Principles of Biblical Interpretation*

Principles of Biblical Interpretation*: Part II— Qualifications of the Bible Research Worker

Taken from Problems in Bible Translation, Review and Herald Publishing Association.

Associate Editor, Review and Herald

* Taken from Problems in Bible Translation, Review and Herald Publishing Association.

His Attitudes, Motives, and Responsibilities

THE study and inter­pretation of Scripture more depends upon right attitudes toward the Author of truth, toward the pursuit of truth, and toward the church as the custodian of truth than upon intellectual acuity. Wrong at­titudes inevitably render even the most brilliant reasoning suspect, for valid evi­dence often makes little impression on un-receptive minds, particularly when it tends to modify habitual patterns of thought and action.

All truth originates with God; conse­quently, the investigation of any phase of it will lead to a more perfect understand­ing of His character, will, and ways. Apart from the Author of truth there can be no real appreciation of truth. Humble recog­nition of one's finite and personal limita­tions will inspire awe and reverence in the presence of infinite wisdom, and will lead to the dedication of heart, mind, and strength to God without reserve. He who would think God's thoughts after Him must draw near to Him, keeping the eyes of faith fixed on Him who is the way, the truth, and the life.

An earnest desire for truth, humble de­votion to it, and willingness to cooperate with it are essential to the discovery of truth. Qualities of earnestness, patience, and perseverance are requisite to the quest for truth. Allegiance to the great funda­mentals of the Christian faith is to be bal­anced by the recognition that finite con­cepts of truth are never perfect, and that growth in the knowledge of truth is neces­sary to growth in Christian grace. Light al­ready perceived must be applied before new light can be imparted. The seeker for truth must be guided by a sound Christian philosophy of life and must consistently be true to principle. Truth is ever a means to the end of a more purposeful and abun­dant Christian life, and cannot be fully un­derstood until it is interpreted in terms of personal experience. Cooperation with the principles of mental and physical health is essential to clarity of thought. Intellectual honesty is necessary to fairness in dealing with truth and with other seekers for truth. The spirit of objectivity is necessary lest preconceived opinions be mistaken for truth. . . .

Every man being answerable for himself before God, both for known truth and for truth it is his privilege to know, and no man or group of men being infallible, each individual faces the sacred duty of know­ing for himself what is truth. In his effort to know truth he has the undeniable re­sponsibility of devoting to the quest his powers of intellect, and of so ordering his life that physically, mentally, and emotion­ally he is in a condition to press the quest with vigor, patience, and skill. The posses­sion of truth is a sacred trust that implies accountability for it—the moral obliga­tions of cooperating with it and of sharing it. He who sets forth in the quest for truth will enter into a solemn covenant with him­self and with heaven to conduct his study in every respect in a manner that will honor God, preserve the spirit of Christian fellowship, advance His kingdom in the hearts of men, and hasten the return of Jesus and the establishment of His eternal kingdom.

Dedicate the Higher Powers of the Mind to God

The perception and appreciation of truth, He [Christ] said, depends less upon the mind than upon the heart. Truth must be received into the soul; it claims the homage of the will. If truth could be submitted to the reason alone, pride would be of no hindrance in the way of its reception.—The De­sire of Ages, p. 455.

A knowledge of the truth depends not so much upon strength of intellect as upon pureness of pur­pose, the simplicity of an earnest, dependent faith. To those who in humility of heart seek for divine

guidance, angels of God draw near. The Holy Spirit is given to open to them the rich treasures of the truth.—Christ's Object Lessons, p. 59.

When the thoughts and affections are not fixed upon God or in harmony with His will, the mind is clouded with doubt. . . . The enemy takes control of the thoughts, and he suggests interpretations that are not correct.—Testimonies, vol. 5, pp. 704, 705. . . .

Cultivate a Teachable Spirit

We should be teachable, meek and lowly of heart. There are those who oppose everything that is not in accordance with their own ideas, and by so doing they endanger their eternal interest as verily as did the Jewish nation in their rejection of Christ.— Counsels to Writers and Editors, p. 82.

To the humble heart and the sincere, inquiring mind the Bible is full of light and knowledge. Those who come to the Sciptures in this spirit are brought into fellowship with prophets and apostles. —Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 705.

There must be patient study and meditation, and earnest prayer. Every student, as he opens the Scrip­tures, should ask for the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit; and the promise is sure, that it will be given. The spirit in which you come to the investigation of the Scriptures, will determine the character of the assistant at your side.—Testimonies to Ministers, p. 108.

God will not impart to men divine light, while they are content to remain in darkness. In order to receive God's help, man must realize his weak­ness and deficiency; ... he must be aroused to earnest and persevering prayer and effort. . . . All who are fitted for usefulness must be trained by the severest mental and moral discipline; and God will assist them by uniting divine power with human effort.—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 248.

Apply Truth to the Life

We are not making the most of the light which the Lord has already given us, and thus we fail to receive the increased light; we do not walk in the light already shed upon us.—Review and Herald, June 3, 1890.

There are great privileges and blessings for all who will humble themselves, and fully consecrate their hearts to God. Great light will be given to them. When men are willing to be transformed, then they will be exercised unto godliness.—MS. 11, 1910; Elmshaven Leaflets. "Preach the Word," vol. 2, No. 1, p. 8.

Whenever men are not seeking, in word and deed, to be in harmony with God, then, however learned they may be, they are liable to err in their understanding of Scripture, and it is not safe to trust to their explanations. When we are truly seeking to do God's will, the Holy Spirit takes the precepts of His word, and makes them the principles of the life, writing them on the tablets of the soul. And it is only those who are following the light al­ready given that can hope to receive the further illumination of the Spirit.—Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 705.

Know for Yourself What Is Truth

It is the first and highest duty of every rational being to learn from the Scriptures what is truth, and then to walk in the light, and encourage others to follow his example. We should day by day study the Bible diligently, weighing every thought, and comparing scripture with scripture. With divine help, we aTe to form our opinions for ourselves, as we are to answer for ourselves before God.—The Great Controversy, p. 598.

Allow no one to be brains for you, allow no one to do your thinking, your investigating, and your praying.—Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 307.

The great danger with our people has been that of depending upon men, and making flesh their arm. Those who have not been in the habit of searching the Bible for themselves, or weighing evi­dence, have confidence in the leading men, and ac­cept the decisions they make; and thus many will reject the very messages God sends to His people, if these leading brethren do not accept them.—Tes­timonies to Ministers, p. 106.

We are "to be thinkers, and not mere reflectors of other men's thought."—Educa­tion, p. 17....

His Mental Qualities and Equipment

An all-wise Creator conferred upon man the gift of intelligence and the power of reason—the capacity to apprehend, appre­ciate, appropriate, and apply truth. This capacity increases with the increased de­sire for, cognition of, and voluntary coop­eration with His revealed will. It is the sacred duty of all men, and particularly those to whom the Spirit has imparted spe­cial skill and who by training and experi­ence are particularly qualified in the un­derstanding and exposition of the Holy Oracles, to "stir up" and "neglect not" the gift that is in them. The improvement of this talent is a solemn obligation, for God has not promised a clear concept of truth to the man who neglects the improvement of his capacity to understand it. . . .

Faith in God and in the infallible au­thority of the Holy Scriptures as a revela­tion of His will to man is a vital safeguard to the operation of reason. Faith is not blind belief in the unknown; it is the rea­soned acceptance of the reality of certain facts on the authority of witnesses whose reliability has been proved. Faith and rea­son are not mutually exclusive, but com­plementary. Faith is not a substitute for the legitimate operation of the powers of intellect with which the Creator endowed man. Each is a necessary safeguard to the effective function and reliable operation of the other, and together they provide a valuable system of checks and balances. Reason is relative; faith is absolute, and therefore transcends reason. Accordingly, reason is to be held subordinate to faith in God and in His revealed Word. We are to take God for granted, but to "prove" all else—certainly a process of reasoning— and to "hold fast that which is good."

The careful student of Scripture will take a cautious attitude toward, and will refuse to accept as final, anything for which there is not a plain "Thus saith the Lord." His privilege of comparing scrip­ture with scripture in an endeavor to un­derstand more perfectly the mind of the Spirit will be balanced by the responsibil­ity of not affirming as truth that for which the clear weight of inspired evidence is yet lacking. Inferences based on personal opin­ion are a poor substitute for the explicit teachings of Scripture, and with respect

thereto sanctified skepticism is a Christian virtue. In an age when the spiritual atmos­phere is made turbulent by the winds of "private interpretation" it is well to fortify the reason against flights of fancy. Credul­ity is the devil's own counterfeit for faith. The doubter, to be sure, is in danger of foundering upon the rock of skepticism, but the dogmatist is in equally imminent peril of falling into the whirlpool of cre­dulity. The seeker for truth will hold the bark of reason serenely to a middle course. Firmly holding to established truth, he will accord "new truth" the opportunity of proving its validity. Faith and doubt con­stitute a system of intellectual coordinates by means of which the seeker for truth may verify his position with respect to it. Faith and doubt may also be compared to a set of checks and balances—to the equal and opposite forces that, together, hold the earth in its orbit without either falling into the sun or flying off into space.

There are, in addition, certain qualities of mind without which the search for truth is greatly retarded and may even be invalidated. Skill in setting up a valid pro­cedure for dealing with a problem, in gathering and weighing evidence, in fol­lowing logical thought patterns through to logical conclusions, and in exercising sus­pended judgment where necessary—all these are essential attributes of a disci­plined mind. Of no less importance are the qualities of open-mindedness, perspicac­ity, diligence, and patience.

The intellectual equipment of the Bible research worker should include:

a. Thorough acquaintance with the Scriptures and the Spirit of prophecy.

b. Mastery of his own language.

c. A working knowledge of Biblical lan­guages, or at least facility in the use of tools available for those not proficient in the use of these languages.

d. A working knowledge of ancient his­tory, chronology, and archeology; acquaint­ance with the areas of history related to Bible prophecy.

e. Information relative to the transmis­sion of the Bible, and to the relative value of the major texts, manuscripts, and ver­sions.

f. Acquaintance with standard source materials such as Bible dictionaries, ency­clopedias, concordances, atlases, and com­mentaries, with works on history and archeology, and with classical and standard Jewish and Christian literature.

g. The ability to evaluate source mate­rials.

h. Knowledge of and the ability to apply sound principles of research to Bible study.

Full appreciation of the beauty, empha­sis, and meaning of Scripture is possible only when it is studied in the languages in which it was written, for much is in­evitably lost in the process of translation. Many questions can be answered and many problems solved only by reference to the Bible in its original tongues. Facility in the use of Greek and Hebrew brings the meaning of Scripture into far sharper focus than the use of all the translations ever made. Those unfamiliar with Greek and Hebrew, however, may in large measure avail themselves of the benefits that accrue from their use by learning to make intelli­gent and skillful use of special tools pre­pared for those not proficient in these lan­guages. Here, as in all other areas where his own information may be limited, the careful student of Scripture will appreciate and avail himself of the assistance of those who have become competent in these fields.

"Who is sufficient for these things?" Only he who in humbleness of heart dedicates his mental faculties to the Author of truth, to the pursuit of truth, to the acquisition of skills requisite to the pursuit of truth, and to the discipline of mind essential to the discovery of truth.


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Associate Editor, Review and Herald

February 1962

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