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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Five Principles of Bible Interpretation

God's Full Intention Governs Everything That He Does

It is very important for us to be able to know how the Bible is to be interpreted, and this will be especially seen in what we have to consider later on. Unless we do understand the principles of the interpretation of the Bible, the Bible is not an open book: we may know what is in the Book as a book, but we do not understand it until we have the principles of interpretation. So I ask you to try and remember what I am going to say now and bring it over into our later study. We will consider five important principles of interpreting the Bible:

1. The Eternity of God;

2. The Comprehensiveness of Christ;

3. The Interpreter of the Bible is the Holy Spirit;

4. The Final Mention;

5. The Only Real Value is the Spiritual.

(1.) The Eternity of God

The first principle of the interpretation of the Bible is the eternity of God. We must always remember that all time is present time with God. There is no past and future with God: all that is past and future with us has been present with God always. At any moment in what is time to us, eternity is present with God. 

The architect always has the completed plan before him. If he is the designer of a ship, he has a model made of that ship before anything is done. He sees in the model the completed object, that is, exactly how the thing will appear when it is finished. If it is a great building, or even a city, it is the same. The architect draws what we call a scale model, and he sees in that model exactly how the building, or the city, will be when it is finished. The builder works day by day according to that completed plan. Those who only see the parts cannot understand, and must not take the parts as being the whole. Sometimes when you look at the parts of a building, you cannot for the life of you understand what it is going to be. It is only as the completed thing is seen that you can understand the parts.

Now the Bible is just full of parts, but they are all the parts of something that God sees in completion. God is the great Architect, He has the completed and perfect plan before Him before He begins any work. God's eternity is in every part. So we must realize that God has His full Mind behind everything that He does. God's full intention governs everything that He does! You must realize that God's Mind never grows, - God Himself is incapable of development.

The temporary form of anything contains the eternal and full thought of God. You must realize that there are always two meanings in anything that is in the Bible. There is the present meaning, that is, how that applies to the present situation; but there is also the future meaning. Everything in the Bible, while it has a present application, has a fuller meaning in the future. That is the first law of interpretation: it is the eternity of God.

(2. ) The Comprehensiveness of Christ

The second law of interpretation is the comprehensiveness of Christ. Christ is the interpretation of all the Bible, to know Christ is to understand the Bible. Men like Peter and Paul knew the Bible, but they did not understand it until they knew the Lord Jesus. We first know the Lord Jesus, and then we take Him back into the Bible, and He is the interpretation of the Bible. Therefore, we cannot really understand the Bible until we know the Lord Jesus. That results in this - that the Bible is really a Person, and not a book. The Bible is a Living Person, and not a dead letter. Because this Person is inexhaustible, He makes the Bible inexhaustible.

Now that is a more important principle than perhaps you realize. It is possible to exhaust the Bible as a book. We have known great Bible teachers who went through the Bible teaching it again and again, but at the end of their lives they were having difficulty in finding something fresh; and they were only repeating again and again things that they had said in past years. The reason for this is that they dealt with the Bible as a book. That will never happen if you know the Lord Jesus and see the Bible in Him, and Him in the Bible. I repeat that the Lord Jesus can never be exhausted. As the Holy Spirit reveals the Lord Jesus to us, the Bible is always more alive. So, we have our first two principles of interpretation: (1.) The Eternity of God and (2) The Comprehensiveness of Christ.

(3.) The Interpreter of The Bible Is the Holy Spirit

Now we come to number three: the interpreter of the Bible is the Holy Spirit. I have said that Jesus is the interpretation of the Bible. I am saying now that the Holy Spirit is the interpreter of the Bible. We are familiar with the words in the Letter to the Corinthians, but let us just look at them again now. The first Letter to the Corinthians, chapter two and verse thirteen: "Which things also we speak, not in the words which men's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Spirit teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual."

Now I do not know if you have marginal references in your Bible, but the more correct translation of those words is this: "interpreting spiritual things to spiritual men." Let us read the whole passage again in that way:

"Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Spirit teacheth; interpreting spiritual things to spiritual men."

That scripture is a very important statement, and it definitely affirms the principle that we are now setting forth - the interpreter of the Bible is the Holy Spirit.  First of all, then, the Bible is the Holy Spirit's Book. The Bible is not firstly man's Book, it is not our Book, we have not got the Book. We have got certain writings which are called Scripture, but in truth we do not possess the Book.

You remember the case in Acts of the Ethiopian eunuch. When Philip came near to his chariot, he heard the Ethiopian reading. He was reading the Book at Isaiah fifty-three. Philip said to him, "Understandest thou what thou readest?" And he said, "How can I, except someone shall guide me?" Here is a man who had the Book in a certain sense, but in a real and profitable sense he did not possess the Book. We can have the Book as a volume, and yet we may not possess  the Book, because the Bible is the Holy Spirit's Book first. The mind of men and the Mind of the Spirit are two altogether different things!

Do you know that there are many, many Christians who do not recognize that. There are many Bible teachers who do not recognize that. And this is the cause of very much confusion, and the reason for very much spiritual smallness and weakness. I think this may lie at the bottom of most of the controversy. The Bible is a closed Book to all but spiritual men and women. This is the principle that the Lord Jesus set before Nicodemus: You must be born from above before you can see what is above.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 2)

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