Saturday, July 1, 2023

Three Useful Cautions (Matthew 5:13-20)

“Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees …” (Matt. 5:20).

Today we will consider three warnings in the interpretation of Scripture. First, when interpreting Scripture be careful to observe the difference between the spirit and the letter of the law. Beware of the dangers of both legalism and antinomianism. Jesus dealt with this tension in the Sermon on the Mount. He taught that we should not only keep ourselves from committing adultery, but we should not lust. The Pharisees kept the letter of the law by not committing adultery. But they failed to keep the spirit of the law by lusting in their hearts. While adultery and lust are not the same, they are both sins against God and worthy of hellfire. In this sermon, Jesus was concerned with the keeping of the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. He set them not against each other, and neither should we.

Second, be careful when interpreting parables. Jesus used this literary form as a teaching device, not only to make things clear, but also to obscure truths—“He that has ears to hear, let him hear.” This does not mean that the parables are riddles, but it does mean that their truths may be more difficult to grasp than we realize. Also, parables are not always to be taken as allegory, except when indicated by Scripture. The parable of the sower is an allegory—as Jesus indicates by giving the spiritual meaning of each element in the story. But if we did this with every parable, we would run into some problems. A safe rule of thumb is to determine the main points of the parable. Some will only have one, some a few. But do not try to spiritualize every element of every parable.

Finally, be careful with predictive prophecy. Sometimes prophecy is a clear, literal fulfillment, such as the case of the Messiah being born in Bethlehem; other times the fulfillment has a broader scope. When studying prophecy, do so with much care. The result can be very rewarding.

Read Luke 18:1–8. Try to interpret this passage allegorically, assigning every element a direct spiritual parallel. Can it be done? How does Jesus interpret the parable? What is the main point of this story? Read a few other parables in one of the Gospels. Look for the main point of each.