Volume 1 No. 4

Keys to Research

The Word of God interprets itself.

To understand God's Word certain keys to research must be understood and applied when working the Word to avoid private interpretation and maintain the integrity of the original text.

These studies are provided to outline some of the simple keys to understanding God's Word.

Michael Cortright

Keys to the Word's Interpretation

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In The Verse

In Harmony with Itself -
An unclear verse must be understood in light of the many clear ones. -

The Word of God is its own context. Because all of the Word of God is "God-Breathed" (authored by God) it is its own context for study. A verse or passage of scripture must be in harmony with the Word of God itself.

Scriptures that relate to the same subject in God's Word cannot contradict each other. If a verse seems to contradict other passages related to the same subject there must be an error either in our understanding of the verse or in translation because God cannot contradict Himself.

Whenever an apparent contradiction exists the difficult verse must be understood and interpreted in light of the many clear verses on the same subject. To elevate the one contradictory verse and negate the many clear verses is NOT HONEST. If the whole Word of God is clear on a subject and one or two verses seem to contradict the whole context of God's Word you must NEVER magnify the unclear verse and ignore the whole.

The unclear verse must be understood in light of the clear. In working an unclear verse you also must be careful to not "squeeze" the unclear verse into the clear verses:

  1. First you examine the verse to make sure you understand what is written - always leaning to the understanding of the whole context of the Word of God.
  2. Secondly, you work the individual words in the verse to see if it really says what it appears to say. This means examining translations and the original languages. This is perhaps one of the most difficult tasks in Biblical study.

The important point is that you maintain an understanding of the whole Word of God and not throw out the many clear verses in favor of your working of one difficult one.

Finally, do not be anxious. If it takes twenty years to understand one verse then it takes twenty years. If you never find the answer to the difficult verse then you never find the answer. But you must never squeeze God's Word into saying something that it does not say. Rather you let the difficult verse stand and accept the fact that you don't know it all - YET.

Similar VS Identical

In working God's Word you must be very careful to avoid identifying situations as identical when they are only similar. For example if in one Gospel Jesus Christ heals a blind man as he is entering a city and in another Gospel Jesus Christ heals a blind man as he leaves that same city the situations are similar but NOT identical.

If I go to work at 7:00 on Monday and park in a particular parking place and I go to work at 7:00 on Tuesday and park in the same parking place these two incidents are not identical they are similar. These situations are not identical as they took place 24 hours apart. The timing was different.

Time and place must both be the same if we are examining an identical situation.

Narrative Development - Scripture Builds Up

By studying several passages of Scripture on an identical incident or subject you may gain a greater understanding and depth of the subject as the information in each record may augment the information given in the other records. This build up of Scripture is called "narrative development."

In studying the narrative development of identical situations in various passages of Scripture, it becomes vitally important to observe The Word with a keen eye and perceptive mind to see the depth of it. It is important to recognize that each passage of Scripture relating to the identical incident may not give the same details but the Scriptures must complement and agree with each other or we do not have the true Word of God. If the situations are identical, that which is set forth in one Scripture cannot contradict that which is set forth in the other. However, Matthew may report certain details, Mark may add others, and Luke still others. The details from each individual record, put together, supply us with the whole picture.

An example of narrative development can be seen in working the records in the book of Acts that tell about the Apostle Paul's experience with meeting the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus. There are three records of this identical situation. The first record is told as part of the narrative of the book of Acts and records Paul's experience in the third person. The second and third records are Paul's telling of the experience in trial situations later in the book of Acts. Each record provides details that when studied together supply us with a more complete picture of Paul's experience.
Acts 9:1b-2
Acts 22:5
Acts 26:12
Saul. . .went unto the high priest - And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.
As also the high priest doth bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders: from whom also I received letters unto the brethren, and went to Damascus, to bring them which were there bound unto Jerusalem, for to be punished.Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests,
Paul went to the high priest and requested the authority & commission to bring believers from Damascus bound back to Jerusalem to be punished. He received the commission and authority in the way of letters which he took with him. The first record gives the majority of this information. The second and third records let you know he received the letters he asked for and that he was bringing the believers back "to be punished." They also state that the commission carried the authority of the chief priests and "all the estate of the elders" - not just the high priest. It takes all three records to understand fully all the details provided in God's Word.

Acts 9:3
Acts 22:6
Acts 26:13
And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:
And it came to pass, that, as I made my journey, and was come nigh unto Damascus about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me,At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining around about me and them which journeyed with me.
The first two records tell us that the experience happened near Damascus. They also indicate a great light around Paul. The third record augments the first two by telling us that the light was around Paul AND those that were with him. The second and third record tell us that this happened around noon and that the light that was shining around them was above the brightness of the sun.

Acts 9:4-5
Acts 22:7-8
Acts 26:14-15
And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? and The Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.

And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?

And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And he said unto me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest.

And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.

In looking at this next section there is a contradiction in order of events that must be worked in order to have the true Word of God.

In chapter nine Jesus says: "Saul, Saul, . . ." Paul answers: "Who art thou . . ." and Jesus says: "it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks."

In chapter 26 Jesus says: "Saul, Saul . . ." AND "it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks" before Paul asks "Who art thou?." Chapter 22 does not include the "kick against the pricks" statement.

In order to understand the proper order you must examine the Greek texts. The end of verse 5 and the beginning of verse 6 in chapter 9 (noted in blue above) do not appear in most texts indicating they were added to the text. While the statement was made (as recorded in chapter 26) it was inserted in chapter 9 out of its proper order. To have the true Word of God this addition to the text must be deleted and the record understood by working all three records using the principle of narrative development.

Chapter 9 tells us that Paul fell to the ground and that Paul heard the voice of Jesus Christ. It also tells us that in Damascus Paul would be told more of what he was to do. Chapter 22 adds no new information at this point. Chapter 26 provides the added information that all of the men fell to the earth, that Paul heard the voice, and that Jesus spoke to Paul in Hebrew.

A greater understanding of these verses can be gained by understanding Biblical culture. A farmer would direct his oxen to plow a straight row in the field by using a long sharpened staff that the farmer would point at the heels of the oxen. The oxen would kick at the pricks directing them. God's Word was attempting to direct Paul. In persecuting the believers Paul was "kicking at the pricks" of God's Word.

Acts 9:7
Acts 22:9
Acts 26:14
And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.
And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me.And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
There is an apparent contradiction (noted in blue) between the record in Acts 9:7 which says that the men with Paul "heard the voice" and the record in Acts 22:9 which says the men with Paul "heard not the voice." An understanding of Greek grammar and a look at the Greek text provides an answer to this apparent contradition:

In Acts 9:7, in the Greek text, the word for "hear" [akouo] is followed by the word "voice" [phones] in the genitive case; but in Acts 22:9, in the Greek text, the word for "hear" [akouo] is followed by the word "voice" [phonen] in the accusative case.

In the Greek language there is a linguistic and grammatical difference between the "hearing of a voice" - the sound or noise (with the genitive case); and the "hearing of a voice" - The actual content of the words or the matter spoken (with the accusative case).

Those who accompanied Paul heard, just as Paul himself did, the sound, the noise of a voice. But only Paul heard and understood the actual words. The third record in Acts 26:14 gives us the added information that Jesus Christ spoke to Paul in the Hebrew language. Paul was an educated man who spoke Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek and Latin. Perhaps the men travelling with Paul did not speak Hebrew and that is why they heard the sound of the voice but did not understand the words.

Acts 9:6b,8
Acts 22:10-11
Acts 26:16-18
Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. . .

And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw to man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus.

And I said, What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do.

And when I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of them that were with me, I came into Damascus.

But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee;

Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee,

To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me..

While chapter 9 and 22 tell us that Paul would learn what he was to do for God after he got to Damascus, chapter 26 reveals to us that an overview of Paul's calling to speak the Word for God was delivered to him there on the road to Damascus by Jesus himself.

These three records also tell us that all the men saw the light but only Paul was blinded by its brightness and the others led him to Damascus.

By working God's Word using the principle of narrative development a greater understanding of the whole picture can be gained as we study God's Word In The Verse.

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Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. II Peter 1:20

Keys to the Word's Interpretation
Volume 1 No. 4

URL http://www.cortright.org/key4.htm
© Copyright January 1998 Michael Cortright