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How We can Know What is True


AudioVerse has grown into a million-download-per-year venue for quality

Bible sermons. Its growth has triggered an avalanche of sermon submissions.

As a team of volunteers, AudioVerse does not claim to have the ultimate say
on anything, much less on what is orthodox doctrine.

On the other hand, we must take a stand on what we will and will not

While several documents must be written to fill out the picture of why some
sermons are accepted and others rejected, this first one is arguably the most
important. It is our statement of hermeneutics.

This is how we believe a preacher ought to arrive at his1 conclusions. And if

he uses this method, we believe it will show in his sermons. If he neglects to
use it, that will show too.

Principles of Bible Interpretation2

1. The Bible must interpret itself.

The only other option is that some man must interpret it. The
Spirit of God may explain a passage to a man, but no audience
will ever be expected to believe that student of God until he can
show that the Bible backs up his interpretation. For this reason
the Spirit of God uses Scripture to explain Scripture.

Men must not be made to depend on men. In other words,

“cursed be the man that trusteth in man and maketh flesh his

All masculine pronouns in this document should be understood gender inclusively.
Audioverse has many female presenters.
For a fuller presentation on how to study the Bible for yourself, see the Biblical Research
Institute document voted by the 1986 Annual Council at Rio de Janeiro available at the
following URL:
%20Study.htm. For an audio presentation on the topic that caters to youth, see the
AudioVerse series “How to Study the Bible” sponsored by Young Disciple Ministries, available
at Another
commendable system of ten hermeneutics that are well adapted to personal study can be
found in the 9th chapter of the book Receiving the Word by Samuel Koranteng-Pipim.
Principles from all three of these sources have made their way into this document, and each
of these sources has valuable material that is not included in this succinct presentation.
arm” and we ought to search “the scriptures daily, whether . . .
things [are] so.” Jer 17:5; Ac 17:11.

2. The student must be weaned from dependence on human teachers.

This is the first condition of being taught of God. Isaiah 28:9. A

dependence on commentaries, or on esteemed spiritual
guardians, endangers the soul. While we may appreciate what
preachers of yesterday and of today have to share, we must be
looking rather for their data than for their conclusions. We want
to glean from their research, not from their judgment.

3. Texts that are straight-forward and easy to understand should be used

to explain the meaning of passages that could be understood in more than
one way.

So John 2:13; 5:1; 6:4; 7:2; 11:55 should be used to limit the
application of 1 Cor 5:8, and not vice versa.

4. Scripture thoughts that are commonly attested should be the standard

for helping us understand scripture statements that are unique or

So the scores of verses on the sleeping state of those who have

died, though some of them are obscure, should set a standard
that guides our view of the ‘Rich Man and Lazarus.’

5. We should depend on what the prophets are trying to say rather than
on what we can read into what they wrote.

So when the Bible says “God loves a cheerful giver” 2 Cor 9:7,
we can depend on the fact that our heart-felt giving endears us
to God. But we would be amiss to read into this that God does
not love those who are giving heartlessly. The passage does not
say that. And though I might be able to deduct that idea with
certain skills useful in arguing, it is not any evidence that it is

So while “context” is a poor excuse for ignoring a good piece of

Bible counsel, it is an excellent source for those trying to see
what a prophet is trying to communicate.

6. We should let every word have its proper meaning.

Lexicons, etymology, word plays, and idioms are all common sources
of low-quality Bible explanations. For example, the Greek word
“pharmakeia” means witch-craft of the medicine-man type. That is
what it meant when John used it and that is what John meant by it.

Now it is a fact that for centuries men looked for magical potions to
help them with their health and by this means the drug industry
became known as the pharmaceutical industry. But it does not follow
that Walgreens is a fulfillment of Revelation 18:23. Communication
with the dead, not profit from drugging the living, is the meaning of the

And though dynamite derives from the origin of the word for power in
Greek, it does not follow that that the Greek word is a reference to
super power or to explosive power. In fact, when John the Baptist said
“A man can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven,” the
“can” is “dunamis” and means “able.”

And though the Jews wandered through the wilderness of Sin, that is
no indication that the dry land represented transgression. Only in
English does that interpretation appear to hold water.

In short, the meaning that a word naturally had in its natural setting is
the meaning we should read into the text. A broad familiarity with
scripture and its stories is the best way to find the meaning a word
would naturally have in a text.

7. When prophets seem to contradict each other we ought to assume that

a deeper understanding, a broader knowledge of the facts, would show the
harmony between supposed contradictions.

And for AudioVerse this means that we do not entertain suggestions of

doubt regarding the accuracy of scripture. We believe that it is all
profitable and reliable in all that it affirms.

8. When a prophet writes, he writes ideas that are of a heavenly origin

only. While his education and culture and background and experience may
influence his choice of words, they do not influence his choice of thoughts.
Scripture is not culturally conditioned so as to be a mixture of Divine and
human thoughts. It is an infallible and authoritative source of instruction.

This means that AudioVerse rejects the higher-critical methods that

relegate some scripture thoughts to the ignorance of the times. The
statutes and judgments that God gave Moses that are fodder for the
mockeries of scoffers are, at the same time, such evidences of God’s
wisdom and closeness to His people as to rouse the envy of sensible
nations. Deut 4:6-8.
9. Scripture should be understood in its plain and literal sense unless a
metaphor is obviously intended. If metaphor, illustration, symbol or typology
obviously intended, their meaning should first be sought in the immediate
context, and then in the wider context of scripture.

10. A passage should be studied by comparing it with collateral passages.

What one prophet says in one way, another prophet will phrase differently.
And linking passages on similar topics together will allow the Bible to
interpret itself in harmony with “line upon line, precept upon precept.” When
Isaiah asks “Who will [God] teach knowledge?” this principle of comparing
scripture with parallel scriptures describes, in the answer, those whom God
will instruct.

Some call this the principle of consistency. All the books of the Bible are
authored by the same God and should thus be expected to complement each


Technically, the following points are worded poorly. Principles are better
applied, are worded more succinctly, and followed more easily when worded
in the positive.

Yet it is also true that the Devil often recycles his deceptions. And as there
are a few false principles of interpretation that are in general use, it may be
helpful to AudioVerse presenters to see a few of them enumerated. As false
principles are easily manufactured and are always multiplying, no list of this
type can be considered comprehensive.

1. If it is plausible, it is truth.

This false principle dominates many religious discussions. Even

though it makes sense that no good thing has ever come out of
Galilee, that is no proof that no good thing will ever come out of

2. If it is highly documented, profusely referenced, thoroughly

researched, and irrefutable, it is truth.

This principle is responsible for the persuasiveness of many

highly respected church documents as well as heretical papers.
Readers just can not fathom how someone who is so much
knowledgeable of spiritual things could be entirely wrong. Yet almost
every successful falsehood is promoted this way.
3. If it is presented to the elders and pastors of several churches and
none of them sense anything false or foolish in the idea, it is truth.

This false principle is based on a faulty application of a true

principle that should be affirmed:

There are a thousand temptations in disguise prepared for

those who have the light of truth; and the only safety for any of
us is in receiving no new doctrine, no new interpretation of the
Scriptures, without first submitting it to brethren of experience.
Lay it before them in a humble, teachable spirit, with earnest
prayer; and if they see no light in it, yield to their judgment; for
"in the multitude of counselors there is safety." {5T 293.1}

The common mistake is to confuse “brethren” for “brethren of

experience.” Those that have a wide familiarity and long experience in
meeting falsehoods and repelling fanaticism and promoting truth in the
face of opposition, are only a very small subset of the brethren that
enjoy potluck, teach Sabbath school, and promote the reading of
Desire of Ages.

If you are looking for someone off whom to bounce new and interesting
ideas, seek studious men of experience who are not your personal

4. If it requires a cross, a higher level of self-denial, a more rigorous

religious experience, it is truth.

Ellen White comments on this in the context of health reform and so

well illustrates the concept that you can easily see how this idea leads
to the adoption of many unwholesome reforms.

The great backsliding upon health reform is because unwise

minds have handled it and carried it to such extremes that it has
disgusted in place of converting people to it. I have been where
these radical ideas have been carried out. Vegetables prepared
with only water, and everything else in like manner. This kind of
cookery is health deform, and there are some minds so
constituted that they will accept anything that bears the features
of rigorous diet or reform of any kind. {CD 212.1}

5. If it causes tingles up and down the spine of listeners, if it moves

persons to greater devotion, if it rejuvenates persons with spiritual apathy
and revives the spiritually weak, then it must be present truth.
This is perhaps the most persuasive false principle of all. It is the
final arbitrator of truth for Mormons who have felt the ‘burning in the
bosom.’ It is the seducing appeal of the “new spirituality” and “spiritual
formation,” the idea that if it feels right it must be so. But no prophet
has ever authorized giving such authority to our autonomic nervous
system. Eloquently spoken ideas cause spine tingling sensations even
if they are just spooky.

To make this a test of truth is not wise. The heart is deceitful

above all things. And while the grave idea tingles the spine of one
man, it is rather the exciting music which energizes his neighbor in the
Pentecostal church. Both are persuaded by the same faulty concept.

Finally, fanatical movements often lead to a visible revival of

spiritually dead persons. They start studying, change their life, become
zealous, and all this is viewed as evidence that they must be on the
right track. But rather than being evidence that they have found the
truth, it is evidence that they were so unstable as to be deceivable.

6. If it resolves old conflicts, simplifies complex arguments, promises to

harmonize opposing elements, it must be truth.

This can be illustrated by the “The Informed and Intelligent

Judge” trick. When a speaker compares the professional opinions of
differing persons in such a way as to show that he is informed and
knowledgeable regarding both sides of an issue, an audience is all too
willing to credit him with being correct in his position.

But it is not sensible. Most studious persons have considered

both sides of the same argument and they still disagree. We can not
rely on the judgment of even informed and intelligent persons.

7. If it exalts the Love of God, reveals His character of kindness and

mercy, promotes His graciousness, it must be the truth.

This principle makes human reason into the standard for judging
truth. If the Old Testament God acts in a way that matches what I think
about Jesus’ kind compassion, then I can take it literally. If it does not,
then it must be a metaphor of some sort. But if my ideas of God
broaden to allow for the “severity of God” (Romans 11:22), then my
standard has just changed.

8. If it is proven by a powerful illustration and is therefore obviously so, it

must be truth.
Illustrations do not prove truths, they picture them. We find a
truth and seek for an illustration of it. But error can also be illustrated.
As soon as we make illustrations into a source of truth we trouble
ourselves. The truth we recognize in an illustration is an idea that
matches what we already think and feel – whether or not those
thoughts are accurate.

So if I asked you, “Would you burn your child up in a fire for

being disobeying you?” and then use this to prove something about
how God handles sin, I am asking you to become your own standard
for truth. And if I ask you, “would you have a cancerous tumor
removed, or try to convert it into good tissue?” as part of a plan to
promote the persecution of heretics, I would be doing the same thing.
Illustrations are not a source, they are a reflection.

9. If the word “is” is in the text, then the items on either side must be
equivalent, as in the formula a = b.

Men do this a lot with scripture. But notice, “The apple is red.
Red is my favorite color. Therefore, apple is my favorite color. An ant is
small. Jim is small. Pluto is small. Therefore, Jim is Pluto and is an ant.”
It just doesn’t work to read “is” and “am” and “are” as equal signs
when they may be used rather as signs of relation.

10. If only a minority of Sabbath-keepers can see that it is so, and a

majority see otherwise, then the truth that “broad is the way that leads to
death” proves that the minority opinion is the truth.

While it is true that the majority go the wrong way, it does not
follow that they go the wrong way on every point. They will, for
example, agree that Jesus died for their sins. And while the true
believers are in the minority, there are also small off-shoots from the
true believers that are smaller yet.

So Israel was smaller than the world, but Korah was smaller than
Israel. We just cannot evaluate truth on the basis of how many persons
buy into it.

11. Though the passage can be shown Biblically to have a certain

meaning, the Spirit of God may teach Bible students to see other meanings
or double meanings.

While it is true that prophets may intend double meanings in the

things they write, or that God may intend double meanings in the
things He inspires prophets to write, yet what is true for the first
meaning is also true of the second. It is Scripture that must interpret

So while “destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up”
may be a reference both to raising Christ’s body and to initiating the
significance of the earthly temple (as per Ellen White’s explanation in
DA 165), it would be by scripture that someone without the book
Desire of Ages would prove that the early sanctuary was restored to
significance by the beginning of Christ’s ministry in the real tabernacle.
We could not ask our audience to believe that God had impressed us
that the prophesied raising had a double meaning.

To suggest double meanings and intents that are not stated by

prophets nor proved by scripture is to step off the foundation of certain
truths and into the realm of mere plausibilities.

12. If an idea can be sensibly inferred from the passage then it is as true
as scripture.

Lawyers may be trained to write in such a way that no

misunderstanding is possible. And the result of this is that their
writings are highly cumbersome. Prophets, by way of contrast, write
succinctly. And the result is that their writings must be understood by
what they actually say and not by what it might seem could be
sensibly inferred.

For example, though it is true that God loves a cheerful giver, it

would not be a good idea to extrapolate this and say God does not love
begrudging givers. The plain statement is true; the seemingly sensible
inference is not. And aren’t we glad for the way prophets wrote? The
Bible would be less fun to use if it were a legal-sounding encyclopedia
of crafted paragraph-long sentences.

13. By locating an allusion to a Biblical passage in Ellen White’s writings

we can gain an inspired perspective on the meaning or timing of the

True ideas are often worded powerfully and succinctly by

prophets. The natural result of this is that they often author quotable
quotes. Now take this truth a step further. In Isaiah 6 God asks “whom
shall I send?” and Isaiah answers “here I am, send me.” This is
excellent. It is succinct and powerful. The principle of God asking and
man answering this way can be applied truthfully to a thousand
But Isaiah 6 is about only one of those scenarios. When Ellen
White uses the language of this chapter to encourage us to answer
God’s call on our life (see MH 148), we can not well gather from that
allusion to the prophecy that Ellen White is guiding us to know
something of the timing or application of the actual scenario that
Isaiah 6 is addressing.

Such allusion, when used interpretively, cause many problems.

Men take Ellen White’s allusion to a passage or to phrases in that
passage and treat these allusions as commentaries on the meaning of
the source passage. Especially in the books of Daniel and Revelation
do men get confused when interpreting timing based on a small
number of perceived allusions that differ, in regard to timing, from her
plain statements.

14. Since we should be ready to receive new light, ideas that are novel are
dangerous to reject and are by their newness shown to be present truth.

New falsehoods are more common than new truths. And

falsehood often passes for truth when combined with fervor. To protect
the church from gusty doctrines God has warned preachers and
audiences alike against cultivating a “burning desire to get up
something startling.”

There are ministers and workers who will present a tissue of

nonsensical falsehoods as testing truths, even as the Jewish
rabbis presented the maxims of men as the bread of heaven.
These are given to the flock of God, as their portion of meat in
due season, while the poor sheep are starving for the bread of
life. Even now there seems to be a burning desire to get up
something startling, and bring it in as new light. Thus men are
weaving into the web as important truths a tissue of lies. This
imaginary food that is being prepared for the flock will cause
spiritual consumption, decline, and death.--RH Jan. 22, 1901.
{PaM 30.1}

Heart Preparation

The principles and antihermeneutics above, most of them, are of a nature

that permits an audience to evaluate the quality of study that led a speaker
to his conclusions.

There are other aspects of “How to find truth” that are of a personal nature
unrelated to the text itself. No one else will know whether or not you, as a
speaker, have prayed earnestly for light, whether or not you have put away
your sins, whether or not you have been walking in the light that has
previously come your way.

But these things certainly do have a determining impact on whether you

arrive at a true conclusion. And it is for this reason that the Bible asks
listeners to reason backwards, drawing from the faultiness of the theory
evidence against the reliability of the teacher. Romans 16:17-18. 1
Corinthians 11:19.

And due to our weakened perceptions and erroneous opinions and defective
habits of thought, God has given to the church the Testimonies to simplify
scriptural ideas and to preserve us from some false teachings. While no one
may know whether or not you take advantage of the help given you, your
neglect may be inadvertently discovered by listeners that do read them.

Themes in Scripture

If you know what you are looking for you are more likely to find it. Thus, if a
man goes to scripture looking for his own ideas to be affirmed, he may
indeed find passages that please him. To bring a preconceived idea to
scripture is one of the surest ways of blinding one’s self to its real message.

Yet it is still true that if you know what you are looking for you are more
likely to find it. Thus, if a man approaches scripture knowing what kind of
information God would like him to find in the book, he is more likely to find it.

And God has given us just such information. Jesus said of scriptures, “they
are they that testify of me.” The themes of redemption, of the restoration of
the image of God in man, of the character and gift of Christ, of the battle
between Christ and Satan; these combine to form the big picture. They
constitute the world view that permeates the Bible.

"The central theme of the Bible, the theme about which every other in
the whole book clusters, is the redemption plan, the restoration in the
human soul of the image of God. From the first intimation of hope in
the sentence pronounced in Eden to that last glorious promise of the
Revelation, `They shall see His face; and His name shall be in their
foreheads' (Revelation 22:4), the burden of every book and every
passage of the Bible is the unfolding of this wondrous theme--man's
uplifting-- the power of God, `which giveth us the victory through our
Lord Jesus Christ.' 1 Corinthians 15:57. He who grasps this thought has
before him an infinite field for study. He has the key that will unlock to
him the whole treasure house of God's word" (Education, pp. 125,

Some Inspired Counsel on Biblical Interpretation

How shall we search the Scriptures in order to understand what
they teach? We should come to the investigation of God's word with
a contrite heart, a teachable and prayerful spirit. We are not to
think, as did the Jews, that our own ideas and opinions are infallible;
nor with the papists, that certain individuals are the sole guardians
of truth and knowledge, that men have no right to search the
Scriptures for themselves, but must accept the explanations given
by the Fathers of the church. We should not study the Bible for the
purpose of sustaining our preconceived opinions, but with the single
object of learning what God has said.
Some have feared that if in even a single point they acknowledge
themselves in error, other minds would be led to doubt the whole
theory of truth. Therefore they have felt that investigation should
not be permitted; that it would tend to dissension and disunion. But
if such is to be the result of investigation, the sooner it comes the
better. If there are those whose faith in God's word will not stand
the test of an investigation of the Scriptures, the sooner they are
revealed the better; for then the way will be opened to show them
their error. We cannot hold that a position once taken, an idea once
advocated, is not, under any circumstances, to be relinquished.
There is but one who is infallible,--He who is the Way, the Truth, and
the Life.
Those who allow prejudice to bar the mind against the reception
of truth cannot receive the divine enlightenment. Yet, when a view
of Scripture is presented, many do not ask, Is it True,--in harmony
with God's word? but, By whom is it advocated? and unless it comes
through the very channel that pleases them, they do not accept it.
So thoroughly satisfied are they with their own ideas, that they will
not examine the Scripture evidence, with a desire to learn, but
refuse to be interested, merely because of their prejudices. {GW92

The fact that there is no controversy or agitation among God's

people, should not be regarded as conclusive evidence that they are
holding fast to sound doctrine. There is reason to fear that they may
not be clearly discriminating between truth and error. When no new
questions are started by investigation of the Scriptures, when no
difference of opinion arises which will set men to searching the Bible
for themselves, to make sure that they have the truth, there will be
many now, as in ancient times, who will hold to tradition, and
worship they know not what. {CW 39.1}