by Dr. Ken Matto
It is an unfortunate thing whereby many theologians believe it is necessary to bring in outside material to better understand the Bible. I would heartily agree if the Bible was a religious book written by man but this is just not the case. While outside materials may help us understand the culture or milieu the Bible was written in, it does not help us get to the underlying spiritual truths which only the Holy Spirit can open up to us.
The two disciples on the road to Emmaus is an excellent example. These disciples knew something religious had happened and that a great prophet who was mighty in deed and word was crucified. They had no understanding of why these things had to take place. At this juncture, what piece of secular material or writing could have given them understanding of this event? I dare to say none because what piece of secular literature can know the mind of God? The answer is found in Luke 24:45 which is a pivotal verse. (Luke 24:45 KJV) "Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures," It was God who opened their understanding to the meaning of Scripture, not any outside influence.
The problem with today's hermeneutic is that the spiritual aspect of Scripture has been replaced by the moral and historical teachings of Scripture. While there is much moral and lifestyle principles to glean from Scripture, it was not written for that purpose. Too many Christians today want this instant understanding and that stems from the new version disease which permeates Christianity. God did not write the Bible so we have instant understanding, He wrote so we would spend hours trying to study it and then as we compare spiritual with spiritual, God will open up the Scriptures to our understanding without outside materials. Many pastors and theologians are so puffed up with knowledge that they have difficulty separating history from Scripture.
In a hermeneutical symposium where I spoke on the side of interpreting the bible with the Bible, a pastor who attended stated that with the discovery of the "Nuzu texts" light was shed on the reason that Hagar was given to Abraham to bear children. (Genesis 16) The Nuzu letters were excavated between 1925-1941 in an area southeast of Nineveh. It shed much light on the culture of the era. Now if the giving of Hagar to Abraham stood on its own, it would be considered a cultural event but this is not the reason this is given to us in Scripture. My response to the inclusion of the Nuzu Texts for biblical understanding was that it may open up a cultural understanding but to understand this event from a biblical point of view it is necessary to search the Scriptures and see what spiritual application God is making.
God did not include things indiscriminately in the Bible just for the purpose of historical or cultural understanding. When we search for the spiritual meaning of the Abraham/Hagar event the Bible brings us to Galatians 4:19-31 where we see the spiritual application unfold before our eyes. The time of Abraham was about 2000 BC and the writing of Galatians was about 50-60 AD. God took 2060 years to give the meaning of Genesis 16 and Christians today want instant understanding and to attain this they will use all kinds of outside material to do so. The two events: The disciples on the Road to Emmaus and the Abraham/Hagar event should serve to remind us that the author and interpreter of the Bible is God, not outside materials. Outside materials strengthen our historical and moral view of Scripture but contribute nothing to the spiritual understanding of Scripture. This job belongs to God alone.
At this point I wish to introduce five reasons whereby extra-biblical hermeneutics poses a danger to true understanding of Scripture.
1. THE BIBLE FORBIDS IT
1 Cor. 2:13 "Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual."
Here is the premier verse which God gives us to gain a greater understanding of His Word. God gives us clear direction on how we are to interpret His Word and how do we have the utter audacity and pride to think that we know better than God. Comparing spiritual with spiritual means to compare spiritual writings with spiritual writings.
I previously mentioned the Nuzu Texts which were excavated in 1925-1941. These texts were buried for thousands of years so does this mean all the previous generations could not understand Genesis 16. Were the Nuzu Texts inspired of God? If not then why do we turn to them as if they are? God says compare spiritual with spiritual and who are we to change His method of interpreting His Bible. (I will tackle the results of man's intervention later.) Most of the archaeological finds are from pagan civilizations which were enemies of the true gospel, so then why do we treasure them as if they are from God? It is true they offer us much insight into history and understanding ancient cultures but they are not inspired and therefore do not fall within the biblical requirements for use in Bible interpretation.
2. IT ALLOWS ALL BELIEVERS TO LEARN ON AN EVEN PAR WITHOUT BIAS
1 John 2:27 "But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him."
When a person becomes saved they immediately receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit which means they are now indwelled with the Holy Spirit for eternity. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the triune Godhead and the author of the Scriptures. He indwells every true believer which means that each believer is equipped to interpret the Bible. Isn't it interesting those who are physically or mentally challenged may not be able to absorb all the extra-biblical data to interpret the Bible yet they know John 3:16? I wonder why?
The answer is simply that the Holy Spirit imparts to the mind Scripture and understanding according to one's level of understanding. I have known Christians who couldn't do more than menial labor, yet they could understand Scripture better than the Ph. D's with much learning. God gives understanding of His Word to those who seek it out. (Prov 25:2 KJV) It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter. According to Rev. 1:6, God calls His children kings. The only reason there are not more biblical Christians is two reasons: First, they have not gone past their pastor's education; and secondly, laziness engendered by the belief we can have instant understanding if we read a modern version.
All true Christians, no matter who they are or what culture they are brought up in have the ability to interpret the Bible. If God wanted us to use outside sources to interpret His Word, He would be cruel to His children. Where would the brothers and sisters in lands where Christianity is forbidden find vast libraries to access. To say we need outside materials to interpret the Bible is strictly an American anomaly because of all the materials we have available but we strangely neglect a large part of the body of Christ in other nations who may only have the Bible. While many Christians strive to climb the educational ladder in America our brothers and sisters in other lands are striving to exist. El us stop viewing Christianity only through American eyes, let us include all the true Christians in the world.
3. KNOWLEDGE PUFFS UP
1 Cor. 8:1 - "Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth."
Knowledge puffs up and builds a great gulf between believers of less knowledge and those with great learning. They become subject to man's teaching along with all the amalgamation of Bible and knowledge the intellect chooses to include. The sheep fear to partake because they feel they have nothing to offer when such a great learned man is teaching. This is a sin because Christians will always have questions concerning the Bible and many great discussions have come about because of innocent questions. The church should be the most non-threatening environment the Christian has because they are out in the marketplace all week getting beat up and need that rest at Elim (Ex. 15:27-16:1). The pastor should be the most non-threatening person to the Christian in the pew.
Spewing great amounts of non-biblical knowledge does not add to a believer's understanding of the deeper things of Scripture instead it builds fear in a believer's life thinking that in comparison to the great learned man, their question or comment is stupid or non-essential. Many pastors wonder why people stay away from Sunday School or church, they may find the answer to that question in their own messages. It also seems the one with the most book learning (not Bible learning) in local churches always seem to have the prominence and become the final authority. Woe unto those pastors who build fear into their sheep instead of assurance. Pastors are not the only ones who put fear into sheep, go to a Bible conference and hear the seminary professors pour out all their book learning and call it bible teaching.
4. EXTRA-BIBLICAL MATERIAL ENGENDERS CONFUSION
1 Cor. 14:33 - "For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints."
If someone is doing a study on the rapture and decides to go to commentaries, they can look at four different commentaries and get four different views (Pre-Trib, Mid-Trib, Post-Trib, A-Mil.) To a young believer there are two very confusing places: The library and the Christian bookstore. Especially a Christian bookstore, all the young Christian has to do is ask the counter person which commentary is best and they will be told they are all good, after all does it matter which one of the commentaries sells, as long as the sale is made. Let us answer the question as to when is the rapture in one Bible verse. (John 11:24) Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Lazarus was a believer and here the Scripture teaches that he will rise on the last day. How much plainer can it be?
We didn't even have to search one commentary, the Bible gave us the answer in ten seconds. Yet probably between now and the Lord's return there will probably be a hundred more commentaries written on when is the rapture and each will be written according to a biased view instead of a biblical view.
5. THE FOCUS OF THE BIBLE IS CHRIST NOT HISTORY OR ISRAEL
(Psa 40:7) "Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me",
(Heb 10:7) "Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God."
I will never understand how theologians can focus so much on the modern nation of Israel while displacing Christ as the central subject of the Bible. The Bible was not given to us to create fantasy prophecy novels about Israel and the future. Christians are being led astray by these "Cult of Israel" fanatics who place Israel above Christ. Nowhere in Scripture are we to focus our attention on Israel. We are to be learning about Christ. History and Israel are two topics which usurp the throne of Christ in Scripture.
This is another reason our churches are weak, we have fantasy preaching about Israel and history lessons on Sunday morning instead of Christ glorifying sermons. When Christ returns Israel along with all the history books will be burned up according to 2 Peter 3:10, "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up."