I find it interesting how many people spout off various Bible verses without ever really knowing what the Bible is truly speaking of. This shortcoming is by no means isolated to the church or secular world though! I have found in my life that there are many people who read what they want to read, and completely ignore the proper context.
For example, believers and unbelievers alike love to claim, “Jesus said ‘don’t judge,’” but if you look at the larger context (Matthew 5-7) you find that this is merely part of a larger teaching.
Looking at Matthew 7:1-5, you can see plainly that Jesus speaks of judging with hypocrisy! In context, He’s saying that you should seek to have your own business taken care of and your life be pleasing to the Lord before you turn your attention on someone else. Also, He says to look after the plank/beam/board/log in your own eye before trying to fix the speck in someone else’s.
“1 Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. 3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?
4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Quite simply, Jesus is saying that you should get right with God before you go looking to correct someone else. He isn’t saying that there is no judgement or that you cannot claim that something is wrong. He’s saying not to judge in a hypocritical fashion!
Again, looking at the larger context of Scripture, we see it taught in 1 Peter 4 that judgement begins in the House of God. But when we look at the greater context of that portion, we see Peter remind the church not to be in sin either!
“14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters.
16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. 17 For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?”
So, quite simply, chanting, “Jesus said, ‘don’t judge’” does not tell the whole story and is a bad interpretation of Scripture. As the church, we have a responsibility to properly interpret Scripture.
When we fail to properly interpret Scripture, we do a grievous disservice to the message of the Word! What we must realize is that our ideas and interpretations are nowhere near as important as the TRUE meaning.
When interpreting Scripture, we must ask ourselves, “What did the author intend to say?” Not the popular, “what does this mean to me?” No! We cannot begin our study of Scripture trying to discover what it means to us; we must begin with the idea that what God intends to say is the most important consideration!
You may wonder about the title of this post: “But I Thought…” The title comes from a line in the movie adaptation of “Sense and Sensibility”. My mother loves Jane Austen, and while living home, we watched “Sense and Sensibility” and “Pride and Prejudice” many, many times.
In the movie adaptation of “Sense and Sensibility” though, there is a particular line that is quite overacted. My bother still makes fun of that line. The line?
“But I thought Mr. Ferrars was hers!”
What does this line have to do with proper interpretation of Scripture? Simply that many people, when presented with what Scripture actually says, can’t help but say, “But I thought…”
For example, it has been “known” for years that the animals went onto Noah’s Ark two by two. That’s not what the Bible says though. Genesis 7:1-3 says:
“1 Then the Lord said to Noah, ‘Come into the ark, you and all your household, because I have seen that you are righteous before Me in this generation. 2 You shall take with you seven each of every clean animal, a male and his female; two each of animals that are unclean, a male and his female; 3 also seven each of birds of the air, male and female, to keep the species alive on the face of all the earth.’” (Emphasis added)
Yes, you read that right. Some animals went on by sevens! Maybe you don’t think it’s such a big deal, after all, the fact that some animals went on by sevens doesn’t impact our understanding of salvation.
It IS important though! It is of the utmost importance that we, as the church, properly interpret God’s Word and represent it properly. Proper interpretation looks for what God was saying; not what we want the Bible to say.
Paul admonishes his son in the faith, Timothy to, “15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 16 But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness.” (2 Timothy 2:15-16)
I believe Paul’s instruction to Timothy here is something we should keep in mind as well. We should be “rightly dividing the word of truth.” After all, it is the truth of God’s Word that matters; not what we want the Bible to say.
The Bible is true, and is able to teach us, guide us, and provide for us AS IT IS without us having to create some new, more mystical meaning. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us:
“16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Bradley Noel once wrote, “The task of the exegete and theologian is to discover and hear the word in terms of God's original intent. Only then may we begin to ascertain its meaning for our own historical setting.”
Can you tell by this point that I am serious about the need to discover the author’s intent? I can honestly tell you that it doesn’t matter what you want Scripture to say. It doesn’t matter that you don’t agree with what the Bible says. Christians, stop trying to create some new meaning behind what God said as if what He had to say wasn’t enough.
If you learn to properly interpret Scripture (to seek the original intent and to read in context), you will find that many of your preconceived ideas are challenged.
Remember that Hebrews 13:7-9 teaches, “7 Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
9 Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them.”
Because the Lord is the same and is unchanging, His Word does not have some kind of new revelation, or some new meaning for each person. Yes, you are special to the Lord, but you are not so special that you can reinterpret Scripture to suit your own ends!
It is very late here, so let me wrap this up by simply saying that your idea about what Scripture should say honestly doesn’t matter. What matters is what God says in His Word. What matters is what the original intention was. Period. End of story.
It may not be a popular idea or even a happy one to read, but what it all boils down to is that we, as the church, have a tremendous responsibility to properly interpret Scripture.
I don’t expect for a minute that the world should properly interpret Scripture. What I DO expect is that the church should always seek to represent God’s Word accurately.
Now, it’s easy to lament the fact that you don’t know what the Bible says or to say that you are a poor reader, but we can all learn to interpret Scripture in light of Scripture.
What I mean by that is looking at the context (both immediate or close context, and the larger context of the Bible itself), and reading the entire thought instead of just reading a single verse.
One last thought: I’m sure there will be those who read this post and wonder why it all really matters. After all, we can read what we want and get as much out of it, can’t we?
When we refuse to, or simply fail to seek proper interpretation, when we take Scripture out of context, we begin to teach ourselves bad doctrine. For example, there are many people who think that if they have enough faith, they will never get sick and never have any kind of issue in their lives.
They read verses where Jesus tells a person, “Your faith has made you well” and assume that if they have enough faith, nothing will ever go wrong.
The problem is that they misinterpret Scripture! Looking at the greater context of Scripture, we can see Jesus tell us plainly that there will be tribulations and trials; there will be hard times in life!
Also, we can look at Job (a man that God brags on as being so righteous), and yet he was a man who dealt with more problems than nearly anyone else to ever live!
We must learn to read God’s Word and interpret it properly if we truly want to learn and grow. So, if you’ve stuck it through to the end and are reading this, I implore you, read God’s Word in context, interpret it properly, and seek what God has to say, not what you want the Bible to say!
As always, God bless!