The revelation of God to mankind is not something to take lightly. Whether it be about the nature of God Himself or what He requires/desires of His creation, we should listen with the greatest weight of sobriety that we can muster.
This means we must strive to understand Scripture with the utmost humility and diligence – for it is the only remaining special revelation from God upon the Earth. In times past God spoke audibly with specific men and in dreams and visions with others, but in these last days He has given His final and full revelation in Christ (Hebrews 1:1-3 & 2:1-4) – and Jesus Christ has been shown to the world by the Scriptures written by His chosen apostles.
Considering all of this, why would we not do our best to understand exactly what is intended to be conveyed to us when we read Holy Writ?
First, it would do those of us who cannot read Ancient Greek and Hebrew (or Aramaic or Latin) well to remember that the Bible was not written in our language – let alone in the many (sometimes ridiculous) formats we can find it in today.
When we read Scripture we must keep in mind that God used men of a completely different time and culture to write what He has preserved for us today. Meaning the text of Scripture always has a specific background and context of time and culture behind and around it that we must seek to at least broadly be aware of if we are going to be good students of the text.
All of this would be in the aim of getting at the meaning that was intended to be conveyed by the author – Moses, Joshua, Jeremiah, Matthew, Peter, Paul, etc. – of whatever text we happen to be reading.
“…Theology matters… The reason that we do meaningful exegesis; the reason that we study backgrounds; the reason that we study Biblical languages, is to give us as many tools and options as possible to filter out our own unbiblical lenses. We all have unbiblical lenses. When we are raised within a particular context we are given a set of lenses by that context, and every serious believer is called to examine those lenses . . . And if the Scriptures are what the Scriptures are, and if the Spirit is who the Spirit is, [you can examine those lenses]. And the reason that we study the languages and study the backgrounds and do things like that, is – not as some people say, to reinforce those lenses – but to give us the tools to identify them, and to seek to have godly lenses; the appropriate lenses… If you don’t recognize that you have traditions/[lenses], you are probably a person who is going to be in tremendous slavery to your traditions.” – Dr. James R. White, The Dividing Line (podcast time mark 25:58)
The topic of Dr. White’s podcast was not necessarily that of this post, but his statements are relevant, nonetheless.
Side NOTE: I found this post to be helpful in articulating a similar idea to what I am attempting to address here.
For those who may not be following me so far, allow me to keep this idea simple and to the point by providing an example of what I am talking about.
“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” ~ Philippians 4:13 (KJV)
That’s a great coffee-mug/t-shirt/what-have-you verse, right? Wrong. If we actually care about what Paul intended to convey when he wrote those words we wouldn’t haphazardly slap it on something that’s meant to give us some sort of personal “motivation/inspiration.”
I grew up in/around circles that looked at this type of phrase in the Bible and turned it into an inspirational mantra at best, and a magical incantation at worse. But the thing is, any form of this usage becomes absurd when you read the verse in context – and by extension find that Paul defines what he means.
“10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity.
11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.
12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
14 Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction.” ~ Philippians 4:10-14 (KJV)
First, we notice from this immediate context that Paul is not necessarily intending his original readers to adopt the phrase; “I can do all things.” Although it may be reasonable to infer from the context that we can imitate Paul and/or that God will assist all of His children – in a similar manner as He did Paul – to do what Paul mentioned in verse 12!
But Paul is not obviously giving a didactic teaching on how Christians can “do all things” – what he is obviously doing is commending the original reader’s for their desire to assist him materially, and subsequently helping them to feel at ease for not having been able to in the past, because he had been taught by the Holy Spirit how to be content no matter his circumstances and because their mere sympathizing with/for him (and praying for him) was enough to make him rejoice for their love and faith.
So we see that Paul intended his reader to understand that God can/will strengthen/sanctify the spirit of the believer in Jesus so that they will be able to be content wether in lowly or high circumstances.
Now, as a final note, Paul actually left us with a lot more about how he learned this power of Christ for contentment and perseverance in the Epistle to the Philippians. And he also gave plenty of instruction on how to participate with God in His purifying of our souls… but in order to collate Paul’s “I can do all things through Christ” with the rest of his teaching about Christ and His relationship to His sheep, we have to know what else Paul has written in the same epistle that the phrase appears in, if nothing else.
So, primarily this post has focused on emphasizing finding the intent of the author of Scripture by looking at context (it is by far the easiest/simplest method), but the quote from Dr. James White above indicates that there is plenty more that can be done. However, I close here and simply encourage the reader to avoid interpreting a verse without concern for what might have been the intended meaning of the author.
Because we owe it to the ultimate Author of our faith to learn and apply what He has preserved for our instruction and edification.