This article is intended to give both the novice and experienced Bible Student a consistent means of understanding what Scripture says in every conceivable situation. This is by no means the ONLY way to study Scripture, but it is by far the most simplistic method of finding proper context for anything said within the pages of the Holy Texts.
When we read Scripture, it is only human to instinctively seek for what it seems to be saying to us from the context of our own experiences. This can be a very enriching and comforting method of seeking meaning for what we are reading. It begs a question though... Is that what the writer actually intended? It is a good thing Scripture is a living document, it transcends human logic and experience and so it is well able to speak into every situation of our lives without fail. An error occurs, however, when this is the only context from which we determine what any given passage is saying. So it is important to not only read Scripture in hopes of finding "hope" for our future, or present circumstances; we must also have a systematic method for understanding Scripture as a whole. In doing so we won't build our theology and/or doctrine around our own localized (personal) understanding of any part of Scripture. That's a daunting task, to say the least!
There is a step by step process by which we can uncomplicate the matter and apply Scripture in context to our daily living while keeping our Faith in Messiah alive, vibrant, and spiritually exciting.
Shall we begin?
It all starts with the 4 Rules of Hermeneutics. Now don't stop reading just because of the big Greek word. Instead, let's break it down and see how it can guide us in our study.
Let's take these one at a time and see just how to best use them in a systematic understanding of the entire Bible...
- When reading/studying the Bible, having a good memory OR taking solid notes can be valuable because it will enable you to "connect the dots" as you go. For instance, it is a relevant historical fact that Augustine of Hippo said:
"The New Testament is in the Old Testament concealed, the Old Testament is in the New Testament revealed"
He was actually giving us an important clue on how the first rule of Hermeneutics works.
NOTE: We do not actually believe in a separation of the "Testaments"; based on our research of the 2nd Century heretic "Marcion", we have found that before Marcion Scripture wasn't viewed as two separate "Testaments". You can find two articles we've written about him. HERE and HERE. The first is more academic and quotes a number of early historians from different centuries. The second focuses more on the modern acceptance of the teachings of Marcion.
Augustine's somewhat hidden clue is very important. Though it wasn't likely intended to be a hidden clue at all because Augustine had obviously accepted Marcion's perspective on the matter. However, a clue it is nonetheless.
If we look at the Apostolic Writings (an unofficial but more accurate description of the "New Testament") we will find it simply fleshes out or provides a post-resurrection application of the Hebrew Scriptures ("Old Testament"). There is simply not a single thing in the Apostolic Writings which is not or cannot be found in and supported by the Hebrew Scriptures. Though some will be vague and hidden to most of us in the Western World who were not raised "Jewish". That is when we have to dig a little deeper to understand the context. We may have to look at historical records. While we do not trust the extra-biblical writings of the Talmud, Mishna, Tergum, etc for spiritual guidance - they can be valuable for providing historical relevance to a vague Scripture. We'll get to that under another rule though.
The Hebrew Scriptures lay a foundation of expectancy for the coming fulfillment in the Messiah and as such provided much foreshadowing. We must not forget that for something to create a shadow, the original must still be present. So when the Apostles later refer to the shadow(s) of the Hebrew Scripture it does not mean the Hebrew Scripture isn't still around or has become irrelevant. If they are not, then no shadow could be cast. We still live in the post-resurrection but pre-millennial era (I deliberately refrain from saying "age" to avoid sounding Dispensationalist, Praeterist, or Futurist), so we are still in a place in time when the original is connected to the shadow at the foundation; just as a shadow is connected to the foot of a person who is casting it. You simply cannot have one without the other.
For now, I'll provide you with a graphic that helps to better illustrate one example of the Hebrew Scripture being revealed in the Apostolic Writings in accordance with Rule #1:
In this example, you can work your way upwards from John 1:14 to find proper context to John's claims in most English Bibles that Yeshua/Jesus is the Word Incarnate. How do we determine that what John actually meant was that Yeshua/Jesus was Torah Incarnate? By finding references to what Yeshua said and adding up the sum of the parts. IN John 14:6&7 He said:
"I am the way, the truth, and the life! No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you have come to know Me, you will know My Father also. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him."
Most people have never been taught or realized themselves the He was quoting from multiple Hebrew Scriptures. Many, as I have witnessed repeatedly since writing "Haunted Theology" (the second link above), believe this is a totally new saying and part of a "New Covenant". It's actually His expression of helping those at the time to see He is Torah Incarnate, which makes it a declaration of His having come to "Renew" the Covenant Israel had broken at Mt. Horeb/Sinai when they rejected Abba's offer to become a nation of priests and each of them to be given a personal relationship with Him. Yesha/Jesus came to reconcile Israel back to Himself so the promise given at Mt. Horeb, that the whole earth would be blessed through Israel, came to pass. This is why Romans 1:16 says:
"For I am not ashamed of the Good News, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who trusts—to the Jew first and also [then] to the Greek [Gentile]."
I could keep going for pages and pages on Rule #1 alone, but I believe this example and the subsequent trail of Scriptures helps to clarify just HOW Scripture can be used to Interpret Scripture.
- This rule is often referred to as "Concentric Context". When I was training K-9's we used a Concentric Search Pattern for a number of applications. Everything from searching for a suspect to finding evidence that was discarded away from the original crime scene and more. The graphic below illustrates the concept regarding the Study of Scripture.
Just as with a crime scene, we begin at the point of interest. In this case, the "Passage Being Studied". We then begin working our way out from that Scripture or set of Scriptures; taking into account the entire chapter and surrounding chapters first. This provides a context of what is occurring in the passage but also leading up to and after to provide a sort of flow that lends to capturing the emotion of the moment when our topic of study occurred. Once we have a grasp on the moment, we need to expand our search to look for evidence further from the center of our Concentric Spiral. This takes us to the surrounding books. This part, in particular, can be a bit shaky so be aware when you take this leap. What I mean is, that the English Bible Translations and the Israeli Bible Society put the books of the Hebrew Scripture in a different order. So it may be valuable to examine an English version of the IBS Bible (NOT the International Bible Society - Read "CoExist?" to understand why this is VERY IMPORTANT). That said, we continue with our Concentric Context search by taking into account what is being said in every passage which is connected to the topic we are studying using the same Concentric method. Once we have done this, we will likely also have found all the evidence needed to fulfill Rule #1 and other rules as you will soon see.
- Rules 1 & 2 will likely have revealed the intent of the writer by providing you with the Scriptures which they are quoting if the original passage was from the Apostolic Writings ("New Testament") and you made it into the Hebrew Scriptures using your Concentric Context Search Pattern. If you are researching a passage from the Hebrew Scriptures ("Old Testament"), then any reference or connections to the Apostolic Writings will help to clarify the post-resurrection application for us today in the "Renewed Covenant".
NOTE: If you'd like to know more about why we call it the "Renewed Covenant" rather than the "New Covenant" (which we believe are actually synonymous) read "Falling in Love on the Sabbath"
This is where it may be needful to seek extra-biblical materials to make the intent more clear. For example, getting intent from Matthew 12:42 may be a difficult to impossible task without going into the Talmud. Nowadays one can do Google a search and find articles written about it without going directly to the Talmud themselves. Inevitably, however, to fully grasp what is happening will require an understanding of a portion of Talmud.
"The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here."
I'll skip the queen of the south reference for now because you can use the 2 Rules above to search it out for yourself. I want to focus on the reference Yeshua/Jesus made to Solomon. There was a Talmudic legend that said Solomon was given a ring which gave him power over demonic spirits and made them do his bidding. He could also use it to exorcise demons from those possessed. This legend can also be found in Islamic writings. A short article for your review can be found HERE. So, if we use the Concentric Context spiral search pattern, we will find the surrounding passages within this chapter of Matthew show Yeshua/Jesus casting out a/some particularly boisterous spirit(s) then being accused of casting it/them out by the power of Hasatan (Hebrew for the Adversary - NOT the name of the devil). So He brought the attention of the crowd, especially the religious leaders making the accusation, to the remembrance of the story of Solomon and his ring. This was obviously a well-known legend that required no explanation. But, in today's modern English-speaking world, we simply would never know this unless we dig it out. Was Yeshua/Jesus substantiating the story of Solomon's Ring? Probably not, but He used what the people knew to give them a comparison. He needed no "Ring of Power" (please pardon the Lord of the Rings pun) to deal with devils, He was Torah Incarnate and by Divine Law (Torah pun intended) they could not stay when He said GO! He was appealing to them to recognize His authority as greater than someone they already revered, who could NOT do what He had just done without the aid of a fabled "ring".
- By now it should be pretty obvious that just as Scripture supports and interprets itself nearly 100% of the time, the Rules of Hermeneutics do also. Rule 4 is no exception. When we have properly done our homework using Rules 1-3 we'll have solid ground to stand on by the time we get to Rule #4. Without going through this process in this order, we will likely come to a different conclusion altogether. Ask yourself, what did you think Yeshua/Jesus meant in the Solomon comparison before reading the last segment?
We have Abba and Him alone to thank for giving us these Principles as they are nothing more than a critical thinking explanation of the 4 Levels of Teaching He taught to the teachers of Torah. In other words, it gives those of us raised in a Greek Mindset the ability to operate in the Hebraic methods of dissecting and disseminating His Word. It can be difficult at first but gets easier as you continue using this pattern and develop a mental database (or the recommended systematic notes) to refer back to and lean upon. Though those will sometimes change over time as you learn more about the Proper Hebraic Context of the Entire Bible.
Yes, there are other study methods that can be just as systematic, but they often depend more on our own human creativity and resourcefulness to come to Biblical conclusions. In other words, it's easier for us to come up with a conclusion that will probably contradict another area of Scripture. THIS happens to be one of the biggest problems in the Body of Messiah today. It may very well be the number 1 reason a group from one denomination or theological bent (say Arminianism versus Calvinism) can read a passage and see/believe something totally different than the folks from the opposite end of the theological spectrum.
There is a solution. But it will take radical
submission to Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit)!
If we can all muster the willingness to lay aside the things we've been taught and begin a systematic study of Scripture using the 4 Rules of Hermeneutics then I believe Theological and Doctrinal gaps in understanding will begin to close. We will find ourselves gravitating toward one another in ways we could never have dreamed of before. Things that separated us before will become ways in which to discuss and bond over Scripture.
In order to see this happen, we may need to just start questioning everything we've ever been taught and applying the Principles/Rules of Hermeneutics to a Total Bible study, in place fo the tiny soundbites we tend to use. Then slowly allow Holy Spirit to retrain us about those things one belief/doctrine at a time.
We pray this blesses and helps you to better understand what an amazing gift we have in Scripture and the Torah Incarnate, Yeshua/Jesus.
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