Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian…there are so many denominations in the world today. Even amongst “churches of Christ” there have arisen the titles of “liberal” and “conservative”. And really, is it any wonder? Within Scripture we have the Old Testament and the New Testament. Within those, we have books of law, prophecy, historical accounts, apocalyptic literature, literal teachings, and these are just a few examples of what all is found within the depths of Scripture. In all of this, it’s natural to have some discrepancies in teachings, right? So what is the big deal?
Well, the big deal is 2 Peter 1:20-21, “knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (ESV). This Scripture clearly teaches that God said what He meant, and He meant what He said. It is not up to us to “interpret” it however we see fit, it is up to us to study with an attitude of seeking to understand what God intended. The Bible– all of it– is God’s Word, God’s teachings, God’s doctrines. The scary truth is that this means that we either understand, interpret, and practice what God wants us to in the way God wants us to, or we are wrong. There are no other options. If we have a Biblical disagreement with someone, they can be right and we can be wrong; they can be wrong and we can be right; or we can both be wrong. It is impossible for two doctrinally opposed beliefs to both be right in God’s eyes.
However, there is hope! 2 Timothy 2:15 reads, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” This tells us that it can be done! We as every day, ordinary Christians have the ability to sit down, study the Scripture, and understand what God wants for us from it! But it requires “our best.” We cannot afford to sit idly by and let someone else “explain” to us what Scripture means. We need to study it for ourselves, and be willing to challenge teachings and thoughts that seem to be in opposition to what Scripture teaches us.
We as every day, ordinary Christians have the ability to sit down, study the Scripture, and understand what God wants for us from it! But it requires “our best.” We cannot afford to sit idly by and let someone else “explain” to us what Scripture means.
But how do we do it? We accomplish this by applying the same common sense principles to Scripture that we apply to every other aspect of our lives. The fancy term for doing this with the Bible is “hermeneutics,” which simply means “the science of Scriptural interpretation.” Basically, there are three ways that we can know exactly what the Lord expects of us today. They are: command, example, and necessary inference. Either we have a very specific “Thus saith the Lord” (i.e., a command), we have examples of the first century church doing things in a specific way for a specific reason, or what God wants from us is explained in such a way that common sense leads us to the conclusion God wants (i.e., necessary inference).
For example, in Luke 22:19 Jesus says, “And he took bread and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’” This is a plain commandment to partake of the Lord’s Supper. But how do we know when and to whom this command applies? Acts 20:7 clarifies the issue for us. It reads, “On the first day of the week when we were gathered together to break bread…” This gives us an example of how to fulfill the command. The first century church partook of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week, and those that partook were the members of the Lord’s Body. What Jesus expects of us in regards to the Lord’s Supper is explained a little more by necessary inference in I Corinthians 11. In this passage Paul tells the Corinthian church the proper way to do things “when you come together” (11:18, 20, 33, 34). This Scripture implies that the church was gathering on a regular basis in order to break bread together, and that there is a right way and a wrong way to do so.
God’s Word was “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). That means that in the last 2,000 years, God’s will for His people has not changed at all, and neither has our ability to understand that will. Our job is to make the effort to put aside our own pre-conceived ideas and biases, and study God’s Word seeking His will, not our own. Over the next few weeks we will look a little deeper at the idea of hermeneutics, and learn how to use these concepts in our own lives to form a deeper relationship with our Lord by having a greater understanding of His Word.