by Thomas A. Howe –
Interpreting the Bible, indeed interpreting anything at all, is a topic of critical importance in this Postmodern world. No one has the right, according to the current wisdom, to tell anyone else that he has misinterpreted something. Everyone’s interpretation is right . . . for him. No one’s interpretation can be wrong, at least not absolutely wrong. Such views are certainly not consistent with orthodox Christian doctrine. Since the founding of the Church, Christians have declared that there is a right and a wrong way to interpret the Bible. Even though there is certainly a long history of interpretive conflicts and disagreements about who is right, there is no question that the orthodox view is that there is a right and a wrong way to understand what the Bible means.
Of course, it cannot be true that everyone’s interpretation is right. Let me explain. Suppose I have an interpretation that says, “Not every interpretation is right.” Let’s label my interpretation “A.” Now a typical Postmodernist has a different interpretation that says, “All interpretations are right.” Let’s label this “~A” (where the symbol “~” means “non”). So, my interpretation is “A,” and the Postmodernist’s interpretation is “~A,” or “non-A.” If my interpretation, A, is true, then the Postmodernist’s interpretation, ~A, cannot be true. But, the Postmodernist says that all interpretations are right. Therefore, according to the Postmodernist, my interpretation, A, is right, which means that the Postmodernist’s interpretation, ~A, must be wrong!
Of course, Postmodernists will attempt to avoid this conclusion by saying that they are not claiming that all interpretations are absolutely right, but only that any interpretation is right for the one who believes it. However, this tactic does not provide the escape that the Postmodernist needs. Postmodern relativism asserts that all points of view, all truth-claims, and all interpretations are true relative to the perceiver, or knower, or interpreter. Therefore, the Postmodern relativist asserts that any claim is true for me, and what is true for me may not be true for you. Nevertheless, what is true for you cannot be used to pronounce as false whatever is true for me. But this move does not work.
Since the relativist is bound by his own claim that anyone’s interpretation is right or true for him, and since it is a fact of experience that some people believe relativism is false, then the relativist must concede that the non-relativist’s claim is true for the non-relativist, namely, that relativism is false. But, if the relativist must, by his own lights, concede that the non-relativist’s interpretation is right, then the relativist is forced to say that the non-relativist’s interpretation is true for both the non-relativist and for the relativist. It is, after all, the relativist who made the claim, “All interpretations are true.” This is a claim that the relativist says is true for him. So, if it is true for the relativist that all interpretations are true, then the non-relativist’s interpretation is true for the relativist. But, this creates a contradiction in the relativist’s own claim. As Harvey Siegel summarizes this approach, “If opinions conflict and the doctrine holds that all opinions are true, then some opinions cannot be true.”1
So, it simply cannot be the case that all interpretations are true or right. Consequently, it becomes very important for anyone who wants to have a true and right understanding of the Bible to understand how to interpret the Bible correctly. One way of illustrating good principles of interpretation is to look at some bad or wrong interpretations. Of course, one problem with this approach is that there are as many bad principles as there are bad interpreters, and we have space to consider only a few.
Neglect of the Biblical Languages
As you no doubt are aware, the Bible was not originally written in English. The New Testament was written in Greek, and the Old Testament was written primarily in Hebrew. One common problem in interpretation is a neglect or misuse of the languages of the Bible. In a sermon preached on Sunday morning, July 7, 2002, Kenneth Copeland gave his understanding of a statement in Genesis 4:4: “And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering:” (KJV). Copeland claimed that the Bible says Abel brought from the firstlings and from the fat thereof. He explained that what this means is that Abel not only brought an offering of the firstlings, which was the tithe, but in addition to these he brought an offering of the fat, which Copeland took to indicate an additional group from the flock over and above the firstlings. According to Copeland, it was this extra group, the fat, which made Abel’s offering acceptable to God.
The problem here is a neglect of the Hebrew text. The Hebrew text uses the term wumehelbehen from the word hlb meaning “fat.” There are two prefixes on this word that serve to create the form that appears in the text of Genesis. The first prefix is the conjunction called waw (w, pronounced “vav”), which means “and.” In this case, the conjunction is combined with a vowel to form a long “u” sound. The second prefix is a shortened form of the preposition min that means “from.” It appears in this form as an inseparable preposition (a preposition that is attached to the front of another word)—in this case, the single letter m. So far the form means, “and from fat.” There is also a suffix on this form. It is the third person, plural, feminine pronoun hen. In this instance, it is a possessive pronoun meaning “their.” So, this single Hebrew word, literally translated into English, means, “and from their fat.” Now, if it is their fat that is being offered, to whom or to what does the word “their” refer? Whose fat? One universal rule of grammar is that a pronoun must agree with its antecedent in gender and number. The only word that fits this rule in this sentence is the word “flock” (which happens to be a collective singular). Collective singular nouns are often referred to by plural pronouns. This is a common practice in English. We often say something like this: “The crowd brought their singing voices to the stadium.” Here the word “crowd” is actually a collective singular noun referred to by the plural pronoun “their.” The Hebrew text is doing the same thing here.
So, the Hebrew text does not indicate that there was an additional group that was brought by Abel over and above the firstlings. Rather, the text indicates that Abel offered the fat of the firstlings of the flock. In other words, the text is saying that Abel sacrificed the firstlings by offering up their fat to God. A neglect of the Hebrew text has led Copeland to misunderstand the meaning. As innocuous as this error may seem, it is only the tip of the iceberg. A misuse or neglect of the language of the Bible forms the basis for many aberrant and often heretical doctrines and sometimes for burdensome applications. In this instance, Copeland charged his congregation that, if they wanted God to have regard for their offerings, they better give over and above the tithe and give from the fat. Such a charge places an undue burden on the hearer to seek favor with God as a prize to be won by his own works.
Experience as a Basis for Meaning
Another common mistake in interpretation found among cult members is basing one’s understanding of the meaning of a passage on some personal experience. There is no doubt that the Bible testifies to the fact that Christians can and should have a personal relationship with God and that we should personally experience the salvation that He has made available. We have all had personal religious experiences that have moved us ever closer toward maturity. However, personal experiences can become a hindrance to proper biblical interpretation and frequently constitute the basis upon which cults interpret the Bible. For instance, it has been part of the training of Mormon missionaries to lead a prospect into Mormon doctrine by reading from the account of Joseph Smith’s search for truth. As Joseph Smith tells it,
I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraidth not; and it shall be given him.” Never did any passage of Scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine.2
Joseph Smith’s dilemma stemmed from the fact, as he explains it, that “teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of Scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.” Have you ever felt this way? You come to a passage of Scripture and find it difficult to understand. So you go to a commentary and the commentator gives you his understanding and his reasons for understanding the passage in this way. That seems good, until you go to another commentator and find that he has a different understanding and his reasons sound just as good. Then you go to a third commentator and find that he has yet another view. What do you do now? What did Joseph Smith do? In the Spring of 1820, Joseph Smith went into the woods and kneeled down and began to present to God his desire to understand the truth. This is his account of what happened.
I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
. . . When the light rested upon me I saw two personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above men in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other —“This is my Beloved Son. Hear Him!”3
Now there are several problems with the testimony of Joseph Smith. First of all, according to his own testimony, his search for truth led him to the conclusion that there was no possibility of settling the question of religious differences from an appeal to the Bible. Well, once you have eliminated the Bible as a possible source of information to settle religious and theological questions, it seems that you have effectively eliminated the God of the Bible. If someone does not want to believe in the God of the Bible, that is his right. But then we know that the god they are preaching is not the same as the God of the Bible. Joseph Smith had decided that if the differences of opinion concerning religious teaching could not be settled by any particular religious leader’s appeal to the Bible, then it could not be settled by any appeal to the Bible at all. Joseph Smith was confused and unable to tell whose religious views were right. But, if he did not know whose claims were right, why does he conclude that everybody’s claims must be wrong? Just because he could not decide who was right does not mean no one was right. Here is a serious mistake in interpretation against which we must guard. Just because there is confusion does not mean there is no solution. Just because you do not know what a passage means does not mean no one knows what it means. It is entirely possible that someone out there has the right interpretation. Either you have not found them yet, or you need to get some more training in order to be able to recognize the truth.
Second, if it were true that he, Joseph Smith, could have no confidence in settling religious questions by an appeal to the Bible, then why did he appeal to the Bible as a basis for going directly to God to get wisdom? Smith based his actions on his understanding of James 1:5. In fact, he appealed to the Bible to settle the question of where to go to get the truth. The problem for Joseph Smith was not the fact of confusion, because there was obviously no confusion about James 1:5, at least not in his mind. Here is another mistake in Bible interpretation of which we must be aware—the inconsistent application of principles of interpretation. If Joseph Smith were consistent in the application of his principle that questions cannot be settled by an appeal to the Bible, then he should not have appealed to the Bible to settle the question about how to settle questions.
Since it was not possible simply to appeal to the Bible to solve religious differences, Smith went to another source to find a solution, namely, himself. This is obvious for at least two reasons. First of all, nowhere in the book of James does James instruct anyone to go into the woods and pray and simply wait for God to give him answers to religious and theological questions. James does not say how to ask, or where to go to ask, or when to ask. James does, however, say whom to ask. Doesn’t James say, “let him ask of God”? But if you are going to ask God anything, where will God give His answer? It would seem reasonable to think that the God of the Bible would give answers from His word, the Bible. But, Joseph had already eliminated that option. The idea of going into the woods and addressing God directly and waiting for God to respond was Joseph Smith’s own idea. He did not get that from James, or from God.
Second of all, James did not say, “If any of you lacks religious knowledge,” or “If any of you are confused about the differences over theological claims, let him ask of God.” What James says is, “If any of you lacks wisdom.” Now, what does James mean when he uses the word “wisdom”? Apparently Joseph Smith understood him to be referring to an understanding of the truth in answer to the very questions about which Joseph Smith was confused. But, is that what James is talking about? Does wisdom mean “information to settle the questions of religious differences”? Where would one go to find out what James meant by the use of the word “wisdom”? Where did Joseph Smith go? Where did he get the idea that James is talking about settling differences between religious sects? It does not seem to come from James. And isn’t this simply another example of religious confusion? It seems to me that the first place to look for an understanding of what James meant by “wisdom” is to ask James, not Joseph.
On what basis did Joseph Smith decide that James was talking about questions of doctrine? On the basis of his personal experience. Joseph said, “Never did any passage of Scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine.” Obviously Joseph had some moving experience when he read this verse. But, is a moving experience sufficient ground for understanding the meaning of a text of Scripture? Here is another mistake in interpretation against which we must guard. Just because we have a moving experience when we read a passage of Scripture does not mean that we have understood it properly, or that it is God telling us something through the verse. What God tells us through a verse is what the verse actually means in its context. God is not going to tell you something through a personal, emotional experience that is contrary to the meaning of the passage. You cannot let your emotional experiences be the standard by which you determine the meaning of Scripture. Members of cult groups do this all too frequently. But, not only do cultists do this; Christians do this all the time when they say, “This is what this passage means to me.” How can we say Joseph Smith is wrong for saying this is what the passage meant to him when we do the same thing? The question is not, “What does the passage mean to me?” but, “What does the passage mean?”
The third problem with Joseph Smith’s testimony is that he unquestioningly takes his encounter with shining beings in the woods as a message from God. He does this because he assumes that he is seeking God directly, apart from the Bible, just as James 1:5 had instructed him to do. Therefore, since we must assume he is sincerely seeking according to what he believes to be clear instruction from the Bible, whatever information he receives must be taken as coming from God. When he receives this vision, he concludes that this is God revealing the truth to him. However, although he thinks he has trusted the Bible to tell him how to seek the truth, he does not trust the Bible to tell him what the truth is. And his vision leads him to conclusions that are contradictory to the teaching of the Bible as it has been understood in traditional orthodox Christianity.
How, then, do Mormons justify beliefs that are contrary to the Bible? On the basis of the interpretive principle that has been established by Joseph Smith—namely, personal experience. That is why every Mormon missionary encourages his prospects to ask God directly the same way Joseph Smith did. When you confront Mormons, or for that matter members from almost any cult group, it is their personal experiences to which they give priority. Dealing with personal experience in a confrontational situation is a difficult task, but the point here is that we must be on guard against claims of truth that are determined by someone’s personal experience. We must not practice their kind of interpretation ourselves.
Selective Use of the Bible
Another common practice among cult interpreters is to selectively quote from the Bible to support their views. Below is a portion of a pamphlet authored by Kenneth E. Hagin and distributed by Faith Library Publications. The quoted portion follows a printed section of Mark 5:25-34.
You can have what you say.
The woman who touched Jesus’ garment received exactly what she said. The Bible says “for she said. If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole” (verse 28).
What she said was her faith speaking. I know it was, for Jesus said, “Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole” (verse 34).
What you say is your faith speaking. You can have what you say.4
This section is followed by a passage from Mark 11:23, 24. After the section recording this passage out of Mark, Hagin begins his teaching.
We are using the last clause of Mark 11:23 as our text: “He shall have whatsoever he saith.”
Another wonderful proof text is found in the Old Testament. Numbers 13 tells us that after the children of Israel reached Kadesh-Barnea, they sent 12 spies into Canaan. Ten of the spies brought back an evil report from the Promised Land, and two brought back a good report.
What is an evil report? It is a report of doubt.
What is a good report? It is a report of faith.
Ten of them said, “It’s true, all right, that the land is flowing with milk and honey.” They even displayed the giant clusters of grapes brought back from Canaan. “But,” they warned, “there are giants in the land. And in our eyes we are as grasshoppers in their sight.”
When you analyze their report, they were saying, “We can’t do it. We can’t take the land.” And all of Israel accepted this report. (Some people believe the majority report is always right, but if you follow the majority of Christians—even Full Gospel Christians—you will walk in unbelief.) By accepting the majority report, the children of Israel were saying, “We can’t take the land.”
You can have what you say. The children of Israel got exactly what they said. They believed they couldn’t take it, so they said they couldn’t take it. And they didn’t.5
It is interesting that Hagin does not continue to examine the following passages in Numbers, because what happens later is extremely informative when considered in the light of Hagin’s claim that “you can have what you say.” In Numbers 14:39-40, we find the following event.
And when Moses spoke these words to all the sons of Israel, the people mourned greatly. In the morning, however, they rose up early and went up to the ridge of the hill country, saying, “Here we are; we have indeed sinned, but we will go up to the place which the Lord has promised.”
Now, here the people are at the same place, and the Bible says they rose up and went to the ridge of the hill country, and the Bible says they came “saying.” Now, if it is true that you can have what you say, and if it is true that the experience in Numbers is a “proof text,” then the question is, why did the people not get what they said? In fact, whereas in the Numbers 13 text, it was the unbelief of the people that led them to say, “We can’t do it!” in 14:41ff it is Moses who says, “You can’t do it!” Now, if they were saying this in unbelief in Numbers 13, is Moses saying this in unbelief in Numbers 14?
Why did these people not get what they said? Because it was not according to the will of God for them to go up and take the land. So, it didn’t matter what they said. God had already said, “You can’t do it.”
In fact, both Joshua and Caleb point out to the people that it is only because of the will of God that they should believe that they can take possession of the land. Hagin quotes portions of the response of Caleb and Joshua, but true to the practices of the Word of Faith people, he only quotes those portions that he believes support his position, and he strategically omits those portions that conflict with his interpretation.
It was different for Joshua and Caleb. Caleb said. “Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it” (Num. 13:30). Joshua said, “Only rebel not ye against the Lord, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defense is departed from them, and the Lord is with us: fear them not” (Num. 14:9).6
First of all, Hagin’s translation is misleading. In Hebrew, what Caleb says in Num. 13:30 is, kiy yakol nukal lah. The word yakol can mean “to be able,” or “to overcome.” The use of the preposition lah following the word nukal indicates an action directed toward the object, not a capacity inherent in the subject. Additionally, it is normal Hebrew syntax to employ a participle (yakol) along with a verb (nukal) to express emphasis. In this instance, the strict translation would read: “For (kiy) overcoming (yakol) we will overcome (nukal) it (lah).”7 Or, in an easier English style, “We will surely overcome it.” There is no indication in the text that Caleb presumed that the people had the ability, in themselves, to overcome the giants in the land. This understanding is reinforced by the passage that Hagin strategically omits from his quote, namely, Numbers 14:7-8:
and they [Joshua and Caleb] spoke to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, saying, “The land which we passed through to spy out is an exceeding good land. If the Lord is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land, and give it to us—a land which flows with milk and honey.
Notice the qualification that Joshua places upon their victory: “If the Lord is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land, and give it to us . . .” Joshua did not say that they had the ability to take the land, but that they could take the land because God was pleased to give them the land. It was God’s will for them to have the land. It was not simply something that they “said.” Rather, it was something God said. That is why they could take the land. Contrary to Hagin’s claim that this passage is a proof text for the idea that you can have what you say, it is in fact a proof text for the fact that, in spite of what you say, you cannot have what God does not want you to have.8
Now, it seems reasonable to conclude that these passages in Numbers illustrate the fact that, (1) if God wants you to have something, then you can get it by trusting Him, or you can lose it by not trusting Him, and (2) even if you want something, and say it, that still does not mean you can get it if God does not want you to have it. Selectively quoting those biblical passages that support one’s view, and strategically omitting those passages should that seem to contradict one’s view, is a common practice of cults. It
was, in fact, a tactic used by Satan when he tempted Christ in the wilderness (Matt. 4:5-7).
Interpretation by Prior Assumption
Of all the influences upon interpretation, perhaps there is none so important, so powerful, and so often ignored than the prior assumptions of the interpreter. It is a truism that no one can interpret a text without some prior assumptions, or what have come to be called “presuppositions.” To say that I will come to the text without any presuppositions is itself a presupposition. There is no such thing as a “presuppositionless” interpretation.
However, there are presuppositions and there are presuppositions, and not all presuppositions are created equal. Some presuppositions are true and some are false. For example, no one can seriously maintain that contradictory truths are both equally true in the same sense. The principle of contradiction states that a claim cannot be both true and false in the same sense. When anyone asserts a claim to be true, this necessarily indicates that its contradictory is false. For example, to assert that I am here and not here in the same sense is a contradiction. Either I am here, or I am not. However, it can be true that I am here in one sense and not here in a different sense. I can be here in body but not in mind. If anyone claims that the law of contradiction does not always apply, then this person has a problem. He is asserting that it does not always apply as opposed to always applying. In other words, he must use the very law he says doesn’t apply. The fact is, the law of contradiction is inescapable. So, there are some presuppositions that are universally true for everyone who makes claims, and it is on the basis of these that we can adjudicate between presuppositions.
Everyone comes to the text with presuppositions, but not all presuppositions are true. A very good example of the impact of one’s presuppositions on interpretation is the interpretation of various passages by Finis Jennings Dake, the author of the Dake Annotated Reference Bible.9 In his comments on John 4:24, Dake makes the following assertion about the nature of God:
God is a Spirit Being, not the sun, moon, stars; nor an image of wood, stone, or metal; and not beast or man. He is not the air, wind, universal mind, love or some impersonal quality. He is a person with a personal spirit body, a personal soul, and a personal spirit, like that of the angels, and like that of man except His body is of spirit substance instead of flesh and bones (Job 13:8; Heb. 1:3).10
According to Dake, God is a material being who is located in a place far from us, namely, Heaven, which is “a real planet like earth.”11 According to Dake, the planet Heaven is.the “capital of the universe, for God has His capital city, the New Jerusalem, His capitol building, the Heavenly Temple or Tabernacle, and His throne in the Temple in Heaven.”12 When God appears to people on earth, like Abraham, then God
must move from the planet Heaven to the planet earth in order to be present to Abraham. Now, such movement necessarily involves a relation of before and after; before the move and after the move. But, a relation of before and after is at least one condition of a temporal relation. Although temporality may be more than a relation of before and after, it is certainly not less than this. It follows that God, according to Dake, is a temporally as well as a materially located being. God is not only located in a place. He
is located in time.
Dake believes that God has literal eyes and literal arms, hands, a mouth, and all the other features that human beings have. He comes to the Bible assuming that God must have a certain kind of nature, the nature of a person, and for Dake persons have bodies, souls, and spirits. So, Dake understands references about God’s eyes as literal because, since Dake comes to the text with the presupposition that God is a person, and since persons have eyes, these statements must mean that God literally has eyes. However, Dake does not believe that God literally has wings even though the Bible refers to God’s wings (Ruth 2:12; Ps. 17:8, etc.). Rather, Dake takes these references as figures of speech.13 The reason Dake takes references to God’s wings as figurative is because, since he comes to the text with the presupposition that God is a person, and since persons do not have wings, these statements must be figurative.
Since various passages use the same kinds of language and the same kinds of expressions in the same kinds of literature when talking about God having eyes and wings, it cannot be the passages themselves that dictate what should be taken literally and what should be taken figuratively. Dake’s idea of God’s nature cannot derive ultimately from the biblical text because he employs this prior discriminating principle to select which passages he will take as saying something literally about God’s nature and which passages he will take as saying something figuratively about God’s nature. The texts do not make these decisions for him. Dake makes these decisions on the basis of his idea of what God’s nature must be like. In other words, it is Dake’s already present theological and philosophical perspective that dictates his interpretation of the text. Dake is an excellent example of how an interpreter’s presuppositions serve to dictate his conclusions.
But if everyone comes to the text with presuppositions, then how is Dake
an example of bad interpretation? Is not Dake’s interpretation simply a product of
his presuppositions just like my interpretation is a product of my presuppositions? This is certainly true, as far as it goes, but remember we pointed out earlier that some presuppositions are true, and some are false. If you were to try to convince Dake that his interpretation was wrong by appealing to the Bible, you would get absolutely nowhere. Dake would simply interpret the passage according to his presuppositions, and you would interpret the passage according to your presuppositions. What must be done is an analysis of the presuppositions behind our interpretations.
If we consider Dake’s conclusions that God has literal eyes, arms, etc., and that God lives on the planet Heaven in a certain place, we can trace back to the presuppositions that must be present to lead to this conclusion. First of all, Dake must assume that God is temporal and spatial. God moves from point A to point B. Secondly, Dake must assume that God has actual parts. God has eyes, and feet, and arms. So, at least one presupposition that Dake has about God’s nature is that God is a temporally and physically located being.
But, this presupposition ultimately leads to a contradiction. If God is composed of parts, then He must have been composed by some composer. A person cannot compose himself, because he would need to be both composed and uncomposed at the same time. But this is a contradiction. If God was composed by another being, then the God of the Bible is ultimately not God at all. There is another being prior to God who composed God. Also, if God is composed of parts, then He can come apart, or decompose. Of course, to decompose is to die. But God cannot die. So, once again, Dake’s conclusion leads to a contradiction.
Finally, if God is temporal, he must have had a beginning. But, if God had a beginning, then there must have been a Beginner, someone who made God begin to be. But the Bible says that God is the Beginner of all things that begin to be. So, Dake’s interpretation once again leads to a contradiction. And any claim that leads to contradiction cannot be true. So, Dake’s presuppositions about the nature of God must be false.
There are a multitude of ways cult members and even well meaning and sincere Christians misinterpret the Bible. They range from the simple common sense error of considering the context to the technical errors involving the languages, theology, philosophy, and presuppositions. What is a Christian to do? With so many people making so many claims and counterclaims, the whole enterprise may seem hopeless. However, the situation is not as grim as some people would make it seem. A study of the history of Christianity will show that the Church has a surprisingly consistent interpretation of the important doctrines of the Bible. Liberals and critics want to make the history of interpretation sound worse than it in fact is. When it comes to salvation by grace through faith, history shows that there has been a very sharp and clear distinction between those who deny salvation and those who affirm it.
The Reformers believed in the perspicuity of the Scriptures. The principle of perspicuity means that the basic message of the Bible is clear enough so that even the most unlearned person can understand it. This does not mean that everyone who hears the message will agree with it, nor does it imply that there will be no disagreement as to what that message is. Additionally, not all parts of the Bible are equally plain. Perspicuity has to do with the overall message of salvation by grace through faith. The perspicuity of Scripture does not imply that we have no need of those who are trained in technical aspects of interpretation. As Francis Turretin put it,
The question is not whether the Holy Scriptures are perspicuous in all their parts so as to need no interpreter nor exposition of doubtful passages. . . . For we unhesitatingly confess that the Scriptures have their adyta (“heights”) and bathe (“depths”) which we cannot enter or sound and which God so ordered on purpose to excite the study of believers and increase their diligence; to humble the pride of man and to remove from them the contempt which might arise from too great plainness. Rather the question concerns only things necessary for salvation, and indeed as to them, only so far as they are necessary to be known and cannot be unknown without criminality.14
The best way to fall into error is to neglect your own personal study of the Bible. A good way to learn to understand the Bible correctly is to study it diligently. Do not neglect the training that is available in the languages, theology, and, yes, even philosophy. Much of what goes on today in cults and in the Church begins with bad philosophy. A serious Bible student needs to continually sharpen his skills by constant practice.AJ
Thomas A. Howe is Professor of Bible and Biblical Languages at Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina.
1 Harvey Siegel, Relativism Refuted: A Critique of Contemporary Epistemological Relativism (Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1987), 5. The above analysis is a summary of Siegel’s approach, which, on page 57, he labels as the NSBF argument, Necessarily Some Beliefs are False.”
2 Joseph Smith, The Testimony of Joseph Smith, [Online], available: <http://www.lds.org/ library/display/0,4945,104-1-3-3,00.html> [July 9, 2002].
4 Kenneth E. Hagin, “You Can Have What You Say” (Tulsa, Oklahoma: Faith Library Publications, 1982), 3.
5 Ibid., 3-5.
6 Ibid., 5.
7 In this passage, the ah ending on the l (lamed) preposition is a feminine pronominal suffix. According to the rule of concord, this pronominal suffix must refer to a feminine antecedent. That antecedent in this context is the feminine noun ’erets “the land.” The word translated “inhabitants” (yosheb) is a masculine participle from yshb.
8 We won’t even address the whole question of whether this passage is even directly applicable to the Christian today. Simply on the basis of Hagin’s own hermeneutical principle, this passage proves something quite different from what Hagin claims.
9 Finis Jennings Dake, Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible (Lawrenceville, Georgia: Dake Bible Sales, 1991).
10 Finis J. Dake, Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible: The New Testament (Lawrenceville, Georgia: Dake Bible Sales, 1991), 97, John 4:24, note r.
11 Finis J. Dake, God’s Plan for Man (Lawrenceville, Georgia: Dake Bible Sales, 1977), 834.
13 For example, Reference Bible, 292, note m.
14 Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. 1, trans. George M. Geiger, ed. James T. Dennison (Phillipsburg, New Jersey, 1992), 143.