Revelation, Inspiration and Illumination.
Before dealing with the principles of interpretation in future articles, I want now to make mention of a few general principles which are necessary as we approach the Holy Scriptures. If observed, they will open up the pages of Gods truth to our minds and souls.
A) There Must Be The Regeneration Of The Soul.
God cannot communicate Divine truth to dead souls. The very first essential is that we have already come into the possession of eternal life through faith in Christ. Faith comes before sight. We must believe in order to see, “Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?” Uohn 11:40). In this sense life must come before light, “The life was the light of men” (John 1:4). It is by the experience of the new birth, or regeneration, that life is received; and this is brought about by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. An unsaved person can read the Bible, but to him it is nothing more than an intriguing piece of literature with wise sayings and interesting stories. Even a person that is religiously indined sees nothing that really grips his heart when reading the Bible – it is a manual of religious duty and a textbook of religious theory. What a difference for a true child of God! The life of God within him enables him to receive the truth of God as the Holy Spirit unfolds it.
B) There Must Be The Recognition Of The Holy Spirit.
Not only does the reader need divine life, he also needs the help of the Holy Spirit. Teaching the truth to Gods children is a ministry of the Holy Spirit. One of His titles is “the Spirit of Truth.” It is His present function to guide us into all truth. “Howbeit when He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). In order to know His guidance in the realm of truth as well as in daily living, we must submit to His control. Those who know nothing of the Lordship of the Holy Spirit have done much harm by their mishandling of the Word of God as they try to interpret it. This is the primary source of false teaching and error in the ecclesiastical world today.
A true child of God – a person who has received Divine life -will understand the Word of God, even though unaccomplished in the world of education. In assembly life we have seen many believers who left school with a very meager education, but applied the principles mentioned in this article to the study of Holy Scripture. The resultant blessing can never be measured as their teaching of the Word of God helps others, and the assemblies are guided in ways that please the Lord.
C) There Must Be A Readiness To Obey What We Learn.
This is of vital importance in our search for a right understanding of the Bible. Biblical interpretation is embedded deeply in the realm of spiritual experience. If we are to make spiritual progress, what we learn must be translated into daily living. The Bible refuses to yield its treasures to those who are not prepared to obey its precepts. If we must believe in order to see, it is also true that we must do in order to know. “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself,” (John 7:17). This should cause us to search our hearts before God as we read. Indeed, it may explain why the Bible is sometimes dull and boring to a believer. The Bible will become less interesting if the Holy Spirit stops speaking through it. This is what will happen if I refuse to obey what has been revealed. “Search me, 0 God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23,24).
D) There Must Be A Reliance Upon Prayer.
The child of God coming to his Bible with an inherent dependence upon the Holy Spirit and an implicit obedience to what he learns, will constantly pray for help to understand more. The realization of this led the Psalmist to pray, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law,” (Psalm 119:18). Only as the eyes of the understanding are opened can they be enlightened; and only with opened eyes can we interpret the Word of God correctly. Again and again in his epistles, the Apostle Paul p rays that his readers may be led into the true knowledge of the things which he has written to them (Ephesians 3:14-21).
Earnest prayer must accompany our reading and study of the Holy Scriptures in order that we rightly divide the Word of truth. The Throne of Grace and the Word of Grace are inseparably linked. A common failing is to read, especially the familiar passages of the Word of God, as if there is nothing new for us to learn. What folly to think that because we have been reading the Bible for years, we know all it has to tell us. John 3:16 is the best known verse in the Bible and yet, when it is read with a prayerful heart, the Holy Spirit will open up truth from its words that will thrill the soul of even the most experienced saint. What a treasure we have in the Bible! It is endless in its resources and timeless in its voice to the prayerful believer who is guided by its Author, the Holy Spirit, and governed by obedience to its truth.
Commentaries, study Bibles, lexicons, and concordances are all helpful in their own way, but they will be an unnecessary expense and unhelpful encumbrance on our bookshelves if we ignore the basic principles of approach to the Word of God itself. An hour in prayerful study guided by the Holy Spirit will yield more from the pages of Holy Scripture than a day at the desk with all the best helps that are currently available. There are no short cuts or quick fixes to getting a spiritual understanding of the Word of God; and the earlier we learn that simple principle, the sooner we will enjoy the rich treasures that are to be mined from the Truth of God.