by E.W. Bullinger

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How to Enjoy the Bible
E. W. Bullinger

Part II—The Words

Canon X

Interpretation and Application

It is of the utmost importance that we should clearly and constantly discriminate between these two.

The Interpretation of a passage is one thing, but the Application of that passage is quite a different thing.

The Interpretation of a passage belongs to the occasion when, and the persons to whom, or of whom, the words were originally intended. When that has been settled, then it is open to us to make an application of those words to ourselves or others, so far as we can do so without coming into conflict with any other passages.

We have already seen something of this, and of its importance in connection with Dispensational Truth and Teaching; but the principle extends far beyond this, and affects all kinds of Truth.

It is this that makes the precept to rightly divide the Word of truth so weighty and so indispensable.

It may even be, when the application is made in full accord with Scripture teaching given elsewhere, that it is not only true, but may have a far deeper and more real meaning than the interpretation itself; and may convey truths and lessons far beyond it.

This is very different from the common practice called spiritualizing. This too often ignores or denies all that may be learnt from the interpretation of a passage, and robs those to whom it belongs of a precious treasure; while it appropriates to itself or other parties the property which has thus been stolen.

Such a practice cannot be too strongly deprecated; not only because of the injury done to the Word itself, and the mistakes involved, but because it is so wholly unnecessary.

All the sweetness, all the blessing, all the truth can be obtained by a wise application, without in the slightest degree impairing the true interpretation. This may be left and preserved in all its integrity, and yet something really spiritual may be appropriated by application; all, in fact, that can be desired, without doing any violence to the Divine Word, as is done when its interpretation is not only ignored, but often when the application is actually substituted for the interpretation.

This Canon is very far-reaching as governing our study of the Word and the words of God. Its importance cannot be over-estiamted, if we would not only understand but really enjoy our Bible studies.

It will come into operation on nearly every page of Scripture; and on this account it is impossible to give more than examples.

We content ourselves with a few as a guide to the way in which other passages may be treated.

Take, for instance:

1. The Account of Creation (Gen 1).—Instead of troubling our heads with Babylonian "creation-tablets," which were the incoherent babblings of people who had forgotten and corrupted, or knew little of, primitive truth, we turn to the inspired record and endorse the Divine assertion, "The beginning of Thy word is true" (Psa 119:160, marg.).

We have already dealt with this interpretation of Genesis 1,* and shown how the first chapter of Genesis, when compared with other Scriptures, is far in advance of the inferences drawn from the ever-shifting and changing hypotheses of Geologists, which are foisted upon us under the name of "science falsely so-called" (1 Tim 6:20).

* See under Canon VIII, p. 351.

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."—This is "the world that then was" of 2 Peter 3:6.

And the earth became tohu and bohu.—The verb "was" means, and is translated "became" in Genesis 2:7, 4:14, 9:15, 19:26, etc.

It became w@ht& (tohu). Whatever may be the meaning of the word rendered "without form," it is distinctly stated in Isaiah 44:18 that God "created it not tohu." It must therefore have "become" so, as stated in Genesis 1:2.

The combination of the two words tohu and bohu occurs in Isaiah 45:19, 34:11, and Jeremiah 4:23, where it may be seen that it denotes ruin, emptiness, waste, desolation.

This was the end of "the world that then was" (2 Peter 3:5,6).

The chapter next goes on to describe the creation of "the heavens and the earth which are now" (2 Peter 3:7); and in 2 Peter 3:13 we are informed that these will be followed hereafter by "a new heavens and new earth."

If we interpret the chapter on these lines, and do not make Moses or the Holy Spirit responsible for the mistakes of translators and commentators, we have a surer foundation for any application we make.

In doing this we destroy the miserable imagination of a criticism which regards it as either an "allegory" or as a "myth."

The interpretation tells us that at some time in the eternal ages past, "God created the heavens and the earth."

And then, that at some time, in some manner, and for some reason (which are not revealed) it became a ruin, empty, waste, desolate, and overwhelmed with water.

This is the interpretation.

Now, the application of this to the creation and the new creation of man rests on this sure foundation; and reveals truth and teaching of infinite importance.

1. The earth was created perfect. this is implied in the word rendered "create," and is embodied in the word "cosmos."* So was man. "God made man upright" (Eccl 7:29).

* It is rendered ornament in Exo 33:4,5,6; Isa 49:18; 3:18; Jer 4:30; Eze 7:20. And adorning in 1 Peter 3:3.

2. But the earth became a ruin, and so did man. We are not told why or when man thus fell: but in this case we are told how in Genesis 3. Man's natural condition is described as "dead" (Eph 2:1), "darkened" (Eph 4:18), and destitute of any good thing (Rom 7:18).

3. While the old creation was in this ruined condition, the first act and movement was on the part of God: "the Spirit of God moved" (Gen 1:2). Thus it is in the case of man. He must be "born of the Spirit" (John 3:5,6).

4. The next act was also of God, "And God said" (Gen 1:3). God spake: The Word of God came. So with man. He must be "begotten by the word of God" as well as by the Spirit (1 Peter 1:23-25).

5. The next creative act was the creation of light.* And this is true in the experience of the saved sinner: "The entrance of thy words giveth light" (Psa 119:130). This is precisely the application made in 2 Corinthians 4:6: "God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."

* Whatever that was. Scientists once thought they knew; but recent discoveries of the X-rays and N-rays and radium, etc., are so wonderful and far-reaching that no scientist would now venture to frame a definition. One thing we know, that whether they call it "luminiferous ether" or anything else, it is not the same as the word rendered "lights" in Genesis 1:14, 16. The sun and moon were called rw$)maf (maor), light-holders, or candlesticks. Thus, we are taught in Genesis 1 that which science is only just getting to know: viz., that what God called "light" exists independently of the sun.

6. In the Old Creation the light shines on the ruin; and so it is in the New Creation. Here it is that we first come in. Here is where we begin. Here is where we first experience and come to a knowledge of all that has already been going on. A vast deal of work has been wrought by God before we are cognizant of anything except the misery through which we have passed. But when we learn the true spiritual application of the interpretation, then, in spite of all the evil which the light has revealed, we look up, and thank God for the light, and we say, as God said when He saw the light, that "it was good."

We must not pursue the application which may be made throughout the whole chapter, but we commend the above as an example of our Canon X.

Another example may be seen in

2. The Rejection of Messiah (Isa 53).—The interpretation belongs to those who were specially addressed by the prophet Isaiah, who spake of and to "Judah and Jerusalem"; and that chapter must take its place in the context in which God Himself has set it.

Leaving its interpretation there we lose none of its precious truths for ourselves when we apply it as we may, and do, in accordance with our own Church Epistles. Its great and solemn lesson is even stronger and deeper in its application than in its interpretation.

It must be admitted by all that Israel will be able to use those words in a sense which we can never do.

The Lord Jesus did grow up in their midst (v 2) as He has not in ours.

When He did so, there was a literal sense in which His People to whom He came did not see any form or comeliness in Him, or any beauty that they should desire Him (v 2), which was not equally true of us, as Gentiles, though it can be truly applied to us.

There was a sense in which they "hid their faces from Him and esteemed Him not" (v 3), which is not so literally true of us; though our application of the words finds a real counterpart.

We were not God's "sheep" and "people" as Israel was, and it could not be said of us as of them, "All we like sheep have gone astray" (v 6). We were far more than "lost sheep" (Matt 10:6): we are "dead in trespasses and sins," but of Israel it was specially said that they were "the sheep of His pasture" (Psa 95:7, 100:3, etc.).

It was for Isaiah's people that Messiah was specially stricken (v 8); but, as afterwards revealed, we may apply the words in a very true sense of ourselves.

3. The mourning of Israel (Rev 1:7).—In like manner there is a very special sense in which the interpretation of the words in Revelation 1:7 will be true of Israel—"they which pierced him...shall mourn over him." There can be only a somewhat strained application to ourselves; certainly not an interpretation of us.

4. The Potter's house (Jer 18).—This chapter affords an instructive example of this Canon. The prophet is told to go down to the Potter's house and note what he sees.

He sees the Potter make a vessel on the wheels, and the vessel was marred in his hands.

Then he made it again another vessel as it pleased the Potter to make it (vv 1-4).

In the verses that follow, the interpretation is given by God Himself; and He interprets it of Israel.

But there are several applications which we may make, all equally true; and to us, more vitally important than the interpretation itself.

When Jehovah sent Jeremiah to the Potter's house, it was to teach him a great eternal principle, that He would never mend that which man had marred, but would make an end of it and put a new thing altogether in its place.

Jehovah's own interpretation of what Jeremiah saw, was that Israel, like that clay, had become marred. He, the great Potter, would not mend the nation; but would make a new nation, a new Israel in whom He could put a new spirit, and write His law in their hearts (Jer 18, 31:31-37). This new nation is the interpretation of the Lord Jesus also, in Matthew 21:43, when He said to and of the nation, in His day, "Therefore say I unto you, The Kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof."

That nation will not be the vessel that was marred. It will be the same clay, but re-made "another vessel as seemed good to the potter to make it."

This is God's own interpretation, and we may not ignore it; or rob Israel of the blessed hope which is revealed in it, and is yet in store for that nation.

But, leaving Israel in full and sure possession of this promise we are at liberty to make as many applications of the lesson in the Potter's house as may be consistent with the other teaching of the Word of God.

1. We may apply it to "the heavens and earth which are now." This earth came under the curse, and is marred: marred, so that "the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now" (Rom 8:22). God will not mend this earth; but will make "a new heaven and a new earth" (2 Peter 3:13); as may "seem good to the Potter to make it"; and of which this present earth will have a foretaste in millennial blessings (Rev 21, 22). Those who are labouring to mend this marred creation have not yet learned the lesson of this application of the Potter's house.

2. We may apply it to man. Man was marred, and at the Fall became alienated from the life of God (Rom 5:12-21; Eph 2:1-3, 4:17-19, etc.). God will not mend or reform the natural man; but He makes "a new man" "a new creation, in Christ" (2 Cor 5:17; Eph 2:10), and bestows a new nature, and gives a new spirit; "as it pleases the Potter to make it."

3. We may apply it to the Covenant which God made with Israel, "which my covenant they brake," He says. That Covenant is marred. But God will not mend it. He will "make a new Covenant." That is His own application, and we find it in Hebrews 8:7-13, 10:16. (Compare Jer 31:33,34.)

4. We may apply it to the Sacrifices as ordained by God. But these were marred in the making. They, like the Covenant itself, "were not faultless"; "for it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins." They were marred, and will not be mended. A new and living way has been made and opened by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ—once for all. "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God. He taketh away the first that He may establish the second." The second is the new vessel "as it pleased the Potter to make it" (Heb 10:1-23).

5. We may apply it to the institution of Kings, and the setting up of the throne of David. The Kings failed (as the Priests also failed). The throne was marred. But, it is not in God's counsels to mend it. The confusion must go on, while all the nations of the earth are seeking, striving, and struggling to attain a better government by human remedies, reforms, or revolutions. This will go on—For in His own application of this, He has said: "I will overturn, overturn, overturn" until He comes whose right it is to reign (Eze 21:27; Isa 32:1). And, while kings fail and set themselves against Jehovah and His anointed, and thrones totter and fall, and dynasties change and pass away, yet, looking forward to that coming day when He will of this clay make another vessel, as it seemeth good for Him to make it, His counsel is declared even now, in the midst of the ruin: "Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion" (Psa 2:6).

6. We may apply this great eternal principle of the Potter's house to our mortal bodies. Made in the image of Elohim, capable of living for ever through the virtues of the "tree of life," these human bodies became mortal; marred through the Fall, and made subject to death through sin. Man may use his means, improve his arts; and may mend by his medicines; he may delay, but he cannot stay the appointment of God for man: "It is appointed unto men once to die" (Heb 9:27; Gen 3:19; Eccl 3:20).

God will not mend these marred bodies of our humiliation, but He has prepared for His people "another" body. A "house not made with hands," a "house from heaven," re-made, in resurrection, like Christ's own body of glory (2 Cor 4:14-5:2).

Now, while in "our earthly house of this tabernacle" we are "absent from the Lord." Therefore it is that we are earnestly longing for that resurrection day when we shall be "clothed upon with our house* which is from heaven," when we shall be absent, out of, or away from these vile bodies, and present with the Lord, in bodies made like the glorious body of Christ (Phil 3:20,21). Then, and only then, will "mortality be swallowed up of life" (2 Cor 5:4).

* 2 Corinthians 5:2. Greek, oikhthrion (oiketerion), a spiritual body, similar to that of the angels. See Jude 6.

If any ask, "How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?" Then the answer is that which comes to us as the echo from the lesson in the Potter's house: "God giveth it a body AS IT HATH PLEASED HIM" (1 Cor 15:35,38). Then, and then only, "shall be brought to pass the saying," "Death is swallowed up in victory" (1 Cor 15:54).

We could not give a better illustration of this important Canon than that of the Potter's house, which shows us how, after we have settled and distinguished the interpretation of a passage, we may make one or more applications of it, so long as they are in harmony with the general teaching of the whole Word of truth.

One more example, and that from the New Testament, must suffice.

5. The parable of the Ten Virgins (Matt 25).—In no Scripture is this great principle less observed than in the general treatment of this parable. For not only is the interpretation evaded and avoided, but it is ignored altogether; and the application is put in its place: indeed, it is actually substituted for it, and itself made the interpretation.

The application thus made is self-contradictory; for while the "kingdom of heaven" is supposed to be the Church, the Bride also is held to be the Church, "the Virgins her companions" are also taken as representing the Church; and we are constantly and universally exhorted to be "wise" and have our lamps trimmed and "oil in our vessels"; the oil being the Holy Spirit, which we refuse to give to the unwise, but bid them go and buy for themselves!

This farrago of Arminian theology is supposed to be what the Lord was then teaching to His disciples, and which we are to supposed them to have understood.

But there is a true interpretation; and there is also a true application. The latter cannot be made until the former is obtained; for the interpretation is the foundation on which the application is built. There can be no building till the foundation is laid.

The interpretation is clearly indicated by the first word with which it commences: "THEN."*

* As we have seen p 359.

That is to say, at this stage of the Lord's last great prophetic address, and at this point in the succession of events which He was unfolding: "THEN shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins," etc.

When the interpretation of this prophecy shall be fulfilled those who are waiting for the Bridegroom will go forth to meet Him.

"It shall be said in that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him,
And he will save us:
This is Jehovah, we have waited for him,
We will be glad and rejoice in his salvation." (Isa 25:9).

Having thus settled the interpretation; it is now open to us to make such application as we may be able; and one lies on the surface: viz., the general exhortation to watchfulness; which is none the less solemn and none the less powerful, weighty, and effective because the true interpretation has been made. For if they have need to watch who have and are to have "Signs" given to them, how much more watchful should we be who have no such signs, but are "waiting for God's Son from heaven," who may come at any moment to meet His risen and changed ones in the air and receive them up into glory.


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