Introduction: “That is your interpretation!” Have you ever heard
someone say that when they disagreed with you? Lawyers are masters
of suggesting that something should be interpreted in a way much
different than was originally meant. We even have U.S. Supreme Court
Justices who refer to a “living constitution.” If you are now in your
“sunset years” and you look nothing like you did when you were 18
years-old, you perfectly understand the “living constitution” concept
of changing the original meaning. For some people “interpreting” the
Bible is an excuse to ignore what God plainly said. At the same time,
there are a number of texts in the Bible which seem to be in clear
conflict with other texts. There are passages that are difficult to
understand. What do honest, humble Christians do in those situations?
Let’s plunge into the Bible and see what it suggests we should do!

  1. The Logic of Hermeneutics

    1. Have you ever found something beautiful inside something
      ugly? Give me some examples? (Polished rocks. Cleaned up
      metal. Treasure found at the bottom of the ocean.)

    2. The Greek term “hermeneuein,” from which we get the word
      “hermeneutics” means “to interpret.” Hermeneutics,
      interpreting, is a way of cleaning up or stripping away
      the barriers to understanding.

      1. Let’s look at this logically. If you had something
        that you knew was precious, but it was covered with
        something that was ugly, what would be required of
        you to see the beauty? List what you think would be

        1. Would you have to have a desire to see the
          beauty within?

        2. Would want to call in an expert on properly
          stripping away the ugly exterior?

        3. Would it require hard work on your part?

        4. Would it require careful work so the original
          beauty was not damaged?

      2. Is this a fair comparison to what is required of us
        to properly strip away the barriers to correctly
        understanding the Bible? Let’s look at some examples.

  2. The Lesson From the Eunuch

    1. Let’s read Acts 8:30-31. What did this man in the chariot
      want? (He wanted to understand what the prophet Isaiah was

      1. What steps had this man taken to understand the words
        of Isaiah? (First, he had the desire to know.
        Second, he was reading the words so that he would
        have a chance to understand them. Third, he asked
        someone he thought might be an expert to help him.)

    2. We picked up this story in the middle, so let’s go back to
      the beginning. Read Acts 8:26-29. How did Philip come to
      be near the Ethiopian eunuch just when the man desired
      expert help? (The Holy Spirit led Philip to the exact

      1. What lessons does this teach us about understanding
        the Bible? (The Holy Spirit is an essential part of
        interpreting. The Holy Spirit works through other
        humans to help us understand.)

    3. Read Acts 8:32-33. If you were the eunuch, and you were
      reading this for the first time, would you understand it?

      1. Just looking at the text, what would you guess it
        meant? (It sounds like a cold-blooded murder.)

    4. Read Acts 8:34-35. What did Philip supply to the eunuch?
      Don’t just say “the answer.” Think about this, what did
      Philip supply that stripped the uncertainty away from this
      Scripture? (Philip supplied two things. First, the factual
      context. Second, his expert knowledge about the situation.
      The facts of Jesus’ life, as expertly explained by Philip,
      uncovered the meaning of this prophecy given by God to

      1. What additional lesson do we learn about interpreting
        the Bible? (Context is important to a proper
        understanding of the Bible.)

      2. Our lessons are often on a topic, rather than on a
        book of the Bible. What is the problem with the
        topical approach to the Bible? (It is light on
        context. You should always look at the context when
        someone has the “proof text” approach. I try to
        import context even when we are studying a topic.)

  3. The Lesson in the Sheet

    1. Read Acts 10:9-10. Peter is about to be given a message
      from God. What do you find in this story that you think
      will help Peter understand the message? (Peter prays. As
      in our last story, asking for the Holy Spirit to help is
      critical to understanding the Bible.)

    2. Read Acts 10:11-14. Recall that Peter was hungry. Who does
      Peter think is providing the food? (God! He says “Surely
      not, Lord!”)

      1. When God tells you to do something, what excuse do
        you have for saying “surely not?” (If you review
        Leviticus 11:2-31 or Deuteronomy 14:3-20 you will
        find that the Bible unambiguously says don’t eat
        those things in the sheet.)

        1. What is Peter’s problem? (He has a conflict
          between the words of God. God’s message in the
          past directly conflicts with God’s message now.)

        2. Is Peter using principles of Bible
          interpretation? (Not so far. He is just denying
          the new revelation as being inconsistent with
          the old.)

    3. Read Acts 10:15-17. Why do you think this was repeated
      three times? (So that Peter would not “interpret” this by
      getting a little hazy on what was said in God’s most
      recent message.)

      1. Why would Acts 10:17 say that Peter was “wondering
        about the meaning of the vision?” Isn’t it obvious?
        He was hungry and the Lord said eat a reptile. What
        is so complex about that? (Nothing is complex about
        it. Unappetising, but not complex.)

      2. Have you ever had someone come to you and say “This
        verse in the Bible is clear. Why don’t you follow

        1. Has Peter started down the path of Bible
          interpretation? (Yes. Peter is wondering –
          contemplating – because he has two messages from
          God which directly conflict with each other. In
          such a case you have to look deeper, and he is
          starting to look.)

        2. In American law we have a principle of
          interpretation which says in cases of direct
          conflict the most recent law is the controlling
          law. Is that also true with the Bible? The “eat
          a reptile message” was the most recent. (Peter
          does not think that is a very strong principle
          of interpretation. If he did, he would not be

    4. Read Acts 10:18-20. Why did the Holy Spirit have to tell
      Peter not to hesitate to go with these men? Did they look
      like rough and dangerous fellows who might rob him?

    5. Read Acts 10:27-29. Has Peter figured out the vision of
      the sheet with the unclean animals? (Yes.)

      1. Is the vision to be taken at face value? Or, is it
        figurative? (Peter had a clear conflict in the
        messages from God. When the men from Cornelius
        arrived, Peter realized that God was not talking
        about eating animals, but rather associating with

        1. How did Peter figure that out? (Two things.
          First, the context. The men showing up at his
          house helped him understand. Second, the Holy
          Spirit ( Acts 10:19-20) helped him understand.)

    6. What new lessons about interpreting the Bible do we find
      here? (Some Bible statements which seem plain turn out to
      be a problem when we compare them with other messages from
      God. In those cases we need to dig deeper. Some statements
      from God are figurative and not literal.)

    7. How many times are you digging deeper because the message
      of the Bible does not conflict with another portion of the
      Bible, but rather conflicts with your personal
      preferences? Or, conflicts with your predisposition to
      sin? (We should dig deeply into the Bible for all of our
      beliefs. However, I hear people contradict the Bible or
      excuse sin by saying “I was born that way.” “My parents
      always did it this way.” No doubt everyone reading this
      was born with, or developed along the way, some serious
      and compelling sinful inclinations. I know I did. The true
      Christian resists sin and does not celebrate or excuse

    8. Friend, when you find Bible texts you do not understand,
      or Bible texts that seem to be in conflict, will you dig
      deeply into the Bible? Will you determine to strip away
      what covers the truth by seeking the aid of the Holy
      Spirit, learning the context and consulting with Bible

  4. Next week: Blessings of the Prophetic Gift.