Reading the Scriptures Honestly

Rightly Reading and Interpreting

God’s Word

One essential belief of most evangelical churches today is that the Word of God, the Scriptures, must be read, understood, and received “literally,” as in the following quotation:  

Do you approach all of the passages in the Bible from a consistently literal viewpoint, seeking to understand the language of the Bible in a natural and normal way, understanding the language in its obvious sense? May God help us to come to His Word in simple childlike faith and humbly take Him at His Word, letting the Bible say what it says, and not forcing it to say what we want it to say or think it should say!

In other words, we must not seek to read into the Scriptures what we want them to say according to our own beliefs, but instead to take from the Scriptures what they actually say, according to a “normal” reading, not a “solipsistic” (or extremely egocentric) reading.  

(See my recent Blog article that includes a discussion of Solipsism by clicking here).

Examples of Misreadings

Several passages from the Scriptures reveal the importance of “rightly dividing the Word of Truth” (II Timothy 2:15), such as what John wrote in the Book of Revelation:

I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19)

The Apostle Peter also makes a similar statement:

But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.  (II Peter 1:20-21)

We must assume, therefore, that God’s Word is His Word, and He meant what He said, or what He communicated to His servants to write.  

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (II Timothy 3:16)

Recently, I have found that some well-meaning Christians have tended not to interpret the Scriptures according to a normal, or obvious, interpretation.  Typically, they may faithfully adhere to their Church’s Statement of Faith/Belief, or merely repeat what they learned in seminary or read in a famous teacher’s book.  Plus, they may tend to disregard certain verses that may seem to contradict their preferred teachings.

See for example, the following passage:

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming (Ephesians 4:11-14).

I was using this passage in a teaching to show that the ministry gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors/teachers were given to the Church for a number of reasons, but the timeline is clearly stated: These ministries were given to protect Christians from false teachings until. . .” 1.) we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, 2.) to a mature man, 3.) to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ” (v. 13).  

A plain, normal understanding of this passage shows, therefore, that these ministry gifts are to be in operation until these conditions have been met, conditions which clearly do not exist in the Church today.  

It must be, therefore, that these ministries need to be fully functioning in the Church, not dismissed or negated, as some recent teachings, such as the following, have proclaimed:

Like the apostles, however, their office ceased with the completion of the New Testament, just as the Old Testament prophets disappeared when that testament was completed, some 400 years before Christ. The church was established “upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone” (Eph. 2:20). Once the foundation was laid, the work of the apostles and prophets was finished. (First Corinthians, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary [Chicago: Moody, 1984], pp. 322–24) (Source).

Here is the primary passage, again from the Apostle Paul, used to demonstrate that the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit, including the “ministry gifts” (See I Corinthians 12:27-28 below) have passed away and are no longer functioning in the Church:

Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.

Paul continues in I Corinthians 13:8-11 to say,

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.” 

This passage, in particular, has been interpreted to mean that the Church has become mature and no longer needs the kind of help a “child” needs, especially since the “perfect” has come, meaning the completed Scriptures, presumably even anachronistically including the rest of Paul’s letters and John’s Book of Revelation.

Since we have the Bible, it is assumed, we no longer need the Holy Spirit’s gifts of wisdom and discernment, in spite of the demonic age in which we live.  We no longer need words of edification and exhortation (prophecy) or the gift of faith.

Frankly, however, having lived and grown in numerous Churches from infancy, I have yet to encounter any local Church that is “mature,” or  no longer needed the “childish things” that the Holy Spirit provides.  In fact, the Lord Jesus gave the following message to His disciples before His ascension:  

 “But before all these things [His Second Coming], they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute. (Luke 21:12-15)

Jesus, therefore, promised that the words and wisdom we will need when we face persecution will be provided to us.  In fact, Jesus told His followers that through the power of the Holy Spirit, they would be His witnesses to the whole world before His coming again:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:8-11)

We might easily conclude, therefore, that the promise of the Holy Spirit was given not only to the early Church, but also to the Church of all ages until His coming again.  Jesus Himself is the “perfect” who is to come.

The term Apostle, according to the Greek language, means “one who is sent away” to deliver a message or messages.  In some ways, our term “missionary” very much conforms to this idea, and, significantly, this word is based on the Latin translation of the Greek word (Source).  

In a sense, therefore, we continue to have Apostles in the Church today.  Any person who declares that He is an apostle, however, is probably not an apostle, given the abuses such a person usually inflicts on Believers for his own gain.  It is no wonder, therefore, why so many churches have taught that this particular ministry gift is no longer viable today, even in spite of the Scriptural mandates for these ministries.  

The ministry gifts of the Holy Spirit were given to ensure that we believers mature and not be led astray by false teachings.  Not surprisingly, the Church today is weakened constantly by such teachings which declare that ministry gifts such as apostles and prophets are no longer valid in the Church, leading to divisions and strife, as well as a lack of maturity in the Body of Christ.  

Another Example

The following verses from the Book of Hebrews contain a warning, one which would not have been written were it not significantly important.  See if you recognize the warning:

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. And this we will do, if God permits. For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned. (Hebrews 6:1-8)

Understood according to the strictures of literal interpretation, this passage may nevertheless be disturbing to those who have accepted the “once saved always saved” teaching so common among evangelicals today.  Also termed “The Security of the Believer,” this teaching contains an important promise and blessing most Christians accept, providing as it does the assurance that the love of God is “unconditional,” as the Apostle Paul teaches in I Corinthians 13:4-7:

 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (I Corinthians 13:4-7)

This security is for the believer, however, not the unbeliever. Therefore, the passage in Hebrews serves as a warning to the complacent and those who at some point in their lives may not decide to continue to make Jesus Lord of their lives.  The passage in Hebrews makes clear that those being warned are true believers, for they have done the following:  They have 1.) been enlightened, 2.) tasted of the Heavenly gift, 3.) have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 4.) and tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come.

These conditions refute the proposal that those who “fall away” were never truly born-again believers in the first place, so they were never truly saved from their sins by the blood and Lordship of Jesus.  Therefore, it is said, they have fallen away from what was never theirs.  

Unfortunately, however, this theory does not adhere to the plain language of the passage in Hebrews.  The warning is clear to all who proclaim that Jesus is their Lord:  Do not fall away, or it may be impossible to renew you to repentance, having again crucified again the Son of God and put Him to open shame.  

Although this may be an extreme example, the warning still pertains to all Christians.  In particular, it does not allow for opportunities to engage in sinful behaviors without reaping the resulting consequences.  These sinful behaviors are prohibited precisely because they result in harmful effects in the lives of those who engage in them.  Adultery, for example, devastates the lives of those who choose it, as well as the lives of the innocent children. Fornication and other sexual sins are equally harmful, and true followers of Jesus cannot remain faithful to their promises to Him while engaging in these sins.  

Unfortunately, the “once saved, always saved” teaching, while providing assurance of God’s faithfulness to the Believer, nevertheless tends to imply the idea that sinful lives are acceptable to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

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