Everyone would like to think that their understanding of the Bible is accurate, but with so many different denominations and doctrinal positions, we can’t all be right. So how can we ensure that our theological conclusions are inline with the heart of God and the truth of the Word? Here are a few tips to help keep you on the right path and prevent you from ending up in a theological ditch.
1.) Study Multiple Translations – Although the original text is infallible that doesn’t mean that the English translations always are. If you don’t speak the original languages of Greek and Hebrew, then I suggest studying the Bible in multiple English translations in order to gain a fuller understanding. By using multiple translations, you can cross-reference these readings with one another in order to validate your conclusions and to temper your findings. This prevents extrapolating some misguided truth from one translation that is clearly not intended in the original language nor found in other translations. Some of my personal favorites to use are: NASB, KJV, AMP, MSG, and the HCSB.
2.) Validated by History – Although Church history certainly has its fair share of abuses and skeletons in its closest, this doesn’t mean that history doesn’t have anything to offer. After 2000 years of Biblical study, I get a little concerned if I’m the only person to come to a specific conclusion. Have I challenged the status quo of religion before? Certainly! But it’s important to never do this lightly. When writing my book Good God, I challenged the traditional understanding on the book of Job, James 1, and several other passages, but I wasn’t alone in my findings. Additionally, I took over a decade before I released my findings publicly to ensure that I had uncovered every theological stone possible. But don’t fool yourself; we all want to think that we’re right. Recently, I’ve witnessed a tendency by those holding to Christian Inclusionism and Universalism to find support for their faulty theological preferences among obscure Eastern Church Fathers, most of whom were considered heretics by their own peers while they were still alive due to their associations with Gnostic thought and other false teachings. If you search far enough into history, you’re certain to find someone who agrees with you, but this doesn’t mean that you’re right. History alone should never be the only determination, right or wrong. Remember, instructing people about the heart of God is a beautiful thing, but its also an awesome responsibility. Recklessness from the pulpit by sharing poorly constructed doctrines and rushed theological conclusions is irresponsible pastoring and should be avoided whenever possible.
3.) In Accordance with the Person of Jesus– The book of Hebrews calls Jesus the “exact representation of God’s being”. This means, if you want to know what God is like, just look at Jesus. As we study the Word, this is an important understanding. If our conclusions about God, derived from the Word, don’t line up with the person of Jesus, then its time to reexamine our interpretation of the scriptures. Did Jesus ever make someone sick? Give someone cancer? Steal someone’s child? Then neither does God. So when Bible teachers tell you that God will give us trials in order to teach us something, it’s time to find new teachers. A true interpretation of scripture will never violate the real character of God.
4.) Listen to the Holy Spirit – Although the most subjective, confirmation from the Holy Spirit is easily the most important aspect of gaining revelation from the Bible. Often in my studies, God will first show me something in the Spirit, which will lead me to begin searching out a particular topic or verse. Proverbs 25:2 offers this, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.” Does this mean that what you hear is always right? No, but it offers at least a starting point. Sure there are some who have fallen into religious arrogance and rush to claim “God told me” to justify their slanted opinions, but this shouldn’t stop us from seeking the Holy Spirit. On the contrary, no amount of scholarly study can ever adequately portray and understand the heart of God and the message of the Gospel without a revelation from the Holy Spirit.
5.) Check Your Motive – Perhaps one of the most important considerations in studying the Bible is our own personal motives. Are you studying a particular topic simply to justify your own desires? Does your ego “need” to find something “new” in the Word in order to feel smart? Or are you studying the Word in order to know God and to make him known, regardless of what you discover about him?
What other tips do you have to help ensure that your study of scripture stays on track?
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Make sure and pick up a copy of Lucas’ new book, Good God: The One We Want To Believe In But Are Afraid To Embrace, and don’t forget to download the free missing chapter from the book at www.lucasmiles.org/missingchapter