Interpretation the Inductive Way

Author Pete De Lacy

The Bible often says exactly what it means, but that is not true all the time. When interpreting the Bible, we must seek the author’s intended meaning, not our own, imposed on the text. To do this, we need to remember that context rules. What is context, and how do we determine it? Everything is said in an immediate context, the verses preceding and following. Then there is a broader context. For the Bible, the broader context is the rest of the book we are interpreting, then other writings by the same author, followed by the New or Old Testament, and finally the whole Bible.

Let’s turn to 1 John 4:8 (NASB) and apply this principle: “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

Immediate Context

First John 4:8 says “God is love.” The immediate context of this phrase includes verses 7–9. (Read these verses.) The immediate context of the passage also leads us to 1 John 4:10 (NASB): “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

Now we see what “love” is, but we are still left with the question: How is “love” connected to the “propitiation for our sins?”

Broader Context

To examine the broader context of 1 John 4:8, read 1 John chapter 4, then the entire book of 1 John. Now turn to John’s other writings, such as the Gospel of John, to see what else he says about “God is love” or what he says about “God” and “love.” As you do, ask the five “W” questions and the one “H” question: who, what, when, where, why and how.

When we expand the context to the Gospel of John, we see that John 3:16 (NASB) helps explain 1 John 4:10: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” The propitiation for our sins was so that those who believe will have eternal life.

Check Commentaries

Research what other Bible students have understood about the passage by checking commentaries. This will help you to see if you’re on track or not. If your interpretation has never been presented by a biblical scholar before, it’s likely that you’ve misinterpreted the text. God spoke to us that we might know truth. Take the Word of God at face value—in its natural, normal sense, letting the passage speak for itself.

1John_Gospel of John

Even though commentaries are very helpful, Scripture is our best commentary on Scripture because it can’t be “broken” (John 10:35). Commentaries should be used to inform our interpretation, not define it.

When John says “let us love one another” (John 4:9 NASB) it’s pretty plain and easy to understand. This is not always the case. When figures of speech such as metaphors are used, they must be handled accordingly. It’s important not to take one difficult to understand verse and use it to define others. Let the clear, repeated teaching of Scripture inform the obscure. “Let us love one another” and “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” are clear enough to inform our interpretation of the rest of Scripture.

To better understand the word love, we can do a word study using Bible software, but we must be sure that context determines how we apply the definitions in dictionaries and lexicons to the text. Likewise, we can run a search for the phrase “God is love,” or search for every time “God” and “love” occur together.

Propitiation 

We all have sinned (done wrong) by God and other people. Sin puts us out of right relationship with God, making us subject to his wrath. Propitiation is the act that appeases God’s wrath and enables us to be brought back into right relationship with Him. In the ancient world, the sacrificial death of an animal brought people temporarily back into right relationship with their God—it was a temporary propitiation for their sins. Jesus’ death brings us permanently back into right relationship with God—it is the eternal propitiation of our sins. See the different ways “propitiation” is used by reading: Rom 3:25, Heb 2:17, 1 John 2:2; 4:10.

To learn more about the Inductive Bible Study Method, go to Precept.org

Bible Study Magazine delivers tools and methods for Bible study, as well as insights from respected Bible teachers, professors, historians, and archaeologists. Take over 30% off the cover price—subscribe now!

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 4.

When I Open the Gospels

An Interview with Dr. Mark Goodacre
Author John D. Barry

WhenIOpenTheGospels

The Gospel writers often record a particular event in Jesus’ life differently. These differences have resulted in long quests to find the historical Jesus, who is supposedly “behind” the Gospel accounts, as well as many scholars devoting their entire lives to understanding the particular theological message behind each Gospel writer’s account. Since grasping the complexities of the Gospels is often a difficult task, Bible Study Magazine posed a set of questions to a world-renowned expert on the Gospels as synoptic (parallel) accounts, Dr. Mark Goodacre, professor of New Testament studies at Duke University.

BSM: Can you provide an example in the gospels that illustrates the importance of reading each gospel on its own merits?

GOODACRE: The most obvious example is the depiction of Mary Magdalene, who today has become a composite of a variety of figures from the four Gospels: a fictional, harmonized creation of the prostitute who repented and followed Jesus. She is variously thought of as three or four different women in the Gospels: the anonymous sinner of Luke 7:36–50, the Samaritan Woman of John 4, and the Woman Caught in Adultery in John 8. None of these women are ever called Mary Magdalene. What we actually know about Mary Magdalene is rather limited, but we do know she is never called a prostitute. It’s a good case of Christian tradition warping the way that we read the Gospels—for a long time no one really noticed that interpreters were doing this.

Right up to the present, Mary Magdalene is depicted this way in films and fiction (e.g., most recently in Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ). I was delighted that in the recent BBC/HBO production The Passion, Mary Magdalene, for the first time in a major production, was not depicted as a prostitute!

BSM: Generally speaking, what are the theological slants each Gospel writer puts on their work?

GOODACRE: This is not a quick and easy question to answer, and I am always a bit wary of attempts to try and put the Gospel writers’ agendas into a nutshell.  Such attempts are rarely satisfactory and tend to draw wedges between the Gospel writers while oversimplifying their Gospels.  In spite of the importance of looking at each of the Gospels as a text in its own right, I think it is actually easier to describe what they have in common.  All four share the same basic plot and structure and agree that Jesus is the Messiah, that he taught about the kingdom of God, healed people, died and rose again on the third day, and will come again. The theme of the suffering Messiah in fact dominates all four Gospels, even if it is manifested in different ways in each.

BSM: If someone is speaking to their church, Sunday School class, or small group, how should they go about teaching on a passage that is recorded in parallel accounts in the gospels?

GOODACRE: I am not a minister or a church leader of any kind, nor have I been trained as one, so I would not presume to make suggestions about how church leaders do their work.  Nevertheless, when I am asked to speak to church groups about such things, I like to explore the world of parallel accounts a little by showing people the richness of understanding the way that different evangelists tell the same or similar stories.  Let’s take an obvious example, the annunciation of Jesus’ birth in Matthew 1:18–25 and Luke 1:26–38.

Both have clear features in common, not least the announcement that Mary will give birth to a son who will be called Jesus. Nonetheless, there are substantial differences: Matthew’s Gospel has an announcement to Joseph and Luke’s Gospel has an announcement to Mary, each giving reflections on Jesus’ future that are characteristic of the way each Gospel writer portrays the narrative of Jesus’ life.

BSM: Should readers be distraught about accounts in the gospels that appear to disagree with one another?

GOODACRE: It depends on your perspective.  Since I am not, nor have I ever been, a kind of biblical literalist, I have always been a bit puzzled by those who struggle with places where the Gospels disagree with one another or, for that matter, other places in the Bible where there are disagreements.  Ignoring the disagreements does not make them go away.  What is enjoyable about studying the Gospels as a historian is that one is trained to take disagreements seriously, rather than harmonizing them. I tend to feel that taking the Gospels seriously shows a respect for their integrity as texts.  If one is interested in texts that many regard as sacred, then it is important to take those texts seriously, and that includes taking seriously places where they disagree with one another.

To learn more about Dr. Goodacre, or read more written by him, go to NTGateway.com.

For more tips on reading the Gospels, see Mark Goodacre’s The Synoptic Problem: A Way through the Maze. Go to Logos.com/Goodacre.

Bible Study Magazine delivers tools and methods for Bible study, as well as insights from respected Bible teachers, professors, historians, and archaeologists. Take over 30% off the cover price—subscribe now!

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 3.

Born Again ... and Again and Again?

Author Michael S. Heiser

Was Jesus open to the idea of reincarnation? The question may seem odd, but it’s one that many people, even biblical scholars, contend has a positive answer.[1] The idea comes from a passage you’ve likely read dozens of times.

John 9:1–4 ESV

“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but in order that the works of God might be made manifest in him (he was born blind). We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.”

BornAgain

Notice the disciples’ question: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Many presume the question indicates that the disciples believed the man born blind really could have sinned before he was born, and that his pre-birth sins caused his congenital blindness. This presumption is followed by another: that Jesus’ answer wasn’t a categorical denial. Since Jesus doesn’t come out and say, “What a silly idea, don’t be ridiculous!” Some have argued that his response means that in this case the man born blind didn’t sin in a previous life, but perhaps that could have happened in another case. Could this interpretation be correct?

Reincarnation is the belief that the soul migrates from one body to another, different body, in a long (possibly endless) succession. The idea of the “migration of the soul” cannot be found in the Bible, or in other Jewish writers of antiquity,[2] which indicates the disciples were likely presuming something different: People can do good and evil while still in the womb. Paul addresses this misconception in Rom 9:9–13, when dealing with the case of Jacob and Esau. Even if a pre-born person could sin in the womb, this does not involve the migration of a soul.

Romans 9:9–13 ESV

“For this is what the promise said: ‘About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.’ And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’”

Matthew 16:13, where some people suggest that Jesus was John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the Old Testament prophets, is also no help to those who want to see reincarnation in John 9:3–4. Jesus and John were contemporaries, born six months apart (Luke 1:8–36), thus John’s soul could not have migrated into Jesus’ body. Elijah never died (2 Kgs 2:1–17), and so the migration of his soul is also not possible. If Jesus were one of the prophets, who had come back to life, then the prophet would be resurrected, not the prophet’s soul in another body. There are other, more technical flaws in this interpretation of John 9,[2] but from this examination alone, it should be apparent that the idea of Jesus approving of one being born again into another physical body,  is dead . . . again.

Notes:

[1] The notion that Jesus embraced reincarnation is usually associated with New Age writers such as Elizabeth Clare Prophet and Dolores Cannon. However, J. D. M. Derrett, a highly-respected Greek New Testament scholar, recently promoted this view in a scholarly journal article, “The True Meaning of Jn 9, 3–4” (Filología Neotestamentaria xvi 2003), pgs. 103–106.

[2] See “Did Jesus Allow for Reincarnation? Assessing the Syntax of John 9:3–4” at MichaelSHeiser.com/John9.pdf

Bible Study Magazine delivers tools and methods for Bible study, as well as insights from respected Bible teachers, professors, historians, and archaeologists. Take over 30% off the cover price—subscribe now!

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 3.

Who Took Verse 4 out of My Bible?

Who took Verse 4 Out of My Bible?

Author Michael S. Heiser

Most of us have read John 5:1–9, the story of the blind, paralyzed man at the pool of Bethesda, many times, but I’ll bet there’s something that escaped your attention.

“Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’ 7 ‘Sir,’ the invalid replied, ‘I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.’  8 Then Jesus said to him, ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’ 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.” (John 5:1–9, NIV).

If you read closely you’ll notice that verse 4 is missing! Start at verse one and count out loud: 1, 2, 3 … 5?

In case your Bible version doesn’t have the verse, the omitted words read: “for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted” (NASB).

The verse is not just missing in the NIV; the situation is the same in the ESV, NRSV, CEV, NLT, and the net Bible. If you use the NASB or NCV you will see the verse, but it’s been placed inside brackets, whereas the KJV and the NKJV contain verse 4 without any notation or demarcation. So what’s going on here? Who took John 5:4 out of the Bible?

Who took verse 4 out of the Bible?

If you’re using a study Bible that doesn’t have verse 4, you will likely see a note at the end of verse 3, or the beginning of verse 5, explaining why it isn’t there. This is a textbook case of a disagreement between manuscripts of the Greek New Testament.

What would be John 5:4 (the missing material that begins in verse 3) is not found in any of the earliest and most accurate manuscripts of the Gospel of John. Scholars who make a career of comparing manuscripts (“textual critics” and “paleographers”) have discovered that in roughly two dozen manuscripts scribes put asterisk marks at the verse to warn the next scribe who would copy the manuscript that the verse was likely not original. To top it all off, four of the last five Greek words of what would be John 5:4 aren’t found anywhere else in John’s writings. This suggests that John 5:4 does not belong in the New Testament, which explains why many modern Bible translations have omitted it.

After 1900, translators used new manuscript discoveries from the 1800s, which revealed that the verse was likely not original. This is why verse 4 is listed in the pre-1900 KJV “as is” without brackets (the NKJV followed the KJV in this regard). More recent Bible translations (omitting or retaining the verse with brackets) give us a clearer picture of what the original product of inspiration looked like.

Is John concerned with the angel?

Why would verse four have not been included in the original New Testament? It is not because of the angel in the story. The Bible has no problem with angels; they’re all over the place, doing all sorts of things. But, like today, there was a great deal of folklore and superstition about them. The idea that an angel stirred the waters at a given time during the year was one such superstition.

John 5:7 mentions the stirring of the water, but does not mention the angel. It’s likely that John knew of the belief about the waters of Bethesda, but chose to leave it out for a specific reason. Perhaps he does not wish to endorse that an angel was stirring the water. By excluding the popular belief about the angel, John focuses his readers on the healer who was indeed present—Jesus.

There are some lessons for us all in “the case of the missing verse.” First, we need to train ourselves to read the Bible closely. If we missed something like the normal order of numbering in John 5, what else are we overlooking? Second, it pays to compare Bible versions. Even scholars who read Greek and Hebrew actively compare manuscript traditions. The work of another scribe (or Bible translator) can often direct our attention to something important. Third, we need to be sure the content of our preaching and teaching has a secure footing in the text. God moved people to spend their lives transmitting the biblical text; the least we can do is pay close attention.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 1.

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