Our Hermeneutical Lens

One of the key principles of my ministry, I hope, is my desire to see God’s people growing in their knowledge and love of God through the regular, prayerful, and faithful reading of God’s Word.  This special revelation of grace that God has given, wherein we come know God, ourselves, and His perfect plans of salvation in Jesus Christ – there is not greater treasure given to man.  “Tolle lege” (take up and read) was the cry that Augustine heard, leading him to take up the Bible and come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.

As we continue to take up and read, however, it is important to stop and consider how we actually see the Bible. The way we think about what we read, how we interpret and understand what’s being said is absolutely important.

In academic parlance, this is called Biblical Hermeneutics. Hermeneutics comes from a Greek word that simply means “interpret,” and Biblical Hermeneutics, then, are the principles and  means employed to interpret the original meaning of a text which was given in a language, time and culture much different than ours.  

Those who practice bad hermeneutics usually rip a text out of its context, making it mean something that was never intended. Disregarding how the author intended the passage to be read or understood, isolating the text from the rest of Scripture, and forcing 1st century writing into a 21st century mindset, the text can be made to say anything you want it to.

Case in point: in Jn 14:14, Jesus says, “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” Now if you read that in the larger context, you will see that Jesus promises this to those whom He has called to be His disciples, to those who have been called to love Him by keeping His commands in faith (14:15), and all so that the Father would be glorified in the Son (14:13).

But if you isolate the passage from it’s context… well then it isn’t too hard to imagine how a pastor can ask for a $40 million jet, or a $15 million home. Instead of submitting as disciples to a sovereign Lord, and looking for the incomparable worth of His coming kingdom, we turn Jesus into a cosmic Santa and televangelists feel justified in asking for just about anything. 

So then, what are some basic hermetical principles? Well, there are a great many books written on this, but I will offer just a few essential principles here to get you started in the right direction.

  1. All Scripture is breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3:16). The Bible has many writers, but one Author. When we pick up and read the Bible, we must be reminded that it is God’s word.
    1. God’s word is uniform, coherent, without contradiction, and without error. I, on the other hand, am not always consistent, coherent, I am often full of contradiction and error. Any discrepancy I may think I find in Scripture is actually first found in me and my understanding. I bring the shortcoming to the text, and I must learn from the word and grow accordingly.  Our Confession reminds us, “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture, it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.”
    2. God employs a wide variety of genres and literary styles in His Word: there is poetry, history, proverbial writing, and letters. We must read each with the proper understanding.
    3. As the Westminster Confession teaches: All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them.
  2. All Scripture is useful for our training in godliness (2 Tim 3:17). The Scriptures were given so that we may know what we are to believe about God, and what duty God has given to us (WSC 3). We may learn some things about history, the science of the world around us, and even principles of economics. But this is not the chief end of Scripture. God’s Word is given that we may know God beyond what is revealed in Creation, knowing that God is the wise, holy, and sovereign ruler over all things, who has called His creation into covenant relation with Him, and will judge all according to His perfect righteousness. In His Word learn of our creation, our fall, and God’s redeeming work in Jesus Christ.
  3. All Scripture points us to Christ. Jesus taught that all of the Old Testament is about him (Luke 24:27, 44; John 5:39-46). The entirety of the New Testament is about Jesus. Christ is on every page of the Bible. The story of David and Goliath is not about me conquering the giants in my life, but Jesus being the Warrior-King who saves a helpless people. The call to be strengthened in faith is not so that we will learn to stand on our own two feet, but that we would have the strength to trust in Him whose strength is made perfect in our weakness.

As you continue to read through God’s Word, stop and check which lenses you’re wearing. How you see and interpret the Word is essential to your growth and maturity in Christ.

Tolle lege…


If God is Sovereign, why Pray?

This is a question I used to struggle with quite often, and one that I still hear from people now and then.  As we come to understand that God is sovereign, having ordained the end from the beginning, that nothing surprises God but works according to His design, why then do we pray? What good does our prayer do, what purpose does it serve?

There really is no quick and easy answer to the question of, “If God is sovereign, why pray?” Well, there is and there isn’t.

The quick answer is, we pray because God commands us to pray. Throughout Scripture we are told to pray to God and to seek His face. For example:

Colossians 4:2 “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.”

Philippians 4:6–7 “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Isaiah 55:6 “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near;

The long answer is a bit more involved, but it really comes down to what the purpose of prayer really is.

Prayers aren’t just about asking for healing for those who are sick, or asking God to help us in our times of need. Ultimately, prayer is meant to bring God glory and honor. As we pray to God, we are acknowledging that He is God and we are not. We are acknowledging that He is the one who provides for our every need, even though we work and save and budget and plan. We are submitting ourselves to His will, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s will is going to be done, praying for it to be done is saying “help me to accept and delight in your will, and to work according to it.”

The Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches that prayer is, “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.”

Prayer is a means of communication. We hear God speak to us in Scripture, and we speak to God in prayer (silent, spoken, and even sung prayers). God knows everything about us, but still delights in our coming to Him in prayer, and is honored by it.

I would like to think I know my children pretty well, I’ve known them since before they were born. And I usually know what they want and need long before they do, and even know what they really need when they ask for something they want. Still, I love it when they come to me and want to talk, and ask for their needs to be met. This is, in some way, what prayer is like. Our heavenly Father knows us better than we do ourselves (Matt 6:8), and knows what we need long before we speak it, but God is honored, glorified, when we seek Him in prayer.

Finally, prayer does change things. “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16). God is sovereign, He has a plan for all things. And God often uses prayer to work out His sovereign plan.

Say you’re praying for a friend to be saved. As you pray regularly for your friend, God will be working in you to make you more willing to share your faith, to invite them to church, to live in such a way that they would see the faith in you. This is one way that prayer changes things.

Prayer also changes our perspective on events. Rather than seeing a crisis as hopeless, prayer allows us to see God’s hand moving in every situation, either to save us mightily, or to give us hope in the midst of suffering.

Ultimately, prayer, as in every means of grace, brings glory to God, the giver of all grace, even as it blesses the one who prays. As we pray, seeking the face of God as the source and fount of every joy and delight, every need and desire, His name is honored, and our spirits are strengthened, “and my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19).

This is why we pray to our sovereign God.

Grace and peace,