“How to Approach the Bible” 

A study series by Arthur J Licursi

Part 8 of 24 – The Case the “Literal” Interpretation of the Bible

The noted theologian Charles Ryrie, author of the “Ryrie Study Bible,” begins his discussion of literal Bible interpretation by referring to Bernard Ramm, who wrote the standard hermeneutics textbooks of his day.

Dispensationalists claim that their principle of hermeneutics is that of literal interpretation. This means interpretation which gives to every word the same meaning it would have in normal usage, whether employed in writing, speaking or thinking.”

The literal means of interpretation is sometimes called the principle of grammatical-historical interpretation” since the meaning of each word is determined by grammatical and historical considerations. The principle might also be called normal interpretation” since the literal meaning of words is the normal approach to their understanding in all languages. It might also be designated plain interpretation.”

As I wrote in the last installment, nobody should receive the mistaken notion that the literal principle rules out figures of speech. It does not. Biblical symbols, figures of speech, types, and allegories may still be appreciated but they are all interpreted plainly and they are in no way contrary to literal interpretation. After all, the very existence of any meaning for a figure of speech depends upon the reality of the literal meaning of the terms involved. Figures of speech are used in order to make the meaning plainer. Figures of speech are an aid to help convey the literal, normal, or plain meaning to the reader. One might read the book “The Study of Types” by Ada R. Habershon to be enriched by learning of many of the legitimate Old Testament types and shadows. Colossians 2:17 (KJV) Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body (reality) is of Christ.

 “Spiritualizing” the Bible is the means so many Christians embrace today. By “Spiritualizing” the Bible there can be as many different interpretations as the number of people to do the spiritualizing. Everybody has an opinion. But below we see that Peter says no prophecy of Scripture is of private interpretation.” 2 Peter 1:20-21 (AMP) [Yet] first [you must] understand this, that no prophecy of Scripture is [a matter] of any personal or private or special interpretation (loosening, solving). 21 For no prophecy ever originated because some man willed it [to do so—it never came by human impulse], but men spoke from God who were borne along (moved and impelled) by the Holy Spirit.

There is only a God-ordained interpretation for Scripture and it is not to be variously interpreted by each of us to suit ourselves. We may not all see God’s truth at same time, and not all may see it fully at once, since truth is often multi-layered, nevertheless, there is only the proper interpretation of truth and it may only be seen through revelation we may have by the “Spirit of truth” (John 16:13).

Here again I will state the most common example of the error of “spiritualizing the Bible.”

It has been a GREAT ERROR to say that which is written to, of, and concerning Israel, is also said to, of, and concerning the church, which is the body of Christ.”

Erroneously presuming that what is said of Israel is also said of “the church which is His body,” many Christians today then proceed to pilfer and appropriate the positive promises of blessing that God has made to Israel. Yet of course they are not so attentive to take and preach the curses that were also promised to Israel. They ignore the God-promised consequences if Israel failed the “if thou” conditional requirements placed upon Israel by God. Note below some of the “if thou” requirements that God gave Israelpro and con.

Deuteronomy 28:9 (KJV) The LORD shall establish thee an holy people unto himself, as he hath sworn unto thee, if thou shalt keep the commandments of the LORD thy God, and walk in his ways.  

Deuteronomy 28:15 (KJV) But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee:

In contrast to Israel’s conditional basis of blessing under the dispensation of “the Law”, all the blessings for “the body of Christ” under grace are available right now under “the dispensation of the grace of God,” to anyone who simply believes. There are no contingent requirements so there are no “if thou” conditions attached to them. We only have to “believe” in order to receive all that Christ has done for us. We can begin with this; Acts 16:31… Believe on (trust in) the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved Faith is the one basis of all that we may receive of the Lord today.

Consider also the command for Israel to stone to death anyone who does not keep the Sabbath. Exodus 31:15 Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Yet this stoning is not practiced by the Christians today who seem to believe that which was spoken to Israel is spoken to “the church which is his body,” for them to embrace and practice.

The fact and truth is that Paul does address the Sabbath in His writing to “the body of Christ” in Colosse. Though the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments given to Israel, we should note that in Colossians 2:16 Paul tells them, and also we who today are under “the dispensation of the grace of God,” we should NOT be concerned for keeping the dietary laws or the Sabbath.  Colossians 2:16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: This would be heresy to a Jew, but it is truth for today, under “the dispensation of the grace of God” for “the body of Christ.”

Most know the Old Testament primarily concerns Israel, but we need also to see that the instruction and practices noted in the four Gospels and the early Acts period also belongs to Israel only. The issues we see in the Gospels and the early Acts period are not a pattern for “the body of Christ.” Our Bibles have improperly assigned the term New Testament to the books that begin with Matthew. Jesus of Nazareth was born “under the (dispensation of) the Law” (Gal 4:4), which was still in force as it was in the Old Testament. Actually, the “New Testament” could not have occurred at least until after the death of the testator – Jesus. Hebrews 9:16-17 (KJV) For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. 17 For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.

The early Acts period concerns Israel, during what Paul calls “time past” (Gal 1:13, Eph 2:11), a time prior to “the dispensation of the grace of God.”  “Time past” was when the Jews were still the object of God’s working and dealing under the Law and the Gentiles were “without hope and without God” (Eph 2:12). The early Acts period was all about Israel. It was not about “the body of Christ.” Peter, on the day of Pentecost addressed “Ye men of Israel” (Acts 2:22, 36, 3:12). The early Acts period was a time when the Messianic Jewish Church (not “the body of Christ”) was expecting the long promised Kingdom to come to earth and Jesus’ return as King (Acts 3:19). In the Gospels Jesus had said the kingdom was “at hand”; then the twelve Apostles, in the early Acts period, actually offered the Kingdom if the nation Israel would repent and receive Christ (Acts 3:20). Obviously they did not. The early Acts period ended in Acts 7 with the stoning of Stephen, and the call and salvation of Paul in Acts 9. Paul was to introduce an entirely new, formerly hidden, dispensation of the pure grace of God thathad been kept secret since the world began.”  Romans 16:25 (KJV) Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my (Paul’s) gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began,

I’ve heard Christians say they want to do as Jesus taught and instructed the disciples in the Gospels; or they say they would like to go back to the church as it was in the days of the so-called “early church,” as seen early in the book of Acts. Then I must ask why won’t they follow Jesus’ instructions in the Gospels as being for them? I don’t see too many Christians “taking all they have and giving it to the poor” as Jesus instructed the rich young ruler in Matt 19:21. I don’t see many Christians who today are willing to live “having all things in common” (Acts 4:32) as they did in the time of the so-called early church. I can only reason that they are willing to pick and choose what dispensational relationships they desire to live by – they want to keep Israel’s promises of blessing for their selves, but they shun the promises of curses; or they ignore the difficult practices of the early Messianic Jewish Church in Jerusalem.

Once we “rightly divide the word” we will note that what we see in the early Acts period and in the so-called Gospels and the early Acts period does not apply to us at all today because the age has changed. Today, relationship with God has changed from “Israel only” and being “Law based,” to being “grace based” for every person who believes to receive salvation “by grace, through faith, not of works” (Eph 2:8-9).

Have you ever noticed that when the age had changed, after Paul was saved and given the new “gospel of the grace of God,” those Jews in Judea who in early Acts period “had all things in common,” wound up in famine, They received relief from those who were first to be called “Christians,” at Antioch, through Paul and Barnabas’ ministry (Acts 11:30). “Having all things in common” no longer worked because the dispensational age had changed from the near return of the Messiah. God’s focus had turned away from Israel, who was now set aside (Rom 11:25). God’s focus turned to “the body of Christ” consisting of some Jews, but predominantly the Gentiles. Jew and Gentile were then to be counted as “neither Jew nor Gentile…for all are one in Christ” (Gal 3:28), each now standing on an equal footing in “one body” (Eph 2:16).

The positive promises God has made to Abraham and his seed, Israel, are not for “the church which is His body.” i.e., the promised Kingdom on earth concerns Israel (Matt 6:10, Luke 11:2). Rather, we who are of “the body of Christ” are promised the destiny of heaven as our eternal home, the place of our citizenship. Philippians 3:20 (NASB) For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thus we see that there are great differences between God’s prophesied program for Israel and God’s hidden, eternally planned, program for “the church which is His body” that is now revealed (Eph 3:5). We should be very careful to not mix the truth concerning one dispensation with the truth concerning another dispensation. Therefore, when in the Bible God and/or His messengers are addressing Israel, they then are addressing Israel ONLY – not “the body of Christ.” “The body of Christ” has its own instruction from Paul from its own Apostle, Paul. 1 Corinthians 14:37 (KJV) If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I (Paul) write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. Romans 2:16 (KJV) In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my (Paul’s) gospel.