Tools for God’s People
It’s an argument many of us who insist on biblical morality have probably heard before. “If you’re going obey the Bible, you’re going to have to avoid wearing clothes with mixed fabric, eating shellfish, and boiling baby goats in their mother’s milk!” This argument came up recently in a discussion where someone insisted that Jesus never spoke against homosexuality. I pointed out that God is not schizophrenic, and as the second person of the Trinity, Jesus is in full agreement with every prohibition of homosexuality given in the Bible. I received the mixed-fabric argument in response. I realize that such arguments are usually intended as snubs, and those voicing them are probably not interested in a real answer, but for those who have ears, we do have a real rebuttal to this assertion.
The Old Testament contains many interesting laws like the prohibition of wearing mixed fabric. Such laws are not based on universal moral principles, but served the purpose of setting Israel apart as God’s people, and pointing forward to the Messiah that God had promised to send. Specifically, the prohibition of mixed fabric symbolized God’s call to the nation of Israel to remain pure, unmixed with the idolatry of their neighboring nations.
Jesus actually made the fascinating claim that such laws were written about Him.
“For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me.”
-Jesus (John 5:46)
While many in Israel successfully avoided wearing mixed fabric, every one of them utterly failed to keep the spirit of that law—to be totally holy unto God. In Christ, God’s requirement that His people be totally devoted to God was fulfilled! He was without sin, fulfilling this requirement both literally and spiritually. Since Jesus, the Messiah—the reality such laws pointed to—has come, those laws have served their purpose. They successfully pointed Israel to the now revealed Messiah. Such laws served their purpose, and their requirements are fulfilled in Jesus.
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”
-Jesus (Matthew 5:17)
On the other hand, there are things that always, irrevocably contradict the very nature of God. Principles built into creation that represent the nature of God, which when violated have always and will always be sin. Stealing, for example. God is the one that gives us everything we have, and revoking God’s gifts to another has always and will always be wrong. Lying is another example of a universal moral offense. God is truth, and speaking deceit contradicts His nature and is thus sinful. Murder is universally wrong because it strikes out at the image of God in man. According to Jesus, the male / female biology and marriage union is irrevocably built into creation.
“But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall becomes one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh.”
-Jesus (Mark 10:6-8)
God made people male and female, and nature bears witness to the rightness of that relationship in many ways that I don’t need to elaborate on. This male and female element of creation is not just some arbitrary detail, but was actually designed by God to represent profound spiritual truth. According to the apostle Paul, male / female marriage is a picture of Christ and His church.
“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.”
The preceding verses in that chapter speak about how the differing biology and roles of men and women in a marriage relationship are a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church. God has designed the one-flesh marriage union of men and women as a beautiful object lesson of the entire reason for creation. It displays the glory of God through the saving of sinners through the death and resurrection of Jesus!
Does it surprise you, therefore, that Scripture speaks of twisting that relationship by men being with men and women with women as an ungodly perversion? Male / female marriage proclaims the most holy truth to which we are beholden, and homosexuality mocks it! Is it any wonder, therefore that the Bible says things like:
“realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for … homosexuals …, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.”
-1 Timothy 1:9-11
“Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.”
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; …homosexuals… will [not] inherit the kingdom of God.”
-1 Corinthians 6:9-10
The prohibition of wearing mixed fabrics, and all the other laws not based on universal moral principles have served their purpose. They pointed us to Jesus, and were fulfilled in Him. Christians are therefore not responsible to observe the Jewish ceremonial laws. People being made male and female, and becoming one flesh with a person of the counterpart sex in a marriage relationship is here to stay. The rejection of our design, and the roles of the sexes through homosexuality and transgenderism is a rejection of Creation and God’s intention for it. It is a rejection of the good news gender distinctions and the marriage relationship were designed to proclaim. Any sexual activity outside the confines of one man and one woman in a permanent marriage union has always and will always be sin.
But that’s not the end of the story. Jesus died for homosexuals! He also died for those who approve of their sin. He died for liars and murderers and thieves! He died for everyone who will turn from their sin and trust in His sacrificial death and resurrection as their only hope of salvation from the wrath of God. God is rightfully angry at sin, but Jesus took the punishment for the offenses of all who will turn to Him for forgiveness. In Christ, we are no longer enemies of God, but His children. Repent and believe the gospel and be saved!
How many times have you been in a Bible study and heard someone say something like, “Here’s what this passage means to me.” Or maybe the leader of your study invites the group to share what a certain verse means to them. Maybe you yourself approach Scripture this way. The fact is, the idea being expressed by many today is that impressions from the Holy Spirit and / or one’s private interpretation is an appropriate way to interpret Scripture. If this is your approach, or if you are a Christian who hears others do this and it doesn’t quite feel right, I invite you to continue reading!
Is discerning a passage’s meaning by spiritual impressions a valid way to interpret Scripture? I would make the case that as important and blessed as the comforts of the Holy Spirit are to a Christian’s soul, what the Bible has to say about itself rules out such an approach! How then are we to go about understanding what the Bible says?
To consider how to properly interpret Scripture I believe we need to start from the beginning with a very basic question—What is the Bible? Evangelical Christians believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God—that Scripture has been breathed out by the Holy Spirit. And as such:
…no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Peter 1:20b-21 NASB)
In other words, perhaps the most basic understanding the Bible has of itself is that it is a communication from God to mankind through the means of human authors. This means that in a very real sense, the Bible is a human work. That truth in no way diminishes the reality that the Bible is also the infallible, inerrant, Word of God. Part of the marvelous wisdom and power of God in the inspiration of Scripture is that God used the instrumentality of real men with unique personalities writing to real people in real situations to perfectly communicate HIS Word. With this in mind, let’s consider an ordinary human interaction and see if the private interpretation approach works.
Let’s say you and a friend walk past a lemonade stand and he says “I love lemonade!” No one in their right mind would hear their friend say those words and conclude that what he’s really trying to tell you is that he hates sci-fi movies. His meaning isn’t determined by how his speaking made you feel, or by any form of private interpretation. The meaning your friend had in mind was communicated by his words. This may feel like a silly illustration because this principle is obvious to us. If we truly want to understand our friend we do so by discerning the intent behind his words. We do this all the time without even thinking about it. Being a married man, I will be the first to say that misunderstandings abound in human communication. I’ve had my fair share of misunderstanding my wife and being misunderstood! But the fact that we are prone to misunderstand doesn’t change the reality that we intuitively know how to understand others. Understanding takes place when we consider the words spoken and the tone and context in which they’re said. This same dynamic is essential to interpreting written communication, including Scripture. In fact, this kind of Scriptural interpretation is exactly what Peter is calling us to practice in 2 Peter 1.
So, just like your friend at the lemonade stand, the authors of Scripture had a specific point in what they communicated. And what they communicated is what God is communicating. We don’t get to arbitrarily assign meaning to Scripture because it’s meaning was established the moment God breathed it through the Bible’s authors! The meaning of a passage of Scripture is not determined by our subjective evaluation of it, but by what its authors intended to say as they wrote it.
But can’t the Holy Spirit impress a different meaning on my soul than what the original author intended to say? If the Holy Spirit inspired His word perfectly through the means of real people writing to real people, we know that the message that the author intended to communicate is the burden of the Holy Spirit! If you want to see what the Spirit has to say in a text of Scripture, you do so by determining what the author intended to say as he wrote, not by an impression you might get while reading it! Our impressions are fallible, but the “the men moved by the Holy Spirit [speaking] from God” are not. I praise God for spiritual blessing and impressions given while reading Scripture, but the meaning of a passage is determined by authorial intent—any impression must be subjected to that!
So how do we get at the author’s intended meaning? Primarily through considering his words in relation to the passage’s context. The closer we examine the ongoing argument our particular passage is a part of, and how the book fits in the overall story of Scripture, the better we will be able to discern what the author intended to say by what he wrote.
Since Scripture has been breathed out by God through the agency of human authors writing to a specific human audience, beware the notion of, “Here is what this passage means to me.” In fact, beware of interpreting the Bible in any way other than through discovering the authorial intent and discerning the implications of that message for today!
Back in 2013, while working at Pizza Hut in Elk City, OK, I started working on a series of tracts to hand out to my approximately 60 coworkers. Out of 13 possible tract topics (the tracts focus on the attributes of God), I ended up writing four. This post contains an introduction letter that I wrote and handed out to all my coworkers before I started giving out the tracts. I pray you’re able to benefit from the good news contained in this series of messages! Here’s the introduction letter:
It looks like my family and I will be leaving Oklahoma soon. It is my earnest prayer that, before that time comes, I might be of some service to you, and that, by the grace of God, that service might result in your eternal benefit.
I am not an expert on these things. There is a lot that I do not know. Of what I do know there is much that I do not understand. Of all that I understand, I am convinced that I do not yet understand it nearly well enough. There are countless other men and women out there who are far more brilliant than I, who would be far more qualified to write to you on these subjects. Though that is the case, I do feel a responsibility before God to share with you some of the things that I have learned in my recent years of study before I leave. Though my knowledge is limited, I want to share with you, in a series of letters, a few things that I do know with confidence – things that, if received, will be a priceless benefit to you. In all that I intend to say to you, please understand, I am nothing more than a beggar trying to tell another beggar where he found some bread.
What is this thing that is so important that I am writing these letters to you? Some of you know how I lived when I came to Pizza Hut the first time in 2009, and how drastically my life was changed overnight. I am writing to you about that very truth that has so totally changed me. So what is it that I am, by God’s grace, going to say to you in these letters? Just this:
God is a great, glorious God, we are great, wretched sinners, and Jesus Christ is the great, all-sufficient Savior.
That being my goal, I intend this series of letters to be divided into the following three sections: The Glory of God, which will focus on an aspect of God’s character, The Bad News, which will focus on how the truths of who God is apply to us; and finally, The Good News, which will focus on the amazing provision God has made for the forgiveness of our guilt, and the healing of our rebellious hearts through the person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ.
God bless you. I earnestly pray that God uses these feeble efforts of mine to bring you to know and enjoy Him now and forever through salvation in the only Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen (let it be).
Your servant for the sake of the Gospel,