Using The Bible To Make Sense Of The Bible


A few weeks ago I wrote a post (The Misconception About Weaker Brothers”) about the way many writers–well, Christians in general, I suppose–inaccurately use Paul’s writing to the Roman believers and to the Corinthian church on the subject of eating meat offered to idols. My intention was to give an illustration–perhaps the first of several–to show that Scripture is its own best interpreter.

I’m not a Bible scholar, so I’m pretty sure I learned that principle from Chuck Swindoll who pastored my church for fifteen or more years. It’s not a new idea, of course, and many, many Christians believe in reading Scripture in this way. In fact a good many of the sermons I hear start with putting Scripture in context–another way of saying, the meaning of Scripture can best be understood by relating it to Scripture.

I’d also mention, though, that there is an immediate context and a greater context. So in the discussion about eating meat offered to idols, the immediate context is all of Romans 13, 14, and 15 which together make Paul’s point that Christians are not to judge one another but to support each other and to “accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7).

The greater context is the New Testament–including the book of Acts with its record of the early church wrestling with whether or not Gentile Christians should be required to keep the Jewish law, and including the book of Revelation with the words of admonition Christ gave to the churches, twice referencing eating meat offered to idols.

The overarching context, of course, is the entire Bible, with God’s commands to have no other gods before Him and to make no idols; with the numerous times and ways the people of Israel broke that command; and with the pagan practice of child sacrifice as a part of their worship ceremonies.

Eating meat, in light of the whole Bible, is suddenly not this optional gray area that contemporary Western Christians have so often understood it to be.

Sometimes letting Scripture interpret Scripture flies in the face of long held beliefs–our own or those of the Evangelical community at large or Catholic teaching, Calvinism, Covenant theology, Methodism, holiness, or what have you.

I’ve mentioned some of those from time to time–one being the verse that says, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” In context the verse refers to God enabling Paul to live in poverty or in wealth. The greater context of the Bible, however, identifying God as omnipotent, loving, good, and desirous of answering prayer, means that to extrapolate and apply the verse to a different circumstance isn’t off base. To understand it, however, as a promise or a guarantee that God will make sure I succeed in all I set my hand to, is quite erroneous–again, clearly understood in the greater context of Scripture.

I’ve also used this idea of interpreting Scripture with Scripture to examine the six-day creation theory. Not only does God refer to the evening and the morning, the first day, before He created the sun so that time could be measured by days, but the English translators also translated the word for “day” few chapters later as “time,” calling into question what “day” actually referred to.

Other Scripture tells us that to God a day is like a thousand years: “But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day” (2 Peter 3:8).

Peter was making his statement to rebuff the idea put forth by some that Christ wasn’t coming back since decades had passed without his appearance. In other words, in this context he was saying, “days” are a meaningless measure when you’re dealing with God’s work.

In addition, Peter’s time declaration is a reiteration of what Moses said thousands of years earlier: “For a thousand years in Your sight/Are like yesterday when it passes by,/Or as a watch in the night” (Ps. 90:4).

Then, too, we know from Isaiah that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are His ways our ways. He is not constrained to act as we think He should act. His manner, methods, timetable, are His and not ours.

All these various passages should suggest that a hard and fast literal interpretation of creation doesn’t require a belief in God accomplishing His work within six of our 24-hour days.

That He used six time periods is, in fact, reinforced in Scripture. The Jewish requirement for keeping the Sabbath was tied to God having rested on the seventh day. However long that period of time was, God equated it to a day by commanding His people to rest on the seventh day of the week. Of course He also required them to rest for a whole year every forty-nine years, and Scripture called that a Sabbath rest too.

To the point, interpreting Scripture with Scripture suggests that specifics surrounding creation aren’t revealed. Did God create in six 24-hour days? An omnipotent God–who Scripture reveals–certainly could have, and might have. Do we know for a fact that He did? Not if we also believe what He said through Peter and through Moses–that time is irrelevant to His working–and what Isaiah said about His ways and our ways being different.

I may offer other examples in future posts, but let me make one finally point today. One sure way we can know we have misunderstood Scripture is to ignore verses that seem to contradict the verses upon which we’re basing a theological belief.

Your turn. Let me know what you think about interpreting Scripture.

Published in: on August 28, 2012 at 2:01 pm  Comments Off on Using The Bible To Make Sense Of The Bible  
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