Here's an Example of Bible Study Gone Horribly Wrong!
By Jamey Escamilla • February 4, 2021
Why do so many Christians disagree about different topics in the Bible?
If you’ve listened to the church even a little bit, you’ll hear different views about many things.
Baptism, tithing, religion, salvation, prophecy, the Holy Spirit, creation, etc.
Why can’t we agree on things like this?
Here’s the answer: we’re all interpreting scriptures from the Bible differently.
This is why Bible study is very important for all Christians.
But not just any Bible study. And not just what we THINK is good Bible study.
When we study scripture, we should ALL be trying to figure out one thing:
What is the one, intended meaning that the author of this scripture had in mind?
THAT’S the right interpretation – whatever the author meant.
The problem comes when we do shabby studying and come out on the other side with a different meaning than what the author had in mind.
Now, any time we study scripture and come out of our room to present the meaning of it, it most certainly will be OUR interpretation.
No matter what, what we decide about a scripture or a Bible topic will always be OUR interpretation.
But the question should be: “Does OUR interpretation match the AUTHOR’S interpretation?”
That puts an end to the argument that’s sometimes used when we disagree with someone:
“That’s just your interpretation.”
Well, yea. But is it what the author meant?
So, our question this week is this:
How do we interpret scriptures the right way?
Next week, I’m going to give you some simple tips that you can use to get the correct interpretation of scriptures.
But this week, I thought it would be cool to first show you what good interpretation is NOT.
I want to show you why it’s important and what it could lead to if we don’t care about interpretation.
We’re going to look at a commentary by David Guzik on Isaiah 13.
A commentary is just notes written about scriptures by someone who’s offering their interpretation of them.
Before we dive in and I show you why it’s a bad interpretation of this chapter, you should know:
I’m not writing this because I want to be mean to David Guzik. It’s nothing personal.
I’m just using this as an example to show you what bad interpretation is.
He looks like a great guy, and I’m sure he offers great teaching on other things.
But in this instance, he’s wrong, in my opinion. Let’s find out why!
As we begin reading his commentary about Isaiah 13, David tells us that this is a prophecy given by Isaiah about the coming destruction of Babylon.
The nation of Israel were going to be slaves in Babylon because they sinned against God.
During the time of Israel’s captivity there, the Persians came in and conquered Babylon.
Basically, God was now going to judge Babylon for being a pagan nation that laid a hand on Israel.
So, David correctly tells us that this is what Isaiah 13 is about.
But then, his commentary starts to get a little confusing. It starts at Isaiah 13:9-16:
Behold, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate; and He will destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be darkened in its going forth, and the moon will not cause its light to shine. "I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will halt the arrogance of the proud, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible. I will make a mortal more rare than fine gold, a man more than the golden wedge of Ophir. Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth will move out of her place, in the wrath of the LORD of hosts and in the day of His fierce anger. It shall be as the hunted gazelle, and as a sheep that no man takes up; every man will turn to his own people, and everyone will flee to his own land. Everyone who is found will be thrust through, and everyone who is captured will fall by the sword. Their children also will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be plundered and their wives ravished."
Here's what David says about this part of Isaiah 13:
So now, David is saying that verses 9-16 are about TWO events: the conquering of Babylon by the Persians a few years after Isaiah gave this prophecy, AND the “ultimate” destruction of the world at the end of all things, still in our future.
But we really need to stop right there and ask a few questions.
First, where does it say anywhere in this chapter, or anywhere else, that Isaiah was talking about TWO events?
In other words, this is something that David is assuming about these scriptures.
There is NO WAY that we can prove that Isaiah is talking about the destruction of Babylon AND the destruction of the world FROM THE CONTEXT, because it just doesn’t say that.
Sure, we can probably reason from other contexts and scriptures that Isaiah MIGHT be saying that.
I’m not saying that it’s not a possibility.
I’m just saying that we need to openly admit that the chapter DOESN’T say that, first.
Then, if we still believe that, we need to build a good, strong case for WHY we believe that Isaiah was talking about two events, even though he doesn’t say that he is.
Second, as we keep reading his commentary, he never says WHY he believes that.
Are we supposed to just believe it and accept it as truth?
Third, a normal person would not read Isaiah 13:9-16 and walk away believing that this was a prophecy about Babylon AND the end of the physical world, thousands of years in the future.
If you gave this scripture to someone who has NEVER read a Bible before and has never even heard of Christianity or its doctrines, they would believe:
“Oh, Isaiah says that this is about the destruction of Babylon. I know that this happened in the past when Persia conquered it. As I’m just reading the flow of this chapter, it makes sense that he’s talking about what he SAID he was talking about – destruction of Babylon hundreds of years ago.”
They would not believe: “Yes, this is about what happened to Babylon in the past. But it’s ALSO about the future end of the world, thousands of years after Babylon.”
There’s no way that that would logically just pop into their minds!
Because Isaiah says in verse one that this is the prophecy about Babylon, not the world thousands of years in the future.
Up to this point, there’s no evidence to believe that Isaiah has TWO prophecies in mind here.
From Isaiah 13:9-16, I can only sense ONE reason why someone MIGHT think that this prophecy is ALSO about the end of the physical world way off in the future:
Because it says that the stars, sun and moon will stop shining, and the heavens and earth will shake out of place.
If the stars, sun and moon stopped shining, and the earth literally shook out of place at the time that Babylon was conquered around 539 BC…
… then we wouldn’t be here right now.
The earth and everything we know would have ended already, right?
Last time I checked, the sun was still shining.
Again, David believes that all this stuff in Isaiah 13 will happen again somehow in our future.
But he also believes that it already happened in the past when Babylon was conquered.
So, how does he explain the part about the sun, moon, and starts going dark?
How does he explain the part about the Earth and heavens shaking back then?
Here’s what he says:
When I read this, I almost fell out of my office chair.
To the people back then, it FELT like the world was going to fall apart?
But some time in OUR future when the world ends, it’ll REALLY fall apart?
That’s what we’re going to say about Isaiah 13 in order to prove that it’s talking about two events?
When it doesn’t even SAY that it’s talking about two events?
First, the scripture doesn’t even say that.
It doesn’t say that to them, it FELT like the sun went dark and the Earth shook.
Read it again if you need to:
“For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not give their light…”
“Therefore, I will shake the heavens, and the earth will move out of her place…”
It doesn’t say, “It’ll FEEL like the earth will shake.”
It says that WAS GOING TO happen. Period.
Second, we need to notice how people will actually INSERT words into scriptures in order to make it say what they want it to say.
This is VERY bad interpretation.
I know David means will and isn’t trying to deceive anyone.
But we can do better than this.
We can offer better evidence to believe this way than that.
We can’t insert the word “feel” into this scripture, and I shouldn’t have to explain why.
Now, what I believe about all this sun, moon, and star stuff, along with the heavens and earth shaking, is this:
These are not LITERAL statements.
In other words, the sun was not LITERALLY going to go dark.
The Earth was not ACTUALLY going to shake and fall apart.
Actually, these phrases (sun, moon, stars, Earth falling apart) were common Jewish figures of speech that they used in those days.
We use figures of speech all the time. Like this: “He’s a pain in my neck.”
Of course, we don’t mean that to be taken literally, as if he’s an actual, physical pain in my fleshly neck.
They were just figures of speech used by Jews in those days to describe a judgment happening, brought by the LORD.
Whenever a nation or people would be judged, and their kingdom was uprooted and destroyed, people would write poetically about it and say things like, “The sun isn’t shining on that nation. The stars are falling for that nation.”
To be a little more specific, these celestial bodies represented kings, kingdoms, governments and religions.
When they fell or stopped shining, it meant that the glory of these kingdoms was coming to an end.
This type of language is used in a few other places in the Old and New Testaments.
For example, the same things about the sun, moon, and stars going dark are talked about in Ezekiel 32, when God says that judgment is coming to Egypt.
This also happened in the past.
Sybolically. The nation of Egypt was judged hundreds of years ago, and this judgment was prophesied in Ezekiel 32 through symbolic, poetic writing. Not to be taken literally.
Even ancient, Egyptian hieroglyphics used language like this in their writings.
But we would never know that unless we study, because we often read the Bible through modern day, American glasses.
As if the times in the Bible had the same language and culture that America in 2021 has.
But we need to remember that we’re separated from them by thousands of years, and even thousands of miles.
After all, it was the ancient Palestine.
Language and culture changes over little time.
But I didn’t want to get too much into what I believe about this scripture.
I just wanted to show you the examples of bad interpretation.
So, let’s continue with a tiny bit more.
David goes on to say this:
I’m a little confused by what David says about the punishment of the “world” here.
I guess he believes that the punishing of the “world” here is BOTH the destruction of Babylon AND the future coming end of planet Earth.
In other words when Isaiah says “world”, he means:
“world” = nation of Babylon in this time, and ALSO,
“world” = actual planet Earth in the future.
David is using a type of Bible interpretation called “double fulfillment”.
It basically says that even if a prophecy was given and happened in the past, it could also happen again in the future and be fulfilled again in another way.
Like with Isaiah 13: David says it WAS fulfilled in the past, but it will ALSO be fulfilled in the future in a more ultimate way.
Honestly, I can see WHY David might think that Isaiah 13 COULD be referring to the future a little bit as well.
It DOES use the word “world” here, and we know that God did not “punish the entire planet Earth” when Babylon was conquered in the past.
But we can’t automatically create two fulfillments for one prophecy in order to make it fit.
But still, why would Isaiah talk about the whole “world” if this was just about the nation of Babylon?
When Isaiah says that God was going to “punish the world” in a prophecy about ancient Babylon, what does that mean?
Here’s what I think it means, based on my study.
The Hebrew word is tebel, which is often used in the Bible as “world”.
Notice a couple of things. First, it could be used to mean, “the inhabited world”.
It could also mean “inhabitants, a particular land (as Babylonia), or the habitable part.”
This means that although the word’s plain definition is “world”, it could just be talking about the known land.
In context of Isaiah 13, it would mean the known, inhabited land of Babylon.
I also noticed how the Hebrew Lexicon called it a “poetic word”.
This means that sometimes, probably in a more literal, plain sense, the word is used to talk about the actual planet Earth.
But in a poetic, symbolic sense (like Isaiah 13), it could be referring to an inhabited land.
Also, look at the part above verse 11 in Isaiah 13:5:
They are coming from a distant land, from the farthest horizon - the Lord and the weapons of his wrath - to destroy the whole country.
We can see that Isaiah is talking about a literal country and land.
Again, David would agree that the people who are coming from a distant “land” are the Persians.
He would also probably agree that the whole “country” about the to be destroyed is Babylon.
So, if we just think about it with common sense, why would Isaiah have a local land in mind in verse 5 (Babylon), but then all of a sudden, jump to the literal, global Earth in verse 11?
We have two options to believe about this prophecy:
Our first option is to believe like David does - that Isaiah is talking about two events with one prophecy.
We would then have to believe that Isaiah is literally jumping around in his prophecy.
Sometimes, he’s talking more about ancient Babylon, and sometimes he’s talking about Earth.
Isaiah, then, is literally jumping from the world, to Babylon, then back to the “world”, and then back to the destruction of ancient Babylon with judgment coming from the “Medes” (verse 17).
Jumping around by thousands of years.
Talking about things that people in HIS day would not understand – the ultimate judgment of Earth.
With no evidence from the context that Isaiah actually DID in fact have two events in mind.
Or, we can believe that Isaiah 13, “concerning Babylon”, is concerning Babylon.
The Babylon that was in the past that they all knew about and understood.
That was conquered by the Persians and the Medes, as it says it was.
And it’s conquering was described in normal, ancient, Jewish figures of speech.
When the land of Babylon was judged by God.
We would then have to believe that Isaiah 13 is a prophecy talking about ONE event: the destruction of Babylon.
And that it should be read as one, cohesive chapter in a normal fashion.
Which one makes more sense to you?
So, because of bad interpretations, like this one in Isaiah 13, we have a mess on our hands.
Whatever you believe about Isaiah 13 and the end of the world, we should all agree on this:
We need to do honest, diligent, consistent study on the Bible in order to arrive at the author’s meaning.
Let’s avoid bad interpretations and be honest with ourselves.
Next week, we’ll look at how to do good interpretations!
What do YOU think?
Can you give an example of a bad interpretation of the Bible?
Love you guys!