Hermeneutics


peace-of-christ-rule-in-heartsLet the peace of Christ be in control in your heart (for you were in fact called as one body to this peace), and be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)

We have often interpreted this verse in an individualistic fashion to mean that each Christian should have peace in our heart.  This verse is even appealed to in support of the teaching that intrapersonal peace in our heart is a means by which we discern God’s will for our life.  Is this what Paul was conveying?  Let’s look at the context. (more…)

testing_the_spiritsBeloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God… (1 John 4:1a)

… for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4b)

Portions of 1 John 4:1-6 are often cited in discussions of spiritual warfare.  John’s admonition to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (4:1) is cited as evidence that we need to exercise spiritual discernment to distinguish between angelic and demonic spirits, or even good and bad human spirits.  “Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world” (4:4b) is typically quoted in the context of overcoming the Devil.  But are these passages being interpreted correctly?  Are they referring to spiritual warfare?  To find out, let’s look at the context. (more…)

all-things-through-christI can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)

Some have called this the Superman verse.  People invoke it to say that they can do anything and everything, as long as Christ is giving them the ability to do it.  It’s a great motivational verse.  As great as that message sounds, it’s not what Paul meant when you read the verse in its context.

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:10-13)

Ben Witherington observes that the Greek does not say “do.” The only verb in the Greek is ischuo, which means “to be able, strong, healthy, valid, powerful.”  A literal rendering of the verse is “I am able all things in Him who empowers me.”  Read literally, it doesn’t make any sense.  Able to do what?  The helping verb is missing, and can only be supplied by the surrounding context.

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root-of-bitternessSee to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled. (Hebrews 12:15)

The way I have typically heard this verse explained, the author is warning against the spiritual danger of harboring personal bitterness.  Indeed, the Contemporary English Version interprets it this way in their “translation”: “Make sure that no one misses out on God’s wonderful kindness. Don’t let anyone become bitter and cause trouble for the rest of you.”  Is that what the author meant to convey?  Let’s look at the context. (more…)

work-together-for-goodAnd we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

This passage is typically used to teach that God will use the bad things that happen to us in life to bring about some future blessing (financial, relational, ministerial, etc.).  Some go so far as to teach that each instance of suffering has a corresponding blessing attached to it.  Let’s look at the context.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Rom 8:28-30)

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philosophySee to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:8)

On its face, these words of Paul to the church at Colossae appear to denigrate philosophy.  For that reason, this verse has been one of the favorite verses by anti-intellectuals and those opposed to the study of philosophy.  Philosophy, they say, is the not just worthless, but dangerous to the Christian faith.  This would be a gross misreading of the text, however.  We must pay attention to the qualifications Paul made concerning his indictment of philosophy. (more…)

truth-set-free[A]nd you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8:32)

This phrase adorns the buildings and statues on many college campuses.  The message is that knowledge of the truth will liberate one’s mind.  While that may be true, is that what Jesus was trying to communicate in John 8:32?  Let’s take a look at the context. (more…)

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