IX. TAKING CARE OF THE DIFFERENCE IN THE PERSONS BEING ADDRESSED
In expounding the Bible, one has to take care of the persons to whom a word is spoken. Some words are spoken to the Jews, and they are not related to the nations or to the church. Some words are spoken to the nations and have nothing to do with the Jews or with the church. Some words are spoken to the church and have nothing to do with the Jews or with the nations.
First Corinthians 10:32 says, “Give no occasion of stumbling both to Jews and to Greeks [referring to nations] and to the church of God.” In the Bible, there are at least these three kinds of people to whom God speaks His words: the Jews, the nations, and the church. In the Old Testament, the majority of the words were spoken to the Jews. In the New Testament, there are many words that are spoken to the church. At the same time, whether in the New Testament or the Old, there are some words spoken to the nations. We should differentiate between these when we read them and should find out to whom the words are spoken. We should differentiate clearly between the different persons to whom a word is addressed, whether it is to the Jews, to the nations, or to the church. First we identify the persons spoken to, then we can make the proper judgment.
For example, some Bible scholars have had strong disputes concerning whom the book of Matthew was addressed to. There are many expositors who assert that Matthew was for the Jews and not for the church. They point out the Jewish background of the words in Matthew, saying that the Lord Jesus was clearly referring to offering gifts at the altar. To them this is a proof that these words are for the Jews. The Lord Jesus clearly spoke about the judgment of the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was an organization of the Jews. They also point out Matthew 24 which mentions the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place. To them the holy place clearly belongs to the Jews. The Lord also said that when one encounters the great tribulation, he should pray that his flight may not be on a Sabbath. Would the church still keep the Sabbath? Since these people who receive the word keep the Sabbath, are they not Jews? These scholars point out many examples like these to prove that the book of Matthew is spoken to the Jews. If it were so, this would be very serious, because the whole book of Matthew would no longer be our inheritance.
After we read through the book of Matthew carefully, we have to admit that the words in Matthew 5 certainly have their Jewish background, but they are not spoken to the Jews; rather, they are spoken to the people of the kingdom of the heavens. The kingdom people not only include the saved ones among the Jews, but they also include the converted ones from among the nations. The kingdom people are the church. Because among the kingdom people there were some who had formerly been in Judaism, and who had a Jewish background, the Lord Jesus had to use things related to that background when He gave the sermon on the mount at that time. There are more discussions in chapters twenty-four and twenty-five of Matthew. If you read carefully, you will find that a portion was spoken to the Jews, a portion was spoken to the church, and a portion was spoken to the nations. In chapter twenty-four, verses 1 through 30 are spoken to the Jews. Verse 32 to chapter twenty-five verse 30 is spoken to the church. Verse 31 to the end of the chapter is spoken to the nations. In studying the Bible, before we make a decision on an interpretation, we must first ascertain the person to whom a word is spoken. Only then can we understand and interpret the words accurately.
X. PERSONS, EVENTS, AND OBJECTS IN THE OLD TESTAMENT NOT CLEARLY REFERRED TO AS TYPES NOT TO BE TREATED AS TYPES BUT AS ILLUSTRATIONS
We know that there are many types in the Old Testament. Some types are simply individual persons, such as Isaac, who typified the Lord Jesus as the inheriting son, and Rebecca, who typified the bride gained by Christ—the church. Some types are events, such as the Passover of the Israelites which signifies our salvation before God when we received the slain Christ as our Savior. Another example is the children of Israel’s exodus from Egypt, which signifies our going out from the world. There are also some types that are objects, such as the lamb typifying Christ and the brass serpent also typifying Christ.
In the Old Testament, many persons, events, and objects are types, but it is not up to us to decide whether or not they are types. We have to find out the clear evidence from the New Testament. If there is no mention in the New Testament of the object, the events, or the person as a type, then we should not rashly surmise that they are a type. At the most, we can only borrow these persons, events, and objects as illustrations and use them to explain the truths in the New Testament. To say that something is a type means more than to say that it is merely an illustration.
Here we are only presenting and pointing out briefly these ten principles of interpretation of the Bible. These principles have evolved gradually from hundreds or thousands of years of experience of Bible study. They are like the cream of the milk and the honey of the bees, and are very precious. I hope we can all remember them clearly. These all are our aids and restrictions. I hope that from now on all the brothers and sisters will apply these principles in their study of the Bible. If we apply them, we will find new meaning to the Bible and will have a better, more accurate, and thorough understanding.
(On Knowing the Bible, Chapter 4, by Witness Lee)