More on whole Bible interpretation can be found in the book
Whole Bible Christianity.
The Word of God Ministries uses something called the Whole Bible Read
It and Do It interpretation method. It's pretty much what the name
implies: read the Bible and do what God says. It is our opinion that the
biggest interpretation hurdle is P-R-I-D-E. People don't want to do what
He says, so they invent all sorts of interpretation problems and
theologies to give them excuses to cop out. If we read the Bible from
cover to cover, repeatedly, we will figure out that there really aren't
any interpretation problems. The problem is inside us, in our hard
hearts, not in the living oracles.
Will we understand everything we read on the first try? Probably not.
Will we be able to understand anything if we don't want to do what He
says? No. We need to keep reading, and do whatever we understand, in
order to gain more understanding to read more and do more. It's really
not rocket science. It doesn't take a degree or two, nor does it take a
lot of word and sentence parsing in original languages. All it takes is
a willing heart, a loving heart, a heart of flesh. Hard-hearted people
simply will not gain any more understanding except the basic—REPENT.
Stop going away from God and move toward Him. Do what He says, even if
it's only a little bit.
Reading and doing is what the Bible calls being filled with the Word.
Believers eat it and drink it as if it was His body and blood. "Eating
and drinking" (John 6:53–58) is the same thing as reading and doing. If
we don't do anything, the reading will be useless. Faith is not a
mysterious energy that helps us get what we want from God. It is trust
and obedience. We trust God, so we believe what He says. If we really
believe Him will will naturally do what He says.
The following is an excerpt from the book by Bruce Bertram
An assumption we make before we read the Bible is also called a
pre-conceived notion or presupposition. They are ideas that you or I
accept as truth, but they may not be the truth. Reverend Steve Schlissel
says this about that.
Many times we use the word presuppositions
without knowing what presuppositions are. Tricky but important
things, they determine what facts and how facts are entertained by
us. Presuppositions function like preferences or tastes. To
illustrate, just as we never go near some foods, regardless of how
well they may be prepared, so presuppositional biases can steer us
away from certain approaches. We can actually find ourselves
filtering out truths as we read the Bible. We don’t see certain
truths because they don’t conform to our presuppositions. As another
illustration, presuppositions function like teeth and like a mouth,
since all potential nourishment must first pass through our
presuppositions to be made fit for personal consumption. They
function like a digestion system in which a nearly miraculous
function occurs out of sight— detecting, sorting, and cataloguing
the ingredients while we go about our business. Presuppositions also
function like a “tusshy”—they are behind and under everything we do,
and we do our life-long best to keep them hidden and protected.
Generally, we never talk about them in polite company (though
occasionally we must).
Everyone has pre-conceived ideas or assumptions. They’re impossible to avoid when reading and applying Scripture. Some presuppositions are so ingrained we are surprised when they are revealed to us. But even the “stealth” assumptions we have affect how we behave and how we interpret information coming from any source.
Assumptions or presuppositions are not necessarily bad. We just have
to recognize that we have them. Then we have to work hard at cross
checking them with (in this case, biblical) evidence, and adjust them if
they don’t match up to Bible facts. All we know is not all there is.
What we think we know needs continuous overhaul from the Bible because
we have a tendency to drift away from God. As often as possible we need
a fresh look at His Word so we can cross-check our assumptions and keep
from getting stale. As we read the Bible we will come across ideas or
teachings that don’t seem to fit our present assumptions, and we’ll need
to decide if a change is in order. Changes like this led to the writing
of this book.
Be on guard for other people’s assumptions as well as your own. Many
theologies are stuffed with ideas which were developed hundreds of years
ago apart from the Scriptures and are frequently assumed to be true now.
For instance, dispensationalism imagines that there are different ages
where God dealt differently with different people. So according to them
the Law is “old” and we have two Bodies with two different sets of rules
to go by. Covenant theology is another example that assumes God merged
physical Israel into the church. For them the Law is not objective and
real but merely spiritual.
Whether you know it or not this type of assumption stuffing is in
every teaching you get from the church. Pastors and rabbis have been
(willingly) drilled, hammered and cemented into one or more theological
systems, and they serve up the teachings like the system tells them to.
In order to graduate from school or become a member in good standing of
any related church group (or stay that way), they have to teach the
system they’ve bought into. They learn to teach just as they are taught,
and they don’t deviate from the recipe one bit.
There are dozens of good rules for interpreting the Bible, and many
books written. If you want a good book on interpretation try
Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning by
Walter C. Kaiser and Moises Silva. I’ve picked a few general rules here
that will help keep a focus on what is important. The six whole Bible
beliefs about the Bible we are going to talk about next may look like
they have no foundation, but only because we could write books on each
concept and we don’t have the space to give them more than an
introduction here. They are 1) that God’s Word is the highest authority;
2) that the Bible reveals God, it doesn’t conceal Him; 3) it is clear
and plain; 4) it means what God intends; 5) the Word explains the Word,
and 6) the Word requires a response.
It is the Highest Authority
During the Reformation, in addition to “faith alone,” another of the
mostly forgotten truths that were brought up is in Latin called sola
scriptura. This means “Scripture alone,” and reinforces the point that
Scripture, by itself, is the first and final authority in a believer’s
life (Matthew 4:4). Scripture overrides and transcends a priest’s word,
or a pastor’s commentary, a rabbinic ruling and even a pope’s bull.
One reason this truth (among others) had to be recovered, and now
repeated, was that many teachings of men (then and now) obscure the
plain meaning of God’s Word for everyday people. Another reason is that
church (or Jewish) traditions drift into overriding the Bible after a
There are good writings from many good teachers that help us
understand more about the Bible. Talmud (the oral law) for instance, has
a great deal of good commentary. The apocrypha has
some interesting insights. But they are not the Word, and do not carry
the same authority. No extra-biblical writing measures up to the Bible.
Even the good ones just repeat what is already in the Word. As Solomon
says, there is no new thing under the sun.
Many times the extra writings just lead away from the Bible. Papal
bulls, the efforts of so-called “prophets” (Edgar Cayce, Ellen White,
Charles Russell etc.) and almost all other extra-biblical writings just
obscure the plain meaning of His ancient message. People keep trying to
trump God’s Word with other writings. The Nicolaitans use their
education to scare us and stifle dissent. They fool some of the people
some of the time, but they can’t fool all of us. Whole Bible Christians
understand that there are many sources for learning, but only one with
God’s Word is intended by Him to reveal His character, will, plan and
purpose to us. It was not written to conceal Him or what He intends for
29“The secret things belong to the Lord our
God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that
we may observe all the words of this law.
(Deuteronomy 29:29 NASB95)
13For behold, He who forms mountains and
creates the wind And declares to man what are His thoughts, He who makes
dawn into darkness And treads on the high places of the earth, The Lord
God of hosts is His name. (Amos 4:13
It would be somewhat nonsensical for Him to cause His words to be
recorded, and no one could figure them out. God lets us in on what He is
doing and will do, and what He expects from man. We have no excuse to be
ignorant of what God requires. The Bible is preserved for us so that we
can read it and learn about God. He made sure the words were written
down so other generations would have information they could use to find
16“Come near to Me, listen to this: From the
first I have not spoken in secret, From the time it took place, I was
there. And now the Lord God has sent Me, and His Spirit.” 17Thus says
the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, “I am the Lord your
God, who teaches you to profit, Who leads you in the way you should go.
18“If only you had paid attention to My commandments! Then your
well-being would have been like a river, And your righteousness like the
waves of the sea. (Isaiah 48:16–18
7Surely the Lord God does nothing Unless He
reveals His secret counsel To His servants the prophets.
(Amos 3:7 NASB95)
One of the big reasons that the Reformation was so effective is that
the Bible was translated into common languages. Everyone could compare
the existing church with the one in the book of Acts. They didn’t match
up too well, and reform was demanded. God meant the Bible to be
understood, and to reveal His works and character and power to all
generations, at least to those of the generations searching for Him.
It is Clear
At the time of the Reformation, the average person did not read the
Scriptures (sound like today?). But back then it was because they were
in languages no one used and translations into common languages were
forbidden so the church could hold onto its power. The synod of Toulouse
in 1229 for instance specifically forbade people to have the Bible in
their own language. It wasn’t until 1962–64 at Vatican II that Catholics
were encouraged to read their Bibles (after people were already doing
it). Reading and interpreting for many even today is the special
province of the clergy, and they insist that priests (pastors, rabbis)
are the only people qualified to determine meaning and application. They
allege the Bible is too difficult for the average person to understand.
Of course, they used to think the earth was flat, too.
But God made sure the Word was well within the ability of anyone to
understand it. Some of the people during the Reformation called this
“perspicuity.” They were saying we don’t have to
be scholars to grasp most of the Word. We need to be reminded of this
today because there are those who want to complicate the Word and keep
it out of our hands.
It seems clear to me that the main issue that causes Scripture to be
unclear is a refusal to do what is read (Jeremiah 7:28; Hosea 6:6). We
have a nature, inherited from Adam, which tends to walk away from God.
Many times, it wants to sprint. We hide from Him because in ourselves we
don’t measure up to His perfection, holiness and power. Like Adam and
Eve in the bushes.
Obedience to the smallest word helps to clear up the meaning of more
of the Word – more abiding means more understanding (Deuteronomy 4:6).
Sometimes we don’t understand, and sometimes we just don’t know, but the
bottom line is abiding.
Obedience requires humility. Humility allows the light of the Spirit
unhindered access to the darkest corners of our hearts. Disobedience
comes from pride, and pride causes confusion. Pride hardens the heart
and actively resists the Spirit.
Scripture itself tells us that many of the things that are written
are for our understanding. Luke 1:4 says “so that you may know the
exact truth about the things you have been taught.” Paul says
14I am writing these things to you, hoping to
come to you before long; 15but in case I am delayed, I write so that you
will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God,
which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the
truth. (1 Timothy 3:14–15 NASB95)
The truth of the Word is plainly evident to everyone. But prepared
hearts (looking for truth) who “study to show (themselves) approved”
will get more out of it as reading and doing progress. A hard hearted
person understands, it’s just that they profess ignorance or confusion
because they don’t want to follow under any circumstances (Acts 7:51–53;
The Spirit is able to teach the redeemed, obedient soul, not because
he or she has had a lot of schooling, but because the word of God is so
structured as to speak to the heart. The biggest barrier to
understanding the Word is not language, the age of the copies, grammar,
or the culture. It is the refusal to accept the plain meaning and change
our thinking and living patterns to conform to it.
2“For My hand made all these things, Thus all
these things came into being,” declares the Lord. “But to this one I
will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles
at My word. (Isaiah 66:2 NASB95)
It Means What He intends
The clarity of Scripture includes the idea of a literal
interpretation. What you read is what you get. When a writer sets down
words to convey his thoughts to others, he tries to pick those which
most accurately represent what he is thinking. When we read what he
writes, we are supposed to use the words he chose to understand what he
is trying to say. As I write this book, I have a purpose in mind, a
thought to give, and I want you to get what I’m thinking. Even if you
don’t necessarily agree. So there is only one literal meaning to what I
write (except for puns).
You don’t pick up this book, or any other, including the Bible, and
try to make it say what you want. You don’t try to find a spiritual
meaning because you think that I really didn’t mean just what I said.
You don’t take apart my grammar, syntax, or look up the history of how
the words that I chose were used centuries ago. Instead, you try to find
my literal intent. The Bible authors are understood the same. Each one
has a purpose for their word choices, sentence structure, order of
narrative, or whatever. There is only one meaning. It has to be this way
or words mean nothing at all.
Jesus and the apostles used the literal meaning of the Old Testament
text, quoted it a lot, and reinforced instruction that had already been
given by God (such as love). They relied on and supported the literal
intent of the Old Testament authors, explaining some of the forgotten
parts. None of them spiritualized the texts. They all avoided
allegorizing (another word for spiritualizing) except for a couple of
Interpretation can be something of a cross
between science and art. Even when we try to understand what a close
friend is saying in a conversation, we don’t always get it right the
first time. There are gestures, expressions, and tones that we don’t
always pick up on. There can also be inside jokes or figures of speech
and the like. Happily, God’s message is plainly and simply repeated. For
good measure, it is repeated in many time frames, in many different
cultures, through many different people. We can compare all of these
together and get an exact understanding with confidence.
God very purposefully communicates His meaning so that there is no
misunderstanding. Many people foolishly speak in a bad way about literal
interpretation. They like to come up with their own fantasy spiritual
meanings. Then they can steal authority from the Word and rule over
others. They don’t like a literal meaning because it restricts them from
the flights of fancy they use to lead people away from the Word.
There is only one meaning to the Bible, but many applications I can
draw from the author’s meaning. Meaning includes dictionary definitions
of words, sentence structure, subjects, predicates and grammar.
Application can be thought of as “how the text applies to your life” or
even “what does it mean to me.”
When Matthew writes in his gospel chapter two verses 13 through 15
about Joseph and Mary fleeing to Egypt with Jesus, this is exactly what
happened. It is not a metaphor. It does not mean anything mystical, nor
point to some lost part of the ministry of Jesus. There is no “deeply
spiritual” meaning other than what the author intended. Matthew tells us
the reason he includes those facts in his gospel in verse 15 is it
fulfilled a prophecy from Hosea 11:1.
We might draw some nifty comparisons based on these facts, but the
words mean what Matthew meant them to, no more and no less. An
application for me is reassurance that even when things look bad, God is
in control. But my application is not the same as what the author’s
words mean. The meaning, or author’s intent, might be very different
from any application I might find.
Paul gives us an example of the difference between meaning and
application in 1 Corinthians 9:9. He quotes Deuteronomy 25:4 where we
are told not to muzzle the ox that treads the grain. He applies it to
receiving financial help for his teaching efforts. The meaning of the
text is clear: don’t put a muzzle on the ox – let him eat. The
application is also clear — if God cares for an ox, He also would want
us to care for workers in His Body. Paul supports his teaching with
practical references to vineyard workers, soldiers, shepherds, crop
harvesters and priests who share in the sacrifices. His application is
valid, but the meaning of the text doesn’t change.
Too often, a person will discover a nifty application, then turn
around and teach that his or her application is the meaning of the text.
Mostly that is not the case, and we have to guard against turning
applications into meaning.
Frequently there is more meaning in a group of words than simply the
sum of the word definitions. For instance, we might say a guy has “egg
on his face.” But we do not mean that he has an actual bird egg on his
face. We mean he has been embarrassed in some way. Just because we use a
literal interpretation does not mean we have to be inflexible when it
comes to the meaning. Yet if words are to have any meaning when sharing
ideas, they must have some consistency and uniformity. Otherwise, we
would still be babbling as we did at the Tower of Babel. Come to think
of it, we still are doing a lot more babbling than we should.
The interpretation method called allegorical or “spiritualizing” is
used by many teachers to squeeze extra meaning from every letter of the
Bible. Even if the meaning is clear enough with
plain reading. Spiritualizing treats the Bible like Aesop’s Fables with
a “hidden” and “more important” truth buried under what is plainly read.
There is much in the Bible that is spiritually discerned. But that does
not mean there is a deep spiritual meaning behind every word. Or that
the supposed spiritual meaning is the only one that counts.
Spiritualizing opposes the literal method of interpreting.
Spiritualizers have said that the fruit eaten by Adam and Eve wasn’t
a real fruit, or that the tree of knowledge wasn’t a real tree. They
were symbolic of something else. I’ve heard that the four rivers running
out of Eden weren’t real rivers but stood for four virtues.
This is one of the places that people who want to destroy the
absolute truth of the Word start. The effect of this type of
interpretation is to destroy the integrity of God’s Word and so destroy
our trust in it. Spiritualizing destroys the plain meaning of God’s Word
and removes objectivity. There are no language rules. Meanings or
applications exist only in the mind of the person doing the
spiritualizing. They can't be verified with objective methods by the
average person reading the plain text. Spiritualizing promotes pride,
because one who is “more spiritual” can allegedly see the assumed
meaning. The alleged inferior “less spiritual” person cannot.
The person who spiritualizes then becomes the only authority on
Meaning. The “less spiritual” person cannot read the text for himself,
but must go back to the spiritualizer to get the “true” meaning. These
“holier than thou” people just shift authority from the Scriptures to
themselves, nullify various unpopular sections, and become kings of
their own little kingdom. Allegory is present in the Word, and there are
spiritual meanings too, but these are dependent on the literal meanings
of words and the author’s intent.
It is Self Explaining
Okay, so we’ve figured out that the Word reveals God, is clear and
easy to understand by the average person, and is to be taken literally.
In addition to these we use God’s Word to interpret God’s Word. When we
have questions on a text, there’s a good chance there’s a bunch of other
texts that will help clear it up. We just have to make sure we compare
apples to apples.
Comparing apples to apples works by comparing sections that have
similar language or similar subjects that are closely related. What is
important is to keep going through the whole of the Word to make all the
comparisons we can find. Terms might look the same, but that doesn’t
mean they are the same.
The challenge is to see the Bible as a whole and all of the parts
fitting together in a complete picture. There are very clear teachings
and some that are not so clear. But we can use the clear teachings to
help clarify teachings that might not be as clear. For instance, God
says He doesn’t change and that His Word won’t change. So if a section
of the Bible appears to change His Word then our understanding must be
out of whack. God is very consistent and His Word is very consistent
Providentially, God has not left us with only a few questionable
fragments of His Word. He has given us such a wealth of revelation in
easily to understand format that there is no doubt what He intends for
His people. A great American statesman, Daniel Webster, said it well.
I believe that the Bible is to be understood and
received in the plain and obvious meaning of its passages; for I
cannot persuade myself that a book intended for the instruction and
conversion of the whole world should cover its true meaning in any
such mystery and doubt that none but critics and philosophers can
It Requires a Response
God commands a response from men based on what He has revealed. It’s
not a request. He’s not begging. Just because He delays judgment does
not mean we get to delay a response. We are to turn from our own ways
and follow His ways (choose life) or die, and He doesn’t want us to die.
He isn’t kidding around in causing His Words to be written down and
preserved through the centuries.
The key actions in repentance are reading and doing. If we only read
part, then we only understand partly, and if we don’t obey, why keep
reading? The body and blood of the Christ will not help us if we don’t
open our hearts and respond. If we don’t do what we read, our faith is
suspect, and faith is a critical ingredient to understanding the Word.
It all works together to get us where we want to go. History, grammar,
culture and other tools are all important in finding the meaning, but
these will only help in a small way until we respond.
21Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and
all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted,
which is able to save your souls. 22But prove yourselves doers of the
word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 23For if anyone is a
hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his
natural face in a mirror; 24for once he has looked at himself and gone
away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25But one
who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by
it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man
will be blessed in what he does. (James
“In humility receive the Word implanted.” This means to abide by the
“law of liberty” in every action. This law is none other than the Law of
Moses, the only perfect law. It’s really very easy to understand and
implement. There’s so much freedom in the Law that it can be called the
law of liberty. This is not “freedom in Christ” to ignore the Word of
Christ, as many teachers have tried to get us to swallow.
In contrast to the simple clarity of the Word, men have come up with
untold numbers of ways to reinterpret and confuse it. In fact, it’s
because of doubting and questioning the Word of God that so much time
has to be spent on answers. Complications are added by men when they
doubt what God said. This book is a little complicated because of the
complicated teachings of men we are dismantling. It is not because the
Word is all that complicated. When men don’t want to act on what He
says, objections are made up. This is where we get all those
“philosophies of men” that Paul talks about (Colossians 2:8). This leads
us to the next issue, which is trust.