23 Mistakes Not to Make While Studying Your Bible
23 Mistakes not to make while studying your Bible:
Plus 15 rules to help you properly understand Scripture.
Table of Contents
- Before You Can Study the Bible
- Mistakes to Avoid in Your Personal Study
- Mistake #2: Taking Scripture Verses Out of Context
- Mistake #3: Using Key Verses to Develop Doctrine
- Mistake #4: Twisting the Words Meaning
- Mistake #5: Think! Avoid Abominable Interpretations
- Mistake #6: Spiritual Meanings that Contradict the Literal Meaning
- Mistake #7: Not Understanding How Words Lose Meaning in Translation
- Mistake #8: Legalistic Interpretations
- Mistake #9: Verse Overkill
- Mistake #10: Treating the Kingdom of God as a Democracy
- Mistake #11: Finding Personal Interpretations
- Mistake #12: Assuming Chronological Order
- Mistakes for New Believers to Avoid
- Influences to Avoid in the Church
- Mistake #17: Reading Books on the Bible, Rather Than Reading the Bible
- Mistake #18: Use a Commentary before Using a Concordance
- Mistake #19: Not Recognizing or Avoiding Cults
- Mistake #20: Depending on a Pastor to Understand the Bible
- Mistake #21: Mistaking Good Stories for True Doctrine
- Mistake #22: Teaching With Line Upon Line Instruction
- Mistake #23: The Bait and Switch
- Rules to Apply in Study
- Rule #5: Use Two or Three Witnesses to Develop Doctrine
- Rule #6: Know Who is Speaking, and to Whom He is Speaking
- Rule #7: The Flow of Thought Should Harmonize
- Rule #8: A short ungrammar lesson?
- Rule #9: Use the Bible to Define Words in the Bible
- Rule #10: Understand the Topic Being Discussed
- Rule #11: Be Consistent in Your Application of Rules
- Rules for Studying Prophecy
- The Authorized King James Version
vs. Modern Translations
- How to Study the Bible
Written by Jeff Barnes
Dedicated to my loving daughter Naomi who spent hours helping me put my thoughts into words.
As a new Christian, when I listened to the radio, it was always tuned to a Christian station. It wasn't long before I started hearing sermons that contradicted each other. Yet each pastor spoke with authority, sure that his was the right interpretation. How was I to know which pastor was right? If you have ever studied the Bible with others outside of your own denomination, you have discovered that the Christian community is divided over the interpretation of many different passages. Why are Christians divided on many points of doctrine? I have concluded that in every case where there is a disagreement, one or both brothers have made a mistake in the way they interpret the Word of God.
To solve this problem, some pastors simply forbid studies that are not approved by their denominations. This does not solve the problem, It is disheartening to hear a teacher misinterpret a passage of scripture and then to see the congregation nod their head up and down while there is so much that they are missing. I think a better solution is for us to learn how to study the Scripture.
The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the LORD.
Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces? - Jeremiah 23:28-29
So let us to look at the Bible passages that Christians are divided on, and try to find the rule of interpretation that was violated to cause this misunderstanding. In this study we are not trying to interpret the Bible. Instead, let's see our common mistakes. Then apply what we have learned in future Bible studies.
Do not settle for the chaff! Learn how to thresh for the wheat. If you are part of Jesus’ real church, you want His word to be as a fire, and you want to to avoid common mistakes in interpreting His word.
All the examples in this study are from real teachers. I deliberately give examples where Christians commonly misinterpret Scripture. My hope is not to offend, rather that you make sure your doctrines have a sure foundation.
This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. - Joshua 1:8
Though these words sound similar, they have the opposite meaning.
Exegete: To understand doctrine from the study of scripture.
Eisegete: To read your doctrine into the interpretation of scripture verse.
It may be helpful to understand the following doctrines; as the church divided over them, we will use them for examples in our study
A punishment that will last forever. I use eternal punishment in many examples, not because I am preoccupied with it, rather teachers on both sides give many examples of bad mistakes.
The belief that when you die, you are unconscious until the Judgment Day. Again I am preoccupied with it, rather those who teach it give many examples of bad mistakes.
The belief that a Christian can never lose his salvation.
Families are saved by faith:
The belief that, if you have enough faith, your family will also be saved.
Israel in the end days:
Did the prophets predict that Israel would return to their land in the End Days?
Russia invades Israel:
In chapter 38, Ezekiel predicted an invasion from the north in the last days.
The belief that at the end of the age, an antichrist will cause everyone to worship an image and receive a mark in order to buy or sell.
The belief that Christians will be raptured to meet the Lord in the air and taken to Heaven before the Great Tribulation.
The Great Tribulation:
The last seven years of this age. It will be a time of great distress as God punishes the nations.
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the. kingdom of God. - John 3:3
Before you start on your quest to understand the Bible, you must have a relationship with God. This is because the Scriptures themselves say:
But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away. - 2nd Corinthians 3:15-16
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are Spiritually discerned.
- 1 Corinthians 2:14
Jesus taught us that to be born again, was to believe in Him.
But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: - John 1:12
But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name. - John 20:31
Jesus paid the full price for our sins, it cost him his life.
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. - Ephesians 2:8-9
For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
- 1 Corinthians 2:2
Those who receive Jesus have been given many promises, including:
If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. - John 14:23
If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. - John 14:15-17
We must be born again so that the Holy Spirit can guide us into all truth.
Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. - John 16:13
But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him. - 1 John 2:27
Without the Holy Spirit, there is no system of interpretation that will properly expound the Bible. Peter warned us of unbelievers trying to interpret the Scripture.
As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. - 2 Peter 3:16
Many leaders stress the importance of seminary training or having a degree in theology. Some stress the importance of learning Hebrew and Greek. There is a benefit in studying the Scriptures in their original tongue. However, Jesus, who is our perfect example, did not have a formal education.
And the Jews marvelled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned? Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.
- John 7:15-17
While an education does have its value, that alone does not mean you have understanding. In fact, many universities are obsessed with destroying the Christian faith. Actually, many religious leaders trust in their education rather than having a relationship with the Lord.
Then answered them the Pharisees, Are ye also deceived? Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him? But this people [Speaking of those who followed Jesus.] who knoweth not the law are cursed. - John 7:47-49
And the apostle Paul, who could have been speaking about modern education, said:
[Referring to the last days,] Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. - 2 Timothy 3:7
Where Will You Spend Eternity? If you are not sure, our Two Question Test is a good place to start.
Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: - 1 Peter 5:5-6
The fact is, there is no verse in the Bible that extols pride as a virtue. Conversely, there are many passages in the Bible praising true humility. In the Epistle to the Galatians, Paul points out something most of us have found to be true.
But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man's person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me: - Galatians 2:6
Pride may be a virtue to the World, yet proud teacher may be worse than useless in the church. In his Epistle to Timothy, Paul addresses false doctrine taught by certain teachers. The very first attribute Paul uses to describe these false teachers is pride.
If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself. - 1 Timothy 6:3-5
And, as Paul suggests, let us withdraw ourselves from such people. In the Book of Daniel we read how it took Nebuchadnezzar seven years to learn the connection between understanding and humility.
And at the end of [seven years] I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honored him that liveth forever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation:
Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.
- Daniel 4:34,37
The problem with pride is that it makes one unteachable and inclined to do foolish things. It is sort of like the story of the Emperor with no clothes, his pride kept him from seeing an empty loom and later from covering himself up in the parade. If you are proud, do not expect Jesus to bail you out, for He said:
Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. - Matthew 15:14
Why do we need humility? Suppose I have taught a certain doctrine for many years when a brother tries to show me my error. Now I have several choices.
First. If I was wrong all these years, it would mean I have wasted a lot of time, people may laugh at me. I cannot receive correction because I have too much to lose.
Second. If I do not believe certain doctrine, I will lose favor with my denomination, people may laugh at me. I cannot hear, I have too much to lose.
Third. No lie is of the truth. People may laugh at me for changing. I may lose my position in the church, it will be humiliating. Even so, I have too much to lose not to teach the truth.
Many people have entered into a relationship with God simply by reading the Scripture. However, a new believer will make mistakes when he first studies the word. While the new believer should share his faith, he is not yet qualified to teach. Paul, talking about appointing elders in the church, said:
[Speaking of leaders] Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. - 1 Timothy 3:6
We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the daystar arise in your hearts. - 2 Peter 1:19
I have seldom heard patience being taught to new believers. Rather, using a topical Bible study, a new believer is promptly taught the denomination’s beliefs. Though you can swiftly learn what a church believes, it takes time to understand God's Word.
As a new Christian I was hungry for the Word of God. In my excitement, I believed the first (what seemed reasonable) interpretation of a verse that I heard. Big mistake, it is far easier to learn the truth if you do not think that you already know it. It is better not to understand a Bible passage, than to be impatient and misunderstand the passage.
God will teach those who are patient in His time, he has even determined that we should not learn it all at once. For Jesus said in Matthew:
Then said he unto them, Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old. - Matthew 13:52
To have old treasures, you have been collecting for a long time. To have new treasures, you must still be collecting. As a Christian, there are no shortcuts.
Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; Then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God. - Proverbs 2:3-5
The word faith simply means to believe. Yet, it isn't just faith; it's the object of our faith that's important. As I grow in faith, I find the word becomes easier to define. For me, faith simply means that God does not lie. I do not need faith to believe that God is, or that the Bible is His word, the facts support this.
For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they [and we] are without excuse. - Romans 1:20
The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. - Psalms 14:1b
As for the Bible being God's revelation to us, Jesus said:
If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father. - John 15:24
If you will study the scientific evidence with an open mind, there is enough to prove the Bible has God's signature. Now I will be the first to admit, that for some, there will never be sufficient evidence to believe the Bible. Moses performed ten plagues on Egypt (Exodus 6-12) and even then, they did not believe that Moses spoke for God. It was only while their chariot wheels were coming off in the Red Sea that the Egyptians began to rethink their position.
As the miracles that Moses performed made Pharaoh without excuse. In the same way, the many specific prophecies of Jesus in the Old Testament makes us without excuse. Since the Jews do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah, they certainly did not corrupt their scriptures by inserting these verses.
There are also many specific prophecies of the end times. These too, prove the Bible has a supernatural author. The Bible is full of prophecy for only one reason, ''so that mankind would be without excuse''. No other religious book has this divine signature.
While showing skeptics evidence that the Bible is God’s word goes beyond the scope of this study, our studies on apologetics may be good place to start. If we can see evidence for God's existence and evidence that the Bible is His word, only one question remains, does God lie?
He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son
- 1 John 5:10
Believing God may be harder than it sounds. For example, imagine living in the early eighteen hundreds and reading the following passage from the book of Revelation.
And [the two witnesses]dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which Spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.
And they of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and a half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves.
And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth.
- Revelation 11:8-10
In the 1800s it would have taken months for news to reach the whole earth. How could the nations see the bodies of these two witnesses in less than four days and still have time left over to celebrate? Sure, the overwhelming majority of people believed in the existence of God. Sure, they believed that the Bible was the Word of God. Yet how many could really take God at His word?
Today it does not take much faith to believe the world could get the news and celebrate the end of these two troublemakers in only three days. However, there are other passages of Scripture that will still take faith to understand. Even so,
For with God nothing shall be impossible. - Luke 1:37
Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. - Isaiah 53:1-3
If you are reading this study to be amused you will be disappointed, yet once you know the principles that we are going to study, it will help the Bible come to life for you.
The word muse means to think, ponder or cogitate. By adding the prefix 'a', amuse means to not-think. For instance, we turn on the TV to amuse ourselves and stop thinking. If you need to be amused, you will not enjoy the Bible. How many times can you read the genealogy of Noah before you become board?
This is the paradox of the Christian life. The person who lives a hedonist lifestyle is empty inside, while those who deny themselves and carry their cross are not only content but have real joy. The Bible will only fascinate those who seek understanding, not those who seek entertainment.
My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding;
Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures;
Then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding. He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous: he is a buckler to them that walk uprightly. He keepeth the paths of judgment, and preserveth the way of his saints.
Then shalt thou understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity; yea, every good path. When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul;
Discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee: To deliver thee from the way of the evil man, from the man that speaketh froward things; Who leave the paths of uprightness, to walk in the ways of darkness; Who rejoice to do evil, and delight in the frowardness of the wicked; - Proverbs 2:2-14
In the previous chapter, we looked at how we must be born again for the scriptures to make sense. In this chapter, we will look at the common errors that cause Christians to misunderstand scripture.
Taking scripture out of context is the number one cause of false doctrine. This mistake, while easy to correct, is so common that there is a term for it, one verse theology. The seriousness of this was brought home to me when, as a new Christian, I attended an eight-hour Bible study at a local church that taught the devil was our carnal mind. To be honest, after eight-hours, the charismatic teacher had me convinced. Fortunately, at the urgent prompting of a mature Christian brother, I got my notes out and privately restudied the same passages again, only this time I put the passages in context. Since then, I have been on sort of a crusade against one verse theology.
And being sensitive to this mistake, I have seen countless examples where a pastor takes a single verse out of context to make a point. If the doctrine being taught is true, we do not need to take Scripture out of context to prove it and we lose credibility when we do.
One of the most common ways to study the Bible is to do it topically. This is where the teacher picks out verses here and there to prove his foregone conclusion. The problem is that most Christians do not take the time to see if a verse proving the conclusion is taken out of context. By taking verses out of context, you can make up any doctrine you want. Here is a verse that is commonly taken out of context to teach eternal security of the believer.
For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. - Romans 11:29
Doesn't this verse teach that if we are saved God will not withdraw our salvation? Now what does the verse right before it say? How about the verse right after it? Looking at the verse in context, we read:
As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes. - Romans 11:28
For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. - Romans 11:29
For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief: - Romans 11:30
In the verse before, Paul was talking about the Jews who had become the enemies of God. Do the enemies of God have eternal security? In the verse right after, He says they are in unbelief, do those in unbelief have eternal security? Paul is not talking about the security of the believer, he is talking about God's faithfulness to a blind Israel.
These [the Berians] were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. - Acts 17:11
When cults uses the Bible to teach, it is always one verse theology. If after those missionaries knocked on the door, their victims were like the Berians, and searched the Scriptures, many cults would dissolve. Yet, one verse theology is not limited to cults; many renowned Christian leaders are also guilty. Here is a common example from a passage in Luke,
I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
- Luke 17:34-36
This verse is commonly taken out of context to teach that Jesus will rapture the church before The Great Tribulation. Yet if you read the very next verse,
And they answered and said unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together. - Luke 17:37
As we read these verses together, we see that the eagles (or more likely vultures, since eagles do not usually pursue carrion) will be the ones that are taken. Do those who use this verse really think Jesus compared His church to vultures?
More importantly, did we read the verse in context? No we didn't! To see this, let us look at the first word in every verse of Luke 17. In doing so, we see that nearly every verse, in this chapter, is connected to the one that precedes it.
The word 'Then' continues the thought from the previous chapter.
To know what the 'it' is, you need to read verse one.
'Take' may be the start of a new thought.
'And' connects this to the previous verse.
The word 'But' connects this verse with contrast to verse 6.
Connects to previous verse.
Though 'And' usually continues a thought, this verse may actually start a new one.
This 'And' connects to the previous verse.
Even without an 'And' this continues the previous verse.
Connects to previous verse.
Though 'And' usually continues a thought, this verse may actually start a new one.
'Neither' continues the thought of the previous verse.
Connects to the previous verse.
'But' contrasts the thought with the previous verse.
Although this verse is connected to 25, this 'And' compares thoughts
in verse 26.
Even without the And this continues the previous verse.
'Likewise' continues the thought of the previous verse.
'But' contrasts a thought with the previous verse.
'Even' continues the thought of the previous verse.
'In' continues the thought of the previous verse.
'Remember' returns to verse 28.
Even without an 'And' this verse continues the previous verse.
I tell you, in that night...
What night? The word 'that' connects to one of the previous verses.
Continues thought from verse 34
'And' connects to previous verse.
You can see how Luke 17 is really a couple of big thoughts rather than 37 little and distinct verses. Now back to the verse we were studying earlier.
I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
- Luke 17:34-36
To read this verse in context we must take the thought from the beginning. The verse starts with, ''I tell you, in that night''; what night is this? When taken in context, these verses are connected to the same day that Jesus mentioned three verses earlier.
In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back.
- Luke 17:31
My study On the Wings of an Eagle talks about that day, when Jesus commanded those in Jerusalem to flee into the mountains. In that day, some will be taken and some will be left. Those who are familiar with Daniel 9 and Matthew 24 can already figure this out. Back to our topic, if you do not study verses in context, you will not notice if they are being misquoted by the teacher.
This doesn't mean topical studies do not have their place. Just that a topical Bible study cannot be better than the teacher’s comprehension of the entire Bible. If your teacher misunderstands a verse, unless you double check him, so will you.
The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master.
- Luke 6:40
Using a key verse, is to find a verse that appears to clearly support a particular doctrine and then interpreting other Bible verses around it. Next to taking verses out of context, using key verses probably creates more false doctrine than any other single mistake. Let's see how this happens by looking at the doctrine of soul sleep.
If you believe in soul sleep, a likely key verse is Ecclesiastes 9:5,
For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. - Ecclesiastes 9:5
If you do not believe in soul sleep, your key verse could be Luke 16:23,
And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. - Luke 16:22-23
If Ecclesiastes 9:5 is your key verse, you will play down the importance of Luke 16, 'it is just a parable'. If Luke 16:22 is your key verse, you will play down the verse in Ecclesiastes. Many false doctrines can be supported with a key verse from scripture. The vast proliferation of cults that use scripture to support their beliefs proves this.
So what should you do? Instead of using key verses, trying to be teachable, find all the verses that speak on a doctrine before putting together any theory. Then study all the verses using the principles you are learning here. A few examples include,
- Making sure all passages are taken in context (Mistake #2)
- Making sure you are not twisting a words meaning (Mistake #4)
- Know who is speaking and if is he qualified to speak on the topic (Rule #6)
Being willing to examine key verses, rather than studying the Bible around them, has opened my eyes. I often see that they do not actually teach what I assumed they did before I gave them a critical examination.
Using key verses to support doctrine, is not the same thing as using keywords to teach doctrine. For example, I will stress the underlined keywords when I teach the following passages.
I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. - 1 Timothy 2:8
I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. - Luke 5:32
Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk. - Exodus 34:26
About 35 years ago, as a new Christian, I misunderstood the above verse to mean, You shall not look on a child while he is breast feeding. The word seethe seemed an old-fashioned way of saying see. Not growing up on a farm, I interpreted kid to mean child. The verse even seemed to teach modesty, a theme in the Bible. Yet, this is not what Moses was trying to teach at all. However, before I could figure that out I had to give the words the same meaning as Moses originally intended.
That we should not twist a word’s meaning should be obvious, yet even mature Christian writers do it so often, that apparently it is not. If you knowingly twist a word's meaning when you teach, you are bearing false witness, by saying that the Bible writer said something he did not say, a violation of the ninth commandment.
Looking at the following parable, we can see how this mistake is easily made.
And again [Jesus] said, Whereunto shall I liken the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened. - Luke 13:21
Many Teachers believe that the leaven is the Gospel. Thus, Jesus is spreading the gospel throughout the world. The parable seems to make sense with this interpretation.
Yet, is there a dictionary or lexicon (Greek, Hebrew or English) that defines the word leaven as the gospel? Did any prophet or apostle ever use any of the word leaven symbolically with a similar interpretation?
If we wish to understand the above parable, the words have to have the same meaning to us as they had to Jesus. To do this,
- See how the word, in the original language, is used in other passages of scripture.
- Look up the definition of the word in a lexicon.
- Look how similar parables used the same word.
If instead of using one of the above methods, we use a definition because it just seems to make sense, it is not likely that we will learn the parable's warning (we will look at this again at the end of the study). In fact, if you use your own definition for the words, you can make any parable teach any doctrine you want.
There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.
- Proverbs 14:12
We need to be careful in our study of His word, that we bring Him glory. It should be obvious, to anyone who is born again, that the Scriptures will never lead us to find fault with anything God has done. Yet here is a true story.
I once knew a Christian who decided it was God’s will for him to stop working; instead, he was devoting his time to, what he felt was, serving God. Even though his family was starting to go hungry, he continued to believe that it was the Lord’s will for him not to work. So I finally counseled him using the following Scripture verse:
But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel. - 1 Timothy 5:8
This verse did not concern my friend in the least. He explained his spiritual interpretation: If God did not provide for his own, he was worse than an infidel. As my friend's family was suffering because he would not work, there were two possibilities, either God was worse than an infidel or my friend had an abominable interpretation of this verse. Slightly afraid, I warned him that any interpretation of scripture that implies our Lord is worse than an infidel is wicked. The Scripture says:
But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. - Matthew 12:36
The high priest then asked Jesus of his disciples, and of his doctrine. Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing. - John 18:19-20
When some Christians say that they see a Spiritual meaning in a passage of Scripture, what they really mean is that they see an allegory or symbolic language. The Spiritual meaning of a verse is what God thinks the verse means. If God meant the passage to be understood literally, no allegory intended, that is the Spiritual meaning of the passage.
Therefore, when we think we see an allegory taught in a passage of scripture, if it is true, it will not negate the plain or literal meaning of the passage. Using the previous example:
But if any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel. - 1 Timothy 5:8
The plain words of this verse are for men to provide for their family. Therefore, any spiritual meaning, will not remove this responsibility to provide for his family. When the plain sense makes common sense, be careful when you seek another sense, lest it all becomes nonsense.
A Spiritual interpretation does not have to openly contradict, a passage in order to be a bad interpretation, it only needs to undermine the literal meaning of the passage. For example, will the heaven and earth pass away?
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. - Revelation 21:1
I showed this verse to a member of the Watchtower Society who believes that this world will not pass away. He, using Isaiah, showed me that the word 'sea' is a symbolic for the wicked. This sounds okay to me; I also believe that there will be no more wicked people someday.
But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. - Isaiah 57:20
Yet that is not what the above verse said, it said there would be no more sea. Once a spiritual interpretation undermines the plain teaching of a verse, you can interpret it anyway you wish. Jesus said,
Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye. - Mark 7:13
When the teacher ignores the literal meaning of a passage, he and not the Bible becomes the final authority. Thus, once the Watchtower Society has explained away the sea, they no longer believe any passage that teaches there will be a new heaven and a new earth.
Some Rabbis have opposed translating the Sacred Scripture from Hebrew into other languages because they feared some of the inspiration would be lost. It is difficult to translate poetry and idioms that are unique to a culture, that is for sure.
Even so, if you hunger for truth you do not need to be a Greek or Hebrew scholar, I think the Bible can guide you safely through life if you have the Holy Spirit to help you. So, are there any good reasons for learning Greek? The first reason is to settle disputes over controversial verses and the misinterpretations of Scripture by cults. For example, in my Bible John 14:17 says,
Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.
- John 14:17 KJV
In most Bibles the word αὐτὸ is translated 'he' or 'him'. However in the Watchtower Society's New World Translation of the Bible, John 14:16 says,
The spirit of the truth, which the world cannot receive, because it neither beholds it nor knows it. YOU know it, because it remains with YOU and is in YOU. - John 14:17 NWT
Even if you look in a Greek Bible, to those who do not understand Greek, the word αὐτὸ may appear to be properly translated 'it'. In order see that the Holy Spirit in this passage is a He and not an it, you need to understand enough Greek to see how a pronoun connects to its antecedent. I am not trying to teach Greek in this study, only show that it does have its place.
Another reason to study the Greek is for the fun of it. For example, here is an interesting verse, (it seems to me that the littlest words have the longest definitions).
and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Uriah - Matthew 1:6b
In this example, the literal translation of the sentence is, ''and the David and the king he begat the Solomon out of the the Uriah.'' The words ''the the'' are not a typographical mistake, the translators got the phrase ''her that had been the wife'' from the words, the the. How? The Greek language has twenty four different forms of the depending on gender, case and number. In the above verse, the first the is in the feminine, genitive or possessive case singular, the second the is in the masculine genitive case singular and these two put together would have the meaning Solomon was ''of the (female) of the [belonged to] Uriah.''
By studying the Greek you will also learn many of the idioms and little nuances lost in translation. In English, we would understand the phrase I enjoyed myself to mean I had a good time. A literal translation of I enjoyed myself into another language may sound like I received pleasure from myself. For example, was this idiom lost in translation?
But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! - Matthew 6:23
What is the evil eye that Jesus is speaking of? We can look up the definition of the word evil and the word eye yet they mean something different than when the words are put together. Just like we cannot understand what a wise guy is from looking up the definition of wise and guy. When you understand this idiom, it will then add meaning to all the passages where it is used. For those who are interested, I have found the New Testament Greek: for Beginners by J. Gresham Machen and a beginners Greek class at NT Greek to be helpful.
For those who do not wish to learn Greek a good lexicon is helpful especially for words appearing only once or twice in the Bible.
A common problem in translating from an original language is that words often have two or more meanings and the translators have to chose which to use. The word spirit in the Greek is πνεῦμα (pnyoo'-mah). The word spirit can also be translated: a current of air, a breath, a blast, a breeze. In the following verse, wind and Spirit are the same word and blow comes from the same root word.
The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. - John 3:8
Words also change meaning over time. Here is an example out of the King James Version,
Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. - James 3:13
Today the word conversation means, to talk or to have a discussion. In 1611 when the King James Version was published, the word meant behavior or conduct. While archaic words are common to the King James Version, we should be careful even with modern translations, as the English language is constantly evolving.
For words that appear more than once or twice in the Bible, I prefer a good Bible concordance before the lexicon (though the lexicon gives a more detailed definition than a Concordance). This tool not only enables you to find any verse in the Bible in minutes. It also gives a simple definition and shows all the other places where the word is used in the original language for comparison (the instructions on how to use a concordance are in the front cover). There is also Bible software that makes this search easy.
To see how this works, let us look at a verse misunderstood by some cults. Have you ever heard a member of the Watchtower Society try to prove that Jesus is a created being? If so, he may have used the following verse.
And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; - Revelation 3:14
To those who believe Jesus is a created being, this key verse (Mistake 3) teaches just that. However, let us look at the word beginning a little closer before concurring. Whenever the keyword in a verse is important to understanding a verse, it is important to understand the keyword.
Since words can lose or change their definition in translation, the serious Bible student is only concerned with the meaning intended by the original author. We will try to do this by looking up the word ‘beginning’ in our concordance. This word beginning in Revelation 3:14 is the Greek word ἀρχή (ar-khay). The definition is, ''A commencement, or chief (in various applications of order, time, place or rank)''. Using the concordance, I found other verses using the word ar-khay, here are three - the bold font.
And they watched him, and sent forth spies, which should feign themselves just men, that they might take hold of his words, that so they might deliver him unto the power and authority of the governor. - Luke 20:20
Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. - 1 Corinthians 15:24
For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: - Colossians 2:9-10
And, if you looked up the word ar-khay' yourself, you will see passages where it does mean first in time. If Jesus were a created being (though it is circular reasoning), this verse may help confirm it. However, since John used a word that has many meanings, this verse does not prove Jesus was a created being. Rather the concordance shows how the apostles defined ar-khay' in the first century ( rather than how it has ben translated since), John is saying that Jesus is ''the faithful and true witness, the rule, principality and power of the creation of God''.
Another tool helpful in translating is the Interlinear Bible. It places the original Hebrew or Greek words on top and a corresponding English word underneath (the Old Testament reads from right to left). One use of an interlinear Bible is to judge individual translations. You can see how this done, in the study examining The New World Translation.
It is helpful for other studies as well. This next example shows how an Interlinear Bible can help recover a word’s original meaning. Since there is a lot of errors taught from a misunderstanding of Daniel's Seventy Weeks, we will use it in this example. The passage reads:
Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. - Daniel 9:24
First, Daniel said there are Seventy weeks.
After studying it many Christians, including myself, believe the word translated 'week' means seven years.
Next, some of them translate the word week in other prophecies as a seven year period.
So what is the problem? In English the word week means seven days. If in the Hebrew it means 'seven' rather than 'seven days', interpreting other prophecies, using Daniel 9 as proof that a day equals a year, are flawed. Using an interlinear Bible, we will show this. First look at the underlined words in Daniel 9.
Now look at the word weeks in Daniel chapter ten. Hebrew from right to left.
Daniel 10:1-4 (Reads from right to left)
See the difference in Daniel chapter ten? This time it literally reads, ''weeks of days'' actually using the word days. Now looking back at Daniel 9:24, we see the literal translation is ''Seventy sevens are determined upon thy people...''. Because Daniel did not say weeks of days, as he did in chapter ten, it is wrong to teach that the weeks are weeks of days in chapter nine.
Using Daniel 9 to teach a day-year principle, like any false premise, will lead to faulty interpretations of other prophecies. While we do not want to parse a scripture verse to death (Mistake 9), we do want to spend time on keywords and passages before we use them later in a rule of interpretation.
Some interpretations of Scripture are more to the letter, than the law of the Medes and the Persians. One of the more humorous ones that I have heard is the interpretation of this passage:
Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting (braided) the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. - 1 Peter 3:3-4
A few years ago, a friend criticized my daughter because she braided her hair. When I tried to explain that he was taking this passage too legalistically, he got angry, not understanding how I could transgress a clear command in scripture. Showing him the verse, I said, If this verse condemns braiding of hair and wearing of gold, then Peter also condemns women who wear clothing. He was stammering as he tried to prove otherwise. He is still a very legalistic person; the New Testament is nothing more to him than another version of the Hammurabi Code.
Quoting this verse, some denominations do not allow their women to wear jewelry, not even a wedding band. While I do not wear jewelry, I do desire my wife to wear a wedding band, not to look worldly, only to let other men know that she is mine.
I believe the church is preoccupied with many erroneous doctrines. One rule of thumb I use to decide if a rule is important is to check and see if Jesus talked about it in the Gospels. If a dogma was not important enough for Jesus to expound on, then perhaps it is not important enough for the church to fight over.
For the sake of learning not to be legalistic, let us read this passage again.
Likewise, ye wives,[…]Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. - 1 Peter 3:1, 3-4
Actually, this verse is not even talking to all women. If you take out your Bible and read the passage in context, Peter was talking to wives who are trying to convert their husbands to Christianity. Peter was not condemning the putting on of apparel or anything else. He is telling wives that they can be more effective in winning their husband by putting on the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit. To loosely paraphrase Peter; It is more important to adorn the inside then the outside.
In another example, some Christian sects believe it is a sin for a Christian to play a musical instrument. This is because the New Testament never mentions anyone playing a musical instrument. I do not know how more legalism could be learned from fewer verses. Do these rules please our Lord after he said,
Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
- Mark 7:7
In one last example of legalism, I once heard a pastor interpreting a passage of Scripture saying, ''The word three (3) is not to be taken literally here. Let me give you an example…'' Then he proceeded to show a place in the Bible where some Israelite rounded off a number somewhere. (I do not remember where or what number, however, someone did round off a number somewhere.) Using this as a preface, he created a rule that I will paraphrase: Since someone rounded off a number, this proves the Jews always round off numbers; therefore, their numbers must never to be taken precisely.
Because this rule is legalistic, it is useless, most of us have both rounded off numbers and used them with precision.
I am writing this chapter after serving at a Christian rehab for about six months. During that time, I attended their mandatory weekly Bible study for the students.
I have never attended a Bible study where the teacher so completely worked every word to death. This class looked for synonyms of each word; it looked for relationships between words and between thoughts. The teacher had the class go from studying every particle of speech to looking up nearly every word in six different dictionaries (I am not exaggerating). During these six months, the class never got out of the first chapter of Colossians (nor is it likely they will for many more months to come). Nor did the class ever read two verses together! Many of the students went away frustrated, not being fed out of Colossians.
When Paul wrote the letter to the Colossians, he expected them to read it. Is not that what you expect when you write a letter?
And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea. - Colossians 4:16
Now some commentary is necessary. For instance, defining a Greek word or explaining a Hebrew tradition that makes the text more clear is always welcome. However, do not dissect the scripture passage until it loses its God given inspiration. Pastors, it is not always edifying to give a lengthy sermon on just one or two verses of Scripture. When it takes six weeks to read twelve verses how can one possibly remember the verse's context (Mistake 2). Many churches would come to life if they spent less time parsing every single verse and instead read more of God’s word.
Did you ever hear someone expound on a Scripture saying, ''All leading scholars believe ...'' or ''The church fathers all taught ...''
A common mistake is to believe a doctrine because everyone else in your church believes it. Is believing what most other people believe good criteria for determining truth?
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in there at: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. - Matthew 7:13-14
There was a time not long ago when most everyone thought the sun circled the earth. When Jesus was standing trial, the majority said, ''Crucify him!'' Just because most people believe something, that does not make it true or right.
Of course, the pendulum can swing the other way. That is when someone believes God has personally given him a unique interpretation.
A personal interpretation is not the same thing as personal application. Once we understand scripture, we are expected to make personal applications in our own life and God can lead each of us in a different way thereby.
Peter seeing [John] saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me. Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? - John 21:21-23
Touching on private interpretations Peter said:
We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. - 2 Peter 1:19-21
In this passage, the apostle Peter is making at least two points. First, a prophecy is not subject to the prophet's personal opinion. Second, the interpretation of a prophecy is not subject to our personal opinion. In other words, the Lord, will give his church one interpretation and we as individual Christians are to be patient and wait for that understanding.
Many doctrines that divide the church originate from personal interpretations of church leaders. The way to avoid this mistake is test your interpretation by asking two questions: Have others come up with the same interpretation when studying this passage? Have they done so completely separated from you?
A short while back, one Bible teacher, Harold Camping, claimed that the world would end on May 21, 2011. He and his followers spent millions propagating this message. Harold Camping claimed to get his revelation by studying the Bible. This May 21 judgment day is a good example of a personal interpretation because only those who followed Camping believed it. If they had asked the question; have any other Christians, completely separated from us, come up with the same date while studying the Bible? They would have saved themselves some embarrassment.
And he said, Take heed that ye be not deceived: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ [claiming to be a special person]; and the time draweth near: go ye not therefore after them. - Luke 21:8
What starts out as a personal interpretation can later become a philosophy seeking Biblical sanction. Thus, the test for many philosophies is, did you learn this from reading the Bible, or were you educated into this by a topical Bible study? Church unity will not come by an ecumenical movement teaching us to put our doctrines aside. Rather true unity will come when we stop seeking Biblical sanctions for extra biblical philosophies.
The writers of the Bible did not always write in chronological order. Apparently, eastern thought does not assume chronological order. Let us look at Ezekiel 26:1-14 to see an example of this.
1-2 And it came to pass in the eleventh year, in the first day of the month, that the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, because that Tyrus hath said against Jerusalem, Aha, she is broken that was the gates of the people: she is turned unto me: I shall be replenished, now she is laid waste:
3-4 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against thee, O Tyrus, and will cause many nations to come up against thee, as the sea causeth his waves to come up. And they shall destroy the walls of Tyrus, and break down her towers:
4b-7 I will also scrape her dust from her, and make her like the top of a rock. It shall be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea: for I have spoken it, saith the Lord GOD: and it shall become a spoil to the nations. And her daughters which are in the field shall be slain by the sword; and they shall know that I am the LORD.
8-13 For thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will bring upon Tyrus Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, a king of kings, from the north, with horses, and with chariots, and with horsemen, and companies, and much people. He shall slay with the sword thy daughters in the field: and he shall make a fort against thee, and cast a mount against thee, and lift up the buckler against thee. And he shall set engines of war against thy walls, and with his axes he shall break down thy towers. By reason of the abundance of his horses their dust shall cover thee: thy walls shall shake at the noise of the horsemen, and of the wheels, and of the chariots, when he shall enter into thy gates, as men enter into a city wherein is made a breach. With the hoofs of his horses shall he tread down all thy streets: he shall slay thy people by the sword, and thy strong garrisons shall go down to the ground.
12-13 And they shall make a spoil of thy riches, and make a prey of thy merchandise: and they shall break down thy walls, and destroy thy pleasant houses: and they shall lay thy stones and thy timber and thy dust in the midst of the water. And I will cause the noise of thy songs to cease; and the sound of thy harps shall be no more heard.
14 And I will make thee like the top of a rock: thou shalt be a place to spread nets upon; thou shalt be built no more: for I the LORD have spoken it, saith the Lord GOD. - Ezekiel 26:1-14
Shortly after the Babylonians invaded Israel, Ezekiel spoke this prophesy against the city of Tyrus. In verses 8 through 11, Ezekiel prophesied that Nebuchadnezzar would come and take the city. This is now an historical event. However, did Nebuchadnezzar scrape her dust from her and make her like the top of a rock (verse 4b)? No! That happened centuries later when Alexander the Great came and finished the job. He took the city on the mainland and used the stones for a causeway to capture the island 1,200 yards off her coast. When he ran out of stones, he continued by scraping the dirt off, right down to the bedrock! Today, thousands of years later, Tyrus is a port city for fishermen (Verse 14).
Here in our present time we see this prophecy fulfilled. When you understand that chronological order is only a style of writing (that was ignored by Ezekiel) we see this prophecy fulfilled perfectly.
In another example, look at Isaiah 61:1-6.
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD,
and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified. To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.
And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations. And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the alien shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers. But ye shall be named the Priests of the LORD: men shall call you the Ministers of our God: ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory shall ye boast yourselves. - Isaiah 61:1-6
Many years later, Luke records Jesus standing in His synagogue and quoting the first paragraph of this prophecy. Then rolling up the scroll he said: ''Today is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears''. Yet, did Jesus fulfill the whole prophecy in Isaiah 61 at that time? Read the last paragraph.
The prophets can talk about events that are hundreds or thousands of years apart, and they can place them in any order they want, and they do not need to draw our attention to it. And it's not just the prophets, the other inspired writers do not always narrate in chronological order.
A major debate, in the study of end time prophecy, is the question of whether there is a pre, mid or post tribulation rapture. Our goal is not to assume, but to learn the chronological order of end-time prophecy.
A new Christian will have hurdles to jump. Some older Christians have yet to jump some of these hurdles. Here are four mistakes to watch out for, as you study scripture.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.
- Isaiah 55:8
Years ago I spent some time studying the Bible with a neighbor. In studying with him I found two absolute truths. First, every one in his denomination absolutely agree with each other on every single point of doctrine. Second, no matter how plainly the scriptures contradict any of their doctrine, their preconceived ideas keep them from seeing it. The following is part of a true discussion on hell fire I had with a member in July of 2009.
HIM: No, we don’t believe the Bible teaches that there is an eternal fire. Even in the example of Sodom and Gomorrah, in their ''suffering the vengeance of eternal fire'', the fire went out.
ME: OK, let me read this passage then. [I started reading in Revelation 14:9 stressing to him the bold font].
''If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, [at this point my friend was shaking his head in disagreement] who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.''
ME [Continuing said]: You do not believe that.
HIM: No I don’t.
ME: So, you are saying that you do not believe the Bible?
HIM: [slightly shook up]: Wait, we believe the Bible, we just believe it differently.
We talked for an hour, and like the countless others before him, he did not let any portion of scripture cause him to reconsider any of his preconceived ideas.
As I aspire to be an author (as good authors do), I will have others review what I write. The reason? The first draft of my paper will always have glaring mistakes that I myself cannot see. I read what my paper should say, not what it actually says. The thoughts flow for me because my preconceived ideas direct my thoughts where they are supposed to go. If my preconceived ideas hinder me from understanding my own writing, is it possible they could hinder me from understanding what is written in the Scriptures?
The only way to cure our biases is to first recognize that we are biased.
Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth. - John 9:41
Ok, so we admit we have a bias as we study the scripture, what do we do now? As you study, prayerfully ask questions like:
- Does my interpretation expound (exegete) the passage of scripture I am studying, or does it explain the passage away (eisegete)?
- What could this verse mean if my preconceived ideas did not make it impossible for it to mean that?
- When studying verses that we are familiar with, read them slowly and ask, do they really say what I thought they did?
- What would this verse mean if it were read to a child?
[Jesus] said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. - Matthew 18:3
One main source for our preconceived ideas is the doctrine we learned from the person who led us to the Lord. Then as we read, we judge everything by his standard. While we should esteem the person who showed us the narrow path, not even the Apostle Paul expected his followers to just believe his doctrine. For instance, the Berians were commended for double-checking his doctrine.
And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. - Acts 17:10-11
Preconceived ideas keep many from coming to the truth as they will have too much time, energy and pride (mostly pride) invested in their current beliefs to change. If someone tried to show you Biblical truth, different from what you or your church believes, could you receive it? God can (and it appears that he does) expect us admit it when we are wrong, even though it will be painful.
And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. - Matthew 21:44
Many cannot come to the truth because they want to remain in good standing with their church. Some churches (I am using the word loosely), even demand that family members shun those who depart from their religious beliefs. Some churches hold so such power over their congregation, that even if a blind man was healed, they could not change their confession.
His parents [of a blind man who was healed] answered them and said, We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind: But by what means he now seeth, we know not; or who hath opened his eyes, we know not: he is of age; ask him: he shall speak for himself. These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.
- John 9:20-22
One of my daughters recently shared a story about a sermon that was taught by an assistant pastor at her church.
During his sermon, he said something to the effect that faith alone was not sufficient to save us. Unfortunately, this upset many in the congregation, and some even felt it was their duty to interrupt him. As the church was becoming riled up, he stopped his sermon and said:
''Forget my opinion, it is not important, instead I will stop and ask you three questions.
''First question, what did James actually say?''
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? - James 2:14
But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? - James 2:20
''Second question, does God believe James?''
Since no one was willing to correct James, his congregation became quiet and he asked his third question.
''Third question, Do you believe James? And if not, where are you getting your doctrine?''
After asking these questions, he was able to continue his sermon on in Hebrews 12:15.
Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:
- Hebrews 12:14
I know that what I am saying can be easily misunderstood. I am not suggesting that we call into question the doctrines of salvation held by all fundamental Christians. Only look at the beliefs that separate your particular denomination from the rest of Christianity. When there is a disagreement on doctrine, someone is wrong, or maybe both parties are holding to false doctrine. Some pastors teach that we are to submit ourselves, including our thoughts, to our church's doctrines. However, Jesus himself and for the sake of his doctrine was willing to be, very literally, cast out from his own church.
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. […]
And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong. But he passing through the midst of them went his way, - Luke 4:16, 28-30
If you want to please God, you will hold to the truth, even if your church would excommunicate you. Yet this does not mean we should believe every new thing. For the Bible also says:
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. - 1 Thessalonians 5:21
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. - 1 John 4:1
If your preconceived ideas are correct, they will pass inspection. It is only false doctrine that should be afraid of the light.
I do not believe the Bible teaches a pretribulation rapture of the church. So I was delighted when I heard, on the radio, a teacher who did do a line by line study of 2nd Thessalonians. When he got to chapter two, I listened carefully as he was accurately expounding each word. That is until he got to verse three, which he skipped over and then continued with great care to teach the pretrib rapture using verse seven as his key verse (Mistake 3). If I had not been well versed with this passage I would not have noticed that he skipped verse three. I suppose there were thousands of listeners who believed that they studied verse seven in context that day. I still do not believe the Bible teaches a pretribulation rapture; however, I understand why so many do.
Most Christians have their favorite verses. This is good, unless these are the only ones with which they are familiar. Look at your Bible. Have you worn out some pages, while there are other places (maybe even whole books) that you have never read? The fact is, most professing Christians have never read their Bible through. God calls the church his bride, this makes the Bible a love letter sent from Him that we might watch and be ready when He comes.
If we want to master the Bible, we must read it. A new believer should start with the New Testament (because he is entering into this covenant as a disciple of Jesus). Reading the epistles, Romans through Hebrews, will open up the Old Testament making it much more profitable when you are ready to read it. The important thing is that if we want to understand the Bible, we should read the whole book. Moreover, as true lovers we would read it over and over (kissing it, crying over it, carrying it in our pocket).
Leaving my emotions behind, one reason that it is essential to be familiar with the entire Bible is that the different verses shed light on each other. In order to truly understand some passages, we need to be familiar with the other passages where the same thought, teaching or vision occurs.
Here is an example from the Gospel of Mark:
If thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. - Mark 9:43-44
Some denominations teach that when Jesus said hell (the word in Greek is Gehenna), he meant the garbage dump outside of Jerusalem. Even The lexicon says of Gehenna, ''This was originally the valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, where the filth and dead animals of the city were cast out and burned...'' So, was Jesus talking about a garbage dump, where the worms never die and the fire was never quenched? Or, was he talking about eternal punishment.
And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh. - Isaiah 66:24
What difference does this make? Most who do not believe eternal punishment teach that Jesus was speaking about the city dump to make an argument against eternal fire, since the fire at the garbage dump finally burned out. Yet, if you were familiar with Isaiah you would have recognized that Jesus was quoting him when you read Mark 9, now this passage clearly teaches there will be an eternal fire.
However, as it is impossible for most of us to memorize the entire Bible. And, even if we did memorize it, that is not the same thing as understanding what we have memorized. Therefore, the minimum standard if you cannot quote a verse exactly is to be able to paraphrase it so that it has the same meaning as the author intended. And, when you hear a verse being misquoted or taken out of context, you will recognize it.
The biggest offenders of this rule are Topical Bible studies. While topical studies are used to teach doctrine, they are also effective in teaching false doctrine. First, the leader comes up with a premise, and then he looks for some Bible verses to prove it.
For example, suppose a denomination decides the doctrine of Hell fire seems too harsh. Perhaps they feel, as many do, that it keeps people from turning to God. In fact, they rationalizes, since our God is a loving God, there could not possibly be a hell. Now all they need is a few scripture verses to prove this doctrine and they are set. How about these two:
For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. - Ecclesiastes 9:5
For the wages of sin is death [The wicked die, they are not cast into Hell]... - Romans 6:23a
There are many passages like these, anyone can find them if they look. If you want to prove there is no hell, you would only look for the Scripture verses that disprove it. When teaching this doctrine to new believers, you would ignore, and when you cannot ignore, eisegete passages like the following:
The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.
- Revelation 14:10-11
And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: - Mark 9:43
How can a new believer tell when a church does not believe Bible doctrine? None of the following are foolproof,
- The pastor makes his points using cliches rather than Bible verses. For instance, I heard one pastor say, "Christians who do not believe in eternal security believe in eternal insecurity." These are cliches, not Bible proofs. Using a cliche is fine, but if is best arguments are cliches, than there may be a problem.
- Listen to the pastor when he expounds on any passage that might contradict his doctrine. Does his sermon expound the verse or will it rationalize the passage away. For instance if the church believes in soul sleep, does the story of Lazarus and the rich man mean anything when he is done, or did the pastor just spend the whole time proving it didn't mean consciousness after death.
- The pastor will try to use reason to prove doctrine rather than using the Bible. For example, one book the Seventh Day Adventists use gives Bible verses for all their different doctrines. So I looked up their doctrine on the Mark of the Beast. While they believe the Mark of the Beast is that someday the Pope will make everybody worship God on Sunday, the Bible says it is a mark on the hand or forehead. The book had three pages of reasoning without any actual Bible verse showing how they connect a Mark on the hand to worshiping on Sunday.
- The joke goes something like this "The pastors notes say: 'sermon weak here, hit pulpit hard three times to emphasize point'." If questioned, the pastor gets loud, speaking in a way that discourages anyone from asking any more questions.
For more ways to recognize a church that does not believe Bible doctrine look at our study on Ministering to Cult Members. When Jesus was speaking to the religious leaders, He said,
[You are] Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered. - Mark 7:13a
To sum it up, when you are only trying to prove a doctrine as you read the Bible, you have stopped learning. We all desire to try to prove ourselves right. We must overcome this, and make being teachable a life long pursuit, if we want to understand scripture properly.
That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments: And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not steadfast with God.
- Psalm 78:7-8
And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. - Matthew 13:10-15
In this chapter we will will look at four questions:
- How do we recognize when a passage should be understood as a parable? Is the story of Lazarus and the rich man a parable?
- When should we be careful to interpret the passage literally? Should Jonah being swallowed by a fish be taken literally?
- When do we look for allegories or a Spiritual interpretation in the passage?
- When do we know a verse is only speaking symbolically?
The entire Bible: the Law, history, wisdom, prophecy, gospels and instruction will fit into at least one of these four categories.
The first question; how do we recognize when a passage should be understood as a parable?
A parable is a story that teaches moral, prophetic and Spiritual truths.
And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. - Matthew 13:10-11
Yet how do we know, for instance, if the story of Lazarus is it a true story or a parable?
There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. - Luke 16:19-30
To those who believe in soul sleep or to those who do not believe in a Hell fire, this must be a parable. Yet, even if it were only a parable, they still have a problem. Would Jesus use parables to teach false doctrine? Even if this were a parable, it is teaching after he died a man said '' I am tormented in this flame''.
Actually many if not most parables could be true stories. While the parables of Jesus taught hidden truths, is there any reason to believe that they could not be based on true stories? Even the gathering of vultures around carcasses are real events (Matthew 24:28). Is it possible that the Pharisee and Levite who passed by the man who fell among thieves were in Jesus' audience when He praised the behavior of the Samaritan? (Luke 10:30)
Though we cannot prove that all parables are true stories, it is reasonable to believe that stories giving specific details (like Lazarus and the rich man) are. Would Jesus have said, ''There was a certain beggar named Lazarus'', when there really was no beggar named Lazarus? or would He have quoted Abraham, who was a real historical person, in a conversation that was not true? Finally, since so many are true, what happens if we allow them all to be?
The second question; when do we interpret the passage literally?
Bible students can be divided into two groups, those who try to take the whole Bible literally and those who believe we should understand some passages more allegorically. The answers to the following questions show where these two groups often differ.
- Is the Bible being literal when it teaches that the earth is young?
- Did the Lord really create the earth in six day?
- Did God really take a rib from Adam's side to make his wife Eve?
- Are the miracles in the Old Testament, like Jonah and the whale real?
- Do the gospels record that Jesus literally rose from the dead?
- In the Book of Revelation, did John mean that there is going to be a literal thousand-year reign of Christ?
In using Jesus or the Apostles as examples, though they spoke symbolically, they never used an allegorical approach to interpreting the Old Testament. For instance, they spoke of Jonah and the Genesis account as facts.
For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. - Matthew 12:40
But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. - 2 Corinthians 11:3
If Jonah was not in the whale's belly, the Son of man was not " three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." If a serpent did not beguile Eve, Paul did not fear the Corinthians could be "corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ."
Does the Bible really teach that God created the world in six days? If you are a literalist, the answer is yes, the Bible says so. If you are not a literalist, you can decide; whatever works best for you. However once you start down the path where you and not the Bible are the final authority, you can believe anything you want.
Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. - 2 Timothy 2:15
It is important to see that those who do not take all passages literally, do not agree among themselves as to which passages should be. When a person decides which passages should and should not be taken literally it is he, rather than the Bible, who has become the final authority. Though this may be over simplistic for some, for myself, if God can raise Jesus from the dead, all the other miracles recorded in the Bible are equally possible.
Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words? - John 5:45-47
Jesus could have said, if ye do not literally believe Moses writings, as those who do not believe in Christianity, believe these are allegories. Peter also implied that he believed Moses literally and that he expects us to, when he said:
For this they [the scoffers] willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished. - 2 Peter 3:5-6
Peter also, earlier in the same letter, rebukes false teachers. In his rebuke, he compares them to the Old Testament prophet Balaam, and in this comparison, he believes the ass literally rebuked the prophet.
But [he] was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man's voice forbade the madness [insanity] of the prophet. - 2 Peter 2:16
If the dumb ass did not really speak, who is the one who's mad? In one last example, Jesus is himself exalting the Scriptures, when he implies that he would rather be crucified than to let its words fail. If this is so, what does he expect us to do with the same words?
Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be? - Matthew 26:53-54
The truth is, if Jesus had called twelve legions of angels, all the scripture could still be fulfilled, just not literally. I know this is starting to sound more like a sermon than hermeneutics, but to understand the Bible we must take it literally. Is the Bible your final authority? Either it is all, or it is nothing.
The third question; when do we look for an allegory or a Spiritual interpretation?
After what I just said about allegories, I had better define the word. For this study, I will define the word allegory to mean a true historical event, one that teaches a prophetic or Spiritual truth.
Paul uses an allegory to teach the Galatians,
For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. … Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which engendereth to bondage, which is Hagar. - Galatians 4:22, 24
Here we see a true historical event, used as an allegory, it teaches a Spiritual lesson about freedom and slavery and it also predicted two future covenants.
Christians can understand the Bible literally and still find many fascinating allegories hidden in its passages. Allegories, like prophecy, testify to God’s authorship of the Bible, and are thus able to encourage us in our faith. Like this allegory, one of my favorites, in The Book of Genesis:
And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.
And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you. And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together.
And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. - Genesis 22:2-8
However, as any other single passage of scripture, one allegory alone, should never be used to teach doctrine, when used alone its meaning will be too easy to twist (see examples in Mistake 6). For instance, as we see in the above allegory, Abraham did not actually sacrifice his son. Even when the allegory ended, the events in Abraham's life continued. While I would not use a single allegory by itself to teach doctrine, they plainly show God's foreknowledge when used to support what is plainly taught elsewhere in the Bible.
The fourth question; when is a verse is speaking symbolically?
The definition of Symbolic Language is, to speak metaphorically or figuratively to describe the object or subject of a prophetic vision or parable. Using symbolic language makes the passage more poetic.
Let us look at a passage in Daniel for an example of symbolic language.
Daniel spoke and said, I saw in my vision by night, and, behold, the four winds of the heaven strove upon the great sea. And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another. The first was like a lion, and had eagle's wings: I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made stand upon the feet as a man, and a man's heart was given to it. And behold another beast, a second, like to a bear, and it raised up itself on one side, and it had three ribs in the mouth of it between the teeth of it: and they said thus unto it, Arise, devour much flesh. After this I beheld, and lo another, like a leopard, which had upon the back of it four wings of a fowl; the beast had also four heads; and dominion was given to it. After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and broke in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns. - Daniel 7:2-7
I have often struggled with how I would answer if asked: ''If you take the Bible literally, why don’t you take the above passage literally? Why don’t you believe that these four beasts literally came out of a great sea?'' At present, I have three answers.
The first is that I do believe that Daniel literally saw this vision. I do not believe that the Bible records these beasts coming out of the sea as a historical account. To believe the Bible literally, means that we believe the miraculous and the historical accounts when reported as history.
The second reason we know that the above is a picture story, is that the angel tells us the meaning of these beasts coming out of the sea. This interpretation can be useful to understand the same symbolic language used in other visions, in this case Revelation 13.
The third reason for symbolic language is that it is a useful tool to overcome certain problems like those caused by the time barrier. For an example, let us look at passage in the Book of Revelation,
And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them.
And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone.
By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths.
For their power is in their mouth, and in their tails: for their tails were like unto serpents, and had heads, and with them they do hurt. - Revelation 9:16-19
This literal army consists of 200,000,000 men. This is important enough that John said he did not make the number up. Yet, since the early church did not have words for our technology, how could John describe a modern army without using symbolic language?
In order for the Bible to be the highest authority, it must be understood literally. We can take all the miracles and historical narratives in the Bible literally. Even the parables find their basis in true facts or stories.
Finally, the Bible does speak in symbolic language. It was common for the prophets to speak symbolically. We should just be careful not to reject historical events by calling them symbolic, rather than understanding that the prophet uses symbolism when he describes historical, present and future events.
In this chapter, we will look at some influences to avoid, or at least be cautious of, if you really want to understand scripture.
Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? - 1 Corinthians 1:20
In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.
- 2 Corinthians 4:4
Before I start, there are many good books written by and for Christians, they should supplement and not replace or precede personal Bible reading.
Recently a couple, from the Watchtower Society knocked on our door. After some small talk, they offered to do a Bible study with me so I agreed and invited them in. Then the truth came out, they did not want to study the Bible, they wanted to study a book about the Bible. I challenged them on this, and now I do not expect to see them again for a long while.
Yet studying books about the Bible, instead of the Bible is not limited to members of the Watchtower Society, it is common to many denominations. I have always enjoyed studying prophecy, especially prophecy of the last days. Yet in sharing with some believers, I have found those with such a different interpretation that it is hard to believe we are reading the same Bible. Often these brothers will recommend a book, to help me clear up my misunderstanding. It is common for them to share how they have gotten so much more understanding about end time events from reading the Left Behind series than they ever got reading the Bible. The fact is you do not have to study the Bible to write books about it.
Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.
- Matthew 15:14
On the topic of the blind leading the blind, Jesus said:
For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall show signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect.
- Mark 13:22
Do not think Jesus is speaking rhetorically here, or that it is impossible for the elect to be deceived. Rather, He is warning us to not be. Many of the elect are already deceived, as evidenced by the contradictory doctrines that are in the church. If some of the elect can be deceived today, what will happen when the false christs and prophets start showing us signs and wonders? Daniel Prophesied:
And some of them of understanding shall fall, to try them, and to purge, and to make them white, even to the time of the end: because it is yet for a time appointed. - Daniel 11:35
In searching for a cause, I believe one of the biggest problems today is that most Christians get their doctrine from books about the Bible, rather than prayerfully studying the Bible for themselves.
I can often tell what a Christian believes, simply by looking at his personal library. What makes this a problem is that humans tend to believe the first thing they read. If a book is compelling or charismatic, the reader may believe that the author is well versed in the Bible. Even a book that is ninety percent good teaching, for that reason, may be more dangerous than a book that is open heresy. Rat poison is 99.5% good food because it only takes a tiny bit of poison to kill.
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears - 2 Timothy 4:3
Have you noticed that Jesus never quoted a rabbi or extra biblical source as an authority on doctrine? In contrast, all other religions including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism quote from the Bible. The reason is that the Word of God is Powerful. The doctrine of false teachers has far more appeal when mixed with the truth of God’s word.
It is okay to read books about the Bible, but it is dangerous and foolish to use them as your major or only source of inspiration. If you read the Bible before you read another book about it, if they exist, you can spot verses taken out of context (Mistake 2) and it will help prevent preconceived ideas from hindering the truth. (Mistake 13) When you do read other books, double check their quotes to make sure they are not taking verses out of context.
You should avoid children's Bible stories that do not stick rigorously to the facts. Reading a book about Noah and the Ark, with the giraffes sticking their heads through holes in the roof, will cause more doubt than faith when they grow up. In December of 2010, Adventures in Odyssey portray Mary's husband Joseph, as a faithless doubting person during Jesus' birth. A child who listens to this series regularly will grow up thinking he knows the Bible, when in fact, all he knows is fiction from the "imagination station".
There are hundreds of religions, all competing with each other, all claiming to interpret the Bible correctly. Which one do you chose? The Apostle Paul said:
For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius. - 1 Corinthians 1:14
Even before the New Testament was collated, there were already divisions among Christians. Though Paul called them brothers, he condemned this error. You are in danger of making the same error, if you are following the teachings of some man. That is getting your doctrine from books rather than reading the Bible. Even the topical studies on this website should not replace reading the scripture. In fact, many of these studies were only written to counter, with scripture, the false doctrine in many of these books.
Finally how do you decide which books are safe to read? The truth is, they are all safe to read after you are solidly founded in Biblical truth. Even reading the poisonous ones can help you minister to the people deceived by them. Yet if you read these same books before you have studied what the Bible itself says on a subject, often the book will color your perception of what the Bible passage is saying when you read it later.
As I already mentioned, Jesus never quoted any other source than the Sacred Scriptures. Nor did he, or his disciples, recommend a commentary (the Talmud) to help interpret it. Bible commentaries have some value, yet how can you know which commentaries are doctrinally sound before you have learned sound doctrine?
The disciple is not above his master [teacher]: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master. - Luke 6:40
Why limit our understanding of God's word to a commentary? While there are many useful aids for the serious Bible student, I would rather have one good Bible concordance than all the Bible commentaries together.
With a concordance you can find any verse in a few minutes, even if you can remember only a few words. With a good concordance, you can see all the different English words translated from the original Greek or Hebrew word. Seeing how the early church used a word in different passages of scripture, helps us define the words without the commentary's (or lexicon's) bias.
A caution is necessary, in using a concordance to look up the keywords in a study may create the illusion you know your Bible thoroughly. However, this method has a major flaw; an important passage on a subject may not have the keywords you looked up in your search. For example, suppose you are doing a study on the devil. You look up all the verses with the words; devil, Satan, and Lucifer. You still would have missed verses like Genesis 3:1.
Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? - Genesis 3:1
One last caution relating to commentaries.
And again [Jesus] said, Whereunto shall I liken the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.
- Luke 13:20-21
I once had a debate with a good friend over the interpretation of this parable. During this time, we looked up this passage in many commentaries, about forty percent of the commentaries, and some of these only partially, agreed with my interpretation. This means that:
- If my interpretation is right, over half of commentaries were wrong.
- If my interpretation is wrong, still nearly half of the commentaries were wrong.
Either way, using a commentary could not resolve the issue satisfactorily. Thus, when you use a commentary, remember every opinion was not inspired by God.
The title says it all, the question is; how does one, especially a new believer, recognize a cult?
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. - Matthew 7:15-20
Not only must we be aware of cults, unfortunately, some Christian churches have cultic practices.
I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church.
- 3 John 1:9-10
After interviewing ex-cult members, I have made a list of things to look for and to avoid when looking for a home church. This list has become so long that now it is part of a separate study Recognizing Cults and Ministering to Cult Members.
Do you need a pastor to understand the Bible? No, actually, you do not. Like avoiding cultic influences, the scriptural admonition is to avoid a pastor (or anyone) who says you need them, or their organization, to understand God's Word. While a good pastor is a big help in understanding the Scripture, those who would elevate themselves over you are not obeying the Lord, if they are following Him at all. Let us look at a few scripture verses on this.
Neither be ye called masters [teachers]: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted. - Matthew 23:10-12
[Paul speaking of a conference he attended in Jerusalem,] But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man's person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me.
- Galatians 2:6
[Jesus himself said:] But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him. - 1 John 2:27
[Again Jesus said:] Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth. - John 16:13a
It is interesting that in the Bible, the word minister means servant. Today in many churches (and in the dictionary) we have redefined the word minister as the leader or senior church member. We are all brothers. The brother who is qualified to lead a Bible study will also have a teachable spirit.
Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.
- Matthew 13:52
Often Bible teachers, in trying to imitate Jesus, speak with authority.
And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
- Matthew 7:28-29
Unfortunately, some who speak with authority have little or no understanding of the verse they are eisegeting. When a passage of scripture is not clear, you should speak humbly as you try to expound on it, while also being open to correction. Speak with authority only when you are absolutely sure about the passage, and even then be careful.
Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. - 1 Corinthians 10:12
One final warning, some pastors have a stake in believing certain doctrines. It will be harder to persuade pastor of his error when his job depends on believing a false doctrine, than to wake a man who is pretending to sleep.
In closing, there are many faithful pastors who teach sound doctrine; nothing I have said should be construed as opposing them, rather as Paul taught:
Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine. - 1 Timothy 5:17
Often teachers, will make up stories or use examples from their own life. This is a good teaching aid as it helps us to remember the lesson. I would not hesitate to use examples or tell a parable when it helps to make a point. However, a good story should not to be mistaken for a true story. Nor should a true story be mistaken for good doctrine.
And swore by him that liveth forever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer. - Revelation 10:6
Perhaps a story I heard once can drive the point home. The teacher, who believed that there is no time in heaven or that God lives outside of time, quoted this verse (Mistake 2) and then explained it by telling a story about a parade.
God, who is outside of time, is like one who observers a parade from the sky. While we, inside of time, are like observers in the audience. As we watch the parade pass us, we see the beginning, then the middle, then the end. Yet from a position in the sky, you can see the beginning, middle and end of the parade all at the same time. God, in the same way from His position outside of time, can also see the beginning, middle and end of time at the same time.
This story has been used to prove convincingly that God is outside of time. Yet time is not a parade or vice versa, and being able to see an entire parade has nothing to do with being outside of time.
Often stories that are told as real are just stories. Just the other day, heard a poem I knew as a child, rewritten and told as a true story by a preacher on the radio.
Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
- 2 Timothy 4:2-4
For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little: - Isaiah 28:10
One technique of teaching (I call it line upon line instruction after this passage in Isaiah), is where, the teacher does not produce all the evidence before he draws a conclusion. Rather he shows one verse of scripture and draws an inference, and then he shows another verse and builds on the previous inference, doing this as it were, line upon line. One teacher, when asked, quoted the above verse in Isaiah to justify using this method. However, he did not quote Isaiah 28:13.
But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken. - Isaiah 28:13
In its simplest form, the teaching style to be avoided looks something like this:
- First line, we will learn the symbolic definitions for words.
- Second line, we will look at a verse that, with these new definitions, teaches the doctrine we are trying to prove.
- Last line, eisegete any remaining passages that do not fit our new worldview.
Used in a topical study, line upon line instruction, always comes to the foregone conclusion of the teacher, regardless of what the scriptures really teach. Although teaching doctrine line upon line does not prove the doctrine is false; if a teacher cannot be up front with everything he is teaching at the beginning of his study, it is likely he is not teaching the Gospel of Christ.
Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing. - John 18:20
The example of Daniel's seventy weeks in Mistake 7 is an example of line upon line. The teacher started by misunderstanding the word weeks. Next, he made the misunderstanding into a rule of interpretation. Finally, he uses the rule to interpret other prophecies in Scripture. As the first line is wrong, in time their predictions, like a house of cards, will also tumble down. Yet, to this teacher many passages of scripture cannot be understood without going through all those steps.
In advertising, the bait gets you into the store. When you arrive the salesman, claiming they are sold out, will switch the advertised product with another. If he does this on purpose it is false advertising and probably illegal.
The Bait and Switch is a normal tactic for cult leaders. Yet, many respected Christian leaders also do the same thing. Here is an example, Jesus warned,
And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: - Mark 9:45
Did Jesus teach that the fire will never be quenched? Some teachers do not believe this is so, and using Jeremiah as a proof text, say that the fire will die anyway.
''I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched. - Jeremiah 17:27
The argument is, that since the fire went out after it devoured the palaces, this passage proves that the fire Jesus talked about in Luke will also go out.
Did you notice the switch? The Jesus said never, Jeremiah only said not. Does changing a simple word like the word never to not, change the meaning of a sentence? The answer is yes, here are some examples:
- Does 'He did not lie' mean the same as 'He has never lied'?
- Does 'I did not start a fire' mean the same as 'I have never started a fire'?
- Does, 'the fire shall not be quenched' mean the same as 'the fire that never shall be quenched'?
In these illustrations, not refers to a definite limited period of time in the past or future. Never refers to an infinitely long, unlimited period of time.
In another example of bait and switch, some teachers eisegete forever and ever in the book of Revelation,
And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name. - Revelation 14:11
The teacher will then say that to understand this New Testament verse we must let the Bible define the Bible (the bait). Then they proceed to use a few passages out of the Old Testament (the switch).
Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall serve him forever. - Exodus 21:6
But Hannah went not up; for she said unto her husband, I will not go up until the child be weaned, and then I will bring him, that he may appear before the LORD, and there abide forever. - 1 Samuel 1:22
In such a case, if a teacher were really using the Bible to define the Bible, he would look in the New Testament where the same Greek words forever and ever are used. There are no shortage of passages, for instance Revelation chapters 1:6.
And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. - Revelation 1:6
If they would exegete these verses without the bait and switch, they would conclude that the Greek words translated forever and ever do mean, forever and ever - even when discussing punishment.
One final example of the bait and switch: More than once I have heard charismatic preachers say something like this: ''But what does God say? What does the Bible teach? . . .'' Then they proceed to teach something unscriptural, without even bothering to give a scripture citation. This is a common bait and switch, claiming to teach the Word of God, yet really teaching the opinion of man.
[Jesus said:] Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye. - Mark 7:13
Up to this point, I have spent most of my time discussing errors in interpreting scripture. If the church avoided these errors, sound doctrine would follow and with that unity. However, beyond avoiding the mistakes, there are some rules that would help us in our understanding of God’s Word. I have found the following to be helpful in my studies.
But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. - Matthew 18:16
''This is the third time I am coming to you. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established. - 2 Corinthians 13:1
One way to keep from misinterpreting the Bible is to have at least two or three passages (the witnesses), before you draw any conclusion. If you look at all the passages on a particular subject, before you try to develop your doctrine, you will avoid many mistakes.
Example, some denominations teach that when you baptize, you must say the words in the name of Jesus. This comes from the verse:
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. - Acts 2:38
Unfortunately, using this Key Verse (Mistake 3), they say that baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son and Holy Spirit, does not count. Once a person has his one verse theology, it is difficult to show them the need for a second witness.
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. - Matthew 28:19
One more example.
Now this was the manner in former time in Israel concerning redeeming and concerning changing, for to confirm all things; a man plucked off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbor: and this was a testimony in Israel. - Ruth 4:7
When I read this particular verse, ''For to confirm all things; a man plucked off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbor'', it implies to me that they were trading shoes all the time. But if we look at a second witness, this practice would be clarified and more accurately understood.
And if the man like not to take his brother's wife, then let his brother's wife go up to the gate unto the elders, and say, My husband's brother refuseth to raise up unto his brother a name in Israel, he will not perform the duty of my husband's brother. Then the elders of his city shall call him, and speak unto him: and if he stand to it, and say, I like not to take her; Then shall his brother's wife come unto him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face, and shall answer and say, So shall it be done unto that man that will not build up his brother's house. And his name shall be called in Israel, The house of him that hath his shoe loosed. - Deuteronomy 25:7-10
Before we start, let me share an excerpt from Abbott and Costello's parody Who is on First.
Costello (dressed as a popcorn vender): ''When you pay off the first base man every month, who gets the money?''
Abbott (dressed as a baseball player):''Every dollar of it. Why not? The man is entitled to it.''
Costello: ''Who is?''
Costello: ''So who gets it?''
Abbott: ''Why shouldn't he? Sometimes his wife comes down and collects it.''
Costello: ''Whose wife?''
Abbott: ''Yes, after all the man earns it.''
Costello: ''Who does?''
Costello: ''All I'm trying to find out is, What is the guys name on first base?''
Abbott: ''No. What is on second base!''
Costello: ''I'm not asking you who is on second base.''
Abbott: ''Who is on first!''
Costello: ''That's what I'm trying to find out!''
Abbott: ''Don't change the players around!''
Costello: ''I'm not changing nobody! What is the guys name on first base?''
Abbott: ''What is on second!''
Costello: ''I'm not asking you who is on second!''
The skit goes on like this until eventually Costello, without knowing what he is talking about, names all nine players on the baseball team. If Lou Costello knew who he was talking about, the skit would not have amused us. However, in studying the Bible, it is essential we understand who is talking to whom.
Christians often refer to the Bible as The Word of God. Amen! Yet the Bible records the words of countless other people, even angels, not to mention you know who. We must be careful that we know who is speaking in the different Bible passages so we can weigh their words properly. Look at these verses from The Book of Job as he speaks wisdom and prophecy.
For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me. - Job 19:25-27
In this passage, Job says that he believes in a living Redeemer. Job also expects God will resurrect his body and he will see God. These are amazing words.
Now, a few chapters later, in the same book, Eliphaz is speaking:
Acquaint now thyself with him, and be at peace: thereby good shall come unto thee. Receive, I pray thee, the law from his mouth, and lay up his words in thine heart. If thou return to the Almighty, thou shalt be built up, thou shalt put away iniquity far from thy tabernacles. Then shalt thou lay up gold as dust, and the gold of Ophir as the stones of the brooks. Yea, the Almighty shall be thy defence, and thou shalt have plenty of silver. For then shalt thou have thy delight in the Almighty, and shalt lift up thy face unto God. Thou shalt make thy prayer unto him, and he shall hear thee, and thou shalt pay thy vows. Thou shalt also decree a thing, and it shall be established unto thee: and the light shall shine upon thy ways. When men are cast down, then thou shalt say, There is lifting up; and he shall save the humble person. He shall deliver the island of the innocent: and it is delivered by the pureness of thine hands. - Job 22:21-30
These words are right from the Bible, yet should we use this passage to teach Christian doctrine? God answers the question himself at the end of the book, when he compares the words of Eliphaz to the words of Job.
And it was so, that after the LORD had spoken these words unto Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite, My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends: for ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath. - Job 42:7
Since the Lord was angry with Eliphaz, we should be careful before we quote Eliphaz as an authority on our doctrine. Before quoting someone in the Bible to support a teaching we should look at his qualifications. Is he a prophet? Is the person speaking even walking with God? It may be true that an ignorant person will sometimes speak correctly. However, unless we are sure the person has God's approval, we should be careful how we quote him.
It is equally important to find out to whom is the speaker is addressing. For instance, is the audience: Jewish or Gentile, an individual or a group, a believer or an unbeliever, an adult or child, man or woman, single or married? All these questions have a bearing on our understanding and application of scripture.
For instance, in the book of Matthew, Jesus said,
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. - Matthew 5:17-19
Two important points:
- Jesus did not say; the law was until the start of the New Testament dispensation, He said the Law would not pass before the heaven and earth did.
- Jesus did not warn about breaking The Ten Commandments; he warned about breaking even one of the least of the commandments.
In spite of Jesus' sermon, a few years later, the Apostle Paul came teaching a doctrine that appears to be completely opposite.
But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
- Galatians 3:23-26
My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you, I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you. Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? - Galatians 4:19-21
Why did Paul stand in doubt of the believers in Galatia? Because they placed themselves under Mosaic Law. So, do we keep the law (Matthew 5:19), or don't we? How do we explain this apparent contradiction? Easy, Jesus is talking to the Jews; Paul is talking to the Gentiles. The book of Acts will support this answer:
17 - And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present. And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry.
20 - And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law:
21 - And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs.
22-23 What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come. Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them;
24 - Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law.
25- As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication.
We all know Paul was a Jew, yet few realize that Paul tried to keep the law (Acts 21:24). However, Paul in his letter to the Gentiles warns them not to believe salvation comes by observing the law. Paul never contradicted Jesus by condemning the Jewish believers for keeping the law. (Acts 21:20-21)
I have one last example, to show why it is important to know if the speaker is addressing an individual, or a multitude.
[Paul and Silas] said, [to the jailer] Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. - Acts 16:31
Using this verse, some preachers teach that if we had enough faith our families would be also saved. However, in this passage Paul and Silas are replying to their jailer who just asked what he must do to be saved. Did Paul and Silas promise us that our families would be saved? Or, did they promise the Jailer his family? The answer is, the Jailer was promised his family. This is because Paul was not writing this as an epistle to the church (plural), he was prophesying to an individual (singular), a prophecy that did come to pass. Compare Paul’s words to those of Jesus when he spoke to those (plural) who would come to believe on him, saying:
For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. - Matthew 10:35-37
Another important principle as you try to understand a passage, look at how the thought of a verse flows with the rest of the passage. Let's us consider the doctrine of soul sleep as we read a portion of 1st Peter.
For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him. Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; - 1 Peter 3:17-4:1
What is the overall thought Peter is trying to communicate? I see that Peter is trying to encourage us in our suffering. He begins by sharing how Jesus suffered for us, and ends by admonishing us to be armed with the same mind.
What does he mean when he says, ''By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison'' ? Peter expounds on this verse with additional comments (the middle paragraph). If you believe that Christ went and preached unto the spirits in prison when He suffered for us, the thought in all these verses will flow together. However, those who believe in soul sleep, do not believe Jesus preached to the disobedient at this time because they would have been sleeping. So, why in the middle of discussing Jesus’ example of suffering, would Peter go off topic and discuss preaching to those who were disobedient in Noah's day?
In using the flow of thought, like taking scripture in context, you should ask yourself if it is likely, or at least possible, that the author would be discussing your interpretation of a particular verse at that point in his dissertation.
The difference between using the flow of thought and taking a verse in context is when you look for context you look for connections with the surrounding passages. Words such as and, or, but, so, then, for and therefore. For thoughts to harmonize they do not need to have any connections. for instance in the introduction to his epistles or before he gives us admonition, Paul as well as in many others, often give us hints as to why they are writing. Understanding their motives will help us to properly apply their counsel.
Let's look at Jude for our last example.
Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. - Jude 1:7
Those who do not believe in an eternal punishment will often quote Jude 1:7 as a proof text, pointing out how eternal fires burn out. If rather than quoting this verse out of context (Mistake 2) they looked at the flow of thought in Jude, they would see an entirely different picture.
Here is a copy of a page from the codex Sinaiticus, an early copy of John chapter 1.
First, let us look at grammar and punctuation, notice that this early Greek manuscript is ALL CAPS, no spaces, not much punctuation. Like this Greek manuscript, the ancient Hebrew Scriptures from Moses' time would be hard to compare to modern English.
The early Greek and Hebrew Scriptures do not differentiate between upper and lower case letters. ''Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee.'' would have read something like: ''PRAY FOR THE PEACE OF JERUSALEM: THEY SHALL PROSPER THAT LOVE THEE.''
The earliest Hebrew and Greek Scriptures did not place spaces between their words. These early manuscripts would read: ''PRAYFORTHEPEACEOFJERUSALEM:THEYSHALLPROSPERTHATLOVETHEE.''
Even the punctuation in the ancient manuscripts is missing now it reads PRAYFORTHEPEACEOFJERUSALEMTHEYSHALLPROSPERTHATLOVETHEE
The earliest Hebrew Scriptures, going even further, did not use vowels; these were added by scribes years later, now it looks like you will need a Scribe to understand PRYFRTHPCFJRSLMTHYSHLLPRSPRTHTLVTH
And of course the Hebrew reads HTVLTHTRPSRPLLHSYHTMLSRJFCPHTRFYRP that is from right to left.
Fortunately, their vocabulary was smaller than ours. And to make up for the lack of vowels in the Hebrew, there were enough consonants in a word to decipher it. In addition, some letters looked different when placed at the end (make that the beginning for the Hebrew) of a word. Moreover, the Greek used more inflections. For instance, a single Greek verb could have nearly 400 different spellings, today English replaces most of these inflections, using instead, fixed word location.
The important point of this ungrammar lesson is not to place too much emphasis on a verse's grammar or punctuation. Capital letters, paragraph spacing, and other punctuation, may be subject to your sincere challenge. This is true in both the Old and New Testaments. Be careful therefore, as you trust your interpretation to a comma. For example, when the thief said, ''Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom'', did Jesus say:
Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise. - Luke 23:43
Verily I say unto thee Today, shalt thou be with me in paradise. - Luke 23:43
If you believe in soul sleep, obviously the second sentence has to be correct (Mistake 13, preconceived ideas). So what rules could we use to help us place the coma?
Let's use two or three witnesses to develop doctrine (Rule 5).
- Jesus was recorded seventy-six other times saying: ''Verily I say unto thee,''
- Jesus was never recorded in any other place saying: ''Verily I say unto thee today,''
Also, if we understand a verse properly, the thoughts should flow in harmony (Rule 7).
If, in Luke’s account, Jesus said: Verily I say unto thee, … He would be stressing the importance of the words that were to follow, as opposed to stressing that he was talking on that particular today.
If Jesus said: Verily I say unto thee today, (with the comma after today) shalt thou be with me in paradise. The word today did not add stress; (harmonize with the previous words) it only added confusion. And, the confusion of this one word has caused most Christians throughout the centuries to misunderstand the verse.
Getting back on topic, it is important that in the English language, a comma in the wrong spot can substantially change the meaning of a verse. While I do not have any special rules on grammar, you should be aware of these issues. May the Holy Spirit guide you as you study the grammar in your Bible.
Jots and tittles
For verily I [Jesus] say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. - Matthew 5:18
In this statement, Jesus assures us of the preservation of the Mosaic Law. I do not think this promise applies to every translation. We can see the problem if we look at the evolution of our own language, for instance, over time we can see many differences in punctuation. The following two verses say the same thing; only the first one was penned, nearly four-hundred years earlier. The differences in punctuation are underlined.
And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations. - Genesis 48:19 King James version
400 years later,
But his father refused and said, ''I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations.''- Genesis 48:19 New King James Version
In the King James Version (and some other versions) the translators added the italicized words to help smooth out the reading, though the italicized words are not in the original manuscript. While the italicized words are implied, they should not change the meaning of a sentence. When Jesus said ''Blessed are the meek'', we know that he is referring to people, though he did not actually say it. In the same way, a person speaking in Greek could say, ''Blessed is a meek'', however translating into English we would add the word person to his sentence. The translators italicized these added words to help us see this. However, in some modern translations, there is no effort to help you discern between the translator’s additions and the original manuscript.
Some Bibles have paragraph marks (¶) or bold verse numbers to indicate paragraph breaks. Today many modern Bibles do not even have these. I will confess that I made some paragraph breaks in this study to make the passages that were under scrutiny easier to follow.
You should not place to much importance in paragraph breaks as the different Bible versions place paragraph brakes in different places. In an older King James Version, Mark chapter two has its first paragraph break at verse eleven. My New King James Version puts a paragraph break after verse four. The New International Version places the first paragraph break after verse five.
Chapter and verse numbers
Chapter and verse numbers were added to the Bible by copyists and translators fairly recently. Except for the book of Psalms, we should be careful if we let them divide a passage or thought.
As we seek a formula to understand symbolic language in scripture, we should keep in mind that it is God who enlightens us to understand Spiritual truths. However, he often does that through the Bible. For instance, in some passages, like Daniel chapter seven, the angel himself will give us the proper interpretation. Yet what do we do with the other passages that speak in symbolic language? For instance, how should we interpret this vision in the book of Revelation?
And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: - Revelation 12:1
To understand this passage , we must understand how our Lord would define the words: woman, sun, moon and crown of twelve stars. To do this let us look at other passages to see how the same symbolic words are defined. Since some words have several meanings, we should be careful and thoroughly research a particular word before coming to a conclusion. With this in mind, let us look at other verses to see how they define the word woman.
For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee: and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee. - Isaiah 62:5
I have likened the daughter of Zion to a comely and delicate woman. - Jeremiah 6:2
For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. - 2 Corinthians 11:2
In every parable I saw, the woman represented Israel or the Church. Now, let’s look at verses containing the sun and moon.
And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. - Genesis 1:16
But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. - Malachi 4:2
Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. - 1 Thessalonians 5:5
From these verses I see a correlation between the sun (or day) and good. And between the moon (or night) and evil. Now let us search the scriptures for the crown of twelve stars. How in the Bible do we see the number twelve used?
Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. - Matthew 19:28
Could each star represent a tribe of Israel? Could they represent each of the twelve apostles? The way the Scripture uses twelve implies it may be a special number that God has used when he describes his government.
Going back to the vision in Revelation 12:1, and using the Bible's own figurative language to define words, it reads:
And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman [God's chosen people] clothed with the sun [walking in righteousness], and the moon under her feet [she has overcome Satan], and upon her head a crown of twelve stars [twelve, because she is reigning with God; stars because she does so in righteousness]: - Revelation 12:1
Some words of warning, as we use the Bible to define symbolic language. We must do it carefully as sometimes we can find two conflicting meanings. For example, what if someone from the Watchtower Society shows you the following verse,
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. - Revelation 21:1
And then explains how, using the Bible to define words, the word sea does not mean sea, rather it means wicked people.
But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. - Isaiah 57:20
Thus the world will last (Mistake 6), but the wicked will not. However, words can have more than one symbolic meaning, Isaiah also said,
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. - Isaiah 11:9
And Habakkuk concurs,
For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. - Habakkuk 2:14
So using the Bible to define the Bible, if we are not careful we could teach that some day there will be no more knowledge of the Lord. Though nobody would teach that, they have taught other errors using the same logic. Since many cults use symbolic language to find secret meanings in the Scripture, we must have some safeguards.
- Finding a symbolic meaning for a word in other passages, doesn't prove it is the interpretation for the passage in question, it is only one possibility.
- In parables, different words can have the same symbolic meaning, in Matthew 13:3 it is the ground that is good or evil, in Matthew 13:24 it is the seeds.
- Never learn important doctrine from obscure passages or allegories unless the doctrine is also taught plainly in other passages of Scripture.
- As a side note, be careful when looking for spiritual meanings in numbers, while they may be found, many have gotten carried away and ignored a passage's clear teaching and changed its meaning for a personal interpretation based on numbers (Mistake 11).
In order to understand a verse properly, we must understand the topic under discussion or even better the topic of the whole book. For example, does the Bible teach that the earth is suspended on pillars?
Which shaketh the earth out of her place, and the pillars thereof tremble. - Job 9:6
Some Bible skeptics use passages like this to prove the scriptures are not scientific or reliable. To see if this accusation has any merit, let's look it from two different perspectives.
The first is that the earth really is set on pillars:
Perhaps God did establish the earth on pillars. One theory that makes sense in light of current understanding implies that there is a subterranean water system. The theory includes pillars that separate the earth’s core from the earth’s crust. Some verses out of Psalms that may hint at this are: Psalm 18:15, Psalm 24:2, Psalm 104:3 and Psalm 136:6.
While this theory is too involved to go into here, I recommend Dr. Walt Brown’s creation science website www.creationscience.com/onlinebook/. When Job said pillars, it may take faith (Rule 4) to believe he is scientifically accurate after all.
There is also a second perspective that should be looked at:
Does the above verse actually teach that the earth is set on (some sort of granite) pillars? The skeptic is selectively quoting from the book of Job who will, a few verses later, very specifically say,
He [the Lord] stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing. - Job 26:7
As we see we, Job knew the world was suspended on nothing after all, there must be something else we are expected to learn. To see this, we must try to understand what the topic is. For example, imagine that you see a beautiful sunset and it inspires you to cry out, ''Wow, what a beautiful sunset.'' Since your topic is the beauty of the evening sky, rather than astronomy, everyone should be able to understand you. However, any mindless person, who wishes, can deliberately misunderstand you. Yet their objection to your using the word sunset does not prove that you do not know it is the earth that rotates and not the sun that sets.
However if your topic was astronomy, we would expect you to be more specific or to clearly show that the earth is spinning rather than the sun setting.
Getting back to the topic Understand the Topic Being Discussed, Job was not teaching cosmology, or we would expect him to more clearly define pillars. If the skeptics understand that he was pouring out his grief, like someone blissfully describing a sunset, why are they hung up on the legalistic definition (Mistake 8) of the word pillar?
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. - James 1:17
Though being consistent is essential to sound doctrine, it is obvious that consistency by itself is nothing. It should go without saying, that if you are applying foolish principles, applying them consistently will be of no value. Or, if you cannot apply a rule of interpretation consistently, then you not the rule become the final arbiter. Discard any rule of interpretation that cannot be used consistently.
Prophecy is a special portion of the scripture. It is in the fulfilled prophecy that we see the divine signature. Yet, it is in the unfulfilled prophecy that we see the most contradictions in the churches different interpretations. Therefore, here are some special rules to apply in your study of eschatology (the study of end time prophecy).
Be careful not to fall into the trap of saying or thinking: This prophecy cannot come to pass. God knew the end at the beginning. All prophecy from God will happen exactly as he has spoken it since the beginning.
If thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him. - Deuteronomy 18:21
Concerning prophecy, God says it is all or nothing. Now let us look at an example. Many professing Christians believe the nation of Israel is no longer Gods chosen people. With their preconceived idea (Mistake 13), the following passages in Zechariah are completely lost to them.
Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people round about, when they shall be in the siege both against Judah and against Jerusalem. And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it.
- Zechariah 12:2-3
Behold, the day of the LORD cometh, and thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee. For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then shall the LORD go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle. - Zechariah 14:1-3
In discussing the end days with many Christian brothers, I have often heard (and read), ''This prophecy cannot come to pass'', rather, they believe that many of God’s prophecies were conditional.
It is true that when God’s prophesies to an individual, it may be conditional to his behavior. This was actually the mission of the prophet, using his gift of prophecy; like God sending Jonah to Nineveh to turn the people from their sin, and thereby avert the very doom he predicted. Some have suggested that Jonah’s prophecy failed, Nineveh was not destroyed, when exactly the opposite is true, Jonah’s preaching saved the city of Nineveh.
And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. - Jonah 3:4
Again, when I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; if he turn from his sin, and do that which is lawful and right; If the wicked restore the pledge, give again that he had robbed, walk in the statutes of life, without committing iniquity; he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of his sins that he hath committed shall be mentioned unto him: he hath done that which is lawful and right; he shall surely live. Ezekiel 33:14-16
While the purpose of prophecy will always be to turn people from their sin, there are two types that are never conditional. The prophecies of Jesus’ first coming were not conditional; rather the time and events prophesied were absolute. This same rule goes for prophecies concerning His second coming.
Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be? - Matthew 26:53-54
Remember this, and show yourselves men: bring it again to mind, O ye transgressors. Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:
- Isaiah 46:8-10
Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man. - Luke 21:36
It is the absolute and unconditional-nature of the Messianic prophecies that turn people from their sin. You will not make proper application in your own life if you do not believe that they will all come to pass.
If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold. - Numbers 12:6b-8a
The Hebrew word for dark is khee-daw'. It translates as a puzzle; hence a trick, conundrum, sententious maxim.
It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honor of kings is to search out a matter.
- Proverbs 25:2
In The Book of Numbers, the Lord tells Aaron and Miriam that he differentiates between Moses and other prophets. To Moses the Law Giver, He would speak plainly. To the other prophets (and reading them will confirm this truth) he spoke in parables or symbolic language.
And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. - Matthew 13:10-11
Some points about a jigsaw puzzle:
- If you use enough force, you can get the wrong pieces to fit together.
- If you put the wrong pieces together the picture will not be what the artist intended.
- When the right pieces are fit, they will just snap together!
To be honest, for some Christians, studying the Bible is not very exciting. Where there should be a magnificent sunrise, they see modern art. While excitement is not perfect evidence that what you believe is true, if there is no excitement in your Bible studies (assuming you have a relationship with the Lord) you may have some puzzle pieces in the wrong place.
The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the LORD. Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces? Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, saith the LORD, that steal my words every one from his neighbor. - Jeremiah 23:29-30
So how can you tell if your puzzle pieces are in the right place? I recommend studying the fulfilled prophecies of the Lord’s first coming in the Old Testament. As you study these prophecies, though a little like puzzle pieces, they read plainly. In fact so plainly, that there is little disagreement among Christians on their interpretation. Once you have studied Jesus’ first coming, then try studying prophecy about the end times. Do you interpretations read plainly and similarly to the prophecies of Jesus' first coming?
Let's look at an example is in Ezekiel 38, the common interpretation of this passage is that Russia will invade Israel immediately before or just after the start of the Great Tribulation period. Let us test this theory. However, if you are not familiar with Ezekiel 38 you should read Ezekiel 38:1 to verse 39:29 before you start this exercise.
If these events happen at the start of the Great Tribulation (the most common interpretation) the puzzle pieces should fit together.
If Ezekiel 38 happens at the end of the Great Tribulation (my interpretation) the puzzle will fit together better this way. Lets start.
And you shall go up, coming like a storm. You shall be like a cloud to cover the land, you and all your bands, and many peoples with you. - Ezekiel 38:9
If you read Ezekiel, you know these armies are wasted. Will these nations recover to come up against Israel again seven years later at the end of the Great Tribulation? If this interpretation is right, they must for the pieces to fit together.
While other prophets predict a huge multitude of people come to the battle of Armageddon at the end of The Great Tribulation, does any other prophet predict a multitude will come against Israel at the beginning of the Great Tribulation? (Rule 5)
And you shall come up on My people Israel like a cloud, to cover the land. It shall be in the last days, and I will bring you against My land, so that the nations may know Me when I shall be sanctified in you, O Gog, before their eyes. - Ezekiel 38:16
Do the nations come to know the Lord at the beginning Great Tribulation? If this interpretation is right, they must come to know the Lord for the pieces to fit together.
For in My jealousy and in the fire of My wrath I have spoken, Surely in that day there shall be a great quaking in the land of Israel, so that the fish of the sea, and the birds of the heavens, and the beasts of the field, and all creeping things that creep on the earth, and all the men on the face of the earth, shall quake at My presence. And the mountains shall be thrown down, and the steep places shall fall, and every wall shall fall to the ground.
- Ezekiel 38:19-20
In making the pieces fit, do any other prophets predict similar events before the Great Tribulation or at the end?
So I will magnify Myself and sanctify Myself. And I will be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am Jehovah. - Ezekiel 38:23
Once the Lord makes himself known in the eyes of many nations, will they still take the mark of the beast? Will would they fight in the battle of Armageddon only seven years later?
You shall fall on the mountains of Israel, you and all your bands, and the people with you. I will give you for food to the birds of prey of every kind, and to the beasts of the field.
- Ezekiel 39:4
When does another prophet say the Lord will feed the birds in this manner?
And I will make My holy name known in the midst of My people Israel. And I will not let them profane My holy name any more. And the nations shall know that I am Jehovah, the Holy One in Israel. - Ezekiel 39:7
When does Israel will come to know the Lord Jehovah; at the beginning of the Great Tribulation or at the end? For the pieces to fit, should it happen at the same time?
And they that dwell in the cities of Israel shall go forth, and shall set on fire and burn the weapons, both the shields and the bucklers, the bows and the arrows, and the handstaves, and the spears, and they shall burn them with fire seven years: - Ezekiel 39:9
Read the portion of scripture surrounding verse nine. Does it sound like the start of the Great Tribulation or a seven-year celebration? How would the pieces of the puzzle fit best?
I hope you see that the puzzle pieces do not fit very well in this interpretation. Would not these pieces fit better if we understood this passage to teach the invasion of Israel happens at the end of the Great Tribulation?
One final point in concluding, though we study diligently, we may not understand all prophecy until after the Lord’s return.
But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end.
- Daniel 12:4a
And it is better to not understand, than to misunderstand any passage (Mistake 13). For an example of why it may be necessary to wait (Rule 2), look at the book of Jeremiah:
Thus saith the LORD; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not.
- Jeremiah 31:15
Many years later, during the Roman occupation of Israel, Matthew records:
Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not. - Matthew 2:16-18
Before Herod's reign, it would have impossible to predict from Jeremiah’s prophecy that Herod was going to massacre the children of Bethlehem. Now, after the fulfillment, this prophecy, though morbid, is easy to understand. Perhaps we shall not finish the whole puzzle before we get to heaven, for as Paul said:
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. - 1 Corinthians 13:12
Having patience is important, some must believe that they understand it all now. There impatience causes them to error, and later when they would have understood a passage, their preconceived interpretation will hinder them. Even so, there are many prophecies of the end times that we can understand. For instance:
Men [will be] fainting from fear, and expecting those things which have come on the earth. For the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. - Luke 21:26
When the events prophesied in Luke 21 start to happen, because Jesus prophesied it, the same events that cause men to faint will encourage the saints that God is really in control.
Once a prophecy has been fulfilled, it may still have an even greater fulfillment in the future. Why twice? And why a greater fulfillment the second time?
- First, we have a prophecy.
- Then we see its first fulfillment.
- We then see a second, even greater, fulfillment.
- Looking back, the first fulfillment was really an allegory of the second and more important fulfillment.
There are a handful of really spectacular events that have happened in history. Noah’s flood, Moses leading the Hebrews out of Egypt, The Lord’s first coming and finally we look forward to the Lord’s second coming at the end of the age. Stories in the Bible are often allegories of important events. If this sounds confusing, let us look at an example of David who wanted to build a house to the Lord. However, the prophet Nathan forbade him, saying his son would build the house.
1. We see the first prophecy of Nathan.
And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build an house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
- 2 Samuel 7:12-13
2. Then we see its first fulfillment.
Both David and Solomon believed by Nathan’s prophecy that Solomon would build the temple. We see this in Solomon's prayer at the dedication of temple.
And [Solomon] said, Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, which spake with his mouth unto David my father, and hath with his hand fulfilled it, saying, Since the day that I brought forth my people Israel out of Egypt, I chose no city out of all the tribes of Israel to build an house, that my name might be therein; but I chose David to be over my people Israel. And it was in the heart of David my father to build an house for the name of the LORD God of Israel. And the LORD said unto David my father, Whereas it was in thine heart to build an house unto my name, thou didst well that it was in thine heart. Nevertheless thou shalt not build the house; but thy son that shall come forth out of thy loins, he shall build the house unto my name. And the LORD hath performed his word that he spake, and I am risen up in the room of David my father, and sit on the throne of Israel, as the LORD promised, and have built an house for the name of the LORD God of Israel. And I have set there a place for the ark, wherein is the covenant of the LORD, which he made with our fathers, when he brought them out of the land of Egypt. And Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the congregation of Israel, and spread forth his hands toward heaven: And he said, LORD God of Israel, there is no God like thee, in heaven above, or on earth beneath, who keepest covenant and mercy with thy servants that walk before thee with all their heart: Who hast kept with thy servant David my father that thou promisedst him: thou spakest also with thy mouth, and hast fulfilled it with thine hand, as it is this day. Therefore now, LORD God of Israel, keep with thy servant David my father that thou promisedst him, saying, There shall not fail thee a man in my sight to sit on the throne of Israel; so that thy children take heed to their way, that they walk before me as thou hast walked before me.
- 1 Kings 8:15-25
Solomon plainly understood that it was he himself who fulfilled this prophecy; however, this is not the end of the matter.
3. We now see a second, even greater, fulfillment. It was Jesus building his church that fulfilled this prophecy in a greater way.
a. He is the son of David.
b. He reigns now as the King of kings.
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. - Matthew 28:18
c. He is building his temple the church.
Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
- 1 Corinthians 3:16
d. His kingdom will have no end.
He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. - Luke 1:32-33
4. Knowing how much greater Jesus is than Solomon, looking back, it is easy to see that Solomon’s first temple was really an allegory of the second and more important fulfillment, God’s church.
We can apply this to other prophecies as well, for instance let's look at the Abomination of Desolation.
- We begin with Daniel predicting the Abomination of Desolation.
- It was believed by many, and still is, that Antiochus the 4th committed this abomination.
- Years later, Jesus warned us to watch for the Abomination of Desolation, thus implying it was still a future event.
- The Abomination of Desolation will happen in the future. To see how look at the study On the Wings of an Eagle.
By studying the events surrounding Antiochus the 4th we will find clues to help us understand the greater fulfillment of this prophecy when it happens.
The prophets of God though they have seen into the future, still have a time barrier to overcome. For example, the prophet Daniel received a vision that will not be understood before the end times - even he did not understand it.
And I heard, but I understood not: then said I, O my Lord, what shall be the end of these things? And he said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end. Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand.
- Daniel 12:8-10
Since the Lord sealed the vision until the time of the end, all the interpretations prior to the time of end are only guesses. However, in contrast, the book of Revelation was not sealed. The saints could understand the book of Revelation since the time of its writing. This means that any interpretation we have today, was also possible in the latter half of the first century.
And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand. - Revelation 22:10
Even so John had a problem of the time barrier, and the problem is in language. While many prophets speak of the Battle of Armageddon, how would a prophet technically describe the events?
Neither shall one thrust another; they shall walk every one in his path: and when they fall upon the sword, they shall not be wounded. - Joel 2:8
In this verse, he seems to speak of a bulletproof vest, however, I must be careful as I try interpret Bible prophesy in light of contemporary thought. Every generation since Christ, has had those who thought they were the final generation. Joel may not be talking about bulletproof vests in this verse, he may be prophesying about military technology that we have not yet invented.
Just suppose for a moment you were a prophet of God two thousand years ago and you had a vision that included things like jet aircraft, computers, televisions and modern military weapons. How would you describe these modern marvels with a vocabulary void of our modern technological terms?
Like the noise of chariots on the tops of mountains shall they leap, like the noise of a flame of fire that devoureth the stubble, as a strong people set in battle array. - Joel 2:5
And he will lift up an ensign to the nations from far, and will hiss unto them from the end of the earth: and, behold, they shall come with speed swiftly:None shall be weary nor stumble among them; none shall slumber nor sleep; neither shall the girdle of their loins be loosed, nor the latchet of their shoes be broken: Whose arrows are sharp, and all their bows bent, their horses' hooves shall be counted like flint, and their wheels like a whirlwind.
- Isaiah 5:26-28
Computers or televisions:
And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed. - Revelation 13:15
And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone [or sulfer, an ingredient in gunpowder]. By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths. For their power is in their mouth, and in their tails: for their tails were like unto serpents, and had heads, and with them they do hurt. - Revelation 9:17-19
If a prophet had a vision of our modern technology, he would have had at least two problems. First, he had no prior education to understand it. Second, he does not have the words necessary to describe our technology in his vocabulary. He must use the words, if not the thought patterns, with which he was familiar.
A second problem we have because of the time barrier is that we ourselves cannot see into the future. Events written by the prophets may seem impossible to take literally. However the future alignment of nations, future inventions, etc, may make some passages that seem impossible today, and therefore hard to believe, easy to understand and easy for God to execute in the future.
Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. - Mark 9:24b
As most Bible students know, we do not have access to the original manuscripts. The English language has many versions of the sacred scriptures, each trying to bring understanding to the inspired words. Thus in recent years, some Christians have shied away from the King James Version saying the words are too difficult to understand.
Though everything in this study applies to other versions, let us look at some of the issues you should consider before choosing a Bible.
One major problem with modern translations is that the church has entrusted the guardianship of the sacred scriptures to big business. Is it not the church's responsibility to translate the scriptures and spread the Gospel?
However, when you buy a modern translation you are paying for a license to read the book. You own the paper and leather cover, but not the words. This means that in the modern translations you may make only partial quotes; you may not quote any book in its entirety without the publisher's prior written consent.
For example, The New International Version allows you to quote up to 500 verses, if the verses quoted amount to less than a whole book of the Bible and the verses quoted are less than 25% of the work in which they are quoted, and then you must put their copyright notice on your finished work. You cannot quote even one verse from the Amplified Bible without the publisher's prior written consent.
In other words, if you chose a modern translation, you are not free to go out and proclaim the whole Gospel. Knowing history, why would the church turn over the stewardship of the Word of God to commercial publishers?
As all quotes in this study are from the King James Version (KJV), either I do not have written permission from the legal owners of the other versions or, as you may guess, there is another important reason for choosing the King James Version. There are about 3000 differences between the Received Text (from which we get the King James Version) and the Critical Text (the manuscript used for most modern translations).
If the Bible is the Word of God, it gives guidelines on salvation and warnings to those who reject them. To check these examples, get a King James and a modern translation to compare the differences. The verses are quoted from the King James Version, where the words are struck through they are missing in the modern translations (except for the New King James Version).
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen. - Matthew 6:13
Did Jesus teach us to pray that the kingdom, and the power, and the glory belonged to his father, or didn't he?
But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance - Matthew 9:13
Did Jesus call sinners to repentance or didn't he?
For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. - Matthew 18:11
Did scribes add this passage to Matthew centuries later?
And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city. - Mark 6:11
Did Jesus warn, It would be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah than for people who rejected these very words?
And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God. - Luke 4:4
Do men live by every word of God? Or is this too, a notion and false teaching of some zealous scribe?
In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. - John 5:3-4
Was this miracle in the original manuscript? If so, why is it removed from the modern translations? If not, then the next question is, what other miracles have been added to the Bible?
While many of the 3000 differences may be trivial, in every single instance where there is a significant difference in doctrine; it is the Received Text or King James Version that:
- Calls to repentance and holiness.
- Teaches the virgin birth.
- Teaches the lordship, messiah-ship and preeminence of Jesus.
- Teaches the deity of Jesus Christ.
- Teaches that Jesus made an atonement for our sins with his blood.
- Teaches the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- Warns of God’s judgment to come.
We have two choices, either those people who believe these doctrines tampered with their Bible, or those who do not believe these doctrines tampered with their Bible.
Proponents of the modern translations argue that every one of these fundamental Christian doctrines are found in their Bible. This is true, still fundamental doctrines are missing from many passages and diluted in others. While it can be helpful to use more than one translation to help clarify a passage’s meaning, be careful, in using modern translations. Is the passage clarified or neutered?
Some may still favor a modern version saying the KJV is too hard to understand. However, is the easiest way always the best? It may take a little getting used to; however, it is far easier for everyone to use the KJV in a Bible study and follow along than when everyone is reading from a different modern version. Keeping to one version is especially useful for children, or when you are trying to memorize the scripture.
But does not the archaic language cause a problem? Actually, the archaic language of the KJV gives it an interesting advantage. In the KJV, the thee, thou and thine are singular, while all the ye, you and yours are in the plural (like you all). These singular and plural distinctions in the original manuscripts are missing in the modern translations. Here are two examples:
But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, [singular] and comest thou to me? - Matthew 3:14
And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you [plural] fishers of men.
- Matthew 4:19
To see over 100 significant differences between the King James Version and the modern translations, how the Critical Text was edited, and how the editors themselves do not believe in the inerrancy of the Critical Text see our study on the King James Version vs the Modern Translations.
Many good Christians disagree with me on my opinion of modern translations, and unless the Lord convicts them (I know I tried), they will have a hard time replacing their favorite Bible. In concluding, if you disagree with me, let us disagree charitably. I only ask that you pray as Jesus maybe taught in Luke 11:2: Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.
We have looked at many rules and many of the mistakes not to make, let's look at how we should study the Bible. While this may seem like a lot of work for every verse of the Bible, with some practice it will become second nature. Extra work is necessary when we study any doctrine or passage that that is controversial.
Study [be diligent] to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. - 2 Timothy 2:15
Finally, let us add the following outline to what we have learned.
- We must come with a prayerful attitude.
- Divide the chapter you will study into sections (complete thoughts).
- Read the section, being careful to see every word.
- Be sure to define the words properly.
- Now look for the interpretation.
- Find the personal application.
The following verse is one of the most commonly misunderstood parable in the New Testament. So using this outline and the rules we have learned, let us see if we can interpret it properly.
Again he [Jesus] said, Whereunto shall I liken the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.
- Luke 13:20-21
A brother and myself got into a debate over this verse. We went so far as to take a poll and see how other Christians interpreted this verse. In this poll, I lost unanimously. Therefore, this will be a perfect verse to apply the techniques learned in this study.
Most of the Christians who were polled interpreted the parable something like this.
Jesus is teaching about the kingdom of God. It is like leaven [the Gospel] that the woman [Jesus or the church] took and hid in three measures of meal [the church or the world] until the whole was leavened [the Gospel had spread through the whole world].
Based on our poll, it is likely my reader will agree with the majority’s interpretation. So let's go through these six steps avoiding the mistakes and applying the rules (at least the ones you believe are sound) as we study at this parable.
You must be born again
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are Spiritually discerned.
- 1 Corinthians 2:14
If you have any doubts, please take our Two Question Test it will show you what it means to be born again.
You must have Humility
But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. - James 4:6
You must have Patience
Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. - James 5:7
You must have Faith
But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. - Hebrews 11:6
Avoid Trying to be Amused
Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart. - Psalms 119:34
And the harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine, are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of the LORD, neither consider the operation of his hands. - Isaiah 5:12
Avoid Allowing Preconceived Ideas to Hinder Learning
Everyone we approached in our poll had preconceived ideas, as the verse was new to nobody. Some did not allow their preconceived ideas to hinder their learning, others were not open to correction.
Avoid Reading the Bible to Prove Doctrine, Not to Learn It
The secret to growing spiritually, is to not study only the passages of scripture which prove a doctrine that you already believe.
Before we study individual verses, we should subdivide the book or chapter into manageable portions. Each portions should be a complete thought. To study this parable I would make a portion starting at Luke 13:10 when Jesus entered the synagogue and began teaching, and continue through verse 21 when He left. Dividing the chapter will make it a manageable size, and help us avoid the big mistake...
Avoid Taking Scripture Verses Out of Context
To understand the parable of the woman kneading her leaven, it will be helpful to see if and how these verses are connected to the previous ones. (Does it start with something like an And, Then or Therefore?) I believe a careful study will show that this parable connects back at least ten verses. If so, these connections imply that this parable is addressing the indignant ruler of the synagogue mentioned in verse fourteen, this may be an important clue.
The Flow of Thought Should Harmonize
In Luke 13:10 Jesus is teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath when a woman comes for healing. As a result, the ruler of the synagogue rebuked the people for seeking healing on the Sabbath. Jesus then rebukes his advisories including the leader of the synagogue. Jesus then closes with two parables.
- If Jesus used these parables to warn his followers about the religious leader's behavior, then, the whole passage becomes one harmonious thought.
- does the interpretation mentioned earlier fit into the passage’s flow of thought making it likely that Jesus would have shared it here?
Understand the Topic Being Discussed
When we take a verse in context, we are looking for words that connect it to the previous verse. When we look at a flow of thought, we are trying to see if it is likely that the writer would place our interpretation of a verse in that particular location.
When we look at the topic under discussion, we are trying to go a little deeper.
Describing Chapter 12 in a few words, I see Jesus teaching by contrasting good and evil.
Describing Chapter 13, I see Jesus contrasting good and evil. He entered a synagogue, the ruler became upset with him, Jesus rebukes the ruler, continues teaching before leaving the synagogue.
Describing Chapter 14, Jesus invited into a Pharisee's house, they have similar issues with him as in chapter 13. Jesus continues teaching by contrasting good and evil.
If Luke's topic is continuous, (Jesus teaching the difference between good and evil to his adversaries), we should use care if our interpretation of an individual verse does not fit in the general theme.
How often have you said, after reading a portion of scripture, ''I never saw that before.''? Sometimes our preconceived ideas hide the real words that are before us. Read Luke 13:10-21 before you look at the following questions, then take this test without looking back to the passage.
- What were the woman's symptoms in verse 11?
- Did she go to Jesus or did Jesus call her?
- Did Jesus touch her?
- How long was the woman ill for?
- How many parables did Jesus speak?
How did you do?
Not Being Well Versed With the Entire Bible
Being well-versed with the Bible enables us to look at other passages before we make an interpretation.
Since we are not the ancient Jews to whom Jesus was speaking, becoming familiar with the Jewish culture will help us to understand His message. For example, when Jesus taught the Parable of the Good Samaritan, understanding what the Jews thought of Samaritans would be necessary to get the full impact of His words. This understanding comes from being familiar with the Bible.
If you familiar with the Bible, you know it does not use leaven in any other parable or allegory to symbolize good, much less The Gospel.
Reading Books on the Bible, Rather Than Reading the Bible
Unfortunately, many books misquote the Bible. If you are reading devotionals, instead of studying the Bible, you have no checks or balances to protect you from false doctrine.
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. - 2 Timothy 4:3-4
For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.- Acts 20:29-31
Avoid Using a Commentary before Using a Concordance
Commentaries have their place and we can glean inspiration from them. However, when we looked at the parable of the woman and the leaven in the different commentaries, we had a dilemma. The commentaries had different and contradictory interpretations of this verse. Therefore, many who depended on a favorite commentary for their inspiration got this passage wrong.
We must define the words, especially the keywords, before you try to interpret a passage. If you are not careful, we can mistake defining words, for interpretation. As you take the time to find definitions, also watch out for these mistakes.
Avoid Twisting the Words Meaning
As I already noted, the popular interpretation had leaven meaning the Gospel and the meal was interpreted church or world. Unless the Bible student can justify those interpretations by using a dictionary, lexicon, or finding a similar symbolic meaning in another scripture passage, he is making up meaning for these words. When a person picks an arbitrary definition for each word, he can make the parable teach any doctrine he wishes.
As also in all [Paul’s] epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, unto their own destruction. - 2 Peter 3:16
Not Understanding That Words Lose Meaning in Translation
The proper definition of any word can be recovered if you take the time.
Avoid Using a Commentary before Using a Concordance
Using a concordance we can quickly look at how a word is used in other passages. A good concordance has a lexicon in the back, there are also some good Bible software that makes the job of looking up a word's definition easy.
It may seem like we are over doing this parable, this is because we are using it to learn how to study. If most have misunderstood this teaching of Jesus, the extra time is not wasted.
Use the Bible to Define Words in the Bible
Since this is a parable, we can look at how the Bible uses these words symbolically in other places. We looked at how the word woman is used symbolically for God's chosen people or the church in other passages (Rule 9). What about the word leaven?
In one passage, Jesus himself warned his disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. At first, the disciples took the parable literally and started worrying about their bread. When they understood that Jesus was speaking symbolically, they themselves defined the word as false doctrine.
Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. - Matthew 16:8-12
Paul the apostle also expounds on leaven.
Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?[I think it is possible that Paul was referring to the same parable as he was speaking here] Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. - 1 Corinthians 5:6-8
Now that we are familiar with the passage and understand the words, remember these rules as we look for the interpretation.
Know Who is Speaking, and to Whom He is Speaking
In the above parable, it is worth noting that Jesus was speaking to the Jews. The Jewish culture would not have missed the Spiritual significance of leaven. Even today, Jewish families spring-clean, before the Feast of Unleavened Bread, to remove every speck of leaven from their house. The Law and the prophets have many passages on leaven
Seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses: for whosoever eateth that which is leavened, even that soul shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he be a stranger, or born in the land. - Exodus 12:19
Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven. - Exodus 23:18
No meat offering, which ye shall bring unto the LORD, shall be made with leaven: for ye shall burn no leaven, - Leviticus 2:11a
[The prophet Amos was condemning them saying,] And offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven, and proclaim and publish the free offerings: for this liketh you, - Amos 4:5a
This is not an exhaustive list of examples. Yet it is sufficient evidence that Jesus could expect His disciples to take the word leaven to mean evil or false doctrine when he used it in the parable.
Use Two or Three Witnesses to Develop Doctrine
This rule states the necessity of finding other places where the Bible teaches the same doctrine to clarify ambiguous passages. It is reasonable to expect a similar parable would have the same or similar meaning. Here is a parable from the Old Testament that looks similar.
They are all adulterers, as an oven heated by the baker, who ceaseth from raising after he hath kneaded the dough, until it be leavened. - Hosea 7:4
In Hosea, the words, ''They are all adulterers'' makes the context of this parable clear. Since the passages in Hosea and Luke are both parables and in essence, the stories in the parables are nearly identical, a person is kneading leaven into the dough.
As an oven heated by the baker, who ceaseth from raising after he hath kneaded the dough, until it be leavened. - Hosea 7:4b
It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened. - Luke 13:20-21
If the parable in Hosea is the same or similar to the one in Luke 13, then the meaning of leaven should be the same or similar.
Be Consistent in Your Application of Rules
Some believe that since Jesus introduced this parable by saying, ''Whereunto shall I liken the kingdom of God?'', this parable can only be talking about nice things. Did Jesus ever mention bad things when he shared about the kingdom of God?
And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. - Matthew 11:12
If we cannot apply a principle consistently, it is of no value in interpreting the hard to understand passages.
Avoid Treating the Kingdom of God as a Democracy
Though being outnumbered does not make an interpretation correct, neither should it put pressure on the believer to change his mind. Holding the minority opinion on an interpretation does not concern those on the narrow road, we can all think of examples when the majority of people have been wrong.
Avoid Finding Private Interpretations in Scripture
Though we should not worry about having a popular interpretation, if no other Christians (by this I mean outside of your denomination or that do not use your catechism), have a similar interpretation, it should be cause for concern. In the case of this parable, there are other Christians and a few commentaries that share the minority interpretation.
Using what you have learned, you should now easily and confidently understand this parable.
Once we understand scripture, we are expected to make personal applications in our own life and God can lead each of us in a different way thereby. Yet the process of arriving at our personal application is similar for each of us.
My understanding is that Jesus used this parable to warn us that there would be false doctrine in the church. My personal application is to watch out for false doctrine and I also try to warn others:
And again he [Jesus] said, Whereunto shall I liken the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.
- Luke 13:20-21
While I did not apply every rule to this parable, they will apply as you seek to understand other passages. I hope that this study helped you sharpen your thinking skills and made you become more critical of errors in interpretation. May the Scriptures open up their secrets to you as you seek God's will.
Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. - 2 Timothy 2:15
And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God. - Luke 4:4
May God bless you richly as you sincerely seek to understand and apply His word.
Written by Jeff Barnes
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