Saturday, April 16, 2011


The final concept that is important to grasp in order to correctly interpret and understand the bible is the discovering of the difference between a timeless truth and a regulation for a certain people at a certain time. This will conclude the four that I've chosen to mention. The first three were...

Grammatical Integrity,
Historical Integrity,
Contextual Integrity.

Now learning to know the difference between a timeless truth and a regulation for a specific people and a specific time is the final one. By the way, none of these are original with me. I've gleaned them from the study of numerous people whom I respect and appreciate and are a lot smarter than am I regarding all things biblical. Some of those people are dead and some are alive but none of them mind us learning from what they've written or said I'm sure. 

There was a word delivered to the generation that was then which is the original meaning intended by the writers under inspiration. Then there is also a truth for the now which was intended by God and which the true author, the Holy Spirit, desires to make personal to us. The truth that transcends the past to the present is what we could call a timeless principle although all of the scripture is truth from God as we all know.

That said, I need to emphasis that no one persons idea in this area of bible interpretation is the final word for correctness, including mine. But every person needs to wrestle with it to have a good grasp of the biblical materials and an ear for the Word of God as God has given it in scripture. Remember... it is too easy to say, "The bible means what it says." It is far better to say, "The bible says what it means and our job is to find out that meaning." It is to that end I've belabored the point with these three posts.

Let's begin by admitting that the first three, by and large, lead you to the fourth. In other words, if you will adequately do the first three it will generally result in the fourth being easy to see and understand. Someone has said, "Clearly, Scripture is not a collection of timeless truths. Although some of its truths are timeless, others parts of the Bible are designed for a specific situation in a specific culture, and it would be wrong for us to take them out of that context and impose them on modern situations. First-century men were advised to pray with their hands raised (1 Tim. 2:8). Slaves were advised to submit even to harsh masters (1 Pet. 2:18). Virgins were advised to remain virgins (1 Cor. 7:26). Women were told how to dress when they prayed (1 Cor. 11:5), and men were given advice regarding hair length (v. 14). Similarly, people were told to greet one another with a kiss." 

For our example to help us understand the difference we'll take 1 Timothy 2:8. It says..."I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath or doubting." Is the writer [Paul the Apostle] saying that God is commanding men when they pray to lift their hands? Most of us think not. Why?  The word used here translated "will" is a much milder word than is used other places and is not an expression of a command. That fact can be found in John A.T. Robertson's word studies as you do the first step I called the grammatical integrity work or the study of the language. If he had meant it literally then we are to pray in a certain posture [hands raised] and with a certain inner attitude. [Never angry or doubtful when we pray.]

So did he, in fact, intend us to read it as literal? I don't think so. The language is showing that Paul was saying that he thought it was the right thing for men to pray with a purity about their intention or motive for praying. ["holy hands" raised is a colloquialism for purity in prayer. It would be the same as me saying you were driving as fast as lightning down the road. Don't take me literally on that. It is a present day colloquialism for speed.] Along with a pure motive when praying there was to also be an attitude clear of any anger and doubt.

Then, were one faithful to the historical integrity mentioned above, he or she would also find that the people of that day DID NOT normally bow heads and close their eyes to pray. That would lend weight to the method of prayer being a cultural thing and not a command. So the language and history do not demand a literal obedience to a certain method or posture while praying as something commanded by Paul.

Finally, in context, Paul was writing to a particular situation in the Church in Ephesus where Timothy was pastoring. There were those present in worship who had been a big disturbance to the entire congregation. [Including a woman and her husband who were not getting along described in the next few verses.] They were making a problem of themselves with anger and were casting doubt on the teaching they had previously received from Paul himself about the creation order. 

So Paul was here addressing those who were a disturbance. He is saying they were to be careful when they participated in public prayers that their actions [Illustrated by the lifting of hands which they generally did as they prayed.] and their attitudes [Called wrath or anger and doubt here.] were to never be divisive.

What I've done in this interpretation of this verse is an attempt to be faithful to the language or text, while being knowledgeable of the history, and all the while let the context be involved in getting to what Paul meant when he wrote it under inspiration. This will allow the Holy Spirit to make clear its original meaning and, by way of application, any meaning to my own life and time.

I will say parenthetically here that the above words are the reason for the view of 1 Timothy 2:12 that I now hold to instead of the one I once held to and which many of my friends disagree with me about. I'll address that at another time

So, honestly, there may be several different levels at which we see truth being presented in the bible that become clear as one navigates the pages of scripture. Those are, as someone has said.....

Obsolete situations---These would be guiding principles or commands which address specific situations and there is generally no timeless principle to transfer. [Such as Israel told to take a specified number of paces outside the camp to defecate.]

Normal patterns---These are principles that can be seen because because of language that was normal for them but do speak to us by example in some fashion about some issue. [As shown in the 1 Timothy 2:8 verse.] In these places the timeless principle is really an example about something generally.

Universal Principles---These are principles or truths that are fundamental and found everywhere in scripture. They may not even be specific commands, but, because they are seen as healthy for relationships, for example, such as going to a person who has hurt you instead of running them down to someone else, those principles become part of your belief system that guides your life. They impact your behavior greatly

Moral Absolutes---These are timeless commands that apply to all situations and times. [Such as "Thou shalt not commit adultery."] Jesus was free as God to deepen some of those, and He did, saying if we look with lust we are already adulterers, and our obedience is to His final say or word about ANY timeless command.

My trust is that this lengthy and often complicated writing will ultimately bring some help to those who are serious about the study of the bible and hearing and obeying the Lord. It is a given that, while I've been addressing what we are responsible and wise to do in study and research, there is a sense in which the very nature of the scriptures do not allow us to understand them at all apart from the person and work of the HOLY SPIRIT.

The bible is after all a supernatural book written in a supernatural fashion, in its original manuscripts, for a supernaturally born again group of people. That is the very core of the reason many people will NEVER understand it. But when that new birth experience has come and understanding does follow, slow though it may be, and never complete, it is adequate for guidance for the living of life in relationship to God and others. I trust you will enjoy the study of the library of books we call the bible for the rest of your life.

Paul B. 


traveller said...

Paul, thanks for this series. Well done.

Sadly, far too few people understand or apply these guidelines to their understanding of scripture. Indeed, the saddest part is that far too many professors, pastors and teachers apply these interpretive tools.

In following this approach there would no doubt continue to be varying views about certain scripture I suspect those disagreements would be far fewer than today.

Paul Burleson said...


I appreciate the kind words. I'm aware that the subject matter is not the most exciting for readers of a blog. But, hey, sometimes you gotta do what you've gotta do. This was one of those times.

Christiane said...

"The bible is after all a supernatural book written in a supernatural fashion, in its original manuscripts, for a supernaturally born again group of people. That is the very core of the reason many people will NEVER understand it."

Paul, your words remind me of a saying attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas:

"“To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”

Anonymous said...

Continued from Rex

In reference to “All of the scripture is truth from God as we all know”, look at the background of “Virgins were advised to remain virgins. (1 Cor. 7:26)

Did this advice come from God or from Paul? “Here I want to add some suggestions of my own. These are not direct commands from the Lord, but they seem right to me.” (1 Cor. 7:12 Living) “What about girls who are not yet married?...I have no special command for them from the Lord...I will be glad to tell you what I think.” (7:25Living)

Do we call Paul a liar because everything he wrote was from God, or do we believe what he wrote was not from God? Either way, something was not from God.

Well Paul, old friend, just trying to make the subject matter more “exciting”. :)
BTW, I believe Paul's advice to girls was not good – then – now – or ever.
How's Mary?

Love the quote: "“To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”

Paul Burleson said...


Truth is what corresponds to reality is an axiom for me. This means that all truth is from God because He is the source of what is real.

So it is true that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 7:26 and it is true he thought that statement to be correct. [Corresponded to reality] It is also true that it was Paul's advise and not a command from God. That it can be determined to be good or bad advise according to conditions that are, themselves reality, is also true.

In the same way when the serpent said "You shall not surely die." the statement was false, [did not correspond to reality] but the record of it being said is a true record.

The principles I've attempted to lay out helps to determine the state of reality according to language, history and context. Some statements are good and some bad. Some correct and some incorrect. Some are God's commands and some are writers opinion about things. But all correspond to reality and are therefore from God.

Paul Burleson said...

This is not to say that if something is true, it MUST be known. The question of the knowability of truth has not yet been addressed by anything I've said, to my knowledge, except that the bible gives the truth about whatever it address. Even if it's the record of a serpents lie or and Apostles opinion.

Anonymous said...

My brother and I crossed the Master's Degree Graduation stage at Decatur Baptist College.
That's a true statement but not true if you think we graduated because our parents carried us when we were a few months old.

At one time, our father's Thesis was the most read of any. It's title: “Who makes the best teachers – 'A' or 'B' students?”
He interviewed many people who named their best teacher. These teachers were 'B' students. They could not learn from the top of mountains but in the valleys. They taught the way they learned.

That's what I thought of your comment – top of mountains.

I don't see how you can conclude the devil's lie came from God because it's a true recording. Saying it corresponds to reality is like saying 'I like the color red because it's easy to spell.'

If all words in the Bible come from God, then we're back to square one – when does Paul reveal truth and when is he talking through his hat?

I agree, the Holy Spirit will teach us – but only if we listen.

Paul Burleson said...


"My brother and I crossed the Master's Degree Graduation stage at Decatur Baptist College."...That is a statement that you say is true.

"My brother and I graduated as we crossed the stage at Decatur Baptist College."...That is a statement that if said is false.

Factual reality is important but can become a absurdity in discussion...As A VP of the USA said one day when his Aid stated, as a train was passing a herd of sheep, "Those animals have a lot of wool on them." The VPs response was, "The truth is those sheep have a lot of wool on the side you can see."

Philosophical discussions about truth run the risk of the same absurdity I would think. They do, in fact, become, "Top of the mountain" stuff.

Anonymous said...

OK Paul,
I relate to that song, “We'll understand it all by and by”.

Good talking to you – I better get back to my 'jobs'.

Paul Burleson said...


You're correct I believe. That song is my only hope sometimes. ;)

I'll join you in getting some jobs done. I have a list and my wife may be wondering if I can read since I haven't started yet. Happy wife happy a real truth.