II. NO LITERAL AND SPIRITUAL INTERPRETATION WITHIN THE SAME SENTENCE, VERSE, OR SECTION
We cannot interpret a sentence, a verse, or a section of the Bible spiritually for the first part and literally for the second part. We should not do that the other way around either. If a passage is to be interpreted spiritually, it should be interpreted spiritually throughout. If a passage is to be interpreted literally, it must be interpreted literally throughout. For example, the Lord Jesus said in John 3 that unless one is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. Many Bible expositors have interpreted the water here spiritually as referring to the word of God. However, in the next phrase, they take the Spirit literally, referring to it as the Holy Spirit. This kind of interpretation is wrong and is against the principle of Bible interpretation. If one would interpret the Spirit in the second part literally, he must interpret the water in the first part literally also. If one interprets the water spiritually, he must interpret the Spirit spiritually also. Since one cannot interpret the Spirit spiritually, neither can he interpret the water spiritually; it must be interpreted literally.
In Matthew 3, John the Baptist said, “I indeed baptize you in water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I…He shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire, whose winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly cleanse His threshing floor and will gather His wheat into His barn, but He will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire” (vv. 11-12). Some expositors have interpreted the fire here spiritually as tribulations and trials. Some have even interpreted this to be the Holy Spirit burning as a fire. All these have interpreted the word fire spiritually. But in this verse, the water mentioned by John is actual water, and the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit, literally. Therefore, the fire in the latter part should not be interpreted spiritually, but rather, literally. If the word fire has to be interpreted spiritually, then the water should also be interpreted spiritually. However, it is impossible to do this. This is an important principle in the interpretation of the Bible. For the different parts within a same passage, either they must all be interpreted literally, or they must all be interpreted spiritually. They cannot be interpreted both ways.
III. ONE PORTION NOT SUFFICIENT TO REPRESENT A WHOLE TRUTH
In interpreting the Bible, we have to pay attention to one more thing: one portion of the Word is not sufficient to represent the whole truth. In other words, there is no truth that can be fully explained in a single portion of the Word. Therefore, in reading and interpreting the Bible, we should pay attention to the words “again it is written.” This is the word spoken by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 4:7. When the Lord was tempted, the devil quoted to the Lord the words in Psalm 91 that God would give charge to His angels to bear Him up, lest He strike His foot against a stone. The devil argued that He could jump from the top of the temple and would not be hurt because there is such a promise in the Old Testament. This is how the devil tempted the Lord Jesus with an isolated passage of the Old Testament. When the Lord heard that, He answered right away, “Again it is written, You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” This shows us that we cannot consider one isolated portion of the Bible alone. Instead, we must consider two, three, or more portions of the Word together.
If we neglect the principle of “again it is written,” but apply the words of the Bible in an isolated way, we will easily be deceived by the wiles of the devil. If the devil cannot stop someone from following the Bible, he will cause that one to quote the Bible in an isolated way. Of course, Satan would wish that we do not do anything according to the Bible. But many times, he knows that this is impossible. All those who love and fear the Lord want to walk according to the Bible. The devil cannot stop us from following the Bible or walking according to the Bible. He can only use other ways, one of which is to cause us to follow the Bible in an isolated way. In this way we are driven to the extreme and forget the words that say “again it is written.”
This word “again” is too big a word. We should put a circle around it. This shows us that when we follow the Bible, we should not do so in an isolated way. We should consider both sides and even all sides. No single portion of the Bible can represent the whole truth, in the same way that no one face of a house can represent the whole house completely. Even we ourselves are the same. If we take a picture from behind, there is not a single hole in the head. But if we take a picture from the front, there are clearly seven holes. Any single side of a man cannot represent the whole person. The same can be said of the words of the Bible. Any one portion of the Bible cannot represent the whole truth, and we have to be balanced in every way. Hence, we have to remember the principle of “again it is written.”
(On Knowing the Bible, Chapter 4, by Witness Lee)