E. W. Bullinger
Part IIThe Words
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).
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).
"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.
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).
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).
4. The Potter's house (Jer 18).
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.
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).
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).
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."*
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.
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.