Whenever a believer comes to the Bible to read or study it, he brings with him a few notions of how things ought to be. He has heard sermons, read books, or watched Christian television. All of that is tucked in the back of his mind as he reads. All of that information also persuades his interpretation of the Bible as he reads.
One doctrine which is commonly held by all believers, even if not always articulated, is that God does not contradict himself. Since God inspired the Scriptures, the Scriptures, therefore, do not contradict themselves. The reader does not expect to find inconsistencies or discrepencies because the Bible is a reflection of God’s character. When God speaks of events to come, the reader expects those events to come to pass.
Nonetheless, when one reads the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, one finds quite a few changes—changes that perhaps could even be called discrepancies. His first reaction, though, is to dismiss the possibility of inconsistency. The mind, then, wrestles with interpreting these passages which appear to contradict each other. The main question which arises from this situation is this: “How does the reader account for the apparent discrepancies in the Bible, while believing in the coherence of Scripture?”
This question is important for two reasons. First, according to the Apostle Paul there is a right and wrong way to interpret the Bible. He instructs Timothy to be a student of the Word of God so that he is able to rightly handle the word of truth. The phrase rightly handle means to interpret correctly. The understanding of a large number of passages depends upon interpretation. For example, is the church under the Law that Moses gave to the people of Israel? What does it mean to “seek first the Kingdom of God”? Is today’s Israeli nation a fulfillment of prophecy? Will the church go through the Great Tribulation? Will there be a Great Tribulation? Was Joel’s prophecy fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost? These are just a few of the questions that require a correct interpretation of Scripture.
The second reason the question is important is application. Application of Scriptures to the life of the believer comes after interpretation. For example, some argue that it is a sin for a woman to wear pants based on Deuteronomy 22:5, “A woman shall not wear a man’s garment.” Although there are many problems with this interpretation of the verse, it can be granted for the sake of the argument. This verse is found in a section of legal code written for the nation of Israel. Is the believer today under this legal code? If yes, that interpretation of the law has long-reaching ramifications, one of which is that all the civil laws would govern the believer including Deut. 22:12, “You shall make yourself tassels on the four corners of the garment with which you cover yourself.” How many believers who quote Deut. 22:5 do not sew tassels onto their garments? On the other hand, if one concludes that the Church is not under the Mosaic Law, then neither of these laws directly apply. This is just a simple example of how application follows interpretation. Moreover, it demonstrates the importance of correct interpretation.
The next post will discuss the question of definition and answer the question, “What is a dispensation?”