CHRISTIANS CAN UNDERSTAND THE WORD OF GOD
by J.I. Packer
Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey
it with all my heart. PSALM 119:34
All Christians have a right and duty not only to learn from the churchs
heritage of faith but also to interpret Scripture for themselves. The church
of Rome doubts this, alleging that individuals easily misinterpret the Scriptures.
This is true; but the following rules, faithfully observed, will help prevent
that from happening.
- Every book of Scripture is a human composition, and though it should always
be revered as the Word of God, interpretation of it must start from its human
character. Allegorizing, therefore, which disregards the human writers
expressed meaning is never appropriate.
- Each book was written not in code but in a way that could be understood
by the readership to which it was addressed. This is true even of the books
that primarily use symbolism: Daniel, Zechariah, and Revelation. The main
thrust is always clear, even if details are clouded. So when we understand
the words used, the historical background, and the cultural conventions of
the writer and his readers, we are well on the way to grasping the thoughts
that are being conveyed. Spiritual understandingthat is, the discernment
of the reality of God, his ways with humankind, his present will, and ones
own relationship to him now and for the futurewill not however reach
us from the text until the veil is removed from our hearts and we are able
to share the writers own passion to know and please and honor God (2
Cor. 3:16; 1 Cor. 2:14). Prayer that Gods Spirit may generate this passion
in us and show us God in the text is needed here. (See Ps. 119:18-19, 26-27,
33-34, 73, 125, 144, 169; Eph. 1:17-19; 3:16-19.)
- Each book had its place in the progress of Gods revelation of grace,
which began in Eden and reached its climax in Jesus Christ, Pentecost, and
the apostolic New Testament. That place must be borne in mind when studying
the text. The Psalms, for instance, model the godly heart in every age, but
express its prayers and praises in terms of the typical realities (earthly
kings, kingdoms, health, wealth, war, long life) that circumscribed the life
of grace in the pre-Christian era.
- Each book proceeded from the same divine mind, so the teaching of the Bibles
sixty-six books will be complementary and self-consistent. If we cannot yet
see this, the fault is in us, not in Scripture. It is certain that Scripture
nowhere contradicts Scripture; rather, one passage explains another. This
sound principle of interpreting Scripture by Scripture is sometimes called
the analogy of Scripture or the analogy of faith.
- Each book exhibits unchanging truth about God, humanity, godliness, and
ungodliness, applied to and illustrated by particular situations in which
individuals and groups found themselves. The final stage in biblical interpretation
is to reapply these truths to our own life-situations; this is the way to
discern what God in Scripture is saying to us at this moment. Examples of
such reapplication are Josiahs realization of Gods wrath at Judahs
failure to observe his law (2 Kings 22:8-13), Jesus reasoning from Genesis
2:24 (Matt. 19:4-6), and Pauls use of Genesis 15:6 and Psalm 32:1-2
to show the reality of present righteousness by faith (Rom. 4:1-8).
- No meaning may be read into or imposed on Scripture that cannot with certainty
be read out of Scriptureshown, that is, to be unambiguously expressed
by one or more of the human writers.
Careful and prayerful observance of these rules is a mark of every Christian
who correctly handles the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15).
From: Concise Theology: A Guide To Historic Christian Beliefs