The Bible—the written word of God—is perfect and true. But sometimes, it’s not exactly easy to understand. So when we come across a word or concept that doesn’t quite make sense, or it seems contradictory or inconsistent, we might need some help figuring it out. And the very first place we should look to help us understand anything we read in the Bible is…
For sure, there are millions of Bible resources, and their authors each have their own perspective on God’s word. Yet not a single one of them—to any degree whatsoever—can claim what Scripture says of itself in 2 Timothy 3:16, “Every Scripture is God-breathed.” No matter what any resource or Bible teacher says, only the words of Scripture have God as their ultimate author. Therefore only Scripture can have the first and last word on everything that Scripture has to say.
The concept of allowing Scripture to explain Scripture is modeled for us in Acts 17. Paul had been proclaiming Yeshua in the synagogues, and
“he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, opening them up and citing that… ‘this is the Messiah: Yeshua, whom I proclaim to you….’ [And many in the Berean synagogue] received the word with all readiness of mind, every day examining the Scriptures to find out whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:2-3&11, mjlt)
Without any assistance from extra-biblical books or commentaries or YouTube videos, the Berean Jews managed to find all the information they needed in the Scriptures for themselves.
Unfortunately, we sometimes think we’re correctly using Scripture to explain Scripture when we’re in fact committing grave errors in our Bible interpretation. One common mistake is cherry-picking. This is the practice of ignoring or dismissing relevant passages that oppose a point we’re trying to make, or a doctrine we’re trying to defend. When we cherry-pick, we use only the verses that appear to support our position. Proof-texting is another misuse of Scripture, which uses isolated and sometimes unrelated, out-of-context verses to support a belief or doctrine. While both cherry-picking and proof-texting can seem like they’re following the principle of explaining Scripture with Scripture, when we dig deeper into the word—as the Bereans did—we find the interpretive flaws. Each of these bad interpretation methods has to disregard the whole counsel of Scripture in order to survive.
If we want to correctly use Scripture to explain Scripture, then we need to consider passages in relation to their immediate and extended contexts. For example, when we mistakenly think that Peter’s vision in Acts 10 is about God telling him to eat unclean foods, we simply need to continue reading within the same passage to find out that he was actually being told “not to call any man unholy or unclean” (Acts 10:28). Or, when we hear Yeshua teaching us in Luke 14:26 to literally hate our loved ones, we can look at the parallel passage in Matthew 10, to discover that He’s actually using intentionally exaggerated language to make a point. Most often, we’ll need Scripture to explain itself to us through multiple passages from the entire Book which address the topic we’re seeking to understand.
The principle of explaining Scripture with Scripture is founded on the belief that God is the ultimate author of the Bible. This means that not only can we trust every single thing it says—because God is perfect—but that Scripture doesn’t contradict Scripture, and is therefore the only reliable and trustworthy interpreter of itself. When we allow Scripture to explain Scripture—not misusing it by acknowledging only the parts that fit our beliefs, but seeking out and accepting the whole counsel of Scripture—we’re listening to God speak the truth to us, and allowing Him to correct our misunderstandings.
So when we don’t understand something in the Bible, let us not simply default to doctrine or defer to someone else. Because the very first place we need to go—and often the only place, if we do it right—is the Bible itself… and let the Scriptures be explained to us by Scripture.
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below!