Low views of Scripture do not lead to high views of preaching, teaching or even hearing and learning God’s word (See 1 Thessalonians 2:13). And the impact of such views can be devastating to families, churches, and souls. By low views of Scripture what is meant is any view that ultimately fails to see God as the author – views that undermine inerrancy. However, it is possible to have a high view of Scripture’s inspiration and authority, but to neglect to see how the implications of such a view ought to be evidenced in both our daily lives generally and in our study habits specifically. If the Bible is the very word of God, then considerable thoughtfulness, humility, and respect should be given to approaching it (see 2 Timothy 2:15; John 12:48). In our last “Mondays With Mike,” we began looking at eight foundational principles for Better Bible Study. Having examined four such principles, attention now will be given to 4 remaining ones.
The Progressive Principle. God has chosen to reveal His message progressively over the ages, culminating in the finality of the message given in Jesus and the gospel (Hebrews 1:1-4). Nothing more, nothing better and nothing else is coming from God by way of revelation other than what has been revealed by Jesus and the New Testament! We must be aware of the gradual unfolding of God’s great story of redemption, and this includes matters such as different covenants (patriarchy, the law of Moses, New Testament) as well as different points in revelation history. Scripture ought not to be read as if it were given apart from the progression of history and with a recognition of different covenants (See 2 Corinthians 3:6-18; Hebrews 8:6-13; 10:9-10).
The Single Meaning Principle. This principle says that there will generally be only one correct interpretation of a text, although there may be multiple legitimate (yet not unlimited) applications. This principle recognizes that, especially in Old Testament prophecy, there is a “fuller sense” that may later be recognized by way of fulfillment. It also recognizes the need to respect some flexibility regarding figurative language. For example, both Jesus and Satan are referred to as a “lion,” but with vastly different purposes behind it! (Revelation 5:5; 1 Peter 5:8-9).The single meaning principle is especially important at a time when some attempt to try to make the Bible say whatever they want it to mean. And sometimes this occurs in a setting where people hold completely contradicting views! Like other principles, the single meaning principle has its basis in examining what the author initially intended to say to the recipients through diligent, conscientious interaction with the text. The passage cannot mean what the author never intended it to say!
The Harmony Principle. God does not contradict Himself, and neither does His word. The harmony principle suggests that there will be continuity, harmony and flow not only within the Bible as a whole but within individual books as well. As an example, many have alleged there to be a lack of harmony between Paul and James on the matter of faith and works. Close inspection of what is actually taught by Paul in books like Romans and Galatians, and proper consideration of what is said by James in his letter, removes this supposed lack of harmony. The adage remains true, “The Bible functions as its own best commentary.”
The Applicability Principle. God’s word is not just to be meticulously studied, diagrammed and discussed – it is to be done (Matt. 6:10; 7:24-27; James 1:22). Application deals with the “so what am I do with it now?” aspect of Bible Study. The relevance of a passage is to be wisely assessed and properly appropriated in our lives. It is admitted that it’s one thing to say this, and it’s another thing to accomplish it. In the other foundational principles of study, we examine the text. But in legitimate application, the text studies us! Through rigorous study of a passage, prayer, meditation and discernment (See Philippians 1:9-11), areas of specific and legitimate application can be observed.
These principles certainly are not discussed in an exhaustive manner. As a matter of fact, this effort has been, at best, a mere introduction and reminder. No matter where you are as a Bible student, there’s always plenty of room for personal growth. While
here on earth, there is always the necessity of drawing nearer to our Lord. But the ultimate “advanced degree” for such loving desire will be to hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).—Mike Vestal