3. Principles Employed In Our Study Of The Holy Scriptures.
There are certain laws in the realm of nature that must be known and obeyed if the benefits that nature provides are to be enjoyed. So it is in the realm of Biblical Interpretation. There are certain principles which, if ignored, will lead to hopeless confusion, but if followed, will open to us the inner sanctuary of Divine truth; all its treasures will be at our disposal for our enjoyment and blessing. The remainder of these articles on understanding the Scriptures will be about a few of these principles which are of fundamental importance to a beginner.
A. Detecting Christ In All the Scriptures
This is by far the most important principle of interpretation. We must recognize that the main purpose of the written Word is to reveal the Living Word – Christ. Wherever we read, we should look for Christ; whether in the Old Testament or in the New. To do so is not born in imagination or of personal whim. Christ occupies the central place in the revelation of Divine truth, and when we see truth arranged around His person, we see it in its right perspective.
He is the Christ of Typology
We have the authority of the Lord Himself to look for Him in the Old Testament: “beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself“ (Luke 24:27). While this is one of the richest methods of study of the Old Testament, it, more than any other subject, has been more abused by imagination. It is easy to drift toward two extremes in relation to the Types of Christ. We can indulge in imaginative speculation to such an extent that we bring the study into disrepute, or we can ignore the study of the Types completely and lose the revelation of Christ that they give. Without an understanding of typical teaching, the epistle to the Hebrews as explained by the Old Testament types will be an enigma.
He is the Christ of Prophecy
As we read the Old Testament prophecies, we should take note of the prophecies concerning the period and place of His birth, concerning His life, His character, His death, and His glory. One of the principles for interpreting the Messianic Psalms is to see that, while they had a direct meaning concerning the people and time in which they were written, they have a further interpretation that can only be explained in Christ. Psalm 22 was written by David from his experiences, but verse sixteen can only be interpreted in relation to the Messiah: “They pierced my hands and my feet.“
He is the Christ of History
As the center of the historical revelation of the New Testament, He is portrayed clearly in every page of the four gospels. As we study the Christ of history found mainly in the gospels, we touch on the depths of Divinely given evidences of His deity and His humanity.
From Genesis to Revelation, the Lord Jesus is the most important theme of Divine truth; almost every page bears some relationship to His person or work. The Bible is like a mine that will yield precious gems of truth concerning Christ – their value is beyond estimation and, like the stars of the sky, they are numberless. We can never know enough of Christ. The vastness of His person and work ought to be a stimulus for greater and deeper study of the Scriptures. To know Him more fully and in greater intimacy, we must observe Gods laws of interpretation. As we read the Bible, let us ask prayerfully and frequently, “Where is Christ?”
B. Distinguishing The Dispensations
In endeavoring to interpret Gods dealings with us, we must be careful to distinguish the various dispensations. It is impossible to understand the Bible correctly if we fail to do this. One of the Patristic Fathers is accredited with this saying, which constitutes one of the golden rules of interpretation: “Distinguish the ages and the Scriptures will harmonize.” An up-to-date version of this saying has been expressed as follows, “Distinguish the dispensations, and the difficulties will disappear.” In Gods dealings with mankind, His calendar is divided into ages, or dispensations.
A dispensation has been defined as “a period of time during which man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God.” Just as a farmer treats his field differently in spring and autumn, so too God has dealt with men in different ways during particular epochs in history. Each scripture must, therefore, be interpreted in accordance with the particular dispensation to which it refers.
C. Discerning The Things That Differ
In Philippians 1:10, Pauls prayer for the saints at Philippi expresses this very truth – that they might “discern the things that differ” (marginal reading). This is very important and, if constantly kept in mind as we read, will be a real help to Bible study. For example, we must discern the difference between the Kingdom of God and the Church of God. As we read carefully, we will learn that there are things the Scriptures say about both subjects, and things about each separately. The means of entrance into the Kingdom and into the Church is the same – by regeneration. On the other hand, there are things which are peculiar to the Church which do not apply to the Kingdom. The Church is Gods dwelling place on earth, while the Kingdom is the sphere of Gods rule. The Kingdom is much wider in scope than the Church. It existed before the Church began, and will continue after the Church has been completed.
We must discern the differences in the various judgments of God. We read of Gods judgment of sin at Calvary and at the Great White Throne. We read of His judgment of believers, now on earth as sons, and later at the Judgment Seat of Christ as servants. We must differentiate between the two great resurrections – the resurrection of the just, and the resurrection of the unjust. We must discern the difference between the believers standing before God, and his state in the world; between his old nature and his new nature; between his privileges as a priest inside the veil, and as a stranger outside the camp. The challenge often lies in the fact that these differences are in close proximity within the same verse or paragraph. All this demands spiritual discernment and intelligence that can only be obtained through prayer and dependence upon the Holy Spirit.