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Private Interpretation of the Scriptures

Query for the Month

of

December 2008

Next up-date: January 1st 2009 (God willing).

Previous "Queries" are available. Click here to access.

Some perpetual questions ....

Is there really an immortal soul?

Do you know the difference between the "love" that is of Christianity
and the "love" that is of the world?
Click here to find out!
 

Click on the link for a good book on the character of our God which you can download for free and share amongst your friends.   It's called "Light on the Dark Side of God" and is one of the best books on this subject that I have ever read!

Here's another great site on the character of God written in a way that's very easy to understand.


Some of the comments on this page are adapted from books in my library.  No recognition is given because they are not intended as authorities, but are used because they express my understanding clearly.

Query:               

2 Peter 1:

19 We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto you do well that you take heed, as to a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the Day Star arise in your hearts: 20 knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. 21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.   

What does it mean, “private interpretation”?

 

Answer:

To reply to that question I can do no better than use a quote from my library, for the writer puts it very well I think.  The small font additions and emphasis are mine, the italics are in the original.

***************(Begin Quote)

Men [and women] have spent hundreds of hours searching throughout the Bible to gather impressive collections of statements.  They have, in addition, spent a great deal of time on their knees praying for spiritual guidance as they have made their searches. From that research, they emerge thoroughly convinced that they have the truth on various questions.

At the same time, around the world field, there are many others who have spent long, hard hours searching out the same questions with much prayer. Yet they have come to precisely the opposite conclusions from the same Bible and are just as sincerely convinced that they have the truth and the others are in error.

This creates a problem. It is a problem for which we must obtain a clear answer. For it is always extremely perplexing to find two people or two groups of people who have each spent long, intensive hours in prayer and Bible study, emerging with opposite views of a question. How can this be? There has to be a key difference in the approach of the two groups.

The difference lies in the method by which the Bible is studied. Many earnest students of Scripture will emphatically declare that they take the Bible exactly as it reads. However, when their conclusions are examined, it becomes clear that their claim should be rather that they take the Bible exactly as it reads when the key words are defined according to Webster's Dictionary.

Just as certainly as these men use this method of Bible study will it be impossible for them to come to any other understanding until they change their principles of Bible study.  [For instance] Until they do, they must believe that God is a destroyer. Furthermore, the longer they go on studying the Bible with this method, the more deeply entrenched will their minds become in the belief that God does raise His mighty arm and strike down the sinner in the end. And all the while, with the greatest of confidence that they are right, they will claim that they are taking the Bible just as it reads.

For example, carefully read Matthew 22:7. Knowing as we do the King in this verse is God, the armies were Roman, the murderers were the Jews and the city was Jerusalem, the verse can be read as follows: “And when God heard thereof He was wroth: and God sent forth His armies, [the Romans] and God destroyed the Jews and God burned up Jerusalem.

Now, if you take out any dictionary you care to use and read the definitions of the key words in that text --- “wroth... sent... destroyed... and... burned up” --- you will find the only possible picture of God which can be obtained by this method. It is the picture of an angry God personally administering destruction on the Jews and their city. No other conclusion is possible when using Webster's Dictionary [thinking man’s way] to interpret the Word of God. It is precisely because this method of study is used that well-meaning men have come to the devastating conclusions they do about the character of God. But they see Him as other than He really is.

But is not the dictionary the natural authority on the meaning of words? The answer is simple, actually. The dictionary is the authority on the meaning of words in the realm of human behavior only. The dictionary is the wisdom of men who do not understand spiritual things and hence it does not give the definition of words as they apply to God's behavior.

In the first place, the method of using the dictionary to define Scripture cannot be used consistently in interpreting the Word of God. If using dictionary definitions of key words is the correct method, then it must be used with consistency throughout the whole of the Scriptures.  It cannot be used in one place and conveniently discarded in another.

To demonstrate this, let us take another Scripture. Matthew 25:41: “Then shall He say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”

Place this beside Revelation 20:10: “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

If you take your dictionary once again and locate the definition of the key words in these texts --- “everlasting” and “forever and ever” --- you will find that these words mean that there will not be an end to it at all. It will go on eternally.

What is the only possible understanding of these verses, according to the dictionary meaning? The only possible conclusion is that the wicked will live eternally in the everlasting punishment of a never-ending fire. And that is precisely the natural and inevitable conclusion to which all the other churches have come.

But I do not believe that interpretation of these verses. And neither do you. The point is, if you are to be consistent in applying to this verse the same method that men commonly apply to interpreting God's wrath, then you would have to believe the wicked do indeed burn forever.

Now this means that you and I have employed some other method of interpretation in coming to understand the words “everlasting” and “forever” as they apply to the punishment of the wicked. What is this principle?

It is this: We recognize that the dictionary is of great value in defining the meaning of words in the realm of human behavior, but it is of no value whatsoever in seeking the meaning of those same words when defining God's behavior. Therefore, we must turn to another source for defining God's behavior --- the Word of God itself.

The Word of God is its own dictionary. What does this mean? It means that whenever we come to any key words describing divine behavior, such as the wrath of God, God destroying, God sending plagues, or God dealing with the wicked in everlasting fire, we do not simply accept the long held understandings of those words. The traditional understanding of those words has been developed by our association with human behavior and our knowledge of the dictionary meaning of those words, and hence cannot explain God's actions.

Instead, we search in the Word of God for the meaning of those terms. There may be times when the Word of God and the dictionary will provide the same definitions, but most of the time they will give very different meanings indeed. This is inevitable, for the ways of God are so very different from the ways of men.

Isaiah 55:8-9: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts higher than your thoughts.”

The common practice throughout the religious world is to use the dictionary definitions to understand divine behavior. So it was in the days of William Miller [c. 1830], but he departed entirely from that practice. Instead, he laid aside all commentaries, dictionaries and other works of men, and using only Cruden's Concordance to find texts, he found every explanation for every text in the Bible and Bible only.

The Great Controversy, 320, 324:

“Thus whenever he met with a passage hard to be understood, he found an explanation in some other portion of the Scriptures.” It was “his rule of making the Scriptures its own interpreter.”

It was by this principle of study that the foundations of the great second advent movement were laid, carried forward and by these same principles they will be finished. Without his faithful, consistent adherence to that principle, William Miller could never have come to the truths he did and could never have launched the great message he did.

Let us now apply this principle to the texts regarding the wicked dying in the last fire. To show how we have in the past arrived at this conclusion, and that it is our historical position to interpret the Bible by this method, I will quote directly from

Answers to Objections, by F. D. Nichol, pages 360-361:

“We read of 'Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them... suffering the vengeance of eternal [ai_nios] fire.' Jude 7. Are those cities, set ablaze long ago as a divine judgment, still burning? No; their ruins are quite submerged by the Dead Sea. The Bible itself specifically states that God turned 'the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes.'
(2 Peter 2:6). Now the fate of those cities is declared to be a warning to all wicked men of the fate that impends for them. Therefore, if the 'ai_nios fire' of that long ago judgment turned into ashes those upon whom it preyed, and then died down of itself, we may properly conclude that the 'ai_nios fire' of the last day will do likewise.

“When we turn to the Old Testament we discover that 'everlasting' and 'forever' sometimes signify a very limited time. We shall quote texts in which these two terms are translated from the Hebrew word olam, because olam is the equivalent of the Greek ai_n.

“The Passover was to be kept 'forever (olam)'. Exodus 12:24. But it ended with the cross. (See Hebrews 9:24-26.) Aaron and his sons were to offer incense 'for ever (olam)' (1 Chronicles 23:13), and to have an 'everlasting' (olam) priesthood.' Exodus 40:15. But this priesthood with its offerings of incense, ended at the cross. (See Hebrews 7:11-14.)
A servant who desired to stay with his master, was to serve him 'for ever (olam)'. (See Exodus 21:1-6.) How could a servant serve a master to endless time? Will there be masters and servants in the world to come? Jonah, describing his watery experience, said, 'The earth with her bars was about me for ever (olam).' Rather a short ‘for ever.’ Because Gehazi practiced deceit, Elisha declared, ‘The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee [Gehazi], and unto thy seed for ever [olam] .’ 2 Kings 5:27. Should we conclude, therefore, that Gehazi's family would never end, and that thus leprosy would be perpetuated for all time to come?

“Thus by the acid test of actual usage we discover that in a number of cases ai_n, ai_nios, and olam have a very limited time value.”

Now that you have read the above statement by Nichol, it would be well if we answered the following questions:

1.       How much reference did F. D. Nichol make to standard dictionaries when seeking for the definition of “everlasting” and “for ever”, as used in Scripture? (None at all).

2.       What then did he use as his dictionary when seeking the definitions of those words as used in Scripture? (The Word of God alone).

3.       Did he find the words meant the same in Scripture as they do in everyday usage? (No. The meanings are very different indeed. “Everlasting” and “forever” have one meaning when used in our everyday speech, but a different meaning when used in Scripture).

4.       What is the meaning of “everlasting” and “forever” in everyday speech and as found in Webster's Dictionary? (Eternally, without ever ceasing at all).

5.       What is the meaning when those same words are used in Scripture? (They signify time in unbroken duration so long as the nature of the subject allows. Thus, in the case of the wicked, their sinful human nature does not allow a very long time in the fire before they are reduced to ashes. But be assured that the fire will go on forever, that is, in unbroken duration, until they are consumed. On the other hand, the nature of God and of the redeemed is such that they go on forever as long as their immortal natures will allow, and that will be eternally, without ever ceasing at all).

None of us believe that the dead will suffer eternally. We do not interpret that verse according to the dictionary's definitions of the words used. We interpret them according to the meanings given them in the Word of God, no matter how much that meaning may differ from the one to which we are accustomed.

Now, it must be one way or the other. We must be consistent. Those who today object to the position which we have taken in regard to the character of God are not being consistent, for they have chosen to use dictionary definitions in regard to the study on the character of God, while they stand by another principle of interpretation altogether in the burning of the wicked.

Ultimately, this means that they must, in order to be consistent, either change their principle of interpretation and their conclusions in regard to the character of God, while still holding to the belief that the wicked do not burn forever. Or they must cling to their present position on the character of God and go back to believing that the wicked do burn for ever and ever as the Protestant churches do. Consistency demands that it be one or the other. The choice is ours.

***************(End Quote)

 

Conclusion:

The Word of God is its own dictionary. What does this mean? It means that whenever we come to any key words describing divine behavior, such as the wrath of God, God destroying, God sending plagues, or God dealing with the wicked in everlasting fire, we do not simply accept the long held understandings of those words. The traditional understanding of those words has been developed by our association with human behavior and our knowledge of the dictionary meaning of those words, and hence cannot explain God's actions.

Instead, we search in the Word of God for the meaning of those terms. There may be times when the Word of God and the dictionary will provide the same definitions, but most of the time they will give very different meanings indeed. This is inevitable, for the ways of God are so very different from the ways of men.


Who wants to add (or subtract!) from these thoughts? I won't argue as I have stated, but I will publish your Scriptures so that we may review all the words of God on the subject.

 

Next query. To be discussed from January 1st, 2009.

Deuteronomy 17:

6 At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death.    

The above text is often used as a reason for comparing one text with another text or texts, and deciding what is the meaning by the weight of evidence.  But doesn’t that lead to private interpretation too?  Is reading two or more modern versions of the Bible and accepting the one we most think is giving us the truth doing the same thing?

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