*Adapted from Chapter 4: “Practical Rules for Biblical Interpretation”
from R.C. Sproul. Knowing Scripture. IVP: Downers Grove, IL.: 2009.
1: READ THE BIBLE LIKE ANY OTHER BOOK – The Bible does not take on some special magic that changes basic literary patterns of interpretation.
2: READ THE BIBLE EXISTENTIALLY – We ought to get passionately and personally involved with what we read. We should seek to “crawl in the skin” of the characters we are reading about so that we get absorbed into the world of the text, so that their world begins to shape us. By trying to put ourselves in the life situation of the characters of Scripture, we can come to a better understanding of what we are reading. This is the practice of empathy, feeling the emotions of the characters we are studying. Such reading between the lines may not be regarded as part of the text of Scripture itself but will aid in our understanding the flavor of what is happening.
3: INTERPRET THE HISTORICAL NARRATIVES BY THE DIDACTIC (‘Teaching’ or ‘Doctrinal’ Passages) – The term didactic comes from the Greek word that means to teach or to instruct. Didactic literature teaches or explains. Much of Paul’s writing is didactic in character. The relationship between the Gospels and the Epistles often has been defined in simple terms of saying that the Gospels record what Jesus did and the Epistles interpret the significance of what He did. It is true that the emphasis in the Gospels is found in the record of events, while the Epistles are more concerned with interpreting the significance of those events in terms of doctrine, exhortation and application…The principle of interpreting the narrative by the didactic is not designed to set apostle against apostle or apostle against Christ. It is merely recognizing one of the principle tasks of the apostle, to teach and to interpret the mind of Christ for His people.
4: INTERPRET THE IMPLICIT BY THE EXPLICIT – When an implication is drawn that is contradictory to what is explicitly stated, the implication must be rejected. If we interpret the clear in light of the obscure, we drift into a kind of esoteric interpretation that is inevitably cultic. The basic rule is that of care: careful reading of what the text is actually saying will save us from much confusion and distortion.
5: DETERMINE CAREFULLY THE MEANING OF WORDS – Only the context can determine the particular meaning of a word.
6: NOTE THE PRESENCE OF PARALLELISMS – Parallelism may be defined as a relationship between two or more sentences or clauses that correspond in similarity or are set with each other. There are three basic types of parallelism: synonymous, antithetic, and synthetic. Synonymous parallelism occurs when different lines or parts of a passage present the same thought in a slightly altered manner of expression. Antithetic parallelism occurs when the two parts are set in contrast to each other. They may say the same thing but say it by way of negation. Synthetic parallelism is a but more complex than the other forms. Here the first part of the passage creates a sense of expectation that is completed by the second part. It can also move in progressive, “staircase” movement to a conclusion in a third line.
7: NOTE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A PROVERB AND A LAW – Proverbs are catchy little couplets designed to express practical truisms. They reflect principles of wisdom for godly living. They do not reflect moral laws that are to be applied to absolutely every conceivable life situation.
8: OBSERVE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE SPIRIT AND THE LETTER OF THE LAW – Jesus goes beyond the letter to the spirit of the letter. The Pharisees noted only the letter; Christians are to take note of the both the letter and the spirit of the letter.
9: BE CAREFUL WITH PARABLES – Some parables are extended similes, others are comparative stories, and still others have an obvious moral application. The safest way to look at parables is to look for one basic central point in them.
10: BE CAREFUL WITH PREDICTIVE PROPHECY – If we examine how the NT treats the OT prophecy, we discover that in some cases an appeal is made to the fulfillment of the letter (such as the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem) and in others fulfillment has a broader scope (such as the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy of the return of Elijah). When interpreting Apocalyptic literature (e.g., Daniel, Ezekiel, Revelation) it’s important to seek the general meaning of such images in the Bible itself. For example, most of the images of the book of Revelation are found elsewhere in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament.
11: INTERPRET THE BIBLE WITH A SPIRIT OF HUMILITY – We must humbly acknowledge the possibility that at some points we could be mistaken…If my views cannot stand the test of objective analysis and verification, humility demands that I abandon them.
Content of God’s Word Condition of God’s Word Character of God’s Word
law of the LORD perfect restoring the soul
testimony of the LORD sure making wise the simple
precepts of the LORD right rejoicing the soul
commandment of the LORD pure enlightening the eyes
fear of the LORD clean enduring forever
judgments of the LORD true righteous altogether
They are . . . . valuable, enjoyable, profitable
Thy servant is warned
What is the correlation between the content and condition for each description of the Word of God?
Which other passages of Scripture group two or more of these terms together?
Sometime this week read through Psalm 119. List where the terms in Psalm 19 are found in Psalm 119.
What is the relationship between verses 11-12 and verses 13-14? What application is the psalmist making?
What the Word of God is and What the Word of God Does
Recognition of What it is . . . Reaction of What It Does
Understanding its importance but also applying its importance
Six characteristics & Six qualities . . . six effects
A. Complete Instruction for Changing our Lives Psalm 19:7
C. Correct Information for Rejoicing our Souls Psalm 19:7
And Thy words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart
D. Consistent Revelation for Helping our Eyes Psalm 19:8
Year One Quarter One Syllabus Answers in the Bible Curriculum
Lesson 1 God’s Word Is Our Foundation Psalm 19:7–11, 86:11, 119:105
Lesson 2 Studying the Bible Hebrews 4:11–13; 2 Peter 1:2–4; 2 Timothy 2:14–19
Lesson 3 God’s Word Guides Us 2 Timothy 3:16–17; 2 Peter 1:19–21; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:13–18
Lesson 4 God Preserves His Word Luke 24:13–32; Jeremiah 36:1–4, 36:17–32
Lesson 5 God’s Word Is Complete John 14:25–26, 21:24–25; Revelation 22:18–19
Lesson 6 Don’t Change God’s Word Deuteronomy 18:20–22;Galatians 1:6–9; Revelation 22:18–19
Lesson 7 Starting with Scripture 1 Peter 3:14–17; 2 Corinthians 10:1–6;Acts 17; Proverbs 26:4–5
Lesson 8 How Do I Know God Exists? Genesis 1:1; Exodus 3:13–15; John 18:1–6
Lesson 9 What Is God Like? Exodus 34:4–8; 1 John 4:7–21; Psalm 90:1–6
Lesson 10 The Trinity Genesis 1:1–3; Psalm 33:6; John 1:1–5; Isaiah 44:23–24;
Colossians 1:15–17; Psalm 104:30; Matthew 3:13–17
Lesson 11 The Seven C’s of History Genesis 1:1, 1:31, 3:6–7, 7:11–12,
7:18–21, 11:1–9; Matthew 1:18–23; Colossians 1:19–22; Revelation 21:1–8
Lesson 12 What Is the Gospel? Genesis 1:31–2:4, 3:6–7, 3:21–23, 6:5–8, 8:1, 8:15–17,
11:1–9; Romans 3:19–26, 5:12, 5:18–19; John 1:14–17; 1 Corinthians 15:1–5;
2 Corinthians 5:21; Revelation 21:1–8
Lesson 13 Value of a Biblical Worldview Colossians 2:1–10
Students of Scripture have long said that Psalm 19 is the Psalm about God’s revelation. For example, the first six verses speak to “general revelation” while verses 7-9 speak about “divine revelation.” The final section of the psalm (10-14) speaks of the value and proper response we should have to this revelation. All of this is true and easily evident from even a cursory reading of the psalm. However, there are additional ideas in the psalm that must not be missed as the reader reflects on the larger truths related above. Here are a few such thoughts:
1.Nothing on the earth is hidden from God or escapes His notice. Nothing falls outside His sovereign control.
2.God has spoken to each circumstance and addressed it with His perfect wisdom. Just as nothing escapes His sight, so nothing is too great for the Wisdom of His Word.
3.This Wisdom and all of its accompanying benefits have been made available to all men generally but are especially accessible to His people. God’s special revelation warns and equips God’s servant to live efficiently, effectively, and safely in a world broken by sin.
4.The realization that nothing escapes God’s eye and that His Word is relentlessly perfect brings God’s servant to an honest but hopeful place where he can face the reality of his sinfulness with the hope of God’s mercy and grace.
5.We must ask this Omniscient God to give us knowledge of hidden sins in order that we might ask for forgiveness and seek His mercy. We are also invited to seek His protection and preservation from presumptuous sins that lead to judgment.
6.A man who desires to live blamelessly must regularly ask God to protect him from himself and not just from the world around him. A propensity to sin is bound up deeply within us – both hidden sins not easily discerned by our own hearts as well as presumptuous sins we commit with full knowledge and willful intention.
7.Only God can keep sin from eventually ruling and dominating our lives. Only God, by dealing with our sins judiciously and mercifully, can liberate us from great transgressions. Until we see our sin as God sees it – as great transgressions – we will never fully appreciate the greatness of the acquittal we received from Him in Christ.
Psalm 119 is an amazing Psalm. Not only is it the longest Psalm (176 verses!), but it is also the Psalm that deals the most directly with the topic of Scripture. Virtually every verse, in one way or another, refers to God’s Word. David (who is most likely the author) uses a variety of terminology to describe God’s Word: commandments, law, statutes, precepts, ordinances, rules, words, testimonies, etc. These all refer to the Scriptures as they existed in David’s day (essentially the Pentateuch). Thus, Psalm 119 is one of the best examples of Scripture speaking about Scripture. It is the Word about the Word. And in it, we find David interacting with the Word of God in five ways that should be paradigmatic for all believers:
1. Trusting the Word of God. Time and time again, David expresses his belief that the Scriptures are true (v.151). He believes in them (v.66). He trusts in their reliability (v.42). He states: “The sum of your word is truth” (v.160). This first step is key. If a believer doesn’t really regard the Word of God as being fully and entirely trustworthy, then none of the other steps below will follow. This is why the church needs to be quick to deal with the repeated criticisms of the Bible that so often permeate our culture.
2. Studying the Word of God. David doesn’t just believe the Word, he is a student of the Word. He learns it (v.73), he seeks it (v.155), he has memorized it (v.153), and regularly meditates on it. This step ought to naturally for the follow the first one. If God’s Word really is true, then we ought to commit ourselves to being diligent studiers of the Word. We need to embrace it with our minds, as well as our hearts.
3. Using the Word of God. It’s one thing to believe and know the Word. It is another thing to rely on it. To look to it as a guide during the difficulties and challenges of life. To lean on it for encouragement and hope.
David repeatedly affirms that he uses the Word of God as a “counselor” (v.24), to give “strength” (v.28), and to bring “comfort in affliction” (v.50). He states, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (v.105). In short, the Word of God is the very source of life for David (v.156). This reminds us a very important attribute of God’s Word: it is alive. It is powerful and active. When we talk about the attributes of Scripture we must remember that it is more than just a true book (encyclopedias can be true). It is also a living book. It is the place where the God of the universe meets us and manifests himself.
4. Delighting in the Word of God. What is amazing is that David takes things one step further than we might expect. It’s not just that he trusts, studies, and uses the Word of God. He actually has affection for it. He has a deep emotional affinity towards it. He “loves” God’s Word (v.159), he “rejoices” at his Word (v.162), the Word is “wondrous” (v.18), it is “better than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (v.72), and “sweeter than honey to my mouth” (v.103). I am convinced that this is the missing piece for most believers today. For many, the Bible is viewed almost in a utilitarian fashion–it is a mechanical, sterile tool that Christians are supposed to use. It’s like taking your medicine. In contrast, David has passion, zeal, and excitement for the law and commandments of God. And the reason for this is not hard to find. David loves God’s law not because he is a closet legalist. He loves God’s law because the law reflects God’s own nature and character. He loves God’s law because he loves God–and who God is and what he is like. Any Christian who says they love God but then despises God’s law is living a life of contradiction. Indeed, they are living a life that is the opposite of Psalm 119. To love God is to love his law.
5. Obeying the Word of God. Not surprisingly, the prior four characteristics naturally lead to this last one. David repeatedly expresses his desire to actually obey God’s law. He wants to follow it, keep it, and fulfill it.
In our world today, the concept of “obeying the law” is not a popular one. Many see this as contrary to grace. However, two things should be kept in mind. One, David is not keeping the law in order to earn salvation–he is obeying out of love for God. He is obeying out of a heart of faith. Second, we should remember that Jesus himself was very much about “obeying the law.” Before we too quickly despise the concept of law-keeping, we should remember that Jesus delighted in keeping his Father’s law. And he kept it absolutely perfectly–for us. He obeyed on our behalf, and his righteous status is imputed to us by faith. Indeed, Jesus embodies all five of these characteristics. He trusted, studied, used, delighted in, and obeyed God’s Word. In fact, he did all these things even more than the first David. While David certainly serves as an example of what to do with God’s word, Jesus is the ultimate example. One greater than David has come. And he loved God’s Word.
Here Are 5 Tips for Conversations in Our Tense Cultural Moment - Canon Fodder (michaeljkruger.com)
OK, so conversations with non-Christians aren’t what they used to be. In years gone by, it seems you could just disagree with someone and everyone was fine with that. You could just shake hands and move on.
But now, in our tense cultural situation, disagreement is regarded as a personal attack. To disagree with someone is to be hateful and unloving toward them.
This is why it can sometime seems like conversations with non-Christians can quickly escalate to DEFCON 1. Before you know it, somehow it’s nuclear war.
As a result, I think Christians have struggled with how to talk with non-Christians in our current culture. Some have decided the conversations are just not worth it. Any hint at a disagreement causes some believers to tuck tail and run.
Other Christians take the opposite approach. They figure if a good fight is what someone wants, then by golly we’ll give them one. So, some Christians enter every conversation with both guns out of the holster, ready for a showdown.
Needless to say, neither extreme is healthy for the church. So, here are a few tips/reminders to consider in your conversations. There’s nothing particularly earth-shattering here, but hopefully keeping these things in mind can help:
1. It’s not arrogant to think you can know things about God. One thing I’ve noticed over the years, is that Christians are very wary of being labelled dogmatic or arrogant. Our culture bristles at any claims of certain knowledge, insisting that such claims constitute intellectual hubris. As a result, Christians often shy away from claiming they know anything for sure.
But, lurking behind the charge that Christians are arrogant is a certain assumption about the way religion works. Many non-Christians view “religion” as merely human attempts to discover and learn things about God. Religion is simply the fallible act of humans trying to figure out the divine. Now, on that definition of religion, the Christian claim would indeed be arrogant!
The problem, of course, is that this is not how Christian’s understand their own religion. We don’t believe our knowledge comes from our efforts to figure out God, but rather is the result of God graciously revealing himself to us. For Christianity, religion is not about man finding God, but about God showing himself to man. It is about God seeking out lost sinners and opening their eyes to the truth. That is the opposite of an arrogant claim.
So, don’t abandon your certainty under the guise of humility. If God reveals himself by grace, then we can be humble and certain at the same time.
2. Have patience with the non-Christian’s situation. In our conversations, it’s easy to get frustrated, even irritated, when our non-Christian friends don’t “get it.” But, we need to remember what Paul says, “The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him and he is not able to understand them” (1 Cor 2:14).
Remembering this truth can help us show patience, even compassion, to our non-Christian friends. To understand the truth, they need God to open their eyes to see it. Just like God was patient with us, so we can be patient with them.
3. You Don’t Have to Know All the Answers. Sometimes we shy away from conversations out of fear that we will be caught without an answer to a tough question. But is this a reason to disengage from our cultural conversations? Not at all.
First of all, not having an answer does not affect the truth of what you believe. Your beliefs can be absolutely correct, even if you cannot explain or defend them. Consider other beliefs we might hold. We believe humans landed on the moon in 1969, but if we happened to strike up a conversation with a moon landing denier (these folks are more common than you think) who shared all his well-crafted objections, and pressed us to defend our beliefs, we would probably have very few answers. But, surely we wouldn’t abandon that belief just because we were stumped! Our belief would still be correct.
Also, don’t confuse not having an answer with there not being an answer. The two are not the same. Even if you don’t have answers to difficult questions, that does not mean there are none. Indeed, you should know that most of the objections you will hear are old news (even though they are often presented like no one had ever thought of them before).
4. You have to speak truth, but you don’t always have to speak. Sometimes I think we have the impression that it is our job to enter into every debate and engage every conversation. Indeed, some Christians seem to be looking for a fight, jumping into the fray whenever they can.
But, this is not always necessary. When we speak, we have to speak the truth. But we don’t always have to speak. Sometimes it is wise not to speak. It might be wise to wait for a different moment or opportunity.
And truth be told, that can keep us out of trouble. As Proverbs says, “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise” (10:19).
5. Your goal in the conversation should not be to “win” but to persuade. Our disposition in a conversation is key to its success. If our goal is to win (whatever that may mean) then suddenly the conversation becomes about us—how we look, how good of a debater we are, etc.
Instead, the goal should be to persuade the non-Christian of the truth. And then the conversation is no longer about us, but about them—how they can be reached, how to help them understand.
Yes, we must remember that only the Holy Spirit ultimately opens eyes to the truth. But, our attitude and disposition in a conversation matter. “Always be prepared to make a defense . . . but do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet 3:16).
In the end, these five things won’t solve every challenge we face in the complex conversations we have with non-Christians. But, I think they are a step in the right direction.
Our goal is not to avoid all conversations. Nor is it to enter into bare-fisted brawls with everyone we can. Instead, our goal is to patiently, but boldly, engage our culture as opportunities arise, always “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15).
The Complete Series: Ten Basic Facts About the NT Canon that Every Christian Should Memorize By Michael Kruger
For the last month or so, I have been working through a new series on the NT canon designed to help Christians understand ten basic facts about its origins. This series is designed for a lay-level audience and hopefully could prove helpful in a conversation one might have with a skeptical friend.
Given that there are already four installments in this series, I thought would be helpful to have them listed all in one spot. Thus, I will list the current installments below, and plan to update this list as the series progresses. Also, note that the bottom left of my website has a link to all my blog series.
#1: “The New Testament Books are the Earliest Christian Writings We Possess”
#2: “Apocryphal Writings are All Written in the Second Century or Later”
#3: “The New Testament Books Are Unique Because They Are Apostolic Books”
#4: “Some NT Writers Quote Other NT Writers as Scripture”
#5: “The Four Gospels are Well Established by the End of the Second Century”
#6: “At the End of the Second Century, the Muratorian Fragment lists 22 of our 27 NT books”
#7: “Early Christians Often Used Non-Canonical Writings”
#8: “The NT Canon Was Not Decided at Nicea—Nor Any Other Church Council”
#9: “Christians Did Disagree about the Canonicity of Some NT Books”
#10 “Early Christians Believed that Canonical Books were Self-Authenticating.”
Pastor Timothy J. Atkins
Husband, Father, Grandfather, Pastor, Teacher, Discipler, and Follower of Jesus.