Why Is Interpretation Needed? (2020, Quarter 2, Lesson 6)

by Tim Rumsey May 02, 2020

Why Is Interpretation Needed? (2020, Quarter 2, Lesson 6)

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This study guide contains additional materials to accompany the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide for the second quarter of 2020, titled How to Interpret Scripture. This Deeper Daily Bible Study develops the broad theme of studying and interpreting the Bible into some areas not covered by the Sabbath School Study Guide. While the general topic of each week’s set of lessons corresponds to the Study Guide topic for that week, the daily focus will vary at times from that guide. We hope that you will find this approach to be a valuable added resource in your Bible study.

The “Digging Deeper” section probes into the day’s topic, and illustrates the study principle or tool being discussed. Suggested answers, if included, are provided in parentheses. Sabbath School teachers will find this section especially helpful in the Sabbath School setting. The “Apply It” section gives the student an opportunity to apply the subject at hand to their own study of the Bible, and the “Share It” section provides an opportunity for those in group studies to discuss and share their response to the day’s theme.

Sabbath (May 2, 2020): Why Is Interpretation Needed?

You may have heard the old story of the man that desperately wanted to understand the Bible. Opening randomly to Matthew 27:5, he read, “And he [Judas] cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.” Not comfortable with that passage, he randomly opened to a second one, this time in Luke 10:37. This time he read, “Go, and do thou likewise.” Getting worried about what God might be telling him, he tried a third time, and landed on John 13:27, which said, “That thou doest, do quickly.” While this man was reading the Bible, his method of Bible study—one without interpretation—was clearly deficient.

A faithful and correct interpretation of a Biblical passage answers two basic questions. First, what does the text say? And second, what does the text mean? For those that can’t read the Bible’s original languages of Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic, the answer to the first question involves translating the text into another language. The second question involves interpretation of the text—determining what it meant to the original author and audience, and what it means for us today.

Digging Deeper

  • Read 1 Corinthians 2:16. What is the single biggest key to understanding and interpreting the Bible correctly? (Having the mind of Christ.) How do we get this? (Pray for it!)

Apply It

Read the following passages and discuss the dangers we must guard against as we study the Bible:

  • Proverbs 16:18 (pride)

  • 2 Timothy 4:3,4 (laziness and sloth)

  • Revelation 22:18,19 (adding to or taking away from what is in the Bible)

  • Luke 24:44 (losing sight of Jesus Christ as the focus of all Scripture)

Share It

  • Is pride or slothfulness a bigger danger in our study of the Bible? Why?

  • What practices or tools have you discovered in your own life that have helped you avoid or overcome these dangers?

Sunday (May 3, 2020): Presuppositions

A presupposition is something taken for granted in advance. The implication is that the thing presupposed is usually not discussed or even thought through carefully. For example, historians have identified at least two presuppositions that the American military held prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941—first, that Japan would not attack, and second, that Japan did not have any airplanes capable of catching American B-24 bombers. Tragically, both of these presuppositions were wrong, and deadly.

The Google dictionary defines a presupposition as “a thing tacitly assumed beforehand at the beginning of a line of argument or course of action.” In music, if a particular part rests for the entire section or movement, the word tacet will often appear in the score, indicating that instrument is to be silent. Presuppositions can likewise leave us mentally “silent” on a subject, either incapable or unmotivated to reason through the evidence before us.

Digging Deeper

  • Read 2 Peter 3:3-7. What presupposition does Peter say many will have at the end of time? (Many will believe that God never created life to begin with, and that there was never a worldwide flood that destroyed all life on earth.)

  • Read Luke 19:11,12. What presupposition about His mission did Jesus try to correct in this passage? (Jesus knew that the disciples and the people believed the Messiah would set up God’s kingdom on earth immediately. He wanted them to realize that He must go to heaven first and then return. Only after that would God’s kingdom be set up on earth.)

Apply It

  • Read the following passage from the book Messages to Young People and discuss the keys to overcoming presuppositions:

In your study of the Word, lay at the door of investigation your preconceived opinions and your hereditary and cultivated ideas. You will never reach the truth if you study the Scriptures to vindicate your own ideas. Leave these at the door, and with a contrite heart go in to hear what the Lord has to say to you. As the humble seeker for truth sits at Christ’s feet, and learns of Him, the Word gives him understanding. To those who are too wise in their own conceit to study the Bible, Christ says, You must become meek and lowly in heart if you desire to become wise unto salvation. {MYP 260.1}

Do not read the Word in the light of former opinions; but, with a mind free from prejudice, search it carefully and prayerfully. If, as you read, conviction comes, and you see that your cherished opinions are not in harmony with the Word, do not try to make the Word fit these opinions. Make your opinions fit the Word. Do not allow what you have believed or practiced in the past to control your understanding. Open the eyes of your mind to behold wondrous things out of the law. Find out what is written, and then plant your feet on the eternal Rock. {MYP 260.2}

Share It

  • What presupposition(s) about truth, life, etc., has God changed in your life?

Monday (May 4, 2020): Translation and Interpretation

An interpreter is someone who translates what someone is saying into another language. Anyone who has travelled to a country that speaks a language they are not familiar with knows how valuable and important a good translator is. Without a translator it is easy to end up lost, confused, or even in a dangerous situation. Yet even with a translation the challenge of understanding something originally expressed in another language can be difficult. The expression, “something got lost in translation,” captures well the frustration that can occur in this process. Understanding the Bible, for most of us, involves using translations from the original Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic languages, and then attempting to interpret the meaning behind those translated words. The art and skill of translating and interpreting texts is called hermeneutics.

Digging Deeper

  • Read Luke 24:27. What did Jesus do for His disciples in this verse? (He interpreted Scripture for them and explained it to them.)

  • Read John 16:13,14. Through what Agency does Jesus teach us and help us understand Scripture today? (The Holy Spirit leads us into all truth.)

Share It

  • Which translations have you found to be most helpful in your study of the Bible? Why?

Tuesday (May 5, 2020): The Bible and Culture

The culture we grow up in influences how we interact with people, events, and ideas. Our cultural conditioning also impacts how we read, interpret, and understand the Bible. Of course, while human culture continues changing, the Bible does not change. This dynamic can create challenges for us in understanding how to read and interpret the Bible within the context of our immediate culture.

Digging Deeper

  • Read Acts 17:26. What did Paul mean by this statement that God “hath made of one blood all nations of men”? (He apparently meant several things: First, God is the Creator of all people. Second, all human beings, regardless of culture, are part of the same human family. Third, there is more that we have in common with each other than ways we are different.)

  • Read 1 John 5:19. What is the common denominator of all human cultures? (Every culture “lieth in wickedness.”) What does this imply about our reading and understanding of the Bible? (Its core message of salvation from sin applies equally to all people. Also, we all need to “come out” [Revelation 18:4] from our respective cultures into Bible truth, which is different from every culture.)

Apply It

  • Read Matthew 24:37-39. Here Jesus compares the days and culture of Noah to the time of the end. These are two vastly different times and cultures, so what conclusions can we draw about the Bible and culture from Christ’s comparison here?

  • Read 1 John 4:8. The word love is used many ways in modern English. For instance, couples married for decades and infatuated teenagers all say “I love you” to their significant other. We also say that we love our family, our job, our car, or pizza. How does this influence our understanding of the Bible’s statement that “God is love”?

Share It

  • What aspects of your culture make it hard to understand and accept the Bible?

  • What aspects of your culture have helped you to understand the Bible better?

Wednesday (May 6, 2020): Our Sinful and Fallen Nature

Probably the single biggest challenge we all face in correctly understanding the Bible’s message to us is our sinful and fallen human nature. In today’s lesson we will look at this challenge, and the Bible’s solution to it.

Digging Deeper

Read the following passages and summarize what they are saying about the effects of sin on our minds and understanding:

  • Isaiah 59:1,2. (Sin separates us from God.)

  • John 9:39-41. (Sin blinds us to truth and to our true condition.)

  • John 12:42,43. (Sin focuses our attention more on what people think, rather than what God thinks.)

Apply It

  • Read 1 Corinthians 2:12-14. What keys to understanding the Bible are revealed here? (We must have the Holy Spirit’s leading, and allow the Bible to explain itself as we compare spiritual things with spiritual. Comparing spiritual things with carnal things will lead us into error.)

  • Read 1 Corinthians 2:16 and Philippians 2:5-8. What key is revealed here that will help us understand the Bible and God’s message through it? (We must have the mind of Christ, and be willing to humble ourselves, and our opinions, as we ask for this blessing.)

Share It

  • For what reasons should we be thankful that the Bible is spiritually discerned? What errors and pitfalls should this realization prevent us from making?

Thursday (May 7, 2020): Why Interpretation is Important

There are thousands of divisions and denominations within Christianity today, with many, though not all of them, claiming the Bible as their source of theology and ecclesiology. This, of course, begs the question, “If so many people are reading the same Book, why are there so many different conclusions as to what it actually says?” The possible answers to this question include the possibility that not everyone allows the Bible to speak for itself, or that people approach the Bible with different goals and for different purposes. In today’s lesson we will look at the example of the disciples as they waited for Pentecost and see where their study of the Bible led.

Digging Deeper

  • Read Acts 1:4,5. What did Jesus tell the disciples to do after He ascended to heaven? (Wait in Jerusalem for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.)

  • Read Acts 1:12-14. What did the disciples do after Jesus left them? (They obeyed His command and went into an upper room where they prayed.)

  • Read Acts 1:15-26. What else did they do? (They selected a replacement for Judas Iscariot.) Why did they do that? (Peter indicated that Scripture predicted a replacement for Judas should be chosen.) What does this reveal about what they were doing in the upper room in addition to praying? (They were also studying Scripture.)

Apply It

The following excerpts from the chapter titled “Pentecost” in the book Acts of the Apostles reveal seven things the disciples were doing as they waited for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In what ways does their experience provide guidance for us in our study and interpretation of the Bible?

  1. “…they were ‘continually in the temple, praising and blessing God’ ” (p. 35).

  2. “They also met together to present their requests to the Father in the name of Jesus. …Higher and still higher they extended the hand of faith” (pp. 35-36).

  3. “…they humbled their hearts in true repentance and confessed their unbelief” (p. 36).

  4. “As they meditated upon His pure, holy life they felt that no toil would be too hard, no sacrifice too great, if only they could bear witness in their lives to the loveliness of Christ’s character” (p. 36).

  5. “The disciples prayed with intense earnestness for a fitness to meet men and in their daily intercourse to speak words that would lead sinners to Christ” (p. 37).

  6. “Putting all differences, all desire for supremacy, they came close together in Christian fellowship” (p. 37).

  7. “…in obedience to the word of the Saviour, the disciples offered their supplications for this gift” (p. 37).

Friday (May 8, 2020): William Miller’s Method of Bible Study

The Advent movement was founded on the Bible, and in particular on a systematic, faithful, and humble investigation of its truths. In today’s lesson we will look at William Miller’s method of Bible study, and its challenge for us today.

Digging Deeper

Reprinted below are William Miller’s “Rules of Interpretation,” originally published in The Midnight Cry, November 17, 1842.  

  1. Every word must have its proper bearing on the subject presented in the Bible.  Matt. 5:18

  2. All Scripture is necessary, and may be understood by diligent application and study.  2 Tim. 3:15,16,17

  3. Nothing revealed in the Scripture can or will be hid from those who ask in faith, not wavering.  Deut. 29:29; Matt. 10:26,27; 1 Cor. 2:10; Phil. 3:15; Isa. 14:11; Matt. 21:22; John 14:13,14; 15:7; James 1:5,6; 1 John 5:13,14,15

  4. To understand doctrine, bring all the Scriptures together on the subject you wish to know; then let every word have its proper influence, and if you can form your theory without a contradiction, you cannot be in an error.  Isa. 28:7-29; 35:8; Prov. 19:27; Luke 24:27,44,45; Rom. 16:26; James 5:19; 2 Pet. 1:19,20

  5. Scripture must be its own expositor, since it is a rule of itself.  If I depend on a teacher to expound it to me, and he should guess at its meaning, or desire to have it so on account of his sectarian creed, or to be thought wise, then his guessing, desire, creed, or wisdom is my rule, not the Bible.  Ps. 19:7-11; 119:97-105; Matt. 23:8-10; 1 Cor 2:12-16; Eze. 34:18,19; Luke 11:52; Mal. 2:7,8

  6. God has revealed things to come, by visions, in figures and parables, and in this way the same things are oftentimes revealed again and again, by different visions, or in different figures and parables.  If you wish to understand them, you must combine them all in one.  Ps. 89:19; Hos. 12:10; Hab. 2:2; Acts 2:17; 1 Cor. 10:6; Heb. 9:9,24; Ps. 78:2; Matt. 8:13, 34; Gen. 41:1-32; Dan. 2; 7; 8; Acts10:9-16

  7. Visions are always mentioned as such. 2 Cor. 12:1

  8. Figures always have a figurative meaning, and are used much in prophecy to represent future things, times and events; such as mountains, meaning governments; beasts, meaning kingdoms, waters, meaning people, lamps, meaning Word of God, day, meaning year.  Dan. 2:35,44; 7:8,17; Rev. 17:1,15; Ps. 119:105; Ezek. 4:6

  9. Parables are used as comparison to illustrate subjects, and must be explained in the same way as figures, by the subject and Bible.  See explanation of the ten virgins, Miller’s Lectures, No. 16. Mark 4:13

  10. Figures sometimes have two or more different significations; as day is used in a figurative sense to represent three different periods of time.

    1. Indefinite
    2. Definite, a day for a year.

    3. Day for a thousand years.

    4. If you put on the right construction it will harmonize with the Bible and make good sense; otherwise, it will not.  Eccles. 7:14; Ezek. 4:6; 2 Pet. 3:8

  11. How to know when a word is used figuratively:  If it makes good sense as it stands, and does no violence to the simple laws of nature, then it must be understood literally; if not, figuratively. Rev. 12:1,2; 17:3-7

  12. To learn the true meaning of figures, trace your figurative word through your Bible, and where you find it explained, put it on your figure, and if it makes good sense you need look no further; if not, look again.

  13. To know whether we have the true historical event for the fulfillment of a prophecy:  If you find every word of the prophecy (after the figures are understood) is literally fulfilled, then you may know that your history is the true event.  But if one word lacks a fulfillment, then you must look for another event, or await its future development.  For God takes care that history and prophecy doth agree, so that the true, believing children of God may never be ashamed.  Ps. 21:5; Isa. 14:17-19; 1 Pet. 2:6; Rev. 17:17; Acts 3:18

  14. The most important rule of all is, that you must have faith. It must be a faith that requires a sacrifice, and, if tried, would give up the dearest object on earth, the world and all its desires, character, living, occupation, friends, home, comforts and worldly honors.  If any of these should hinder our believing any part of God’s word, it would show our faith to be vain.  Nor can we ever believe so long as one of these motives lies lurking in our hearts.  We must believe that God will never forfeit His word.  And we can have confidence that He that takes notice of the sparrow, and numbers the hairs of our head, will guard the translation of His own word, and throw a barrier around it, and prevent those who sincerely trust in God, and put implicit confidence in His word, from erring far from the truth, though they may not understand Hebrew or Greek.

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