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Bible Interpretation

If only we could see how often we abuse the Bible (and therefore, its Author) in an effort to bolster and justify our personal views and proclivities. The process is called “isogesis” – presupposing our own interpretation and views and “reading them into” a passage of Scripture when they are not actually there. The goal, of course, is “exegesis” – extracting God’s meaning from a passage of Scripture by allowing that text to speak for itself. Knowing which we are doing when we are reading or quoting the Bible is critical. Unfortunately, it is our tendency to bring our preexisting understanding of what God is like, our valuations of the world and culture, our beliefs about right and wrong into a passage expecting to find it there even when it’s not. We do this most often by injecting assumed definitions of words into the passage we are reading. We are not tenacious enough to insist that biblical words be defined by the Bible instead of assuming their definitions based on our interaction with our parents, our childhood church, pop culture, our American democracy, our social institutions or any number of personal twenty-first century experiences. Avoiding this tendency is what makes Bible study so challenging. Here we find ourselves confronted with an inspired document that was delivered against the backdrop of a language and culture that is now two thousand to thirty-five hundred years past. This is why we can’t just plop our finger on the page and ask, “What does this verse mean to me?” If we don’t know a text’s historical, literary and grammatical context we are bound to become isogetes and not exegetes. So, let’s do our homework, avoiding “Bible abuse” by expending the necessary effort to derive biblical principles after we have understood the original context and the biblical definition of words.

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  1. You are so right in the points you bring out in your article . The most important thing to do in any study of Scripture is word definition.
    There is so much false teaching and all of it is an abuse of Scripture, 2Pet 3:16. To me, this is blasphemy.
    I have heard so many “preachers” on the radio twisting God’s word. It us not just the local preachers, it is many of the big name, so called mainstream, preachers, people who are heard on hundreds of radio and T.V . channels, internet,etc, here and overseas.
    I want to tear out my hair every time someone teaches that the thief in Jn 10:10 is Satan. No, if one would simply read Jn 10:1-10, it is easy to see that the thief is a false teacher. No where in Scripture is Satan/Lucufer ever referred to as a thief. The same applies to 1Jn 4:4. “he that us in the world” is a false teacher, not Satan.
    While I could write a book on all of the perverted teaching flowing from the wolves in the pulpets, one of my pet peeves is when a statement begins with, “God wants to…….”
    No where in Scripture will you find written down the words, “God wants to…..” Those words teach a sissy, weak god who needs man’s permission or assistance in order to accomplish anything. No, Dan 4:35, Ps 115:3 135:6, Is 55:11, Rm 9:19 and Ep 1:11 clearly teach that God does what He pleases in the whole of creation and nothing can prevent Him from doing whatsoever He has purposed!!!!!.
    Of course, another favorite tool of false teachers is to present one time events as if they have a “spiritual ” meaning for our lives, such as, “Fighting the Giants in your life “, from David defeating Goliath or “Facing the storms in your life” from Mat 8:23-26.
    How about all of these programs, excuse me, these “ministries ” involved with feeding and clothing the poor? That is not taught in Scripture. Jesus clearly established that only those who are believers are counted as being in God’s family, Mat 12:46-50, Mark 3:31-35, Lk 8:19-21. Only the sheep are counted as the brothers and sisters of Christ. Yet, preachers will cite Mat 25:35-40 as teaching that sheep are to provide food, clothing, shelter, schooling, medical care, etc, for all of the poor in the world. especially those overseas. Yet, they never read the entire verse, ending the quote with the words, “…as you did it to one of the least of these…” Yet, the entire sentence reads, ” Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, MY BROTHERS, you did it unto me.” The words, “my brothers ” totally destroy the made up doctrine that believers are responsible for all of the poor people in the world. In Acts 6:1, what widows were the subject of being fed? Believers!, not all of the widows in all of Jerusalem. Every time Paul spoke of collecting money, who was it for? THE NEEDY SAINTS! Not for all of the poor.
    James 1:27 is not teaching that sheep are obligated to adopt orphans, especially orphans in a foreign country. The verses also mentions “widows” , hnmmm, where is the teaching from the pulpits about taking care of all widows in the world? I guess if sheep are required to adopt overseas orphans, wouldn’t James 1:27 also be a command to financialy help out all widows, up to even bringing them into your home?
    Oh, how I could go on and on, such as nowhere is the word “worship ” ever defined or presented as singing. The phrases, “praise and worship “, “worship leader”, are not in Scripture. Nowhere do you find the office or position of “music minister”. Neither will you find, “the hands of feet of Jesus”, “the heart of God “, “you will know them by there love “, “fall in love with God/Jesus”, or “God/Jesus is so in love with you” The bible does not teach that Jesus is the only son of God. I don’t even want to get into the tithe except to say that in the O.T., the tithe was never money. Paul does speak of giving money, but he never once uses the word tithe. Please, do or find an honest study on the tithe and read all of Malachi. Are believers supposed to give, Yes. Are sheep under the compulsion of a tithe? No! Do people realize that in almost every church building that 84% of what is collected goes toward the building and staff salary? In many, many cases, money collected for this or that group of people overseas, is never received by those who were supposed to receive it.
    Well enough of my diatribe. I hope whoever reads this will be motivated to practice Acts 17:11. Never accept a teaching just because someone calls himself a preacher and others agree he is a preacher.
    Bob Corrigan

    1. Bob, I concur with some of your observations, but scripturally I must disagree with others. The main one I will address is your comments on foreign missions. Certainly the Bible speaks primarily of helping those in Christ who are in need. This should be a priority of every believer. But that does not negate the fact that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31, Matthew 22:39, Mark 12:30-31). And since Christ defined our neighbor as anyone we come across in need (Luke 10:25-37) I don’t see how anyone can say that helping anyone in need is not what God expects of us. In fact, in our case in America, I wouldn’t consider the aid we provide from America as charity as much as recompense. Considering that many of the things we enjoy come from outside of our country and are made by people who are being exploited for the gain of the rich, I don’t think any of us can wash our hands of the proliferation of poverty that ensues in these developing countries. At the very least, if the world is global enough that I can purchase a t-shirt made with cotton grown in the US, spun in India, and screen-printed in Europe while eating a fruit salad with fruit grown in Chile, Venezuela, and Panama, then I certainly cannot make the case that none of the individuals involved in getting me these goods are not my neighbors. Does God condone us accumulating wealth to ourselves while the people growing, picking, making, and assembling those goods go hungry? To ignore their plight would certainly be an affront to God.

  2. Great article with excellent points! I used to cuss up a storm and tell myself and others “oh God knows my heart, we have an understanding.”
    But that’s not correct at all. I, nor anyone else, are special in the sense we get to sin and think it’s just a part of our personality and God is OK with it, because he isn’t. Scripture backs that up time and time again. Even the ladies-man David was convicted and punished for sinning.

  3. Thank you, Pastor Mike, for this devotional. I, too, have often wondered about all this use of Scripture to support personal agendas and opinions. I find that I must constantly be on guard to keep myself from falling into this trap. Because I love the Word of God, I also love to study it, and my study sometimes leads me to interesting conclusions, and I need to study more about my findings before considering them part of dogma.

    One thing I have come to believe is that God evidently never has invited us to INTERPRET His Word (we know who the first interpreter of God’s Word is in Gen. 3:1-5), but expects us to UNDERSTAND His Word. I could never find any place that speaks of “interpretation” as anything other than transfer of meaning from one vehicle to another, such as a language or a dream (“translate” may be a better English term).

    Notwithstanding the word “hermeneutics” (interpretive studies), Bible schools might better equip their students with courses in such like “sunetics” (comprehension or intelligence) or “nousetics” (intelligence pertaining to the will) or even “parakolouthics” (following near, conformance). Wow, I’m making up English words here to reflect some of the Greek words for “understanding” — but you know what I am getting at, viz.:

    The point is that we must strive to UNDERSTAND God’s Word rather than INTERPRET it, with the help of the Holy Spirit.

    So I am glad to see your short discussion of this very thing, and it is an encouragement to me to confirm that I am not far off the mark.

    Well, Bob, it appears that you have quite an axe to grind. You may as well assert that nowhere in Scripture is the word “Bible,” therefore our Bible is not the Word of God. Again, “understanding” is the key word here, else you may end up setting your own dogma, the antithesis of your proclaimed goal. Your audience among thoughtful believers will thus be quite limited. But keep studying. The “poneros” thief of Matt. 13:19 is usually rendered “the evil one” (singular) and can refer to Satan, or anyone with evil intent (as in 2 Thess. 3:2).

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