February 15, 2012
Chaos. That one word best describes the modern landscape of Christianity today. So much confusion and error seems to be gushing out of ministries that once held firmly to “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Everything from a “prosperity gospel” (which teaches that God wants His children to experience health, wealth and prosperity…and if they’re not then something’s wrong with their faith) to “the power of positive thinking/confession”…and everything in between, there really seems to be no limit to the array of teaching that we are being fed…all of them claiming the Bible as their authority. What’s the deal? Paul knew this could be a problem when he warned Timothy to,
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” ~ II Timothy 2:15.
Paul then goes on to talk about two people, Hymenaeus and Philetus, who fell into error through carelessness. Interestingly, it wasn’t that they were looking for error (who does that?). Rather, they were looking for the truth and simply missed (“strayed” from) it. They then began to “overthrow the faith of some” (v. 18). Paul warned Timothy to “be diligent” – a word which “denotes zealous persistence in accomplishing a goal” (MacArthur). That persistence was to be focused on presenting himself to God as an approved workman in ONE THING: “rightly dividing the word of truth”. The term rendered “Rightly dividing” means to “cut it straight”…referring to Paul’s tent-making trade, which required him to always “cut straight” those animal skins or the whole piece would fail to fit together. Of course Paul is referring to correctly interpreting the Word of God. The Greek word for “interpret” is Hermeneuo. It means “to give the meaning” or “to interpret”. Failure to properly interpret the Word of God to his flock would mean Timothy would be a shame to God!
How do we avoid this? Thankfully, there are good, Bible-honoring principles of interpretation that have been considered down through the centuries as being “generally accepted principles of Bible interpretation” that ensures our cutting straight the Word of truth. What are they? First, there is the LITERAL principle. That is, Scripture is to be understood in its natural, normal sense (the basic, customary meaning of the words)…not some hidden, allegorical meaning. When you get into apocalyptic literature (Daniel, Revelation, etc.), you may have some figures of speech (figurative language) but they too are customary and normal because you will know what those figures are and the normal approach to those figures would be to thus interpret them. Please understand this all-important point: once you have abandoned the literal principle of interpretation you have ended all hope of an accurate interpretation. At that point it becomes a battle of who has the greatest imagination.
Second, we have the historical principle. We must become familiar with the historical setting of each passage (when it was penned). If a Bible teacher will faithfully build up the historical setting, you can almost interpret the Scripture by reading it! But you can do this yourself as you avail yourself to the many Bible study helps available today.
Third, we have the grammar principle. We must have knowledge of what was really being said by knowing the original language/grammar that was employed! There are tremendous Greek and Hebrew tools at our disposal, as well as other tools that Bible scholars have developed to help the lay-person have a grasp of what was written. It is important that you avail yourself to all/every tool at your disposal to grow in the knowledge of God’s Word.
Fourth, we have the contextual principle. This is vital because virtually every cult in history has a barrage of doctrines built on verses of Scripture taken out of their contexts. We must honestly know what is going on in the immediate context of the passage we are reading as well as the total context of Scripture.
That leads us to the Fifth principle…the synthesis principle. This principle is built on the understanding that no one part of the bible contradicts another part. The Holy Spirit, Who is the Author of all the Scripture (II Peter 1:20-21), does not disagree with Himself. If our interpretation of a passage does not fit the totality of Scripture, then our interpretation is wrong! It’s just that simple.
Sixth is the illuminating holy spirit. Only the Holy Spirit can show us truth (I Cor. 2:9-16). This is where PRAYER is so vital. We must be sure we have prayerfully sought the Lord’s face and forgiveness so that no besetting sin has blinded our spiritual vision and discernment.
Seventh is the practical principle. This principle asks the question, “so what?” How does it apply to me today? II Timothy 3:16 tells us that “All Scripture is…profitable”. And indeed it is!
How about you? Are you being “diligent to show yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth”? If you are, you will avoid the sea of chaos that this culture is drowning in and will be a lighthouse pointing to the safe harbor of God’s redemption through Jesus Christ!
Pastor of Evangelism
First Baptist Church, Colfax