September-October 1998

by Hank Hanegraaff

LIGHTS to Guide Your path Through Scripture

David called Scripture "a lamp to my feet and a light for my path" (Psalm 119:105). That light, however, is greatly diminished without a proper understanding of the art and science of biblical interpretation. Cultists read deviant theologies into Scripture rather than allowing the text to speak for itself. Tragically, this practice has even affected the Christian church.

In light of this growing problem, it would be a good idea to spend some time considering a discipline called hermeneutics. Now, before that formidable word scares you away, let me assure you that hermeneutics is simply a reference to the science and art of biblical interpretation.

In mythology, Hermes interpreted the message of the gods for mortals. Thus hermeneutics conveys the concept of accurately interpreting the content of a message. As a science, hermeneutics is regulated by rules. As an art, the more you practice it, the more proficient you will become. Hermeneutical training is the best antidote to heretical teaching.

I've developed the acronym L-I-G-H-T-S to guide your path through the Word of God.

Literal Principle

The "L" in L -I-G-H-T-S will remind you of the literal principle of biblical interpretation. This means we should interpret the Word of God in its most normal and natural sense. When the apostle Paul said of Jesus, "By him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth" (Colossians 1:16), it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what he means. When biblical writers employ metaphors or figures of speech they should never be interpreted in a woodenly literal sense. In other words, when Jesus says that he is "the gate" (John 10:7), it's clear he isn't talking about wood and hinges.

When the literal principle of biblical interpretation is compromised, truth becomes clouded.

Illumination Principle

The "I" in L- I -G-H-T-S will remind you of the illumination of Scripture that can come only from the Spirit of God. Because the author of Scripture, the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21), resides within each child of God (1 Corinthians 3:16), he or she is in a unique position to receive God's illumination (1 Corinthians 2:9-11). The Spirit of truth not only provides insights for the mind, but also illumination that penetrates the heart.

However, the Holy Spirit does not replace careful study of Scripture. Rather, he gives us insights that can only be spiritually discerned. The Holy Spirit helps us exegete (draw out of) rather than eisegete (read into) Scripture. He illumines only what is in the text; illumination does not go beyond the text.

The Spirit of truth provides insights for the mind and illumination for the heart.

Grammatical Principle

The "G" in L-I- G -H-T-S will remind you that Scripture is to be interpreted in accord with typical rules of grammar, including syntax and style. Today there are a host of usable tools to aid you in gaining insights from the original languages of Scripture. Besides commentaries, there are "interlinear" translations that provide the Hebrew and Greek text of the Bible in parallel with the English text. In addition, there are dictionaries of Old and New Testament words that are keyed to Strong's concordance.

Tools such as these, along with common sense, will help you from being fooled by people who claim mastery of biblical languages while undermining grammatical principles of biblical interpretation.

Historical Principle

The "H" in L-I-G- H -T-S will remind you that the Christian faith is historical and evidential (Luke 1:1-4). The biblical text is best understood when one is familiar with the customs, culture and historical context of biblical times.

Unfortunately, some teachers within the Christian church misinterpret passages as a result of their failure to observe historical context. A classic example is 3 John 2.

The New King James version of this text reads, "Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers." One word of faith minister recounted how, after discovering this verse, God gave him a brand-new Buick. His wife enthusiastically agreed that to prosper "is God's highest wish for us."

But let's look at the passage's historical context. This opening remark in John's letter to his friend Gaius is, as Bible scholar Gordon Fee puts it, "the standard form of greeting in a personal letter in antiquity." Fee concludes that "to extend John's wish for Gaius to refer to financial and material prosperity for all Christians of all times is totally foreign to the text."

There is no need to be led astray. There are a host of excellent handbooks and commentaries to aid you in understanding the people and places of the Bible.

Teaching Principle

The "T" in L-I-G-H- T -S will remind you that God has provided the church with uniquely gifted human teachers (Ephesians 4:11). There is a wide chasm between those who are skilled in biblical interpretation and those who make up their theology as they go.

James no doubt had such dubious teachers in mind when he solemnly warned, "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly" (James 3:1).

As we seek to rightly interpret God's Word, we would do well to consult those whom God has uniquely gifted as teachers in the church (cf. Titus 2:1-15) and who guard against wolves in sheep's clothing that will not spare the flock (Acts 20:29).

Scriptural Harmony Principle

Finally, the "S" in L-I-G-H-T- S will remind you of the principle of scriptural harmony. Individual passages of Scripture must always harmonize with Scripture as a whole. One text can never be interpreted to conflict with other passages. If a particular passage can be interpreted in several ways, the only choice is that interpretation which harmonizes with the rest of Scripture. God does not contradict himself.

Scripture exhorts us to study to show ourselves approved of God, workmen who do not need to blush with embarrassment, correctly handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). Studying the Bible for all it's worth and rightly understanding it is the highest of goals.

Remembering the principles encapsulated in the acronym LIGHTS will go a long way in enabling you to attain this goal. As the art and science of biblical interpretation continually LIGHTS your path through Scripture, you will find yourself growing ever closer to Him who is the Light of the world -- Jesus Christ (John 8:12). 


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