Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
I’d like to think that if I could be compared to an apostle (which is a ridiculously arrogant thought), that I’d be similar to Paul. Just like Paul, I grew up in the church, but I wasn’t really saved until the Damascus road. Acts 9:3-5 recounts the event of Paul’s conversion,
As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.
As my eyes passed over those words the first time, I heard the voice of Christ speak to me from the page and say, “Dude, what the heck? Why are you standing against me?” And, much like Paul, I didn’t really have any other choice than to give my life to the Lord, who spoke to me. Not only that, but, as you can probably glean from the above passage and my experience, Paul used to be fairly hostile towards the church. How hostile was he? A couple verses up we read,
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem (Acts 9:1-2).
Now, maybe I wasn’t going to such extreme lengths, but after university I had started to grow fairly distant from the church and Christianity. But now, after having Christ come into my life in such a personal way, I carefully study the Scriptures to learn all that I can about God. Paul took this to such a level that people started calling him crazy. History records, “At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. ‘You are out of your mind, Paul!’ he shouted. ‘Your great learning is driving you insane’” (Acts 26:24). I’ve gotten a similar comment from my wife before while going on about something I read in the Bible. So I’d like to think that I’m kind of like Paul. But honestly, I’m probably more like Peter- and you probably are too.
First off, remember, Paul was a professional; whereas most believers (me included) are lay people. Check out what Paul says about his credentials:
Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 23:6).
Paul calls himself a Pharisee, and notes that his father was as well. In another translation it says he’s a “Pharisee of Pharisees” which also implies that aside from his lineage, he was also a super-Pharisee in terms of his beliefs and level of professionalism. These guys were the religious ruling class and to become a Pharisee you had to have an extremely deep knowledge of (and have basically memorized) the Scriptures. He received his training under the premier Pharisee of his day (or at least good enough to name drop), Gamaliel. It is written,
When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet.
Then Paul said: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus under Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today (Acts 22:2-3).
So Paul’s background included both heavily religious education as well as actual professional service in his realm of being a Pharisee. Now, granted, Paul decided to disregard all of that when he came to Christ. He wrote,
But whatever was to my profit I know consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ- the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith (Philippians 3:7-9).
Paul claimed that everything was a loss for the sake of Christ, but keep in mind, he still had the Old Testament entirely memorized and drilled into his head, so loss or not- it was all there still. Not only was Paul a professional, but he also didn’t just follow Christian doctrine, he established it. He wrote most of the New Testament; and even Peter (who actually hung out with Jesus) acknowledged Paul’s role in the development of Christian doctrine,
Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, 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).
Before the New Testament canon was even established, Peter considered Paul’s writings as canon. Needless to say, Paul was certainly a cut above most believers.
Peter, on the other hand, was not a professional. The Pharisees noted his lack of background and education after they had arrested him, “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). And Peter was far from perfect. He messed up- a lot. One of the coolest things Peter had done while with Jesus was to walk on water…but it didn’t last long. We read,
“Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:29-31)
But Peter didn’t just have faith failures; he also argued with the man he called Lord,
He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
But Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Mark 9:31-33).
Let’s not lie; you know you’ve messed up when the Son of God calls you Satan. What’s worse is that Peter didn’t even learn from that encounter and argued with Jesus- after he had already risen from the dead and entered into heaven right before Peter’s eyes no less! History remembers,
He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
“Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 10:11-15).
Peter was stubborn, impulsive, and followed his emotions more than anything else. Such a character led him to do sometimes crazy things, like chop a guy’s ear off:
Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)
Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18:10-11).
If you haven’t noticed the pattern yet, all of these end with Jesus rebuking Peter- which seemed to happened a lot. In fact, Peter didn’t just get rebuked by Jesus; even Paul called him out one time. Paul writes, “When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong” (Galatians 2:11). No other apostle has his mistakes so thoroughly recorded in the Bible than Peter. And generally the Bible tries to show men of faith in a positive light, so this suggests that Peter probably messed up a lot more if this much made it to print.
Aside from his mistakes, Peter also had a special faith. He’d let his mouth burst forth before his brain had caught up to situations. Check out what happened when Jesus was transfigured before him:
There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters- one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Matthew 17:2-4).
“It’s good for us to be here?” This sort of thing would leave most men speechless, but Peter tried anyway and spoke entirely without logic. Pete, how could you be of any usefulness to God in the flesh, Moses, and Elijah; you’re not even the builder of the group, Jesus was! The Bible even notes that even Peter had no idea what was leaving his mouth. We read in Luke 9:33’s account of the same story,
As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters- one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)
But the response, although largely nonsensical, is somewhat beautiful. Although Peter could serve no purpose to Christ, Moses, or Elijah, he knew that being there with them was good for him, and he wanted to build them somewhere to stay- likely to prolong his time with them. This is the same sort of faith David had too. For it was David who wrote,
One thing I ask of the Lord,
This is what I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord
All the days of my life,
To gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
And to seek him in his temple (Psalm 27:4).
This is probably what Peter wanted to say at a time like that- but it just didn’t come out quite so well (nor would it for you or me- I’d be dumfounded!). Despite his arguing with Jesus, Peter did completely trust our Lord. When Jesus was gauging what his disciples thought of him, only Peter stepped up,
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:15-16).
And when Peter saw Jesus walking on the water, he gained his confidence to actually go out to him through the word of his master: “’Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water’” (Matthew 14:28). You may have a lot of faith in your leaders or pastors, but would you follow them out onto the water? Peter did though (even though he sunk moments later). And when everyone was leaving Jesus because he was starting to sound crazy, Peter didn’t budge an inch. The Bible records,
“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:67-69).
It was a special faith, a faith full of mistakes and yet unwavering devotion (even when arguing with the living God). I don’t think Peter even fully understood his faith, but he kept going in it. It was personal yet mystified, confused yet steadfast, up and down but always constant.
This article isn’t for us to compare ourselves to various apostles; because most of us, me included, don’t even come close to them. But it seems that Peter represents most of us well-meaning Christians. And in that there’s wonderful hope for you and me. Because even though Peter wasn’t perfect (not even close), Jesus was his close and personal friend. He even called Peter (birth name: Simon), “The Rock” (that’s what “Peter” means). Now, Dwayne Johnson hadn’t popularized the name yet, but still, it’s pretty cool when the Son of God is giving you cool wrestling names (He also gave James and John a tag team name in Mark 3:17 so don’t tell me they weren’t wrestling names). But Peter being “The Rock” was more than just a cool name; Jesus put meaning behind that name. We find out about it in Matthew 16:17-18,
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
I know there’s a lot of debate about what exactly Jesus meant when he said that, but God’s known for his wordplay so at least in some part I think that Christ was saying that his church would be built upon the Peters of the world: you and me. And if Jesus loved Peter that much, than you should know that even if you don’t match up to your particular hero of faith- God loves you and thinks you’re special. Actually, according to Scripture, just like Simon “The Rock” Jonahson, Jesus has a cool wrestling name for all believers,
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it (Revelation 2:17).
So if you’re feeling a little less-than-awesome, remember that you’re in good company. Actually, it may very well be by design. For it is written,
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things- and the things that are not- to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God- that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:27-31).
We’re all different, but the Lord loves us all. Even if we’re a Peter of Peters, the Lord loves us and thinks highly of us. He notes, “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Luke 12:7). God counts even the hairs on our heads (if you have hair; if not…um…follicles?). And keep in mind, we’re not all meant to be Pauls, Moses, or Isaiahs. The body of Christ is full of strange and different people. And the Lord has given each one different talents and abilities. It is written,
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines (1 Corinthians 12:7-11).
So if you feel like you’re failing as a follower of Christ, take heart. Maybe you haven’t found your niche yet, but rest-assured that the Lord has given you a purpose and varied strengths. So be steadfast in your faith, even if you don’t fully understand it. It worked for Peter, didn’t it?
The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.
-1 Peter 4:7-10