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March 03, 2005


Gary Manders

I think we do need to equip people to be better readers of God's word, but never let us return to a few experts interpreting the bible by taking it out of the laities hands -William Tyndale would turn ih his grave!

andy goodliff

But haven't we got into a situation where we have only a few "experts" and everyone else does not really know what and how to read scripture? You can't put the bible in the hands of people without also developing with them the skills to read it. I think that was the point I was trying to make.


I agree that we need to revolutionise the way scripture is read in our churches.

Certainly a better understanding of the whole story of scripture would be helpful. Many people know the bible as a collection of unconnected stories rather than one big story.

I'm currently putting together a Bible overview for a summer camp week so I'm reading up on the concept of the Bible as one story. McLaren's 'The Story We Find Ourselves In' is helpful, I've also just discovered 'The Drama Of Scripture' (C. Bartholomew & M. Goheen).

Frankly Bible reading is at a low because we've made it boring. I'm trying to think how we could put together a resource to make it easier for people to connect with the Bible, to understand it and to use it (apply it).

andy goodliff

Mark - on overview of bible story, check out this article by Tom Wright and also see relevant pages in his NTPG. Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton in Truth is Stranger Than it Used to Be offer a slight critique and improvement, as does Sam Wells in his new book Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics. Basically Tom says scripture is like a 5-act shakespeare play: creation, fall, Israel, Jesus, church. Walsh and Middleton want to make it a 6-act and make it creation, fall, Israel, Jesus, church, eschaton.

Gary Manders

I'd agree we need to teach Christians the skills to read scripture correctly, but even amongst the experts, how we read and interpret the bible is contested. We need to look at communal hermeneutics and lectio divina, narrative theory offering us posssible ways forward

Dale Tooley


Dale Tooley
There is a law of Bible interpretation that is best summed up in the following words:
The Old is by the New explained

The New is in the Old contained.

I call three witnesses to the truth of this statement.

#1. Romans 16:25 & 26:

Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my Gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith.

#2. Ephesians 3:3-6,9:

... that by revelation there was known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. And by referring to this , when you read, you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to the Holy Apostles and the Prophets in the Spirit: to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs and fellow- members of the body, and fellow -partakers of the promise in Jesus Christ through the Gospel.... and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which has been hidden in God, who created all things.

#3. 1 Peter 1: 10-12

As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to come to you made careful search and inquiry, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, in things which have been announced to you by those who preached the Gospel to you by the Holy spirit sent from heaven - things into which Angels long to look.

Later on, Peter also wrote that we New Covenant saints Have the Word more sure (i.e. better understood and certain); wherein you do well to take heed, as unto a lamp in a dark place, until the day dawns..... (2 Peter 1:19).

The Old Testament prophets could not speak of things pertaining to the New Covenant and the New Testament Church in the terms of the New Covenant grace and truth (John 1:17) because they would not have been understood! They had to use the language of the Old order of things (Lands, temples, sacrifices, etc) in order to convey their message. Because a new, much more spiritual understanding , is required in the New Order, Jesus Himself had great difficulty getting new truths across to His closest disciples. With our understanding we can laugh, now, at the silliness of some of their questions and answers, but remember, they were limited by their Old Order understanding of things.

Jesus once said to them:

I have many more things to tell you but you cannot bear them now. But when he, the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth.

(John 16:12-13)

Although this may have had some reference about the matters concerning His death and resurrection it clearly also refers to the fact that the Apostles were to become the true interpreters of the Old Testament.

The prophets pictured Jerusalem as the centre of the world and the purposes of God because it was the centre of all they knew, the place of David's throne, and the sanctuary of God. Jesus said to a Samaritan woman:

Whoever drinks of this water shall thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water I shall give him will never thirst. But the water I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4: 13 & 14)

The woman, who had no conception at all of what was meant by the Lord's offer of living water, was not very different in her outlook from the prevailing thinking of the Jews, or even the disciples. Because of our own experience, and the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles we know immediately what Jesus meant in His reply to her. But when the offer of living waters was given (Zechariah 14:8) the prophet used very different language to what we would use.

And it will come to pass in that day that living waters will flow out of Jerusalem, half towards the eastern sea and the other half towards the western sea, it will be in summer as well as in winter.

It should be noted that Zechariah 14:8 is the only Old Testament Scripture that actually uses the term "living waters" making the connection between Jesus' words and the prophetic words of Zechariah certain. This Old Testament prophecy, like so many other Old Testament prophecies that relate to the New Covenant, (and all prophecies that include the words In that day do), will not have a literal fulfilment. We are understanding now that we are sharing the revelation of the mystery that has been kept secret.

There is another lesson to learn from Jesus' encounter with this woman: She said:Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshipped in these mountains; and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.

Jesus replied:Woman believe me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; for salvation is of the Jews.* But an hour is coming , and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in Spirit and in truth; for such the Father seeks to worship him.

Jesus made it clear (and John recorded it for our edification) that not only are we to take Old Testament prophecies explaining the nature of the New Covenant spiritually, not naturally, but we are not to think in terms of geographical locations being of any further significance to God!

Living in the anticipation of a natural fulfilment of Old Covenant prophecies that speak of New Covenant matters creates all sorts of logistic difficulties. God does expect Christians to believe in miracles. He does not ask us to embrace the often plainly absurd. The Old Testament shadows are only patterns of the true. The mountain of the Lord is now the Kingdom of God. "Jerusalem" is not now below but is above and is the mother of us all (Galatians 4:26).

Hebrews 12:22-24 reads:

But You have come to Mount Zion and to the City of the Living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and a myriad of angels, and to the General Assembly, and the Church of the first born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a New Covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better things than the blood of Abel.

One excellent example of how the New Testament applies Old Testament prophecy in a spiritual rather than natural way is seen in the meaning given to Hosea's prophecy that predicted the spiritual rebirth and reunion of the two parts of the nation - Israel and Judah. Hosea called two of his children Lo-ruhamah (not pitied) and Lo-ammi (not My people) as a sign of the coming judgment on Israel. But then comes a promise of restoration.

Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea... and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said, "You are not My people", there it shall be said to them, "You are the sons of the living God!" Then shall the sons of Judah and the children of Israel be gathered together and appoint themselves one head, and they shall come up out of the land; for great shall be the days of Jezreel. (Hosea 1:10 & 11)

The Apostle Paul comments on Hosea's prophecy as follows:

And that He might make known the riches of His Glory on the vessels of mercy, which He has before prepared unto Glory, even us , whom He has called, not of Jews only, but also of the Gentiles. As He said in Hosea, " I will call those who were not My people, My people, and her that was not beloved, beloved." And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them , "You are not My people ", there they shall be called "sons of the living God". Romans 9:23-26.

Another very good example of new spiritual insight is seen in the New Testament treatment of the Tabernacle of David. Acts 15:6-22 is the recording of a very important council meeting to discuss the Gentile converts and their relationship to the law of Moses. Peter spoke, then James commented on Peter's words said:

Simon (Peter) has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. And with these words the prophets agree, just as it is written, "After these things I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and will rebuild its ruins and I will restore it in order that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord "..... Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are returning to God from among the Gentiles…

James here is clearly saying that the matter under discussion - the Gentiles coming into fellowship with God's people - is a fulfilment of the words of the prophet Amos about the building up again up again of the fallen tabernacle of David! The words "after these things I will return" refer to the New Covenant and the present Gospel era and not, as some suppose, the Second Coming, which will bring judgment to the world. The prophets never spoke about the rebuilding of Solomon's temple, but God was to dwell among His people, without ritual or sacrifice, just as he did in the tabernacle of David.

Hebrews 8:1 & 2 says:

We have such a high priest, who is set on the right hand of majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched and not man.

2 Peter 1:20 says: No prophecy of the Scriptures is of any private interpretation.

The principle here is simply that every interpretation of prophetic scripture must be subject to the Scripture that states its fulfilment. A search of how Jesus and the New Testament Apostles referred to and expounded those Scriptures is essential! Most prophecies pertaining to the New Covenant are explained for us. Others not mentioned are clearly connected to other Old Testament passages which are cited for us in the New, or they have already have a fulfilment under the Old Order. Christians who have free access to the Word of God can do their own checking. Scriptural aids, such as concordances may be more useful for this than commentaries that ignore the Scriptural cautions to correct interpretation mentioned here.

* Salvation being of the Jews here can only mean in the sense that the Jews and their Covenant with God were "the loins" that brought forth the Saviour. It has no present application.

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