Are You Misapplying the Bible? Why the Teaching of God's Word is One of Our Values
Let’s take a quick pop quiz.
True or false?
-Christian men should not have long hair. (1 Corinthians 11:14)
-Christians should not get tattoos. (Leviticus 19:28)
-Women should wear dresses, not pants. (Deuteronomy 22:5)
-If you raise your child with Christian values, they will always follow the Lord. (Proverbs 22:6)
-You can do anything because Christ strengthens you to do it. (Phil 3:14)
Yes, every one of these statements is false.
How many of these statements have you heard from other Christians? What is your response? All of them are backed by Bible verses so they must be true, right?
This is why one of our church’s core values is the “Teaching of God’s Word.” It is why we invest time and resources into core classes, Bible study groups, books for the resource shelf, podcasts, and workshops like the Small Town Summits Women’s Bible Training. The teaching of God’s Word is one reason why the local church is vital. With the explosion of the Information Age, everyone now has a platform to megaphone their beliefs. How do we know if even the “Christian” content we consume is trustworthy? Enormous damage has been done in the name of Jesus by Christians who wield His Word and appear to have a vast knowledge of the Bible. However, they either lack the training on how to properly interpret the Scriptures, or they ignore sound interpretive principles for self-serving reasons. It is paramount that Christians know not just what the Word says but how it applies to us today.
Praise God for His Spirit! Many of us see a dynamic televangelist on TV spouting claims and immediately have a sense in our spirit that what they have said is not right even though we may not be able to articulate why. That is the Spirit of God at work doing what He said He would do (John 16:13; 1 John 2:26-27) and that should be reassuring for those who have not gone to Bible school or seminary. However, we are also commanded to continuously grow in our knowledge and understanding in order to discern good from evil and refute error (2 Peter 1:5-9; Hebrews 5:11-14). Even Satan, the master truth-twister, used Scripture to tempt Jesus. For these reasons, we need to bulk up our Bible study skills.
As we dive deeper to study the Word, the acronym C-I-A helps us remember the steps to guide us through a thorough process of study:
Comprehension - What does it say?
Interpretation - What does it mean?
Application - How do I apply it to my life?
Most of us read the Bible like this:
1. Comprehension – What does it say?
3. Application – How do I apply it to my life?
In this 1,3 pattern, we comprehend (1) and then apply (3). We are hungry for answers and want to know how it affects us today. Just tell me what to do! In so doing, we skip a crucial step: interpretation (2). We need to know not only what it says, but what it means. It is only after we do these first two steps that we can do the third step of applying it to our lives. This is known as hermeneutics which is just a big word that means the science of interpretation or “what does it mean?”
We do not have space to cover everything about hermeneutics in this one article, but here are three basic principles to get started in the right direction:
1. Consider the genre.
The Bible is a collection of 66 books that together tell one story with Jesus at the center. There are several types of genres in the Bible. When reading a portion of the Bible, we need to ask: Is this a letter, a law, a narrative, poetry, or prophecy, etc.? We do not read a cookbook the same way we read a fiction book. A cookbook is instructing me on how to make a recipe. A fiction book is telling me a story. This principle applies to the Bible as well.
EXAMPLE: In Genesis 35, we read that Jacob had two wives and two concubines. Does that mean God approves of polygamy? Of course not! Genesis 35 is a narrative; it tells you what happened and not necessarily what God commands.
2. Context is key.
The Bible tells one grand story of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration, and Jesus is the central character. This is called the metanarrative of Scripture which is the main overarching storyline of the whole Bible. That’s the 1,000-foot view that we always need to keep at the forefront of our minds when studying the Word. Then we narrow into the closer view of the specific book of the Bible itself and ask questions like: Who is the author and the audience? What time of history are they living in? What is going on around them at the time of the author’s writing? Is the passage written before or after Jesus died and rose again?
EXAMPLE: Leviticus 19:28 says, “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD.” Leviticus is one of the books of the law written by Moses and given to the people of Israel. In that culture, tattoos were known as pagan signs of idolatry, the worship of false gods. This particular verse is civil law, meaning these were laws that God gave the people he rescued from slavery in Egypt. He laid down rules to govern them and instruct them how they were to live together as His people, distinct from the other nations around them. This was how the people had a relationship with God under the old covenant (Old Testament). We relate to God under the new covenant (New Testament) because of the death and resurrection of Jesus; any laws that Christians today are required to keep are repeated in the New Testament. Tattoos is not one of them. The better question to ask for application of Leviticus 19:28 is: What are the signs to the culture around us that we worship the one true God today? Tattoos don’t mean that today in our culture. But what does? What makes us distinct from those who don’t worship God?
3. Clear interprets unclear.
There are many times we read something and scratch our heads as we are not sure what the text is saying. In those instances, we refer to other places in Scripture that are clearer on the subject.
EXAMPLE: Hebrews 6:4-6 is a notoriously difficult passage to understand. Some use this text as proof that believers can lose their salvation. However, the Word is clear in several other places such as (Ephesians 4:30, 1 Peter 1:3-5; 2 Corinthians 5:5; John 10:28) that the believer’s salvation is eternally secured based on the work of Christ and the seal of the Holy Spirit. So whatever it does mean, we know that it cannot mean that a true child of God can unbecome a child of God.
Let’s endeavor to not only know what the Word says but also how to correctly handle and apply the Word to our lives. Then, when we hear statements like the ones listed above, we will know how to respond with confidence and freedom.
And as we interact with those who differ from us, may we remember:
“In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love.” -St. Augustine
In future posts, we will take a look at each of the three steps more in-depth: comprehension, interpretation, and application.
If you would like to learn more about how to better study the Bible, check out our Recommended Resources page.