Bible Interpretation: The Bible's Underlying Purpose
Dr. Valson Abraham
Bible interpretation is a topic as big as God Himself.
That is because at the heart of it, the Bible is the Word of a holy, righteous and just God. Yet we who read it are sinful human beings. We run the risk of making grave mistakes when trying to read and interpret the Bible. At the same time, the message of the Bible is both profound enough to confound the greatest scholars and simple enough for the person with childlike faith. Our interpretation of the Bible must take both into account.
As an example, the Bible is profound in the unique way it prophesies the future. No other scriptural writings so boldly and specifically prophesy the coming of its Author in the same way the Bible prophesies the coming of Jesus Christ. No other scriptural writings so profoundly give us a picture of the end times.
This fact testifies to the greatness of God and of Jesus Christ His Son, King of kings and Lord of lords. This should strike awe in our hearts at His holiness and righteousness. But in saying this, we must not deny another simple yet profound aspect of Bible interpretation, without which we completely misunderstand the Bible.
At its heart, the Bible is a love letter. It is a Book to be read as personally written to each of us in our fallen humanity as if written to us alone. It is at this level that the Bible not only gives us profound truth, but transforms our lives.
Only the one who senses the presence true love can fathom the real meaning of a love letter.
When a wife receives a letter from a husband and senses his unmistakable devotion, his respect for her whatever her weaknesses, and his willingness to sacrifice his own inclinations for her welfare--she can hardly wait for the next one! As time passes, the chances are good that she will want more than just to know him better, but to commit her life to him.
How much more so the person who recognizes in the Bible a personal love letter from God.
To accurately interpret any document, we must understand the context in which it was written and the purpose the writer intended. The Bible comes to us from the context, not only of His infinite power and holiness, but also of His holy love and grace, perfect in every respect, beyond any human measure. This God has sacrificed and lavished more on His beloved than is beyond understanding or human possibility. Human love on this earth has a beginning and an end. Divine love for each of us has no beginning and no end.
To read and interpret the Bible in this context is to discover the Bible’s underlying meaning. In this context, even so-called “dead” books of the Bible, such as Leviticus, take on new life. Just as the beloved sees in a love letter something special written directly to her, so we must read and interpret the Bible as a special letter to us. Otherwise, we have utterly missed the point. As this underlying purpose of the Bible becomes increasingly clear to us, reading the Bible becomes increasingly irresistible. We eagerly open its pages and expect it to daily give us our personal, creative and renewing word of God meant for us right now, for this very moment.
This is not just a theory but a fact borne out through many people who have told me about their own first encounters with the Bible. They have read and studied many other scriptures from other religions, but in the Bible they saw something totally unlike anything else they have ever read. They have told me that they have read the entire Bible several times in a matter of days because of this unique quality. What they have discovered is the love of God for them. The message is so unlike anything else they have ever read, they cannot put it down. It is something they have always longed and waited for. Now they hold it in their hands.
They (and we) find the Bible like no other love letter. Human passion, however sincere, possesses no power to perfectly fulfill its promise. The Bible not only expresses passion, but power to change our lives and circumstances. We experience its power to heal, set free, transform, change evil into good, turn ashes into beauty, change the destiny of the universe.
Let this be a test of whether we recognize the Bible as our personal love letter: to what degree has reading and studying the Bible become irresistible to me? Do I eagerly wait to devour its pages, or has reading it become just a religious habit? Or does my Bible just gather dust on the shelf?
Those outside a love relationship often regard a love letter as little more than “sweet nothings.” In a similar manner, those without God do not see the Bible as personally written to them or to anybody else. For them, the Bible is a hodge-podge of ancient and irrelevant stories and religious gibberish.
Even Christians can turn this divine Love Letter into less than what the Author intended. Too often, even Christians regard the Bible as an impersonal book of stories, rules and moral standards. Too often, we read the Bible without seeing its application to our personal and present moment. We let details confuse its message. Even right theology can miss the love that shines through each page. This was the sin of the church in Ephesus that gained our Lord’s stern rebuke (see Revelation 2).
The gospel takes deep root only as God’s people daily experience the holy love, grace and righteousness of God found in the Bible. On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples, “Abide in my love” (John 15:9). From this basic interpretation of the Bible comes everything else.
Millions of people in India and around the world await a genuine love letter from God for them. They can hardly fathom that such a letter exists because of deep sin and evil in their lives and circumstances.
Only as we, the professed recipients of God’s love, live out the spirit and power of God’s Love Letter in our own lives will they gain hope that letter is also for them. Let us not disappoint them.
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Father God, you are a God like no other—holy, righteous and almighty. But you are also a God of grace, love and mercy without end. All of this comes forth in your Word. Help me to read and interpret your Word with all this in mind. Help me to better serve you in making the message of the Bible available to all who do not yet have it. In Jesus’ Name.