How to Interpret the Scriptures
Today, we take a look at 2 Peter 3:16.
16He speaks about these things in all his letters, in which there are some matters that are hard to understand. The untaught and unstable twist them to their own destruction, as they also do with the rest of the Scriptures.— 2 Peter 3:16 (HCSB)
The “he” in the beginning of the verse is Paul, who wrote many of the letters that are now books in the New Testament. This is a good recommendation from a fellow minister, but it comes with a couple of warnings.
First, Peter warns the church that some of the things which Paul has written to them are difficult to understand. This is certainly true - even today, there is often spirited debate over the meaning of some of the things Paul wrote. Of course, rather than just listening to debate, and deciding which side is more convincing, it is important to search the Scriptures and allow the Holy Spirit to reveal its interpretation. And, knowledge without application is useless - once you have determined what the Scripture says, that knowledge needs to be put into action.
The second warning Peter has for the church is that the “untaught and unstable” will try to twist what the Bible says. Man has been doing this since, quite literally, just after Creation. Let’s look at the first recorded twisting of God’s Word. God gave Adam and Eve specific instructions regarding the Garden of Eden.
16And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, 17but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.”— Genesis 2:16-17 (HCSB)
But when Eve is talking to the serpent a few verses later, she gets it… well, not quite right.
2The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit from the trees in the garden. 3But about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, ‘You must not eat it or touch it, or you will die.’”— Genesis 3:2-3 (HCSB)
Now, we don’t know whether it was Eve who got it wrong here, or if it was Adam who amplified God’s warning when he was telling Eve what God had said. But either way, what God said is not faithfully represented in Eve’s answer to the serpent. And, just as the Bible begins with this story illustrating (among other things) twisting God’s words, it ends with a warning as well.
18I testify to everyone who hears the prophetic words of this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book. 19And if anyone takes away from the words of this prophetic book, God will take away his share of the tree of life and the holy city, written in this book.— Revelation 22:18-19 (HCSB)
I don’t know if you’ve read the book of Revelation all the way through or not; if you have, you know that you certainly don’t want all the plagues of that book added to you!
Another application of these warnings applies to selecting a version of the Bible to use for study. Before making assumptions, research the translation philosophy, and whether the version is a literal translation or a paraphrase. Using more than one version can help you understand a tough passage.
The key in interpreting the Scripture is to be sure that you know what It says. Don’t rely on what other people say about It - what does It say? I pray that we will all study the Scriptures, and allow God to reveal His interpretation of it to us.
(Note - we’ll discuss more on Bible study when we get to 2 Timothy 3:16.)