Interpreting Scripture

“[God] cannot deny himself.”

– 2 Timothy 2:13b

Nearly everyone who has been a part of a small-group Bible study or Bible discussion group has heard these words spoken: “To me, the verse means. . . .” Sometimes this is said innocently, and all the speaker intends is to convey what he thinks the author of the text is teaching to all people. All too often, however, people who say such things are actually reflecting the radical subjectivism to which they hold, whether consciously or unconsciously. In such cases, the person assumes that the verse can mean one thing to him and something completely different to someone else without either of them being wrong.

Such a radically subjective view ends up divorcing all meaning from the text. If the text can mean many different things at the same time, it can mean anything, and if it can mean anything, it really means nothing. Scripture becomes, as Martin Luther put it, a wax nose that can be shaped into whatever form the interpreter likes. When this happens, the interpreter cannot be corrected by the text; rather, the interpreter becomes lord over the text.

Yet, if the Bible is the Word of the God of truth, such subjectivism cannot stand. The Lord “cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). Therefore, no text of Scripture can have many different, mutually contradictory meanings. A text might have a complex meaning that can be summarized in different noncontradictory ways. The text’s meaning might have different practical applications to different people depending on their particular situation. But if two people read a text and find contradictory meanings, one or both of the readers must be wrong. They cannot both be right.

Knowing how to interpret Scripture correctly, therefore, is as important as knowing that the Bible is true. And since the Bible was written by authors with specific intents, the way to determine a text’s meaning is to discern the original author’s intent for it. To do this, we employ the grammatical-historical method, which examines the writer’s historical context and the text’s grammatical structure. We treat verbs as verbs and nouns and nouns, for while the Bible is God’s Word, it is written according to normal grammatical conventions, not in some esoteric tongue. Moreover, we look at the historical setting of a text so that we can discern the issues the author is addressing. Such things help us get into the mind of the author so that we can know what he means.

Coram Deo

If we divorce the meaning of the biblical text from its author’s intent, the text can mean anything we want. This happened during the medieval era, when all sorts of fanciful allegorical readings were used that had little if any connection to the author’s original intent. To obey God rightly, we must know what the author He inspired meant, so learning how to interpret the Bible rightly is as important as knowing Scripture’s content.

Passages for Further Study

  • Deuteronomy 6:6–7
  • Ezra 7:10
  • Nehemiah 8:1–8
  • 2 Timothy 2:15

Devotionals (http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals), Copyright 2016, Ligonier Ministries.

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Learning from Judas (Judas Iscariot)

The twelve apostles included “Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him” (Matt. 10:4).

God can use even an apostate like Judas to teach us some important lessons.

Judas is history’s greatest human tragedy. He had opportunities and privileges known only to the other disciples, but he turned from them to pursue a course of destruction. Yet even from his foolishness we can learn some important lessons.

Judas, for example, is the world’s greatest example of lost opportunity. He ministered for three years with Jesus Himself but was content merely to associate with Him, never submitting to Him in saving faith. Millions of others have followed his example by hearing the gospel and associating with Christians, yet rejecting Christ. Tragically, like Judas, once death comes they too are damned for all eternity.

Judas is also the world’s greatest example of wasted privileges. He could have had the riches of an eternal inheritance but instead chose thirty pieces of silver. In that respect he is also the greatest illustration of the destructiveness and damnation greed can bring. He did an unthinkable thing, yet he has many contemporary counterparts in those who place wealth and pleasure above godliness.

On the positive side, Judas is the world’s greatest illustration of the forbearing, patient love of God. Knowing what Judas would do, Jesus tolerated him for three years. Beyond that, He constantly reached out to him and even called him “friend” after his kiss of betrayal (Matt. 26:50).

If you’ve ever been betrayed by a friend, you know the pain it can bring. But the Lord’s pain was compounded many times over because He knew He would be betrayed and because the consequences were so serious. Yet He endured the pain because He loved Judas and knew that His own betrayal was a necessary part of the redemptive plan.

The sins that destroyed Judas are common sins that you must avoid at all costs! Use every opportunity and privilege God gives you, and never take advantage of His patience.

Suggestions for Prayer

  • Thank Jesus for the pain he endured at the hands of Judas.
  • Pray that you will never cause Him such pain.

For Further Study

  • Read 1 Timothy 6:6-19.
  • What perils await those who desire wealth?
  • Rather than pursuing wealth, what should you pursue?
  • What attitude should wealthy people have toward their money?

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur

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The Characteristics of Hypocrisy (Judas Iscariot)

The twelve apostles included “Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him” (Matt. 10:4).

Hypocrisy is a spiritual cancer that can devastate lives and destroy ministries.

On a recent trip to New Zealand I learned that sheepherders there use specially trained castrated male sheep to lead other sheep from holding areas into the slaughtering room. Those male sheep are appropriately called “Judas sheep.” That illustrates the commonness with which we associate Judas with deception and death. Pretending to be a friend of Jesus, Judas betrayed him with a kiss and became for all time and eternity the epitome of hypocrisy.

Several characteristics of spiritual hypocrisy are clearly evident in Judas’s life. First, hypocritical people often seem genuinely interested in a noble cause. Judas probably didn’t want the Romans to rule over Israel and he saw in Christ an opportunity to do something about it. He probably had the common misconception that Jesus was immediately going to establish His earthly kingdom and put down Roman oppression.

Second, hypocritical people demonstrate an outward allegiance to Christ. Many of those who followed Jesus in the early stages of His ministry deserted Him along the way (John 6:66). Not Judas. He stayed to the end.

Third, hypocritical people can appear to be holy. When Jesus told the disciples that one of them would betray Him, none of them suspected Judas. Even after Jesus identified Judas as His betrayer, the other disciples still didn’t understand (John 13:27-29). Judas must have put on a very convincing act!

Fourth, hypocritical people are self-centered. Judas didn’t love Christ—He loved himself and joined the disciples because he thought he could gain personal prosperity.

Finally, hypocritical people are deceivers. Judas was a pawn of Satan, whom Jesus described as a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). Is it any wonder that his whole life was one deception after another?

Judas was an unbeliever, but hypocrisy can also thrive in believers if its telltale signs are ignored. That’s why you must guard your motives carefully, walk in the Spirit each day, and immediately confess even the slightest hint of hypocrisy.

Suggestions for Prayer

  • Ask God to purify your love for Him and to protect you from the subtle inroads of hypocrisy.

For Further Study

  • Read John 12:1-8.
  • How did Mary demonstrate her love for Christ?
  • What objection did Judas raise?
  • What was his motive?

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, http://www.crossway.com.

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Jesus Purposely Selects a Traitor (Judas Iscariot)

The twelve apostles included “Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him” (Matt. 10:4).

God works all things together for His purposes.

At one time the little town of Kerioth was a relatively obscure Judean town, but all that changed when it produced the most hated man who ever lived: Judas Iscariot.

The first mention of Judas is here in Matthew’s list of disciples. We have no record of his call, but we know Jesus did call him along with the others, and even gave him authority to minister in miraculous ways (Matt. 10:1). His first name, Judas, is despised today, but it was a common name in the days of Christ. It is the Greek form of Judah—the land of God’s people. Iscariot literally means “a man from the town of Kerioth.”

People commonly ask why Jesus would select such a man to be His disciple. Didn’t He know how things would turn out? Yes He did, and that’s precisely why He chose him. The Old Testament said the Messiah would be betrayed by a familiar friend for thirty pieces of silver, and Jesus knew Judas was that man (John 17:12).

Some people feel sorry for Judas, thinking he was simply misguided or used as some kind of pawn in a supernatural drama over which he had no control. But Judas did what he did by choice. Repeatedly Jesus gave him chances to repent, but he refused. Finally, Satan used him in a diabolical attempt to destroy Jesus and thwart God’s plan of salvation. His attempt failed however, because God can use even a Judas to accomplish His purposes.

Undoubtedly there are people in your life who wish you harm. Don’t be discouraged. They are as much a part of God’s plan for you as those who treat you kindly. You must reach out to them just as Jesus reached out to Judas. God knows what He’s doing. Trust Him and rejoice as you see His purposes accomplished even through your enemies.

Suggestions for Prayer

  • Praise God for His sovereign control over every circumstance and for the promise that His purposes will never be thwarted.

For Further Study

  • Read Matthew 26:14-50 and 27:1-10.
  • How did Jesus reveal that it was Judas who would betray Him?
  • What reaction did Judas have when he heard that Jesus had been condemned?

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, http://www.crossway.com.

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Infallibility and Inerrancy

“God, who never lies.”

– Titus 1:2

For the sake of defending the faith and teaching God’s truth to others, Christian theologians and apologists (defenders of the faith) have developed a specialized vocabulary. Terms such as Trinity, hypostatic union, eschatology, aseity, and many others are employed to help people grow in their knowledge of God and His Word. With respect to the doctrine of Scripture, two words are often used in order to make assertions about the veracity of the Bible: inerrancy and infallibility.

Inerrancy means that the Scriptures do not affirm any errors. The Bible does not endorse anything untrue. When it tells history, it tells us what actually happened. It may report on what a person said when he told a lie to someone else, but it does not endorse the lie. It is merely giving an accurate report of what the liar said. Where it speaks to science, it does not contradict God’s revelation in the natural world. In sum, the Bible is entirely truthful and has no errors at all in the original manuscripts that the prophets and Apostles actually wrote. We do not today possess these manuscripts, but through the process of textual criticism, we can recover the original wording of the manuscripts with a high degree of certainty.

It is important to note that inerrancy is not a property unique to Scripture. Human beings regularly make error-free statements. Students score 100 percent on exams; people accurately state their names to others; and so forth. What sets Scripture apart from all else is its infallibility. Infallibility has to do with possibilities, and it means that the Word of God is incapable of erring. We can produce inerrant documents and other things and yet still retain the possibility of erring. Before Ashley scored 100 percent on her math test, it was possible that she might miss one of the answers. When the Lord inspired the authors of Scripture, however, He worked so as to make it impossible for them to affirm error in the completed product. We can have inerrancy without infallibility, but we cannot have infallibility without inerrancy. Infallibility necessarily results in the text’s being free from error; without infallibility, the production of an inerrant text is accidental. It could have otherwise had errors.

We affirm the inerrancy and the infallibility of Scripture because we know the character of God. Today’s passage, for instance, tells us that the Lord never lies. If God never lies, His Word never lies either. We can therefore trust it to be free from all error.

Coram Deo

Some people have recently used the term infallibility even though they believe the Bible does contain errors, so we need to be on guard against the possible misuse of the word. Historically, however, Christians have said Scripture is infallible because they have believed that God’s Word is incapable of erring and thus contains no errors. And because the Bible gives us ample warrant to believe this, we know we can stake our very lives on the Word of God.

Passages for Further Study

  • Psalm 12:6
  • John 17:17

Devotionals (http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals), Copyright 2016, Ligonier Ministries.

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The Divine Origin of Scripture

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

– 2 Timothy 3:16–17

Scripture, we have noted, testifies to the fact that God has revealed Himself progressively, building on what He revealed before until the final revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:1–2). Though using human language to communicate to us and employing human authors to write His Word, the Lord is the ultimate source of the Bible, which is why we can be confident that divine revelation unfolds harmoniously without contradicting itself. When we speak of Scripture’s origin, we are talking about the fact that Scripture comes from God Himself.

Numerous biblical passages testify to this truth, but 2 Timothy 3:16–17 may be the most important of these. In this text, the Apostle Paul tells us that “all Scripture is breathed out by God.” The translation “breathed out” is the rendering of the Greek term theopneustos, and it is perhaps the most literal way to convey this term in English. Human speech requires us to breathe out. Air from our lungs must pass through our vocal cords, vibrating them at certain frequencies to produce sounds that are then formed into words by our mouths. In saying that God “breathed out” Scripture, Paul indicates that the words of the Bible are the Lord’s words. Just as the words we say are our speech because we produce them in the process of breathing air out through our vocal cords and mouth, the words of Scripture are God’s words because He produced them. Yes, human authors wrote down these words, but they are no less God’s words than if the Lord had taken the pen and written them Himself.

Today, we find that many people consider us foolish for living by the teaching of Scripture because it was written long ago and by men who did not enjoy the same kind of technological advancements that we do. Given cultural pressure, we could find ourselves slowly adopting their view of Scripture if we are not careful to remember its divine origin. We follow the Bible not because it evokes fond memories of childhood when we went to church and our parents read the Scriptures to us. We reject modern notions of morality not because we are unthinking bigots who do not want people who are different from us to be happy. Our confidence in the Bible is based not in a fearful rejection of what science can legitimately tell us. No, we seek to conform our lives to the Scriptures because they are the very Word of God, and we have no option but to believe and live by what our Creator has said.

Coram Deo

We must have the firm confidence that Scripture is the Word of God, or we will not be able to stand firm in the day of trial. Scripture may have been written thousands of years ago, but it is the very revelation of God Himself. What the Bible says, the Lord says, and that is why we must know, love, and obey the Scriptures.

Passages for Further Study

  • Deuteronomy 8:3
  • Haggai 1:12
  • Zechariah 7:4–7
  • 2 Peter 1:16–21

Devotionals (http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals), Copyright 2016, Ligonier Ministries.

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The Divine Origin of Scripture

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

– 2 Timothy 3:16–17

Scripture, we have noted, testifies to the fact that God has revealed Himself progressively, building on what He revealed before until the final revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:1–2). Though using human language to communicate to us and employing human authors to write His Word, the Lord is the ultimate source of the Bible, which is why we can be confident that divine revelation unfolds harmoniously without contradicting itself. When we speak of Scripture’s origin, we are talking about the fact that Scripture comes from God Himself.

Numerous biblical passages testify to this truth, but 2 Timothy 3:16–17 may be the most important of these. In this text, the Apostle Paul tells us that “all Scripture is breathed out by God.” The translation “breathed out” is the rendering of the Greek term theopneustos, and it is perhaps the most literal way to convey this term in English. Human speech requires us to breathe out. Air from our lungs must pass through our vocal cords, vibrating them at certain frequencies to produce sounds that are then formed into words by our mouths. In saying that God “breathed out” Scripture, Paul indicates that the words of the Bible are the Lord’s words. Just as the words we say are our speech because we produce them in the process of breathing air out through our vocal cords and mouth, the words of Scripture are God’s words because He produced them. Yes, human authors wrote down these words, but they are no less God’s words than if the Lord had taken the pen and written them Himself.

Today, we find that many people consider us foolish for living by the teaching of Scripture because it was written long ago and by men who did not enjoy the same kind of technological advancements that we do. Given cultural pressure, we could find ourselves slowly adopting their view of Scripture if we are not careful to remember its divine origin. We follow the Bible not because it evokes fond memories of childhood when we went to church and our parents read the Scriptures to us. We reject modern notions of morality not because we are unthinking bigots who do not want people who are different from us to be happy. Our confidence in the Bible is based not in a fearful rejection of what science can legitimately tell us. No, we seek to conform our lives to the Scriptures because they are the very Word of God, and we have no option but to believe and live by what our Creator has said.

Coram Deo

We must have the firm confidence that Scripture is the Word of God, or we will not be able to stand firm in the day of trial. Scripture may have been written thousands of years ago, but it is the very revelation of God Himself. What the Bible says, the Lord says, and that is why we must know, love, and obey the Scriptures.

Passages for Further Study

  • Deuteronomy 8:3
  • Haggai 1:12
  • Zechariah 7:4–7
  • 2 Peter 1:16–21

Devotionals (http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals), Copyright 2016, Ligonier Ministries.

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