Hermeneutics for the Local Church



Understanding is not a destination, but a journey.

Félix H. Cortez

Shortly before 2007, A. J. Jacobs, editor of Esquire magazine, conducted an extraordinary experiment, “to follow the Bible as literally as possible.” He wanted to obey strictly, and literally, all the rules in the Bible for a year. He did this because he wanted to experience what it meant to live biblically. This would be a voyage of exploration to the very root of the spirituality of the Judeo-Christian religions.

Early in the year, he wrote a list of all suggestions, advice, and instructions he could find in the Old Testament, and devised a plan to obey them to the letter. The result was a very long list of 72 pages with more than 700 rules, and a quixotic life plan. His beard grew to Mosaic dimensions (Lev. 19:27); he dressed in white all the time (Eccl. 9:8); he carried his own bench wherever he went to avoid contamination (Lev. 15:20); he stoned an adulterer (Lev. 20:27), though he did it with small pebbles; he paid the babysitter in cash at the end of each day (Deut. 24:15); he didn’t wear clothes made from mixed fibers (Lev. 19:19); he was patient (Prov. 19:11) etc., for one whole year. Then he published his experience in The Year of Living Biblically, a very entertaining book that ranked high in the bestsellers list of The New York Times for several weeks.1

As you read this, however, you may wonder whether Jacobs really obeyed the Bible literally. Is that really possible? Did he do the sacrifices? The subtitle of the book suggests that is not possible: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible.2 What does it mean, then, to live biblically? How does it mean to understand the Bible and apply it faithfully to our lives?


What Does It Mean to Understand?

A few years ago, in the midst of a debate regarding what path of action the church should take regarding a debated topic, the speaker at the podium closed his argument by asserting with solemnity that his view was based on the plain, literal meaning of Scripture, while the other party was “interpreting” the Scriptures. What the speaker implied was that the other party was twisting the meaning of Scripture and emptying it of its truth and power. Interpretation has become, then, a bad word, similar to spin in political jargon. When politicians spin a specific news or report, what they are doing is twisting that report or story to their own advantage. Interpretation, however, is not the same as distortion or misrepresentation of the actual meaning of something. The actual purpose of interpretation is the opposite. Interpretation seeks to preserve the original meaning, purpose, and power of a text in a world that is constantly changing.

Interpretation is a biblical concept. The branch of knowledge that deals with interpretation is called “hermeneutics.” This word comes from the Greek hermeneuo, which means simply “to translate” something into a different language, or “to explain” something to someone who does not understand. Note that the reason for interpretation in both cases is to protect and convey the original intention of the text to the reader or audience. Thus, Bible writers constantly “interpreted” or “translated” Hebrew or Aramaic terms to their audiences (Matt. 1:23; Mark 5:41; 15:22, 34; John 1:38, 41, 42; 9:7; Acts 4:36; 9:36; 13:8; 1 Cor. 12:10, 30; 14:5, 13, 26; Heb. 7:2), and Jesus “interpreted” (diermeneusen) the Scriptures for His disciples (Luke 24:27) to help them understand what the original meaning was. In fact, a central part of the mission of Jesus was to “explain” the Father to humanity (John 1:18, NASB). According to the Bible, then, Jesus is the interpreter of the Bible, and of God Himself, par excellence.

The task of interpretation, like any other activity in which humans participate, can be botched. Just as there are prophets and teachers that the Bible exhorts us to hear and learn from (Acts 3:22–26; Rom. 12:7; 16:17; 1 Tim. 3:2; 4:11–16), there are also false prophets and false teachers we are warned to avoid and reject (Matt. 7:15; 24:11, 24; Mark 13:22; Matt. 5:19; 15:9; 16:12; Mark 12:38; Rom. 16:17). The solution to false teachings and prophecies is not the abandonment of teaching and prophecy but to do them rightly and faithfully. Likewise, the solution to false interpretations is not the abandonment of interpretation, but to do interpretation faithfully and rightly. Thus, when Paul warned Timothy against the work of the false teachers (2 Tim. 2:14 to 4:8), he exhorted him to counteract their pernicious work by “rightly handling the word of truth” himself (2 Tim. 2:15, ESV).

How do you know that you have understood a text correctly? Understanding a text is like solving a jigsaw puzzle. You have solved a jigsaw puzzle when you have placed every piece in its correct place. You know that you have done that correctly because the picture that emerges is clear, coherent, and corresponds to the picture that is printed in the cover of the jigsaw puzzle box. Texts, like jigsaw puzzles, are formed by many parts and aspects.

A text has at least two dimensions. In one dimension, you have words, sentences, paragraphs, and books. In the other dimension, you have the literary, historical, and cultural contexts. Together they need to convey a clear, coherent message. When your understanding of all the elements of a text comes together in such a way that it produces a harmonious, beautiful, and coherent picture, you know you have understood the text. In the case of the Bible, a correct understanding will produce a harmonious, beautiful, and coherent picture of the Trinity, the three persons of the Godhead, working together to save us because of their love for us. This is what is printed on the cover of the box and is also what Jesus came to reveal to us (John 1:14, 18; 5:38; 17:4).

It is not necessary, however, to understand every little piece of the Bible to comprehend the message God wants to convey to us. On the one hand, the Bible is so simple to understand that any person can read and interpret the main message God wants to communicate (John 7:17). On the other hand, the Bible’s message is so deep that scholars dedicate their lives to plumbing the depths of its meaning and still not exhaust it. The Bible is like a big picture in the highest degree of resolution. You can stand many feet away and see clearly what the picture describes. But you can also get closer and closer and understand better and better its colors and texture and shades and forms. The closer you get, the richer the meaning and beauty. In the case of Scripture, because it describes God, we will never be able to exhaust its full meaning.

Every devotee of solving jigsaw puzzles knows that there are pieces difficult to understand. They do not obsess with those pieces, however. They set them aside and build on what is easy to identify and set them and continue to build the puzzle until it becomes clear what is the place for those difficult pieces. Similarly, the apostle Peter recognized that there were some passages in Paul’s writings that were difficult to understand and that the “unstable twist to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16, ESV). Note as well that Daniel did not understand some of the visions he received (Dan. 8:27). The understanding we get, even as it does not provide definite solution to every little piece, is enough to guide us in our walk with God. Yet, those pieces we don’t understand entice us to continue working and gaining in knowledge.

Ellen G. White said it like this: “Whenever the people of God are growing in grace, they will be constantly obtaining a clearer understanding of His word. They will discern new light and beauty in its sacred truths. This has been true in the history of the church in all ages, and thus it will continue to the end. But as real spiritual life declines, it has ever been the tendency to cease to advance in the knowledge of the truth. Men rest satisfied with the light already received from God's word, and discourage any further investigation of the Scriptures. They become conservative, and seek to avoid discussion.

“The fact that there is no controversy or agitation among God's people, should not be regarded as conclusive evidence that they are holding fast to sound doctrine. There is reason to fear that they may not be clearly discriminating between truth and error. When no new questions are started by investigation of the Scriptures, when no difference of opinion arises which will set men to searching the Bible for themselves, to make sure that they have the truth, there will be many now, as in ancient times, who will hold to tradition, and worship they know not what.”3

How Do We Misunderstand the Bible?

Bible interpreters have misinterpreted Scripture throughout history in several different ways. The reasons for these misunderstandings, however, have been mostly not technical but philosophical. In other words, misinterpretation for the most part has not been the result of lack of ability or resources but the result of a mistaken approach to the text.

In the Middle Ages, the allegorical interpretation of the Bible became popular. The problem of the allegorical interpretations of the Bible is that they abandon the original meaning of the text, which was produced under divine inspiration, and substitute it with smart, human study. The Reformers reacted against this form of reading the Scriptures. Martin Luther once remarked: “When I was a monk, I was an expert at allegorizing Scripture, but now my best skill is only to give the literal, simple sense of Scripture, from which comes power, life, comfort, and instruction.”4 Sadly, this kind of interpretation continues to live in the sermons of some modern preachers.

Other interpreters of the Bible have failed because of their lack of faith. After the Reformation rose a method of interpretation, called “higher criticism,” that approached the biblical text as it would approach any other text from antiquity. This approach negates the inspiration of Scripture and suggests that the Bible is the result of the same historical and cultural forces that produced other ancient texts. Thus, people who adopt this method believe that throughout time, traditions and legends crept into the Bible and that readers need to weed them out using their reason. It has been argued, for example, that the present should determine our understanding of the past and that historical events are so closely related to one another that the historical sequence of cause and effect cannot be interrupted. This means that if miracles do not occur today, they did not happen in the past. Similarly, since miracles break the historical sequence of cause and effect, they could have not happened. Thus, since resurrections do not occur today, the logical or reasonable conclusion is that Jesus’ resurrection never occurred.

Higher criticism rejects the original meaning of Scripture because it does not believe that what the Bible says is even possible. It is simply a failure of faith. This is why Jesus said to the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection, “‘You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God’” (Matt. 22:29, NKJV). We commit the same mistake when lack of faith leads us to reject parts, or aspects, of Scripture’s message.

Finally, postmodern approaches have given up on the search for truth and meaning to pursue and celebrate individual meanings and individual truths. They consider that all interpretations contain, consciously or unconsciously, ideas or messages that in one way or another benefit the interpreter or its group. Thus, no one can be trusted. No one has the truth. The only thing we have is individual truths, individual meanings. It is true that the Bible says that the human heart is “deceitful above all things” (Jer. 17:9, NKJV), but it also says that God has given us His Holy Spirit Who will guide us “‘into all the truth’” (John 16:13, NRSV). Postmodernism has abandoned its search for the meaning of the text, the truth of the text, because it does not believe it is possible to arrive at the truth, or because it believes it is politically incorrect. The failure of postmodernism is a failure of nerve. We commit the same mistake when, daunted by human fallibility and afraid to hurt sensibilities (mostly our own), we give up on the search for the truth of the text. Though it is true that we will never reach the total, final understanding of the Bible, it is also true that it is important to reach as closer to the truth as we can (John 17:17).


How Do We Understand?

Pray. The first step in understanding the Bible correctly is to approach the Bible with the right attitude. We should ask God to guide us so that we may see beyond our own inclinations and desires. Thus, we ask God that He provide us His Spirit to guide us into all the truth (John 16:13). In other words, we are asking God to give us ears to hear. This cannot be overemphasized.

Have you ever wondered why did the Cross took the disciples by surprise? During His ministry, Jesus taught the disciples, at least three times, in plain, explicit language, that “‘it was necessary’” that the Son of Man should “‘suffer many things . . . and . . . be killed’” (Mark 8:31, CSB). He also alluded to His death at least eight other times. In addition, the Gospel of John registers seven references made by Jesus in the last week of His ministry to the “‘hour’” of His death (John 12:23, 27; 13:1; 16:4, 21, 32; 17:1). What else could Jesus have done? How in the world were the disciples able to dismiss such clear warnings? Did they have their ears closed?

The disciples did not want to believe that Jesus would die. The necessity of the death of the Son of Man was a most astonishing idea. The title “Son of Man” identified Jesus with the glorious, heavenly figure of Daniel 7 who would receive dominion and a kingdom that would never be destroyed. How could this glorious figure, beneficiary of God’s dominion over the kingdoms of the earth, be given into the hands of sinners and executed by the powers from which He was destined to save His people?

Yet, Jesus asserted that the suffering, rejection, and death of the Son of Man were necessary and that He had come for this specific reason (John 12:27). The disciples resisted this notion. Peter rebuked Jesus (Mark 8:32, 33; Matt. 16:22, 23) and the rest of the disciples, though distressed (Matt. 17:23; Mark 10:32), failed to understand because the whole matter was simply unthinkable (John 12:34). In their desire, they forgot that the seed would be destroyed through His heel while smashing the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15), that the Messiah would “‘be cut off’” in the middle of the week (Dan. 9:26), that He would be “pierced for our transgressions, . . . crushed for our iniquities” (Isa. 53:5, NIV). The disciples, however, did not understand these passages and Jesus’s own warnings, because they went against what the disciples had always believed and, most importantly, against all their desires. Their strong desire that Jesus was an earthly king made them cling strongly to part of the information and filter out the rest. They did not have “‘ears to hear’” (Matt. 11:15, NKJV). After His resurrection, on the road to Emmaus, Luke says that Jesus, “beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, . . . expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (24:27, NKJV, italics supplied). We need to do the same. To read “all the Scripture” means, however, more than reading the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation. It means asking God to give “‘ears to hear’” “all the Scripture,” even those passages that one may prefer not to be true or those things that one is not inclined to hear.

“Were Jesus with us today, He would say to us as He did to His disciples, ‘I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now’ (John 16:12). Jesus longed to open before the minds of His disciples deep and living truths, but their earthliness, their clouded, deficient comprehension made it impossible. They could not be benefited with great, glorious, solemn truths. The want of spiritual growth closes the door to the rich rays of light that shine from Christ. We shall never reach a period when there is no increased light for us.”5

Thus, a wrong interpretation of the Bible is often not a matter of the head, but of the heart (2 Thess. 2:10, 12; 2 Tim 4:1–4). The reason that makes the Bible difficult to understand is that it requires conversion. “‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will’” (Matt. 11:25, 26, ESV).

Understanding a text requires work, but it is important to work intelligently and with good tools. These suggestions are from the point of view of understanding a particular passage of the Bible, but the principles may be applied to devotional study of the Bible.

Begin by selecting a paragraph. The first thing to understand is that the basic unit of meaning is not the word or the sentence, but the paragraph. Normally, the paragraph is formed by several sentences and provides a complete thought. Bibles identify their paragraphs sometimes with an extra space between lines, or with an indentation at the beginning of the sentence. (Note as well that, in most of the cases, a Bible chapter is not the same as a paragraph.) To study the meaning of a particular verse, identify first identify the paragraph to which that verse belongs. In reading devotionally, identify a paragraph and focus the Bible study on it.

Analyze the paragraph. The analysis of a paragraph involves at least four things. Take a notebook and write down the result of your analysis. First, you need to identify what is the central idea or main idea of the paragraph. What is it that the author is trying to say? Second, discover how the author develops that idea. Are there supporting ideas? Does the author provide contrasting ideas? Does the author develop the argument by providing parallel or synonymous ideas? This is basically an analysis of the logical structure of your paragraph or the shape of its argument. Third, identify historical and cultural elements that impact the meaning of the text. How would a better understanding of the author, the audience and the historical circumstances help in understanding the passage better. Finally, what are the important and the crucial words? Are there words that need to be understood better?

After this preliminary analysis, read the same paragraph in at least two other versions. This will enrich the analysis. You will benefit the most if you compare versions that are not very similar. For example, compare on one side the KJV, NKJV, ESV, or the NASB (which are more literal translations) with versions like the NIV or the NLV (which are more idiomatic translations). Go to http://www.biblegateway.com, to find many different versions in different languages.

Now, you have a basic understanding of the paragraph, but you can still go deeper. The treasures of the Bible are hidden in the ground, and you need to work harder to get them. In order to dig deeper, tools are needed. Serious Bible readers will want to build their Bible study tool chest with tools of good quality, not just many tools.

Explore the literary structure of the passage. Dig deeper into the literary function of the passage. It is needful to understand the literary structure of the book in which the paragraph is found to understand the role the paragraph plays in the overall message of the book and in the overall message of the Bible. How does the message of the paragraph contribute to the message of the book or the Bible in general? If the message of the paragraph does not fit well with the message of the book, it means that you have not understood the paragraph well. The paragraph is a piece of the puzzle that must fit with the rest. Remember that the problem of the disciples was that they failed to believe all that the prophets had said, and Jesus’ Bible study involved what “all the Scriptures” said about Him (Luke 24:27, NIV, italics supplied). Thus, Paul’s instruction that women keep silence at church had to do with order during worship and not with theological reasons that prevented them from doing it (1 Cor. 14:35; 14:33, 40); otherwise, why did God choose women as prophets in the early church (Luke 2:36; Acts 21:9)?

The literary function of the paragraph is not difficult to discover. Look for that in the introduction to the book in your study Bible or in the introduction to a Bible commentary. These introductions provide important information: what the message of the book is, how is that message arranged or structured, and the logical progression of the argument of the book. A recommendation: The Andrews Study Bible. Many biblical commentaries are available, some free (especially old ones) on the Internet. Before investing in a commentary or a study Bible, remember that commentaries and study Bibles are written according to certain philosophical assumptions. Acquire those that have a high view of Scripture, that is to say, that consider Scripture inspired by God and that it has, therefore, a coherent message.

Another important aspect to understand well is the genre of the paragraph and the genre of the book in which it is found. (Sometimes they are not the same.) This makes an important difference. For example, narratives (Genesis, 1 and 2 Samuel, etc.) describe events and the lives of the patriarchs, but they do not directly prescribe what readers need to do. That Abraham and Jacob, or David had more than one wife does not imply that we can or should, too. It just describes what happened. We need to look at the consequences of such actions that the books themselves describe and get the lesson.

Epistles, on the other hand, are prescriptive, but primarily for the original audience—more on that below. For example, Paul instructed Timothy, when he left him to pastor in Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3), to not include in the church’s assistance roll widows younger than 60 years of age. In fact, he clearly expressed his desire that these widows should marry and have children (1 Tim. 5:9–16). Nevertheless, he suggested to single people and widows in Corinth to not marry if they could avoid it (1 Cor. 7:1–9). Paul did not contradict himself. Different historical and cultural circumstances in Ephesus and Corinth probably altered the advice Paul gave.

Proverbs are aphorisms or maxims that state principles that are valid across time. Legal instructions in other parts of the Bible (for example, Exodus through Deuteronomy), however, were given in specific circumstances and contexts. Were any of those laws superseded in later passages of the Bible?

The Bible also contains parables in which details of the story are only important to make the teaching of the parable possible. The parable of the dishonest manager does not teach that we can be dishonest but that we need to prepare in the present for the judgment that will come in the future (Luke 16:1–9). The Bible also contains exaggerations (hyperbole) to emphasize a particular point or teaching. When the Bible says that if your eye causes you to sin, it is better to pluck it out, it is making an exaggeration to emphasize the importance of avoiding sin (Matt. 5:29). The previous verse, just explained, however, that we sin with our hearts, not with our eyes (Matt. 5:28). Finally, poetic passages use figurative or metaphorical language to impress a message in our minds. But poetry is not meant to be understood literally. When Jesus talked about the everlasting or unquenchable fire that destroys the wicked, He was referring to the poetic language of Isaiah 34:9 to 15. That passage talks about the destruction of Edom forever as an fire that destroys everything forever. It is clear that the fire is not literal, as the passage also says that animals and birds will dwell in that land.

Explore the historical and cultural context of the passage. Dig deeper into the historical and cultural context of the text. It is important to understand the cultural values, customs, symbols, and practices to understand a passage. For example, the story of the good Samaritan is enhanced by knowing that priests were prohibited from touching a dead body of anyone except the closest relatives (Lev. 21:1–4). Similarly, understanding the actions of Ruth (Ruth 3:6–15) or Paul’s instructions about the veil (1 Cor. 11:2–16) are enriched by learning of the cultural and legal customs of the time. The best place to understand the historical and cultural context of a passage is a good Bible commentary. It is also important that Bible readers have a Bible dictionary, which not only deals with theological concepts but also explains historical and cultural factors related with persons, places, etc.

Further commentary is necessary about the historical context of a passage. This needs to be understood in two dimensions. First, in what way does the passage fit into the context of human history? For example, Paul’s epistles must be understood in the context of the history of the church in the Book of Acts. Understanding Galatians is increased by knowing what happened in the Jerusalem council (Acts 15). Furthermore, the prison epistles (Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon) were probably written in the same period of time. These should be read together to understand better the life and ministry of Paul. It is not possible to understand Daniel 8 and 9 independently from the prophecies of Jeremiah. In the same way, the ministry of Malachi probably needs to be understood in the context of the life and ministry of Nehemiah.

The historical context of a passage has a second dimension, which may be called the dimension of salvation history. God’s revelation is progressive. For example, it may perplex us that God allowed slavery to be practiced among His people and that New Testament writings did not seek openly to abolish it. What God did was to produce legislation to protect slaves and provide the infrastructure and support for their safety and protected liberation (Leviticus 25; Philemon). God also emphasized that before Him everyone is equal (Gal. 3:28). The circumstances of the time probably meant that completely abolishing slavery would have been worse, noting that there was no social welfare as we have it today. Thus, God advances at the pace He may be followed. It cannot be said, however, as pro-slavery parties did in the 19th century in the United States, that slavery is God’s will. Regression into the darker periods of revelation may not be considered God’s plan. The whole arc of God’s dealing with human beings must be considered. To truly want to know what God’s ideal plan is, one must go all the way back to Eden (Genesis 2), which is where God will to take us in the end (Revelation 21 and 22). The best way to understand the arc of God’s dealing with humankind is to read the Bible together with the five volumes of the Conflict of the Ages series, by Ellen G. White (Patriarchs and Prophets, Prophets and Kings, The Desire of Ages, Acts of the Apostles, and The Great Controversy). These are available in different languages at http://www.egwwritings.org. Reading the Bible and these books side by side will be an enriching experience that will revolutionize one’s understanding and deepen experience with the Word of God.

Explore the meaning of important words in the passage. Finally, dig deeper into the important words of a passage. The best way to do this is through a concordance. The concordance provides every time the same word has been used by the same author or in the Bible, giving a fuller understanding of the authors’ and the Bible’s understanding of a certain concept, person, or topic. A good tool for this is http://www.biblegateway.org. For example, a search on the word shepherd would help the reader to understand that Jesus indirectly claimed to be Yahweh, who was coming to rescue the sheep that had been mistreated and dispersed (Psalm 23; 80:1; Jeremiah 23; Ezekiel 34). Also, a search on the word vine would help the reader to understand that Jesus’ assertion that He was the true vine implied that He was the substitute for Israel (Ps. 80:8).

There is a second reason to dig deeper into the meaning of important words in a passage. The Bible was written in a language different from ours. Everyone who speaks more than one language knows that there are not exact equivalents for a word in a different language. For example, the Greek word teleios means “perfect”; but also “mature,” “grown up,” and “initiated” (Heb. 5:12–6:1). Thus, perfection in the New Testament does not mean exactly the same as it means for us. Similarly, pistis can mean either “faith” or “faithfulness.” To understand the meaning of original words, one must refer to a Greek-English or a Hebrew-English lexicon and a theological dictionary. A good commentary will help in this regard, but one can also begin to explore for oneself the original words in Greek or Hebrew even without reading those languages. Go to http://www.biblehub.com to find the original words of the Bible in Hebrew and Greek with their translations into English and the other places those words appear in the Bible.

Read the Bible with other people. God did not give us the Bible to be read only by oneself. He exhorts us to gather together to read the Scriptures and to exhort one another (Heb. 3:13; 10:25; 1 Thess. 5:27; 1 Tim. 4:13). Reading the Bible with others is important because it protects us from personal blind spots. Together, as we read the Scriptures and pore over texts trying to understand their meaning, we help one another, and build one another into a richer and deeper understanding.

Also of benefit are rich resources that the church has provided to understand better the Bible and difficult passages. Consult periodically the Website of the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference (http://www.adventistbiblicalresearch.org), where there are many articles on difficult topics. Also to be recommended are the sites of Ministry magazine (https://www.ministrymagazine.org), the Journal of the Adventist Theological Society (https://www.atsjats.org/publications/jats-journal-online-archive), and of Perspective Digest (http://www.perspectivedigest.org) that provide excellent articles on matters of biblical interpretation for free. There are other publications that the Adventist Church offers locally that will also be of help.


Practice What You Have Learned.

Finally, obedience is the last but very important step in understanding Scripture. This may seem counterintuitive. Jesus said that it is those who are willing “‘to do God’s will’” who will know the truth (John 7:17, NIV). The same happened with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. It was when they urged Jesus to stay in their home, suggesting that they had accepted His message and wanted more, that “their eyes were opened” and could recognize Him (Luke 24:31, NIV).

The opposite is also true. The Bible explains that the crucial deficiency of those who will be deceived at the end of time will not be lack of knowledge, but lack of love for the truth (2 Thess. 2:9–12). The first step toward deception is not ignorance but lack of willingness to obey. Jesus compared those who heard His words and did them to a man who built his house upon the rock. When the floods came and the winds blew, his house stood firm. Jesus compared those who heard His words and didn’t do them to the man who built his house upon the sand. When the winds of false doctrine and teaching came, his house fell. Similarly, Paul wrote that “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3, 4, ESV).

Finally, consider this quotation from Ellen G. White: “Redemption is an inexhaustible theme, worthy of our closest contemplation. It passes the comprehension of the deepest thought, the stretch of the most vivid imagination. Who by searching can find out God? The treasures of wisdom and knowledge are opened to all men, and were thousands of the most gifted men to devote their whole time to setting forth Jesus always before us, studying how they might portray His matchless charms, they would never exhaust the subject.

“Although great and talented authors have made known wonderful truths, and have presented increased light to the people, still in our day we shall find new ideas, and ample fields in which to work, for the theme of salvation is inexhaustible. The work has gone forward from century to century, setting forth the life and character of Christ, and the love of God as manifested in the atoning sacrifice. The theme of redemption will employ the minds of the redeemed through all eternity. There will be new and rich developments made manifest in the plan of salvation throughout eternal ages.”6

Understanding is not a destination, but a journey. It is not enough to understand what God said; one needs to understand as well why He said it. It is a virtuous circle. The more one practices what is learned, the more he or she will understand God’s reasons and motives. Understanding God’s motives brings a glimpse of who He is. You will love Him more. Increased love will make possible increased understanding. Intimacy with God will be the result of a life of risks taken to follow His advice and the certainty it produces that His Word is true and His promises are sure because you have experienced their truth. Once you have experienced the goodness of the Word of God, you will not want—in fact, you will not be able—to remain silent. Just like the disciples at Emmaus.


Félix H. Cortez, PhD, is Professor of New Testament Literature at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, U.S.A.



1. A. J. Jacobs, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007).

2. Underline supplied.

3. Counsels to Writers and Editors, 38, 39, bold face supplied.

4. Tischreden, 5285 (October 1540), quoted by Gerhard F. Hasel, Biblical Interpretation Today: An Analysis of Modern Methods of Biblical Interpretation and Proposals for the Interpretation of the Bible as the Word of God (Silver Spring, Md.: Biblical Research Institute, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1985), 3.

5. Selected Messages, 1:403, 404.

6. Ibid., 403.