Discussing God and Spiritual Matters (5) How to Understand the Bible
by Steven Chan
- God inspired holy men to pen His revelation to man concerning Him, His nature and purpose for man (including Hs plan to redeem man from the clutches of sin and to have heaven as our ultimate home) as well as to guide man on how to live here on earth (2 Pet 1:19-21; 2 Tim 3:15-17).
- God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor 14:33) and His Word is written plainly (Prov 8:8-9; Hab 2:2) so that we who read may understand (Eph 3:3-4). For example, when God said to man: that “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Gen 2:17), man understood it plainly and clearly. When Satan asked Eve about what God said, Eve affirmed her understanding of what God had said (Gen 3:1-3). But Satan flatly denied what God had said about the consequence of eating the forbidden fruit: “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:4-5) That falsehood by Satan led to their disobedience. We should learn from this mistake – not to be misled by alternative narratives/facts or explanation such as to lead us to disobey what God has plainly stated. The problem was not that God’s Word was difficult to understand. The crux of the problem was due to listening to a “context/reason for why God gave that instruction” that was supplied by the deceiver, and not warranted by the context of God’s revelation. We need to be wary of similar efforts by the deceiver to confuse us today about what God has said in His Word lest we lose our souls (2 Pet 3:16-18).
- God has “given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, 4 by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:3-4). In God’s Word we have “precious promises” that will give us comfort of God’s provisions for us (Rom 8:28, 31-32; Heb 13:5-6)
- God’s Word also provides guidance on how we ought to live (Psa 1; 119:97-105; 2 Tim 3:16-17) and how we may discern between good and evil (Heb 5:11-14)
- Jesus showed us how Scriptures are to be understood – when He quoted the relevant passages from the Scriptures and apply them to the various situations. Jesus showed that guidance and instruction from the Scriptures can be derived from “direct statements” from the Bible (Matt 4:3-4); by Necessary Inference or Implications from Bible Statements (Matt 19:4-6), and also by Implication from Bible Examples (Luke 17:32; 1 Cor 10:11; James 5:10-11).
- Unfortunately, some theologians have been introducing “modifying factors” to change the meaning of the plain statements of the Scriptures.
- They say that when the community of bible believers agree that a practice is acceptable today then the bible should be understood in the light of such revelation by the Living Word (Jesus Christ testifying to the hearts of believers today) and the understanding of the Written Word needs to be modified accordingly to accommodate such a practice. They contend that such modification of what is expressly stated by the Written Word is necessary because of the change in “cultural context” (i.e. between the context when it was written and the present-day context) and/or the need to understand such bible passages through the lens of “love” rather than a legalistic approach.
- These bible students failed to appreciate that we need to understand God’s definition of love (and not supply our own definition of love). The Bible definition of love is as follows:
a). 1 John 5:3: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.”
b). 2 John 6: “This is love, that we walk according to His commandments.”
c). John 14:15: “If you love Me, keep My commandments”
d). John 14:21: “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me.”
Love requires one to keep God’s commandments; it does not change or nullify the need to obey what God has plainly said. The religious leaders in Jesus’ days, were in error when they “made the commandment of God of no effect by their tradition (their own way of interpretation)” (Matt 15:6). Modifying what God has plainly stated tantamount to teaching man-made doctrines (Matt 15:9). It makes man the standard for acceptable conduct instead of God’s standards (Isa 55:8-9)
- Supplying a “context” (one’s own ideas) into the Scriptures which is NOT warranted by the immediate or total context of Scriptures is “eisegesis” and not “exegesis” of the Scriptures. “Eisegesis” is a faulty approach to ascertaining the instruction of God’s Word. Satan, the deceiver used this approach in Gen 3 to deceive the woman into disobeying God.
- Jesus did not adopt any of the “modifying factors” (such as “general acceptance by the community of bible believers”, different “cultural context” and interpreting through the lens of “love”) when He quoted from Gen 2:24 to answer the question posed by the religious leaders whether it was lawful to divorce a wife for any cause (Matt 19:1-9):
“ And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Jesus affirmed the proper use of Scriptures for Christian living today. What God said “at the beginning” was still applicable (nearly 2500 years later when Jesus quoted and applied it) for guidance on acceptable conduct by God. The historical context would have changed but God’s Written Word does not change. Jesus asked them: “Have you not read?” He did not ask what the majority of the Jewish religious leaders believed or practiced. He did not ask whether there was the presence or absence of “love” in that marriage so as to warrant a divorce. Jesus, the Word Incarnate (John 1:14) and the Living Word pointed to the Written Word! We will do well to take heed how we read the Scriptures
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