Every now and then I nerd out and binge watch the history channel. In doing so I become temporarily addicted to any of the “treasure hunting” shows. One show in particular, The Curse of Oak Island, absolutely fascinates me. It combines history, mystery, and just enough adventure to always leaves you wanting more. While each episode may combine its own unique blend of history, mystery, and adventure there is always the same objective. They are always looking for something that was previously left behind. They are always trying to discover the hidden treasure. Here’s the principle about hidden treasures: True treasures are always found and never created.
I think that principle holds true even in the realm of studying your Bible. Though our situations and life problems may be unique in their own way, there is a similar objective that every single person always approaches the Bible with. That is, simply put, that you want to hear what God has to say about something. That’s the treasure: God’s word of truth. However just like all other treasures, it is buried. Don’t misunderstand me. God is not hiding what He has revealed. You don’t need a treasure map to find the words of God—they are written in the Bible. So, what do I mean by saying that God’s truth is buried in the text? Well…consider that the verse you are reading was originally spoken to a people who lived thousands of years ago. Consider that the verse you are reading was written to a people whose culture (their way of thinking, reasoning, and communicating) is dramatically different from our present American culture. Even more, the verse you are reading was originally written to a group of people who spoke an entirely different language! Point being, while the truth of the text is timeless—we must dig past as many of the differences as possible to get the best understanding of that truth. This is hard work, yes. But it keeps us from making the verse to say something that God is not really saying. It forces us to discover the truththat has been revealed in Scripture instead of creating a meaning to fit our situation.
So then, how can you begin discovering treasure? I try to follow these three C’s: Context, Communicate, Challenge. It’s not exhaustive, but I find it’s a good place to start. Let’s look at a Bible text together for an example. Say you have been reading Paul’s letter to the Romans and you come to Romans 8:28—a very well-liked verse by many people. It is listed below,
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
If I read that verse one single time, without any other study, and made my interpretation then chances are I would make a very poor interpretation of the verse. I’m not saying that you would make this interpretation, but I’m just going to use an example. What if the interpretation that someone made was: People who love God get everything they want. Well, I love God and I want a new Ferrari. Therefore, whatever happens over the next two weeks will ultimately be to make a Ferrari show up in my driveway because that’s what I want.
You most likely already know that this verse is not teaching that. The point however is to show you the danger of cherry picking a single verse. Though we know that the interpretation above is not correct nor true, we can easily see how someone might make that conclusion without any prior knowledge or other study. Now let’s see how one easy step can help safeguard us against making a bad interpretation of that verse…
The first “C” is context. If we read the entire chapter of Romans 8, and not just verse 28, then we quickly see that Romans 8 has nothing to do with you, me, or anyone getting a new Ferrari. In fact, just a simple reading will most likely discourage the idea of making a “getting everything I want” interpretation. Consider the reading of verse 17, “and I children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” In addition, consider some of the items that Paul lists in verse 35: tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword. Perhaps in reading that verse again you notice that Paul is not excluding these things from happening to Christians. He is saying that even “these things” will not be able to separate you from the love of Christ. There are many more observations we could make, but the point being made is that by simply reading the entire chapter of Romans 8 the interpretation from earlier—is really shown to be untrue and illogical. That is to say that by reading all of the chapter I am safeguarded from making a very bad initial conclusion.
So, the first step should always be to read the verses surrounding the verse you are trying to interpret. Read the entire chapter. Read the entire book if possible. But how do I get the ‘right’ interpretation? How can I dig up the truth that is buried right there in the text? Stay tuned. Next time we will see how we can begin learning what the text, Romans 8:28 in our example, is communicatingto us.