Example of Bible Interpretation.
(Applying interpretive processes to biblical passages)
To my dear friend Gaius, whom I love in the truth.
Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well. It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. (NIV)
The Elder unto the wellbeloved Gaius, whom I love in truth. 2Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth. 3For I rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth. 4I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth. (KJV)
Here is a very simple example on how to do a proper exegesis with an epistle. First, if you haven't done so, please study the guide on understanding Epistles.
You will notice that our passage is the opening part of a personal letter. Here the author starts with a salutation to introduce himself as the Elder and the recipient as Gaius. But for some reason he skipped the greeting part of the letter (see 2 John 3). The author in verse 2, follows the standard form by expressing a prayer for Gaius before the main body of the letter. In verses 3-4, the author informed Gaius of what he heard about him and how he feels about it. That's it. Verses 1-4 are pretty clear if you will read it carefully. The author considers Gaius a convert since the author considers him one of his children. Remember, to find the theme and purpose of the letter, you should read the whole letter.
Verse 2 has always been the more prominent verse in that it has often been interpreted as a promise from God that Christians should be rich and healthy. It became a key verse for a doctrine that guarantees health and wealth for Christians. But is it true? Does Gaius interpreted it as such? Does the elder intend it to be a promise from God of wealth and health?
Going back to guidelines for proper interpretation, the guarantee of health and wealth is not the intended meaning of the original author, nor would Gaius take it as such. "Health and success" are themes that are commonly included in personal letters during that time. Verse 2 only confirms that theme and is a standard part in the beginning of the letter.
To put so much weight on verse 2 is to neglect the proper way of reading the letter. None of the original reader would do this, and neither should we. If we claim that such an interpretation is only revealed to us in this generation, we are saying that the Bible changes its meaning in time. That cannot be accepted.
Remember, the Bible still means what it meant originally, this is the only way the Bible will become meaningful and protects its message. Verse 2 was intended to be a "wish" or "prayer" of the author to Gaius and it still the same today. I can accept if you will pray for others to be rich and healthy because of this verse, but not if you will tell me that this verse is God's guarantee that Christians should be materially rich and physically healthy.
What do you think? Please do not hesitate to send your comments or questions whether you agree or disagree.
Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. (KJV)
In this example, we will apply interpretation by paying close attention to grammar and meaning of words.
At first glance, this verse seems to be very clear and easy to understand. But the problem is that what seems to be a simple meaning of what Paul is saying here is contradicting the Bible teaching of salvation by faith alone.
So now we need to understand this passage without contradicting Paul himself (see Eph.2:8-9) and the basic doctrine of the Bible as one of our guidelines for proper interpretation.
We should start by finding the meaning of "work out". First, the words "work out" is considered to be not in Greek. Second, this is a different word found in Eph. 2:9 where Paul is saying that we cannot be save by "work". Third, Paul uses the same Greek word in 2 Corinthians 12:12 "The signs of a true apostle were performedamong you..." (NASB). Paul's true apostleship was not earned by signs but rather signs were seen or demonstrated because he was a true apostle. So here in our passage: Paul could be saying that the Philippians should live out ("work out" not "work for") the life of a person that has already been saved.
Although some version have "work for", it seems that "work out" is a better choice of words.
Also, verse 13 (note "for") indicates that it is a continuation of verse 12, which is the reason why they should "work out". Therefore what the passage actually means is that since the Philippians have been saved and God is now working in them to will and act, they should manifest it by the way they live their lives everyday. This is another way of reiteration of what Paul just said previously in 1:27 "...conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ." (NIV)
Now try to explain what Paul meant by "fear and trembling"?
40Then Jesus spoke up and answered his thoughts. "Simon," he said to the Pharisee, "I have something to say to you." All right, Teacher," Simon replied, "go ahead." 41Then Jesus told him this story: "A man loaned money to two people- five hundred pieces of silver to one and fifty pieces to the other. 42But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?" 43Simon answered, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt." "That's right," Jesus said. (NLT)Here is a simple example of interpreting a parable. First, we should know the whole context by reading verses 36-50. Jesus was invited to eat in Simon's house. A certain woman came and poured out an expensive perfume to wash Jesus' feet. She was also weeping and using her hair to wipe Jesus' feet. Simon saw this, and started questioning the behavior of the woman and of Jesus who allowed this to happen. Then Jesus turned to Simon and told him the parable. So what is the main point of the parable? Is Jesus asking Simon to forgive the woman? Is Jesus trying to give them an example of forgiving others? To find out the point of Jesus' parable, we should know who is the audience and why did he say it in the first place. The main audience is Simon. Since the parable is directed towards him. Also the woman since she can identify herself in the parable. Jesus told the story in response to Simon's thoughts of criticism towards Jesus and the woman. Even though, Jesus explained the point of the parable in verses 44-47, Simon got the main point right after Jesus told him the story. It was judgment of Simon's real attitude towards Jesus. For the woman, it was the acceptance of her acts of love toward him. The parable is saying that both Simon and the woman's actions during the meal exposed their real attitude towards God's mercy on them. Remember, parables are meant to drive home a point to the audience, and we shouldn't miss that point by concentrating on every elements of the parable and ignoring the context of the parable itself. What do you think?
Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, 2 instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And God permitting, we will do so.
4It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, 6 if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.
7Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. 8 But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. (NIV)
This segment is considered to be one of the most popular controversial passage in the New Testament. The controversy is created by two different understandings of salvation: the teaching of eternal security or 'once saved always saved' and the other called 'Arminianism'. Both camps will interpret the passage to accommodate their personal belief concerning eternal security.
The problem with those who adhere to the 'once saved always saved' is the fact that they will assume that those who are described in verses 4-5 are not really saved. Or else they will say that this warning is only hypothetical and will not really happen to anyone who is really saved.
On the other hand, those who believe that a person can loose his salvation will have to struggle with the fact that verses 4-5 mentions the impossibility of bringing the "backslider" back to repentance.
So what does this passage really means to us today? Here are some facts to help you understand its message.
Background: The book of Hebrews was originally written to Christian Jews that were in the middle of a difficult trial. These Jewish Christians were tempted to leave Christianity and go back to Judaism. The letter to the Hebrews was trying to show to them that the New Covenant in Jesus Christ is superior than the one they had in the Old Testament or Judaism. The author included several warnings about falling away and going back. Our current passage of Hebrews 6:1-8 is one of them.
Although they are varying opinions to what the passage is teaching, there are things that most of us will agree.
- The author's main objective is neither to teach for nor against eternal security, but rather to warn his hearers about falling away (v.6). It is important that we be careful about using the passage to support our own personal understanding about eternal security.
- The author is not talking about sin in general, but about the specific and personal action of an individual. This is called apostasy. Apostasy is a deliberate and intellectual decision to renounce the Christian faith publicly.
- The author did not say that God cannot forgive the person who commits apostasy, but rather it is impossible for that person to turn around to repent again.
Let's interpret the passage:
(Verse 1-3) "Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, 2 instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And God permitting, we will do so."
Back in 5:11-14, the author doubted their ability to understand deeper Christian teachings. The author implies that the Hebrews are still "slow to learn" or "infants." So here in verses 6:1-3, the author encourages them to "go on" in learning deeper teachings rather than staying with the "elementary" or basic foundations of their doctrine.
(Verse 4-5) "4It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, 6 if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace."
In this passage the author inserted a warning of what might happen to those who are still " immature" or "infant" when faced with difficult trials; it is the danger of apostasy. Because of pressure they will deliberately and intellectually decide to renounce the Christian faith publicly. Here the author is not saying that God cannot rescue or God cannot forgive them. The author is saying it is "impossible" to turn those people back again. The impossibility is not on what God can do, but it is impossible to bring back those who have deliberately and intelligently made their decision to renounce Christ publicly. The author is speaking from experience. How can you convert those that had already been converted? How can you convince those who were convinced already? How can you wake up a person that is not really sleeping? The answer is, "it is impossible." To make it clear, when the author mentioned "crucifying the Son of God all over again," the purpose is to identify those who commit apostasy just like the people who rejected Jesus Christ and asked him to be crucified the first time. They rejected Jesus Christ as the Messiah after all the evidence and proof that Christ perform in their midst.
(Verse 7-8) "7Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. 8 But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned."
This example gave us one more evidence with what the author is thinking. A Christian who experienced what was mentioned in verses 4-5 and then commits apostasy is like a piece of land that receives all the blessings but instead of producing crops, it produces thorns and thistles. In other words, their end is destruction.
This is just a simple interpretation. Please study more on your own. Also, do not hesitate to send your comments or questions whether you agree or disagree.
The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. (NIV)
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (KJV)
Here is an example of a passage that has a simple meaning if we will read and apply it carefully. But the problem with this passage is the fact that some will use this as an excuse to deny the need for learning proper interpretation. All a Christian needs is the Holy Spirit who will reveal to us the meaning of the Word of God. Others will also add that unbelievers will not be able to understand the Bible at all since since the unbeliever does not have the Holy Spirit in them. But what is it that Paul is really saying?
Do Christians understands everything in the Bible because they have the Holy Spirit? Of course not. Even today scholars have difficulties in finding a consensus on the meaning of several Bible verses.
The statement: "Unbelievers cannot understand anything from the Bible because they don't have the Holy Spirit." Is this true? Of course not. Anyone who has common sense and can read will be able to explain Genesis 1:1 just as well as most Christians can.
What we need is to understand what Paul really means by the word "understand" in this verse. The first phrase "the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him," clearly shows that the unbeliever considers the truth of God as foolishness. He may understand it in full details but he does not receive it because for him it is just foolishness or nonsense.
The second phrase, "he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned," is what causes the misunderstanding. It is important to see the connection between the words "understand" and "discerned." Also, it is important to see the connection of the two phrases; they are not really saying two different ideas but rather the same idea in two different ways. "Discerned" means "judged or evaluated." Paul is saying that only through the Holy Spirit that can we evaluate the things that comes from the Spirit of God. Whenever a person without the Spirit evaluates the things of the Spirit of God, although he cognitively or mentally understand what it means, he will disregard it or not accept it because in his own judgment, it is foolishness. In that sense the man without the Holy Spirit cannot 'understand' the things of the Spirit.
This understanding of the verse is more credible because it flows with the context of the author's teaching. It understands the meaning of the words as it relates to the rest of the whole passage, and it makes sense if we try to apply it to our daily experience.
What do you think? Please do not hesitate to send your comments or questions whether you agree or disagree.