Thursday, May 07, 2020

1888 Message Study : Why Is Interpretation Needed?




Have you ever had a discouraging or depressing day or experience, and turned to the Bible for a promise or verse that would encourage you and lift your spirits out of darkness? I'm sure we all have. In my younger, and hopefully less insightful youth, I'd occasionally practice a method of Bible study that I've heard others use too – unfortunately. It's the, "close your eyes – pray – let the Bible fall open – point your finger blindly at a verse" method. Anybody else ever tried that method? I've actually heard some encouraging testimonies using this method – although I'd NEVER recommend it today.


One not so encouraging story using this method went as follows:


1st verse – "Judas . . . went out and hanged himself."  Matthew 27:5

          -not too encouraging, so let me try this again, and pray again – harder.


2nd verse – "Then Jesus said to him, 'Go and do likewise.'"  Luke 10:37

          -Wow, two in a row! Ok, Lord, I'll try this one more time!


3rd verse – "Jesus said to him, 'What you do, do quickly.'"  John 13:27

          -Oh no! Three strikes and you're out!


Clearly, this method has some pretty significant drawbacks. Our lesson is entitled, "Why is Interpretations Needed?", and our opening illustration makes that point. Approaching the Bible as above, which many of us have probably tried at one time or another, is not using the Bible the way God intended us to use it. The Bible is not a good luck charm.


A pastor tells the story of a Bible study group he was involved in where one of the women admitted to an illicit relationship with someone other than her husband. She justified the relationship by quoting Paul in Ephesians 4:24, "put on the NEW MAN".


Another youth pastor tells the story of a young man in his congregation who wanted to date one of the young women in the youth group, whose name was Grace. He saw his Biblical mandate in 1 Timothy 6:21, "Grace be with you."


While these true stories and illustrations are obvious to most of us, they make the point of "why is interpretation needed". Primarily because our fallen human nature will use ANY means possible or necessary to preserve self and it's position and desires. We will twist, abstract, diminish, exalt, avoid, quote, and misquote – consciously or subconsciously – any and all Bible verses to support our position, our status (think of those defending slavery misusing the Bible), our self-identity, our "group", etc.


Remember, Satan was quoting Scripture in his temptations of Jesus. He was mis-using actual Bible verses to tempt Jesus to fall in to his kingdom. Our fallen natures will do no less to preserve our "selves", at the expense of God's kingdom. Jesus said to His disciples that people would put them out of church, and even kill them, and believe that they were doing God's service, because they didn't know God (John 16:2-3). These will be Bible (or other "scriptures") quoting people who in the end times will believe they are doing God's will.


But they won't have interpreted the Bible correctly. This is why interpretation is needed. While we would all agree with the statement that, "God said it. I believe it. And that settles it for me.", we can see from all the above evidence that we need wisdom and principles and humility to see what the Bible is trying to communicate to us through the lens of our fallenness.


It has been accurately said that, "reading is bringing meaning to words." So, the "meaning" we bring to the words is critical. When the Bible was originally written, there were no verses, no chapter divisions, no punctuation, and there were no spaces even between the words. And all the words were in capital letters. Take for example the "interpretation" of the following phrase.




Again, in the original, no spaces between words. Does the above read, "God is no where", or, "God is now here". The answer would require "interpretation".


Who is speaking? Job's friends might say to Job that "God is no where" for example. Whereas Moses on Mount Sinai might say, "God is now here."


What is the context? As one wise apologist has said, "Never read a Bible verse!". And his point is that we should never take a Bible verse out of the surrounding "context" and misuse it. A verse without a context is a pretext – meaning – don't come and pick out a Bible verse just to fit your preconceived notions without taking in to account the setting of the particular verse.


Note how Ellen White was acutely aware of this principle as brought out in our lesson:


"In your study of the word, lay at the door of investigation your preconceived opinions and your hereditary and cultivated ideas. You will never reach the truth if you study the Scriptures to vindicate your own ideas. Leave these at the door, and with a contrite heart go in to hear what the Lord has to say to you. As the humble seeker for truth sits at Christ's feet, and learns of Him, the word gives him understanding. To those who are too wise in their own conceit to study the Bible, Christ says, 'You must become meek and lowly in heart if you desire to become wise unto salvation'.


Do not read the word in the light of former opinions; but, with a mind free from prejudice, search it carefully and prayerfully. If, as you read, conviction comes, and you see that your cherished opinions are not in harmony with the word, do not try to make the word fit these opinions. Make your opinions fit the word. Do not allow what you have believed or practiced in the past to control your understanding."  {MYP 260}


These prejudices, biases, and misinterpretations, lay at the foundation of the rejection of the 1888 message by some of our sincere Adventist pioneers:


"An unwillingness to yield up preconceived opinions, and to accept this truth, lay at the foundation of a large share of the opposition manifested at Minneapolis against the Lord's message through Brethren Waggoner and Jones. By exciting that opposition, Satan succeeded in shutting away from our people, in a great measure, the special power of the Holy Spirit that God longed to impart to them. The enemy prevented them from obtaining that efficiency which might have been theirs in carrying the truth to the world, as the apostles proclaimed it after the day of Pentecost. The light that is to lighten the whole earth with its glory was resisted, and by the action of our own brethren has been in a great degree kept away from the world."  {1888 1575.2}


Why is interpretation needed?  For one, to lay aside "preconceived opinions", and accept truth as the Holy Spirit presents it to us. We are all at risk of this failure, irrespective of our current "fund of knowledge", and Sunday's lesson calls our attention to this danger. And the consequences 132 years ago were that the beginning of the latter rain and the fullness of the Loud Cry were "kept away from the world"! May we not succumb to similar misinterpretation and pride of opinion today.


While there is much, much more that could be said about appropriate and wise interpretation, I would direct our readers to William Miller's principles of interpretation (attached as a separate file to this email). This seminal figure in the early Advent movement worked out significant founding principles, prophecies, and doctrines with His Bible and a concordance. A rich study in God's Word awaits you with these simple tools, with prayer, and with a humble spirit that the Holy Spirit can speak to.


~Bob Hunsaker


William Miller's Principles of Interpretation