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“Preach the Word!”
2 Timothy 4:2
Those who piously insist that we say exactly what God says in the Bible, no more and no less, prove themselves terribly hypocritical by the fact that they never follow the practice. Like heretical Campbellites, they refer us to a word, phrase, or statement in the Bible, and then explain their meaning in words totally contrary to that which God the Holy Spirit has stated in Holy Scripture.
Words are vehicles of communication. They express ideas. The ideas expressed by any use of words can only be determined by the context in which they are used. In preaching the gospel we interpret the ideas (the doctrine) conveyed in a passage in the light of its immediate context and in the light of the whole Volume of Divine Inspiration, and declare that doctrine honestly in the language of the people we address. When a man takes refuge in a pretense of using only the very words of Scripture, it is because he is either uncertain of the meaning of those words, or those words convey something he wishes to hide.
“Holding fast the faithful Word,” as we have been taught by God the Holy Spirit, let every faithful gospel preacher boldly and confidently expound exactly what God says in the Bible, no more and no less, “by sound doctrine,” “for there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake.” I say with Paul, to all who are responsible to proclaim the gospel of Christ, “speak thou the things which become sound doctrine,” for the time has come when men “will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears.” — Brethren, “PREACH THE WORD!”
How are we to interpret Holy Scripture? In John 1:18 we are told that the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word, “declared” the invisible God to men. The word translated “declared” is the word from which we get our English words “exegete” and “exegesis”. Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has by his incarnation, obedience, and death as our Substitute given us the exegesis of the Triune God. He has declared to us all that God is. He has reached into God himself, brought him out in all his fulness, and shown him to us.
That is what we are to do with the Word of God. By study and prayer, seeking the direction and grace of God the Holy Spirit, the gospel preacher must reach into the text, dig as deeply as possible into the text, open it up, discover exactly what it says, and bring it out, showing the thing written by Divine inspiration with boldness, simplicity, and clarity.
As the incarnate Christ shows us God, shows us who God is, it is our responsibility to show immortal souls the Word of God, to show people what the Word of God means.
In interpreting the Scriptures we want to be completely honest. That means that we must always interpret every passage in its context, giving the precise historical, literal, grammatical meaning of the passage. Having said that, let me add that the Word of God is always to be interpreted allegorically. — Christ crucified is the message of Holy Scripture (1 Corinthians 2:2; Acts 20:27; Luke 24:27, 44-47).
I do not mean by that or suggest in any way that the things recorded in the Book of God are not to be taken literally. They are. Creation is not a mere allegory. The miracles really were miracles. The Red Sea really did drown Pharaoh and the Egyptian army. The historic events of the Scriptures are real, historic events. The virgin birth really took place. But those literal, historic things recorded in the Book of God took place to teach us spiritual things, to teach us about Christ and God’s salvation in and by our Redeemer (1 Corinthians 10:10; Romans 15:4; Galatians 4).
We must never spiritualize any text or passage, making it mean what God the Holy Spirit never intended it to mean. But the Scriptures must always be interpreted spiritually. Every historic event, every physical thing, every person and action recorded in the Old Testament is recorded there to teach us something spiritual and is, in that sense, allegorical. Creation pictures God’s saving operations of grace (Genesis 1:1-3; 2 Corinthians 5:17). Adam was a type of Christ (Romans 5:14). The Tabernacle was made after the pattern shown to Moses in the mount, and the Pattern was Christ. The sabbath was a picture of faith in Christ.
Faith and Honesty
Two things are necessary for an accurate interpretation of Holy Scripture: faith and honesty. We must believe what God says, subjecting our reason, opinions, and emotions to the revelation of God in the Scriptures. And we must interpret the Word of God with honesty. An honest interpretation of God’s Word is a contextual interpretation.
Three things are involved in an honest, contextual interpretation of the Scriptures.
1. Everything revealed in the Scriptures must be interpreted by the context in which it is given. It is dishonest to take a man’s words out of context, much more so to take God’s words out of context. Every word, phrase, verse, and chapter of the Bible must be interpreted in the light of its context. I mean it must be interpreted in the light of its immediate context and in the light of the whole Book of Divine Revelation, “knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20).
2. We must build our doctrine upon the plain statements of Holy Scripture and upon the whole Volume of Inspiration. We must not form our doctrine by logic or tradition and then seek to find “proof texts” for the doctrine we have built. And we must not build our doctrine upon isolated portions of Scripture. We build our doctrine upon the whole testimony of God.
3. If we would know the truth of God concerning any subject, we must go to that place in the Scriptures where that specific subject is explained by an inspired writer. If you want to know what the Word of God teaches about a subject, always go to that place where that subject is taught and explained in the Scriptures, and build your doctrine upon the plain statements of Holy Scripture.