Grow: Tools of Interpretation, Part 2
I love my drill. Though I am not adept at house projects, I am often looking for opportunities to use my drill… to tighten a screw, to remove a screw, to drill a hole, to rev it up while chasing my son around the house, etc.
In fact, one day, in a quest to remove small stumps from my backyard, I set out with my drill and a large carton of Morton Salt. Following steps of widely unknown home remedy, I drilled holes in the stumps and poured in salt, hoping that it might cause the stump to decay. (The stumps still remain!) Nevertheless, it was a day of drilling delight.
However, as much as I love my drill, it is only one tool. Its function is quite limited. It is no help driving nails or cutting wood or insuring a wall is level. It is only one tool.
So, too, we need to utilize different tools in our study of Scripture. As I discussed in the July newsletter and part 1 of this article, we need The Spirit Tool, The Author’s Purpose Tool, and The Context Tool.
However, we need these tools as well.
The It’s-all-about-Jesus Tool
The Personal Application Tool
The It’s-all-about-Jesus Tool
This tool is perhaps most important of all. In a home project, you may say this is like the hammer, because it allows you to drive in nails that hold the project together. So, in utilizing this tool, we find ourselves discovering that Jesus holds the entire Bible together.
This was the discovery that two disappointed followers of Jesus had. They were disappointed and discouraged. They had believed in Jesus but, when nothing seemed to happen after his death, their hopes of his promised kingdom were dashed and they were discouraged. And so, they were leaving Jerusalem, plodding along their way to Emmaus.
The Risen Christ approaches them and acts like an ignorant visitor to Jerusalem. He began to walk with them and hear their story. And so, these men tell him about how Jesus seemed to be the one but has proven to be just a man. As their hopelessness and unbelief became evident, Jesus revealed himself to them and rebuked them.
Then, Jesus began to teach them. Luke writes, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Lk 24:27). Later, Jesus said,
“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled (44).”
Jesus taught them that everything in the Scriptures pointed to him. Everything was about him and revealed salvation in him.
In a most radical way, he taught these followers to read their Bible quite differently. They were to read through their Bibles searching for how each book and each chapter and each verse revealed Jesus. They were all about Him (Lk 24:44) and bore witness of Him (John 5:39).
So, too, we are to read our Bibles like this. This is a primary goal when reading the Scriptures. They are about him and so we want to see him there. As Bryan Chappell has written,
“Every [scriptural] text is predictive of the work of Christ, preparatory of the work of Christ, reflective of the work of Christ, and/or resultant of the work of Christ.”
Driving through every passage in Scripture is the story of God’s saving reign in Christ. And, thus, the story of Jesus—the gospel—holds the 66 books by some 30 plus authors of our Bibles together.
Utilizing this tool requires one simple question of each text in Scripture: How does this passage reveal Jesus Christ? How does this passage predict Jesus, prepare for Jesus, reflect on Jesus, and result from Jesus?
So, how can you utilize this tool?
Here are several thoughts:
Read each text in the Bible’s storyline. I have mentioned this before (HYPERLINK), but it bears repeating. If all of Scripture is the unfolding of God’s plan to save sinners by grace in Christ, then we want to read the Bible this way. We want to read each text and be aware of where it falls. This helps us determine how it points to Jesus.
Consider then how it either predicts, prepares for, reflects on, or results from the work of Christ.
If the text is before his coming and promises his coming, how does it predict Jesus and his saving work? Note especially the promises God makes to his people. Many of these form wonderful patterns that find their fulfillment in Christ. God promises to crush the head of Satan (Gen 3:15; 1 Cor 15). God promises to bless many people, of all nations (Gen 12:1-3; Mt 28:18-20). God promises a king on David’s throne forever (2 Sam 7:22; Mt 1:1). God promises to pour out his Spirit (Eze 36:36; Acts 2). These things and many, many more predict the coming of Christ.
If the text is before his coming, how does it prepare for Jesus and his saving work? Note the numerous things in the OT that prepare for Christ. Genesis and so on tells of sin after sin of man, each sin deserving death; however, every time death is withheld points to God’s forbearance and Jesus’ sacrifice for past sin (Rom 3:25). Exodus establishes a law; Jesus was born under that law, “to redeem those under the law” (Gal 4:4-5). Leviticus calls for sacrifices that only purify for a short time, pointing to the sufficient (once-for-all) sacrifice of Jesus (Heb 9:24-26). These things and many, many more prepare for the coming of Christ.
If the text is after his coming, how does it reflect on Jesus and his saving work? Note especially everything said about Jesus’ sacrifice. It was once-for-all (Heb 9). It was substitutionary, meaning in our place (2 Cor 5:21; Gal 3:13). It was done on Jesus’ own accord (John 10:17-18), as he was “obedient to the point of death” (Phil 2:8). It demonstrated God’s great love (Gal 2:20). These things and many, many more reflect on the coming of Christ.
If the text is after his coming, how does it result from Jesus and his saving work? Note all the astounding effects of Jesus’ sacrifice. We are justified (Rom 3:26). We are adopted (Rom 8:15; Eph 1:5). We are granted access to God (Eph 2:18; Heb 10:19ff). We are set free from the dominion of sin (Rom 6:14; 1 Cor 7:23). These glorious things and many, many more result from the coming of Christ.
The Personal Application Tool
This tool is perhaps the most meaningful tool. In a home project, it would include all the tools necessary for the final step, to complete the project. Painting the final touches or installing knobs (or other hardware) or whatever, this step makes the project complete, presentable, and satisfying to us!
So, too, the Personal Application Tool is most meaningful because, in applying the Bible to our personal lives, we find ourselves awaken and transformed. This tool is helpful because it is how we are transformed by the Word, having our eyes enlightened, our souls revived, our hearts overjoyed.
How can you utilize this tool?
Note the Scriptures that directly relate to you. Much of the Bible is this way. This includes many promises of Scripture, many of the Psalms (especially ones like Psalms 16 & 23), many commands, much of the NT teachings.
When you read these passages, make direct application. When God says, “I will bless you and keep you,” trust that he is talking to you! When God says, “The Lord is your shepherd,” know that this is true of you (Ps 23). When Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters,” be certain Jesus is talking to you (Mt 6:24).
As Thomas Watson has said,
“Take every word as spoken to yourselves. When the word thunders against sin, think thus: ‘God means my sins;’ when it presseth any duty, ‘God intends me in this.’ Many put off Scripture from themselves, as if it only concerned those who lived in the time when it was written; but if you intend to profit by the word, bring it home to yourselves: a medicine will do no good, unless it be applied.”
Reading the Bible this way will transform you!
Note the Scriptures that indirectly relate to you. Numerous parts of the Bible fit into this category. For instance, what do you do with Genesis, Leviticus, Esther, Song of Songs, the Prophets, etc.?
When you read these passages, make indirect application. Note what the passages are saying and note how they point to Christ; however, don’t get stuck. For instance, with the sacrificial stuff of Leviticus or the data of Numbers, don’t get lost. With the repeated themes of Isaiah, Jeremiah and other prophets, note the major points and read in larger chunks.
I want to commend all these tools in studying Scriptures.
However, remember: All these tools are tools, not rules or steps. Sometimes you will use numerous of these tools in studying a text. Sometimes you will jump to the last one, making direct personal application.
May God bless us as we give ourselves to the reading and study of His holy Word!
 Bryan Chappell, Christ-Centered Preaching.
 These points and much of their content come from David Powlison’s essay “Reading the Bible for Personal Application” in the ESV Study Bible.
 Numbers 6:24-26, Psalm 121, and others.
 Thomas Watson sermon entitled “How We May Read the Scriptures with Most Spiritual Profit.”