Recently, I came across some notes that had been taken from a class taught by Gus Nichols over 40 years ago. The class was on the subject of Rules of Bible Interpreting. At one point in the discussion, Nichols gave one of the best rules of thumb in how to interpret the Bible this writer has ever heard. He said, “If you do not know how to handle the Bible, you will mishandle it.” Profound!
How easy it is to mishandle the Bible. Did you know that you can teach anything with the Bible you wish to teach. For instance, someone could prove that God does not exist by the Bible, for Psalm 14:1 says there is no God. It really does say that! However, if you read the verse in its entirety it actually says, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.” (ESV)
People have been mishandling the Word of God for centuries. The Jews of Jesus’ day mishandled it by making laws where there were no laws. He said, “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me; in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:8–9 ESV) It is easy to make rules where God has not made them, and leave rules out that God has made.
So, what part of the Bible do I follow? Well, it is simple. Follow all of it, but be sure to do it in the proper way. For instance, the Old Testament is a most significant part of the Bible. Paul said, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4 ESV) We learn so much about life and how to respect a healthy relationship with God and our fellow man.
But, did you know that the Old Testament as a legal code is not for man today? The reason for this is that when Jesus died on the cross, He took that old law of handwritten ordinances and nailed it to the cross, Colossians 2:14. Jeremiah the prophet said a new will was coming, Jeremiah 31:31-34. When Jesus died, the new will came into being, Hebrews 8:8-12; 9:15-17. That is the reason the Bible is divided the way it is, the Old Testament and the New Testament.
On the 1st day of September 1816, a young preacher by the name of Alexander Campbell preached a sermon at the annual meeting of the Redstone Baptist Association at Cross Creek near Wellsburg, Virginia (now West Virginia.) The assigned speaker for the event had not arrived, and the crowd requested to hear from the 28-year-old preacher from Brush Run. Quite impromptu, Alexander rose to the speaker stand and preached potentially one of the greatest sermons ever to have been preached since Bible times. The Sermon On The Law was a practical breakdown in proper interpretation of the Bible. The sermon can be easily found online and read, and all should do so. But in it, Campbell expressed something completely unknown by religionists of his day and for at least twenty generations prior. The message was that authority in religious practice today is not to be found in the Old Testament Law of Moses, but is to be found in the New Testament directions of Christ. Since all the New Testament was given to us through direction of Christ by way of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we can find authority for all we must do in religion through it. See Galatians 1:6-12; Hebrews 1:1,2; 1 Cor. 14:36-38; John 14:15; Luke 6:46. Hence, we seek to be New Testament Christians.
A simple rule of thumb in interpreting the Bible is this, if you read in the New Testament a command of God, it is not something you want to ignore. If there is an example of what others did in pleasing God, again, it is not wise to ignore it, but you should do it. If you recognize something naturally deduced from something written, be sure to apply it to you. These are some safeguards, but educate yourself further on the subject. Take a course on How To Study the Bible. You will be glad you did!