A Layman’s Guide to Biblical Reading and Interpretation (Part 1)

English: Readin the Bible.

Reading the Bible is not as simple as it may seem! I think the reason there are so many false teachings is because people read the Bible without realizing that there are certain factors that must be dealt with in approaching the biblical text. The primary factor being that the Bible is the Word of God and God is Spirit, therefore the Bible is a spiritual book. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” (NIV)  But even with the Spirit, there are some principles the reader must adhere to if he or she is to correctly read and interpret the biblical text. So with that in mind, I want to share this simple layman’s (a person with no formal theological or seminary training in hermeneutics and exegesis) guide to biblical reading and interpretation. I am going to present this in two parts because before we can even get to the biblical text, there are some things we must consider:

The primary thing we must consider as we approach the biblical text is to understand that there are some barriers, bridges, or rivers we must cross before we can even get to a correct reading and interpretation of the Bible. Part one of this presentation is a brief discussion of four such barriers.

  1. Time – We must first of all consider the fact that the Bible was written many years ago in a time much different from our own. God has always dealt with his people in what I call: progressive revelation. For instance, when Moses delivered the Children of Israel out of Egypt and they crossed the sea, the Bible says that they walked over on dry land. However, some forty years later, when they crossed over the Jordan, the waters didn’t receded until the priests got their feet wet! It could be that one of the reasons God deals with us differently today is because we have been given much more revelation because of the passing of time. Therefore, it is an exegetical mistake to force our time back upon the biblical characters or to bring them to forward to our time and judge their actions according to our time.
  2. Culture – We, those of us who live in America, live in a modern Western culture, but the Bible was written by and to people who lived in an ancient Eastern culture. Some of the things written in the Bible have more to do with culture and custom than spiritual or Godly principles. We must remember that when the original authors wrote, it was not in the fore-front of their minds that their words would be read by people of a different culture hundreds of years later. They were writing about particular situations in their particular time and culture. When Paul wrote about women keeping their heads covered, it was more of a cultural thing because generally the women of that culture who didn’t cover their heads were immoral women. So Paul told the women in the church to keep their heads covered, not only to honor their husbands but also to keep them from looking like a lady of the streets! When we read the Bible, we must always remember that it was written by and to people from a time and culture much different from our own. So it is an error to say that those people were “just like us” because they weren’t. They didn’t even think like us! For instance, in America today the primary focus is on the individual, but in the days and culture of the Bible, the primary focus was on the group! They didn’t think like us!
  3. Language – The next barrier is language. No one in the Bible ever spoke a word in English! As far as we know, the English language wasn’t even developed at that time! Consequently, we must understand that the Bible we hold in our hands is a version of a translation that came from manuscripts (copies of the original documents) that were written from the autographs (the original documents) of the original writer. The Old Testament was written mostly in Hebrew and the New Testament was written primarily in Greek. And just as we use figures of speech, such as sarcasm, exaggeration, hyperbole, and irony in our language today, so did the ancients in biblical days. We should be aware of that fact as we read the Bible.
  4.  Geography – There some others, but the fourth and last barrier we must deal with before we can get to a correct reading and interpretation of the biblical text that we are going to address is geography. It is important as you read the text that you be aware of the factor of geography. It helps when you know that although there was only about 18 miles from Jerusalem to Jericho; Jerusalem was about 2500 feet above sea level while Jericho was about 825 feet below sea level! That’s a difference in elevation of over 3,000 feet in just 18 miles! Therefore, the road between the two was steep, rocky, winding, and was notorious for being a haunt for highway robbers. We would be more understanding of why the priest and the Levite passed the man on the other side in Luke 10:30, if we understood the geography and culture of the time.

These are just a few of the perquisite factors we must keep in mind as we approach the biblical text. I will comment on what we need to consider as we actually read the biblical text in Part 2 of this study.

Taking Back What The Devil Stole?

Some preach it! Some sing it! Some even pray it! But does the Bible teach it? Does the Bible teach, instruct or even imply that we should, could, or even should try to take back what the devil has stolen from us? I would like to suggest that, contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t!

thiefFirst of all, we might be able to accuse the devil of many things, but we cannot “biblically” accuse him of being a thief! Now! I know what you are thinking! You heard some preacher, some teacher, or somebody say this: “The Bible says (some say: ‘Jesus said’) in John 10:10 that the devil is a thief! And he only comes to steal, and to kill, and to destroy!” Well, if you would look at that text carefully, you might note that Jesus didn’t specifically identify “the thief” as being the devil! That’s a conclusion that somebody came up with who didn’t study the context of the text carefully! If you read my post: The Thief of John 10:10, you would discover that Jesus was NOT referring to the devil at all as the thief in that text! But I did a topical study, using the New Naves Topical Bible, on Satan, demons, and the devil, and I discovered that there is not one single reference to the devil being called a thief in the Bible! In Revelation 12:10, he is called “the accuser of the brethren.” I Peter 5:8 describe him as “the adversary,” going about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. John 8:44 says that he is “a liar” and “the father of lies!” John 12:31 says he is “the prince of this world.” Paul describes him in Ephesians 2:2 as “the prince of the power of the air” and “the spirit that works in the children of disobedience.” In Ephesians 6:12, he is “the ruler of the darkness of this world.” In Matthew 12:14, he is “the unclean spirit” and later on in 13:19 he is called “the wicked one.” These are just a few of the numerous scriptures that directly and indirectly refer to Satan or the devil. He is called many things in the Bible; but nowhere is he called a thief!

Secondly, contrary to the idea of the devil stealing something from us, we should note an interesting dialogue that went on between Jesus and the devil in the wilderness when Jesus was being tempted. The dialogue seems to suggest that rather than stealing from us, the devil has a different agenda altogether! Look at Matthew 4:8-10 and the parallel text in Luke 4:5-8. The devil offered to Jesus all of the kingdoms of the world in their glory (this included, position, power, and wealth; the very stuff some say the devil comes to steal) if he would just fall down and worship him! Now, it’s true that the devil is a liar! But it is interesting to note that Jesus did not dispute the devil’s claim that the world was his to offer! In fact, according to Luke, the devil said: “for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish” (Luke 4:6 NASB). And, if it had not been within the devil’s delegated power to make this offer to Jesus, it wouldn’t have been a temptation at all! Remember, in the references cited earlier, the Bible does describe him as “the god of this world.” My question is this: Why would the devil want to steal from us when he already has the kingdoms of the world to offer? Instead of thinking that the devil wants to steal from us, it is probably more feasible and biblically correct to think that the devil is more apt to offer us riches and material wealth in an attempt to lure us away from the Lord! The Bible does say that the love of money is the root of all evil. Jesus, in the parable of the sower, said that some seed fell among the thorns, which represented the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches. The bottom line is the devil already has access to the riches and material wealth of the world without trying to steal them from us!

Now, I heard a preacher allude to the story of David at Ziglag in I Samuel 30, as a reference text to illustrate an instance of taking back what the devil stole. But in all exegetical fairness, we should remember that David’s stuff was not stolen by the devil, but by the Amalekites. The main point of the story is really not so much about David getting his wives, children and material goods back from the enemy as it is about the fact that if David had not been out of position and away from his home, leaving the city unprotected, none of that would have happened in the first place!

In conclusion, let me just say that many times, it very well might be that we suffer losses in our lives, not so much because it is the work of the devil, but rather because of our own faults, failures, and lack of wisdom. In fact, the reason we lose some stuff may be, not because the devil stole it from us, but rather because we gave it to him! The devil really is not so desperate to get “stuff” that he has to resort to stealing it from us! And if the devil was a thief, he really wouldn’t be after any of the material things!  He would want to steal our joy, our peace and our faith more than any to the material possession we might have! Yes! We can accuse the devil of many things, but according to the Bible, we cannot accuse him of being a thief!