“Be diligent to present thyself approved to God – a workman irreproachable, rightly dividing the Word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15, Young’s Literal Translation
In His wisdom, our God has placed what we might consider three “sentinels” in His Word – one at the beginning, one in the middle, and one at the end (Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:5- 6; Rev. 22:18-19). It is to warn all who read it to neither add nor take away from what He has chosen to reveal. He also inspired Paul to exhort Timothy to study the Word of God with diligent care, to pursue an orderly and consistent approach to discovering its truths (2 Tim. 2:15). Out of gratitude to those have mentored and nurtured my own interest in Bible study, I offer these ten “rules of thumb”. If observed, they will enable the eager Bible student to rightly divide the word of truth, and to avoid many popular but harmful bypaths which are so readily available today.
1. Observe What The Text Says
Forcing a preconception on what is written usually leads to error. Reading and re-reading a portion slowly, and out loud, is the best way to take in every word. Notice every detail, verb, order, progression, pattern, etc. God does not do things haphazardly. Before we even begin thinking about what the Bible teaches, we need to first establish what the Bible says.
2. Always Establish The Context
Always ask the “W5” questions: who is speaking or being spoken to; what are the circumstances; when was it said; where is the locale; and why was it being said. Context is essential for both interpretation and application of Scripture. Failure to observe context usually results in false ideas and thinking.
3. Do Not Add To The Scriptures
God has said everything we need to know (2 Pet. 1:3). Speculations and logical deductions are often corrupting and human reasoning is so infinitely inferior to the mind of God as to be inconsequential.
4. Do Not Take Away From The Scriptures
Never leave things out or pass over them just because they are naturally distasteful. Beware of removing portions on a subject just because they are intellectually difficult. The Bible is no bigger than God intended, read it all.
5. Compare Scripture With Scripture
No verse should be interpreted by itself, but always considered in the broader context of everything else the Bible has to say on a subject. Balance all your observations from the entire Bible, remembering that it is a perfectly harmonious book. Reject any idea which doesn’t harmonize with the whole tenor of Scripture.
6. Be Silent When The Scriptures Are Silent
This essentially means do not add to what God has said, because it can never be accepted as divine. Those who claim extra-Biblical revelation must be rejected. We too need to be careful that we do not add our own speculative ideas to what God has expressly revealed.
7. Always Use Scriptural Language And Terms
The use of man-made terms often hinders proper understanding because there is no scriptural reference to define and understand them. This practice often surfaces in the realms of systematic theology and should be zealously guarded against.
8. Be Certain When Making Interpretation
Interpretation is the exact explanation of what the text says and should never be done carelessly. The inductive method of Bible study is to be preferred, because it yields to letting God’s Word establish our thoughts. Using deductive reasoning to form conclusions which are not stated in Scripture is dangerous. Furthermore, looking for “proof texts” to support their own views has become the specialty of so many pseudo-Christian cults.
9. Be Careful When Making Application
When applying a verse or story of Scripture to any matter, be careful not to stretch the point beyond what is revealed or intended. This applies to how the various types, illustrations, and parables are applied, and we need to be careful to not use them beyond how God intended.
10. Consider The Nature And Character Of God
Always ask the question, “What is God like?” when trying to understand difficult portions. Is your explanation “in character” with God as He reveals Himself? If not, then there must be another explanation. Someone once wrote that “God will always act like God.” So, when a particular explanation doesn’t align with the immutable nature of God described in his Word, then we must wisely reject it.
These ten principles will guard the diligent Bible student from wayward doctrines and personal agenda-serving tangents. The Creator of language chose the correct words and expressions to convey His truth to us. To think we need to add or delete anything to make the Bible more relevant or emotionally tasteful, is foolish and elevates our own thinking above the mind of God.
May our Lord bless every diligent student of His Word, and in turn use them to bless others.