March 31, 2020


Barry Cooper

Jesus is the lens through we must look if we are to understand the Scriptures properly. Today, Barry Cooper emphasizes the importance of interpreting the Bible as it was meant to be interpreted.


At the British Library, in my former hometown of London, you can find two of the three oldest Greek Bibles. You can also find the remains of some 227 manuscripts of the Greek New Testament.

Now of course, you can’t just wander in off the Euston Road with your almond milk latte and have an idle flick through an ancient Bible. You need to apply for a Reader Pass first. And even then, you can’t get access to certain documents unless you have a letter of introduction, or special dispensation from someone important. Then you have to abide by certain guidelines for handling old documents: you have to make sure your hands are clean and dry, you have to lift and turn unbound items individually, use special book supports if you’re using bound archives, and so on.

We are extremely careful when handling these ancient copies of Scripture physically. How careful are we when handling Scripture intellectually?

In his second letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul writes, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”

What does that mean, to “rightly handle” the word of truth? That’s what the study of hermeneutics is all about. Hermeneutics is the art of understanding the Bible as it was intended by the Author to be understood. It’s also about communicating that understanding to others. 

The word hermeneutic comes from the Greek word hermēneuō, which means “translate” or “interpret.” Hermes, incidentally, was the Greek god who brought messages from the gods and interpreted them for human beings.

That’s what a hermeneutic is: it’s a particular method of interpretation.

You may have heard people say, you can make the Bible say anything you want. It’s all just your interpretation. Well, that is why a proper hermeneutic is so important. Because without a proper hermeneutic, you can interpret any given text to mean whatever you like. You can interpret “beware of the Doberman” as “please pet the cuddly puppy,” although you may lose a finger in the process. So we need a proper hermeneutic, if we’re to understand words and sentences—and Scripture as a whole—correctly.

You can see this truth illustrated in Scripture itself.

In Nehemiah chapter 8, Ezra brings the book of the law of Moses before the people, and the priests read it aloud. But it’s more than just a bald reading of the text. They also interpret it. Verse 8 says, “They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.”

In Acts chapter 8, Philip the evangelist sees a person who is reading the Old Testament book of Isaiah, specifically the passage which begins, “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter.” Philip asks the man, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And the man says, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” Which is a fair point. So Philip sits down with him and interprets it for him, showing how Isaiah relates to the good news about Jesus.

In Luke chapter 24 verse 27, after His resurrection, Jesus comes alongside two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus, and the disciples—though they presumably know Scripture pretty well—nevertheless need to have it interpreted for them, so that they can understand it properly. And so, we read that “beginning with Moses and the Prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

Jesus here is in a unique position. He is not only giving His disciples the correct hermeneutic by which to understand the Scriptures. He Himself is the hermeneutic. He is the lens through which we must look if we’re to understand the Scriptures properly.

If our biblical hermeneutic fails to recognize who Jesus is and fails to see that all of Scripture ultimately points to Him, then it’s like trying to make sense of a football game while ignoring the ball.

As Jesus Himself says, all the Scriptures “bear witness about me.”