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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth


Sermonette Ann Arbor, UCG February 16, 2002



How do Christians make mistakes in interpreting Scripture?  If we have the Holy Spirit, unlike people in the world, can we still make mistakes?  What are some of the typical kinds of mistakes that are made?  Then, potentially, how could we avoid them?


Since we’re Christians who take the Bible as God’s infallible and inspired word, we should strive to avoid misinterpreting Scripture.  Yet it’s easy for we modern 21st-century Americans to make mistakes in deciding what God’s word actually means.  We have cultural assumptions far removed from the pastoral/agricultural societies described in Scripture.  After all, would Abraham, David, Isaiah, or Paul readily understand television, stem cell research, the computer revolution, or the internal combustion engine?  But the shoe is also on the other foot here:  How well do we understand their world when most of us here have never been farmers or shepherds?  We have to be alert against assuming what God’s word means without diligent research in certain cases.


S.P.S.  So today we’re going to examine and explain two specific ways to avoid misinterpreting Scripture.


II Timothy 2:15


Paul exhorted Timothy to use and interpret accurately God’s word.  We as Christians need to take our responsibilities in this regard seriously, especially with non-narrative, non-story texts.


So what is the first of the two different ways Christians can avoid mishandling the word of truth?


1.     Look up the original key word(s) in a given text in a dictionary, lexicon, or word book to make sure the English meaning we’re using corresponds with the Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic word’s meaning.


Proverbs 29:18


Consider carefully the key word “vision” in this text.  Typically, we have cited this text to show that people without general plans and ultimate objectives on this earth will have unhappy, unfulfilling lives.  Indeed, it’s like we’re reading “vision” here to be akin to the purpose behind a corporation’s mission statement.  But is that what the Hebrew word for “vision” here really mean?


For this Scripture, we interpret the word “vision” to mean in English, as The Random House Dictionary of the English Language (Second Edition, Unabridged) puts it for the second meaning listed:  “The act or power of anticipating that which will or may come to be:  prophetic vision; the vision of an entrepreneur.”  While a true prophet of God having a vision does this also, it’s something supernatural in meaning.  Likewise, a prophetic dream shouldn’t be confused with the American dream (i.e., financial success).


The Hebrew word translated “vision” here is “hazon.”  According to An Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words (by W.E. Vine, Merrill Unger, and William White:  Hazon almost always signifies a means of divine revelation.  First, it refers to the means itself, to a prophetic “vision” by which divine messages are communicated . . . Second, this word represents the message received by the prophetic ‘vision’:  “Where there is no vision, the people perish:  but he that keepeth the law, happy is he” (Prov. 29:18).  Finally, hazon can represent the entirety of a prophetic or prophet’s message as it is written down” (p. 277).


Wilson’s Old Testament Word Studies (by William Wilson) says this Hebrew word means:  “vision, night-vision, or dream; prophetic vision; oracle or prophecy.”


The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, regarded as generally the best Hebrew/English Lexicon in English, says for Hazon (p. 303):  “1.  vision, as seen in the ecstatic state . . . 2.  vision, in the night . . .  3.  divine communication ins a vision, oracle, prophecy. . . . seek a vision (prophecy) from prophet . . . a prophecy of their own hearts (minds) . . . false vision and . . . worthless divination & deceit of their own hearts they are prophesying . . . 4. vision, as title of book of prophecy.”

We in the church of God should not mistakenly confuse a prophetic vision that’s supernaturally inspired with a businessman’s rationally considered projection of his company’s future state a decade from now by using long-term planning.  It can repay our efforts to look up the meaning of a given Hebrew or Greek word in order to avoid reading current “buzz words” or jargon from our culture into Scripture.


2.     Read the immediate context of a given text to see if we’ve correctly deduced the meaning of a given text.


Isa. 28:10, 13


We have often interpreted these texts to refer to a method of Biblical exegesis.  The principle is that we can’t figure out an entire doctrine or teaching from a single text or section of Scripture.


Ironically, we’re committing an error of Biblical interpretation when finding this principle of Biblical interpretation in these texts!


Let’s read through this section of Scripture more completely, to see if we’re correctly interpreting it:


Isa. 28:9-16


Quote the marginal comments of the NASB’s translators.  Cite HWA’s comment on v. 11 (written in margin).


Although reading the Bible in multiple locations to find all the texts on a given doctrine is a sound principle, it simply can’t be proven using Isa. 28.  We citing this text out of context when interpreting it this way.


       So then, we as Christians need to be careful in how we interpret Scripture.  We have to be wary of reading contemporary aspects of our culture into the Scriptures, thus misinterpreting the Bible.  Two ways to avoid such errors include:  1.  Look up the Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic word in a Bible help, such as a lexicon, in order to check if our chosen English meaning corresponds to the original word’s meaning.  2.  Read the immediate context of the given verse to check whether we’re interpreting our chosen verse correctly.  This will help us avoid citing a text out of context.  If we apply such methods to interpreting Scripture, we’ll indeed begin to start “handling accurately the word of truth” (II Tim. 2:15).