How to handle the Scriptures
Luther said that those whom God means to destroy He allows them to meddle with the Scriptures, a thought he must have borrowed from Peter, who said, that heretics, false teachers and unstable men "wrest the Scriptures to their own destruction."
Conversely, to the elect child of God, the Scripture is the perennial and unlimitable source of wisdom, knowledge and absolute truth. Knowing that it is the voice of God (reaching us through the prophets and supremely through his Son, the Word, Hebrews 1:1), the Christian will approach the Bible in a reverent way. I am personally thrilled by such sentences in the Bible: "And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed" (Galatians 3:8). Now it is well-known that Abraham enjoyed no written Word, for the Bible started to be written by Moses, about four centuries later. Still it says that the Scripture preached to Abraham. Actually it was God who spoke the quoted words to Abraham. What does all this signify? It means that Paul put Scripture and the Voice of God on a par: they are synonymous.
The preacher should make it known regularly throughout his ministry that when the Bible is read or preached, it is the Voice of the living God. Thus it becomes us to be still, to be silent before Him; when we read or hear it read, it is God speaking to us.
In addition, the Bible is to be handled seriously. Away with those abracadabra methods of the Charismatics who seek guidance from God by opening the Bible haphazardly and placing their finger on the page with their eyes closed. Such an approach is an insult to the Holy Spirit who inspired the Word, to be read in a diligent and devout way, not flippantly or casually as we would read the newspaper or a novel. That's why we refer to the Scripture as HOLY Scripture. It is set apart from all other literature; while it is literature, it is far more than literature. It is a revelation from above. It speaks about matters of life and death. It shows us the way of life and how to prepare to meet our God.
Applying this thought as a pastor, I would encourage the people to systematically read (at least, if they are not able to study) the Bible. They should begin one book, say John, and start from chapter one and finish at chapter 21. Read it though, for if I receive a letter from abroad, I read it from start to finish to get the sense of it, it don't play tricks and gimmicks with it. How much more worth and attention the Bible deserves from us?
The critic and fault-finder will not benefit from the reading of Scripture. We must come to Scripture to be fed, not to grumble about the food presented therein. It is only those who read with affection that will receive the goodly treasures that will enrich his soul. Though much of it is history, it surpasses history, for it records God's dealings with man, thus manifesting his compassion to a lost mankind. It is a love-letter, so to speak, for it is a vast expansion of John 3:16.
The pastor should therefore warn against wrong and sinful attitudes towards Scripture. If we approach with a cold and indifferent heart, it profits us nothing. Those who love God will love his Word, and vice versa, those who love the Word will inevitably love God revealed therein. Psalm 119 mirrors for us the man who day and night meditates upon the Word.
Then, again, what price-tag do we append to Scripture? David, Job and many others expressed their sentiments concerning the Scripture and said that they valued with more then the necessary things of life. Without Scripture man cannot live: Man does not live by bread alone. Since it is our life-breath, we are not to barter it with anything else, not even our life. Hence the reality of martyrs both in ancient times and in more recent times, who chose to die rather than deny or give up the Scripture. Scripture is the embodiment of our Faith. Church history teaches us how great men of God suffered tribulation and even death for the sake of knowing Scripture and making it known. I mention only Tyndale, Huss, Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer, who after recanting for fear and signed the paper to save his bodily life, later repented and stood for the Faith of the Bible. Thus at the stake he allowed his right hand which offended to be put in the fire first. Excellent testimony!
Today, copies of the Scripture abound and are found in most households. But the question remains, do we really value them? Or are they become a commodity no longer appreciated. Are we become traditores by neglecting them, rather than by submitting our copies to the pagan emperor?
The Bible is rightly valued when we believe it, trust its message as true and utterly reliable. We believe the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible. What has chaff to do with wheat? When it comes to our eternal salvation, nothing is to be trusted but what God has said. If God is true, then it is most natural for us to take Him at his Word, without complaining, without questioning. Certain doctrines squeeze out our pride, such as the doctrine of predestination, but if it is in the Bible, then who am I to doubt it?
Worthy teachers in the church should make it their aim to preach at one time or another on all major doctrines of the Bible, giving a fair picture of what the Bible contains, without emphasising or brushing aside any one part of Scripture. Paul boldly said, "I have not shunned to preach to you the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20).
Since the Bible is God-breathed, then logically nothing is to be placed in competition to it or on a par with it. The Bible should reign supreme in the heart and mind of God's children. The principle of Sola Scriptura must never be toned down or forgotten. If we forget, we do this to our own peril and tomorrow's church will deviate from the right path. Every reformation, whether it be in the times of Josiah, Ezra or Calvin, must be based on a sound and uncompromising return to the Word that burns in the conscience of men, that Word which is like a hammer that breaks the rock to pieces.
We need to affirm our Protestant creed, in the face of apostasy, unbelief, and relativism. The genius of Protestantism is its stand on Scripture alone; anything else weakens Protestantism and brings it to the level of Roman Catholicism and the cults.
The pastor will do well to take heed lest, unwittingly, he would be preaching things other than biblical doctrine. Many pastors today are, so they imagine, "spoiling the Egyptians" by borrowing concepts from psychiatry and psychology. What a shame!
If the foundation of the church is the Scripture, then the church must be in love with the Scripture. "O how I love thy law! it is my meditation all the day" (Psalms 119: 97). Again, "For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgements" (Ezra 7:10). How pregnant is this verse! Heart dedication, obedience, and discipling others are all there. Those who love the Lord will see to it that his Word is known. They are imbued with a missionary spirit. And they know that the Word is the Sword of the Spirit with which to fight the battles of the Lord. Applying this principle in a pastoral situation, the elder should first of all be a Man of the Word, homo unius libri, a man of one Book. He should not be carried away with errands and other work which other people can do. "We will not neglect the Word to serve tables," was the apostles' affirmation. If the church is to grow and be steadfast it needs to be fed, but to be fed the pastor must feed himself: out of the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.
In handling the Bible, you may read, study, meditate upon it, share it with others, teach it and do a thousand and one other things about it, but if you don't obey it, then all the facts will be against you on that great and awesome Day of the Lord. "Why do you call me, Lord, Lord, and doest not the things that I command you?" "Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father." "Faith without works is dead, being by itself." "Show me thy faith by thy works." "To obey is better than sacrifice." There are countless injunctions and commands to be obedient: "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them." How often the pastor has to lovingly warn the people, whether they be saints or otherwise, that the Bible heard without being obeyed will only bring condemnation. Our approach should be, "I will walk in thy truth." (Psalms 86:11).
Finally, the Christian is called to contend for the Faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3). The verb there is a strong one, epagonizomai, to struggle earnestly. A cheap faith will only produce a cheap and worthless testimony. If we know what great salvation we enjoy freely in Christ, then, logically, we should not allow that Faith to be twisted or misrepresented. As Commander of the hosts, Christ employs good soldiers, who will keep a sharp eye on the truth and be ready to go in the thick of the battle for the sake of the gospel. Paul was not afraid to rebuke Peter publicly when the truth of the gospel was at stake.
Today's atmosphere of tolerance and ecumenicity tends to put us to sleep concerning the Faith. It drugs us to non-activity and somehow we tend to think that people may be saved after all without believing the Gospel. How we need to shake ourselves free from such delusions. Only the Bible can show us the us, now and forevermore. "In thy light we see light."
The Larger Catechism will conclude for me: "How is the word of God to be read? The holy Scriptures are to be read with an high and reverent esteem of them; with a firm persuasion that they are the very word of God, and that he only can enable us to understand them; with desire to know, believe, and obey the will of god revealed in them; with diligence, and attention to the matter and scope of them; with meditation, application, self-denial, and prayer" (Q. & A. no.157).
Scripture interprets Scripture In hermeneutics, the science/art of interpreting Scripture, several principles must be observed in order to arrive at the intent of the Holy Spirit in giving us the Scripture. One of these is Scriptura Scripturae interpres.
1. A crucial principle in interpretation is to interpret according to the context. A correct handling of this simple and yet indispensable principle will help us avoid a lot of errors.
The context reigns over all. Any ambiguity in grammatical structure usually resolves itself when the context is considered. Three elements are recognized:
A. The purpose of the particular book. Determine what the purpose is; sometimes it is given explicitly (John 20:31). At other times it is hinted at (for instance, Romans 1:1-7; Colossians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-4; James 1:1; Romans 15;14-16; James 5:19-20).
They may be more than one purpose (for instance, 1 John 1:4; 2:1,12; 5:13).
B. The plan of the book. Is it historical narrative, poetry, a reasoned treatise (cf. Romans), proverbial, or what?
C. The immediate and remote context must be taken into account. In 1 Corinthians 2:9, Paul is not speaking about heaven, but about present realities.
2. Doctrine must be founded on a correct exegesis of every relevant passage.
A. All information must be collated and organized.
B. A specific doctrine must be systematized and related to other doctrines.
C. A perspicuous passage is to be preferred over an ambiguous one. Does Acts 22:16, for instance, teach baptismal regeneration? Consideration of the whole New Testament confirms that it does not.
D. Doctrine must be based on the Bible alone, without building upon doubtful inferences, without leaning upon ecclesiastical traditions or extra-biblical sources.
E. Doctrine must reflect the biblical emphasis.
3. Since the Bible is a book composed of human words, it must be interpreted grammatically and historically.
A. It must be borne in mind that the Scripture is actually a collection of books that complement each other, that need each other to give the whole picture. Every controversy about a particular passage, then, that arises in the church must be determined by a due reference to other passages.
This was normal practice with the apostolic church, showing us the standard and norm for us (2 Peter 1:20-21). When they had to determine whether the Gentiles were obliged to keep the law of Moses, they had recourse to Scripture (Acts 15:15-16).
B. Again, if we desire to understand Psalm 110, where the priest according to the order of Melchisedek is addressed by God, we have to know about Melchisedek himself (Genesis 14), and also how Psalm 110 is quoted in several books of the New Testament, especially in Hebrews.
C. We must also bear in mind that special revelation was progressive (Hebrews 1:1-3). So the prohibition on eating pork no longer binds the Christian (1 Timothy 4:3).
Failure to remember this will land us into the quagmire of “seeing contradictions in the Bible.” (Cf. Matthew 10:5-7 with 28:18-20; Luke 9:3 with 22:36; Genesis 17:10 with Galatians 5:2; Exodus 20:8 with Acts 20:7).
The principle of Scripture interpreting itself is sound and necessary. For no higher authority can be conceived than the Word of God. It is the Book that speaks for itself!