The fifth principle of Biblical interpretation is that we must understand the relationship between God’s story and our lives when interpreting Scripture. The almighty God has given us His Word in order to enlighten us to what truly is. God has given us a foundation from which we can know how to understand, perceive, define, and interpret both our lives and our world. It is learning to see as God sees. David Powlison, in his book, Seeing with New Eyes, states it this way: “We learn slowly to see how God sees. God, self, others, problems, and circumstances all now appear in the true mirror. Learning the gaze of God, we come to weigh life aright. We discern good and evil, fair and foul, lovely and degraded. Our Father enlightens the eyes of our hearts. We become able to pry apart true from false, instead of living in a murk of half-truths and flat lies.” 1
I think Powlison is saying that the Bible is a book in which we can truly see God and what is most important to Him. That is the story. The Bible is not primarily about us or our desires. It is a book for us, but not primarily about us; it is about God. When interpreting the Bible, we need to read it with the mindset of seeking God and His glory. This is different from reading it as a self-help manual, or a list or rules to attempt to gain God’s favor. It contains help for us, thankfully, and it does contain many imperatives for us to follow, but it is first of all God’s story.
Good interpretation begins with good reading habits, which include going through entire books, or many chapters, in a process of grasping both the flow and the descriptions of God and His works. The intersection with our lives will be apparent, not from a man-centeredness, but from a God-focused view. The aim or goal becomes knowing and loving God, not loving self and wanting our desires fulfilled. This type of focus can lead not only to obedience and practical application in our lives, but to a joyful, exciting obedience because we are focused on God Himself and the work of Christ for our redemption. The Bible is not simply a rule book; it is a history of the magnificent One and His loving work on display that can pierce even the hardest heart and change it, that it may love Him.
It is rare that commands are given in the New Testament before an explanation of God, Christ, or their work is presented. The stage is generally set by telling of the glories of God before we are commanded to act. There are overwhelming truths taught that lead us to loving obedience to His commands. If we skip to the commands, skip over the glorious truths of God, we are reducing the Word to a list of rules. We have perhaps failed to read it as first of all a book about God and His ways before we see our duties toward Him. This is one way of misinterpreting God’s story. It is essentially leaving out the motives found in who God is, what He has done, and what He is doing.
In 1 Peter 2:9-10, Peter speaks of the overwhelming truth that the Christians to whom he’s writing are a chosen race of God, His special possession. God has rescued them from darkness and transported them into light. Mercy is now theirs, it has been given to them. It is immediately after those lofty statements Peter begins instructing them how they are then to live. In other words he has prepared them, prepared their hearts for obedience, by flooding them with a reminder of God’s incredible love. After receiving this glorious teaching, obedience is not burdensome, it has in fact become lighter. As He has loved, so we become ready to love.
I realize this last point is not a typical one when discussing proper biblical interpretation. However, it is simply a way of keeping God as central, and our obedience as a response to who He is when we begin to teach or counsel others toward understanding the way God has communicated to us. It is a way of overcoming the temptation to dissect God away from His very book, and avoiding a me-centered theology in our interpretations.
Clearly, proper biblical interpretation is of enormous importance. Its importance can easily be recognized by the many ways in which it has been misused. Misinterpretation can be devastating to those who are persuaded to believe it wrongly; the implications can be not only a distrust of the Bible, but also a wrong view of the God who wrote it.
- Seeing with New Eyes ↩