Summary: In this sermon, we discuss the things we have to contend with that make interpreting the Bible challenging, then we discuss a method for interpretation, including the matter of the silence of Scripture.
A. How many of you enjoyed Jay Leno’s “Headlines” segment on the Tonight Show?
1. Let’s begin with some actual headlines collected from local, national, and international newspapers that are rather ambiguous.
a. It’s clear what the writer was trying to say, but in each case there is a humorous interpretation of the headline which illustrates how hard it is to clearly communicate ideas.
2. Eye Drops Off Shelf – How scary!
3. Kids Make Nutritious Snacks – Who would have thought?
4. Dealers Will Hear Car Talk at Noon – I want to hear that!
5. Milk Drinkers are Turning to Powder – How sad!
6. Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant – I guess they can try that!
7. Two Sisters Reunited After 18 Years at Checkout Counter – You talk about a long line!
8. Red Tape Holds Up New Bridge – Duct Tape has so many uses!
B. When we turn to the Bible, we realize that communication and interpretation have much more serious implications.
1. As you know, we are in a sermon series about being the church that Jesus built.
a. We’ve been talking about striving to be the church of the New Testament.
b. We’ve talked about the importance of having both the form and the heart of the NT church.
2. Last week we talked about the place and purpose of the Bible.
a. We talked about how we know that the Bible is God’s Word and the authority it carries.
3. Let’s return to one of the verses we gave some attention to: 2 Timothy 3:16-17 reads, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
4. From that declaration of Paul we learn that all Scripture is inspired by God.
a. God breathed into his chosen writers, and Peter tells us that as they wrote, they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:20-21).
5. A second thing we learn from Paul’s declaration is that Scripture is useful for all the things required in the administration of the Christian faith, so that the person of God may be thoroughly equipped for all religious understanding, activities and duties.
6. The Bible, therefore, is our supreme and sole authority in all matters that pertain to religion.
7. Nothing that anyone says in addition to the Bible or about the Bible should carry the weight that the Bible itself carries.
8. The Bible and the Bible alone is God’s Word and therefore stands above everything else.
C. In some respects, that is the easiest point for people to arrive at in a discussion of the Bible and Christianity.
1. Two people having a discussion about Christianity can’t really go anywhere until they have decided to agree that what the Bible says will be the authority for their discussion.
2. Once that point has been nailed down, then comes the more difficult task – the task of interpreting the Bible.
3. The task of interpreting the Bible is the work of deciding what the Bible means by what it says.
4. Let me make an important point: In many ways the Bible is simple and clear.
a. The most important truths about Jesus and about salvation are not hard to understand.
b. God has not made it hard to understand His basic will and commands for His people.
5. Having said that doesn’t mean that everything in the Bible is simple and clear.
a. Anyone who says that the Bible is always clear about what it says and that understanding the Bible is easy, has either never spent much time studying the Bible, or is mistaken.
6. The contention that the Biblical message is always simple and clear is itself not biblical.
7. Peter had this to say about the writings of Paul, “…just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:15-16)
8. So, if the apostle Peter says that the apostle Paul writes some things that are hard to understand, who am I to disagree with him, right?
D. Each congregation of the Lord’s people lives under the authority of the Word of God.
1. It is the congregation, along with its leaders, that must give account for its interpretation of the Scriptures.
2. Congregations must not be derelict in duty by leaving the interpretation of the Scriptures to scholars, or to preachers and elders of the congregation.
3. Certainly scholars, both ancient and present, and local preachers and elders are key players, but all people of God are charged with interpreting the Word correctly.