Interpreting the Bible
In a previous chapter we saw the problems with not interpreting the Bible correctly. We saw the importance of interpreting data on its own merit. Data should always be interpreted independently of currently held beliefs. It doesn’t matter how substantiated or universally accepted a belief may be, new discoveries should always be interpreted independently of pre-conceived ideas.
We saw how this flawed approach has led to many problems. We saw how the flat-world belief could easily have been disproved if people interpreted new discoveries independently of currently-held beliefs.
We must be very careful in the way we interpret the Bible. All verses must be looked at individually and in the context of their surrounding verses. We cannot arbitrarily change the meaning of words. If a word has a certain standard meaning, you cannot deviate from the standard meaning unless the surrounding context provides compelling reasons to interpret it differently.
Yes, it is true there are some verses that have a meaning different from what you would get from a casual reading. For example, Psalm 116:15 says, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints." Although the verse appears to be talking about physical death, a review of the surrounding verses (12-14,17) shows it is talking about sacrificing; dying to your dreams and ambitions.
To help you understand the basic rules of interpreting the Bible, we will look at the process you should go through when studying the subject of selective salvation. This type of study is called a Topical Study.
The first thing you should do (after bathing this project in prayer) is make a list of the verses that deal with this subject. You should collect verses from books that both support and oppose this subject. You should also search a concordance (or computerized Bible) for words relating to this subject.
Once a list of verses has been collected, you should sit down and study them individually. Each verse should be interpreted entirely on its own merit and its surrounding context. You should make notes on your master study sheet stating what the verse (and its surrounding context) appears to be saying.
The study of selective salvation will probably take a long time because there are several hundred verses relating to this subject. Once you have interpreted each individual verse in light of its surrounding context, you must interpret it in light of the whole Bible. On large studies such as this, it might be helpful to also include a quick tally of the number of verses that seem to support and oppose selective salvation.
Once you have obtained an overall view of the main thrust of the Bible, you need to go back to the problem verses (the ones that appear to be "contradictory"). You need to check and see if there are some logical explanations to the contradictions you might have missed.
Once you have reviewed the problem verses, you should read what other people have said about these verses. I realize that some Christians feel we should never look at outside sources for clarification; we should use only the Bible. While I believe we should use only the Bible for the first part of our research, I think it is important to finish the research by studying other people’s thoughts. They may be able to point out some things you have missed.
By this time, most of your research should be done. At this point, you should have all of the information you need to make a final conclusion. Obviously, you will probably never be able to clarify all of the problem verses. Nevertheless, an overriding theme should have emerged. Your doctrinal stance should be based on the strength of the evidence.
Other Chapters in this Section
PART 3: Problems with Selective Salvation
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