How To Read The Bible
This article originally appeared in the June 6th edition of the Lewiston Morning Tribune
© 05.29.09 By D. Eric Williams
It has come to my attention there is a strong local interest in reading and understanding the Bible. With that in mind I have decided to dedicate my yearly Tribune article to the matter.
The first place we must look for rules of interpretation is the text itself. We do this with every literary work. For instance, if we want to properly appreciate a poetic composition we make an effort to discover the rhythm, recognize the symbolism and so on. If we seek to interpret a work of prose we search the text to determine the philosophical assumptions of the writer and uncover clues to his intent. When we read a non-fiction work we normally find the writer tells us up-front why he wrote the book and for whom the tome is intended. The point is, we always look to the text first in order to understand the work. Just so with the Bible.
The most important rule of Biblical interpretation is found in Paul's first letter to the Corinthian church. He says "the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:14). Here is a bold line of demarcation separating those who are able to read and fathom the Bible from those who are not. Unless a man is born again he cannot understand the Bible. He may apprehend the grammar and even the intent to a certain degree but he will not be able to grasp the meaning or comprehend the proper application. Hence, he will view it as foolishness and end up mocking the Scripture. There is nothing he can do about this in his own strength. Without a personal relationship with Christ his eyes are blind; that veil of blindness is taken away only in Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:14).
An essential interpretive rule for Believers is the fact, with the change of the priesthood "of necessity there is also a change of the law" (Hebrews 7:12). Jesus spoke of this when he said the old covenant writings would not be altered until the dissolution of heaven and earth. In other words, using the language of the prophets, he said the law would remain unchanged until the conclusion of the old covenant administration (Matthew 5:18).
This doesn't mean Christians may ignore the older testament. Jesus said he came to fulfill the old covenant writing not abolish it (Matthew 5:17). Therefore, we must read the older testament through the lens of Christ, recognizing the fulfillment and applying the principles we discover in light of his redemptive work.
I'm out of space so I'll conclude by recommending How To Read The Bible for All Its Worth by Fee and Stuart. It's a good introduction to the art of biblical hermeneutics. Happy reading!