[The following helpful article was written decades ago by Franklin G. Huling, a faculty member of the FEA’s Fundamental Bible Institute. The truths contained herein are just as important and timely today when so many are twisting the Scriptures to advance their own agendas.]
Interpreting the Bible
A man once said to the writer, “There are a thousand different interpretations of every verse in the Bible.” “Do you mean that?” I inquired. He replied, “I certainly do.” “Very well,” said I, “I’ll be easy on you and deducting 997 from your ‘thousand’, I’ll ask you to give me only three different interpretations of this verse of Scripture: ‘He that rejecteth Me, and receiveth not My words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day,’ John 12:48.”
He “hemmed and hawed,” and if it had not been serious it would have been amusing to see him wiggle and squirm and try to change the subject. But I held him to it, and he stumbled and stammered as he tried to read this verse aloud. Finally he read it through, and then with a sigh he said, “Well, I guess it means what it says.” “Exactly so,” I answered. “The one who rejects the Lord Jesus Christ as his personal Savior and refuses to receive His Word will be judged by His Word in the last day.” God’s Word is a loving Friend, and it is sad indeed that anyone would desire to get away from its clear meaning by hiding behind the excuse that “there are so many different interpretations of the Bible.” In most cases the real difficulty is not interpretation but, rather, evasion of what God’s Word says. Such an attitude leads to eternal disaster.
Twisting the Bible
Most of God’s Word is easy to understand, but not all. The apostle Peter wrote that in some of the letters of the apostle Paul “are some things hard to be understood.” He further states that the “unlearned and unstable wrest (twist)” the “Scriptures, unto their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:16). There is no excuse for anyone being “unlearned,” that is, ignorant, of the Scriptures in these days when the Bible is readily available to all. Neither is there any excuse for anyone being “unstable,” that is, spiritually wobbly. Instability is not a misfortune but a sin. If we accept the light of God’s Word, we will receive God’s Son as our Savior and Lord. Then, as we walk in the light of God’s Word, instead of being “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Eph. 4:14), we will become “rooted and built up in Him, and stablished in the faith” (Col. 2:7).
An advertisement on a woodworking shop attracted my attention one day. It read, “All kinds of twisting and turning done here.” As a fair warning, it ought to be placed on every pulpit where the preacher twists the Bible to the spiritual destruction of himself and his hearers. Twisting the Bible is both common and deadly. God’s Word is not to be trifled with. It is “sharper than any twoedged sword” (Heb. 4:12). If you twist it, it will pierce you with eternal woe. Be not among those who are guilty of “handling the Word of God deceitfully” (2 Cor. 4:2), that is, trying to make it mean what you want it to mean rather than what it clearly does mean in the light of “all Scripture” (2 Tim. 3:16). Let us examine some well-known Scriptures that are commonly misunderstood.
“Work Out Your Own Salvation”
The apostle Paul wrote to believers, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12).
Notice first: This is addressed to saved ones, not to unsaved. Unsaved people cannot “work out” their “own salvation” for the simple reason that they do not possess any salvation to “work out”!
Notice second: The preposition is “out,” not “for.” No one can work “for” their salvation because we are all guilty sinners before God and must receive salvation as God’s gift. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
Notice third: After receiving God’s gift of salvation in His Son, saved ones are to “work out” their “own salvation with fear and trembling,” that is, with a holy fear lest they come short of God’s loving will for their lives. “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). They are to “work out” the salvation that God has already worked “in.”
My reader, do not make the mistake of trying to work for your salvation. That is impossible. Instead, humbly believe what Jesus Christ has done for you and trust Him to save you. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15), not to show sinners how to save themselves!
What did the Lord Jesus mean when He said, “He that believeth on Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto My Father” (Jn. 14:12)?
Consider first: The word “works” means the miracles that Christ performed, such as healing the sick, casting out demons, and raising the dead.
Consider second: He said that those who believed on Him would do these same works. And they did, as long as that was His loving plan. When it is His all-wise will, He also heals today.
Consider third: He further declared that those who believed on Him would do “greater works than these.” What miracles could be “greater” than those Christ performed? Certainly nothing in the realm of the physical. But in the sight of God, the spiritual and eternal is “greater” than the physical and temporal. Therefore, the “greater works” are spiritual miracles of salvation. When Christ ascended to the Father, He sent the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit empowered the apostle Peter to preach a sermon that brought “three thousand souls” to Christ (Acts 2:41). In God’s estimation, a far greater manifestation of His power is seen when a soul that is “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1) receives “eternal life” (Rom. 6:23) by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ than when a miracle of healing the body takes place. My reader, if you are saved, are you busy doing these “greater works” of bringing souls to Christ? “The time is short” (1 Cor. 7:29)!
“The Letter Killeth”
Sometimes people say, “I do not believe in a ‘literal’ interpretation of the Bible but a ‘spiritual’ interpretation.” They misunderstand the statement of the apostle Paul that God “hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the Spirit: for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life” (2 Cor. 3:6).
Observe first: The apostle is contrasting the “new testament,” or new covenant, with the “letter,” which means the old covenant. It is called the “letter,” as the next verse explains, because it was “written and engraven in stones” (2 Cor. 3:7). The subject here is not a contrast between two methods of interpretation but, rather, a contrast between two dispensations—the Law and the gospel.
Observe second: The meaning of the phrase “the letter killeth” is that God’s Holy Law condemns to eternal death—banishment forever from the presence of God—every human being because we have all broken God’s Law. And the meaning of the phrase “the Spirit giveth life” refers to the fact that the Holy Spirit gives eternal life—fellowship with God forever to all who receive the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.
Observe third: The Bible says nothing about a “literal” and a “spiritual” interpretation of the Bible. Such an idea is a device of the devil to give an excuse for denying the plain truths of God’s Word about our sin and guilt and our need for the atoning blood of the Son of God to deliver us from the just and holy “wrath of God” (Jn. 3:36). Long ago a saint of God gave a sane and honest rule for interpreting the Bible. He said, “If the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense.”
A great deal of moral and spiritual wickedness has found shelter under a misunderstanding of what our Lord said about judging. To hypocrites, He said, “Judge not, that ye be not judged … Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:1, 5). Here we have:
First: A prohibition against hypocritical judgment. This applies only to hypocrites to whom it is addressed.
Second: A command to judge righteously: “then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote.” In another place, the Lord Jesus commanded, “Judge righteous judgment” (Jn. 7:24). Every opinion we have is a judgment that something is good or bad, true or false, right or wrong. God wants us to be sincere and informed in our judgments. The apostle Paul wrote, “But he that is spiritual judgeth all things” (1 Cor. 2:15). He commands Christians to “mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them” (Rom. 16:17). This is an explicit command to judge whether teachers and teachings are true or false to God’s Word and if they are false, to “mark them” and “avoid them.”
“Upon This Rock”
It is tragic that many are under the delusion that Christ founded His church upon Peter. “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church” (Matt. 16:18). Bear in mind:
First: Peter had just said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). Christ did not say to Peter, “I will build My church upon you.” Indeed not. But He did say He would build His church “upon this rock,” that is, the “rock” of His own deity, which Peter had a moment before confessed.
Second: This agrees with the declaration of the apostle Paul: “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11). How glorious and true are the words of the songwriter: “The church’s one Foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord.”
Third: The word church means “the called out ones.” Christ’s church consists of everyone who has truly believed on the Lord Jesus Christ.
“The Keys of the Kingdom”
What were these “keys,” and to whom were they given? Continuing to address Peter, the Lord Jesus said, “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19). It is clear that:
First: This is no special privilege for Peter because the same promise is repeated to all the disciples in Matthew 18:18. Furthermore, Peter did not regard himself as having any special authority. He wrote, “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder” (1 Pet. 5:1). Neither did the other apostles consider that Peter had any special authority. When Peter took a wrong position, the apostle Paul writes that he “withstood him (Peter) to the face, because he was to be blamed” (Gal. 2:11).
Second: Keys are a symbol of honor and privilege. What honor and privilege did the Lord Jesus Christ give to all His disciples? “And He said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk. 16:15). Neither Peter nor any of the other apostles ever used any other “keys” to “bind” or “loose” than the gospel itself. The word gospel means “good news.” It is the blessed news for guilty sinners that “Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3). If we reject Him, we are “bound” all the tighter to our sins and to the wrath of God. If we accept Him, we are “loosed” from our sins and guilt before God.
“The Kingdom of God Is within You”
Is God’s kingdom “within” every person, whether they receive or reject God’s Son as their Savior from sin? What did Christ mean when He said, “The kingdom of God is within you” (Lk. 17:21)? Remember:
First: Christ was speaking to the Pharisees who rejected Him (Lk. 17:20). On another occasion He told them what was inside of them when He said, “Within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity” (Matt. 23:28). No, the “kingdom of God” was not inside of these Pharisees.
Second: The Greek word translated “within” may also be rendered “in your midst.” What the Lord Jesus was saying was that He, the Son of God and the King of God’s kingdom, was right there among them in their midst, and yet they refused to receive Him.
Third: Christ is not in our hearts unless and until we definitely and sincerely receive Him through faith. “Now admit the Heavenly Guest. He will make for you a feast. He will speak your sins forgiven, and when earth ties all are riven, He will take you home to Heaven. Let Him in!”
Easy to Understand
It is not the intellect that keeps people from Christ but the unyielded heart and will. A well-known American writer, who confessed himself to be a spiritual derelict upon the sea of life, said, “It is not the things in the Bible that I do not understand that bother me but the things that I do understand.” Yes, it is easy to understand that we are lost sinners and that Christ died for sinners and that if we believe in Him, God can and will accept us. Act on what you do understand, my friend, and receive the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Savior if you have not already done so. Then, the Spirit of God will help you to understand more of God’s Word as you study it and to trust God about what you do not understand. “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). Someone has well said, “God writes a very plain hand, but only His children can read it.”
— Franklin G. Huling served as one of the early leaders of the Fundamental Evangelistic Association and a professor at the FEA’s Fundamental Bible Institute in Los Angeles, California.