How do you discern what Scripture applies to us today?
How do you discern what Scripture applies to us today compared to what applies to the original audience? We can learn from all Scripture as Paul records, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” (Rom. 15:4) Additionally, Paul proclaims that all of Scripture is provided that we might be brought in line with God’s thinking and be equipped for every good work,
16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,
17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)
In other words, I can learn from each passage of Scripture, and it helps reveal where I need to be rebuked, corrected and trained for righteous living. Yet, not all Scripture has direct application to me.
All Scripture is directly applicable to the intended audience. The principle that should be understood is authorial intent. What was the author’s intent for the intended audience? What did the author mean to convey to the specific audience, in that culture, in that time in which they lived? For example, Ezra, who assembled 1 and 2 Chronicles records for us,
14 “if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chron. 7:14)
This passage is often used today implying that if Americans would humble themselves, then God would bless our nation again. Yet, God was speaking in the passage to Israel, not the United States. He describes them as “My people,” who are categorized as God’s people, because God directly called Abraham out of Ur and made a covenant with Abraham that God would raise up a great people from Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3). God did not make that promise to the United States. God certainly worked through the founding Fathers, however, no direct promise was made and America is not “My people.”
However, the principle has application to the United States as we saw in Romans 15:4. The application is that we should humble ourselves, because the arrogance and indifference we are displaying toward God is certainly bringing God’s wrath in increased tornadoes, hurricanes, droughts, flooding, blizzards, etc. Some may say these are cycles of nature, yet as America spirals down the morass of immorality, the weather, crime, economic problems uptick is increasing. If we humble ourselves as a nation, there is no guarantee that God will bless, because there may be other reasons in world history for God to let America disintegrate.
Actually, much of the Old Testament was meant for Israel, not the Church. We agree with the Psalms and Proverbs. Yet, David wrote imprecatory prayer psalms (cf. Ps. 69, 109) that we cannot impose today. David was the king and represented God, so in that position as representing God and king of Israel, he called down God’s wrath on his enemies. We are in a position to learn from the psalm, but not use the psalm on others. We were called to peace. The Judge will come and impose His wrath in due time.
Additionally, the Proverbs are general principles of truth designed for all, but not absolute statements of fact. For example, “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Pro. 22:6) This verse is a general principle that is true, but not absolute. Every child must make his own decisions and there are many godly parents, who were diligent to disciple their children, but the children may not have followed the Lord. All things being equal, children will return to the godly training they were given. However, this Proverb is not a guarantee. On the other hand, because Proverbs are not absolute truths should not be an excuse for parents to be anything less than diligent (cf. Deut. 6:6-9).
The Gospel accounts are written so that we could understand Jesus. Yet, there is a great amount of information that does not directly apply to us. For example, some have used the passage, “But he who endures to the end shall be saved,” (Mat 24:13) to imply that if a believer in Jesus does not persevere, then he will not be saved. That contradicts too many other passages of Scripture, like John 3:16; Romans 8:38-39; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Ephesians 2:8-9 and many others. So how do we understand the passage?
Matthew 24:13 is part of the Olivet Discourse that Jesus gave to the disciples during the Passover week. The Olivet Discourse was written to describe the conditions during the Tribulation period between the Rapture of the Church and the Second Advent of Jesus Christ. Those who endure, who keep the faith during the Tribulation will be saved. What does “saved” mean? The basic meaning of the word “saved” is deliverance. Thus the passage interpreted in the context means that the believer who is faithful during the Tribulation will be delivered into the Millennial Kingdom when Jesus returns at the Second Advent. There are many other examples of passages that can only be understood by understanding Dispensations.
The best way to understand what applies and what does not is to understand Classical Dispensationalism. This theological approach to Scripture seeks God’s view to Scripture rather than man’s view. It looks at what God meant for the intended audience and what applies today.
How do you take what was not intended for the church today and find meaning? When you interpret Scripture, determine the Universal Truth or principle for the audience. That Universal Truth transcends all time and audience and can be applied to the person who reads Scripture today. For example, when God told Jacob to go up to Bethel and make an altar, Jacob realized he better put away anything related to idolatry, so we read, “So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods which were in their hands, and the earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree which was by Shechem.” (Gen. 35:4) Should women remove their earrings? The text would indicate that action!
The question is, “What is the Universal Truth?” Notice that Jacob took all the foreign gods “and the earrings…” In other words the earrings were more than an adornment – they were connected to the foreign gods, the idolatry. Hence, Jacob wanted the people “holy” or “set aside” to God and not connected in any way to the idolatry when they set up the altar to worship God. The Universal Truth is that we should be “set aside” wholly to God and not have any idolatry in our lives. That will be more difficult, because we need to look for idolatry of personal contentment, surrounding peace, or things like the idolatry of expecting respect, which are far more difficult to discern than some object like an earring. Again, we read Scripture, always with Paul’s admonition, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” (Rom. 15:4)
This is a great question and the answer is determined by what hermeneutic and what theological approach to Scripture you use. The word “hermeneutic” means the system of interpretation. The systems of interpretation people use vary from a symbolic or allegorical approach to a Literal Historico-grammatical approach. The theological approach people use vary from a Classical Dispensational approach to all sorts of other methods of theology. I present these two spectrums of understanding, because they determine what Scripture applies to us today. This is a fun discussion for a home group or any other gathering to think through what are other examples of what applies directly or what applies indirectly.