Interpreting the scriptures is central to Christian belief. After all, the way someone interprets the Bible determines how they understand and live out their faith. These days, many methods of biblical interpretation have been advanced. Some favor a literal interpretation, some a wholly symbolic one. Others believe that no book of the Bible can be understood unless we first study the historical and cultural context in which it was written. Tradition also plays a major role in our approach to the Bible. What tends to be ignored as we interpret the scriptures is what the scriptures themselves teach us about interpretation. It seems the Bible is our authority except when it comes to understanding what it says.
“Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations….” (Luke 24:44-47).
These verses from Luke are perhaps the plainest statements in the Bible about how to interpret the scriptures. What do they teach us? First, that the message of the Bible cannot be grasped through the historical facts or the literal meaning of the text alone. Jesus must open our minds. The meaning of the scriptures must be revealed to us.
When it comes to revelation or going beyond the plain meaning of the text many of us start to feel on edge and rightly so. Not a few people have pulled something out of left field and called it revelation. Many have started cults based on supposed revelation. How do we evaluate the truth or quality of revelation? What plumb line do we have? Again, the verses above give us an answer: Scripture is understood by revelation, but revealed knowledge has to do with Jesus. This is the plumb line for all scriptural interpretation. When we come to the Bible, we will read history, laws, poetry, descriptions of temples, prophecies, and letters. But unless we know Christ we have not comprehended the full meaning of the scriptures (Php. 3:10).
To say that the full meaning of the scriptures is found in Christ is not to say that the scriptures have no other meaning. Jesus said, “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:12). Just as Jesus did not abolish but fulfilled the law and the prophets, Jesus will fulfill and not abolish the literal or historical meanings of any text. That is, every verse was written in a certain historical context; each has a meaning related to the circumstances in which it was written. Having our minds opened to understand what is written about Jesus does not mean that the scriptures no longer mean what they did when they were originally written. To see Jesus in the scriptures is to see the original meaning of a verse fulfilled or brought to fullness in Him.
To be continued….
Excerpted from my booklet, “This Is What Is Written“