May 2009


In the last post I talked a little about how the Bible is one “grand drama of redemption” and that to miss this very important point will cause one to possibly misinterpret the meaning of particular texts.  Over the next few weeks I will scatter some posts about how one should read the Bible properly, and when appropriate give some examples of what happens when somebody reads and interprets the Bible improperly. 

One of the keys to reading the Bible properly is to recognize the context(s) in which your text is set.  There are many kinds of contexts, but for the sake of this post we will focus only on the literary context.  Even here there are different levels of context that all need to be considered (i.e. immediate, book, genre, canonical).  What happens when these contexts aren’t considered is we then turn the Bible into a “fortune-cookie Bible” or just a book of pithy phrases and propositions. When we read other stories or novels we don’t treat them this way, why should the Biblical story be any different? To prevent this improper use whenever we run across a phrase that troubles us or makes a certain doctrinal statement we must ask “does the context support my interpretation?” 

To illustrate this point I will post a devotional I was sent from a popular TV preacher. Here is the exact Scripture reference given in the devotional:

“Then Nathan said to David, Do all that is in your heart, for God is with you.” (I Chronicles 17:2).

Then follows the “interpretation/application”:

What is in your heart today? What are the dreams and desires deep on the inside of you? Maybe you want to start a business, or ministry, or go back to school. Whatever is in your heart, ask the Lord to confirm it to you. God leads us by desires, but we have to first submit our desires to Him. Sometimes we have to allow Him to change our desires, but know that He is always out for your good. It says in the book of Psalms that God gives us the desires of our heart. That means He places desires within us then brings them to pass so that we can live a fulfilled life here on earth. I believe David did this very thing. He was known as a man after God’s own heart. He submitted His heart to the Lord, and then Nathan came along and said, “Yes. Do what is in your heart. God is with you.” Whatever is in your heart today, submit it to the Lord. Trust that He is out for your good and working behind the scenes on your behalf. As you put your faith and trust in Him, He will guide you in the life of victory He has in store for you!

All the author of the devotional needed to do was to read two verses beyond the passage he gave to realize the passage chosen was totally inappropriate and flat out contrary to the whole message he was giving!  If you are not familiar with the rest of 1 Chronicles 17 here is what follows:

1 Now when David lived in his house, David said to Nathan the prophet, “Behold, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of the covenant of the LORD is under a tent.” 2 And Nathan said to David, “Do all that is in your heart, for God is with you.” 3 But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, 4 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD: It is not you who will build me a house to dwell in.’ (1 Chronicles 17:1-4 ESV).

So David wanted to build a house for the Lord, and he mentioned it to Nathan. Nathan said (as this author pointed out) go ahead and do it. However, Nathan was wrong!! Even though he was a prophet of the Lord, he merely assumed that this would please the Lord. God came to Nathan that night and told him that the desires of David’s heart WERE NOT God’s desires and that in this matter God WAS NOT with David. Later in 1 Chronicles chapter 17, Nathan tells David all the words of the Lord (v 15) which leads to a beautiful prayer of David recognizing that God is going to build a house for David not David building a house for the Lord (vv 16-27). This author does rightly say that we “ask the Lord to confirm it [our desire] to us.” What he fails to talk about is that David’s desire was not granted by the Lord in a very direct and explicit manner. Did the Lord put that desire into David’s heart (as is implied by the devotional’s interpretation)? The text tells us that the Lord did not! Not all of our desires are the Lord’s will which the author here neglects to tell his readers.

So I hope that this little exercise will cause you to look at Scripture passages in at least their immediate context.  There are other passages of Scripture that have had been handled improperly because of the lack of looking at the context (e.g. John 3:16, Phil 4:13, etc.).  In the future I will talk about some of the other contexts that need to be considered.  If you have any questions about this then please shoot me an e-mail at gigharborreformed*at*gmail.com or post a comment to this post.  If you would be interested in learning more about the Bible and how to read it properly (and live near Gig Harbor) then please let us know you are out there so that we can include you in our Bible Study!

Mark Vander Pol
Gig Harbor Reformed Bible Study
A mission work of the Bellingham URC

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God has revealed himself in two ways, through his creation and through his Word. Many have called these the “two books” of revelation: the book of creation or nature and the book of his divine Word. Before discussing more about the Bible we need to take a quick look at this first book where we know certain things about God, but not everything!

General Revelation

General revelation is the theological term used for the book of nature and it reveals general truths about who God is and some of his attributes. The Belgic Confession (BC) puts this concept beautifully in Article 2: “the creation, preservation, and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most elegant book, wherein all creatures great and small, are as so many characters leading us to see clearly the invisible things of God, even his everlasting power and divinity, as the Apostle Paul says.” I love that description of the creatures being characters in a book. Everything you see around you is a letter, stand back and these letters form words, stand further back and these words form phrases that show us the majesty and power of God.

Paul in Romans 1 speaks about these things, but he does not leave us with good news. He acknowledges that there is this book of nature and that we can know true and good things about God through general revelation, but yet in Rom 1:18 he exclaims that man suppresses the truth he has learned about God and for this God’s wrath is rightly against men. Think about it this way – imagine you are standing on some railroad tracks. Looking around you can learn a lot about what might use these tracks. Whatever it is must be really heavy since these solid steel rails are set on really big railroad ties. You also can discern that whatever travels on this track cannot move off of the tracks – its path is determined. Finally, you begin to hear the horn of the train and see its lights coming at you fast. However, imagine suppressing the truth about all you have learned and denying the power behind it. What will happen if you remain on those tracks despite all that has been revealed to you? You won’t last long when the many tons of the train strike.

Special Revelation

While you are standing on those tracks suppressing the truth of what is happening, what do you need? You need somebody to tell you where you are standing, what is going to happen to you, and then grab you and take you off the tracks before the train comes. This is what God’s special revelation, or the book of his Word, does. This book gives us the information that we can find nowhere else. It tells us that we are standing under God’s wrath because we have suppressed the truth given to us in nature, and we are sinful because of the Fall of our first parents Adam and Eve. But God’s Word tells us news that we cannot find anywhere else – news that God has pulled us from the tracks because we were powerless to remove ourselves. Not only that but he has adopted us as sons and daughters because of the merits of his Son Jesus Christ!

So where does the Bible fit in all of this? If all we need to know is some simple good news, why is there so much other stuff in the Bible? The answer is really quite simple, but yet many people overlook this fact – the Bible is a story. The Bible is the story of God choosing for himself a people and redeeming them through his Son Jesus Christ. Once that redemption has been accomplished the Bible continues that story of God redeeming people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. If we miss that the Bible contains the “grand drama of redemption” then we will not be able to properly interpret what the Bible says in its many different books and genres. Everything in the Old Testament is pressing forward to that climatic event of Jesus Christ’s coming, and everything in the New Testament looks back at Christ’s finished work and looks forward to his glorious return. This is truly special revelation because we cannot hear about these things any other way!

Whenever people forget that the Bible is a story and forget that all its myriad parts are connected in this manner, then there is a great injustice done to God’s Word. And since this is God’s Word then we must pay attention to it! I hope in the coming weeks to continue to explore with you what a wonderful gift God’s Holy Word is, but yet we have been given this gift for our edification and ultimately our salvation.

If this interests you and you would like to read the Bible this way, then please consider being part of the Bible Study that we are trying to form in the Gig Harbor area. We would love to dig into God’s Word with you, but we need to know you are out there! So please leave a comment or drop us an e-mail at gigharborreformed*at*gmail.com.