Statements and Principles
Our understanding of God’s character depends on the revelation of it as given in His word. But, if we are to arrive at a correct and, therefore, lifesaving knowledge of God’s character, we must first understand what the correct principles of Bible interpretation are. This is obviously important. To begin studying the Word of God with incorrect principles of interpretation is to the end up far removed from the truth.
The fact is that few people approach the study of God’s Word with any real system of interpretation clearly laid out. They search through the Word and form their own opinions of what they think the passages means. This is a haphazard and dangerous practice.
In our approach to the subject of God’s character, we dare not do this. We have before us a very real problem in the existence of two sets of statements that can and have been understood to say quite the opposite from each other. The only safe way to approach this difficulty is along the lines of correct Scriptural interpretation.
It is from the Bible itself that we obtain the guidelines for its interpretation. Not only does the Bible give us the message of truth, but it also informs us how those messages are to be comprehended. Our standing in this respect is the principle laid down in II Peter 1:20; “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation.”
Some might tend to limit the application of this verse to those areas of Scripture foretelling future events, because this is the most generally accepted definition of the word “prophecy.”
In a limited sense this is what the word “prophecy” means, but in its fuller and broader sense, “prophecy” applies to any revelations that come from the prophets. Therefore, this verse plainly lays down the rule that no prophecy – no word of the entire Scriptures – is to be of any private interpretation.
This is the natural time to then ask the question, “What is the difference between private interpretation and Scriptural interpretation? Private interpretation is that which emanates from the mind of human beings as their considered opinion of what the divine relations are intended to say.
Individuals arise at these conclusions according to the definitions of the words already formed in their mind. The mind is a dictionary to which they make reference whenever they read a word. When people encounter a word not already stored in the limited compendium of the mind, they turn to a comprehensive dictionary such as oxford’s or Webster’s. Having obtained the meaning from there, they apply this word to the scripture being read and develop therefrom an understanding of what the scripture is supposed to say.
We may well define this method of Bible study as definitions by the dictionary. For instances, when people read in the Scriptures that God sent the flood upon the earth and that he destroyed humanity by raining fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah, they will without thought of question look to the definitions of the keywords “sent, “destroyed,” and “rained,” as those words are already defined in their minds. Such definitions paint a picture of God personally and directly using His mighty power to lash out and liquidate His enemies.
It cannot be too strongly emphasized that by using this method of interpretation, no conclusion other than this can be drawn. Inevitably, all who use this method must believe that God is a grim executioner and that He is doing things after the fall that He never did before.
The limited, erroneous nature of this method is exposed when it is seen that its adherents are left with inexplicable contradictions. They are left with no explanation of the other set of statements and the great principles that undergird God’s character. They conveniently ignore those scriptures, concentrating their study on the ones that support their chosen view.
Those who learn and adopt the scriptural method of interpretation do not have this problem. They find that the whole of God’s Word becomes one harmonious pattern of saving truth.
Why then is the method of defining by the dictionary words describing the character and behavior of God so certain to lead to erroneous view of Scripture? If we do not use the dictionary to define our terms, then to what shall we turn?
For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8, 9).
Anyone who would arrive at the correct concept of God’s character must engrave this statement in their mind and continually refer to it as a guideline in their study. They should program themselves to test every assertation, every concept, and every idea in their mind by the words of this statement. Whenever, as they read the words of God, they form a picture of divine behavior as being the same as human behavior; then, in the light of this Scripture, they must know that the concept formed is erroneous.
The necessities having two different sets of definitions for the same keywords. One set is already well known to us, being the dictionary and every day usage of the words as they describe human behavior. What needs to be developed in human understanding is that other definition which defines the words as they are used by God to describe His own behavior. Reference is made here to such keywords as “destroy,” “wrath,” “justice,” “judgment,” “punish,” and similar words.”
Humanity destroys. We know that. We know how people go about it, and we have no difficulty in defining this word as it applies to human behavior. And because we know how these words work and apply to humans, we naturally apply these same words to God.
The Bible says, “God destroys” Therefore, it is the truth that God does destroy, and no attempt will be made to deny that. But the Bible also says that God’s ways are not our ways. From this we can only conclude that God’s way of destroying is altogether different from humanity’s way. Between them, there is no similarity.
Having determined that these alternate definitions are not written in the dictionary, the question arises as to where they can be found. The Bible is to be used as its own dictionary. Only when we have learned to use it as such can a correct comprehension of its messages be obtained.
There is no excuse for anybody not obtaining the scriptural definitions. They are there. God has provided them, and it is our duty to search them out and, having found them, apply them to the study of God’s Word.
There is no excuse for anybody not obtaining the scriptural definitions. They are there. God has provided them, and it is our duty to search them out and, having found them, apply them to the study for God’s Word.
There can hardly be a more serious barrier to arriving at saving truth than that provided by preconceived opinions and ideas. There is no person alive today who is not to a larger or lesser degree afflicted with this problem. During the entire span of our lives, we have been observing concepts, ideas, and information. We have come to think about certain lines and these thought processes have mostly been erroneous so far as our concept of God’s kingdom is concerned.
The outstanding example of this is found in the experiences of Christ’s apostles. They were born into a Jewish world wherein the prevailing expectation for the coming of the Messiah was the advent of an all-conquering king. As those boys grew, they heard this conversation around them. It was preached to them in church and taught to them in school. The result was the building up of strong, preconceived notions of Christ’s work and ministry. When the real Saviour appeared, those ideas formed a fearful barrier that for a long time made it impossible for Christ to being to them the truth regarding His ministry and mission. Only when He was finally able to sweep away those preconceived ideas could he teach them the truth.
So, it is with us today. Everyone of us should humbly recognize that we do not possess accurate wisdom, knowledge, concepts, and ideas and that these erroneous thought patterns are indeed a great problem.
The stamps of minds are different. All do not understand expressions of statements alike. Some understand the statements of the Scriptures to suit their own particular minds and cases. Prepossessions, prejudices, and passions have a strong influence to darken the understanding the confuse the mind even in reading the words of Holy Writ (Selected Message, book 1, p 20).
The Scripters are not to be adapted to meet the prejudice and jealousy of men. They can be understood only by those who are humbly seeking for a knowledge of the truth that they may obey it. (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 112).
Some may feel that earnestness and sincerity compensate for accuracy. But Jesus plainly said, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). It is the truth and not error that saves us. For this reason, God is continually seeking to send us clearer and more advanced revelations of his truth so that we may correspondingly send into greater heights of the knowledge of Him. It is also His intent that this knowledge would translate into an ever-deepening experience of Him. Many people will fail to enter the kingdom of heaven because of prejudices has barred the door to their receiving the truth.
Notice carefully the solemn warnings laid out in the next quotation, which begins with the question, “What shall I do to be saved.” The answer provided is an unexpected and solemn one.
Do not ask, What shall I do to be saved? You must lay your preconceived opinions, your hereditary and cultivated ideas, at the door of investigation. If you search the Scriptures to vindicate your own opinions, you will never reach the truth. Search in order to learn what he Lord says. If conviction comes as you search, if you see that your cherished opinions are not in harmony with the truth, do not misinterpret the truth in order to suit your own belief. But accept the light given. Open the mind and heart that you may behold the wondrous things out of God’s Word (Christ Object Lessons, P. 112).
There are a number of answers that could have been given to the question “What shall I do to be saved? Elsewhere those answers are given, but here the point is made that our salvation depends upon laying aside preconceived opinions, hereditary, and cultivated ideas.
Pains are being taken to emphasize this thought because when dealing with the topic of the character of God wrong concepts are prolific. Any emergence into this truth must be from background of dark error and misconception. The whole world lies in ignorance as to who God really is, and those of us who have lived in this world have been unconsciously influenced by this atmosphere. There is no subject, then, in which the need to lay aside preconceived ideas and opinions is more critical than this one.
Make the Scriptures their own dictionary, their own interpreter. Do this under the blessing and guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the assurance is there that you will arrive at an accurate, comprehensive, and harmonious knowledge of saving truth.
This will take time, so it is not to be expected that every error will be immediately swept away. After all, God’s truth is the expression of the mind of the Infinite. Eternity will never exhaust it. Therefore, it is too much to expect that a person using perfect methods of study would emerge in a few short years from deep darkness to a correct understanding of the great truths. It is a common understanding in worldly churches that the fires of final purification will unceasingly burn the unrepentant wicked who will suffer unending torture and torment within those unquenchable flames. The advent message denies this concept, teaching, rather, that a short consumption of the lost will render them as though they had never been.
It is difficult subject to present because there are certain scriptures that make it appear that the wicked will burn forever and ever.
It hardly seems necessary to quote the many statements from Scripture which tell us that the wicked will be a though had not bee, and we shall tread down their ashes, that they shall burn, leaving neither root nor branch. We know the Scriptures tell us that the dead know nothing, that their very thoughts are gone. This is one side of the question, but on the other side are statements which clearly say that the wicked will burn forever. The most noteworthy reference of this nature is in Revelation 20:10: “The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beat and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”
As an exercise in the correct principles of Bible study, let this verse be taken and interpreted according to the dictionary definitions of the keywords to show us the wrong way to interpret the Bible.
The important keywords in this particular verse are the words “forever and ever.” In our minds there already exits a clear definition of this word, which is in harmony with the written definition in the published dictionary that reads as follows: “Forever means for a limitless time of endless ages, everlastingly, eternally, at all times, always, continually, incessantly.” If this dictionary definition of the word “forever” is taken and Revelation 20:10 is understood according to it then the only possible understanding of this verse would be that the wicked will suffer for eternity. One could only believe that there would never come a time when the agonies would end. It is hoped that no one will miss the point that a certain method of interpretation will yield its corresponding idea of what the truth is.
Serious doubt of the validity of this method is gendered when it is seen that it brings this next text into sharp contradiction with other scriptures. Here are two examples.
“For as you drank on My holy mountain, so shall all the nations drink continually; yes, they shall drink, and swallow, and they shall be as though they had never been” (Obadiah 1:16).
“For, behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,” says the LORD of hosts, “that will leave them neither root nor branch” (Malachi 4:1).
It is obviously impossible for the wicked to be as though they had not been and to be burned up, leaving neither root nor branch, and yet, at the same time, eternally exist. The only safety lies in discarding dictionary definitions of words wherever those words are a problem and seeking a revised understanding of the meaning of the statements. The only ways to discover an alternative meaning is by making the Bible, and the Bible only, its own dictionary, and therefore, its own interpreter.
We read of “Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them . . . . suffering the vengeance of eternal (aionios) fire” Jude 7. Are those cities, set ablaze along ago as a divine judgment, still burning? No; their ruins are quite submerged by the Dead Sea. The Bible specifically states that God turned “the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes.” II Peter 2:6. Now the fate of these cities is declared to be a warning to all wicked men of the fate that impends for them. Therefore, if the “fire” of that long ago judgment turned into ashes those upon whom it preyed, and then died down of itself, we may properly conclude that the “fire” of the last day will do likewise.
When we turn to the Old Testament we discover that “everlasting” and forever” sometimes signify a very limited time. We shall quote texts in which these two terms are translated from the Hebrew word olam, because olam is the equivalent of the Greek “aion.”
The Passover was to be kept “fore ever (olam), Exodus 12:24. But it ended with the cross. (see Hebrews 9:24-26). Aaron and his sons were to offer incense “forever (alam) (I Chronicles 23:13), and to have an everlasting (olam) priesthood,” Exodus 40:15. But this priesthood, with its offerings of incense, ended at the cross. (see Hebrews 7:11-14). A servant who desired to stay with his master, was to serve him “forever (olam) (see Exodus 21:1-6). How could a servant serve a master to the endless time? Will there be masters and servants in the world to come? Jonah, describing his watery experience, said, “The earth with her bars was about me forever (olam). Jonah 2:6. Yet this “fore ever” was only “three days and three nights” long. Jonah 1:17. Rather a short “for ever.” Because Hegazi practiced deceit, Elisha declared, “The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee (Gehazi), and unto thy seed for ever (aloam)” II Kings 5:27. Should we conclude, therefore, that Gehazi family would never end, and that thus leprosy would be perpetuated for all time to come?
Thus by the acid test of actual usage we discover that in a number of cases aion, aionios, and olam have a very limited time value.
It should now be clear that when the words “for ever and ever” are interpreted according to dictionary definitions, a certain understanding of that verse will emerge, while if the Bible is used to uncover its usage of the words, then a very different understanding will result.
A sound test of the true method is that it removes impossible contradictions and replaces them with harmony and cohesion. There will be no need to ignore statements that otherwise do not fit.
Once the correct method has been found, it is to be applied with unfailing consistency throughout the entire study of the Bible. One system cannot be used in one area and a different one used in another. It has been astonishing to see people having no trouble in believing that the wicked do not burn forever, and then rejecting the principle that God destroys only by trying to save. Yet exactly the same methods of interpretation used to arrive at the former were the only means of arriving at the latter.
This does not mean that every word will have a separate definition apart from the dictionary definition when used in the Scriptures. Many will have the same meaning, but there will always be keywords that do not. They are readily recognized, for whenever a word, when understood according to its common everyday usage, creates a serious problem then it is time to search out its scriptural meaning.
In our next lesson we will study and ask the question “God Does Destroy – But How?
“God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” Have you heard this before, or even said it yourself? Is there a difference between human language and scriptural language? This is our Study.
Does the gospel truth only save or can it ruin and destroy?
When God advises us that our ways are not His ways, does He leave it to us to determine in which area(s) this principles applies?
Knowing that our thoughts and ways hold no resemblance whatsoever to God’s thoughts and way, would we be likely to find that “God did it” from expression we find in scriptures is to be guided by a totally different frame of reference, than human experiences?
If you have not read the previous posts on this subject, then I invite you to read them by clicking the link below.