BIBLE INTERPRETATION

Translation Differences

When we read the Bible, we are not reading the exact words and thoughts of Jesus and the apostles but rather the interpretation of the ancient writings by English translators. [1]

This is critical, since the background of most translators includes belief in endless punishment. So naturally, they interpret judgment passages from that view. I do not fault them for being human. My point is that this bias makes our study very challenging. [2]

So, what can we do?

We should cross-check judgment warnings with an array of translations relying on the Holy Spirit to open our understanding..

The Holy Spirit

Reading the Bible without the Holy Spirit is like a blind man on a bicycle. Only God can reveal the truth of the Scriptures to our hearts. [3]

If a judgment passage seems unfair or contradicts God’s unfailing love and mercy for all people, we should commit it to the Lord until He opens our understanding. Let us not cower from questioning what seems wrong. Jesus and Paul exhort us in this. [4]

We are not judged for being incorrect about a matter but for how we live our lives. [5] If radical religious extremists would courageously question the violent teachings of their faith, the world would be far better off. And we, in the West, are not immune to that same spirit. Examine history. Even the Apostle Paul proves my point. [6]

Understanding Difficult Passages—Key Points

  • Our Bibles are translations and, as such, require us to look deeper when facing troubling passages. [7]
  • Scripture needs to be understood in context. [8]
  • Scripture interprets Scripture. [9]
  • Recognize and respect the extreme use of Bible symbolism. [10]
  • God’s judgments ultimately serve a good purpose. [11]
  • Learn the true meaning of the ancient terms pertaining to human destiny. [12]
  • God’s judgments are just and synergistic with His mercy. [13]
  • Justice will not violate our God-given conscience. [14]
  • Our view of God’s nature and character determines how we interpret Scripture. [15]
  • Only Christ can open our understanding of Scripture. [16]
  • Though we only know God’s judgments in part, yet we can rest assured of His prevailing love in them. [17]
  • Christ’s victory ought to be the lens through which we interpret all judgment warnings. [18]

 

[1] The Introduction to The [expanded] BibleTM states, “No translation is ever completely successful, however, whether of the Bible or any other text. All translations fall short for a variety of reasons. First, no two languages are equivalent in their vocabulary, sounds, rhythms, idioms, or underlying structure. Nor are any two cultures out of which languages arise equivalent in their way of understanding and expressing reality, their value systems, or their social and political organization, among other factors. Second, the meaning of a text includes much more than its abstract thought. The sounds and rhythms of words, word play and puns, emotional overtones, metaphor, figurative language, and tone are just some of the other devices that carry meaning. No translation can transfer all these things from one language to another. Third, all translation requires interpretation. One cannot convey meaning in a second language without first deciding what it means in the original. This step of interpretation in translation is unavoidable and imperfect; equally skilled and well-meaning scholars will interpret differently. Fourth, a traditional translation requires one to choose a single possibility—whether of a word or an interpretation—when in fact two or more may be plausible.”(a)
(a) Longman, Tremper III, Mark L. Strauss and Daniel Taylor. Version Information. “An Introduction to the [expanded] BibleTM.” The Expanded Bible. Bible Gateway. Thomas Nelson, 2011. www.biblegateway.com.

[2] Also, translators must follow the guidelines established by the entities funding their work, who cater to the established religious traditions. For example, the KJV translators were mandated by the king to not compromise the doctrines of the Church. See their official translation guidelines numbers 1 and 4.

(a) Hall, Isaac H., ed. Ibid. www.bible-researcher.com/kjvhist.html

[3] “When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth.” (Jn 16:13) See also Lk 24:32, 45; 8:10; Jn 8:43, 47; Mt 6:23; 13:9-11, 16; 15:6.

[4] Lk 12:57; 1Thes 5:21

[5] No one has perfect knowledge about God and the Bible’s teachings. No commandment says, “You must not hold any mistaken beliefs or else. … ” See the Ten Commandments, for example. (Ex 20:1-17) Guilt and judgment are based on our knowledge of what sin is. James said, “To him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (Jas 4:17) Paul says: “I was once alive [not held accountable] … when I did not know what the Law said I had to do. Then I found that I had broken the Law, … [and I died (NKJV) i.e., held accountable with its consequences from then on].” (Rom 7:9 NLV) See also Lk 12:47-48.

[6] Paul writes, “I persecuted this Way [Christians] to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women, as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished.” (Acts 22:4-5)

[7] Hopefully, this book will encourage and guide you in searching the Scriptures more deeply and help you appreciate the complexity of the Bible and the need to explore the various possibilities in interpretation. But in addition to all the Bible translations and study aids you might find, the most important thing is hearing from the living Word of God Himself—Jesus. He said, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” (Jn 5:39-40)
The living speaking “Word of God,” who transcends all language, time, cultures and any other barriers to truth, is Jesus Himself, as declared plainly in Jn 1:1 and 14. He is the true light which enlightens every person coming into the world. (Jn 1:9) The truth of Scripture must be confirmed by the Spirit of Christ in us for it to be implanted in our minds and to transform our hearts. He said, “The anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you.” (1Jn 2:27)  “When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth.” (Jn 16:13) It is Christ who opens the Scriptures to our understanding (Lk 24: 27, 31-32, 45) and causes our hearts to burn within us (v. 32). I emphasize our need of total dependency on God, especially in this critical topic of judgment and ultimate human destiny.

[8] We must interpret individual passages in the larger context of what is being said in order to understand what was in the minds of those present at the time. That is partly why I started this book with Anchor 1—History Testifies. We must discern to whom a particular warning is referring to. They are not all meant for us today, or for all of us at the same time. The most severe were addressed to the self-righteous, proud and selfish such as the Pharisees and Sadducees, to whom Jesus urged to flee the coming wrath by producing the fruits of repentance. (Mt 3:7-8) See the seven woes of Mt 23. But to the hurting and humble, only gentle, comforting words were given. Consider the repentant sinner praying in the Temple (Lk 18:9-14) and the woman caught in adultery (Jn 8:6-8). Heath Bradley states: “God comforts the afflicted … but afflicts the [selfishly] comfortable.”(a)
(a) Bradley, Heath. Ibid. 82.

[9] This can occur in the context of the whole Bible (Anchor 1) or the New Testament, not merely in a particular sentence, paragraph, chapter or book, as many assume. This is especially critical when considering such a grave subject as ultimate human destiny. That is why I present ten Anchors of Hope as founding pillars and not merely isolated passages and ideas.

[10] Ancient eastern language abounds in extreme and exaggerated metaphorical language. Anchor 2.

[11] Judgment always has a good purpose even when it is not obvious. Anchor 3.

[12] See Hope For All Anchors 4 and 5.

[13] See Hope For All Anchors 3 and 6.

[14] See Hope For All Anchor 6, “The Unwritten Law—Conscience.”

[15] If our view of God is accurate, we will be full of light—if not, darkness. (Mt 6:22-23) Hope For All Anchor 1, “The Lamp of the Body” and Anchor 6: “The Unwritten Law—Conscience.”

[16] Unless Christ opens our minds to the Scriptures, we will remain in the dark. And to whom does He open them? The humble with a teachable spirit: “God has heard your prayers ever since the first day you decided to humble yourself in order to gain understanding. I have come in answer to your prayer.” (Dn 10:12 GNT) In the context of a judgment warning (v. 24), Jesus said: “I praise you, Father … because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” (Mt 11:24-25 NIV) Beware of those who teach with dogmatic certainty on God’s judgments. Be teachable; look deeper for satisfying answers; admit that you’re perplexed or confused, lacking understanding. God will honor that. See Lk 24:27, 31-32; Mt 7:7-11; Jn 8:43; 16:13; 2Tm 2:15.

[17] “How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” (Rom 11:33) “For we know in part.” (1Cor 13:9) God has not revealed all the details about His judgments and ways, but He has revealed His Father-heart—His loving character in them. That is the most important thing of all!

[18] See Hope For All Anchor 9, last paragraph.

 

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2 Comments on BIBLE INTERPRETATION

  1. My only question comes to the Revelation texts. What is the Lake of Fire that Hades (death or grave) is being thrown into and other people that says “they will be tormented forever and ever.” Rev. 14:10 and Rev. 20:10.. Only places in Scripture of this happening…yet it is the text my “For Hell” friends stand on explicitily. Can you help me w/ this?

    1. Thank you Sherry. I am working on a new document that will address this. Please email me directly at gerry@hopebeyondhell.net the first week of August 2012 to remind me to send it to you . Hopefully, I’ll have it for you then.
      I am approaching your question in a detailed comprehensive way.

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