I have entitled this study "application," however I'm not sure that this is a good term. It does describe what we are going to be talking about, yet the term conjures up images of long dry application in the sermons when the preacher is stepping on your toes and we are too dead spiritually to realize it.
Our study is somewhere between the interpretation and the previous type of application. It is not, in and of, itself interpretation in my mind, in that it is the use of things learned in interpretation to assemble the information required for application.
"Pre-application" or "post-interpretation might be a couple of choices for a better term. Interpretation deals with what the text is saying. It is finding out just what God wanted us to know from that text. Our study is the process by which we take that information and use it to change lives in our own time.
The "rub" here is that not all things in Scripture are for our time in the same way they were in the time given. Example: The law of the sacrifice when given, demanded and expected a sacrifice, while for a teacher to teach that way today is in error, for we have further revelation and know that the sacrifice is not needed since Christ provided Himself for our sacrifice.
Since Paul told Timothy that "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable...." we must assume that there are things in the Old Testament law that are profitable for us.
This study will attempt to deal with some general rules to know just how you can use Scripture in the application section of your sermon or study.
Webster states of application, "an act of applying. . .an act of putting to use. . .a use to which something is put. . .an act of administering or superposing. . .the practical inference to be derived from a discourse. . . ." The final thought of Webster is probably more to the point for our discussion. "the practical inference to be derived from a discourse...." (Webster, Merriam; "WEBSTER'S NINTH NEW COLLEGIATE DICTIONARY"; Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster Inc., 1986)
How do we apply and use the different sections of Scripture and do it correctly? We have the Old Testament Law, the Prophets, the Gospels, Acts, the Epistles, and the Revelation
THE NEED FOR THIS STUDY:
1. There are many today that are so loose with how they use Scripture that they are teaching false doctrine. Example: I Cor. 16:2, "Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come." I was in an Independent Baptist church in Denver one Sunday morning when the pastor used this text to give a half hour message in the Sunday School opening on how we had to give that day and in coming weeks so that we wouldn't have to take up any collections when the Lord came. I call that false doctrine! I trust you also call that false doctrine! (A reading of the passage will reveal that the text is speaking of Paul coming, not the Lord.)
2. There are many today that are being confused by some of the writers of our day and their use of the gospels. You can not take application directly from every text in the gospels to our lives without running it through some very important questions.
I was in a Bible study in Oregon that was being taught by a layman that had been prepared by his pastor to give the lesson. We were in the beatitudes and he would read a beatitude and ask what we thought it meant. There would be as many thoughts as there were people and he would end up with something like, "Well I don't know which one of these thoughts is the one that the writer was getting at, but I'd guess one of them is correct."
The people went away thinking that the beatitudes were completely impossible to understand.
PREREQUISITES FOR THE STUDY:
1. A balanced mental capacity: A balance of common sense, logic, imagination and criticism. If a person is unbalanced in any area he may miss much of what the Word has to say. These abilities will help in understanding what the text is not teaching as well as what it is teaching.
2. Salvation: Salvation of course is required for the student to properly understand the Scriptures. An unregenerate mind has no capacity to understand and interpret the Word of God.
3. Knowledge: A knowledge of many things will help in the understanding of the Word. Geography may be an asset as you enter into some of the historical books and the prophetic books. History is very helpful in understanding the context within which the Bible was written. The outside world was exerting forces upon the Jews in the Old Testament. You won't properly understand the Gospels if you don't understand past and present, at that time, forces. (The captivity, Roman rule, etc..)
An understanding of politics, as they relate to the history of the Biblical times also will help to show what was going on in some of the Books of Scripture.
4. Godliness: The walk of the expositor will very definitely reflect upon the outcome of his study. If he is not walking with the Lord, the Holy Spirit's ministry to him will be limited and his study will in turn be limited.
PRESUPPOSITIONS FOR THE STUDY:
1. You must desire to interpret the Scriptures in a literal and as such, a premillennial and dispensational format. This assumes your ability to use the tools available to properly interpret the text that you are dealing with.
2. You must believe in progressive revelation.
3. You must be using proper tools of interpretation to arrive at the principles which you are attempting to apply.
4. You must be a believer. Each believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God and He can illuminate your study.
5. Since the above are true we must also assume that the final authority should be found in the Scripture that is directly related to the Church age. Any application that is used must be in complete keeping and agreement with these teachings.
These teachings are to be found primarily in the Epistles of the New Testament along with some information within the book of Acts and the Gospels.
6. There must be a distinction between the Church and Israel in the Bible.
7. You must never apply Scripture until you have properly interpreted that passage. A related item of business is the fact that you should never attempt to apply truths to the lives of others until you have applied the truths to your own life.
GENERAL PRINCIPLES FOR DETERMINING THE USAGE OF A TEXT:
These are principles that relate to all of the following sections. They may vary slightly between sections but primarily relate.
1. Is the principle that you have drawn restated in the Bible in any other dispensation? If it is found in other dispensations, which ages are the principles found, and how are they used?
2. Is the principle found in the New Testament epistles?
3. Do any of the New Testament writers mention that this principle is no longer useful to the believer?
4. Is there any indication from any age or Scripture that this principle is not for other ages? Example: The idea that circumcision was a sign to the Jews would show that it was not for the Church age saint unless there was some statement in the New Testament that would make this a requirement for the New Testament believer.
5. Use common sense and logic as your guides. If your application does not follow these guides then don't use it!
6. Allow the application to come naturally from the text. Do not determine your application then go looking for a text to stuff it into. I was in a Sunday School class once when a Christian psychologist was teaching. He mentioned a group of facts concerning the cycle of marriages, and I have no doubt that the facts were true, yet the man then turned to Scripture and began trying to show how that passage was teaching what he had taught. It did not fit nor could he make it fit no matter how hard he tried to stuff it into the text. Several of the laymen challenged him on his usage of the text, but he would not back down.
7. In application we need to remember that it is the Scripture that is applicable to the believer, not our own thoughts of what the people need.
SPECIFIC CASES AND PRINCIPLES:
Let us look at some specific cases and list some principles for interpretation in different areas of the Bible.
The Old Testament Law:
An example of a problem of applying the Law. The Scriptures teach that the woman is not to wear the clothes of a man. Can we use this text to state that women can not wear slacks in the church service today? If they can't wear them in the church service then can they wear them on recreational outings connected to the church? This text relates to its own time and has little to do with our time. I am not stating that women can or cannot wear slacks to church, I am just stating that this text does not show this.
Principles for the Old Testament:
1. Is the principle, if used, placing the believer under bondage to the law if he tries to follow it? If it does, then it is an improper principle.
2. A method of Old Testament usage has been suggested by some that asks the student to take the passage and boil it down and boil it down to it's most basic thought that would be usable for all of time. The problem with this is that if you are working with a text that is specifically given to Israel then how do you know when you have it boiled down enough, or if you can boil it down enough to state that it is a principle for all time.
In our example of women wearing slacks some New Testament texts might relate and assist in the study. The epistles mention that the inner woman is to be the prominent thing that people see when they look at a Godly woman. The passage on hair relates in that the man is to look like a man and not a like woman. Vice versa a woman is to look like a woman. There are many times when I can not tell if a person is a man or woman - that is wrong according to the Scripture. Take any principle you find in the Old Testament to the Epistles for validation.
We cannot apply everything found in the prophets directly to our day. When the prophet prophesied that some of the people would die from the sword, he was speaking of a specific occurrence that was yet future for his listener. It has nothing to do with us today. The application might be made that if a Church age believer continually turns against God, they run the chance of suffering retribution in this life. This can be backed up with several New Testament passages.
Principles for the prophets:
1. The prophets were given to a specific people in a specific time and for a specific purpose. Be very careful how you apply them.
2. If you can determine the time and people that the work was written to, then you can know these facts, and know that the main message is not for us.
3. Some general application can be made from the prophets in that as you determine the principle set forth by the writer, you will find similar situations in the church age to which the principle may relate. Example: In the book of Ezekiel the people were told that they would throw their gold and silver into the streets because it had no value. The city would be under siege and the gold and silver would not buy them freedom nor food.
You might find a situation in the spiritual life where we are under siege and starving and there is no way out. How is your money going to help you? The important things of life are not money and things, but the spiritual food that our souls desire.
It might have application in areas of stewardship as well. We do not want to say, however, that the believers should throw their gold and silver into the streets when they get home from church. There is no need to! At least not until I'm positioned under the window.
One of the problems of the gospels is the different character of life and living that are portrayed in them. It must be understood that there are texts which relate to the life of the Millennial believer, and that there are texts which relate to the life of the believer in the transition period between the gospels and the epistles. Example: The text concerning the taking of no weapon sees it's meaning in the Millennial time when there is peace and no need for weapons. The gospels also mention taking up weapons and this would have fitting application in the Church age when there is a need of weapons at times.
Example: Mark 16 mentions the picking up of serpents and drinking poisons and not being hurt. The graves of many people are full due to their misapplication of this text. This was a promise to the people of the early church that were spreading the gospel. The book of Acts mentions such an occasion in the life of Paul, yet later in life Paul did not have the power to heal as he did earlier in his ministry. The sign gifts and miracles diminished with time.
Principles for the gospels:
1. The student needs to see the program of God and how it is related to the gospel accounts. If you do not understand the mechanics of this, there will be much trouble in the application of these texts.
2. As in the Old Testament times there were items mentioned that related specifically to a specific people. We must not take a text given to the Jewish people, in a Jewish time, and relate it directly to the Church.
The book of Acts:
The student needs to place the book of Acts in a special category. It is a record of what went on in the transition between the Old Testament law of the Gospels and the New Testament age of the Church. There is information in this record that is not for the Church Age!
The operation of the New Testament church for example. To have communal eating would be very difficult, if not impossible, in this age. Some have tried the "all for one and one for all" concept, but none I know of have survived the test of time. Indeed, the Church in Acts did not follow this concept for a long period of time.
The epistles are very straight forward for our day and age, and should be used freely, however care must be taken again to the application, or non-application of passages.
It is more and more prevalent to "It was the custom of the day" passages out of our spiritual application. If we were to total all of these passages we would have a multitude. Even in those texts that were customs of the day, the underlying basis of those customs is true for us today and should move us to change. For example the Holy Kiss. The love and concern behind that kiss should certainly be something that we draw as application for our age.
The Revelation is one of the great books of the Bible, but it is also subjected to some of the worst interpretation and application of any book in the Bible. This book is for our encouragement and edification so we should use it as such, but we need to be careful how we use it.
Principles for the Revelation:
1. The student must realize in the book of Revelation that much of the information is of a prophetic nature and that it is limited in application.
2. The idea of right living in light of the coming of the Lord, and related ideas are certainly present and usable.
3. Application of the information to the seven churches also is in need of care. There is no real agreement as to the meaning of the churches, thus we don't want to build heavily on anything we might find there. General application of the false teaching and Christ's reaction to it is certainly appropriate application for our age, as well as some of the promises that are in the first chapters.
As we move into ministries and positions, we need to be very careful with our interpretation as well as our application. Application misapplied can cause great problems and heartache.