The Biblical Command Not to Love

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church the 27th day of July, 2014:

Familiarity

We are familiar with many commands in the Bible that tell us to love. We know all too well the passage where Jesus is questioned by the Pharisees about the greatest commandment: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:36-39). We know 1 Corinthians 16:14, “Let all that you do be done in love.” And there are many other commands in the Bible to love others, to love God, to love the things of God . . . But have you ever considered that there may be a command in the Bible not to love? Well, there is, and we find it in John’s first epistle, the second chapter. We are very familiar with the biblical commands to love, but not as much with the biblical command not to love. It is a fatal spiritual tragedy if we ignore the biblical command not to love and as soon as we start obeying the command not to love, we will be loving God more, and loving others.

The Text: 1 John 2:15-17, ESV

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

The Exhortation: Do Not Love the World (v. 15a)

The first thing John tells his readers is “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” That is the only command in this text. The rest of the passage is John’s argument for why they shouldn’t love the world. So what does John mean by “do not love the world or the things in the world?” First of all, John isn’t talking about not loving the people of the world. To understand what he means, it’s important to define what the word “love” here means.

If you’ve studied the Bible for long, you know that the New Testament was not originally written in English. It was written in Greek. This presents some difficulty for readers today because the same English word may not be the same Greek word. There are actually many terms used for the word “love” in our English Bibles, and they don’t all mean the same thing. The word for “love” here is agapate. It means “to delight in.” Often times in the New Testament, it carries a negative sense to it. Let me show you.

This same Greek word is used by Jesus when He describes the hypocritical behavior of the Pharisees, listen for it: “Woe to you Pharisees! For you (agapate) love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces” (Luke 11:43). They loved the adoration and pride of place, seen by the people as the religious rulers of that day. This was not a love for God, but loving to be worshipped by the people. John himself also uses this Greek word in his own gospel: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people (agapate) loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19). The people of the world, John writes, loved and delighted in the world because their works were evil.

So here in our text, the word “love” is negative. It is not the same word for love that John has been talking about when he says that we ought to “love our brothers” (2:10). This love that John is saying his readers ought not to have is a love that is focused on self-pleasure and self-gratification. He is talking about the sinful attractions of the world, and John says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” By him saying, “Do not love the things of the world,” he gives us more insight into what he means here. Do not love worldly pleasures, do not love the attitudes and values and attractions that are opposed to God!

What John means by “things in the world” is described in v. 16, which we will look at. People will do crazy things for what they love. Love for the world is to be avoided by the Christian.

The 1st Reason: Love for the World is Incompatible with Love for God (v. 15b)

So John commands against loving the world. But why? Why would it be a problem to love the world? John gives four reasons. The first reason John says not to love the world is because love for the world is incompatible with love for God (v. 15). Do not love the world because you cannot love God at the same time. He presents a possibility here and says, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” If it is true that there is anyone among you who does love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. If that’s a possibility to happen, who would be the one John is describing as the one who could love the world? It’s the person who doesn’t have the love of the Father in him.

What does John mean by “the love of the Father?” It does not mean God’s love for the believer—God is going to love you whether you love the world or not—He’s going to love you no matter what you’ve done or haven’t done: His love endures forever. What John does mean here is “your love for God.” He must mean that because he isn’t talking about God’s love for the world at all in this passage. He is talking to believers (like you and me) who were susceptible to falling in-love with the world, when they should be falling in love with God. If Christians could not love the world, then John wouldn’t have written this letter. He was writing to people just like us—they loved their brothers and sisters—they loved fellowship with one another, and fellowship with God. But they, just like anyone, can easily fall into the death trap of loving the world that promises us nothing!

Love for God is incompatible with love for the world; James writes an interesting statement about that truth: “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). James says that if you love the world, you put yourself over here in the category of the God-haters who are His enemies. Loving God and loving the world is like fire and water—they don’t mix. Either you’ve allowed the world to water down you love for God, or you love for God is so fiery hot that it has evaporated the love for the world. Don’t you be deceived into thinking that you can fully love God and love the world at the same time, but that is not true according to v. 15: “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Love for the world will push out love for God, or love for God will push out love for the world.

If your love for God has grown cold, then you have allowed other temporary things to creep in and choke your love for God. You have been allowing yourself to eat the crums at the floor of the world instead of feasting at the table of our God who gives spiritual satisfaction to all who seek Him.

The 2nd Reason: All That is in the World is From the World (v. 16)

John has commanded the believers against loving the world and says that the first reason they should not love the world is because love for the world and love for God is incompatible. The second reason, John writes, why we should not love the world is because all that is in the world is not from God, but is from the world (v. 16). John is explaining here why love for God and love for the world is incompatible. So what’s to be said about the good we see in the world? The trees, rocks, lakes, family, children and relationships? Is that what John is talking about? No, John defines what he means by “all that is in the world” in v. 16. He names three things that build on each other:

A. “the desires of the flesh”

First, John says that the “desires of the flesh” are of the world and not from God. Let’s talk about that word “desire” for a moment. The Greek word for “desire” here is epithymia. It is used 38 times in the New Testament and only three times is it used in a positive way. This word, like love that we talked about, is used mainly in a negative way. Here are some Scriptures that demonstrate its usage:

“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil (epithymia) desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5).

“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own (epithymia) desire. Then (epithymia) desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15).

“By which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful (epithymia) desire” (2 Peter 1:4).

John doesn’t say that there is anything wrong with desire, but the “desires of the flesh,” that is from the world! He literally means that desires that come from the flesh. It is the whole of sinful man; in his rebellion. The flesh is our enemy! We have been born with a sin nature that is naturally rebellious against God—that gives us no excuse for running from God and having desires for other things besides God . . . But more so as a believer, we have no excuse for giving in to the sinful cravings of our flesh! We’ve been made new, we’ve got the Holy Spirit of Almighty God to give us the strength to resist sin and be obedient to the Lord, we need to heed the Bible when it says to “Crucify the flesh with its passions and desires” as in Galatians 5:24.

Your desires rule you. Did you know that you cannot even make a choice without a desire? You must first have a desire before you can ever even make a choice for something. And when it comes to the moment of decision, whatever you desire most is what you are going to choose. I’ve been trying to eat healthy for a few weeks now, and so when I go to town for lunch, I desire to eat a good salad. Well, when I get to the restaurant and I glance at the menu and see a bacon cheeseburger staring at me, begging me to eat it, my desires change. I have a conflict in me: I desire to eat healthy, but I also desire to eat the cheeseburger. If I choose a salad, ultimately my desire to eat healthy was stronger than my desire to eat a bacon cheeseburger. If I choose a bacon cheeseburger, then my desire to indulge was stronger than my desire to eat healthy. If I choose not to eat at all, my desire to not eat salad or the cheeseburger was stronger than my desire to eat.

We are desiring people by nature. That’s why it is so important to have a stronger desire for God than for the world! Because if you are desiring God, then the things you do will be influenced by that desire for God. The problem is, when we were born with our sin nature, we naturally desire sin and evil over God: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Rom. 1:22-23). I don’t know about you, but I’ve got the Lord, and that’s enough! I don’t need that sin that promises me nothing but sorrow, pain, and hurt. We need to fight sin and our evil desires of the flesh and replace those desires with desires for wholehearted worship and adoration and white-hot passion for God.

B. “the desires of the eyes”

It is important that John names this next in his list. Why? Because what you desire with your eyes is what you will desire with your flesh. The sinful cravings of the flesh are activated by what people see. The eyes are often the source of desire. And John tells his readers that the “desires of the eyes” are from the world, they do not originate with God. Jesus has much to say about the eyes:

“And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire” (Matt. 18:9).

What Jesus means here is not to be taken literal—please there was an early church theologian named Origen who castrated himself because of this verse. Jesus means here that we need to take whatever measure necessary to eradicate the sinful desires in our lives.

Another penetrating statement about this from Jesus is found in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matt. 6:22-23).

We need to get filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, and keep ourselves under control when it comes to our eyes. We need to identify with the Psalmist David when he says, “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me” (Psalm 101:3). The “desires of the eyes” are from the world.

C. “pride of life”

Pride is the chief sin—Pride lifts you up far above others and makes you think that you are even above God. John means here that the “pride of life” is boasting and arrogance. It is being puffed up in pride because of what you have on the earth. It expresses a sense of human self-sufficiency and independence from God. When you look at all that you have, Pride says, “Look what I did! I did this!” Against this, Paul writes, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor. 3:7) So to boasting Paul says, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:31). Pride is rooted in every sin that we commit. Pride is saying to God’s face when we sin, “I do not need You to be satisfied; I do not need You at all! I will find meaning and satisfaction in things of the world.” Proverbs 16:5 says, “Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished.”

John has named three things that make up “all that is in the world.” The desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life. Are you desiring God or desiring the world? Surrender your sinful desires to God, give Him all the room He needs to work—but be willing to get rid of those sinful desires. “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions” (Romans 6:12).

The 3rd Reason: The World is Passing Away (v. 17a)

John has exhorted the believers against loving the world and has given two reasons why not to love the world. Don’t love the world because love for God and love for the world is incompatible. Don’t love the world because all that is in the world is not from the Father, but is from the world: the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, the pride of life. But further, the third reason why we should not love the world is because the world is passing away along with those desires which entice us: “And the world is passing away along with its desires” (v. 17a). John writes to his readers that it would be foolish to love the world, because it doesn’t last—it is passing away. Not only that, it is passing away along with its desires. The world is passing away and its days are numbered. All that is against God and His grace is passing away. There is no future in worldliness. There are two ways in which the world is passing away:

A. Temporary by Nature:  What it offers is temporary—it is not eternal; it does not last. Solomon has some wisdom from Ecclesiastes concerning this: “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity” (Eccl. 5:10). Solomon is establishing a very important truth: Sin never satisfies. Sin will always tell you need more and more of it to be satisfied, that you will not be satisfied until you have it. But that is a lie! The author of Hebrews writes that the pleasures of sin are fleeting (11:25). Sin will never be enough—only God is enough. Further, Peter writes, “They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable (impossible to be satisfied) for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children!” (2 Pet. 2:14, emphasis mine).

B. Consummation: It will one day be gone, but made new. The Bible says that we are awaiting a new heavens and new earth. Again from Ecclesiastes, “All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return” (Eccl. 3:20). Everything in this world that is material and contrary to God, will one day waste away. Back in 1987, Kansas released a song titled, “Dust in the Wind.” Kansas guitarist Kerry Livgren wrote this after reading a book of Native American poetry. The line that caught his attention was “For All We Are Is Dust In The Wind.” This got him thinking about the true value of material things and the meaning of success. The band was doing well and making money, but Kerry realized that in the end, he would eventually die just like everyone else. No matter our possessions or accomplishments, we all end up back in the ground.

Do not be fooled into living for the moment. “Do not conform to the ways of this world” says Paul in Romans 12. Let us work and think and plan and desire all to exalt God and to make Him known—let us do those things which really matter: worshipping God and making His name known where it is not exalted. This world will one day pass away with everything in it.

The 4th Reason: Whoever Does God’s Will Abides Forever (v. 17b)

John has given three reasons so far as to why we ought not love the world. The fourth reason is found in the latter part of v. 17: ” . . . but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” In contrast to the person who loves the world, the Christian who does God’s will shall abide forever. This is the climax of John’s argument for why not to love the world. I don’t know about you, but this is who I want to be: “whoever does the will of God abides forever.” Who is the one who would do the “will of God?” Well, in this context, John is talking about salvation because he says that whoever does God’s will “abides forever.”

John writes much about abiding forever in his gospel:

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51).

“I will give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).

“And everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:26).

So who is it that will overcome the world? Who will be able to overcome the sinful desires of the flesh? Who will be able to overcoming loving the world? John asks the same question in 1 John 5:5, “Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” Friends, if you a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ—if He has made you a new person, you will abide forever. You have the power accessible to you to overcome loving the world and loving the desires of the world. You know what the difference is between you loving the world and someone who doesn’t know Christ as their Savior? John answers that question: “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (5:19).

John Presents the Biblical Command Not to Love

John gives the biblical command not to love. If you are loving the things of the world, God can change your desires. Confess it to Him, repent, allow Him to work in you—fall inlove with Him by getting to know Him through the Bible. John tells us that everything in the world is not from God, but from the world. If you have problems with these desires that John named, get things right with God, and through the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, you will overcome them. Overcoming our desires is not just something we ought to do, or something we need to do—it’s something we can do through Christ who strengthens us. John reminds us that this world is passing away, but whoever does God’s will abides forever. What John presents for us in this text, my friends, is the biblical command not to love.

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Theological Reflections: God’s Omnipotence and Logical Possibility

The omnipotence of God is a central, biblical doctrine to Christianity. It refers to God’s all-encompassing power. He is the all-powerful Lord who has created all things and sustains them by the Word of His power (Gen. 1:1-3; Heb. 1:3). God reveals in the Bible that He is all-powerful and in the final sense, He is the ruler of nature and history. Psalm 147:5 reveals, “Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.” Similarly, Job says “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2, emphasis mine). The Scriptures reveal, then, that God is all-powerful—He is omnipotent. Further, if God is infinite, and if He is sovereign, which we know He is, then He must also be omnipotent. He has all power over all things at all times and in all ways.

Given this understanding of God’s omnipotence, does this mean that God can sin or bring about contradictions in Himself? After all, He can do all things. Some people shriek when any limitations, logical or physical, are placed on the power of God. The Scriptures reveal, however, that there are certain things that even an all-powerful God cannot do. Ronald H. Nash writes, “If there is anything to be learned from the classical Christian discussions of omnipotence, it is that omnipotence was always understood to be compatible with certain limitations on God’s power.”¹ How is God’s power “limited” in regards to logical and physical possibilities? First, if something is physically impossible, no human can perform that act in the real world. More than that, if something is logically impossible, then it cannot be done in the real world (or other possible worlds) by anyone or anything under any conditions (that would include God). So in relation to God, His omnipotence does not extend to things that are logically impossible. This does not count against His omnipotence, however, because as Frankfurt observes, “If an omnipotent being can do what is logically impossible, then he can not only create situations which he cannot handle but also, since he is not bound by the limits of consistency, he can handle situations which he cannot handle.”² If God was above the law of non-contradiction and the matters of logic, then He would be unknowable and unintelligible. So then, God’s inability to perform the logically impossible does not count against His omnipotence. Those logical impossibilities just cannot be done.

So when it comes to matters of contradictions within the Godhead, or the question of God’s ability to sin, or ability to bring about a contradictory state of affairs, those are logical impossibilities. Logical consistency is a necessary condition for God’s omnipotence, not merely physical possibility. Is sin a logical and physical possibility? Yes. After all, sinning is done by humans all the time and it is logically and physically possible. How then, can God not sin? Early Christian thinkers like Thomas Aquinas and Anselm were faced with the same question. They pointed out that God could not sin because the ability to sin is not a power. Writing about Anselm, Nash observes that “[Anselm suggested] that the ability to sin results not from power but from lack of power.”³ If God could sin, then that would mean a lack of power, which would then mean that He is not omnipotent. God’s inability to sin, then, is not contradictory to His omnipotence. This compatibility does not mean that “God is above logic” or that the law of non-contradiction is a limitation on God’s power. Nash writes, “no logical contradiction results from ascribing a certain action like sinning to a human being, the action does become self-contradictory when it is attributed to God.” In conclusion, the Scriptures attest to God’s omnipotence, but do not support the view of a God who can do the logically impossible—it cannot be done.


1. Ronald H. Nash, Life’s Ultimate Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 306.
2. Harry G. Frankfurt cited in Nash, 311.
3. Nash, 312-313.
4. Nash, 314.

Theological Reflections: Is Open Theism Biblical?

There are certain essential attributes that theology ascribes to God. These attributes are drawn from what is clearly revealed in the Bible about God’s nature. Among these essential attributes are: omnipotence (God is all-powerful), omnipresence (God is all-present), and omniscience (God is all-knowing). All of these are equally important, and require careful study and attention. For God to be God, these attributes must be His nature. He must be all powerful, able to do anything—He must be always present with His creation, and He must be all-knowing, not restricted by any means.

God’s omniscience, however, presents a struggle in matters of God’s power to know all things, and how that relates to human freedom. Omniscience refers to God’s perfect knowledge about the past, present, and the future. Biblical Christians have always affirmed that God is omniscient, but recently certain thinkers have denied God’s perfect knowledge about the future. These “certain thinkers” are proponents of what is known as open theism. Their denial of God’s complete omniscience is due mainly to their system of theology that seeks to answer a problem in relation to God’s omniscience and human freedom.

Since God is all-knowing, this implies that He must know the future. If He knows the future, this poses difficulties for the freedom of human choices and ability. If God knows what humans will do in the future, do humans have the ability to do anything other than what God knows they will do? If humans had the power to do something other than what God foreknows, then God would be mistaken—His knowledge would be false, thus He would not know the future. Ronald H. Nash writes, “God’s foreknowledge would have actually been fore-ignorance.”¹ So the nature of the problem is reconciling God’s divine foreknowledge of the future, with human freedom in regards to their choices and abilities.

The system of theology known as open theism has attempted to provide an adequate answer to this difficulty. Defined by Nash, the basic tenet of open theism is this: “[Proponents of open theism] believe it is necessary to eliminate God’s knowledge of future human actions in order to preserve a sphere of human free will.”² In order to “protect” human freedom and reconcile this problem of divine-foreknowledge-human-freedom, God cannot have knowledge of any future human decisions, or those decisions would lose their significance. As open theists propose, God can have no knowledge about future human possibilities. Those who hold to this view say that God cannot know these things because there is nothing to know—the decisions, choices, and actions have not been made by humans yet because they are future contingents, and not done in the past. The past is fixed, but the future is not, and since those actions have not yet been done, God could not possibly know them.

It is important to point out that, though open theist deny God’s knowledge of the future, they are not necessarily saying that God doesn’t know about everything in the future. According to their view, God knows that “the multiplication tables will be true in the future, just as he knows that the law of gravity will continue to obtain.”³ God doesn’t know the specifics about future contingents—He just knows the fundamentals, if you will, those things which can be accurately predicted because they do not change. Things like natural laws and obvious consequences. But if God can know one contingent like these, how can He not know more? Who or what is the authority in determining how many future contingents God can or cannot know?

Open theism, then, creates more problems than it attempts to resolve. The theological implications of a limitation on God’s foreknowledge are possibly something the proponents of open theism have not considered. One implication is that God would have no knowledge of which human beings will come into existence in the future. God had no knowledge of anyone’s future existence, and He couldn’t have (if they did not yet exist). How then, would the atonement of Christ accomplish anything at all? This would mean that God sent Christ to die with the possibility of dying for no one—for He had no way of knowing if even one human being would come to faith. Nash writes, “Just as the God of open theism cannot know which future human beings will exist, neither can he know which future humans will become Christian believers, will receive his salvation, and will be blessed with eternal life.”

This theory of open theism also does serious damage to the teaching of the knowledge of God revealed in the Scriptures. God “knows everything” (1 John 3:20), and even says of Himself, “[I declare] the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’” (Isaiah 46:10). The psalmist writes, “Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether” (Psalm 139:4). Open theism, therefore, cannot provide an adequate reconciliation for the struggle between God’s foreknowledge and human freedom. The Bible affirms that God knows all things, and that He knows the future perfectly. God has true foreknowledge of what human beings will do in the future, and those actions are determined, while at the same time, not violating human free will. All human choices and future contingents will therefore be what God already knows they will be.


1. Ronald H. Nash, Life’s Ultimate Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 316.
2. Nash, 317.
3. Nash, 320.
4. Nash, 323.

Resisting Temptation, a Guest Post by Bradley Finley

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Cor. 10:13, NIV).

How cool is that? God makes sure that every temptation comes with it’s own escape plan! While God “tempts no one” (James 1:13), Satan presents before us the opportunity to sin, but God allows us a way of escape. So this means if you really want to get away from a tempting situation, you will be able to. In fact, in most cases, all you have to do is run.

Everybody gets tempted to do something they know they shouldn’t do. In some cases you may need to actually run to avoid making a mistake. When you get hit with temptation, do something to get it off your mind right then and there. Go mow the yard, or clean the house, or take a drive because if you don’t do anything to resist giving in to temptation, chances are you will give in. Prayer shouldn’t be neglected either. It is truly a big help. God wants you to come to Him in prayer with every request that you have. We must understand that He may not always give us the answer we want, but He will give us the strength and endurance we need to accept our situation, grow from it and move forward.

You know, there are two kinds of role models: The ones who say, “Do as I say and not as I do, ” and the ones who say, “Follow my example.” Jesus definitely belongs in the second category. Not only did He talk the talk, but He also walked the walk. He had to deal with the same emotions we all struggle with. (We can relate to Jesus) He faced the same major temptations you face; but He never got beaten by them. He left the earth with the only perfect record against sin. That’s great news for you! No matter what your going through, Jesus can relate to it. Want to know something even better? He can give you the strength you need to be victorious over sin and also temptation.

The Need for Biblical Interpretation

The need for biblical interpretation is ever-increasing in our postmodern age, especially considering the growing pluralism in the world. Since God is the ultimate authority in all matters, and we believe that the Bible is God’s very words, we look to the Bible for a solid foundation to all matters of life. Because of this, we want to know what the Bible means. In order to find this out, we need to reflect on how the meaning of the Bible is obtained.

Since we know that the books and letters of the Bible are a written form of communication, we know that three main components are involved, because these three components are part of any written communication. These are: the text/writing, the reader, and the author. First, it is important that we evaluate all three and see if they could be the determiners of meaning. We are asking, “Who or what determines the meaning of a biblical text?” The text cannot be the determiner of meaning because it is an inanimate object, and cannot produce meaning—it may convey meaning, but can never produce it. The reader cannot be the determiner of meaning, because if that is true, then there can be as many meanings as there are readers—and they cannot all be right. The author as the determiner of meaning is the only legitimate conclusion. The author meant one thing by what he wrote, and that intention was fixed at the time of writing—and cannot be changed. All literature is rightly interpreted this way.

Therefore, the main goal in interpreting the Bible is determining what the author meant by what he wrote. This goal that we want to reach cannot happen spontaneously, however. There are many barriers to discovering what the author meant by what he wrote. Historical barriers, cultural barriers, linguistic or language barriers, and philosophical barriers. Because of these barriers, the need for biblical interpretation is created.

First of all, we are centuries in time difference from the authors of the Old and New Testaments. There were things that were common to them back then, that may not be to us today. For instance, we cannot necessarily interpret Leviticus through a 21st century lens. Second, there are many cultural differences that cause a barrier between us and the time of the biblical writers. Namely, oaths and marriages were quite different in that day than in ours. It would not be sound, then, to think of Mary and Joseph’s “betrothal” (Matt. 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-56) as simply an engagement in our time because engagement is culturally relevant to our world today. The culture then was much different than today, and this creates the need for biblical interpretation. Third, the very language of the Bible is not the language we speak. The original language of the Old Testament was Hebrew (with portions of Aramaic), and the New Testament in Greek. Hebrew and Greek are an entirely different language, with different letters, usages, rules, and phrases. Biblical interpretation is important because in order to determine what the author meant by what he wrote, we must look at the original languages as best as we can. Finally, the philosophy of the Bible is very different than that of our 21st century. We live in a postmodern world with pluralistic ideologies. This creates the need for biblical interpretation because the philosophy of the Bible is not pluralistic, and it is not hedonistic either, like our world is today. People today doubt the existence of a Triune God, while the people of Bible times just assumed His existence—their philosophy was different.

So then, discovering the author’s intended meaning will require biblical interpretation in light of all of these barriers that might hinder us from finding out the meaning that the author intended.

[Below is an addition, published on July 29, 2017]

So do we arrive at the true meaning of the Bible based on our own interpretation of the Bible? Can we arrive at a biblical interpretation on our own? Do we all have an equally valuable opinion about what Scripture means? Does everyone have a shot at biblical interpretation and can we use any rules of interpretation we want? It’s not exactly as simple as it may sound.

Consider the oft spoken phrase, “Well, that’s just your interpretation.” This is easily the most cliche statement uttered in Christian circles, usually when there is disagreement about the meaning of a text. And it is becoming quite wearisome to continually hear it spoken as a defense of one’s own interpretation of a text. Usually they add, “That’s your interpretation and this is mine.” I will go ahead and say at the outset that there are two fundamental reasons why this assumption is not only wrong, but even heretical in my estimation. First of all, it allows for everyone and anyone to have any opinion whatsoever about the meaning of Scripture. And secondly, it doesn’t allow the real meaning of the Bible to be preserved and taught.

Let’s deal with the first reason. It may sound narrow-minded to say that no one should be allowed to have as many opinions as they want about the meaning of Scripture, and yes – it is narrow-minded, but in a good way and I will explain this more later. The fallacy with this idea that everyone has a “say-so” concerning the meaning of Scripture is found in the implications and logical conclusions of that approach. What this approach to interpretation implies is that there is no real, concrete, or reliable interpretation of any biblical text whatsoever. If everyone has an equal say in what a text means, and if everyone’s assumption holds equal value (what this assertion implies), then there can be no real meaning. If A is equally valuable to B, C, and D, and they are all esteemed as possibly correct interpretations, then either everybody is right or everybody is wrong.

Now, let’s be honest – most of those interpretations are likely going to contradict one another. Most of the time varying interpretations contradict one another, otherwise there would be no disagreement leading to a round table discussion where everyone gives their opinions about meaning! And in the case when those interpretations do contradict, plain sense would tell you that not everybody around the table has an equal say about what a biblical text means. Either they are insane, or the authors of the Bible were insane. If Billy thinks the verse means that Scripture is without error, and Sally thinks the verse means that Scripture is full of error, then somebody is wrong because those two assertions contradict one another. Both of them might be wrong, but both of them cannot simultaneously be right.

The second reason this approach to interpretation is wrong also has to do with consistency – the author’s original meaning is no longer preserved. Consider that we do not believe it to be ethical or right to take a historical document and twist it anyway we want. When a document is written in history, the author’s meaning is sealed forever. Therefore, the only correct interpretation of any historical document must be in harmony and accordance with what the author really meant by what he wrote. We dare not do this with great works in history such as the writings of Eusebius, or Josephus, or the Constitution. One could possibly be jailed for reading something into those documents that was not intended by the original author.

So then, it is absolute insanity to suppose that it is wrong to do this with historical works, but it is right to do this with the Bible. The Bible is the word of God, supremely more valuable than any historical document – and like any historical document its meaning is sealed in history forever. The only way one can discover its meaning is by discovering the author’s original meaning – which we are very much able to do.

But note the insanity of interpreting a written text in any fashion desirable: If I text my wife that we need milk and eggs, she is not free to interpret that in any way she wants, and neither is anybody else. To take it a step further, let’s suppose I send her that text on Monday, and she doesn’t read it until Wednesday. Can she now interpret that anyway she wants, because it is an old message? I would believe her to be insane if she sat down with a group of her friends for two hours trying to figure out what I meant by that text. How strange would it be for each of her friends to offer a different interpretation of what I meant by that text. One might say, “Well here’s what I think – he probably wants you to buy rice milk and snake eggs.” Another remarks, “Your husband strikes me as the type that likes to get prepared, so he probably wants you to bring home a cow and a few chickens so that you never have to go to the market to buy milk and eggs ever again.” Another says, “Well, let’s think about it this way – what do you get when you mix milk and eggs? Usually scrambled eggs, right? He probably has a craving for some scrambled eggs from Cracker Barrel.”

It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Clearly, I meant that my wife needs to pick up a gallon of milk and a carton of eggs from the supermarket. But with a philosophy of interpretation that allows for anyone to interpret what I wrote in any way they want, the original meaning is lost and no longer preserved. In fact, the value of my text becomes virtually worthless. The interpretations make my text obsolete. My text no longer has any value if it is subject to this many interpretations. Neither are we allowed to do this with the Bible!

It doesn’t matter what your interpretation is, and it doesn’t matter what my interpretation is. What matters is the right interpretation. We must answer the question: What did author of the text mean by what he wrote to the original audience?

Clearly, there are many other rules of interpretation to follow when seeking to discover the author’s original meaning. But all of those rules must flow from pursuing the answer to this one question. Therefore, any interpretation which does not agree with the author’s original meaning is false and should be rejected. And we discover the original meaning through careful study of the context, study of history, study of the original languages, and many other things. I understand that many of us do not have either the time nor the professional training required to use all of those means listed to discover the author’s original meaning. But there is one rule of interpretation upon which we must all agree. And this one rule of interpretation is fundamental to understanding any verse of Scripture, and it is certainly fundamental to discovering the author’s original meaning by what he wrote. In addition, while we may not know much of how to use those means of discovering the author’s meaning listed above, this one rule alone will suffice. In fact, all of those other means proceed from this one rule, therefore even using them is an extension of using this one rule (and to some degree is necessary to using this one rule in its fullness). This one rule concerns consistency, and it is this: We must interpret Scripture with Scripture. We must do so, brothers and sisters. This is to say, what we assert as an interpretation of any biblical text must agree with Scripture as a whole. If our interpretation is in disagreement with any other verse, idea, or teaching in Scripture then our interpretation is wrong and must be changed.

To the example earlier, if Sally asserts that the correct interpretation of 2 Timothy 3:16 is that Scripture contains error, then we must endeavor to discover if that interpretation agrees with the rest of Scripture. And anybody who knows their Bible even remotely understands that 2 Timothy 3:16, and Scripture as a whole refutes that interpretation. The Bible itself claims that it is a book that should be received as the divine revelation of God, for that is what it is. Therefore, it is without error and inerrant. So Sally’s interpretation is wrong.

Well, that’s just your interpretation.” Let us both stop saying this and encouraging others to do so. We are not free to interpret the Bible any way we want – we are only free to discover the author’s original meaning by what they wrote in the sacred text. Let us study the Scriptures daily to discover their true meaning, and may our interpretations be in unison with the overall teaching of Scripture.

God’s Protection, a Guest Devotion by Bradley Finley

Matthew 28:20b: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

God is saying that you never have to feel outnumbered, intimidated or outclassed by anything on earth. Why? Because, “I am with you.” As His follower, you have 24/7 access to Him; to His power and His protection.

Isn’t it amazing that God is there for us all the time? Whenever you need him, He’s there and He will always protect us. A great example of God’s protection is in the book of Daniel. (You can read chapter 3 for the full story.) There were three men: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. These men were thrown into a fire because they did not worship King Nebuchadnezzar. King Nebuchadnezzar saw a fourth man in the fire that looked like a “Son of God” (3:25). He called the three men out and their bodies had not been harmed, nor was a piece of hair from their heads singed, their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them. They were faithful to God and God protected them from a fire! Like them, God wants us to defend Him. Sometimes when we stand up for Him, we may face harm. It’s important to remember, if God protected them from a fire, what else can He protect you from?

Boundary Map: A Guest Devotion by Bradley Finley

2 Kings 17:14-15 reads, “But they would not listen and were as stiff-necked as their fathers, who did not trust in the Lord their God. They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their fathers and the warnings he had given them. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless. They imitated the nations around them although the Lord had ordered them, “Do not do as they do,” and they did the things the Lord had forbidden them to do.”

When you get serious about a sport, one of the first things you have to do is learn the rules. The better you understand the boundaries set by the rules of the game, the more effective you will be competing within those boundaries. The same holds true for God’s work. The better you know the boundaries set by God’s determination of right and wrong, the more effective you will be in living a life that pleases him. Hint: You already have the “boundary map” right now: the Word of God. All you have to do now is read it and learn from it.

In regards to living a life that pleases God, think about good works. When you are doing something to help someone, whether it be hauling hay, carrying groceries for people, helping a person move, or mowing the grass for somebody, it’s good works. Nothing is wrong with good works. But we must remember that when we do good works, its for God’s glory and honor instead of for ourselves.