Every so often, during political debates, you will hear people talk about the importance of a proper reading of The Constitution of the United States. The argument is that if you allow people to revise the meaning of the original Framers of the Constitution through a modern revisionist approach, the nation will be led to embrace whatever the cultural winds of the day desires.
In seminary, I had faithful professors who taught me proper methods of hermeneutics—the science of biblical interpretation. It’s essential to read the Bible through a proper lens, otherwise you will end up twisting the meaning of the text outside of the proper meaning rooted in the original author who is addressing the original audience. In short, the text of Scripture has one single meaning that is extracted through a method known as the literal-historical-grammatical interpretation. Reading through an allegorical lens butchers the text and produces all sorts of meanings that are ultimately created by the reader rather than the author.
When reading the Bible we must go through a process of examination—discovering the author of the text, recipient(s) of the text, purpose of the text, and date (for contextual purposes). This method helps us extract the literal meaning as opposed to some spiritual meaning formulated through a reader’s own modern experience and circumstances. Remember the old interpretative method that asked each reader what the passage of Scripture means to them personally? We all know how dangerous this method of interpretation is—right?
Curtis Woods, one of the leaders who brought Resolution 9 to the SBC and which was adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention at the 2019 meeting in Birmingham has written extensively on “Afrosensitive evangelical spirituality” as you can see in his dissertation, “Afrosensitive evangelical spirituality champions social justice without revising Scripture.”  Woods was educated at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is currently on staff at Southern as Assistant Professor of Applied Theology and Spirituality. In his dissertation, he is arguing for the use of a specific interpretive methodology that brings to the surface the African experience. In footnote 22, Woods explains his approach carefully:
Afrocentrists, therefore, believe African peoples are more qualified to study issues that face them on account of their presuppositional commitment to African agency. See Asante, The Afrocentric Idea; Lucius Outlaw, “Critical Prelude: The Africology Project and Normative Theory,” in African American StudiesReader, ed. Nathaniel Norman, Jr. (Durham, NC: Carolina Academic, 2001), 550. In dialogue with Asante, I offer afrosensitivity to communicate a slightly different nuance. Afrosensitive hermeneutics involves reading African diasporic literature in its own voice without submitting biblical theology to personal experience. Afrosensitivity, unlike Afrocentricity, shows respect to the African perspective without enslaving one’s hermeneutic to African agency. In so doing, Afrosensitivity avoids evaluating other worldviews on the basis of African agency but rather places all worldviews under Scripture. Wheatley unequivocally affirmed a distinctly Christian worldview even though she utilized non-Christian poetic sages and Africanisms in her writings. John C. Shields, arguably the foremost scholar on Wheatley, would disagree with my assertion. Shields believes many students of Wheatley coopted her narrative to advance an agenda. She became a pawn in some socio-anthropological argument aimed at constructing a defensive or offensive front for or against racism. For more information, see John C. Shields, Phillis Wheatley’s Poetics of Liberation: Backgrounds and Contexts (Knoxville: University of Tennessee, 2008), 1-42. 
The problem with this method is that it elevates a specific hurdle that a reader of the Bible must overcome in order to get to the actual meaning of the text. In essence, if anything, this method makes it more difficult for someone to get to the true meaning of the text. For example, in his dissertation, Woods makes the following point as he defends Wheatley from the critique of Julian Mason in 1966:
Mason poorly judged Wheatley’s poetry in comparison to her European poetical counterparts, and failed to evaluate how Wheatley’s environment or lived experience shaped her writings. Sociologists label this evaluative process an “ecological perspective.” We cannot disregard how one’s biography shapes one’s theology and social concerns. 
Our lived experience—or to use another term, standpoint epistemology, should not dictate the meaning of the biblical text regardless of what any sociologist says. Anytime we read the Bible, we don’t need to read through an African lens or a European lens—we need to read through the lens of the original author.
In his book, Woke Church, Eric Mason writes the following:
In his examination of the economic situation in African American communities, Du Bois concluded that any study of “economic cooperation among Negroes must begin with the Church group.” He was referring to the founding and establishment of black churches during the period of slavery and in the aftermath of the Civil War…You can’t talk about gospel-centered and Christ-centered ministry without talking about the black church. Circumstances forced the black church to look for answers in the Bible and develop a theology that became a robust, comprehensive view of the gospel. 
This statement is indicative of the many problems found in the entire book. Mason is committed to a specific hermeneutic lens that makes the mission of the church about defending the cause of the needy and oppressed. Is that really the legacy of God’s Church? Is that really the primary purpose of God’s Church? While I’m convinced that Christians who walk in obedience to Scripture will definitely care for the needy and will stand opposed to oppression—to make bold assertions that the primary mission of the church is to be an advocate for the needy and oppressed is to be guilty of mission drift. As Mason argues for a style of preaching called “prophetic preaching” that addresses social justice matters and reflects “God’s heart” can often miss the actual meaning of the text while trying to address real problems in our culture.
Once again, this way of reading the Bible through a specific lens has developed many different approaches to the Bible through the years—one such tradition is what is known as Black Liberation Theology. This method of reading the Bible focuses upon the needs of the Black community—specifically needs related to systemic racism, systemic oppression, poverty, and other related issues to the historical Civil Rights era.
Black Liberation Theology is a method of reading and interpreting the Bible that was developed by James Cone in the 1960s. In his book, Black Theology and Black Power, James Cone explains how his theological positions were formulated:
For me, the burning theological question was, how can I reconcile Christianity and Black Power, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s idea of nonviolence and Malcom X’s by any means necessary philosophy? The writing of Black Theology and Black Power was the beginning of my search for a resolution of that dilemma. 
Anytime we approach the Bible looking for a means to reconcile Christianity to political movements, it will inevitably result in a misreading and misinterpretation of the Scriptures. We must ultimately remember that the Bible is not about us. It’s about God and his redemptive plan to save sinners. We make application to us, and as always, on the bridge of application from the ancient text to the modern reader, we must not fall off the bridge and be swept down the stream of cultural interpretations through an improper hermeneutic.
Woke Commentary Selection
After a proper evaluation of the text of Scripture through a proper literal-historical-grammatical hermeneutic, it’s always wise to read commentaries to see how others have reached the goal of discovering the meaning of the text. This is a good practice because it enables us to make sure that we haven’t gone far off track in our approach.
So, how should we go about selecting commentaries to read and study the Bible? Should it have anything to do with their gifts, abilities, and specific educational background that enables them to be a clear voice that points to the meaning of the biblical text? Sure, but what about skin color and gender? Should a minority be able to speak to text in a better way than a white male? In other words, when studying the Bible, should we use a form of intersectionality in order to decide what commentaries to pull from the shelf to read? Well, that is precisely what Beth Moore is promoting. Notice what she stated on Twitter about her approach to reading and Bible study:
Much of these last 2 years I spent neck-deep in books on viticulture as I wrote on John 15. I learned so much. I love research. In my regular reading this year, to balance what I’d leaned toward for years, I concentrated on women authors and Black men and women authors both. 
In a Twitter exchange on January 4th 2020, Beth Moore explained why she doesn’t put out a yearly reading list. After someone requested to know what she’s reading, she explained her approach of reading black men and women authors. Are white males disqualified from providing clear exegesis? Not only is this a form of intersectionality, it’s likewise a means of virtue signaling to the watching world. It makes Beth Moore look good in the eyes of a culture raging on social justice. However, I wonder when she is boarding an airplane if she looks to see if the pilots are black men and women before she enters and takes her seat? Would she use this same approach in selecting a cardiologist or oncologist for treatment purposes?
The point is clear, we can’t afford to allow the social justice agenda to hijack our hermeneutics. How we read the Bible matters. An improper lens results in an improper interpretation—leading to an improper meaning. Do we really need a new social justice fueled hermeneutic? Must we read the Bible through what might be called, “The Intersectional Standpoint Epistemological Hermeneutic?”
It’s time that the evangelical church wake-up and consider the massive implications of the social justice agenda. When conservative evangelical denominations and leaders begin to use standpoint epistemological qualifications for interpreting the Bible and intersectionality as a means of commentary selection—it’s indicative of the massive cancer that’s within.
Beware of those who continue to cry, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace. Within the SBC, we have become the laughing-stock of the evangelical world. For years people have continued to lament the fact that the SBC once won the war on the inerrancy of the Bible, but it’s currently losing the war on the sufficiency of the Bible. How long will it be until the watching evangelical world knows that the SBC not only believes in the full inerrancy of the Bible, but likewise stands unashamedly upon the sufficiency of the Bible? Stating that the Bible is sufficient in the annual SBC pastors’ conference and then adopting CRT/I as helpful analytical tools for gospel ministry is a massive inconsistency.
Such a commitment will take leadership that stands when others remain seated, speaks up when others remain silent, and advances forward when others hide in the shadows. J.C. Ryle once made the following statement that’s certainly very applicable to our current condition within evangelical circles:
Whenever a man takes upon him to make additions to the Scriptures, he is likely to end with valuing his own additions above Scripture itself.
Curtis Woods, “THE LITERARY RECEPTION OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF PHILLIS WHEATLEY (1753-1784): AN AFROSENSITIVE READING” (Louisville, KY: The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2018), 6.
Eric Mason, Woke Church: An Urgent Call for Christians in America to Confront Racism and Injustice, (Chicago: Moody, 2018), 126.
James Cone, Black Theology and Black Power, (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1997).
This Sunday evening, the pastors of Pray’s Mill Baptist Church where I serve as pastor, will begin a series through the parables. In preparation for that series, I’ve been reading and thinking about the purpose of parables in the preaching and teaching ministry of Jesus. What is the point of parable as a genre? Why did Jesus employ parables? What can we learn today from Jesus’ parables as we consider the art of sermon crafting and sermon delivery? The answer to such questions are both expected and shocking at the same time.
What is a parable? A parable is a specific type of genre. In the Bible we see differing types of genre such as law, wisdom, history, narrative, poetry, didactic, gospel, and the always exciting apocalyptic literature. The parable is a short fictional story used for the purpose of revealing and concealing truth—sometimes simultaneously. John MacArthur, in his excellent book titled, Parables, writes:
A parable is not merely a simple analogy. It’s an elongated simile or metaphor with a distinctly spiritual lesson contained in the analogy. Short figures of speech like “as strong as a horse” or “as quick as a rabbit” are plain similes—simples and straightforward enough not to require an explanation. A parable extends the comparison into a longer story or more complex metaphor, and the meaning (always a point of spiritual truth) is not necessarily obvious. Most of Jesus’ parables demanded some kind of explanation. 
John MacArthur goes on to writes, “A parable is an ingeniously simple word picture illuminating a profound spiritual lesson.”  While some people define a parable as “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning,” it would do us well to go far beyond that simplistic definition of a parable. MacArthur’s definition is helpful on several levels as it points to the illuminating work and the profound spiritual lesson.
Powerful Stories to Illustrate Truth
There is no mistaking the power of a good story. Jesus, as the master-teacher in the history of the world, certainly understood this truth. In a masterful way, Jesus would take a story and use it to illustrate a truth in a powerful manner. Although our Lord did not always speak in parables (most of the Sermon on the Mount is not parable), he used them frequently as devices to illustrate the truths of God to his disciples. What does it mean to illustrate truth?
First, we must understand that Jesus used fictional tales that he made up for the purpose of illustrating truth. These stories were not true, although they certainly followed the storyline of normal everyday life in such a way that connected with normal everyday people. However, we must not forget that Jesus was certainly teaching absolute truth. Parables are not open riddles left to the reader’s flowery imagination to interpret how he or she so desires. The story may be flowery, but only in so far as to illustrate the concrete truth to his followers. Parables added color and life to the concrete truth in such a way that his followers could understand and remember.
We must reject the notion that “a sermon is not a doctrinal lecture. It is an event-in-time, a narrative art form more akin to a play or a novel in shape than to a book. Hence we are not engineering scientists; we are narrative artists by professional function.”  Such ideas may sound attractive to the post-truth culture, but for those entrusted with God’s Word, we must rightly handle the Word of truth. The use of stories may help illustrate a truth, but the idea that doctrine and story cannot live under the same roof is a misrepresentation of parabolic literature.
Practical Stories to Reveal Truth
Parables were often practical stories about normal characters in life such as “two sons” or the “sheep and goats.” How more practical could you get than a story about marriage or fishing? Such stories connected with people, but they were not just designed to evoke a feeling in the listeners as much as they were vehicles to deliver truth. As we discussed the ability of Jesus to illustrate truth with such stories, parables were also used to unveil truth that was never before known to his followers.
When Jesus wanted to reveal truth to his followers, he would at times provide such revelation through the use of a parable. One example is the parable of the sower as recorded in Matthew 13. After Jesus told the story of the sower, he was asked, “Why do you speak in parables?” Jesus responded by saying, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matt. 13:11). In another place, Jesus prayed to the Father and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight” (Matt. 11:25-26).
Polemical Stories to Conceal Truth
Often people view Jesus’ parables as little pithy stories designed to teach and explain spiritual truths. In fact, many believe that Jesus, as the master-teacher, is seeking to put the cookies on the bottom shelf for everyone to understand. However, it may come as a shock to you that Jesus often used parables to conceal truth from people. Rather than seeking to unveil the truth to all, Jesus often spoke with parables in order to conceal truths that were never designed for some people to understand. Why would Jesus want to hide truth from people?
In one sense, Jesus’ parabolic teaching was a judgment upon the wicked. They were not given eyes to see and ears to hear of these grand truths—and so as Jesus preached to his disciples—the God hating, Jesus despising, and highly religious Jews of the day were being judged. Such judgment was evident as Jesus said:
This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’ 
The polemical idea of parabolic teaching is that Jesus is calling out the unbelievers and their hard hearts by pronouncing a judgment upon them. Parables may be a blessing to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, but they are clearly judgment upon those who are seeing but cannot see and having ears are unable to hear and understand the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Last of all, this veiled judgment is a mercy upon the wicked at the same time. For, just as Jesus warned the unrepentant cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum—those who have heard more gospel and seen more of God’s light of truth will be held accountable for it on the day of judgment. In other words, had those people understood the parables of Jesus—they would have been held to a much more strict judgment and the truth would have been a more severe weight of judgment on them in eternity. Therefore, God in his judgment is merciful at the same time. We should praise God for his judgments and his mercy—for in both we see the goodness of God.
Matthew 13:11 — And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.
John MacArthur, Parables, (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2015), xxiv.
Eugene L. Lowry, The Homiletical Plot: The Sermon as Narrative (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001), xx-xxi.
The most difficult task of a pastor is not defending the deity of Christ, working out issues of ecclesiology within the church, nor is it articulating the doctrines of grace. The most challenging role of a pastor is teaching people how to interpret the Bible. In fact, if people can interpret the Bible properly, it takes care of most of the other issues in the life of the church. Pastors have classes in biblical hermeneutics (the science of interpretation) in seminary, but the fact is, this study is not reserved for pastors alone.
As you can see in the clip above, Oprah Winfrey recently appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and they engaged in a brief discussion about the Bible. They were talking about their favorite Bible verse. If you listen to Oprah closely, you will hear her make some really big interpretative mistakes. I want to break down what she said in order to demonstrate her error in biblical interpretation.
First, she quotes Psalm 37:4 without considering the context.
Then, she focused on the word “delight” and said that she really likes the word “delight.” However, she doesn’t attempt to define it in the Hebrew language in which it was written.
Oprah then made a classic mistake. After quoting the verse, she said, “Now, what that says to me…” This is a classic mistake in biblical interpretation. The Bible is not left open to private interpretations. Our goal in reading the Bible is to return to what the original author intended. In this case, what did the Psalmist mean or intend when he wrote Psalm 37:4?
At that point, she moved on to define LORD, the sacred name of God (YHWH). She said, “LORD has a wide range, what is LORD, compassion, love, forgiveness, kindness. So you delight yourself in those virtues where the character of the LORD is revealed.” She simply redefines the name of God and substitutes virtues in God’s place. There is absolutely no biblical interpretative method that would lead to Oprah’s interpretation. Not one single Bible scholar would support her answer. Her answer is based on mysticism and a blatant misuse of the Bible to serve her own desires.
Oprah concluded by suggesting that if you delight yourself in those virtues that she previously quoted, you will receive the desires of your heart. Another clear mistake is her unbalanced emphasis upon the “desires of your heart.” She doesn’t consider what the heart is without a proper understanding and relationship to the LORD. Therefore, what she fails to realize is that the heart is deceitful and wicked. However, her interpretation of the word “desires” is rooted in health, wealth, and prosperity theology.
In order to avoid the classic mistakes of heretical theology, it’s essential to understand how to approach the Bible and how to read it as God intends. Below are some helpful tips regarding Bible reading and interpretation.
Tip #1 – Interpret the Bible in Context: What does this mean? It means that we should read the Bible verse by verse through entire books of the Bible rather than merely cherry picking verses from the middle of a letter and trying to import meaning on a verse that may have a different meaning altogether. Always avoid the classic mistake – “What does this verse mean to you?” Honestly, it doesn’t matter what it means to you. It matters what it meant to the original author. Suppose you found a letter in your grandparent’s attic after they died. Suppose it was a letter from your grandfather to your grandmother. How would you come to the conclusion of what your grandfather intended and desired for your grandmother to know by the letter? Would you start in the middle? Would you start at the end? Would you pick a couple of highlights and create a nice outline and perhaps make it rhyme? No. You would start at the top and read the entire letter and consider the vocabulary, tone, and implications as you read. In that same way, we should read the Bible.
Tip #2 – Define Words: Defining the words will help unpack the meaning of the original author. It would be helpful to especially define the verbs in the sentence and it shows movement and action in the author’s intent. We must remember that the Bible wasn’t originally written in English. We do have really good translations of the Bible in our language, but the Bible was primarily written in Hebrew and Greek originally. Looking at the original languages and defining the words is a key to understanding the meaning of the text. You can find great resources at Logos.com or BlueLetterBible.com.
Tip #3 – Avoid Eisegesis – The goal in biblical interpretation is to pull out of the text the true meaning of the verse. This is often called exegesis. Unfortunately, in many cases, people are guilty of eisegesis which is the practice of importing meaning into a text rather than extracting the meaning from the text through exegesis. In simple terms – our goal in reading the Bible is to find the meaning in the text and lift it out rather than doing what Oprah did in the clip above. She imported her own meaning into the Bible which avoids the real meaning and violates the sacredness of God’s Word.
Tip #4 – Look for the Single Meaning – Remember, each passage of Scripture found in the Bible has only one single meaning. It cannot have a meaning for you and a meaning for me. It has one meaning and it’s our goal to locate the single meaning through proper reading, defining terms, and seeking to understand the text through a proper lens of the original author. Walter Kaiser said:
Any successful exegete must face the question of intentionality. We are most confident that the meaning of any given word (and therefore its text and context) will be discretely contained in in a single intention of the author. 
Tip #5 – Interpret the Bible as God’s Word – The Bible is a unique book. It is the Word of God to human beings and it contains a wide array of information. At the heart of the entire Bible is the redemptive plan of God. It can be traced from Genesis 3 to Revelation 22. We must read the Bible with humility and respect. As we read the Bible, we can consider what God would have us know about Him. We must also recognize that God’s Word serves as a mirror to reveal the true identity of our depraved human heart. Steven Lawson, in his sermon titled, “Is the Bible Just Another Book?” said, “I’ve read other books, this book reads me.”
Tip #6 – Pray– Before you read and interpret the Bible (and during), it would be a good practice to pray. We depend upon God to give us wisdom as we read the Bible. The natural man (and mind) cannot understand the things of God because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14).
Tip #7 – Examine Your Interpretation – If the final outcome of your interpretation serves to exalt the fleshly desires of the human heart rather than praise and exalt the character and holiness of God – there is likely a mistake in your interpretation. For instance, as Oprah was using Psalm 37:4 as a means of getting her fleshly desires met, we must realize, that’s not the aim of that particular verse. You can also read trusted commentators from church history along with trusted Bible teachers from today to see where your interpretation lines up with their understanding of the verse. How close are you? Are you in the same ballpark? If Charles Spurgeon, John Calvin, Matthew Henry, and Jonathan Edwards from church history are miles apart from your interpretation, there is likely a problem somewhere in how you came to your conclusion. If trusted Bible teachers such as James Montgomery Boice, John MacArthur, John Piper and others disagree with your position by a long shot, you will likely need to reconsider how you came to your conclusion.
If you sit under good Bible preaching each week in the context of your local church, you will notice that your pastor will seek to move systematically through the Bible in a verse by verse method. Watch how he approaches the Bible. Notice how he seeks to define vocabulary. Notice how he links the context of the passage each week. In that same way, you can read the Bible in your personal devotion. Avoid hopping through the Bible without any method to your madness. Likewise, these same principles will be of great aid in your family worship in your home each week.
Do not interpret the Bible like Oprah Winfrey. Just as little boys watch professional baseball players to develop better swings and glove skills, we can learn much by watching good Bible preachers and teachers handle the Word of God. Avoid the poor examples and learn much from the good examples.
Last summer, my family and I visited Washington D.C. and had the opportunity to visit the different museums around the historic city. While I’m quite sure my son enjoyed the visit to the US Bureau of Printing and Engraving more than any other attraction, I enjoyed the visit to the National Archives building where we stood over the Constitution of the United States of America along with the Bill of Rights and other historic documents.
If you want to really pick a fight with people, just talk about amending the Constitution and changing the historical document. Many people are extremely sensitive about the Constitution and believe in preserving the intent of the founding fathers of our nation. As I think back to my visit to see these old documents, I was struck by much more than the signatures of John Hancock and former presidents. I was amazed at the high tech security and security guards positioned next to the casing where the documents are housed in the museum. Much effort goes into preserving these historic pieces of paper.
When it comes to the historic documents of our nation, we seek to preserve the intention of the authors and signees, but when it comes to the Bible, why are we willing to play “fast and loose” with the biblical text? For many conservative Christians, they approach the Bible as a book written by God. However, they don’t pay much attention to the authorial intent of the specific text they’re reading. What did Paul intend for the church at Galatia? What about the church at Corinth? What was his overall goal with the church at Ephesus? What about young Timothy, why did Paul labor so much near the end of his life to write to Timothy?
The fancy “seminary” word for Bible interpretation is hermeneutics. The word hermeneutics, in brief, means the science of biblical interpretation. Most church members in the average evangelical church don’t use the term – hermeneutics, but they do employ specific interpretative methods each time they open their Bible. You see, it matters how we approach the Bible.
Are we merely cherry picking verses or quotes of Jesus about a selected topic or are we seeking to read the Bible in the broad context through a specific lens? Are we approaching the Bible in order to change the historic meaning to a more updated meaning that better suits our lifestyle or our culture? Do we have a right to assign meaning to the Constitution of the United States of America? The simple answer is – no. Why do so many people seem to think the Bible is an open book that provides us with revisionist license to change and alter meaning?
When we read Exodus are we connecting the dots to Jesus’ death on the cross and His priestly office as described in Hebrews or do we simply soldier through Exodus as if it’s disconnected history? Martin Luther rightly stated, “No man understands the Scriptures, unless he be acquainted with the cross.”
When reading the Bible, it’s vital to ask good questions about the text such as:
Who wrote this particular book?
What was his purpose / goal?
How is this single text and the events taking place in this text connected to the history of redemption or the big story of salvation?
What difficult words and verses are in this text that make it difficult to understand? Is there another place in the Bible where these same words are used by the same author? What about outside the specific author of this text? When reading the overall context, what does the natural definition of the words seem to mean?
What is the single meaning of this text? Keep in mind, there is only one meaning for the text.
Does this remove the joy of reading the Bible? I would argue in the opposite direction. I think it increases joy as you’re able to unpack truth that will come to play in your life. There is a certain amount of joy in uncovering and discovering truth in the Bible – otherwise there is no end goal or purpose in your Bible reading.
As you hear people (especially during heated political conversations) talk about preserving the intentions of the founding fathers as they’re recorded in the historic documents of our nation, let that be a simple reminder about the necessity to preserve the meaning of the human author in each text of Scripture. Whatever God wanted to communicate is exactly what the human author wrote. However, he was not writing as a robot. God specifically chose and designed each human author so as to write and communicate from a certain perspective, with certain vocabulary, and with a certain personality. In short, what the human author wrote is what God wrote. This is the beauty of biblical inspiration. The goal in biblical interpretation is to unearth the gems of divine truth each time we read the Bible.
The Bible may be old, but it’s relevant. It may seem outdated, but it’s more relevant than our modern publications – including the morning’s newspaper. The Bible may seem insufficient to deal with the complexities of a modern culture, but each time we examine the hot topics being debated in the town square or the Supreme Court, they always have a connection to this old book that we call the Bible. Therefore, how we read it matters.
Thomas Watson once said, “The Scripture is to be its own interpreter, or rather the Spirit speaking in it; nothing can cut the diamond; nothing can interpret Scripture but Scripture.”1
1. Thomas Watson, A Puritan Golden Treasury, compiled by I.D.E. Thomas, by permission of Banner of Truth, Carlisle, PA. 2000, p. 37.
My family was having a meal with a group of ladies who were visiting from England back in January. As we discussed life in America, someone brought up the American educational system. As we talked about the origin of some of the most well known and prestigious universities, a couple of the young ladies had no idea that those institutions were originally founded for the training of ministers of the gospel.
It may come with the jolt of an electric shock that Harvard was originally founded for the training of gospel ministers, but it’s true. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States. The school was founded in 1636 in Massachusetts and named after the generous preacher, John Harvard, who upon his death in 1638 gave his entire library and half of his estate to the school. To this very day, his statue on the campus of Harvard is one of the most popular landmarks of the institution’s history.
The founders of Harvard looked forward, like other groups who organize the founding of an institution of higher education. They looked into the future and drafted a statement that would help set a vision for the school. The language of this document has the ring of the Puritan age. The following is taken directly from Harvard’s official admission requirements:
2. Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well,the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life, John 17.3. and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning. And seeing the Lord only giveth wisdom, let every one seriously set himself by prayer in secret to seek it of him Prov. 2, 3.
From the beginning, Harvard placed a high priority upon God’s Word. From the reading of God’s Word to the studying of God’s Word, the Harvard faculty seemed to be committed to standing firm upon the truthfulness and reliability of the Bible. The following statement from the admission requirement gives a picture into where Harvard once stood upon the importance of God’s Word. They called it “light” that “giveth understanding to the simple” as they quoted from the Psalms.
3. Every one shall so exercise himself in reading the Scriptures twice a day,that he shall be ready to give such an account of his proficiency therein, both in theoretical observations of the language, and logic, and in practical and spiritual truths, as his tutor shall require, according to his ability; seeing the entrance of the Word giveth light, it giveth understanding to the simple, Psalm. 119. 130.
This document that would be binding upon all students pointed them to God’s Word to know and worship God. They were committed to training ministers to love God’s truth. This is evident by the following paragraph:
4. That they eschewing all profanation of God’s name, attributes, word, ordinance, and times of worship, do study with good conscience, carefully to retain God, and the love of his truth in their minds, else let them know, that (notwithstanding their learning) God may give them up to strong delusions, and in the end to a reprobate mind, 2 Thes. 2. 11, 12. Rom. 1. 28.
Today, Harvard has a completely different position regarding God’s Word. The divinity school still remains in existence, but they also have Harvard College which serves as their main undergraduate educational option. Within the divinity school, the faculty members instruct from a liberal perspective regarding the trustworthiness of God’s Word. The present faculty would not hold to the Puritan positions on inerrancy, biblical authority, and sufficiency as did the founders. Today, many faculty members within the divinity school of Harvard embrace a more ecumenical position of openness and spirituality. This is far different from where John Harvard and the founding faculty of our nation’s oldest higher educational institution once stood.
Harvard research professor, Dr. Harvey Cox, in his forthcoming book, How To Read The Bible (to be released 4-14-15 from HarperCollins), writes, “I am not satisfied with the ex nihilo interpretation of the creation account, which implies a God who is utterly omnipotent and therefore does not have to struggle against evil as we humans do” (26). This gives us an idea of why Dr. Cox would reject the verbal plenary inspiration of God’s Word as well. He employs a “history of interpretation” method of biblical interpretation. In short, Dr. Cox writes, “it moves us out of the duality of ‘what it originally meant’ verses ‘what it now means’ to what it has meant” (128). According to Professor Cox, this methodology widens our perspective and gives us a better understanding of what the Bible says by listening to others interpret the Bible through their lens and context of life. I will have more to say on Dr. Cox’s positions when I review his book, but needless to say, his positions are starkly different from the positions of John Harvard.
Harvard has changed. The faculty has changed. The student body has changed. Perhaps this change at Harvard is best depicted by a quick comparison of the school’s motto found on the original Harvard seal verses the present day official seal of Harvard. Rather than “Truth (Veritas) for Christ (Christo) and the Church (Ecclesiae),” the new seal simply reads, “Veritas” or truth without any binding or absolute foundation.
The question remains – has the Bible changed? Rather than standing firmly upon the robust authority of God’s inerrant Word, Harvard has taken a more loose position regarding the Bible. Although the success and prestige of Harvard continues into our modern era, the original doctrines once taught from the lectern in the classroom have been turned into antiquated documents of Harvard’s history, or perhaps, reference points in Dr. Cox’s “history of interpretation” method of biblical hermeneutics.
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Note: I have been invited to Spain to debate Dr. Harvey Cox regarding the inerrancy and authority of the Bible in October of this year. I will write more about Dr. Cox’s forthcoming book referenced in this article and the debate in the coming months.
The “Butchered Bible Verse” series continues today with a very popular verse that is often heard in sermons around July 4th in America. As we approach the study of Scripture, we must be cautious to rightly handle God’s Word. As we read, study, apply, and preach the Word, we must always remember that the Bible is God’s Word – not the word of man. We have no right to mishandle it, misquote it, misinterpret it, or reinterpret it to fit our personal agenda. We must always avoid the trap of many small group Bible studies that ask, “What does this verse mean to you?” Instead, we should ask what this verse means to God and what did the original author who wrote under the inspiration of the Spirit of God intend?
2 Chronicles 7:14 – If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
Explanation of how the text is misused
As we’re getting near the summer, we can expect to hear sermons from preachers who, with good intentions, will cite 2 Chronicles 7:14 or preach an entire message on that single verse while applying it to America. Most of the time it’s an attempt to demonstrate the need for repentance in our nation. At times we hear of preachers who use this verse to call out our national position on abortion, and in most recent days, our President’s opinion about homosexual marriage. As we examine the text, it is abundantly clear that 2 Chronicles 7:14 is not speaking about America – the home of the brave!
Explanation of the text
The wrong application of 2 Chronicles 7:14 is to lift it out of its context and apply it to America or any other single nation. Anytime we attach a text of Scripture to America, we must be extremely cautious. Because in that act we are saying this is a reference to God’s promise for America when in reality – it isn’t. The key is found in two specific places in the text.
1. The verse begins by a key reference to “my people.” This is not a reference to all people in America or any other nation, because we know that by that phrase the Chronicler was referencing the people of God – specifically of Israel.
2. Within that framework, the people of God were under judgment for sin. This involved pestilence, drought, and exile from their land. It would be wrong to suggest that America is under judgment, as the children of God, and that God is calling us BACK to Him. For the most part, America has never known God, so God isn’t calling America to come BACK. If anything, God is commanding unbelievers in America to repent, but they don’t need a rededication card at the end of a service around July 4th, they need a new heart created by the Spirit of God, paid for by the Son of God, and accomplished by the will of God the Father.
A correct view would be to suggest that in a general sense – if the people of God in America would genuinely seek the face of God and call upon Him, while in a form of genuine repentance, we would see a great revival take place in our land. However, we can’t be promised that it will solve America’s problems. The truth is, much of the problems that America faces is due to the unbelievers and their desire to live according to the lust of their flesh and the passions of their heart. The true church in America is smaller than the unbelieving population. While a revival is needed in our land, what we truly need is a great awakening of genuine salvation. The former may lead to the latter, but only by the grace of God.
It is not biblically accurate for preachers to stand in pulpits and claim that 2 Chronicles 7:14 is a promise of a total healing of America. Even if the true church in America remains faithful, God may still judge America. We must remember that Americans are not God’s people. In a large sense, the people of America are the enemies of God. Just to clarify – so as to not sound like Westboro Baptist – the large population of unbelievers in America are the enemies of God as the Scripture says (James 4:4; Romans 8:7; Ephesians 2:2-3; John 8:44). The church in America belongs to God, but in all reality, that number is much smaller than we like to believe.
May God be pleased to send a heaven sent revival to His church in America and a glorious awakening of genuine salvation among unbelievers. Let that be our prayer. There is nothing wrong with American Christians who are proud to be Americans, but we must remember – the the grace of God is not reserved for America alone. Patriotic Americans have a right to be proud of our nation and thankful for freedom, but we must remember that being a patriotic American is not the same as possessing faith in Jesus and acceptance of the gospel of Christ.