Interpreting the Bible
The Great Mathematician Pascal wrote that God intended for the Bible to be beyond the understanding of those who do not want to understand it. (See PENSEES by Blaise Pascal, #255, 269, 286. Or go to PENSEES.)
Jesus said, "small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Matt 7:14) Perhaps many people don't want to find it. People seem to have a natural inclination to follow a road to life that is determined by themselves, their friends, and others who influence them, rather than the road that leads to life that is established by God. In so doing, they approach the Bible with a preconceived notion of doctrine, searching for justification for that doctrine, instead of seeking to understand the Bible.
There is a common misconception that the Bible cannot be trusted as the sole source of doctrine because there
are so many conflicting doctrines derived from the Bible by different groups. But Jesus clearly explained that
the reason that many people derive incorrect doctrine from his teaching is because it is intentionally delivered
in a way that would only allow it to be correctly interpreted by those who are honestly seeking the truth with
an open mind. He explained this to his disciples:
To the Pharisees "Jesus said, ' For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.'" (John 9:39) Note that He said that He would make blind those who see. Why did Jesus come into the world to make people blind? By "those who see" He is undoubtedly referring to those who think that they already see, but whose minds are closed and whose hearts are unreachable. To those people he has intentionally positioned his gospel beyond their understanding. Again, this may be counterintuitive, but God does not want people to understand when they do not want to understand.
The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 2:14) Since people without the Spirit cannot understand things from the Spirit, the Bible can only be reliably interpreted by people with the gift of the Holy Spirit. The numerous conflicting interpretations of the Bible amongst the numerous religionists is not the fault of the Bible. It is because most of the religionists are operating without the gift of the Holy Spirit even though they claim otherwise.
Jesus said, "Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father." (John 17:25). When Jesus returns in judgment, He will speak plainly. But in the mean time He has taught in a way that is clear only to those who listen with open minds and teachable hearts.
So it is not surprising that there are many conflicting doctrines that people obtain from the Bible. But this problem is not the fault of the Bible. It is the fault of those who use the Bible for their own self-centered purposes.
The Apostle Paul wrote, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching,
rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness." (2 Tim 3:16) He was referring to the Old Testament
in this quote because it was the scripture at his time. He was also referring to the New Testament that he and
other prophets were writing at that time because he wrote, "And we also thank God continually
because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but
as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe." (1 Thess 2:13) The Bible
is the source of doctrine, and it is definitive.
Before attempting to interpret a verse in the Bible, or
before accepting the interpretation presented by a person or organization, we
must be mindful of a critical rule: any interpretation of any part of the Bible
that contradicts another part of the Bible is an incorrect interpretation. If
you look at the conflicting interpretations from numerous organizations, you
will find that that their interpretations contradict portions of the Bible. And
any person or organization that teaches interpretations that contradict portions
of the Bible must be working in opposition to the Lord as He indicated in the
passage in Matthew 13 quoted above. Even organizations that call
themselves Christian may be in opposition to Christ on this basis. Some of
these organizations even go so far as to claim that the Bible contradicts
itself, when in reality it is only their interpretations that are contradicting
Several years ago, before I became part of Evangelical Christianity, I was studying the Bible independently and learning its teachings and doctrines directly. Since I did not accept the Evangelical position on the Bible at the time, I did not use Evangelical materials nor did I hear any Evangelical speakers. As a result of my studies, I wrote down my own personal systematic theology, which differed significantly from that of the group that I was in at the time. When I reached the decision that my quest for truth required that I look beyond the group that I was in, I started attending local Evangelical congregations. I was amazed to find that the doctrines that I had independently found in the Bible precisely matched the teachings that I found at every one of the Evangelical local churches that I attended, regardless of denomination. Over the years since becoming part of Evangelical Christianity, I continue to consistently find complete agreement in Biblical interpretation of critical doctrines. This confirms to me that there is only one accurate doctrinal interpretation of the Bible even though there are dozens of groups like the one that I was previously in that teach substantially different doctrines. Although this web site now contains quotations from Evangelical materials, it is simply an expansion of my original documentation that I developed while avoiding Evangelical teachings. The doctrines reflected in this web site are specifically the ones that I received directly from the Bible without the aid of other materials. For those who are already in an true relationship with Jesus Christ my experience may not seem surprising, but for me it was miraculous to discover that the doctrinal teachings of Evangelical Christianity so closely matched what I had learned from my own independent Bible study.
The Bible is definitive regarding critical doctrines. (By "critical doctrines" I mean those doctrines that we need to know in order to participate in the Lord's plan of salvation according to his will.) The Apostle Paul wrote, "and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." (2 Tim 3:15) However, not everything in the Bible can be interpreted conclusively. The Bible contains many "mysteries" that confound the most sincere searchers of its truths. I believe that this is partly because the Bible contains much information that we don't need now, but that Bible readers will need in the future. This is particularly true of end-times prophecies in the Bible. When we examine the enormous amount of prophecy in the Old Testament about Jesus, it seems surprising in retrospect that so few of the Jews understood his mission before He was on the earth. Yet the prophecies in Daniel even provide the very year that He would begin his mission. Nonetheless when He was on the earth, those who were humble and teachable were able to see that his mission was fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. I believe that Apocalyptic Biblical prophecies are similar in purpose and understandability to Messianic prophecies before the mission of Jesus. As the end-time events begin, Biblical prophecies will empower faithful people to recognize them as they see them. In the mean time Apocalyptic prophecies provide a view, but somewhat imprecise view, of the end-time events. Accordingly, there are many scriptures in the Bible that are not yet open to conclusive interpretation.
In concluding this essay on understanding the Bible, without any intended disrespect for the great contributions
of C. S. Lewis, I would like to add my own Screwtape letter. As you may know, the Screwtape Letters is a
book that contains a series of fictional letters between a demon, named Screwtape, and his apprentice, Wormwood.
When someone declares that the Bible is missing plain and precious truths, he is indicating that he personally lacks the spiritual discernment to see the truth that is actually there.
© 2013 William C. Hamer