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Rebuilding the Foundations: Chapter 1

Principles of Interpretation

There are a few principles that are central to this book and, in fact, led to the writing of it.

Say What the Jesus and the Apostles Said

By this I mean that we ought to be able to quote any verse from the New Testament as it is written, without having to apologize for it. It is impossible to overemphasize this principle. You will see why this is true as the book progresses.

Change Your Theology and Tradition Rather Than Changing the Bible

This should be so obvious that it need not be said, but it is far too rarely followed. The traditions we have accumulated over 2,000 years—and especially those that we have added over the last 500 years—triumph over what the Bible says again and again in evangelical circles.

Reject Unreasonable Interpretations

Not only unreasonable, but even nonsensical interpretations of the Bible are embraced in evangelical circles as long as they protect tradition.

If You Lose an Argument, Switch Sides

My interpretations of Scripture get stronger and clearer because I listen to those who oppose me. I both learn from the arguments against me and switch to the opposing side if their arguments are stronger. If you are on the losing end of a theological discussion, joining the winning side is a way to instantly strengthen your position!

If you come up with a doctrine novel to all of church history, reject it.

If you are arguing for a doctrine you need to be able to find it somewhere in Christian history, the earlier the better. If it is new to everyone from all ages, it is heresy. We are to contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints, not for something we just figured out on our own 2,000 years after the faith was delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).

My Audience

This book is written primarily for evangelicals. "Evangelical" has no official definition so let me explain what I mean by evangelical:

  • An evangelical believes that the Bible is either the primary or sole rule for faith and practice.
  • An evangelical believes that we are saved (born again) by faith alone apart from works.
  • An evangelical believes either: that every born-again believer is guaranteed to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven (go to heaven) no matter what he/she does ("eternal security"); or that a born again believer can lose his/her salvation and wind up going to hell.
  • An evangelical believes that salvation is by faith alone even if he/she believes that salvation can be lost by bad behavior (e.g., Assemblies of God).
  • My working definition of "evangelical" is derived from my own experience in the Assemblies of God, various charismatic churches, the Southern Baptist Church, and my interaction with Christians of many other denominations.

If you do not fit this definition, this book is not specifically written to you, but I suspect that you will benefit from reading it.

Finally, I have found the teachings in this book to be most well-received and beneficial for committed evangelicals that are living out their faith and influencing others, especially missionaries. Such Christians already know in their heart that these things are true, but long tradition has obscured their vision as well. These are thrilled when they see the scriptural requirement to live the kind of life the Holy Spirit has already led them to live.

These Principles and This Book

All these principles are applied in the pages that follow. My boast is that at the end of this book, you will be able to empty your collection of difficult verses. The only exception to that will be verses that every Christian tradition considers difficult. An example would be 1 Corinthians 15:29. No one knows what "baptism for the dead" Paul is referring to. I did read a paper once that argued that this "baptism for the dead" was some sort of Jewish practice, perhaps among a sect like the Essenes. Even that paper could not claim certainty in its position.

On more normal verses, though, like the apparent contradiction between Romans 3:28 ("justified by faith apart from works") and James 2:24 ("justified by works and not faith only"), you will not need to wonder anymore! Nor will you have to resort to changing the words of Scripture into "justified by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone." There will be no such dancing around the words of Scripture in this book.

For the most part, we will not need to foray into the Greek text from which our English New Testaments are translated. In the case of John's Gospel and letters, however, there is one extremely important and non-controversial issue in Greek that we must examine. Unfortunately, that small part of Greek grammar needs to be learned by every Christian if that Christian wants to understand the Apostle John.

I say again that at the end of this book, you will no longer be dancing around crucial doctrines and crucial verses of Scripture. You will be confident that your New Testament agrees with itself from front to back and across all authors without any bizarre interpretations. I will also be able to justify the interpretations in this book from the earliest part of Christian history and show that all of my conclusions were once believed by all the churches of the Roman Empire. (I do not know the second-century history of churches outside the Roman Empire.)

Choosing a Bible Translation

I use the World English Bible (WEB) throughout this book. It is a decent translation and, best of all, it is in the public domain. I do not have to list a bunch of copyrights on it. You will find that whatever version you use, except perhaps a loose paraphrase like The Message will show you the same things I am showing you from the World English Bible.