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2008-10-12_Can We Understand The Bible_various_SL

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Can We Trust The Bible?

Various   |   Shaun LePage   |   October 12, 2008

Can We Trust The Bible?

Various   |   Shaun LePage   |   October 12, 2008

I.       Introduction:

A.    Years ago I got to meet a Christian cartoonist named Mary Chambers. She gave me an autographed copy of one of her books. Let me show you a few of my favorites:

B.    That’s not much of an exaggeration for some of the guys I know.

C.    Here’s what I wonder: Do those outside the church look at Christians and say, “One Christian says drinking is a sin. One says it’s not. One church says homosexuality is okay. Another church says God hates them. One denomination says Jesus was just a great teacher. Others say He is the only way to know God and get to heaven. There are so many different interpretations—who knows what the Bible really says? I don’t think we can understand it.”

II.     Review

A.    For the past several weeks, we’ve been looking at reasons why I believe we can trust the Bible.

1.         Started with an overview: “Can We Trust the Bible?”

2.         We’ve looked at two issues in a little more (a lot more) detail:

a)     The Bible (the Greek copies and our English translations) are reliable.

b)     Problems with Biblical Authority.

B.    Next couple weeks: 2 more issues in a little more detail

a)     Can We Understand the Bible? (today)

b)     How did we get the 27 books of the NT—weren’t they randomly chosen?

2.         Then, big picture of the entire Bible

3.         Then, Genesis to Revelation—how does it all fit together?

III.   Can We Understand the Bible—handouts

A.    We covered this briefly two weeks ago: Problem of interpretation.

B.    I have been heavily influenced by my mentors at Dallas Seminary. One of my favorite professors was Roy Zuck and one of his greatest books is Basic Bible Interpretation. I know, sounds pretty boring, but it’s not. It’s so creative and full of illustrations—I think anyone who has any interest in the Bible would love this book. For example, Dr. Zuck sums up the problem of interpretation very well [Read Basic Bible Interpretation, p. 11.]

C.    Is it a hopeless cause? Can we understand the Bible or is it just a collection of riddles and puzzles?

D.    Maybe you’re saying to yourself—or know someone who would say—who cares? What does it matter? Well, that’s the reason this is such an important question. As I’ve said many times, The implications are enormous: If this book is really from God and we can trust the copies we hold in our hands and we can understand what we read, then there is almost no more important question that can be asked and answered. Think about it: If we can understand the Bible, we can know God—our Creator, know what He has said and done in the past, know how He wants us to live our lives today and how we should prepare for the future. Your past, present and future is immeasurably and eternally impacted if this book really is from God, our copies really are reliable and we really can understand what we read here. Ready?


There are various methods of interpretation which produce inconsistent and unlikely interpretations of the Bible. Don’t want to spend much time on these, but I think you need to be familiar with them.
Allegory: Searching for a hidden or deeper meaning unrelated to the literal reading of a text. This method has plagued the church from the beginning. It was used by Greek philosophers and Jewish mystics, so Christian interpreters were tempted to allegorize also—especially Old Testament passages that seemed difficult or contradictory. Some interpreters developed four levels of meaning from every passage of the Bible using this method. When people use this method, you never know what they’ll come up with: Noah’s ark represents the church, the two fish Jesus used to feed the 5,000 somehow represent Greek philosophy, the water Rebekah drew from the well tells us we’re supposed to come daily to the Scriptures, and any time the number 12 comes up in the Old Testament it represents the 12 Apostles. Some of this may seem harmless, but it always leads to confusion about what the Bible really says and neglect of what the Bible really commands. This method denies the importance of the literal, plain, normal meaning of God’s Word.
Tradition: The teaching of the church determines how a text should be interpreted. Allegorical interpretation led to so many different meanings, church leaders eventually had to exert their authority to rein in the various interpretations. This is why the Roman Catholic Church eventually discouraged Christians from reading the Bible. They were to look to the church for the meaning—so the individual relationship with God through His Word was denied. For more than a thousand years—through the Middle Ages—the meaning of the Scriptures were heavily allegorized and ruled by church authority through tradition.
Rationalism: Using human intellect to decide what is true and false. Rationalism became prominent in the 16th and 17th centuries and stood in judgment of the Scriptures. The Bible was said to be strictly of human origin and therefore, is true as far as it corresponds to human reason. Where it doesn’t, it can and should be ignored or rejected. So, this method denies the supernatural nature of the Bible—it is not God’s Word, but man’s.
Subjectivism: Knowledge and understanding comes through experience. Subjectivists reject the authority of the Bible and stress feelings and self-consciousness. True knowledge comes from what one has experienced. So, this method denies the importance and even the need for objective truth—what’s important is my personal experience and needs.
Conclusion: These methods are faulty because they lead to inconsistent and unlikely interpretations. In other words, using these methods, you can make the Bible say anything you want.
The literal or plain method of interpretation: The method that is most Biblical and therefore leads to the most consistent interpretations of the Bible.
Description of the literal method:1. The Bible is a human book. Therefore, we must seek to know…     a. The language. What do the words communicate? Each word, sentence and book was written in human language using normal, grammatical meanings; written in various genres (e.g., narrative) and included figures of speech, but original readers could understand. It wasn’t written in secret code with mysterious, deeper meanings.      b. The writer. What was the original intent? He wrote for a specific reason in a specific situation and communicated a specific message. Book 9 of the First Principles Series—being studied in our Community Groups—is called “Handling The Word With Confidence.” The writer, Jeff Reed (strongly influenced by another of my Dallas Seminary professors named Elliott Johnson), writes, [Read “Handling The Word With Confidence” p.16-17]      c. The readers. How would the original readers have understood the text? [Basic Bible Interpretation, p.64]      d. The context. What does a verse mean within its original context? The historical, geographical and cultural settings must be considered in the interpretation process. Why did God tell Saul to completely destroy the Amalekites? What is significant about the fact that Jesus “had to go through Samaria”? (John 4:9). What really happened between Ruth and Boaz on the threshing floor? These are historical, geographical and cultural issues that influence the interpretation of the text. Also, every word is found in the context of a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph, a book, a Testament and the entire Bible. If I used the word “hot,” would you know what I meant? No, depending on the context, “hot” can be extra-warm temperatures, stolen goods or an extremely attractive human. The same is true for words in the Bible—the word “world” (kosmos) can mean at least 7 different things, “faith” and “law” can each mean four different things—depending on context. The biggest law of interpretation is: context, context, context.2. The Bible is a Divine book. Therefore, we must…     a. Trust that it is without error. Given and preserved by God. Since it was “God-breathed,” the originals were perfect. And since God is “true” (1 Thess. 1:9) and “cannot lie” (Titus 1:2) and promises that His Word “endures forever” (1 Peter 1:25), we can also trust that God has preserved His Word for us (See The Bible is Reliable).      b. Expect it to contain some mystery. Parts are hard to understand. Though the Bible can be understood, it is hard to understand the nature of God, prophecy and miracles. These mysteries are often declared, but not explained.     c. Understand that it is a single story. Unified and non-contradictory. God used more than 40 writers to compose a consistent, non-contradictory masterpiece. The parts combine to tell the story of God working in history. For example, Daniel, Ezekiel, Matthew 24-25, 2 Thessalonians and Revelation together paint a big picture of God’s future plans.     d. Obey it as our ultimate authority. Must be believed and obeyed. Because the Bible is from God and without error, it has intrinsic authority. It is a certain guide that must be regarded as absolute truth.
History of the literal method1. Jesus and His followers interpreted the Bible (Old Testament) in a literal way. See Matthew 12:39-41 (Jonah); Luke 3:38 (Adam); Acts 7:36 and Hebrews 11:29 (parting of Red Sea); 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 and 1 Timothy 2:13-14 (fall of Adam and Eve); Hebrews 11:32 (Samson) and 2 Peter 3:6 (world-wide flood).2. Throughout history, many have interpreted the Bible in a literal or plain way. From the early Church Fathers (though influenced at times by other methods—especially allegorical) through the Reformers to present day Evangelicals, the literal method of interpretation has led to a consistent understanding of the Bible over time. 
Conclusions: 1. We can understand the Bible by using the literal or plain interpretation method. 2. Because we can understand the Bible, we can know what God desires for us to believe, what is eternally valuable, how we should live our lives today and how we should prepare for the future.
Think about it! We can understand God’s communication to us. But, understanding is just one step in the process of becoming what God wants you to be. Another professor who greatly influenced me at DTS was Howard Hendricks. His book “Living By The Book” is one of the most widely read books on this subject that I’m aware of. He has trained more people than we can count in rightly handling the Scriptures. I want to close with this quote from Dr. Hendricks: [Read Living By the Book, p. 22.]

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