Tag Archives: understanding the Bible

Biblical Interpretation: 5 Things To Consider When Studying God’s Word

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?

Enjoy what you’re reading?

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

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The Use of Symbolism in the Bible

It is perhaps undeniable that symbolism is used throughout the scriptures.  The psalmists paint vivid word pictures as they describe God’s unchanging nature and his mighty works, Paul uses countless analogies to portray the contrast of law and grace, and even Jesus himself uses parables and symbols to share the wonders of the kingdom of God.  All of these things, parables, word pictures, types, shadows, and analogies is what I’m referring to when I say “symbolism”.

In this same vein, as I’ve been studying scripture further, the more types and symbols I discover.  For instance, I’ve been looking at the story of Noah, when he sends out the raven, and then later the dove on both occasions.  As I’m studying this, I see more than just a man on a boat trying to save all the life in the world, but I also see a picture of the Holy Spirit.  Noah, as a type of God, sends out his spirit in the form of a raven and a dove and it had place to rest, so the spirit returned unto him.  Though as time past, “in the fullness of time” as it says in Galatians the Spirit found one olive branch to land upon in the person of Christ.  Next, because of this single branch, God released his Spirit again and it was finally able to dwell on the earth (a symbol of what happened on the day of Pentecost in the book of Acts).

Now let’s talk about this.  Is the story of Noah true?  Yes, I believe it is.  And anthropology seems to agree with this, as almost every people group has a “flood” story.  Did God intend for the story of Noah to be a foreshadowing of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit?  If you ask me, I would say absolutely.  My personal belief is that the Bible is like a deep painting that has layers and layers of color and texture making it impossible to search it’s fullness.  But let’s say that wasn’t God’s intent.  Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that it never even entered God’s mind that somebody like me, however long after the days of Noah, would look at this story and come up with the conclusion that there was a deeper meaning in this account than just a single family, countless animals, and a heck of a lot of water.  What if God never intended the story to speak that?  Is it then wrong for me to interpret that?  My answer is “no”.

Let me ask this…when you look at a tree blooming in the spring, is it wrong for you to think of God’s beauty?  Or as you sit under a starry Colorado night, is it wrong to meditate on God’s vast depths?  I would again say “NO”…absolutely not.

Now, with that being said, can symbolism be dangerous?  Absolutely yes!  If I approach scripture, and interpret some meaning of a certain obscure passage that the writer, nor the Holy Spirit, even intended, harm can result.  I believe this is most commonly seen in the prophetic realms.  One reads an Old Testament prophecy and plugs in their assumption of what symbol mentioned equals which country, based upon current events, and whamo!  There you have yourself one potentially harmful prophecy.  (Not at all implying that this is always the case.)

Obviously, anyone can make scripture say just about anything they want it to; leading to control and manipulation.  Oh, this scripture means Koolaid and this scripture means poison….that’s how a cult forms.  So how do you navigate scripture while receiving the full benefits of symbolism while avoiding the pitfalls?   I utilize these rules when looking at Biblical symbolism.

-Biblical symbols have to be interpreted through the Bible.  (i.e. Christ is often referred to as an “olive branch”)

-Biblical symbols have to edify other truths of scripture.  For instance I would be wary of some “new” truth in scripture.  New to you is one thing, new to the believers throughout time is another.  I look for symbolism to give a fuller picture to the truths of the Word, as in the story of Noah.  I already new how the Holy Spirit came into the world, because Christ clearly teaches this, but the Noah account gave me a clearer picture of God’s heart in the matter and the importance of Christ.

-Biblical symbols should always elevate Jesus.  If the symbolism you’re using does anything other than elevate Christ, I would question it’s validity.  All of scripture points to Jesus, our symbols should be no different.

In fact, I think this final principle is perhaps the key.  The life of the believer, the truth of the Word, and the beauty of creation, all point to Christ.  Our revelations should always lead us to Him and His great love.  This is best seen in Revelation.  People reads John’s prophetic book and they come up with all sorts of conclusions.  For me, I haven’t figured it all out, but this I know.  In the first few verses it says, ‘this is a revelation of Jesus Christ”.  That tells me if your interpretation paints a picture of anything other than the person of Jesus…you’ve read it wrong.

The Word is a deep water….blessed is the one that takes the time to navigate it’s fullness.  Have a great week.

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