The story is told of a preacher who chanced to meet an old friend, Frank, who was having some serious financial problems. His heavy debt was about to destroy his business.
“What should I do?”
“Go home,” the preacher said. “Open your Bible at random, stick your finger on the page and there will be God’s answer.”
Some time later, the preacher bumped into Frank, who was wearing a Gucci suit, sporting a Rolex watch and had just stepped out of a Mercedes.
“Frank.” said the preacher, “I am glad to see things really turned around for you.”
“Yes, preacher, and I owe it all to you,” said Frank. “I opened my Bible, put my finger down on the page and there was the answer — Chapter 11.
Unfortunately, too many people approach the Bible that haphazardly which can lead to a lot of wrong conclusions. God is often credited to leading people to places He never intended they go. How many false doctrines are built around a single verse or even a word that is taken out of context, misunderstood or misapplied.
The Bible itself provides the best explanation on how to understand and interpret its meaning. One such example is found in Acts 15.
The growth and unity of the early church was threatened by “certain men” who taught that Gentiles must be circumcised and converted to Judaism as a prerequisite to becoming Christians. Paul and Barnabas sharply disagreed and debated the issue.
As a result, it was decided that the apostles and elders meet in Jerusalem to reach a conclusion. The Jerusalem conference was not a meeting to formulate policy. Nor a political forum for compromise. Or to establish new truth. But to ascertain what was God’s will regarding the matter.
Consider the arguments and the basis on which they were made.
(1) Peter reasoned from necessary inference (vs 7-11).
He re-counted for supernatural events that occurred as recorded in Acts 10 that influenced his thinking. An angel appeared to the Gentile centurion, Cornelius. Peter had a vision. The Holy Spirit’s command to go with Gentile messengers to Cornelius’ house. And the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles.
What was Peter’s conclusion? Nothing is common or unclean that God has cleansed. God is no respecter of persons. How can I forbid water baptism? And “who was I that I could withstand God?
The implication to Peter was that God accepted the Gentiles apart from binding the rite of circumcision on them.
(2) Paul and Barnabas appealed to apostolic examples. (v.12).
They summarized their first missionary journey. The gospel was taken to the Roman proconsul, Sergius Paulus. In Antioch of Piscidia when the Jews opposed them, they preached to the Gentiles. In Iconium both Jews and Gentiles obeyed the Gospel. In Lystra, they preached to pagans who were converted to Christ.
When they returned to Antioch of Syria they “rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.”
All of these examples demonstrated God’s approval.
(3) James pointed to the direct command of Scripture (vs 13-21).
He quoted Amos 9:11-12, a Messianic prophesy that foretold of the Gentiles being in God’s new tabernacle. Ironically, the very law the Judaizers tried to bind speaks of a time when God opened the door to all nations.
James’ argument is a simple, basic appeal to the clear and concise Word of God. His conclusion? Don’t trouble the Gentiles over your opinion, but preach the same warnings as given to Jews!
As a result a letter was drafted to refute the assertions of these false teachers and to verify the apostles acceptance of God’s will on this matter.
The letter reveals two other important points regarding Biblical interpretation.
(1) The law of exclusion often called the silence of the Scriptures.
These teachers had no right to bind circumcision and the Old Law on the Gentiles. Why? Because the apostles said, “We gave no such commandment.” Silence forbids it.
(2) Expediency is exercised in sending the letter. (V22)
There may have been many ways to address and answer the problem, but this method “seemed good” to those assembled. It was a matter of judgment and an expedient way to handle the problem.
While some are critical and disparage this method of Biblical interpretation, it’s not new. It didn’t originate in the 1950’s. It was employed by the apostles. It worked then. And it will work for us, if we have a sincere desire to know the will of God.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman