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Rules of Biblical Interpretation

What Is Involved in this Equipping?

The United States military services spend a great deal of time, money and effort in getting their fighting forces equipped. Can you imagine soldiers going off to battle without weapons or training? Actually, in the Civil War it sometimes happened. Untrained units had to scrounge for weapons and learn the hard way how to fight. This unfortunate situation cost a great many lives.

Being equipped is also crucial for soldiers in Christ's army. But, it's fair to ask, what is involved in this equipping? What tools or training do we need? In Paul does not leave us in the dark. In fact, in Eph. 4:12-16 he gives us a fair amount of detail.

Paul uses the Greek word katartismos for 'equipping'. This noun form is only used here in the New Testament. The verb form katartidzo, however is used 13 times. A few of these occurrences will give us an idea of the New Testament use of this concept:

Luke 6:40 "A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher.

Rom 9:22b "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction"

1 Thess. 3:10 "...as we pray exceedingly night and day that we might see your face and complete what is missing in your faith" (HEB)

And notice that this word is included in two benedictions:

Heb. 13:20-21: Now may the God of peace...make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

1 Pet. 5:10: But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect , establish, strengthen, and settle you.

The basic meaning of the katartis.. group is variously expressed by the lexicons: "Prepared for its full use," "put into proper condition," "complete." In secular Greek this word was used, for instance, in the sense of furnishing a house. One instance concerns the allocation of some money "for the furnishing of the guest room." Putting all this information together gives us a good idea of what it means to be 'equipped': it means to be "completely prepared and ready to be used for the task at hand." If we compare 2 Tim. 3:17 we notice that, although Paul uses another word here, he is very concerned about this readiness in the saints. It is also tempting to compare Eph. 6:10-18, although the general context there seems to be our personal preparedness for the battle with Satan where here the preparedness is for ministry tasks.

But what makes the Christian prepared and ready for the task? Aside from normal Christian growth, let me name what I think are the main preparation points. They are doctrine, interpretation of Scripture, and ministry skills. Paul relates doctrine to equipping in this very passage. I include interpretation because that is the way to formulate solid doctrine. Ministry skills involves everything from practical principles derived from scripture to illustrations that have been found to be good in evangelism.

Doctrine is mentioned by Paul in this passage as a purpose or reason for being equipped. As we saw before, v. 14 gives the negative reason why it is necessary to be equipped: "that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine." Then v. 15 gives the positive reason: "we should, by speaking the truth in love, grow up in all areas into Christ." Speaking the truth is the opposite of being vulnerable babes in doctrine. Heb. 5:12-14 speaks of this same dynamic: moving from spiritual childhood to maturity where we can teach others.

What is doctrine anyway? This is a good place to be sure we have the right idea about what doctrine is. Contrary to some popular beliefs about doctrine, it is not something that is unnecessarily divisive. To hear some speak of doctrine you would think we should just drop it and enclose everything under a banner of love. But Paul shows here in Eph. 4:14-15 that doctrine is not only legitimate, it is crucial. He also says in 2 Timothy 4:3,4, "For there will be a time when they will not put up with sound doctrine, but according to their own cravings, because they want to hear comfortable things, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and instead, be turned aside to myths" [HEB]. There is a great deal of erroneous doctrine out there today. Many have substituted man's ideas for God's truth.

Doctrine, however, is no excuse for beating someone over the head. Paul says very clearly that we should be "speaking the truth in love." Though we may disagree with someone about an interpretation or a theological point, we must do so with grace and soft words. Heated arguments get us nowhere and bring dishonor on our God.

The word used for doctrine here and in 2 Tim. 4:3 is didaskalias, which simply means teaching. Doctrine is just what the Bible teaches about any given subject. When it does divide Christians, it is most often because some have fallen into false doctrine. See Rom. 16:17; 1 Tim. 1:3, 4, 10; 6:3, 4; Tit. 1:9; 2 John 9, 10 just to name the most obvious contexts. The fact that Christians hold various views on the end times and predestination and election and spiritual gifts and so forth should not discourage us. We should not give up the pursuit of truth just because we cannot, with our finite minds, agree on all of it. So let us pay attention to what Paul said in 1 Tim, 4:13, "...give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine ."

So, you may be asking yourself, "How do I become mature in doctrine?" First of all, I hope as you are reading this that you are fellowshipping in a church that teaches the historic fundamentals of the faith "once-for-all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). If you are not sure, check out my doctrinal statement and compare it to that of your church; or, take it to your pastor. If you are in a good church, begin by taking advantage of Sunday school classes and Bible studies that your church offers. You might also simply get a couple of good systematic theology books like Charles Ryrie's Basic Theology, Chafer/Walvoord Major Bible Themes or Henry Thiessen's Lectures in Systematic Theology. Another way to get an introduction to theology is at the Biblical Studies Foundation web site (www.bible.org). They have an excellent theology section with introductory studies and independent articles. They also have a multitude of Bible studies on books of the Bible and various topics.

I have been encouraging you to get a good grasp of basic doctrine. Beyond that, the way to be able to dig deep in doctrine and to discern false doctrine is to learn to interpret Scripture on your own. But you are asking yourself, "Is that really possible? I don't have a seminary or Bible college degree." Well degrees are nice but not necessary for everyone. And every person can and should learn proper biblical interpretation. Consider what Paul said to Timothy in 2 Tim 2:15: "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." That last phrase would be better translated, "Handling accurately the word of truth." Now you may say that Paul was writing to Timothy who was a Pastor, not to ordinary individuals in the church. But where does it say that this verse is not for everyone?

Eph 6: 17 says to "take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." How can you take it up without knowing how to use it? Does a workman have his own tools but require someone else to sharpen and maintain them? Paul commends the Bereans in Acts 17:11 for being fair-minded, because they "searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so." It doesn't sound like they asked someone else to interpret the Scripture for them. If you are still convinced you cannot interpret Scripture without the help of whatever prominent radio or print Bible teacher is your favorite, let me assure you, there isn't a famous Bible teacher today who wouldn't tell you the same thing I have been saying. You do need to listen to your pastor, and there is nothing wrong with getting some help from those who have been used by God in public Bible teaching. But, even to discern what they are teaching like the Bereans, you must learn proper biblical interpretation.

I hope to be able to add a whole course on interpretation to this web site in the future. For now, start with the list of rules in the article "Rules of Interpretation." If you can get the out-of-print Henrichsen book I mention there it would be very helpful. While I have not used the following books, their authors can generally be counted on to represent good interpretation techniques.

     Studying, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible
        Walter Henrichsen, Zondervan

     An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics
        Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. & Moises Silva, Zondervan

     Living by the Book
        Howard Hendricks, Moody Press

Finally, there are practical ministry skills that should be part of every equipped Christian's abilities. These are a part of our great commission. Matt. 28:19 & 20 reads in part: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you." There are four actions we are to do: go, make disciples, baptize, and teach them to observe all that Jesus commanded. The going and baptizing are fairly straightforward, but the other two require some training. Making disciples equals evangelism—getting the person to the point where he is a disciple. Then the last part involves teaching what we today call discipleship—how a disciple should live out the Christian life.

Some of these ministry skills are doctrine by the way, the doctrine of how to evangelize and how teach others to be a disciple. What are some of the skills involved? Let me just name a few to get you thinking and then, again, recommend some books.


1. Learn to use the terminology in the Bible; and use it correctly. For example, people talk about "asking Jesus into your heart" (0 times in Scripture), "asking Jesus into your life" (0 times in Scripture), "feeling sorry for your sins" (0 times in Scripture), "forsaking your sins" (0 times in Scripture), and "receiving Christ" (1 time in Scripture). Why not use the terminology used 150 times in Scripture? What is it? Belief in Christ or faith in Christ. It simply means to believe the facts about Him and depend on Him for salvation. Some of these phrases come from what people think is the meaning of the word repent in Scripture. But consider this: Dr. John Broadus, a Greek scholar of the 19th century, said that the English word repent is "the worst English-language translation in the New Testament." The reason is that it is a notion from Catholic theology. "Be sorry for your sins" and "turn away from sin" are related to the Catholic concept to "do penance." The Greek has a different word for "to be sorry" (metamelomai). The Greek word normally translated repentmetanoeo—is used 43 times in the Greek translation of the Old Testament but 37 of these uses have to do with God. Since God cannot sin we must conclude that this word does not necessarily have to do with sin. The word literally means "to think afterwards." It is talking about a change in mental attitude or a change in the way we think. We often say "to have a change of heart." It may have to do with sin or it may be focusing on something else.

2. Learn to use illustrations for building bridges of understanding. I like the Grand Canyon illustration to show the huge gap between God's holiness and our attempts at righteousness. If everyone had to jump the canyon, it wouldn't matter if you were a champion athlete, you still couldn't make it more than 22 feet or so before you fell to your death. It is the same with trying to achieve right standing with God by our own works. Another good illustration is a wallet on your hand to represent our sin burden. You illustrate God taking away our sin by lifting the wallet off with the other hand. Once you know the theology of salvation, use your imagination to help people understand what Christ does for us.

3. Don't get into theological arguments with people. Concentrate on who Christ is and whether or not the person is sure of salvation. Teach the truth and falsehood will fall away. Related to this is the constant worry of some people that they will be asked a question they cannot answer. Questions such as "where did Cain get his wife? are usually a smokescreen. Learn to graciously put these aside until the real heart of the matter is covered. You might do what I heard one evangelist suggest and keep index cards handy and write these 'smokescreen' questions on them. Set the cards aside with the promise that you will either answer them or get an answer. After you have covered the basics of salvation, it will either become clear that the individual wasn't really interested after all, or they will trust Christ and the questions won't matter.

4. Remember: evangelism is the Holy Spirit's job (Acts 1:8). Trust Him for the results. Also, use the Holy Spirit's outline for evangelism in John 16:8-11: sin, righteousness, and judgment.

I would recommend two books for help on evangelism, both by R. Larry Moyer: Free and Clear, and Larry Moyer's How To Book On Evangelism. Both of these are published by Kregel and available at www.christianbook.com. While I have not read these books, I am familiar with Larry Moyer's teaching.


The discipling of new (and sometimes old) Christians in the fundamentals of living the Christian life has frequently been neglected in churches. Here is a great place where you can make a difference. When you lead someone to Christ, take him/her under your wing (so to speak) and show them how to be a Christian disciple. Remember, Jesus said to "teach them to observe ALL things that I have commanded you." Not some, but all. Don't worry about being a master teacher, just share your life with them. Here are four things a disciple should do:

     Submit—Rom. 12:1

     Learn—2 Tim. 3:16, 17

     Follow—Mark 8:34

     Serve—Luke 16:13

Two books I think would help you are: Welcome to the Family by Larry Moyers and Disciples Are Made Not Born by Walter Henrichsen.

We have covered two things from Eph. 4:12-16 that most Christians never get around to incorporating into their life. Who should be equipped, and what is involved in the equipping. The problem is, will you do it? I beg you, don't let the blessing God has for you pass you by and also don't lose the rewards for being a faithful disciple. Get going on being equipped today!

You understand basically what you need to do to be equipped. In our next study we will ask the question, "What's the point of being equipped?"

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