Having determined that the Bible is true and that the truth is knowable, the next question we should ask is how can we know that truth?
We believe this comes down to hermeneutics (from a Greek word meaning “interpretation” or “expert in interpretation”). It basically means the method you use for interpretation.
There are various methods. The one we think makes the most sense is generally called the “literal, historical, grammatical” method. In other words, the text of Scripture is taken to mean what it says literally, the events in Scripture are considered to have happened historically and the words themselves are used in their normal grammatical sense.
How can we be sure this is the correct way? For starters, if something doesn’t mean what it says, it isn’t truth. God can’t claim that His Word is true if He tells us one thing but means something entirely different. (For example, If He tells us that the world was created in seven days each of which had a morning and an evening when what He actually meant is that the “days” were really long periods lasting millions of years during which evolution took place, then He isn’t telling the truth.)
Then there’s the fact that God tells us to stand for the truth, defend the truth, and preach the truth. How can we possible do those things if we can’t know what the truth is — or if the things God Himself tells us aren’t true to begin with?
And if the Bible doesn’t mean what it says, who gets to decide what it does mean? There are those who claim that the gift of interpretation is only given to some — priests or pastors or theologians — and that the rest of us should rely on them to tell us what Scripture means. This was a popular view in the Roman Catholic Church for centuries. The Bible was only printed in Latin so that only priests could read it. There are two pretty obvious problems with this approach.
First, if it were true that priests and pastors and theologians have a special insight into biblical truth, there would be a large degree of consensus among them in regard to truth. There is virtually no consensus at all.
Second, there’s Scripture itself.
1 Thessalonians 5:21 — Test all things; hold fast what is good. Context is always important. This verse is at the end of a string of exhortations in which Paul instructs the Christians regarding prayer, the will of God, the leading of the Holy Spirit, and their approach to prophecy (in this context, Scripture, which includes Paul’s letters to them).
Acts 17:10-12 — Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed.
There are a lot more instructions on studying Scripture, including Psalm 119, 2 Timothy 2:15, and many of the verses we included in our previous post on truth.
We are to search Scripture for ourselves to find the truth. Yes, we should listen to pastors, read commentaries, and talk to other people. Yes, they can help us understand. But ultimately, we as individuals, are responsible for checking what we hear against Scripture.
“But,” many say, “the Bible is filled with figures of speech and allegories and parables that can’t be taken literally.” We believe, for many people, this is just an excuse not to study. For others, it’s a way of “explaining away” uncomfortable verses instead of explaining them.
We all use figures of speech and illustrations in everyday talk and we never have any trouble understanding each other. If someone told you that they found a “boatload” of coins under the cushions of their couch, you would know they were using a figure of speech and that they didn’t actually find enough coins to fill a boat. But you would also know that they had — literally — found a large number of coins.
Not only that, but in most cases in Scripture where visions, allegories, or parables are used, the Bible almost immediately explains them or explains how to interpret them.
One final point. The Bible takes itself literally, which should be our pattern for understanding it. Micah 5:2 says that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. The Messiah was born in Bethlehem. Zechariah 9:9 says that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem riding on a colt. The Messiah entered Jerusalem riding on a colt.
It’s true that a lot of people in Scripture didn’t understand things in Scripture, but in many cases, the Lord made it clear that they should have (John 3:10, for example).
Again, please hear us—we’re not claiming that we do understand everything in Scripture. And we believe that we can’t understand it completely without the help of the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 2:14 — But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
To sum up, we believe that Scripture can be understood (with the help of the Holy Spirit) and that the way to understand it is to believe that it means what it says.