How to Interpret the Bible
II. Principles of Biblical Interpretation
III. Examples for Study
In 1993 Hank Hanegraaff (“The Bible Answer Man”) wrote a book entitled Christianity in Crisis. In the book he exposed problems within evangelicalism. Many think that in actuality Hanegraaff understated the problems of both doctrine and practice within Christianity, and time has made the issues even more acute.
Forgive us for saying so, but perhaps it is time to be honest with ourselves. American Christianity, at least much of it, is a mess. It is separated into divisive sects, giving the world the impression that we don’t know what we are doing. Or even more alarming, that the true God is somehow irrelevant and confused. This is not to say that individual American churches are not proclaiming the Gospel in its truth and purity. But some serious introspection is in order.
Let us warn you. This article will make many Christians uncomfortable. But perhaps we need to feel uncomfortable. We as Protestants should acknowledge that Sola Scriptura was supposed to solve doctrinal problems, but it does not always work that way when humans are involved.
Each sect places itself apart, even above the others, thinking that they uniquely possess biblical truth. But they can’t all be correct as there is too much contradictory opinion. We all seek comfort and constancy in our theology. We’ve got enough uncomfortable situations to deal with in our daily lives. But we make here a serious challenge: We think that Christians are too complacent, and indeed members of every group seem to fear the thought of seriously examining their own doctrine.
Peer pressure too often outweighs good scholarship. But there is a related issue. People tend to seek an identity. We are comfortable with a label. We see ourselves fitting in with a particular group: I am Catholic, or I am Methodist, or I am Reformed, etc.
We deal with all kinds of Christians and pseudo-Christians on our website. So we have some basis to make our claim. Yes, we mean what we said—Christians are afraid to deal with passages of the Bible that are challenging to them. Each group assumes that their leaders must have theology right, and fail, as Paul instructs us in 1 Thessalonians 5:21, to test everything.
We often simply choose to ignore challenges to our pre-conceived notions about what the Bible actually teaches. We have built doctrine by picking and choosing the passages that fit our ideas and ignored those that challenge us. This has led to a shallow, lazy, distorted, and divisive Christianity. It is high time to open our minds to reasonable challenges to our thinking. Fortunately, with the internet, the days of Christians being able to duck doctrinal challenges are over.
We should not fear challenges, but rather welcome them. Consider this: One can learn more about their own position by studying the challenges to it. For example, in our own work we have learned better how to defend the Trinity by studying what Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses think about it. Truth is more important than fear.
Let’s survey the Christian landscape. The cults are gaining ground. Liberal Christians have arbitrarily thrown out anything in Scripture they don’t like. Even conservatives, in spite of giving lip service to inerrancy—that all Scripture is God-breathed—often dismiss many passages that appear too tough to handle.
But that’s just the beginning. We have Catholics and legalistic Protestants who have invented non-biblical doctrines. There are the ultra-fundamentalists who think that every word in the Bible is to be taken literally—making a mockery of language itself including the language of Scripture.
And we note that high profile Pentecostal preachers are teaching a false gospel of prosperity while giving false hope of healing to the afflicted through the practice of “slaying in the spirit”—which is nothing more than psycho-social manipulation. And we have the prophecy wonks that see the end of the world behind every world event.
Yet we find “mainstream” orthodox Evangelical Protestants and Catholics with issues as well. Statistics clearly show that a majority of their members are ignorant of basic Christian doctrines and on average live lives that are indistinguishable from others in the culture. Even among Protestants we have at least two distinct groups— the Calvinists versus the Arminians—each thinking the other group is seriously deceived. This debate—which is largely over the exact nature of man’s free will—has been raging for 2000 years and is not likely to be resolved this side of heaven. In all of these we see shallow, superficial Christianity as a result of a shallow, superficial understanding of the Bible. Cheap grace and easy-believism is rampant throughout the church.
Non-Christians can see right through our bickering and through the fakers, pseudo-intellectuals, hypocrites, and false prophets. The modern church is often an embarrassment to biblical Christianity; it is many times a stumbling block to seekers. (For more see this 4-part video Christianity and Crisis by Hank Hanegraaf: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E7jHvm-MKfE.)
Gut check time. As you read this, does your attitude confirm what we are saying? Chances are that you are thinking that all this is true about the other groups out there, but not about yours. We submit that every group has blind spots. We need to humble ourselves before God and ask God to reveal truth.
Who has a heart hardened by biases and preconceptions, Lord? Is it I? Is it I? Show me the blind spot in my own eye, Lord! Give me the fortitude to deal with error that I might hold. Give me a passion for biblical truth. And give me the courage to speak up against error, even among my peers.
Our thesis is that these problems result from an often shallow and distorted view of Scripture! We are not trying to solve every problem with this short article. But we want to challenge our Christian brothers and sisters into re-examination.
Let us say here that we affirm the inerrancy of Scripture. And we think that the toughest challenges to the Bible can be met. With that in mind, let’s consider some basic concepts on how to interpret the Bible.
II. Principles of Biblical Interpretation
Overarching prerequisites and principles:
A. Prior acceptance of the Bible as the inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3:14-17)
B. A predisposition of faith and obedience (John 7:17-18, 8:43)
C. Seeing the parts in relation to the whole through proper interpretive methods, including these:
- Grammatico-historical method: gathering from the Scriptures themselves the precise meaning which the writers intended to convey, taking into account the grammar and culture of their times and their primary audiences. We should remember that the Bible was spoken for us today but not to us. Audience relevance is often key to grasping what the writers intended. This applies to the sacred writings the same principles, as well as the same grammatical processes and exercises of sense and reason which apply to other books. In other words, we should use principles of language as well as standard reason to determine what the author intended and how the original readers would have understood it.
- Covenant-historical method: paying careful attention to the rise and development of the Kingdom of God in all its aspects through the course of biblical history, which is the central core and directing rudder of world history. Covenant-historical interpretation is the antidote both to the unbiblical legalism that flourishes in American Christianity, and to the prophetic speculation and fantasies that have diverted Christians from real-world concerns and the real hope of the Gospel.
- Redemptive-historical method: interpretation of the Bible based on the principles that
a. Scripture is progressive revelation.
b. Scripture can only really be understood Christologically throughout.
c. Old Testament people of God belonged to the same organic covenant body as we the New Testament people of God.
Practical guidance for earnest students of God’s Word:
According to the Roman Church, it is neither the right nor the responsibility of any individual Christian to interpret the Bible and declare its meaning. That authority ultimately rests with the church’s teaching office (the Magisterium). This position, however, reflects several misconceptions concerning the Protestant principle of private interpretation:
1. Private interpretation does not mean that we should rely solely on our own judgments, ignoring the insights and research of others.
2. Private interpretation does not mean that we have the right to "distort" the Bible in accordance with our own conceptions.
3. Private interpretation does not mean that we can ignore the history of interpretation in the church.
4. At the same time as we exercise our God-given responsibility to interpret the Scriptures, we must be aware of the element of subjectivity that influences all interpretation:
- hidden agendas (personal and theological)
- cultural conditioning
- historical circumstances
- socio-economic factors
- unconscious expectations
- educational background
- personality distinctives
- occupational pressures
- interpersonal relational background
As we seek to interpret the Scriptures, we must also keep in mind the contributions of the past. Fee and Stuart in their book How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth remind us that, "Interpretation that aims at, or thrives on, uniqueness, can usually be attributed to pride (an attempt to 'out clever' the rest of the world), a false understanding of spirituality (wherein the Bible is full of deep truths waiting to be mined by the spiritually sensitive person with special insight), or vested interests (the need to support a theological bias, especially in dealing with texts that seem to go against that bias). Unique interpretations are usually wrong. This is not to say that the correct understanding of a text may not often seem unique to someone who hears it for the first time. But it is to say that uniqueness is not the aim of our task."
Ten guidelines for rightly dividing the unified Word of Truth:
1. Doctrine must be squarely built upon Scripture. Our doctrines must be erected from a proper interpretation of Scripture or a legitimate inference from Scripture, and not from cherished traditions, human creeds or confessions. While there is a place for creeds (and some are clearly more biblically-based than others), the Christian’s conscience is ultimately bound to Scripture alone.
2. Scripture is Self-interpreting. The “analogy of faith” is a reformed hermeneutical principle which states that, since all scriptures are harmoniously united with no essential contradictions, therefore, every proposed interpretation of any passage must be compared with what the other parts of the Bible teach. In other words, the body of doctrine, which the scriptures as a whole proclaim will not be contradicted in any way by any passage. Therefore, if two or three different interpretations of a verse are equally possible, any interpretation that contradicts the clear teaching of any other scriptures must be ruled out from the beginning.
3. Context is Critical. Every word, clause, sentence, paragraph of Scripture comes to us in contexts – from the immediate passage to the part of a book, to the whole book, to the historical context of the book, the author’s identity, setting and purpose, and ultimately to the entire Bible. Working outwardly to determine context in this manner is a helpful discipline for understanding anything we read or hear in Scripture. Tunnel vision is perilous.
4. The Clear Must Interpret the Unclear. A related principle that is very helpful in interpreting the Bible, prophecy and apocalyptic literature in particular, is that murky passages can often be clarified by other scriptures which address the particular topic in a more straightforward way. For example, a very specific interpretation of the highly symbolic visions of John's apocalypse, may never “trump” the clear teachings of Paul's epistles, which are more didactic and less symbolic, and hence clearer.
5. Distinguish between what the Bible records and what it commands, commends, or approves. We must recognize the difference between passages which are didactic and those which are reportorial. Emulation is not always synonymous with obedience.
6. Incidental or rare events within Scripture should not necessarily be taken as normative for Christians today. For example, Acts 1:26 says that the early apostles drew lots in order to find the Lord’s will on who would replace Judas (whether Joseph or Matthias). But it is less than likely that this should be our approach when confronted with important decisions—especially since the drawing of lots occurred at the beginning stage of early church history and was, apparently, discontinued soon after (the New Testament records no other instances of drawing lots).
7. Recognize Distinctive Apostolic Practices. Distinctive apostolic practices that are rooted in theology, not in the culture of the day, may be taken as normative for the church, unless clearly temporary in nature.
8. Don’t build a doctrine upon a single verse or an uncertain textual reading. In other words, we should not erect an entire teaching or system of doctrine upon a verse in isolation from its context, or which has dubious textual support. Christian doctrine should be built upon passages which exist in the original manuscripts and can be confirmed through the science of textual criticism.
9. Be alert to figurative language. The Bible uses multiple literary genres, and is filled with figurative language. This fact should cause the interpreter to take great care in his treatment of the Bible, making certain to not interpret literally that which was intended to be understood metaphorically or figuratively. All Scripture has a literal sense, but that sense is not always expressed in literal terms.
10. Pray for the Holy Spirit’s Illumination. The Holy Spirit's work is not only to show what the Bible means, but also to persuade Christians of its truth. Illumination is the Spirit's work, enabling Christians to discern the meaning of the message and to welcome and receive it as from God. Theologian Charles Hodge states that obedience in the believer's life is the inevitable result of the illuminating work of the Spirit.
III. Examples for Study
Below are some selected passages for discussion. With these questions, we are not necessarily trying to prove a point. We are not even offering answers for all of these, though we have some answers to many of these questions in the articles on our website. Our primary goal is that our readers will begin to dig deeper into the Bible—to consider questions that you may not have considered seriously in the past. Some of these issues are probably familiar to you; others may not be familiar to you. Perhaps some of these passages you have passed right over in your studies because you did not know quite how to deal with them. You may disagree with answers implied, but as long as these questions get you to think more deeply about the Bible, we have achieved our goal. These questions would make a great Bible study with friends. So here we go.
Is the Bible always to be interpreted literally?
1. When Jesus said that he is the vine (John 15:5), did he mean that he is a woody plant? Is God literally a rock (2 Samuel 2:3, Psalm 18:2, etc.)?
2. Should we literally hate our mother and father to be Jesus’ disciple (Luke 14:26)?
3. If your eye causes you to sin, should you pluck it out (Mark 9:47)?
4. Must we sell everything we have and give it to the poor in order to inherit eternal life (Luke 18:18-22)?
5. Did the mountains and the hills really break into song and the trees clap their hands (Isaiah 55:12)?
6. Did God hold out his hands literally to an obstinate people (Isaiah 65)? Does God have hands?
7. Would the moon literally turn to blood before the Day of the Lord (Joel 2:31)? Aren’t such statements about actual worldly judgments by God that are expressed in poetic or astronomical language rather than literal language?
8. When God judged Babylon, an event in actual history, did the stars and sun stop giving their light (Isaiah 13:10) and the heavens literally tremble (Isaiah 13:13)? Given this passage and numerous others like it in the Bible (for example, Isaiah 24:23; Ezekiel 32:7; Amos 5:20, 8:9; Zephaniah 1:15) what do you think of Matthew 24:29?
9. Do we have a literal talking snake—scales and all—in Genesis 3? (See Revelation 20:2 for some help on this one.) Is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 2:9) a literal tree? (There may differences of opinion here.) Are the Tigris and Euphrates rivers mentioned in Genesis literal rivers? Is it reasonable for literal and non-literal language to appear in the same context?
10. Did Jesus in Revelation 1 literally have eyes like a flame of fire (v. 14) and did he literally hold seven stars (v. 16)? Did the beasts in Revelation 13 literally have ten horns and seven heads (v. 1) or speak like a dragon (v. 11)? Did the birds in Revelation 19 literally eat the flesh of kings and all men (v. 18)? Did the angel in Revelation 20:1 have a literal key to the bottomless pit? Is the Book of Life in Revelation 20:12,15 literal—with paper or parchment pages?
11. Rather than insisting that you interpret the Bible literally, would it be more faithful to Scripture to say that you interpret it the way it was intended to be interpreted?
The divinity of Jesus. This section is in part to help Christians defend the Bible against skeptics. Muslims, in particular, and others say that Jesus never even claimed divinity. But such claims are based on a failure to understand Jesus’ claims in context. So these questions also show how Scripture can help interpret Scripture.
1. What did Jesus mean in John 8:58: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”? (See Exodus 3:14.)
2. What did Jesus mean by calling himself the “Son of Man,”? (See Daniel 7:13-14.)
3. See Revelation 22:12-13 and compare to Revelation 1:8 and Isaiah 44:6. (Jesus and YHWH are both the “alpha and omega” and the “first and the last.” These passages are helpful when discussing the Jesus’ divinity with Jehovah’s Witnesses.)
4. What did Jesus mean when he told Caiaphas the high priest that he (Caiaphas) would see him (Jesus) “coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64)? Caiaphas immediately declared Jesus to be speaking blasphemy. Why? Not only did Jesus affirm that he is the Son of God (verse 63), but his claim was reinforced by the prophecy of “coming on clouds.” Caiaphas understood that only God is described in Scripture as having showed himself in clouds, or came in clouds in judgment—though no one ever literally saw God. See such passages as Exodus 13:21, 14:24, 16:10, 19:9, 24:15, 33:9, 34:5; Leviticus 16:2; Numbers 11:25; Psalm 18:9-12, 97:2-5, 104:3; Isaiah 19:1; Ezekiel 30:3; Daniel 7:13-14; Joel 2:1-2; Nahum 1:3.
5. Are Jesus’ miracles to be taken literally? Why? See Matthew 11:4-6; Luke 7:22-23; John 10:25, 38; John 14:11; John 15:24. And see 2 Peter 1:16. Isn’t it clear from these passages that Jesus staked his ministry in part on his miracles, affirming that we are to take these literally?
6. Did Jesus literally—really and truly—rise from the dead? See 1 Corinthians 15, in which Paul makes an impassioned plea that the resurrection was a fact of history attested to by many witnesses, and moreover he stakes all of Christianity on the resurrection.
Varying uses of the same word. In every language even very basic words can have quite different meanings. Let's consider, for example, the words “all” and “whole.” Does “all” always mean “all”? Can such words imply a limited universe as well as an unlimited universe? This is an interesting word study that we could apply to many biblical words.
1. Is “all” inclusive—that is without exception—in Romans 3:23 (“all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”)? (See section just preceding this verse: vs. 9-19.)
2. Did “all”—every last person in Judea—go out to see John the Baptist (Matthew 3:5)?
3. Is “all” in 1 Timothy 2:3-4 (God desires “all people to be saved”) inclusive? This is an interesting passage because even conservative Christians have differing opinions on it. Most Christians—Arminians and Lutherans—think yes, but given the numerous passages on election/predestination such as Ephesians 1 and Romans 8,9—perhaps it is not inclusive. In context, Paul may have in mind that all groups of people should be included. (See vs. 1, 8). Expressing a Calvinist view, according to footnotes to 1 Timothy 2:3-4 in The Reformation Study Bible, “This does not mean that God sovereignly wills every human being to be saved (i.e. that God saves everyone). It may refer to God’s general benevolence in taking no delight in the death of the wicked, or to God’s desire that all types of people be saved (i.e. God does not choose his elect from any single group).”
4. Similarly, see 2 Peter 3:9 (God is patient toward you…wishing all to reach repentance”). Here Calvinist theologians argue that “all” refers to the “you” just preceding—which would be referencing the elect Christians to whom Peter is speaking. So, by this understanding, God wants all the elect to be saved. The Reformation Study Bible: “The repentance in view, for the sake of which God delays judgment, is that of God’s people rather than the world at large. God is not willing that any of his elect should perish (John 6:39).” Hmm. Have you ever thought about this passage in this light?
5. Is it inconsistent for the Bible to declare that Christ gave himself a ransom for “all” in 1 Timothy 2:6, but for “many” in Matthew 20:28.
6. What does Paul mean in Romans 8:22 by the “whole creation” groaning? Many people think that Romans 8:22 is about the physical universe which God will restore. But consider Colossians 1:6, 23 where Paul states that the gospel had already been proclaimed by his time to “the whole world/all creation under heaven.” Since the “whole creation” in Colossians is about people and not the physical universe, and is limited to people in the Roman world, could Paul be referring in Romans 8:22 to a group of regional people in a covenant context rather than literally all of physical creation? Note also that in Luke 2:1, “all the world” does not mean literally all the world, but rather the Roman world, which in fact is how it is translated in some Bibles.
Biblical prophecy: a closer look at Scripture. Warning—these questions may be particularly challenging. This is only a very brief look at a complicated subject. But it is time that the church took a fresh look at eschatology, in particular the imminency passages in Scripture. Again our purpose is not to flesh out strong doctrinal positions in this brief article, but to make our readers think about how they have heretofore interpreted the Bible. With propchecy, we need to realize that the Bible must be consistent througout.
1. Are we living today in the “last days,” as many are telling us? What does Peter (1 Peter 4:7) mean by “the end of all things is near/at hand”? (See Acts 2:14-20; Hebrews 1:2; James 5:3,9; 1 Peter 1:20; 1 John 2:18). Given that Peter, James, John, and the writer of Hebrews all declared that the last days/last hour were in their own generation, and given the study above that shows that all can have specific application rather than inclusive application, and given that whatever Peter was speaking about was to happen soon, wouldn’t it be reasonable and consistent that Peter is speaking about something other than the end of the physical universe? Obviously, the physical universe did not come to an end in the imminent time frame that Peter declared. Now notice that Jesus speaks about the close of the age (Greek aion, Matthew 24:3, et.al.) which would happen in his generation (Matthew 24:34)—what age is in question? Wouldn’t this be the close of the Old Covenant age, which is clearly confirmed by Hebrews 8:13? Doesn’t Paul also confirm the time line in 1 Corinthians 10:11, as well as the writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 9:26, that the end of the ages had come upon them? Now see Daniel 12:11 which declared the time of the end would be when burnt offerings ceased—which occurred with the destruction of the temple in 70 AD—once for all ending the Old Covenant age. Doesn’t this all fit together that the last days of which the Bible speaks can reasonably be understood to be the close of the Old Covenant age in 70 AD—rather than the end of the world? (Surprised? This one should generate some fun and healthy discussion!)
2. If you think that the “last days” began in the first century and continue to today, where is your biblical support for that view? How could the end of something be longer than the period of which it is the end?
3. While this is controversial, consider more closely Matthew 24:34 when Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” Did he mean in their literal generation? Well, here are all the times in the New Testament where we see “this generation.” We see that the term generation/this generation is used in 23 passages in the New Testament outside of the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21), and every time it clearly means—without debate—or without exception the generation of people alive when Jesus spoke. Isn’t it reasonable to interpret this generation the same way in the Olivet Discourse? How can “this generation” in Matthew 24:34 be about people thousands of years later? Wouldn’t Jesus have said “some future generation” if that is what he meant?
4. Has the gospel been proclaimed to the whole world yet per Matthew 24:14? See Colossians 1:6, 23; Romans 1:8, 16:26. Chances are that you have been taught that we are still waiting for this to happen, but doesn’t Paul over and over proclaim that this prophecy had already been fulfilled by the time of his writings?
5. What does John mean in Revelation 22:10 when he says, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book.” See Daniel 12:4,9,11. Wouldn’t John likely have Daniel’s prophecies in mind, so that in juxtaposition to Daniel who said to seal up the words of his prophecy for its fulfillment would be a long time off, John says not to seal up his prophecy—could it be because the fulfillment was imminent? You are going to resist the obvious implications, but for confirmation of the time line, see Revelation 1:1,3,7; Revelation 3:11; Revelation 6:17; Revelation 22:10,20. Can we safely continue to ignore or explain away the imminency of these and numerous other eschatological passages and be faithful to Scripture?
6. See Matthew 5:18. Has heaven and earth passed away? If not, aren’t you still under the law?
7. For those who believe that speaking in tongues today is legitimate, consider 1 Corinthians 13:8-10. Speaking in tongues is an issue that divides Christians, and is thus certainly important. Note that it indicates that tongues would cease when completeness comes. Given the above line of thought about the last days and the end of the ages, hasn’t completeness—at least in an important sense—already come? On the other hand, for those who do not believe in speaking in tongues, why don’t you? Has knowledge, which is mentioned along with tongues in this passage, passed away too? (OK. We didn’t say this study would be easy!)
Justification. Now that we have you stirred up, let’s take a very quick look at another controversial topic—justification, that is how we are saved. New Christians may not be familiar with the debate. The debate is primarily between so-called Calvinists and Arminians, both camps being named after theologians of hundreds of years ago. Calvinists emphasize that salvation is by God’s election of chosen people, that is—they are predestined to heaven. They also emphasize man’s “radical depravity,” that is man’s complete inability to save himself. Arminians, on the other hand, emphasize man’s free will to choose Christ and thus salvation. Both groups ultimately agree on God’s sovereignty and salvation by grace. A check on the internet will reveal how virulent this debate can sometimes be.
There is another group called Semi-Pelagians. (Pelagius was another ancient theologian.) This group believes that we are saved by a combination of God's grace plus man's good works. Catholics and some legalistic Protestants hold to this view. This group would seem to be on the edges of orthodoxy as defined by most Protestants. (Full-Pelagians believe that we are saved by works alone and not by grace. This view is clearly heretical.) The debate between Calvinists, Arminians, and Semi-Pelagians is potentially resolvable (see http://www.faithfacts.org/bible-101/christian-cram-course#salvation), but it may not be as easy as each side assumes. It turns out that there are dozens of passages that tend to support each camp. Here are some questions for each camp:
1. If you think that man is completely free through his own will to choose things of God, how do you deal with the numerous passages on election, for example John 1:12; Romans 8:28-30; Romans 9:6-24; 1 Corinthians 1:26-28; Ephesians 1:1-22; Titus 1:1-2; 1 Peter 1:1-9? Come on now, you can’t just ignore these passages.
2. If you think that man is only righteous through the righteousness of Christ (“imputed righteousness”), how do you deal with the 241 times that the Bible describes certain people as being righteous, blameless, or upright (without any mention of imputed righteousness)? You can check these out via a word search at such sites as http://www.searchgodsword.org/.
3. If you think that we are saved through faith alone per Ephesians 2:8-10, how do you deal with James 2:14-26 which states that we are not saved by faith alone? (We offer some help in other places on our site: http://www.faithfacts.org/bible-101/christian-cram-course#salvation and http://www.faithfacts.org/bible-101/what-is-the-gospel.)
4. If you think that all we have to do to be saved is confess Christ—end of story—how do you deal with the numerous "if" passages and perseverance passages in the Bible, for example Matthew 6:15; Matthew 10:22; Matthew 24:10-13; John 15:10,14; Romans 2:7; Romans 8:13; 1 Corinthians 15:2; Colossians 1:21-23; Hebrews 3:6-14; Hebrews 10:26-39; 1 John 1:6-7; 1 John 3:23-24; 1 John 4:12-21?
5. Finally, how should be deal with the passages in the Bible that command us to unity: John 17:20-23; Romans 15:5-7; 1 Corinthians 1:10; Ephesians 4:1-16; Philippians 1:27; Colossians 3:12-16; Titus 3:10?
We have introduced some difficult, even controversial topics. And we have not attempted to completely resolve these issues. Our point, to repeat, is to help us Christians open up our thinking enough to challenge our pre-existing assumptions and begin deeper investigations of Holy Scripture. Let’s be a bit more humble. Our goal should be truth over complacency.
We will probably receive some criticism. But our commitment to God’s word is worth it. Christians can debate certain issues vigorously without dividing over them. Iron sharpens iron, and we look forward to hearing from our readers. We are happy to have your feedback. None of us has all the answers. But we are also hopeful that we will hear from a few—especially pastors—who are sympathetic to what we are saying.
Oh, Lord. The Sum of your word is truth. It is a lamp to my feet, a light to my path. Grant me understanding. Send out your light and truth; let them lead me. —from Psalm 43 and Psalm 119.