God's Word truly does speak to every area of our lives
At Providence Church, one of our foundational commitments is our belief in the sufficiency of Scripture. We believe that God's Word truly does speak to every area of our lives, that either directly or in principle, it addresses all of the issues that we face. Truly, God's Word has the solutions to all of life's problems.
We have to learn how to study the Bible
One of the things that we need to do as people who want to follow God, is to learn how to handle the Word for ourselves. We have to learn how to study the Bible. The Scripture exhorts us that we're all to be about memorizing, meditating, and studying the Word of God. It's so important for us to learn principles of effective Bible study.
One of the great dangers that some can fall prey to, and in fact, many fall prey to today, is the error of applying the Scripture before they really understand the Scripture. Sometimes in Bible studies you may have been involved in, you see someone read a passage, and then immediately they say, “What does the text mean to you?” Well, “What does the text mean to you?” is a very important question. It's actually the reason the Bible was given, and what God wants us to see is what any passage means to us. How does it apply? But to really apply God's Word correctly, “What does the text mean to me?” is not the first question you ask. Effective, correct Bible application has to start with really understanding what the text means, and learning the mechanics of hermeneutics, which is the science of Bible interpretation. God has told us in His Word that He wants to be understood. He's given us His Word. He's told us the nature of Scripture. In fact, 2 Timothy 3:16 says:
All Scripture is God-breathed, and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
– 1 Timothy 3:16,17
All Scripture is God-breathed
All Scripture is inspired by God. That phrase ‘inspired by God’ translates a Greek word which literally means ‘God-breathed’. All Scripture is God-breathed. The word for ‘Scripture’ is the Greek word graphē (ϒραφη) from which we get our English words graph and graphics. The idea is all that which is written is God-breathed.
That's an important thing to remember, because many in the 20th Century liberal theology taught that the thoughts of Scripture were inspired, but something happened in the mind of the author when it came into his mind, so that what he wrote wasn't necessarily God's Word. But the Bible plainly teaches that of all that which is written, all Scripture is God-breathed, and that the words that have appeared on the paper as the author writes are what God wants there.
So it means that we have a perfect Word from God. Scripture also tells us that He's made it clear to us, and He wants to speak to us, but He also expects us to come to Him and to seek Him with all of our hearts. I mentioned 2 Timothy 3:16. All Scripture is God-breathed. A chapter before that, the apostle Paul says that we are to study to show ourselves approved, workmen who need not be ashamed, correctly handling the word of truth. That is, God tells us if we're going to understand the Word, if we're going to correctly handle it and apply it to our lives, we have to study hard.
Now, you always should study the Bible by first praying and asking the Lord for grace. You have to have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, understand that He died for you and paid for your sins on the cross, that He rose again from the dead, and you have to repent and believe in Christ, and then God gives us His Spirit. Whenever we study the Word, we should come with an attitude of dependence. “Lord, I need You to teach me. Show me what You want.” And then He also tells us to work at it, to study.
How do you study the Bible?… That's the question that we want to address…
That comes to the important science of Bible interpretation called hermeneutics. How do you study the Bible? How do you come to understand the meaning of the Bible? That's the question that we want to address in a series of teaching times that we're going to have today and upcoming, teaching times about how you study the Bible so that you can find God's solutions to life's problems in the pages of Holy Scripture.
I mentioned that we often jump ahead to applying to quickly. We misunderstand the Scripture. One of the things that we can do when we come to the Bible is we can read into the text what we want or what we think it's saying rather than read out from the text what God wants us to see. We're supposed to exegete the text. That is actually exegesis vs. eisegesis. Eisegesis is reading into the text. Exegesis is reading out of the text what the text is saying. So, sound Bible interpretation is exegetical, not eisegetical.
How do you study the Bible? I mentioned application. What does the text mean to me? A good model for this is the pyramid. The point of the pyramid, the top of the pyramid, is application. That is, it answers the question: What does the text mean to me? That is important, but it's not foundational. Application needs to be built upon first a foundation of interpretation. That's the next level of the pyramid that the point rests on. Interpretation seeks to answer a different question. Not, “What does the text mean to me?” but, “What does the text mean?” What was the author's intention when he penned the words of Scripture under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? What was God's agenda? What does the text mean? That's interpretation.
The real foundation is observation.
Before you can interpret correctly, you have to actually have another layer. The real foundation is observation. Observation answers a different question. It doesn't answer: What does the text mean to me? It doesn't answer: What does the text mean? It answers: What does the text say? You start by carefully observing the words and the sentences of the text, the structure of the paragraph, the way that the narrative or the story is told. What does the text say?
After having carefully observed the text and answered the question, “What does the text say?” then you're in a position to interpret the passage correctly. Having carefully observed, I now can rightly interpret what the text means. What did the text mean in light of the original audience? What was the author trying to address in their lives? That's the essential question of interpretation.
Once I know what the text means, now I can correctly apply the text to my life. Understanding what it meant when God inspired it helps me to see what the Lord now means for it to mean to me. What claim does He want it to make on my life today?
…the three pieces of hermeneutics.
So we have observation, interpretation, and then application. That is the order. That allows us to truly exegete the text, to read out the meaning that God intended. It's so comforting to realize that the Bible has one interpretation to every passage. It's not like so often you hear today, “That's just your interpretation.” No, in reality, the question we need to be asking is, “What was the intended interpretation of the Spirit-inspired author of a particular passage?” That is the single meaning and that's what we have to strive to come to before we can understand how to apply this to our lives.
So in subsequent messages, we're going to talk about the three pieces of hermeneutics, the three pieces of effective Bible study. How do we carefully observe? How do we rightly interpret? How do we correctly apply? We hope you'll join us as you learn and as we learn together how to study God's Word, so that we can find the solutions to life's problems.