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Interpreting Scripture – a few things to consider

A continuation of yesterday’s blog… As the result of a power encounter in a refugee camp of an earthquake zone, our Peru team got zapped by God a few days ago. You can see a video of where they were, above. It’s a powerful video, take a minute to watch it. Afterwards, they spent about three …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

A continuation of yesterday’s blog


As the result of a power encounter in a refugee camp of an earthquake zone, our Peru team got zapped by God a few days ago. You can see a video of where they were, above. It’s a powerful video, take a minute to watch it.

Afterwards, they spent about three hours on their faces before him. Because of the turbo-charged atmosphere and some of the strange things that happened, a few team members wondered whether any of it was in fact of God. Now, I believe this is a good thing. Scripture tells us that we’re to test things and we know we have an enemy who counterfeits experience. I also believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, without error in its original form. So, let me distinguish between an appeal to the Bible as a source of truth and a polemical short-circuiting of that process by declaring something unbiblical.

As I wrote in yesterday’s blog, the problem came when someone uttered the following phrase as a means of justifying their perspective: “this isn’t biblical.” As though there is always some unarguable standard of what is acceptable behavior. The fact is that, while the Bible gives us the Ten Commandments and a number of precepts that are incontrovertible, it also leaves a lot that is open to interpretation.

Take for example the most famous thing Jesus said – John 3:16. Let’s look at the context, that is, the verses that precede it: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the son of man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3: 14 – 15)


Here are some things we could interpret as biblical or not biblical based on this passage about what it means to “believe”:



  • Unless you say a prayer and ask Jesus into your heart, you don’t really believe and you’re not saved.
  • Belief must always be backed by action.
  • Belief is evidenced by what a person says.
  • Unless our belief is tested as was Moses and Jesus we don’t really believe.
  • Unless God performs a miracle (as he did with Moses) as a result of your belief you don’t really believe.
  • Unless you have a track record of faithfulness, you never really believed in the first place.

I could keep going with this list. What are we to make of Moses and the snake? Hyper-literalists somewhere have no doubt built one of the 30,000+ Christian denominations on this. After all, one sees snake handlers in West Virginia because the Bible says that snakes won’t hurt believers.


If experts like Charles Ryrie and John McArthur, who have given their life to properly interpret the Bible, can write whole books contradicting one another on the subject of what Jesus meant by “believe,” what are the rest of us no-account interpreters of Scripture to think?


It’s important that we look at Jesus’ words and try to interpret them. But beware of people who say, “that’s not biblical.” What they really mean is, “that’s not how I interpret Scripture.”


Ultimately it is the Holy Spirit, the Bible says, who will lead us into all truth. Truth is absolute, but we see thru a glass darkly and would do well to declare our understanding of it with humility.

Comments (4)

  • While this flies in the face of what was taught years ago at my conservative Christian college, and will make some cringe: experience can distort the truth of Scriptures, but experience will also REVEAL the truth of Scripture. We may never get what God is saying apart from experience. The NT is full of examples. (This is why there were hostilities from the Jews towards the apostles and people of “the way.” Pride and corruption twisted interpretation of Scripture.) Just one example: Peter got a lot of flack being with Cornelius and the Gentile “dogs”, but his story (experience) beginning with a vision and resulting with their baptism in the Spirit revealed what was there all along (in Scripture!) that everyone seemed to miss: God wanted children from ALL nations. (You mean we’re not more special or better than anyone else?!) We know how the Word of God has come alive through obedience. But if some had been Peter on the rooftop, they would have stayed on the rooftop and never gone to the household of Cornelius. I saw one such man have to physically restrain a demon possessed boy with 5 other men and come away from that experience saying, “Well it depends on what your theology allows you to believe.” Where was the joy of seeing that boy be delivered and set free? I agree with the need for experience to not CONTRADICT Scripture, but don’t we approach Scripture for the purpose of finding/hearing the HEART of God?

  • bro,

    the Bible is MOST DEFINITELY not just a book of rules. It’s a chronicle of God’s redemptive love for his people from the beginning of time.

    I gotta say i have an issue with this:

    As though there is always some unarguable standard of what is acceptable behavior. The fact is that, while the Bible gives us the Ten Commandments and a number of precepts that are incontrovertible, it also leaves a lot that is open to interpretation.

    The NT gives us examples to regulate our experiences. I agree totally that Satan is a liar and by virtue of that title, he makes things to appear as they are not.

    I gotta say that their is far more objectivity in God’s word than i feel as though you’re giving it credit for.

    Augustine definitely said, “In the essentials, unity but in the non-essentials, liberty.” …or something like that. This is true. But the vibe i got from your last post was that anyone who deeply, deeply disagrees with the circumstances of some of the things (not all) that happened in Peru is not endeavoring to unity.

    This is troubling, brother

    -Ryan

  • Ryan,

    I hear you – you’re right in that I appear more relativistic than I intended. I tilted the balance a bit by inserting a caveat in the blog. May not be enough for you still, but I think it helps reinforce the hard, inerrant view I take on Scripture. It’s canonicity notwithstanding, Scripture is constantly being interpreted and misinterpreted. My issue is with the people who say it is self-evident and requires no interpretation.

  • That’s some good stuff for discussion! I totally agree some people play the “it’s not biblical” card when it challenges their mental model of what is biblical. And sometimes they are correct, sometimes not.

    I’ve changed my own position on things that just a few years ago I would have adamantly said were not biblical.

    Anyhow, most know the basic Christian pillars and let’s be hyper-inclusive of those who have different views of the nonessentials and be open to letting God change us!

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



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