Handle with Care Part 2

Introduction to Observation, Interpretation, and Application of Scripture

 

Many people are familiar with optical illusions such as the Old Couple.  Depending on where you look, you may see two older people facing each other or two younger people facing each other beginning from the foreheads to the chins. This begs the question, “How is it possible for you or someone else to view the same thing but have different points of view?”

A similar concept occurs within the church regarding how we interpret the Bible.  So while science can help explain how individuals’ visual acuity and bias leads to different viewpoints about the Old Couple, what reasons help explain why people have  multiple perspectives about scriptures from the Bible?
 
On a related note,  when asked about why there are so many church denominations,  people often refer to cultural upbringing, personal preference, or leadership styles.  These factors do not fully address the underlying premise of the question, however. The real question points to whether we believe in both the inerrancy or eternal truth of the Bible and the errancy or fallen nature of  mankind. In other words, how can we ensure a proper handling, i.e. preaching and teaching, of God’s Holy, infallible Word? 
 

In 2 Timothy 2:15, Paul answers these questions when admonishing his mentee, Timothy, to “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” ( NASB).

Paul’s declaration cannot be accomplished because of human ingenuity and captivating speech but by our commitment to several principles empowered by the Holy Spirit.  On today, I will explain key questions involving observation, interpretation, and application and discuss how observation helps ensure we handle God’s Word with care.
 

Proper handling of God’s Word involves three core principles:   observation (What does the Bible mention?),  interpretation (What does the Bible mean?),  and application (Why does the Bible matter?).  A disregard for or imbalance of these principles not only leads to bad theology:  it leads to false theology.   The first core principle involves observation.  In other words, what does the Bible mention?

Some phrases are definitely mentioned in the Bible such as Jesus’ reaction to hearing about Lazarus’ death:   “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). But have you ever encountered people making statements they claim come from the Bible but aren’t?  For example, the word “trinity” is not explicitly stated but it is implied in verses such as 2 Corinthians 13:14 which reads “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.”  
 

Another common error attributed to the Bible is that Adam and Eve ate from an apple which led to the fall of man and origin of our sinful nature.  In truth, the Bible does not specify the type of fruit.  In fact, the entire book of Genesis repeatedly only references fruit.  For example, Genesis 3:6 says “When the woman [Eve] saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.”  

 
Why do people perpetuate a false claim about the reference to an apple?  What’s the big deal? Unfortunately, popular culture led to people falsely interchanging the word fruit and apple when referencing scripture.  In his epic poem, Paradise Lost, written in 1667, John Milton famously injected the word apple in his account of the fall of Adam and Eve based on the views of a 4th Century scholar named Jerome. “As an adjective, malus means bad or evil. As a noun it seems to mean an apple, in our own sense of the word, coming from the very common tree now known officially as the Malus pumila.  So Jerome came up with a very good pun.” 1  Over 350 years later, people continue to falsely attribute the apple argument to Scripture.  This is no trivial matter.
 

Admittedly, some many wonder “What’s the big deal?” because we have more pressing issues than pointing out semantics.  As long as we understand Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit, it’s no big deal if we hypothesize it was an apple.  

Wrong!  
 

In Matthew 5:18-20, Jesus speaks emphatically about careless or unintentional laziness regarding the inaccurate reference to Scripture:

For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
 

Making false claims about scriptures is a big deal because it is both wrong and dangerously close to rejecting the inerrancy of scripture.  Admittedly, there’s an important distinction between reading different Bible translations such as King James, New King James, or English Standard. This should not be confused with inserting words or concepts that are not present in any translation.

Let’s push this example even further by considering “adding” to scripture in a different way.  For the moment, let’s entertain a different argument that words don’t matter as long as we capture the meaning.  What do we do, then, when people arbitrary replace or paraphrase scripture for the sake of “convenience” or “cultural relevance?”  
 

Imagine changing Genesis 1:1 from “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” to “In the beginning God modified the heavens and the earth.”  One might argue: “Don’t both created and modified imply God’s awesome power?” The answer is a resounding “No!”

Next week, I will address why through the lens of interpretation, the second principle necessary for handing God’s Word with care.
 
1   Martyris, Nia, “Paradise Lost:”  How the Apple Became the Forbidden Fruit. Web. 17 February 2018. www.npr.org.

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