The creator of Veggie Tales, Phil Vischer, went on to create an entertaining and informative video series for kids called “What’s in the Bible.” Using puppets and simple animation, these videos were meant to teach in-depth truths from the Bible in a way that children can understand. In one episode, a puppet named ‘Clive’ with a British accent asks the question that many people wonder about the Bible:
“So, what’s with all these wacky rules? And why don’t we follow them all today?”
Another puppet named ‘Sunday School Lady” (with blue hair and pearls, no less) answers his question:
“…God gave Israel more than one kind of rule because He was asking them for more than one kind of holiness. Some of the rules were for ‘ritual holiness’ while others were for ‘ethical holiness.’”
In other words, some of the laws given in the Old Testament were written just for the ancient people of Israel and are not meant to be followed today. Other laws – those having to do with ‘ethical holiness’ – are for all people at all times.
That is why Clive’s friend, Ian, responds:
“We still can’t lie, or cheat, or hurt each other.”
Then Clive responds, “But we can eat bacon…” (a happy relief for many people, no doubt).
The answer to Clive’s question is important for all of us – “what’s with all these wacky rules.” In order to understand and apply the truth of the Bible to our lives, we must learn how to distinguish between what was meant for ancient times and what is meant for all time.
Often when people confuse these two parts of the Bible they come to the conclusion that the Scripture is full of contradictions. The real issue is that they are not reading the Bible with the proper understanding. Once this understanding is in place, much in the Bible becomes quite clear.
How to Read and Understand Scripture
One of the biggest mistakes many people make when reading the Bible is to see meaning that the original text never intended. The best way to approach Bible study is with a goal of discovering first what the biblical text meant to the people for whom it was originally written. To find meaning from the Scriptures for ourselves today, we must first discover what the author intended for the original audience.
In reading and interpreting Scripture there are some important guidelines to aid in understanding the text and then applying it to your life. The only proper control for interpretation of Scripture is to be found in the original intent of the biblical text. Without this control, the Bible can be made to mean whatever desired by any given reader. When that is the case, who is to say that one person’s interpretation is right, and another’s is wrong? It is all subjective.
But by insisting on finding the original meaning of the text, we move to an objective control. We can come to agreement on what a particular passage means in light of the author’s intent and the original setting and context. The true meaning of the Bible for us is what God originally intended it to mean when it was first written.
As we study the Bible, we need to understand that the different books are written in different ways and for different purposes. Each book was written to a particular group of people, at a particular time, in a particular place. Each is unique. Different sections of the Bible represent different literary genres. As you study the Bible, for example, you need to understand what biblical poetry is, and how the different psalms are unique from each other. What are the epistles? How should I interpret biblical history? How do I apply these things to my life?
Eisegesis vs. Exegesis
One of the biggest dangers in biblical interpretation is a practice called ‘proof texting’ or ‘eisegesis.’ This happens when someone takes a verse, or a few verses, out of context and tries to make meaning of them without understanding the intent of the writer. We make a grave mistake when trying to interpret the Bible in part and not as a whole.
Dictionary.com defines ‘eisegesis’ as “an interpretation, especially of Scripture, that expresses the interpreter’s own ideas, bias, or the like, rather than the meaning of the text.”
In other words, eisegesis is the act of reading the Bible with your preconceived ideas in mind and then looking for passages – most often taken out of context – to confirm your own understanding.
The proper way to interpret Scripture is a process called ‘exegesis’. Britannica defines ‘exegesis’ as “the critical interpretation of the biblical text to discover its intended meaning.” Through exegesis, the reader approaches the Scripture without a preconceived idea and allows the meaning to be drawn from the text itself.
Once the original meaning is understood, the next step is bridging the gap – moving from the “then and there” of the original text to the “here and now.” It is at this point that the reader can start making application to their own life.
Truths in Tension
Another area where people see contradictions in Scripture comes from passages that seem to be on two sides of a question. For example, the psalmist declares:
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. (Psalm 24:1, NLT)
Yet another psalm proclaims:
The heavens belong to the Lord, but he has given the earth to all humanity. (Psalm 115:16, NLT)
To one who doesn’t understand, these appear to be contradictions, but they are really truths in tension. God created the earth and therefore, it is His. But He has also delegated authority to human beings on the earth to rule under His guidance. It is similar to a landlord and a tenant. The landlord owns the building and can rightfully say it is his or her property. The tenant leases an apartment from the landlord and can also rightfully say it is his or hers – as long as the lease remains in force. These passages are not contradictions, they are two sides of the same coin.
It’s the same with many of the principles found in the Bible – there is truth in both passages, but the ultimate truth lies in the balance of the two.
When engineers build a suspension bridge, they begin by raising two mighty towers anchored deep into the earth. Then they run the cables from one tower to the next and pull them so tightly that they are strong enough to uphold the roadway. Much wisdom can be gained by reading the Bible with this understanding of truths in tension.
Once you understand how to properly interpret the Bible, it is the unity of the Bible that becomes truly remarkable. The Bible was written over the span of 1,500 years by 40 different writers, in three different languages: Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. There was no way for these people to gather and discuss what was being added to the Bible – it was compiled and unified under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
These 66 books are each colorful strands in a magnificent tapestry that tells the story of our loving Heavenly Father who provides salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ. There is no contradiction in that!
Dr. Craig von Buseck is Managing Editor of Inspiration.org.
If you would like one of our anointed prayer ministers to support you as you lift your voice in prayer, please click on the link below.
US / Canada:
UK / International:
+44 (0) 84 5683 0584
You can watch our powerful programming on either Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Chromecast, via livestream at ini.tv/livestream, or on the Inspiration TV mobile app — click here for all the ways to watch!