Now the task of hermeneutics is to realize, first of all, that there is a God given meaning in Scripture, apart from you or me or anybody else.  Scripture means something if means nothing to me, understood? It means something if it means nothing to you.  It means something if it means nothing to anybody.  It means something in itself, and that meaning is determined by God, the Author, not by one who is going through some kind of mystical experience.

The interpreter’s task then is to discern that meaning.  To discover the meaning of the text in its proper setting, to draw the meaning out of the Scripture, rather than to read one’s meaning into it.  The importance of careful, Biblical interpretation can hardly be overstated.

We spend three or four years at the master seminary trying to teach men how to do this because it is the heart and soul of effective ministry.  In fact, I would go so far as to say misinterpreting the Bible is ultimately no better than disbelieving it.  So what do you mean by that? Well, what good does it do to believe that the Bible is God’s final and complete word if you misinterpret it?  Either way you miss the truth, right?  It is equally serious along with disbelieving the Bible to misinterpret it.  Interpreting Scripture to make it say what it was never intended to say is a sure road to division, to error, to heresy and to apostasy.  In spite of all of the dangers of misinterpreting the Scripture, today we have these casual people who approach the Scripture whimsically without any understanding of the science of interpretation and make it say whatever they would like it to say.

Perhaps you’ve been in one those Bible studies where you go around the room and everybody tells you what they think the verse means?  Or worse than that, “Well, to me this verse means,” so-and-so.  In the end, what you get is a pooling of ignorance, unless somebody knows what it means apart from them.  The truth is it doesn’t matter what a verse means to me, it doesn’t matter what it means to you, it doesn’t matter what it means to anybody else, it doesn’t matter if it means anything to anybody else.  All that matters is what does it mean?  What did God intend to say?  Every verse has intrinsic meaning apart from any of us and the task of Bible study is to discern the true meaning of Scripture.  That’s why I can come to you week after week, month after month, year after year and explain to you the meaning of the Word of God, apart from any personal experience I’m having.  That’s irrelevant.

The task of the interpreter is to discern the meaning of Scripture.  In 2 Timothy 2:15 it says, “Be diligent,” or study, “present yourself approved to God as a workman who doesn’t need to be ashamed because he’s handling accurately the Word of Truth.”  If you don’t handle it accurately, you oughta be ashamed of yourself.  And if you’re gonna handle it accurately, you have to be diligent, you have to work hard at it.  Clearly handling Scripture involves both of those things, hard work and diligence. It must be interpreted accurately, and those who fail to do that have reason to be ashamed…

God has not hidden His truth from us, but its meaning is not always instantly clear.  It demands hard work.  That’s why in 1 Timothy 5:17 it says that, “Those elders who labor in the Word and doctrine are worth of double honor,” because it’s hard work.  That’s why God has given teachers to the church so that we can work hard and understanding God’s Word correctly, instructing people in the Scriptures through persistent, conscientious labor in the Word.

Now, today we have, frankly, a lack of respect for the work of gifted theologians, a lack of respect for the hard work of gifted expositors who have spent years studying and interpreting Scripture.  In fact, that lack of respect tends to be somewhat charismatically characteristic.  They tend to sort of look at all of us that way.  I think I read you of the letter from the lady who said, “Your problem is you’re too much into the Bible.  Throw away your Bible,” remember that, “and stop studying.”  You see, Charismatics place more emphasis on letting people in the congregation say whatever they think Jesus is telling them the verse means, and to listen to what one writer calls, “Airy fairy theologians.”  There’s a vast difference, by the way, between the whimsical kitchen table interpretations of laymen, the teaching of skilled men who work very hard to rightly divide the Word.

I heard a radio interview with a Charismatic woman pastor.  She was asked how she got her sermons up?  She replied, “I don’t get ’em up, I get ’em down.  God delivers them to me.”  That’s an all too familiar thing.  I can promise you that God has never delivered one to me.  I haven’t gotten them down.  I’ve had to ’em up.  Some people even believe it’s unspiritual to study.  After all, some say, taking another verse out of context, didn’t Jesus say, “For the Holy Spirit will teach you and that very hour what you want to say,” so you just go into the pulpit and whatever comes into your mind, you say?  And that’s why they invent their theology as they speak because they have no idea what’s going to be said until they hear it.  We should be greatly concerned about this ad lib approach.  You never ever make a point true or false at the price of a proper interpretation.  Otherwise, you are the final authority and not the Word of God.

Secondly, don’t spiritualize or allegorize the text.  Some people think the Bible is a fable to teach whatever you wanna get across.  A myriad of illustrations of this.  I remember back when Jerry Mitchell was on our staff and a young couple came into him for counseling, marriage counseling.  He began to talk with them and after about 30 minutes, he said he’d been married only six months and you’re already on the edge of a divorce?  Why did you ever get married?  You’re miles apart.  “Oh,” said the husband, “it was a sermon the pastor preached in our church.”  “What was the sermon?”  “Well, he preached on the walls of Jericho.”  “Jericho?  What does that have to do with marriage?”  “Well,” he said, “God’s people claimed the city marched around it seven times and the walls fell down.”  And he said, “If a young man believed God had given him a certain girl, he could claim her, march around her seven times and the walls of her hear would fall down.  That’s what I did and we got married.”  “That can’t be true,” he said.  “You’re kidding, aren’t you?”  I remember him sayin’ that.  “You gotta be kidding.”  “No, it’s true.  And there were many other couples that got married because of the same sermon.”  Some people believe their marriages were made in Heaven.  That was made in an allegory and a bad one at that.  That’s the kind of interpretation that has gone on since the early days of the church, continues today, especially in the Charismatic movement.

Remember listening to a series on the book of Nehemiah.  The whole purpose of the book of Nehemiah by this Charismatic preacher was to teach Charismatic doctrine.  Jerusalem’s walls were in ruin and that was representative of the broken down walls of human personality.  Nehemiah was the Holy Spirit, the king’s pool was the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the mortar between the bricks was tongues.  And what Nehemiah’s teaching is the Holy Spirit wants to come rebuild your broken walls through the baptism of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues.  I had an opportunity to talk to that preacher about that and we had an interesting conversation.  I tried to show him that that was nothing but the invention of his own imagination, read from the New Testament back into the Old, but never the intention of Nehemiah, to which he agreed.  That kind of preaching is a form of hucksterism, and as I said, “You may come up with the truth that you teach, but if you spiritualize the text to do it, then you legitimize spiritualization of any text which leaves you with any fanciful conclusion.”

Well, the correct approach you probably need to go to Jesus and remember that when He was walking on the road to Emmaus, He said, Luke did, the beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in the Scriptures.  The Word explained is hermeneual from which we get hermeneutics.  He carefully interpreted the Old Testament.  He used hermeneutics.  He’s a model of a teacher, used sound interpretive methods.

So, when we teach the Word of God, when we come to the conclusions that we come to, we wanna be certain that we don’t make severe errors, one, by making points at the price of proper interpretation, two, by somehow concocting or spiritualizing something that isn’t there, and three, and I’ve already talked about this, by superficial study.  Superficial study is equally disastrous.  But I’ve said enough about that not to have to say more. (Online source)

John MacArthur

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