If you want to
be able to continue to learn from the word of God, you need to be able
to look at it and study it properly. If you can understand the
basics of biblical interpretation and use them to build your knowledge
and understanding, you can grow far beyond the mere teachings of this
The following is copied, with slight modifications,
from the Bible section on CARM dealing with biblical interpretation.
As you go through it, think of how you can apply these principles to
God's word. In fact, take a portion of scripture, any portion, and
study it and see what you learn.
The Bible is Godís Word. But some of the
interpretations derived from it are not. There are many cults and
Christian groups that use the Bible claiming their interpretations are
correct. Too often, however, the interpretations not only differ
dramatically but are clearly contradictory. This does not mean that the
Bible is a confusing document. Rather, the problem lies in those who
interpret it and the methods they use.
Because we are sinners, we are incapable of interpreting
Gods word perfectly all of the time. The body, mind, will, and emotions are affected
by sin and make 100% interpretive accuracy impossible. This does not mean that accurate
understanding of Gods Word is unreachable. But it does mean that we need to approach
His word with care, humility, prayer, and reason. Additionally, we need, as best as can be had,
the guidance of the Holy Spirit in interpreting Gods Word. After all, the Bible is
inspired by God and is addressed to His people and the Holy Spirit helps us
to understand what Godís word means and how to apply it in our lives.
On the human level, to lessen the errors that come in our
interpretations, we need to look at some basic biblical interpretive methods. Ill
list some of the principles in the form of questions and then apply them one at a time to
a passage of scripture. I think you might find the conclusion a bit
I offer the following principles as guidelines for
examining a passage. They are not exhaustive nor are they set in concrete,
but they are generally accepted principles of biblical interpretation.
Here are some questions you should be asking yourself when studying the
Who wrote/spoke the passage and to whom was it addressed?
What does the passage say?
Are there any words or phrases in the passage that need to be examined?
What is the immediate context?
What is the broader context in the chapter and book?
What are the related verses to the passages subject and how do they
understanding of this passage?
What is the historical and cultural background?
What do I conclude about the passage?
Do my conclusions agree or disagree with related areas of scripture and others who have
studied the passage?
What have I learned and what must I apply to my life?
In order to teach you how these questions can
your interpretation of a passage, I have chosen one which, when examined closely, may
lead you into a very different interpretation than what is commonly held. I leave it to
you to determine if my interpretation is accurate.
Note: of course, the first thing you should
always do is pray and ask the Lord for guidance.
The passage that I am going to use is
men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left," (NIV).
1. Who wrote/spoke the passage and who was it addressed to?
Jesus spoke the words and they were recorded by Matthew.
Jesus spoke them to His disciples in response to a question, which we will get to later.
2. What does the passage say?
The passage simply says that one out of two men in a field
will be taken. It doesnt say where, why, when, or how. It just says one will be
taken. It doesnt define the field as belonging to someone or in a particular place.
3. Are there any words in the passage that need to be examined?
No particular word in this verse really stands out as
needing to be examined, but to follow this exercise, I will use the word
"taken." By using a Strongs Concordance and a dictionary of New Testament words
(Vines, for example), I can check the Greek word and learn about it. The word in
Greek is paralambano. It means "1) to take to, to take with one's self, to join to
one's self, 2) to receive something transmitted."
A point worth mentioning about word studies is that a word
means what it means in context. However, by examining how a word is used in multiple
contexts, the meaning of the word can take on a new dimension. For example, the word for
"love" in Greek is "agapao." It is generally believed to mean
"divine love." This seems obvious since it is used in
in that way.
However, the same word is used in
11:43. Jesus says, "Woe to you Pharisees,
because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the
marketplaces," (NIV). The word used there is "agapao." It would seem
then that the meaning of the word might mean something more along the lines of
"total commitment to," rather than only divine love.
However, we must be careful not to insert a meaning of a
word from one context into that of another. For example: 1) That new cadet is green. 2)
That tree is green. The first green means "new and inexperienced." The second
one means the color green. Would we want to impose the contextual meaning of one into the
other? It wouldnt be a good idea.
4. What is the immediate context?
This is where this particular verse will come alive. The
immediate context is as follows, Matt.
24:37-42, "As it was in the days of Noah,
so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38For in the days before the
flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day
Noah entered the ark; 39and they knew nothing about what would happen until the
flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.
40Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41Two
women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. 42Therefore
keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come," (NIV).
Immediately we can see that the person taken in verse 40 is
paralleled by people being taken in verse 39. That is, the "being taken" are of
the same kind.
A further question needs to be asked. Who was taken in
verse 39? Was it Noah and his family or was it the people who were eating and drinking?
The answer to that question might help us understand the original passage better.
Therefore, the next interpretive step will help us greatly.
5. What is the broader context in the chapter and book?
A passage should always be looked at in context, not only
in its immediate context of the verses directly before and after it, but also in the
context of the chapter it is in and the book in which it is written.
Jesus discourse from which our verse was
with a question. Jesus had just left the temple and in verse
told His disciples that
"...not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down."
Then in verse 3 the disciples asked Jesus, "Tell us," they said, "when
will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?"
(NIV). Jesus then goes on to prophesy about things to come at the end of the age. He
speaks of false Christs, of tribulation, of the sun being darkened, of His return, and of
two men in a field where one will be taken and the other left.
The context then is eschatological. That means that it
deals with the last things, or the time shortly before Jesus return. Many people
think that this verse in Matt.
24:40 refers to the rapture spoken of in
It may. But it is interesting to note that the context of the verse seems to suggest that
the wicked are taken, not the good.
Now, about this time some of you might be thinking that this method
of interpreting passages isnt that good. After all, the "one taken, one
left" verse is obviously about the rapture -- as many are taught. Right? Well, maybe. You see, we all come
to the Bible with preconceived ideas. Sometimes they are right, sometimes wrong. We should
always be ready to have our understanding of the Bible challenged by what it says. If we
are not willing, then we are prideful. And God is distant from the proud (Psalm
6. What are the related verses to the passages subject and how do they
the understanding of this passage?
It just so happens that there are related verses.
a parallel passage is found in
17:26-27. "Just as it was in the days of Noah, so
also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27People were eating, drinking,
marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood
came and destroyed them all," (NIV).
Immediately we discover that related verses do indeed
affect how we understand our initial verse. It is clear from this passage in Luke that the
ones taken by the flood are those who were eating and drinking and being given in
marriage. In other words, it wasnt the godly people who were taken, it was the
As you can see, this has a profound impact on how we
understand our passage in Matt. 24:40. Does the context suggest that the one in the field
who is taken is the one who is wicked? Also, how does this context affect
ideas about this verse? Lets read the verse again in context.
it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38For
in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in
marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39and they knew nothing about
what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at
the coming of the Son of Man. 40Two men will be in the field; one will be taken
and the other left. 41Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be
taken and the other left. 42"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know
on what day your Lord will come," (NIV).
What do you think now? Is the one taken the good or the
bad? Also, does this verse refer to the rapture or not?
Of related interest is a passage in
Jesus gives the parable of the sower who sows good seed in his field and someone sows
tares. The servants asked if they should go immediately and gather up the wheat. But, in
verse 30, Jesus says, "Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I
will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned;
then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn."
The point worth noting here is that the first ones gathered
are the weeds, not the wheat. This is most interesting since Jesus explains the parable in
13:36-43 and states that they will be cast into the furnace.
Additionally, when we turn to
17:1, which is the
parallel passage of Matt. 24, we discover that the disciples ask Jesus a question in
response to Jesus statement that "two will be in the field and one will be
taken." In verse 37 they ask, "Where, Lord?" He [Jesus]
replied, "Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather."
They are taken to a place of death.
7. What is the historical and cultural background?
This is a more difficult question to answer. It requires a
bit more research. A commentary is worth examining here since they usually provide the
historic and cultural backgrounds that help to unravel the text.
In this context, Israel was under Roman rule. They had been
denied the right of capital punishment, of self-rule, and the ability to wage war. Rome
had dominated the small nation. Judaism was tolerated among the Roman leadership. After
all, Israel was a small far-away country with a people that were fanatical about their
religion. So, Rome allowed Israel to be ruled by Jewish political puppets.
The Temple was the place of worship for the Israelite
community. It was there that the blood sacrifices were made by the high priest for the
atonement of the nation. It had taken 46 years to build (John
2:20). Jesus said the temple
would be destroyed which prompted the question which lead to His discourse which contains
the passage we are examining.
Culturally, the Jewish people were dedicated to the Old
Testament. Within those pages were prophecies of the Messiah, of the end of the age, and
of the delivery from bondage. The Jewish people knew that and were in a state of
expectation. Along comes Jesus with miracles and words of great power.
Naturally, they would look to Him as a possible deliverer.
8. What do I conclude about the passage?
Since the context of the passage suggests that it is the
wicked that are taken, I am going to conclude that the one taken in the field is not the
good, but the bad. I also am tempted to conclude that the wicked are taken to a place of
9. Do my conclusions agree or disagree with related areas of scripture and others
who have studied the passage?
Ive already presented other verses which seem to
agree with my conclusion. However, it is not in agreement with all of the commentaries
Ive read on this verse. At this point I would need to present my conclusion to
others to see what they think. Just because I studied the Word and arrived at a conclusion
does not mean that it is correct. But it doesnt mean it is wrong either.
By consulting with others, by examining the word again, and
by seeking God and his illumination, I can only hope to arrive at the best possible
conclusion about a passage.
10. What have I learned and what must I apply to my life?
Interpretation of scripture is for a purpose: To understand
Gods word more accurately. With a better understanding of His word, we can then more
accurately apply it to the area that it addresses. In this case, the passage deals with an
area of the future, and area of judgment. It is information that Jesus has revealed and
that He wants us to know about. The application then would be that God will execute
judgment upon the unrighteous at the end of the age.
Do you see how
important is to tackle God's word with guidelines? Let it guide
you. Don't impose your presuppositions onto the text. Check
what people say against the word. Let God direct you in the study
of the Bible. Pray. Seek God's guidance.
This is important because you don't simply want to be a
parrot who learns and repeats what it is taught. You need to
become a person who can study God's word and grow in that study.
This way, you won't be dependent upon others -- though you can learn
from them, of course, as God has provided pastors and teachers in the
body of Christ.
Trust God. Study. Let Him teach you. You
will learn much.
America alone has more than 350
sects and cults, and most of them claim to base their doctrines on
the Word of God.