There’s a familiar saying that the Bible can be used to prove anything, or put another way, almost any position on any issue can be supported by selectively quoting and interpreting the Bible. If you want to believe that God is in the rocks and trees and animals (panentheism) you can form a list of Scriptures that seem to support your belief. You believe that Jesus was merely a man and nothing more? Got you covered. You think a person absolutely must be dunked under water to enter Heaven? It’s in there.
Well, not really. The Bible was never meant to be a log book of proof texts for political or theological positions. It was written to progressively reveal God in such a way that men and women would be able to seek Him, and to recognize Him when they found Him. It was meant to bring us into relationship with God through His unique Son. Knowing about God is nice, but knowing God is Life.
Though all Scripture is God-breathed and inspired by the same Holy Spirit, and it is all useful for wisdom and understanding, it is not all equally useful for understanding every aspect of God’s nature, His purpose, or His character.
The Bible is historical (factual); it is poetic (at times metaphorical); it is prophetic (predictive and declarative); and it is morally instructional (law, including the royal law of love). Not every portion of Scripture is suitable for understanding every theological question.
Furthermore, God has purposely revealed Himself in a progressive manner, so that the understanding of Moses is not holistically the same as the understanding of Paul or Peter or John. In fact, the entire Old Testament is full of types and shadows of things that were to come; things now revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. It isn’t easy to discern the details in a shadow… mostly just general impressions.
But anything brought into the light can be viewed far more clearly and accurately. When it comes to future events, Paul says that even now we are seeing as through a darkened mirror, and that we won’t understand fully until we see Jesus face to face. But in the life and teachings of Jesus, we have the most perfect and complete revelation of God – and of reality – that has ever been presented, eclipsing all previous revelations in its clarity and forthrightness.
Let me highlight two keys to interpreting Scripture accurately. The first should be familiar: Examine every Scripture in its own context, setting, intended audience, and time in history. Also ask yourself if Jesus or His apostles ever addressed the issue, and give them the greatest weight. Look at all relevant Scriptures, not just one or a few.
Second and just as important: Listen to the Holy Spirit. This may sound subjective, but it isn’t. Receiving the Holy Spirit is as easy as submitting yourself to the Lordship of Jesus and placing your faith in Him for the forgiveness of sins. Now you’ve got it.
Learning to hear His voice requires spending time in His presence, becoming more intimately acquainted with the person of Jesus. Although God does speak in a variety of ways (I’ll elaborate on that in a future post), the most common is the simple YES / NO. The YES comes as an unmistakable peace, regardless of circumstance or your mind telling you otherwise.
The NO comes as a check in your spirit, an “Uh-oh, something’s wrong” that may come even though you don’t specifically know why. This can happen while reading or listening to someone else’s teaching on God or the Bible. When you hear a teaching and you sense the check in your spirit, that’s a good time to pray and examine relevant Scriptures for yourself until the light of the truth dawns in your heart… you will know that you know what you know. This might happen immediately or over time.
But isn’t this just relying on feelings? No, but it does take time to distinguish between the Spirit and our feelings. And our ability to hear can be compromised by lack of fellowship with Jesus, just as the sound of a friend’s voice can fade over time. And there are other voices out there, including the voice of the deceiver / imposter who likes to impersonate God, and your own head voice that speaks according to your current head knowledge, impressions, and emotions.
There is no substitute for time with Jesus. You may get it wrong sometimes in the beginning, but progressively you will begin to recognize His voice among all others. Once you hear Him speak on a subject, no amount of human reasoning will ever persuade you otherwise.
The Bible can be made to support anything, so be sure to read, pray, and listen carefully.