Understanding, Accepting, and Following the Standard
For much of the past month, the airwaves and Internet have been filled with vitriolic language concerning the nomination of a new justice to the United States Supreme Court. Accusations have flown, rebuttals have followed, opinions have been bellowed, and the nation has been divided more sharply than at any time in recent memory. As one who has taught civic education for near thirty years, the tone has been troubling; however, even more troubling has been the unshielded ignorance many have displayed relating to the Constitution of the United States. Clearly, the heat of emotion has revealed a generation (or more) that does not comprehend or understand the foundation on which the nation rests. In this, there is an important lesson for the followers of Jesus Christ.
The 21st century has seen more than simply the abandonment of constitutional standard; it has also witnessed the minimizing of the biblical standard. Even some of those who profess belief in God have dismissed the Bible as the pattern by which one’s life must be lived. In this there is great danger. When the Bible is minimized and personal opinion maximized, one standard is transformed into many. “Truth” becomes whatever one believes is true; therefore, no one has the right to condemn another’s belief since all beliefs are “truth.” Is this what God intended? The answer to this question is found easily enough in our Lord’s final words before ascending into Heaven: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18b-20 ESV) (emphasis mine g.c.). Jesus, in no uncertain terms, claims to be the standard. For anyone to believe otherwise is to forget our Lord as many modern day political pundits have forgotten the Constitution. Throughout the Bible, God makes the point forcefully that He is the authority and His word the standard.
With the above stated, it is the responsibility of each reader to accurately interpret God’s message. This responsibility should not be taken lightly nor viewed as something posing little challenge. Correct interpretation comes only with serious study and meditation on what the God of Heaven is seeking to convey to His creation. Consider the following in relation to accurate interpretation:
- Understanding requires time. There are few if any worthwhile endeavors that can be accomplished without significant investment of time. True understanding of the Bible will not occur from twenty minutes a week spent filling in the blanks of a pre-packaged Bible lesson. “Clock commitment” is essential!
- Full understanding rarely occurs the first time through. While there are some portions of the Bible that are simple and easily understood, there are many others that require a great deal of study and reflection. The reader should never become discouraged if he/she does not attain a full understanding right away.
- Original intent is essential. When reading the Bible, it is absolutely necessary to begin by asking what the message would have meant to the original readers. Whether that was ancient Israel or the New Testament church, this provides a way of understanding what God desired His people to know.
- Determine if the original intent applies universally. While the Old Testament is provided for our learning, the vast majority of the New Testament is provided for our pattern. Simply stated, if it applied to the original readers, it likely applies to all who follow.
- Ask what lessons are learned from examples. God uses the stories of ordinary men and women to illustrate what He expects from all mankind. These examples typically demonstrate a godly command or principle in action.
- Tread carefully with inferences. Necessary inferences (forced conclusions) are essential in biblical interpretation; however, they must be determined with great caution. If the inference does not flow from a command of God, it is likely a false conclusion.
While other important points could be made concerning biblical interpretation, these suffice to demonstrate that understanding God’s word requires time and effort. His word is the standard; there is no other. God has given His message so that His creation can understand and follow. May each child of God faithfully study this divine standard and never fall to the fallacies that false standards can supply.