĎs judgment.  This too leads to an unbalanced understanding of Scripture 


I've heard Matthew 11:12 interpreted wrongly by men who are of the more rough, tough, and violent nature.  "From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold on it" (NIV).  Without some serious study, some men see the word "forceful" and view this verse militarily.  They aggressively advance the kingdom with as much masculine forcefulness as they can muster.  Actually, the KJV translates this verse better.  "From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been suffering violence and the violent take it by force."  Christians are not to be violent.  Jesus said that if His kingdom were of this world His disciples would fight (John 18:36), but it's not of this world and thus His disciples will not fight to advance the Kingdom of God.  Matthew 11:12 cannot form the basis for a forceful, even violent, expansion of God's kingdom.              


It is clear that who we are can influence how we understand and interpret the Bible. 

15 - Original Languages  


For the most part, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew while the New Testament was written in common first century Greek.  Knowing something of these languages opens the pages of the Bible, much like a rose opens into full bloom in the summer.


Do you need to be an expert language scholar to understand the Bible?  Not really.  If you follow the rules of logic that Iíve spoken of, youíre well on your way to a good understanding of Biblical truth.  At the same time there are books that can help the layman to understand the Bible.  Vineís Expository of New Testament Words is a good starting point.  Itís a relatively easy book to comprehend that gives you simple definitions of Greek and Hebrew words and how and where they are used in the Bible.  From this book you can progress to more complex and detailed reading material explaining verb tenses and other such grammatical issues.   


Concerning Koine Greek (common Greek of the first century) we should know that many Greek words are extensions of root words that have a pool of various meanings.  In this case you need the context of the word to provide the wordís exact meaning.  Prefixes and suffixes are also added to the root word that will affect the exact meaning of the word.  I say this only to let you know that there is more to understand than what a simple definition that books like Vineís Expository provide.  So, unless youíre a Greek scholar, remember youíre still an amateur, and a little knowledge can be dangerous if youíre not level headed in your approach to Bible study.         


Our English word "leaders" is a noun.  A noun is a person, place, or thing.  The word "leads" is a verb because it is an action word.  A participle is half noun and half verb.  With this in mind Hebrews 13:17 says this.  "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority."   Many leaders have used this verse to exercise a heavy handed authoritarianism of church leadership. 


Our English word "leaders" in Hebrews 13:17 is a noun, but in the Greek text it is a participle.  It's part noun and part verb.  It emphasized the action of the noun leader.  The Greek text actually reads, "obey the ones leading," or, "obey the leading ones."  This is more than semantics and double-talk.  The difference between the English "leaders" and the Greek "ones leading" is that the Greek emphasizes the action of leading with the addition of the verb part of the participle.  The English word ďleadersĒ emphasizes the office of a leader because thereís no action involved in the noun leaders. 


According to the Greek text we are to obey the ones leading, that is, those who are actually fulfilling the Biblical responsibility of leading.  I conclude that if the leaders arenít leading according to Scripture, we donít submit.  We donít obey church leaders merely because they hold the office of a leader, as the English version seems to suggest.  We obey because they are leading as the Bible states.  I understand this to be true because of the Greek participle in this verse.  This is important.  Do we obey leaders because they hold the office of leaders or because they are actually leading according to Scripture?    


There are many leaders who are leaders in name only and arenít performing their duties according to Scripture.   Those who use this verse for an abuse of authority are misunderstanding its meaning.  Hebrews 13:17 is saying just the opposite to this authoritarian leadership. 


Understanding the grammar of the original languages of the Bible is a real asset to understanding the Bible.  I know that the majority of Christians have not been educated in Hebrew and Greek, but, there are some good Bible teachers who are.  We should take advantage of their service.  


16 - Idioms


Every culture has its own mannerisms when it comes to language and meaning of words.  This hit home to me when I moved to Virginia in 1979.  I soon learned not to ask for a cup of tea, because I never got what I asked for.  Youíd think asking for a cup of tea would be a simple request, but cultural differences confused things. When I asked for tea in Virginia, I got what we call ice tea in Canada.  If I wanted tea as we understand it in Canada I had to ask for hot tea as they understood it in Virginia.  By default, tea in Canada is always hot.  If we want cold tea in Canada we asked for ice tea.  As missionaries soon discover, cultural differences can be confusing.   


When thinking of words and phrases meaning something different depending on culture, we think of idioms.  An idiom is a figure of speech and doesnít have to be an exact representation of what we arre speaking about.  For example, we speak of a sunrise.  This is a figure of speech, an idiom.  The sun doesnít rise.      


If you were raised in an evangelical church family you heard the phrase "invite Jesus into your heart."  This is an idiom.  Jesus doesnít squeeze Himself into your heart.  The word "heart" in this case doesnít refer to the muscle in your chest.  It represents that inner spiritual place within you where the Holy Spirit can reside.    


One idiom that we see a lot in the New Testament is the phrase "right hand of God."  Jesus now sits at God's right hand.  If you take this phrase literally, you'll believe that God has a right hand like us.  God is a spirit, and unless spirits have hands, God doesn't have hands like us.  Maybe God has some kind of right hand but this phrase was an idiom in first century Greek culture.  It meant a place of authority.  In other words, Jesus now sits in a place of authority alongside His Father.  God having a physical right hand is irrelevant to the meaning of "the right hand of God."         


Understanding historical and cultural idioms is important when studying and interpreting the Bible.    


17 - Pet Doctrines  


Iíve met many people over the years that have their one pet doctrine and thatís all they talk about and thatís all they see in the Bible.  They manipulate Scripture in the hope that weíll see their pet doctrine in verses where it isnít.  


The pet doctrine may well be a Biblical based teaching, but even legitimate teachings canít be found in every verse of the Bible.   Over the years Godís grace has been big in my thinking, and in my younger days I found grace pretty well in every verse in the Bible, and maybe thatís one topic thatís almost in every verse, but of course it isn't.    


In 1978 my wife and I bought our first car.  It was a Honda civic.  Soon after we noticed Hondas all over the place.  They were in parking lots, driveways, and on city streets.  We used to point them out as we drove by them until we almost got into an accident while looking at Hondas instead of the car ahead of us.   We soon figured out it was time to stop counting Hondas and pay attention to driving our own Honda before we lost it in an accident.


You can get into a doctrinal accident by seeing your pet doctrine every time you turn a page of the Bible.  I think back in the 1970ís many of those who were involved in the Shepherding Movement saw the doctrine of shepherding in many verses where it  wasnít.  By doing this we taught that everyone should to be a shepherd or pastor.  That is clearly not Biblical. We further confused the issue when we saw the concept of shepherding in discipleship verses.  "Go and make disciples' doesnít mean "go and shepherd."  The end result of this was a doctrinal accident which caused some spiritual injuries.  Many people were shepherding others when they had no business doing so. 


Good hermeneutics is bringing a balanced approach to Bible study and leaving our pet doctrines in the particular verses where they belong. 


18 -The Old Testament Is Our Example  

Weíll now turn our attention to the relationship between the Old and New Testaments.  How New Testament Christians should understand and interpret the Old Testament is one misunderstood issue.  How you understand the Old Testament will determine how you live as a Christian.  For example, how you view the Old Testament Sabbath laws will determine what you do on what you consider the Sabbath.  How you interpret the tithing laws will influence your financial decisions.  


Some people ignore the Old Testament altogether because they think it doesnít apply to Christians.  They say it was written to Jews, and theyíre not Jews.  Others say everything that is written between its covers applies to Christians and so we better obey every last rule or else.  These people say that God doesnít change, and what He said back in Old Testament days still apply to us today.  Then there are the vast majority of Christians that in my opinion simply pick and choose what they feel applies to them, as if it were a matter of personal preference.  The rest are simply confused.  


I think thereís a fundamental way to view the Old Testament that we can build our understanding on.  In 1 Corinthians 10:11 Paul says that what was written in the Old Testament was written for our example.  So, before we get thinking of what applies and what doesnít apply, think of what is written in the Old Testament as examples for us to learn from.


Abraham is an example of a man of faith for us to imitate.  Jonah, and is running away from God's will is something we don't want to imitate.  Itís as simple as that.  If this is all the understanding you have about the Old Testament then youíre on your way to good hermeneutics, but there is obviously more to consider in answering our question how Christians should understand the Old Testament.     


19 - Types And Shadows In The Old Testament  


Letís look at what Bible students call types and shadows.  Types and shadows are Old Testament events or things that foreshadow a New Testament reality.


As you walk down the street
on a sunny day your shadow
appears on the sidewalk.  Whatís more important, you or your shadow?  The answer is obvious.  The same is true with the shadows in the Old Testament.  The reality they represent are more important.


One example of an Old Testament shadow is the tabernacle that God told Moses to construct to exact measurements.  Hebrews 8:5 reads as follows.  "The (priests) serve at a sanctuary (tabernacle) that is a copy and a shadow of what is in heaven."  There it is.  The tabernacle is a shadow of a heavenly temple.  


The Bible clearly tells us what some shadows represent, but in other cases it doesnít tell us so clearly.  Weíre left to figure that out.  For example, some say that the exact measurements of the tabernacle  are significant of a New Testament reality.  If they werenít, God wouldnít have cared about their exactness.  So, some people derive all sorts of realities from these shadowy measurements and come up with some pretty weird stuff. When it comes to these measurements, your guess is as good as mine as to what they represent.


One group in the 1970ís believed in what they called the manifestation of the sons of God.  They claimed that they wouldnít die but would reach total perfection which included receiving their glorified bodies prior to the return of Jesus.  Their state of perfection would then usher in the return of Jesus.  Much of this teaching came from personal interpretations of these Old Testament shadows, including the measurements of the tabernacle.  Ironically enough, the leader of this group was killed in a plane crash. 


The tabernacle was instituted as part of the Law of Moses, so we conclude that the Law was more than a list of rules and regulations.  It was a shadow of something better to come.  When studying the Law as New Testament Christians we must understand that it represents a reality to us that the Jews of old never experienced or understood.  Thus, we view the Law of Moses in a different light than Old Testament Jews.  We view it as a shadow of a reality we are now beginning to experience.  In one sense of the word the Law of Moses is prophetic as seen in the book of Hebrews.     



20 - The Law Of Moses Is Prophetic  


Jesus confirmed that the Law of Moss in Matthew 5:17 and 18.  "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of the pen, by any means will disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished."


In the above verse, Jesus associates the Law with the prophets.  Both are similar in the sense that they are prophetic writings.  The fact that Jesus said that He has come to fulfill both the Law and prophets tells me that the Law of Moses is prophetic. 


Jesus then said that not the smallest letter or a stroke of a pen will be abolished from the Law until "everything is accomplished."  The word "accomplished" means the Law is prophetic.  The Law remains in tact until all of its prophecies have been fulfilled.    

The prophecies of the Law arenít all in the form of "thus says the Lord" as they are in the prophetic books.  Many are in the form of types and shadows which we spoke of in the last chapter.  Other hand, parts of the Law are pure prophecy.  One example is Deuteronomy 28 where we see the prediction of many curses God predicted would come Israel because of its rebellion against Him.    


Now that weíve established that the Law is prophetic we need to know when it was or when it will be fulfilled.  Knowing this will shape our theology and the way we live as Christians. 


21 - The Fulfillment Of The Law  


Weíve just established that the Law of Moses is prophetic.  In Matthew 5:17 and 18 Jesus said that the Law would not be abolished until all of it has been fulfilled.  We just need to know when it was or will be fulfilled.  I maintain that a good part of the Law has already been fulfilled.  The rest is yet to be fulfilled.


Much of the Law is in reference to Jesusí life and ministry on earth.  The Feast of Passover as seen in the Law is one prophetic example of the atoning death of Jesus.  So, any part of the Law dealing with the life of Jesus on earth has obviously already been fulfilled.  That being said, the Feast of Tabernacles that speaks to the return of Jesus to earth is yet to be fulfilled.     


As of today the Law has not been abolished in its totality because parts of it are yet to be fulfilled. Those parts of the Law that have already been fulfilled, even though they have not yet been abolished, take on a new meaning for us as New Testament Christians. 



22 - The New Meaning Of The Law  

I believe many of the prophecies found in the Law of Moses have already been fulfilled by Jesusí life, death, resurrection, and ascension.  Many of the regulations of the Law were instituted to temporarily cover the sin of individual Jews, but these rules spoke of something better to come.  This is what the book of Hebrews is all about.     


Jesusí sacrifice was the permanent fix to the sin problem and was the fulfilled reality for every lamb that was sacrificed and every rule that was to be obeyed for the purpose of obtaining a righteous standing before God.  For this reason Paul says in Romans 10:4 that "Christ is the end of the Law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes." 


Paul was grieved over the fact that most of his fellow Jews to whom the Law was given had rejected its fulfilled reality in Jesus.  They felt that being righteous in Godís eyes came through their own human effort which included obeying the Law of Moses and the traditions of Judaism.    


Paul preached that the days of human effort were over. God now viewed people as being righteous if they put their trust in Jesus, not their own human effort.  In short, when Paul said that Christ is the end of the Law, he meant that Christ Himself has both fulfilled and replaced the Law of Moses.  Obedience to the Law for the purposes of righteousness was replaced by obedience to Jesus.  No longer does obeying rules make anyone righteous, even if those rules were Godís rules.  No longer is an animal sacrifice needed to cover our sin.


You might put it this way.  The shadowy imagery of the Law concerning the sin problem has found its reality in Jesus.  The rules and regulations of the Law that God gave Moses have come to an end and do not apply to New Testament Christians, whether Jewish or Gentile Christians.  We now have what the Law foretold. 


Iím not saying that the Law is completely abolished because there is still more to be fulfilled at the return of Jesus, yet, that part of the Law that pertains to our salvation has been fulfilled.  Christ is indeed the end of the Law when it comes to finding righteousness in the sight of God.  For some this is problematic and confusing.  I'll continue to explain.



23 - The Law Was Nailed To The  Cross  


In Colossians 2:11 Paul said this.  "In Him (Jesus) we were all circumcised Ö"  Circumcision is another Old Testament type or shadow which has a New Testament reality.  No longer does a baby boyís circumcision have any spiritual significance.   Iím sure Abraham would have preferred living in New Testament times in this respect.


Circumcision is now a matter of the heart (Romans 2:29) because the intent of the New Testament is to get to the core of who we are.  In general terms the Old Testament dealt more with the outward man while the New Testament deals more with the inner man, thus one reason why we have the Holy Spirit.


In Colossians 2:16 Paul also said, "Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.  These are a shadow of things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ."   Note the words "shadow" and "reality," words that Iíve been using all along.  Paul confirmed what Iíve been saying by giving more examples of shadows found in the Law that have their New Testament reality in Jesus. So what happened to these Old Testament rules?

  In Colossians 2:13 and 14 Paul said this.  "He (God) forgave us our sins, having canceled the written code; with its regulations Ö He took it away, nailing it to the cross."  Did you know that the death of Jesus wasnít the only death that took place on the cross?  The Law died with Jesus too, but unlike Jesus, the Law didnít rise from the dead. 


Paul clearly said that the code, meaning the Law of Moses, has been cancelled and taken out of the way because it was nailed to the cross.  If the Law died on the cross and was subsequently cancelled, itís clear that it means something altogether different to us than what it meant to Jews in Old Testament times.  So, when understanding and interpreting the books of the Law and anything associated with them, we need to think in terms of this New Testament reality.  We donít interpret the books of the Law as if we were Old Testament Jews living under the Law's demands. 



24 - The Law Is Obsolete  


The writer of Hebrews puts what Iíve just said another way.  Hebrews 8:13 says that "by calling this covenant new, He (God) has made the first one obsolete, and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear."  This clearly says that the first one (the Old Covenant Law) is obsolete or outdated.  You could say that there is a new version called the New Covenant that needs to be downloaded into our hearts from heaven. 


This text says that there is a new covenant and that the old one is now obsolete.  The word "obsolete" tells us that the Old Covenant is outdated.  It's outdated because there is a new covenant.  This text does not say that the old covenant, the Law, has been cancelled as Paul said in Colossians 2:13 and 14.  It says that it is aging and will soon disappear.  Itís aging because it has lost much of its significance.  Its best days are over.


The writer of Hebrews said that the Law is obsolete and will soon disappear.  Paul said the Law is cancelled because it was nailed to the cross with Jesus.  Jesus said that the Law will remain until it has been fulfilled.  How do we reconcile these somewhat opposing statements?


The rules of the Law which are now obsolete and no longer significant have been replaced with Jesus.  These rules have been cancelled, taken away, and figuratively nailed to the cross.  They no longer have anything to do with us finding righteousness in Godís eyes.  Although the Law has been cancelled for purposes of finding righteousness, it still remains in tact in terms of its prophetic significance.     

Beyond the Lawís prophetic importance, it has become a teacher, leading us to Jesus (Galatians 3:24 - 25).

Even though the Law still has some purpose for New Testament Christians, we are not obligated to obey its rules and regulations because theyíve been cancelled.  Our obligation is to the Lawís New Testament reality, who is Jesus.  Thus, the way we interpret the books of the Law should be based on this New Testament understanding which has major implications for the way we live as Christians.   


25 - Jesus Obeyed The Law  

I believe that Jesus was the only one to have obeyed the Law of Moses in its entirety.  More importantly, He obeyed the intent of the Law, the heart of God that instituted the Law in the first place.  It is, therefore, my position that Jesus obeyed the Law on our behalf.  As Jesus died on the cross on our behalf, He lived the righteous demands of the Law on our behalf.  This is important when we read and interpret the Old Testament books of the Law.   



26 - Jesus Redefines The Ten Commandments  


Have you ever thought that Jesus might have redefined the Ten Commandments?  


In Matthew 5:21 to 23 Jesus commented on the "do not kill" command.   This command says "donít kill," but Jesus said, "anyone who is angry at his brother without cause will be subject to judgment," and, "anyone that says, Ďyou foolí will be in danger of the fire of hell.'"  Though the Law says "donít kill", Jesus says "donít get angry without cause."  Anger is linked to murder as being worthy of Godís judgment.  Even calling someone a fool puts you in danger of hell.  That makes such anger a very serious problem.  Of course, killing someone has greater implications and consequences than merely being angry at him, but, it's still a major offense in the eyes of Jesus.       


Jesus is putting the emphasis on the issues of the heart here, not merely the outward working of these issues. Jesus is going beyond the outward sin the command addresses and speaks to the condition of our hearts.  Itís the condition of our hearts that produce the outward sin.


Jesus then commented on the "donít commit adultery" command.   He said that if you lust after someone in your heart, youíve committed adultery with that person in the eyes of God.  Once again Jesus is getting to the heart of the matter, because He knows if the lust problem can be solved, there wonít be an adultery problem.  The Ten Commandments points out our sin while the Holy Spirit deals with our sin.


In both of the above examples Jesus is redefining the commandments.  Heís going beyond the outward sin the commands addresses and redefining them by stating Godís real intent behind the command.  Donít kill becomes donít get angry.  Donít commit adultery becomes donít lust.  We obey Jesus and what He says.  We approach the Old Testament, including the Ten Commandments, from this New Testament perspective.


It is an interesting study to go through the New Testament to see just how many of the Old Testament laws have been redefined for New Testament Christians.  The book of Hebrews is a good place to start that study. 



27 - Divorce Laws  


In Matthew 19:1 to 12 Jesus commented on what the Law of Moses said about divorce.  He told the Pharisees that God placed divorce legislation into the Law of Moses because of the hardness of man's heart but this was not His intention from the beginning.  These rules were a concession on Godís part, yet, behind this concession was Godís desire for a man and a woman to love one another for life.    


Deuteronomy 24:1 to 4 permitted divorce but God never wanted divorce.  In fact, you might say that the whole Law of Moses was a concession on God's part due to our sin.  Thus, the New Testamentís approach to Law and sin is different than the Old Testamentís approach.  We must interpret the Law of Moses in light of the  New Testament.  I will now turn to a practical implication of what Iíve been saying in the last few chapters.



28 - Implications Of The New Testament Reality  


Now we come to the bottom line about what Iíve been saying about our New Testament approach to the Law of Moses.  As Iíve said, some Christians ignore the Old Testament because they say itís not relevant to them.  Thatís not me.  Others say we better obey every rule or else.  Thatís not me.  Still others pick and choose what they want to obey depending on their circumstances.  Thatís definitely not me.  What is me is this.  I approach the Old Testament with a New Testament understanding, which I believe Iíve systematically set forth. 


If the rules of the Law of Moses do not apply to us because theyíve been nailed to the cross, then we donít need to sacrifice animals.  We donít believe that our church buildings are a sacred place for God to live in.  We donít believe that there is a human priest that represents us before God.  We also donít believe that God demands a tenth of our income.   


Thereís just no Biblical logic in thinking that you can exclude some rules of the Law and include other ones like tithing, especially when theyíve all been nailed to the cross.  Iíve heard it said that tithing was instituted long before the Law and therefore it exists long after the Law.  Yes, tithing seemed to be around in some form that is somewhat vague before the Law, but it was placed into the Law when God gave the Law to Moses.


There are many things that existed before the Law.  People sacrificed animals before the Law, but we donít do that any more.  In fact many theologians believe that the Law codified what already existed and that had been passed down from one generation to another by word of mouth.


I was once challenged that Luke 11:42 to 44 shows us that Jesus taught tithing as a New Testament principle.  In this passage Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because they tithed but ignored justice.  He told these men they needed to act justly as well as tithe.  Itís bad hermeneutics to say that this passage teaches that Jesus taught tithing as a New Testament principle and therefore demands a tithe from Christians.  Jesus could not have told the Pharisees anything different or else Heíd be breaking the Law.  He had to uphold the Law in order to fulfill it, and, He had to fulfill it before it could be nailed to the cross.  What Jesus told the Pharisees concerning tithing doesnít apply to Christians because the Pharisees lived in Old Testament times and thus were still obligated to obey the Law.              


Paul clearly taught this New Testament approach to tithing when he told us to give generously, joyfully, and according to our ability to give, whether itís 5, 10, 20 percent or more (2 Corinthians 9:7, 1 Corinthians 16:2).  Paul and the other New Testament writers had lots to say about money, but nothing to say about tithing.  If it was important Iím sure we'd read about it in the New Testament.


One pastor told me that the New Testament didnít have to address tithing because everyone tithed.  Of course, he had no historical proof to back up his statement.


Iím not saying we shouldnít give. Poverty itself is no excuse not to give.  In Luke 21:3 Jesus complemented a poor widow for giving her last penny.  He didnít tell her that she did not have to give.  Paul did the same when he praised the Macedonians for giving beyond their ability to give (2 Corinthians 8:3).


Another pastor once told me that he couldnít teach what I'm saying about tithing even if it were true because people would no longer give.  Well, he missed the whole point to the New Testament, and that is we trust Jesus with our whole lives, which includes our church finances.  We should teach what the Bible states and trust Jesus for the outcome.


The New Testament goes far beyond the rules of the Old Testament.  It gets to the heart of the human condition, which is sinful.  For this reason the Holy Spirit has entered our lives to enable us to do God's will, something any law cannot do. 


We canít pick and choose what rules of the Law of Moses to obey.  We simply realize theyíve all been nailed to the cross and we follow the New Testament pattern. 



29 - The Acts 15 Decision  


The question concerning our response to the Old Testament Law was settled in Acts 15.  Paul, Peter, James, and others concluded after much debate and prayer that it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to them not to burden Gentile Christians with anything beyond four requirements.  These were to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality.   They concluded by saying, "you will do well to avoid these things," which doesnít come across to me as being a heavy handed command.  See Acts 15:28 to 30.


You may disagree but I think the first three requirements were a compromise between James and Paul because Paul didnít completely follow the meat offered to idols rule.  As long as the meat wasnít eaten in the context of pagan idol worship, Paul would eat meat offered to idols.  He had no problem being invited out for lunch and eating such meat.  Read 1 Corinthians 8 and you will see his logic on this point.  So, Paul agreed to the first requirement, but didnít necessarily follow them himself in every instance.


Picture yourself as one confused Gentile Christian back in those days.  Certain Jews told you that you had to become a Jew and obey the Law in order to be a Christian.  Paul told you that you were free from the Law in order to live for Jesus.  What a relief it would have been to you when you heard the Acts 15 letter read and you learned that the Law had no place in your life.  A great burden would have been lifted from your shoulders, a burden that should not have been placed on you in the first place.



30 - Law, Grace, Or License


Because of Paulís teaching concerning the Law, he was accused of encouraging people to sin so grace would abound to them (Romans 6:1).   This is called a license to sin, meaning, if thereís no law, one can sin all he wants.  Paul was not teaching any such thing, and neither am I.  Such thinking disregards and takes advantage of Godís grace and shows a complete misunderstanding of what His grace is all about.


In Galatians 5:13 Paul said that you were called to be free, but do not use your freedom to indulge your sinful nature.  He also said in Galatians 5:16 that we should live by the Spirit so we won't gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  As New Testament Christians we are free to live according to the Spirit of God and not to the obligations of the Law of Moses.   That being said, this does not give you a license to sin.  Sin is still sin.   


Many Evangelical preachers do not get the same criticism as Paul did because they donít preach a gospel free from the Law as Paul did.  They preach a mixture of grace and law, that is, get saved by faith and stay saved by law.  If we preach total freedom from law we might well be accused of preaching a license to sin. 


The fact is that if we add law to grace in our gospel we are running the risk of making the gospel of no effect.  In Galatians 5:4 Paul said some extremely powerful words about this point.  He said.  "You who are trying to be justified by law have alienated yourself from Christ; you have fallen away from grace."  If your mixture of law and grace suggests that you need to follow certain rules to be saved or stay saved, you have alienated yourself from Jesus, and youíve fallen away from Godís grace.  I realize this is not everyoneís thinking, but in my opinion, if you alienate yourself from Christ, you walk away from Him.  Also, if you fall from grace, youíve forsaken your salvation that is based on the grace youíve fallen from.  By adding rules as conditions to salvation, whether Godís rules or manís rules, youíre telling Jesus what He did on the cross is not good enough.  Something more needs to be added to it.  That's one bad sin.   Thus a proper hermeneutical approach to the Old Testament Law and also to any of manís law is vital to our gospel message.


31 - The New Testament View Of Old Testament Prophecy


We now turn to the New Testament's approach to the prophetic books of the Old Testament.  In brief, many theologians believe that much of the prophetic passages that were directed specifically to Israel had their fulfillment in Old Testament times, yet, beyond their Old Testament fulfillment, these prophecies have a New Testament fulfillment as well.  Simply put, thereís a double fulfillment to many of these prophecies.   This of course presents a problem in that there are many different interpretations to these prophecies. 


You may not think of the Psalms as being prophetic, but many of them are.  Many Psalms appear to be written about Davidís life, which they are, yet beyond that, they have a Messianic significance.   Psalm 22:1 says this.  "My God, why have you forsaken me?"  David cried these words out to God in a time of need.  I'm sure you remember from Scripture that Jesus cried out these same words while on the cross.  Psalm 22:1 is a Messianic prophecy.


Psalm 22: 8 says this.  "He trusts the Lord, let the Lord rescue Him."  People may well have spoken these words about David, but once again, while Jesus was on the cross these same words were spoken about Him, making this verse a Messianic prophecy.   


Psalm 22:18 says that "they
divided my garments among them."  David may have had his clothes divided but so did Jesus.  This verse also has a double meaning, speaking both of David and Jesus.  As a matter of fact, whether David realized it or not, all of Psalm 22 is a picture of Jesusí death on the cross, and if you read this chapter in this light, youíll gain great insight into what took place on the cross.


In short, many Old Testament prophecies have a double fulfillment.  So, it is helpful to learn some history in order to see this double fulfillment clearly.  


32 - God Doesnít Change But His Dealings With Man Does


There is another point to make concerning how we view the Old Testament and that is this.  In His essence, who God is, how He thinks, feels, all remains constant.  He does not change.  I mention this because some argue that if God doesnít change, then how He deals with humanity from Old Testament times to New Testament times doesnít change either.   


I do believe that there are different ages in human history in relation to how God relates to humans.  Though God does not change, how He relates to mankind does change from age to age.


Leviticus 20:27 says that "a man or a woman who is a medium or a spiritualist among you must be put to death."  Exodus 22:18 says this.  "Do not allow a sorceress to live."  Deuteronomy 13:5 says that, "a prophet or dreamer must be put to death because he preached rebellion."  These and other Old Testament laws show how God wanted Israel to deal with the sinners in those days.  


The way God relates to humanity in this age of grace is obviously different than what we see in the above passages.  Heís not overlooking our sin.  He is recording every last sin on His heavenly hard drive.  That being said, He is giving us time to repent until there is no longer time as seen in Revelation 20:12.


Understanding that God relates to individuals differently in this age of grace is a hermeneutical concept that is necessary when studying the Bible.    


33 - The Cross

How we understand what happened on the cross will determine how we interpret the Old Testament. In Galatians 3:13 Paul says this.  "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us."  If you donít understand that Jesus was cursed on your behalf then you are likely to interpret certain Old Testament passages incorrectly.  Youíll probably think itís still possible to be under some kind of curse. 


Another aspect of Jesus' death, and also His ascension, is that it paved the way for believers to receive the Holy Spirit into their lives.  This fact alone should help us understand how to view the Old Testament as New Testament Christians.  If you understand the totality of what Jesus did on the cross, I guarantee youíll have a different approach to the Old Testament.   



34 - Culture In Scripture


We now turn to the culture in which any particular Bible passage was written.  This is important when interpreting any Biblical passage. 


In the early 1970ís a Christian man rebuked me for having long hair.  He told me that "somewhere" in the Bible God said that men shouldnít have long hair.  Hoping not to embarrass the poor guy too much I told him that the verse he was attempting to clobber me with was found in 1 Corinthians 11:14.  The man was taken aback, not thinking that a guy looking like me might know exactly where such a verse would be found.  It was only one of more than 1800 verses I had memorized to that point in time.  Whether right or wrong, I told the man that Paulís statement was based on a Greco-Roman culture that the Corinthian believers lived in.


Paul also told women not to have braided hair (1 Timothy 2:9).  It appears that prostitutes in Paul's Roman world had braided hair and so he didnít want Christian woman looking like prostitutes.  Iím not sure prostitutes have braided hair these days, so I really donít think braided hair is a relevant issue for todayís Christian woman.  Ironically enough, the manís wife who rebuked me for my long hair had braided hair.   The point here is that Paulís statement concerning braided hair was based on a cultural circumstance that has little relevance today.  


The idea of culture influencing certain Biblical passages is valid in the process of interpretation.  That being said, we need to be careful lest we culturalize the Bible away.  We need to see and understand the truth behind the cultural point being made.  In the above passage concerning short hair for men and long hair for women, the truth behind the cultural setting is that women are to honour men and men are to honour women.  There is always a Biblical principle to consider behind any cultural comment in the Bible.   


35 - Faulty And Flimsy Premises

As a young Christian in 1972 I wrote an article on spirit soul and body, meaning, man is triune in nature, consisting of a spirit and soul that are housed in a body.  I based my article on one verse, something we should never do.  1 Timothy 5:23 says this.  "I pray your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless Ö"  Those who teach as I wrote believe from this verse that Paul taught that we consist of these three parts.  It never crossed my mind that Paul might not have intended me to build a doctrine on just one of his sentences.  It also never crossed my mind that there might be other passages that shed light on this issue.  


One problem with building a doctrine on one sentence is that we then proceed to build other doctrines on our faulty premise.  If the premise is faulty that which we build on it will be faulty.  So, if I base spirit soul and body solely on 1 Timothy 5:23 it is quite possible that what I build on that will be misleading.   


If we want to understand spirit soul and body we must begin with Genesis 2:7 where God breathed on man and he became a living soul as the KJV puts it, or, living being, as the NIV puts it.  This suggests that the totality of man is a living soul or living being.  If man is a soul, then thereís no logic in saying he is a body that houses a distinctly separate soul and spirit.


Jesus told us to love the Lord with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength Ė four parts that doesnít even include our bodies (Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30).  Jesus spoke of four component parts while Paul spoke of three parts.  Who was right?  The answer is simple. Iím not sure Jesus and Paul wanted us to make a well defined doctrine out of the particular wording of their statement.   


On the other hand, many who hold to man being a living soul also build their doctrine on just one verse, that being Genesis 2:7.  The Hebrew word that is translated as soul in the KJV or being in the NIV means "breath."  This Hebrew word is used in a number of Old Testament passages to suggest that man has a soul, which would oppose the idea that man is a soul.    


This may sound confusing but my point is simple.  If you build a doctrine on a faulty premise, a premise that cannot be easily verified, you are likely to build doctrines on that faulty premise that will misrepresent Biblical truth.  

36 - Defining A Word By Its Context


Certain words can only be fully defined by the way they are used in their context.   For example, the Hebrew word "yireh" is translated as fear, afraid, and other related words in the Old Testament.  Yireh can also be translated as "see."  Only the context can determine how you should translate and understand this word. 


The Greek word "pneuma" means breath or wind.  It's translated as breath or spirit in the New Testament.  Only the context can determine how pneuma should be translated and understood.  Then, if translated as "spirit," the context will determine whether it's Spirit or spirit.


The Greek word "baptizo" means "to immerse or to dip."  Most think of baptism in terms of water, but the context will determine if we should understand baptizo in terms of water, spirit, or something else.       


Another point to consider is that sometimes the Bible uses a word differently than the culture of its day.  The Greek word "hyptasso" is translated as "submit" in the New Testament.  In the Greco-Roman culture of the first century this was a very harsh, cold, dictatorial word.  The New Testament softens this word when in reference to husband and wife relationships and relationships in the Body of Christ.  


Obviously context is important when understanding words.      



37 - In Conclusion


I could add many more chapters to this account, but I won't.  If you follow the principles that Iíve set forth, you will be well underway to understanding the Bible. 

If we approach the Bible in a logical and systematic way, Bible study will become easier. 


I realize that not everyone has the same capacity to be logical and systematic, but I do believe we all can make some improvements in this area of our lives.  Those of you who do have this ability should allow our Lord to use you in teaching the Bible while those who are not so gifted should listen to those who are.   


Many Christians have never heard the word "hermeneutics," and donít have any interest in understanding the Bible.  Whether they know it or not, they have been influence by a post modern culture that says, "Just tell me the bottom line.  I don't care about the details."   This is no attitude for a Christian to have. 


One man asked me if he should start reading the Bible after being a Christian for 15 years.  I was speechless. He wasnít even talking about studying the Bible, only reading it.  If the Bible is indeed the inspired Word of God that we claim it to be, we should treat it accordingly. 


I'll close by quoting Jesus.  "Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4).  There are a lot of words coming from God's mouth in the Bible.  Let us have a daily feast on our spiritual bread.    



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