How are we to interpret the Bible?
For example: God is love. Short. Simple. Right to the point.
Well, except for a few things.
- Who is this God who loves me?
- What is love?
- And, in the famous words of one of our presidents, “Define is.”
It needs to be interpreted? And one famous person a few years ago had such an interpretation that it caused an uproar in the North American church (which probably helped him sell even more books).
But let me move on to the Bigger Picture I am interested in.
ONE: Even when we agree on what the Bible says (which is actually fairly easy to do), we have lots of differences on what we think the Bible means when it says those things.
TWO: What does the Bible mean when it talks about predestination, the Trinity, the rapture, heaven, hell, sin, grace, prayer, and so on? These are questions of interpretation about particular issues.
THREE: What conclusions do we come to when we ask what is the meaning of God’s love and God’s holiness? In other words, how do we hold them together? What is the meaning of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will? How do we hold them together? When is Jesus coming back? How will the end times take place? What is the unforgivable sin? What about faith and good works? What about creation and evolution? What about … What about … What about…? These interpretation questions about multiple issues are even more difficult then the previous group.
FOUR: Christians should always have and ask good questions about meaning. NEVER be ashamed of, or hesitant, to ask questions about meaning.
FIVE: On the really big questions, there has been large and broad agreement about the essentials of the Christian faith among conservative Christians. The Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed are statements of belief that most conservative Christians have held over the long centuries.
SIX: On the secondary matters of faith (which is most things), Christians have had a wide diversity of responses. When we are on good behavior, we agree to disagree and we agree to respect each other. Unfortunately, Christians are often NOT on good behavior. And, in fact, we are often on quite bad behavior. That is because truth does matter. And we should be passionate about truth. But also humble about our opinions of interpretation.
SEVEN: The great theologian-pastor, Augustine of Hippo, said, “On the essentials – unity. On the non-essentials – liberty. In all things – charity.” In other words, agree on the important matters, agree to disagree on the other ones, and always do everything in love.
EIGHT: Just because a doctrine is a secondary matter, it does not mean it is unimportant. All beliefs are important. However, the essential beliefs are those that wrongly believed lead to serious error about the essence of Christian faith and about salvation. Cult is the name given to a group that makes serious errors on these primary matters. Differing on secondary matters is what gives rise to many denominations in the Christian church.
NINE: It is healthy to have vigorous discussions on the differences on these secondary matters. Healthy, but also hard! There are entire series of books, published by several Christian book companies, that explore the different interpretations held by Christians. I have read many such books over the years. I am reading a brand new one right now (see the image).
TEN: Living Word is centered in the Christian tradition of conservative, historic, orthodox theology. In other words, we affirm with Christians everywhere the good news of the Gospel that has been believed by Christians through the centuries and across the globe. But we also have our views on many of the secondary matters. We expect those who are part of Living Word to affirm the essentials, and we give room for you to have differences on the secondary matters. We will often preach and teach on the secondary matters. When we do, we want to persuade you that our views on these are well worth believing.
ELEVEN: There is a wide diversity of churches, in part, because of differences on these secondary matters. Living Word seeks to keep the main thing the main thing and to invite our people to gather around these most essential beliefs while teaching on the secondary matters as well. We are more likely to cover the secondary matters in small groups and mid-size communities.
TWELVE: The pastoral teaching team regularly talks about the Bible, interpretation, theology, and how we discern and then live out the best beliefs. We read and study and seek to stand in the interpretive tradition of the best theologians in the history of the church. We also work on how we communicate this to you. We want to be faithful to Christ and his followers at Living Word. That means being like the Bereans who seriously studied the Scriptures to know the truth (Acts 17:11).
So, if you have one big question for interpretation, what is it?
P.S. Here are some of the reference books I use when I am studying the Bible.