I’ve noticed a real error of many Christians, a habit of when they come to a portion of scripture they do not like, they decide they can ignore and trivialize that teaching of God by saying it is not literal, not for today or simply proclaim in their self-expertise that it is an allegory. This, of course, gives them complete freedom from obeying it and they can create a new meaning that fits their fancy. No one does this with the newspaper, but they probably should, since many are being proved to lie and spew out political and social propaganda.
But God’s Word is the historical revelation from the all knowing God, and He demands that you accept it as literal fact. Paul warns Christians to take the Bible seriously. “Study and be eager and do your utmost to present yourself to God approved [tested by trial], a workman who has no cause to be ashamed, correctly analyzing and accurately dividing—rightly handling and skillfully teaching—the Word of Truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15 Amplified Bible
The Bible is God’s Word. Not an interpretation of what some zealous men think God says, but His very Words! The Bible is not a religious piece of literature, but a direct revelation from the mouth of the Living God. It is a supernatural book!
The Scripture itself claims this in 2 Tim. 3:16: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,…” The only God is all powerful and able to communicate with man. He not only is able, He has through His written Word, the Holy Bible. To understand the Bible is to understand what God wants mankind to know at this time. To understand the Bible is to comprehend God’s will and direction for the purpose of becoming a faithful friend and child of God.
Therefore, it is imperative that we read the Bible the same way we read a newspaper, history book or a math book. This is the only valid way to understand God and His Word. We must study it at face value, literally accepting all the natural and normal sense of the text. Obviously, we must analyze it to discover what it’s expressions and terms meant to the original audience. For example, in Matthew 6:12 Jesus says “forgive us our debts” which today we would think means “Forget about our financial debts.” But He means sin.
Discover the Authors Intended Meaning
“The main thing to keep in mind here is that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of private opinion. And why? Because it’s not something concocted in the human heart. Prophecy resulted when the Holy Spirit prompted men and women to speak God’s Word.” [2 Peter 1:20-21 (MSG)]
This must be clear, the Bible has only one meaning, but many applications. The meaning is not up to our interpretations, of what we each think it means to us. The author, God our Creator, had a specific meaning the moment He inspired human authors to pen the words and our duty is to discover that interpretation. Never substitute what you think it should say!
Instead, investigate the context of every scripture and make sure you do not masquerade your pet theology as truth or develop your spiritual whims by replacing the obvious literal meaning with supposed deeper hidden meaning, as all cults and false teachers do by using their books to explain away what God says. And you cannot turn the Bible into an allegory and therefore release yourself from the literal commands and statements of the Bible to make the Word say anything you want. You cannot bind it to the culture of the day it was written and therefore free yourself to disobey its “archaic moral values.” God is timeless.
Be clear on one more thing, the Bible does not have contradictions. If a contradiction appears to you, continue to analyze all possibilities using other portions of scripture to help you understand God’s Word. Remember the Bible is written in Hebrew and Greek, not English or any other modern language. There are not always direct English word equivalents for every ancient Greek or Hebrew text. This simply means an English word may mean less or more than a Greek word and more words are needed to actually translate the full meaning.
For example, let’s look at an English word “jack” and then think how hard this would be to make sense to a Greek speaking person.
Jack was doing his morning jumping jacks and remembered he needed to go to the store. So he jumped into his car and headed to town. Jack only traveled a short distance and felt a thumping noise and pulled over to find he had a flat tire. Irritated, Jack opened the trunk and pulled out the jack and jacked up his car and replaced the flat. Just as he was finishing, a car pulled over behind Jack and two men got out.
Jack thought, “these are nice guys stopping to help” until Jack realized they stopped to carjack his vehicle. One pulled out his jackknife, attacked Jack and jacked him in the jaw knocking Jack to the ground. They were both jacked up on drugs and carjacked his car, leaving Jack lying on the side of the road.
Dazed, Jack rolled over with his back to the road and saw two little girls eating cracker jacks and playing jacks on the sidewalk. Jack mumbled “too many jacks today” and passed out.
Jack did not get out of his car to take himself out of the trunk! Jack did not get under the car and push up the car with his body. Jack did not hit himself in the jaw, steal his own car, or was the object of the game on the sidewalk. We must know the context, usage, slang, and meanings of a simple word like “jack” to understand a silly story.
Our language uses “jack” for multiple unrelated uses. This happens in many cultures and languages including the Bible. In the Greek and Hebrew original languages of the Bible, we find a variety of word usages which forces us to not be simple minded when we study the Word of God or we will miss the heart and soul of what God is saying to us.
Also, bias and choices were made by the Bible translators and to find the answers you will need a good concordance. Free computer Bible programs like Wordsearch Basic have many free books that come with it, including the Strong’s Concordance. Use the Greek or Hebrew definitions you find in the concordance to compare Bible translations. This will help you understand clearer the actual word meanings, help you see why there can be slight differences in translation, or even why one translation can be weak or poorly rendered.
You will find “supposed contradictions” melt away with a deeper search to understand the Word. Psalm 119:160 warns, “The entirety of Your word is truth, And every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever.” Find the sum of all the passages that deal with an issue before you claim there are errors or contradictions. You must read the whole book before you can claim to understand what it is saying.
Always Allow Scripture to Interpret Itself
In our day, we have found that media can manipulate anyone’s words with small sound bites. Just a few words out of its context can make an enemy sound like a real idiot. But, when a further inspection is done to really find out what the person said in the full speech or written article a whole new light of meaning emerges. It is the same with scripture. Always allow God to define what he means, the Bible is a great dictionary of itself. You must find the meaning of words and ideas inside the context. Always compare the portion you are trying to understand with other passages of similar content or themes.
“A text without a context is no more than a pretext” is a famous axiom. Reading to see the full context demands finding the point and direction of the entire book of the Bible being studied. Then, focusing on the context of the specific portion being examined with knowing who is being spoken to, the historical backdrop, and the immediate circumstances will help you see the true meaning of what God is teaching. Prooftexting builds an interpretation on the superficial reading of the passage and taken out of context creates an absurd conclusion never intended by God.
Define Figures of Speech
According to the book, Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student, a figure of speech is “any deviation either in thought or expression, from the ordinary and simple method of speaking…” and it is a “form of speech artfully varied from common usage.” [Instit. Orat. IX, I. 11, cited by Edward P. J. Corbett, Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student (New York: Oxford Press, 1971), page 640] Such an expression whether it is a simile, metaphor or an idiom is always used to artfully visualize a thought or idea.
A simile is easy to recognize and very useful. Rev. 1:14 is a simple example: “His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire;…” The comparison of simile helps John describe what he really saw, “white like wool, as white as snow” but His hair was not really wool; “His eyes like…fire” but not really a flame but very bright and glowing which helps all his readers understand the glorious appearance of the Lord Jesus.
The metaphor also compares but with an implication, not connecting words [like, as]. A good example is Rev. 12:4 “His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born.” A physical dragon did not stand before Mary when she gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem. The context must be used to find the figure of speech’s meaning. Or a comparison of other scriptures. We find the definition given in verse 9, “So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” Satan tried to devour the child, through Herod who sent soldiers to kill every baby in town, the literal fact behind this metaphor.
Idioms are used even today as expressions of comparison but distorting the literal words to intensify the point. When Jesus confronted Paul for the first time, found in Acts 26:14, Paul describes the incident like this, “And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ “ Notice the words Christ used were not literal, but an expression of Paul’s resistance to God’s will, like an ox kicking against the prodding of a farmer when using the beast to plow a field.
Another type of Biblical figure of speech is a substitution, where a writer replaces the normal word for a meaningful substitute to increase the impact of the statement. The Jews thought God so sacred to mistakenly even speak His name was sinful. Therefore, they would substitute the word heaven for God. They meant God, but said heaven.
The Bible also uses a form of parallelism to amplify and clarify its message. This is common in poetic forms such as Psalms and Proverbs. Psalm 2:4 states:
“He who sits in the heavens shall laugh;
The Lord shall hold them in derision.”
As you think about it, both lines say the same thought, and both amplify and expand that idea for greater impact. Like a poem, the Hebrew lines tend to have a flow not translatable into foreign languages.
God Wrote The Bible For Everyone to Understand
2 Cor. 1:13 “For we are not writing any other things to you than what you read or understand. Now I trust you will understand, even to the end …” God wrote the Bible for everyone to understand, not just scholars and preachers. This is why face value, basic reading is the only way an average Christian would understand God’s will.
For example, Biblical leaders and authors never gave any reason to think a secret, hidden meaning exists that only the Watchtower Society, or The Mormon Movement, or The Roman Catholic Institution would have the real answers exclusive to their secret knowledge. Give the Bible to a person who does not know God, put them on a deserted island, and they will be able to understand God’s plan for mankind, God’s opinion on man’s sinful rebellion, and God’s solution and salvation for mankind. And I guarantee you, he will not believe any of these exclusive, separate religious ideas preached by cults or practices privately kept by some religious denominations.
Instead, the plain and simple reading of the Bible leads to the plain and supernatural salvation through the sacrifice and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 5:6 “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”
Mark 13:22 “For false christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.”