Doctrine of the Bible
Part – II
The subjects that need to be delved into under Part II of our study of the Bible are: the Canonicity, the Illumination and the Interpretation of the Bible. The sole objective of this study is to help the believers and lay leaders to have a grasp of the fundamental doctrine of the bible. This study is no way to be perceived as exhaustive and comprehensive.
Canonicity of the Bible: Amid plethora of writings at disposal it was imperative to determine which writings God had inspired and which ones were recognized as authoritative. In order for the Jews and conservative Christians to determine them a measure or standard was used called Canonization. The word ‘Canon’ comes from the Greek kanon meaning a ‘measuring rod’. By implication, the word has a reference to the standard used to determine the inspired books.
Using the standard set by the church council called the Council of Jamnia in A.D. 90, 39 books were recognized as Old Testament Canon. Specific tests were conducted in order to recognize the books as inspired. Did the book indicate Divine Authorship? Did it reflect God speaking through a mediator? Was the human author a spokesman of God? Was he a prophet or did he have the prophetic gift? Was the book historically accurate? Did it reflect a record of actual facts? How as the book received by the Jews?
So far as the New Testament is concerned, 27 books were recognized to be inspired in the Council of Carthage in A.D. 397. The tests that were applied to these books are: (1) Apostolicity: Was the author an apostle or did he have a connection with an apostle? (2) Acceptance: Was the book accepted by the church at large? (3) Content: Did the book reflect consistency of doctrine with what had been accepted as orthodox teaching? (4) Inspiration: Did the book reflect the quality of inspiration?
Illumination of the Bible
Having the written Revelation is not enough, since it is the word of God and God Himself is the author, it is necessary that man receive God-given help in understanding the Bible. Moreover, the unsaved/unregenerate man’s sin-darkened mind cannot apprehend spiritual truths. Hence, the work of illumination is necessary to enable man to comprehend the Word of God (1 Cor. 2:11, 14). Illumination is the ministry of the Holy Spirit whereby He enlightens those who are in a right relationship with Him to comprehend the written Word of God. (John 14:26)
Interpretation of the Bible
The study of interpretation of the Scriptures is called Hermeneutics. Every interpreter of the Bible consciously or unconsciously follows some form of system of interpretation. There are basically two schools of interpretation followed, namely- Allegorical hermeneutics and Literal interpretation.
Let us define them.
- Allegorical Interpretation: This is called a symbolic or fanciful interpretation. This interpretation does not take actual words in normal or plain sense, hence resulting in different meaning that text never intended to convey. This kind of interpretation would reduce the Bible to fiction and the normal words would be irrelevant. There is an ignorance of the history, language, and literary context. This is doing disservice to the meaning of the Bible.
- Literal Interpretation: This is also known as Normal or Plain Interpretation. Literal interpretation means the words and sentences of Scripture are understood in their normal meaning-the ways that words are understood in normal communication. How is this interpretation applied? Here is the method.
- Interpret grammatically: words are the vehicles of thoughts; we need to pay attention to the words, grammatical relationship, the verb tenses, pronoun, prepositions, conjunction, and syntax.
- Interpret contextually: Words and sentences do not stand in isolation; therefore, the context must be studied in order to see the relation that each verse sustains to that which proceeds and to that which follows. Studying the remote context like 2 or 3 chapters in which the passage occurs. Consider the context of the entire book.
- Compare Scripture with Scriptures: When studying the Bible, we must compare Scripture with Scripture, “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line: here a little and there a little” (Isaiah 28:10). We must remember that the Bible is not one book but 66 books written over a period of 1500 years. That very fact allows us to use the Bible to interpret itself. When we do this, we will discover truth.
- Recognize the progressiveness of revelation: To be able to consistently interpret plainly, it is imperative to recognize that revelation was given progressively. It means God in revealing His message to man, He may add or even change in one era what He gave in another. What New Testament adds that was not in the Old Testament. What was prohibited in the OT , is longer a prohibition in the NT. Those failing to recognize this progressive nature of the Scripture end up in allegorical interpretation.
The Biblical canon is closed with 66 books – 39 in the OT and 27 in the NT and therefore, no more books are to be added. Since the Bible is the inspired word of God, to understand its meaning we need the illumination of the Holy Spirit and we must depend upon the Holy Spirit of God while studying and meditating the Word for understanding. While interpreting the Bible we must follow Literal method of interpretation so that the intended meaning of the bible may be rightly plumbed, appropriated and communicated.