For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.
…just as our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
We are now embarking on a new study! Hermeneutics: the art and science of Biblical Interpretation.
Why should you study the Bible? A couple observations:
- It is commanded and commended (2 Tim 2:15, Psalm 119)
- It is the means of your sanctification (John 17:17)
- It is the way the Holy Spirit exposes our hearts (Heb 4:12)
- You are to have Biblical convictions, not derived convictions (Rom 14:5, 22-24)
- It is your duty to raise your children in the instruction of the Lord (Deut 6:4-9, Eph 6:4)
- You are to shepherd your wife in the Scriptures (Eph 5:26)
- Biblical maturity develops discernment (Heb 5:11-14)
- It will equip you for evangelism and apologetics (1 Peter 3:15)
- It is the source of the believer’s reviving, wisdom, joy, insight, power and truth (Psalm 19:7-11)
- Studying the Word will stir up spiritual interaction with fellow believers and motivate you in evangelism.
As 2 Peter 3:16 warns, there are those who distort (twist a statement as to make it mean a falsehood) the Scriptures – those who are unstable and untaught. The first part of our study in godliness has had its purpose to make you stable in the faith. We’re shifting gears now, turning to the work of training you to be able to understand the God-intended meaning of Scripture.
What does this verse mean to you? It had better mean what it meant before you existed!
Gordon Fee notes, “The Scripture cannot mean now what it did not mean then.” and John MacArthur, “The meaning of Scripture is the Scripture.”
Let us have Ezra as our pattern:
“Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.”
- Study (this is to examine and make inquiry to discover the true meaning of the text)
- Practice (applying the truth and principle from the Scripture with obedience and submission)
- Teach (here is the goal – yet it can only happen if the first two have been diligently done)
Said another way, to study is about extracting meaning and to practice is to draw out the various applications of the truth you have discovered. Themeaning is ancient, the application is contemporary. The interpretation of the text arrives at a singular meaning, application draws out a plurality of application.
So, the goal of biblical interpretation is to discover the divinely intended meaning that was communicated:
- by the original author
- to the original audience
- in the original context
Said another way, the goal of hermeneutics is to get the authorial intent. What did the original author intend his original audience to understand by the words he was communicating to them?
Think of it – we’re living in the 21’st century. We have to essentially time travel across to another land, another culture, another context so we can rightly come to the meaning in the text. Some passages will be harder than other to do this, and some will require a lot of work to build enough context – but here is the point: unless you get to know what the original author was communicating to his original audience in their original context, there is no way you can know that the meaning you’ve arrived at is correct.
For example, 2 Chronicles 7:14 says “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, I will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”
This has been used to motivate massive prayer meetings with the goal of claiming God’s promise to “heal our land”. Is this the legitimate application of this passage? Is anyone asking the question, could this promise have had a very particular intention to a very particular people (namely, the nation of Israel) in relation to a very particular context (the blessings and curses found in the final third of Deuteronomy) which held very particular physical promises intended for that theocratic nation.
If you do not understand the original intended meaning of the passage, you will not be able to rightly apply that passage in your context. Will you be able to apply 2 Chronicles 7:14 to your life today? Absolutely. But that application can only be legitimate if it is based on an accurate understanding of the original meaning of the text.
The true meaning of Scripture is not found in the subjective impression of the contemporary reader, but rather in the objective intention of the original author.
The meaning of Scripture first existed in the mind of God, that meaning was communicated through the human author and is contained in the text:
- it is fixed and unchanging
- it is objective and intelligible
- it exists in the text apart from the human interpreter
- the job of the interpreter is simply to discover the objective, intelligible, fixed and unchanging meaning contained in that text.
Again, the goal of biblical interpretation is to discover the divinely intended meaning that was communicated by the original author, to the original audience, in the original context. Why? Because meaning has authority, application does not. Meaning is unchanging and objective, application is subjective and changes from person to person.
My hope is that you will be better equipped to open God’s Word and approach it with confidence, knowing with certainty that this is what God intended to communicate through this passage. Because its meaning is certain and clear to me now, I must submit my life to it and apply it with wisdom. And I can then teach it to those in my sphere of influence with the boldness of a lion!