Colorado rafting
Taken by Noah's Ark Rafting at Brown's Canyon, CO
Navigating The Scriptures
      When navigating down an unknown river, we would first need to have a purpose in our going.  We need some basic equipment such as a boat and oars, a map, life jackets, water, and food.  We also need to have a knowledge of how to navigate.  We should know what to look for and what to avoid. A guide would be of tremendous importance. Some other factors might be a need for courage, patience, strength, discipline, and endurance.  These factors should also be considered in navigating through the Word of God. 

I. Basic premise:

"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:    That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works"  (II Timothy 3:16-17).  This simply means that the Scripture is God-breathed and is for our benefit.  The benefits are too numerous to list here, but Psalms 119 gives a good start.
II. Translations:
"For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (II Peter 1:21).  We must understand that certain men just didn't set down one day and decide to write out some scripture. The men that God used were "holy".  They were set apart by God for the job.  They wrote as they were driven by the Holy Spirit.  The picture is of a leaf that is carried along by the wind.

There are two basic philosophies concerning translations. The Biblical view is that God has and will preserved His Word.   "The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.    Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever" (Psalm 12:6-7).    "Seek ye out of the book of the LORD, and read: no one of these shall fail, none shall want her mate: for my mouth it hath commanded, and his spirit it hath gathered them" (Isaiah 34:16).  "The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever" (Isaiah 40:8).  "For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled" (Matthew 5:18). "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away" (Matthew 24:35).   "But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you" (I Peter 1:25).    Furthermore, God preserved it in Old Testament times though the holy priesthood.  Beginning with the New Testament, God  preserves it through the priesthood of believers.

The second philosophy is that God was not able to preserve His Word through fallen man.  Therefore modern man must fix what the men following the New Testament times have fouled up.  Their premise is that the oldest manuscripts must be closest to the original and are therefore the best.  Therefore, through subject conjecture of knowledge, modern scholars have attempted to reconstructed the text.  There are secondary philosophies that comes out of this one.  One such philosophy is that since the language has changed, man must change the translation.  Another such philosophy is that man can rightfully choose his own version of the Bible.  One may say, "I like this translation because I can understand it."  However, understanding a lie does not make the lie, true.  Furthermore, if everyone uses a different translation, it brings utter confusion of the reading of Scripture in a worship service.

The real issue is not so much the "translation", if it is a true translation, it is the text.  Although the translation is important, the text from which the translation originated is most important.  A correct translation from a bad text makes for a bad translation.    The Living Bible was said to be published because of the language of the King James Version was archaic and difficult to understand.  However, the Living Bible is NOT a translation at all.  It is a paraphrased opinion of one man.  Furthermore, this paraphrased version is based upon a DIFFERENT text than the KJV.

Only the KJV and the New KJV of the bible are based upon the texts that have been preserved by God.  Interestedly enough, only the KJV is the only translation of the Bible which is not possessed by man through a copyright.  All other versions of the Bible which I know of are based upon a false philosophy that modern man has to recreate the text through conjecture.    A good test passage is, "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory" (I Timothy 3:16).  It is obvious that the subject Jesus.  The understanding is that Jesus is God.  However, in other texts the word "God" become the obscure pronoun "he".

Often the modern translations had omitted or changed major doctrines through using texts that were riddled with omissions and additions.  Some of the major doctrinal changes are: (1) taking away from the deity of Christ, (2) the removal of passages concerning the redemption by the blood of Christ, (3) the omission of the virgin birth, (4) the watering down of the reality of hell, and (5) the manifestation of miracles in the lives of believers.

We are warned in at least three places in Scripture not to add to or take away from the Word.   "Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you" (Deuteronomy 4:2).  "Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.    Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar" (Proverbs 30:5-6). "And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book" (Revelation 22:19).

I personally suggest the King James Version because I believe it is the most accurate, but don't have a major objection with the New King James Version which is based upon the same text.

III. Elements of Biblical Interpretation.
A. Prayer is a basic element.  Since God is the author of the Bible one should seek to ask Him for the meaning.  "Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers;    That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him:    The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,    And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power,    Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 1:16-20).  Furthermore, one work of the Holy Spirit is to guide us into truth.  "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come" (John 16:13).

B. Some basic tools are:

1. A good basic Bible.  (KJV or NKJV)

2. A Bible Dictionary.  You need one that you can look up names, places, and events.

3. A good concordance.

a. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance is probably the best, but may be difficult for a new Christian.
b. Young's Analytical Concordance is quick and easy but less detailed.
4. Some commentaries.  I recommend a conservative, one volume, Commentary On The Whole Bible by Jamieson, Fausset and Brown.  I also use a large set of the Pulpit Commentaries which give various views.

5. Word Study books are also often helpful.

6. A good study Bible with a good column cross references.  The Thompson Chain Reference Bible is great if you have been a Christian for some time.

7. Lexicons are great tools to look up words in the original languages (of Hebrew and Greek)  for advanced students.

C. Study.   "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (II Timothy 2:15).  Study is work!  Study involves reading the Word, memorizing the Word, and Meditation upon the Word.  Study is also discovering what other Believers have gleaned from the Word.
IV. Principles of Interpretation.  (Not meant to be exhaustive)
A. Scripture interprets Scripture.    This means that if you find what seems to be a truth in on place in Scripture, you should find it other places as well.   "At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death" (Deuteronomy 17:6).

B. Context is very important.   This means that you read the verses before and after the passage.  Pulling a verse out of its context can be very dangerous.  Example: "Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever" (Psalm 12:7).  If we take that verse alone, we may conclude that the author is talking about the children of Israel.  However, if we look at the context of the preceding verse we see that the author is talking about the Scriptures.  "The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times" (Psalm 12:6). The "them" in verse seven must refer back to "the words of the LORD."

C. Culture is important.  Each culture has its on idioms.  If we don't understand the culture we may miss or misunderstand the meaning of the passage.  For example: "Therefore the kinsman said unto Boaz, Buy it for thee. So he drew off his shoe" (Ruth 4:8).  There was a custom that if a man would not redeem his brother wife after his brother died that he would publicly remove his shoe.   "Then shall his brother's wife come unto him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face, and shall answer and say, So shall it be done unto that man that will not build up his brother's house"  (Deuteronomy 25:9).

D. The historical context is also important.  What was the date of the writing?  What were the conditions under which the passage was written?

E. The character of the author of the book should be considered. God did not totally block out the character of the writer when he had the writer to record the Word.

1. John, the author of the gospel, the epistles, and Revelation, wrote in simple, but confound thought.  When I took the Greek language in college, we started with the book of I John.  Why?  It was simple to read.

2. Luke, the physician, was meticulous in his accounts in the book of Acts.

3. Paul wrote with never ending sentences.

F. One should understand the nature of different types of literature.
1. History = Genesis, I and II Chronicles are some Old Testament examples.  The book of Acts is a history of the early church.
2. Poetry =
3. Prophecy = Both forth told and foretold.
4. Wisdom = Proverbs, Ecclesiastes
5. Apocalyptic = Revelation
6. Parables = A short figurative story told to illustrate one basic point.  An Old Testament example can be found in II Samuel 12:1-9. The New Testament author commonly announced the parables of Jesus.
7. Doctrine (Romans) Gives the fundamental principles of the faith.
8. Psalms = Emotional and flowery language, generally about every day experiences.
9. Allegory = A veiled presentation in a figurative story.  An example may be of found in Judges 9:8-15.
G. One should discover the purpose of the writing.
1. I John = Security of Salvation
2. I & II Timothy = Instructions to a young minister
3. James = Challenge to do good works because one is saved.
4. John = Demonstrates the deity of Christ through the "I AM" declarations of Jesus.
H. One should take the clear passage over the obscure. We should not take a doctrine from an obscure passage and make that doctrine override a clear doctrine found elsewhere in Scripture.  For example, one may find an obscure passage which may seem to teach that one is saved by works.  However, a clear passage is, "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law" (Romans 3:28).

I. One should take the many passages over the few.  Sometimes we may find a few passages which may seem to teach a truth, but there are many others which teach just the opposite.  There may be a few passage which seem to teach that one may lose their salvation, but there are many, many passages which teach otherwise.

J. Does it make sense?  This is a good rule of thumb to follow.  God is not the author of confusion. "For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints" (I Corinthian 14:33).  If our interpretation doesn't make sense, we had better wait until God gives us more revelation or corrects our conclusion.

K. One of the most deceptive and greatest dangers is to take one truth to the exclusion of others.  For example, God is both a God of love and also a God of wrath.  One does not exclude the other.  For the Believers, God's wrath was satisfied when Jesus died upon the cross.  However,  those unbelievers who reject the gospel must face the wrath of God.

L. We must be cautious of being the Lone Ranger in interpretation.  "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation" (II Peter 1:20).  It is good to research the work (commentaries) of others to see if they have found what we have found.  Generally, what God reveals to us, He has most likely revealed already to others in the past to some degree.

M. There is the  "Law Of First Mention". This simply means that the first time something is mentioned usually sets the stage for interpretation of the following uses of the word, topic, or thought in Scripture.  "But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying,  I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living"  (Matthew 22:31-32).

N. Revelation is often progressive in nature.  "Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints:  To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:26-27).  The  Old Testament gives a backdrop for the New Testament, but we must also see that there is more light in the New Testament.  For example:  God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness:" (Genesis 1:26).  Here we can see the trinity in the plural "us".   However, in the New Testament we see it much clearer.  "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (Matthew 28:19).

O. Application.  How can we apply the meaning of the passage to our own lives?  Knowledge alone leads to pride.  Knowledge brings a responsibility to obey the Word. "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves" (James 1:22).

P. An Example:  "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me" (Revelation 3:20.)

1. The author is John who recorded the words of Jesus.
2. The type of literature is apocalyptic.  It was written in a time of persecution.  It is also prophetic in nature.
3. The first audience is the Church of  the Laodiceans.  The name of this church is a compound word  made up of two words: "Lao" = people (get the word laity from it) + "dicea" = opinions.   In other words ,this was a very opinionated church.  It was a "lets vote" type of church.  It was a democratic type of church of the people, by the people, and for the people rather than being a Christ centered church.
4. The context indicates that the church was luke warm and made Christ sick to the stomach.  None the lest it was a church of Believers.
5. Question? Is the topic relationship or fellowship?  The answer is fellowship.  The church already was related to Christ through being the church (Believers born of the Spirit).
6. What door is Jesus knocking on?  The answer is the door to the soul.
7.  Is he knocking from the inside or the outside?  The answer is the inside from the spirit-man.  Although this passage is often used as an evangelistic tool to say that Jesus wants to come into one's life, the context is the passage is that Jesus is already on the inside (in the spirit), but wants to live where where the people live.  He wants to be Lord over the mind, will, and emotions on a daily basis.  This is FELLOWSHIP.
8. We must allow Jesus to be our Lord on a daily basis that we my have fellowship with him.
V.  Let me encourage you to use your sanctified imagination to compare a river trip to the navigation through the Word.
1. What might you compare your boat to?
2. What might you compare your oars to?
3. What might you compare your map to?
4. What might you compare your guide to?
5. What might you compare your courage, patience, discipline, and endurance to?
6. What might you compare the dangers along the way to?
7. What might you compare your purpose to?
8. What other comparisons might you draw?
 Also see more articles by Basil Frasure, PhD at Whole Person Counseling