Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
I’ve been meaning to explain my heavy use of Bible references while writing for a while now. Since I’ve actually reached the verses about it in my daily Bible reading, I suppose now is a good time to get it down on paper (or I suppose pixels for you). Quite honestly, I would love to write how I feel and not always tie it down to particular verses of Scripture. Constantly quoting the Bible not only makes my writing stilted and upsets the flow of the paragraphs; it also completely interrupts my train of thought as I have to quickly look up where exactly the words I’m hearing in my head come from. Having said that, there’s a very important reason why I do quote the Bible so frequently, which we’ll look at today.
As things are starting to spin down for Judah, and Jeremiah is preaching his doom and gloom, many other “prophets” are saying everything will be ok. God is not pleased with this, he tells Jeremiah and Judah,
This is what the Lord Almighty says:
“Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you;
They fill you with false hopes.
They speak visions from their own minds,
Not from the mouth of the Lord.
They keep saying to those who despise me,
‘The Lord says: You will have peace.’
And to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts
They say, ‘No harm will come to you.’
But which of them has stood in the council of the Lord
To see or to hear his word?
Who has listened and heard his word?
See, the storm of the Lord
Will burst out in wrath,
A whirlwind swirling down
On the heads of the wicked” (Jeremiah 23:16-19).
And what kind of wrath does the Lord have in store for these “prophets?” He describes it in Jeremiah 23:15,
Therefore, this is what the Lord Almighty says concerning the prophets:
“I will make them eat bitter food
And drink poisoned water,
Because from the prophets of Jerusalem
Ungodliness has spread throughout the land.”
This is a special kind of punishment, presumably since evil is coming from their mouths God will put poison back in. Aside from that, if a prophet was found to be speaking falsely, his fate was sealed,
But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.
You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him (Deuteronomy 18:20-22).
One might imagine that such a law would make people leery of prophesying.
Yet we find in the Bible of myriad of prophets, real or otherwise. Why? Well, I can’t speak for false prophets, but I completely understand Jeremiah when he says,
But if I say, “I will not mention him
Or speak any more in his name,”
His word is in my heart like a fire,
A fire shut up in my bones.
I am wearing of holding it in;
Indeed, I cannot (Jeremiah 20:9).
Indeed, as we get closer to the Lord, one cannot help but talk about God. It likely originates from what Jesus says in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Those whom the Holy Spirit touches suddenly can’t help blabbing about our Lord (no matter how righteous that person is or how sound their doctrine may be). Actually, of the false prophets, God even says they could have been real prophets if they had followed him,
I did not send these prophets,
Yet they have run with their message;
I did not speak to them,
Yet they have prophesied.
But if they had stood in my council,
They would have proclaimed my words to my people
And would have turned them from their evil ways
And from their evil deeds (Jeremiah 23:21-22).
God is not picky about who he gives his Word to, just as long as they’re people who seek him out. So if you get close to God, via a relationship with his son Jesus, he will probably give you something to talk about.
Having said that, there are a number of well-meaning Christians who superimpose their thoughts onto the Lord. God has some words from them too in Jeremiah 23:25-26,
I have heard what the prophets say who prophecy lies in my name. They say, “I had a dream! I had a dream!” How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets who prophesy the delusions of their own minds?
Many times a well-meaning Christian will have a revelation or a dream and approach another with some sort of prophetic word. This is very reckless and dangerous. Of course God can speak through dreams or other forms; I’ve even written on this site that I believe the Lord can speak to us via secular musicians. However, John writes very specifically, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). If you think God has told you something, great, but check the Bible to make sure that God’s Word backs it up. The Lord says in Jeremiah 23:28, “Let the prophet who has a dream tell his dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?” If you have a dream or idea, great, but God’s Word should be the defining factor in all we say and do.
Also, many well-meaning Christians will repeat what they hear without knowing where the information comes from. God says of these,
“Therefore,” declares the Lord, “I am against the prophets who steal from one another words supposedly from me. Yes,” declares the Lord, “I am against the prophets who wag their own tongues and yet declare, ‘The Lord declares.’ Indeed, I am against those who prophesy false dreams,” declares the Lord. “They tell them and lead my people astray with their reckless lies, yet I did not send or appoint them. They do not benefit these people in the least,” declares the Lord (Jeremiah 23:30-32).
Think of those who try to reconcile evolution with the Bible, the two don’t mix. Or people who quote popular traditions not actually found in the Word. God says that this kind of talk is of no benefit to the people of God. When we talk about the Lord, it must be grounded in his Word, lest we get caught misquoting him.
I realized that it is actually pretty easy to pick out a likely mistake in doctrine just by following the Bible references. I was once reading a catechism (a question-answer formatted essay) by a Puritan pastor and for most of his doctrinal explanations he backed up his words with the Word (usually via a mountain of verses at that). However, when it came to his claim that there are no Holy Spirit derived powers (like healing) bestowed on people anymore, he had no Scripture with which to back up his argument. Whereas there is Scripture that suggests otherwise (from Jesus’ mouth no less),
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well (Mark 16:16-18).
So his argument fell totally flat and it undermined the rest of his essay (which was for the most part very educational for a believer).
So why do I quote the Bible so much? I don’t want to be caught with my pants down, either in front of God or a discerning person wondering where I’m getting my information from. By all means, check out what I say in your Bible, I give you the exact references so you can check for yourself. Acts 17:11 recommends this of you when it says,
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
Also, I quote a lot so you know what I write comes not from me, but from the Lord guiding my pen. I don’t have these references memorized, but the Holy Spirit will remind me of the words and I have to quickly look up where they came from; this way I can give you the comfort of knowing I am not writing to you falsely. On top of that, by checking out the exact Bible quote I am able to check myself when I think God is talking to me.
Read your Bible, it is the living Word of God,
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).
The Word is our protection from naysayers as well,
May your unfailing love come to me, O Lord,
Your salvation according to your promise;
Then I will answer the one who taunts me,
For I trust in your word (Psalms 119:41-42).
The Scriptures are also our primary weapon against evil, “Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). But you don’t have to take my word for it, check it out yourself!
“Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light for my path.”