A Review of Biblical Interpretation

I have written a number of articles that talk about different rules and principles important to Scriptural Interpretation and I am putting them together here.  This will highlight the major points that have been discussed in articles and you can go to the referenced article for more insight.

Those rules include:

  • sticking to what God reveals in his word, avoiding opinions, assumptions, speculations and private interpretation so that we rightly divide the scripture,
  • examining scripture in both the local and larger contexts,
  • using translations that accurately reflect the meaning of the text,
  • doing word studies where necessary to get to the precise meanings of the original words used,
  • comparing texts with texts and other writings to find and eliminate changes that have crept into the texts,
  • recognizing figures of speech where applicable,
  • differentiating between the verses addressed to us and those that are for our learning,
  • being aware that the apostles prophesied that there would be teachers rise up and teach twisted scriptures, misinterpreted scriptures to lead people astray, and more.
  • watching punctuation. There is no punctuation in the texts that we translate our Scriptures from. And as there is not a one-to-one correlation between languages the theology of the translators affects the translation to show the theology of the translator.
  • watching capitalization. The originals are in the same case.  English and other languages have rules for what is capitalized and this affects the meaning.

Let’s talk more about what all this means. First, in The Not Enough Information Rule – Sticking to What is Revealed we see that part of the word of God is that only some things about God and the spiritual world are revealed. Other things are secret.

The secret things belong to Yahweh our God; but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deu 29:29 WEB)

And the things of God that are not revealed are unsearchable!

Great is Yahweh, and greatly to be praised! His greatness is unsearchable. (Psa 145:3 WEB)

We can’t think like God. Unsearchable means that there is no place that we can look to find out what we want to know about the hidden things of God. God says we can’t figure him out, we don’t even think like him:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways,” says Yahweh. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isa 55:8-9 WEB)

As I said in that article, “The trick is to stick to the text of the word of God, as original as can be found, not adding or subtracting from it. And sticking to what is revealed. Especially remember the downfall of inductive reasoning, that we will never in our current form have enough information to inductively conclude things on God’s plane.

So don’t be afraid to say that there isn’t enough information to know something.  It’s a basic rule in understanding the word of God.”  This also applies to philosophy.  Using words and terms not in scripture is not properly handling the word of God.  Using inductive logic to guesstimate things about God violates the Not Enough Information rule because humans are incapable of understanding God like all other things on the earth. Beyond what has been revealed in scripture we can’t understand his ways because he said his ways are unsearchable.  That’s either true or it’s not.  Scripture says it so I believe it. Beyond what scripture says we can’t understand his thinking because he revealed to us that his thoughts are not our thoughts, that they are beyond us.

Also in that article are comments on the importance of context.  Taking something out of context is a recognized principle in communications of any sort. In the article, I talk about the word all and how all has several meanings, all that there is and all that is available.  You have to look at the context to see which meaning it has.  And it’s not okay to speculate on what Jesus’ words meant, the example of the sower and the seed shows a time when a parable meaning is revealed in the context.

In T 1 Tradition in Original Christianity, Part 1, Rightly Dividing the Word of God we see some of those rules about rightly dividing the word of God and staying away from private interpretations, personal opinions, and impressions of what you and I might think the scriptures mean.  That includes going to the scriptures with preconceived ideas instead of looking at what the scriptures actually say and believing that.  Everyone seems to have an opinion, but I want to know what God meant, what his interpretation is.  And, as Daniel said:

 “Do not interpretations belong to God?” (Gen 40:8b ESV)

Both the words of God and the interpretation of them belong to God.  I want to discuss a particularly strongly worded section of scripture:

I will raise them up a prophet from among their brothers, like you. I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I shall command him. It shall happen, that whoever will not listen to my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him. But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.” You may say in your heart, “How shall we know the word which Yahweh has not spoken?” When a prophet speaks in Yahweh’s name, if the thing doesn’t follow, nor happen, that is the thing which Yahweh has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You shall not be afraid of him. (Deu 18:18-22 WEB)

God is explaining how he works with prophets here. We are talking about people with the office of a prophet, the gift ministry. There are some examples of personal prophecy in the Old Testament but mainly in the New Testament where God through the Spirit gives words of edification and comfort for individual spirit-filled believers to deliver to the ones around them. That’s not the office of a prophet. The office of the prophet predicts famines, wars, and other calamities. The office of a prophet goes to Kings and gives them messages of what the enemy is doing and saying in their bedrooms. The office of the prophet is given visions and words to deliver to the body at large. That’s the kind of prophet we’re talking about here. “I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I shall command him.” Right here we have the prophecy model. God gives the prophet words to say and the prophet says them. Period. End of story. That’s how prophecy works. There are no committees. There are no councils of bishops. “I will raise them up a prophet from among their brothers…”  God selects an individual from the believers and “raises” them up. God works with an individual to be his spokesperson.  In the previous article, we talked about how we got the word of God through the prophets.

The Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 was not a council to develop doctrine.  It was a council to resolve a simple issue, and the spirit was involved as it is written in verse 28, “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit…”

What does God’s word say about how we are to treat the words of the prophet, the things revealed by the prophets?

“Whoever will not listen to my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him” says if you don’t listen to God’s word given by the prophet, it’s on you. We are charged to follow the words of the prophet because they are God’s word.

“But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.” This is the most strongly worded part of this section. This is part of the law. (In the New Testament believers are warned to avoid false prophets and false teachers with no mention of the death penalty as under the law.) There is some further explanation on how to tell whether somebody speaks presumptuously, and that is the last part of the section. “You may say in your heart, “How shall we know the word which Yahweh has not spoken?” When a prophet speaks in Yahweh’s name, if the thing doesn’t follow, nor happen, that is the thing which Yahweh has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You shall not be afraid of him.”

Let’s take a minute and talk about the word “presumptuously”. It comes from the Hebrew zood or zeed (H2102 in Strong’s) and it has to do with being proud, haughty or presuming.  This points to pride as a cause for someone to speak for God when God hasn’t given them that gift. Look at this:

… We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. But if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he doesn’t yet know as he ought to know. (1Co 8:1-2 WEB)

The above verse says that knowledge puffs up. The Greek word is phusio (G5448), which means to blow up, but figuratively means to make proud or haughty.  The above verse is a warning against becoming proud or haughty the more you know. “If anyone thinks he knows anything, he doesn’t yet know as he ought to know” means that no matter how much you know, don’t get proud because we really don’t know that much.

So, looking at that in context with prophets speaking presumptuously we can see that the temptation for the prophet who has been blessed with knowledge from God is to get proud and to speak more than what God has revealed. But the warning against knowledge puffing up doesn’t just apply to prophets. The warning in first Corinthians is to all of us not to get proud and think we know more than we really do. A Ph.D. from University does not imbue us with revelation knowledge about God. 30 years of pastoring or teaching people in the world gives us a lot of experience, but don’t get proud and presume you know more than you know.

Whether or not something comes to pass is the standard for evaluating a prophet.  Now all kinds of people think that things, certain things, are going to happen all the time and they don’t. A while back people were talking about how long the covid pandemic was going to last. Different people offered different opinions. When people asked me, I thought about it, even prayed about it, and was pretty certain that the government would come up with a plan to vaccinate people by a certain time which was the end of summer in 2021. So, I told people I thought that things would be getting back to normal around that time. However, I did not have any clue about the resistance against vaccination not only here in the United States but in different places around the world. I was shocked to see the extent of vaccination resistance that would prolong the length of this pandemic although I did have an inclination that normal might be different even after people started getting vaccinated. Long story short, we are way past the end of the summer 2021 and the pandemic is still affecting people’s lives. I was wrong, as were a lot of other people. But we weren’t claiming that we had gotten the word of the Lord on it. My thinking was to try to be as upbeat and optimistic as possible and help people look for a light at the end of the tunnel.

However, there were people who proclaimed that they knew from God when things would happen.  For example, “29 February 2020 T.B Joshua of the Synagogue Church of All Nations in Nigeria prophesied that Covid-19 will vanish on 27 March 2020.”[1]  It did not.  There are articles on the damage that false prophets did not only in Africa but other places as well.[2]

The church of grace to which you and I belong is not charged to kill false prophets, but we are warned of them and advised to steer clear of them.

Nevertheless, we got the word of God, the scriptures, from prophets, and we are charged to heed what they say. Christian philosophy is the wisdom that we get from the word of God and we are charged to treat it just like we are charged to rightly divide without private interpretation of all of God’s word.

And as far as the situation with prophets and the sin of presumption goes, the same goes for teachers.  Knowledge can puff them up too.  And combine a teaching institution that combines scripture with the worldly methods and tenets of philosophy and you have a recipe for producing false teachers.

The problem with errors in some translated verses is discussed in Examples of Scribal Forgeries in the Bible, There are Numerous Variations in the Texts From Which We Get The Bible; Using an Interlinear Text To See Them, and Trinitarian Forgeries in the New Testament.
For example,

And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting. (Mark 9:29 KJV)

“and fasting” is not in some texts.  And fasting appears to be added by zealous scribes emphasizing the fasting and asceticism movements that became popular in the centuries after Christ.

Or the Johannine Comma example. The words “ in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.  And there are three that bear witness in earth” are added to 1 John 5:7-8. You can ignore these words. This is generally accepted.[3]

Or the woman caught in adultery, John 7:53 to 8:11, is missing from many texts.  As touching as it is, you can ignore it.

Filtering out changed and added verses is part of rightly dividing scripture.  Interlinear texts can help you see the variations in manuscripts.

In The Importance Of Each Word, More on Word Studies we again see the importance in rightly dividing scripture of studying the terms in the scriptures in the original language and then doing word studies of the underlying Hebrew and Greek words to determine whether the translation accurate represents the meaning of the author.

For example, in H3 Four kinds of love in the Bible, When Love is not Love we see that the word “love” can actually come from four different Greek words

The four words are:

  • Agape – unselfish, unconditional love
  • Phileo – friendship
  • Eros – sexual, romantic love
  • Storge – familial affection

This teaching talks about how God’s love is not sexual love which is not family affection which is not the friendship of good friends. The different Greek words really change the meaning of the text and the teaching derived from it.

Or, even prepositions, can have different meanings. For example, en in Greek means a number of things, often “in”, but also “for the sake of” and other meanings.  In “We are created in Christ” in Ephesians 2:10 “in” is the Greek preposition en. It shows we have our eternal purpose in Christ. So, the verse:

For by him all things were created, in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and for him. (Col 1:16 WEB)

“By” is the Greek word en.  It doesn’t mean that Jesus is the agent of creation, which translating it as “by” implies.  “By” is a mistranslation. Neither does the section “through him and for him” make him the agent of the original creation any more than the verse that says we are created in him make us literally in his Christ’s person, yet we are created in Christ.

The context of this section of scripture actually describes the creation of the new Church in Christ that started on Pentecost.  Colossian 1:13 “who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the Kingdom of the Son of his love” describes just that.  Colossians 1:15-23 describes Jesus Christ in action as head of the Church setting things up.  Jesus is the firstborn, we are people born after him.  He is the most important, though, before anything else (v. 17). and he holds everything together in the body.  The context of this section is the workings of the body of Christ of which Jesus is the head. That’s what it says right here:

He is the head of the body, the assembly, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. (Col 1:18 WEB)

Now everything was created with Christ in mind.  Jesus Christ was the end game from the beginning.  But it’s easy to take things out of context and just read words like creation, heaven and earth, change “in” to “by” and say this verse is saying Jesus is God almighty, but that is twisting this scripture.

Nevertheless, this verse isn’t an easy translation.  The rule is that more difficult verses have to be translated in light of more clear verses.  As we will see below, all power and authority rest in God the Father alone. Verses like John 17:3 and 1 Cor 15:24-28 explain that below and translating  Colossians 1:16 as Jesus is God Almighty contradicts those verses and others. Jesus, as mighty as God the Father has made him is God’s agent who was elevated to his current level of power when he accomplished our salvation by dying on the cross for all of us.  That is when he was seated on the right hand of the Father. But the whole plan of creation centers around Jesus Christ, his only begotten son.

We need to watch prepositions when we look for the meanings of verses.  Prepositions can have different meanings depending on the context.

We especially don’t want to substitute synonyms for words in a translation based on their modern English meanings.  That goes for other languages as well because it is a well-known fact that languages are always changing and the meanings of words can change.  Did you know that leech originally meant doctor, and flux originally meant diarrhea?[4] Or that nice used to mean foolish or simple while hussy comes from the word housewife?[5] Its important to get to the meaning of the words and terms at the time they were written.

In John 1 – The meaning of the Logos; The Slippery Slope of Applying Mathematical Precision to Language Expressions we look at the importance of understanding figures of speech and not taking sections of text that use, for example in Proverbs 8 and  John 1, personification to be literal.  Both those sections of scripture speak of wisdom and the Logos as if they were persons when they are not, they are attributes of godliness and the spirit.  Figures of speech are used in scripture and in life to emphasize certain points but it is a huge mistake to take them literally.  For example, Napoleon was a giant in history.  This statement emphasizes that Napoleon had a huge impact on history, not that he was physically a giant.  In fact, Napoleon was a short man and there was not physically anything giant about him at all. While God’s wisdom and logos are huge parts of how God works, they are not actually equal to God. Still, we want God’s wisdom and logos in our lives because they are so dynamic.  That is why they are emphasized in scripture. There are numerous figures of speech besides personification.

Also, the same rules apply to rightly-dividing godly wisdom and philosophy as to rightly dividing God’s word because God’s wisdom comes from God’s word.

In All Scripture is for our Learning But All Scripture is not Addressed to Everyone: Administrations we see that we can learn from all scripture but only part of it is addressed to us. Adam and Eve only had one law, to not eat of one tree in the midst of the garden, but they did and the rules changed.  The patriarchs after Adam had a laxer set of rules in that administration.  The Law brought a rich but strict administration full of pageantry and ritual with numerous specific laws that were to be followed diligently.  It had an assortment of feasts and offerings but also the stiff penalty system of the eye for an eye and the death penalty for a number of offenses. Christ fulfilled the Law and brought us to the administration of the church of Grace.  The letters of the Apostles are written to the church of grace and we are charged to follow the traditions in those letters, the epistles.  As we are told not to follow the Law we don’t circumcise or follow the dietary laws etc.

We need to be wary of the possibility of scriptures being twisted in the different denominations and traditions. In T 1.3.2, The Apostles Prophesied That Misinterpreted Things Would Be Taught, While They Were There, After They Passed, And In Later Times we look at how the Apostles prophesied that scripture would be twisted by people both in and outside the church and the importance of avoiding twisted scripture.  This is very prevalent these days as there are many, many disagreements on what the scriptures say. God hasn’t told some believers that the manifestations of the spirit ceased while he tells others that manifestations of the spirit are available to all during the church of grace administration.  It is twisting scripture to say the manifestations ceased. T 18.1 The Prohibition Tradition in Some Modern Churches and T 19.1 Modern Christian Traditions – The In Essentials Unity Doctrine show examples of traditions developed based on twisted meanings of scriptures as well other errors in rightly dividing scripture.

We need to be aware of how punctuation affects translation and meaning. In T 1.31 More on Paul’s Decision To Go To Jerusalem, How Tradition Can Affect Translation And Meaning, Accepting Deliverance When Available we see the example of Acts 24:14, which says,

When he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, “The Lord’s will be done.” (Act 21:14 WEB)

But there is no punctuation in Koine Greek, just letters all running together.  The translated words just are:

When he would not be persuaded we ceased saying the will of the Lord be done.

Rearranging the words as translated just to make read like it was written in Greek, Acts 21:14 reads “And since he was not being persuaded we stopped saying the will of the Lord be done.” In other words, the prophets and believers stopped telling Paul to do the will of the Lord.  So this is where it gets tricky.  Tradition evidently had grown to the point where the translators believed Paul followed the will of the Lord here so a straightforward translation of 21:14 doesn’t fit with that.   So, by adding commas, you can change the meaning of this verse.  Look at this verse:

“And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, the will of the Lord be done.”  That could mean that they reversed their position, or that they were saying that the will of the Lord is going to happen here even though Paul was warned.

This is an example where the punctuation completely changes whether “the will of the Lord be done” was said or not, and if it was what it meant.  It’s also an example that shows that the theology of the translators may override the true meaning of the text.

We need to be aware of changes in meaning by the use of capitalization. The original texts are in the same case.  English and other languages have rules for what is capitalized and it affects the meaning.  In T 1.10.1 Tradition in Original Christianity, Not Only Is Jesus Called God In Scripture, But So are Moses, Judges, Magistrates, The Adversary, And Devil Spirits, But All Are Subject to the Father we see how the theology of the translator determines the use of capitalization.  In English God refers to the Supreme Deity, God the Father, the Creator. Small “g”, god, can mean people like judges, magistrates, the Adversary, devil spirits, Lords, Kings including the Lord of Lords and King of Kings.  The point of that article is to show that the term “god” in scripture applies to a number of entities so just because someone is called god doesn’t make them God the Father. As I wrote in the above mentioned post, it may be confusing to some when they read that Jesus is rightfully called god in some scriptures but not part of a Trinity, but only until it is understood that many beings subordinate to God including judges, prophets, idols, the adversary, and devil spirits are also called god.  But all are subject, subordinate to God the Father, even his son.

This is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and him whom you sent, Jesus Christ. (Joh 17:3 WEB)

Jesus himself delineates between God the Father who he declares is the only true God, and himself who he declares is the sent one, God’s agent, the Christ, the Messiah. God the Father is God over all.  Jesus Christ is his agent.

Jesus himself tells us that his power is totally dependent on the Father:

Jesus therefore answered them, “Most certainly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing of himself, but what he sees the Father doing. For whatever things he does, these the Son also does likewise. (Joh 5:19 WEB)

And in 1st Corinthians, we see that even though it reads that everything is subject to Christ, Christ is still subject to God the father.

Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. (1Co 15:24-28 ESV)

It is the verse above that sets the pecking order in the spiritual realm for men and gods.

Still, this area is an example that shows where the use of the capital G in God and other words referring to Jesus infers that Jesus is God over all when scriture says Jesus is and always will be subject to God the Father.  To properly understand the scriptures you have to watch out for capitalization errors.

We can reduce the thousands of denominations and myriad disagreements over what scripture says by sticking to these principles of rightly dividing the word of God.

[1] Science Direct, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2590051X21000332

[2] Realistic Hope, Not False Hope: Prophecy and COVID-19, PAULINE WANJIRU NJIRU,
JUNE 8, 2020, https://jpcp.org/realistic-hope-not-false-hope-prophecy-and-covid-19/

[3] http://www.bible-researcher.com/comma.html is one site that points this out.

[4] Five words that have changed meaning over time, https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/articles/znbct39

[5] 20 words that once meant something very different, https://ideas.ted.com/20-words-that-once-meant-something-very-different/

Revised 2/21/2022

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