Bible Interpretation Part 2: "All Scripture"
Each Verse is from God
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17
This is a key verse in our understanding of how to interpret the Bible. All scripture, that is each and every verse was given to us by God. God is not a man that He should lie. Nor is God the author of confusion. It would be impossible for God to say something that is not true. It would equally be impossible for God to contradict Himself. Therefore, there can be no contradictions in the Bible.
Also, there are no sections or verses that have more weight, more truth or more authority than other verses. All verses are equally true and equally inspired. We cannot use one verse to erase or override another verse. When we try to do that, we are putting God against Himself. All that God has said is true and all that God has said is equally true.
We must say here that not all verses have equal application. This does not mean that those verses are not true but it does mean that not each verse has direct application to the reader. Each verse has a home with the verses around it. We call this context. Context determines the final meaning and application of a verse. This is best understood through an illustration. I will repeat an old joke, which I hope will make the point about the importance of context.
A man was looking for answers from God about what he should do with his life. He prayed, “God, what is your will for me?” When he received no answer, he decided to consult his Bible. He determined to randomly open his Bible and the first verse his finger landed on, that would be his answer. He opened his Bible, poked his finger on the page and read:
Matthew 27:5 “…Then he went away and hanged himself…”
The man thought that this is surely not what God would want him to do so he decided to try again. This time his finger fell on the last part of Luke 10:37:
“…Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Of course, this is just a silly story but it does illustrate the point. The phrases in the above example are found in a context. They do not stand alone. They have a home and their meaning is found in the story that is being told in those verses. And more to our point, they do not necessarily apply to us.
There are two important things to consider in our illustration.
1) Context is important
2) Meaning should be sought before application.
What about Contradictions?
There are no contradictions in the Bible. The Bible contains the very words of God and He cannot lie nor contradict Himself. With this in mind then, if there appears to be a contradiction, it is not in the Bible but in our minds. The Scripture is clear but our minds are cloudy. What about verses that seem to contradict? What do we do? We have a few options.
- Accept the verse we like and reject the verse we do not
- Live with contradicts
- Ignore the contradiction and say “It is a mystery”
- Reconcile the verses in our mind
A classic example of an apparent contradiction is found when we compare the words of Paul with those of James. In numerous places, Paul says that people are saved by faith alone and apart from works (Romans 3:28; Romans 4:5. Galatians 3:6-9; Ephesians 2:8-9, etc.) but James says:
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?” James 2:14
James seems to be saying that a person without works cannot be saved. That directly contradicts what Paul said. How do we reconcile this? The answer lies in the context. We know from chapter 1, that James is writing to those who profess to be believers (James 2:1). He goes on to say in verse 22:
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
He then gives the example of people who cannot control their speech (V.23-26). The point is that if a person professes to be a Christian but cannot control the words, they may not be Christian but may be deceived. This is a specific example to support James’ point that those who claim to be Christians but do not do what the Word says may not be Christians.
James gives another example in chapter 2. Those who show favoritism are not behaving like Christians (v1-12). He then gives the example of a person who refuses to show hospitality and provide for the needs of another (v.14-16). What is the point of James? The context says nothing about the necessity of works for salvation. Rather, James is pointing out that those who profess to be Christians but cannot control their tongues, practice favoritism, and have no concern to help their brothers in their time of need, may not be Christians. Christians produce good works. Those who do not obey the Word and who do not do good may not be Christians at all. That is the point.
"Can such faith save them?" James is clear that this faith that produces no good works and no obedience is not the type of faith that saves a person. It is not true, real faith.
By looking at the verse from James, in its context, we can see that he is not talking about the same thing Paul is. Paul is making it clear that works do not save. Only the faith given by the grace of God can save a man. James is addressing the post-salvation experience. Those who claim to have faith but do not act like Christians are not Christians and they have no real saving faith. By looking at the verse in its context we can see that the words of James are not in the same category as the words of Paul. There is no contradiction.
This is one, simple way to resolve any contradictions we think we see in the Bible. And in this way, we are accepting that all verses are given by God and are equally true. What Paul said is true and what James said is true. There is no mystery nor contradiction.