Peter gave us a strategy for discerning and defeating the darkness when he wrote, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (I Peter 5:6-9).


Peter identifies Satan in three ways: first, adversary. We have an enemy, and he doesn’t have flesh on. Our opponent is not the pastor or the principal or the pesky neighbor. To fight against people means losing big. Paul said, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood…” (Eph. 6:12). Unfortunately, our battle often starts and stops here. Second, devil (means “slanderer”). He boldly slandered God when talking brashly to Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:4,5). He slandered Job right to God’s face. Third, he is a lion who roams and roars. He doesn’t sit in a cave. He is out and about, making noise, stirring up fear, ready to attack people who drop their armor.

What do we look for to recognize the presence of demons?  Signs of infiltration: compulsive behavior (inability to smile, to look at you, forced laugh), loss of personality (a crushed spirit, hopelessness, person is not really there), history of family lack of health (toxic parents, narcissism, alcohol), cult or occult connections, darkness, so much shame that there is no shame (offensive behavior, strong resistance, the naked Gerasene).


Peter helped us recognize so we can resist. Paul uses the word “stand” to show our posture of resistance. We stand in the character of Christ, resisting lies, immorality, pride, or anything that could compromise our position. Peter says that “we resist him, firm in our faith,” suggesting that we are believing God’s revealed truth, not a replacement. When the serpent offered an alternative to God’s clear word, Adam and Eve should have heard warning bells going off. They must have already considered some of the same thoughts. We must “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). James says, “Submit to God; resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (4:7). The place of resistance is primarily in the mind, because this battle is a thought battle, not a physical one. When we are surrendered to God and in a place of sobriety, we can overcome the enemy.

If we are casting out demons, we speak in the name and authority of Christ. When we heal people, we “speak to the mountain,” to whatever stands before them. The mountain we speak to in this case is a demon or group of demons. We are not asking God to deal with the demons; we address the demons as living beings who can hear us, who are in the room with us, influencing or occupying a body because of walls broken down. Go ahead and yell if it helps you to walk in authority, but volume does not convince the darkness to leave; the authority of Christ does. Have at it!


UNFORGIVENESS IS PLAYING GOD.  He said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.”  To forgive is to give up the right to get even, a prerogative of divinity. Joseph said to his brothers, who expected revenge, “Am I in the place of God?” (Genesis 50:19). Unforgiveness puts us on the slippery slope of having to be the judge of another person.  We are simply not qualified. That is one reason why we feel oppressed when we refuse to forgive—we are entirely out of our element. 

UNFORGIVENESS IS BEING IMPRISONED BY THE PAST.  We replay the video of the crime over and over in our minds and feel the pain each time, as if it just happened, keeping our resentment up to date.  These destructive emotions put us behind bars of torment (Matthew 18:34,35). We thought we were punishing the offender, but we are the imprisoned one. As we replay the video, we define ourselves by our history:  “I am the one who was abused…who was left by my spouse…who was rejected by my parents…who was fired.” We lock into our past and close off the future. We are playing the role of victim, and victims have no future, only a miserable past.



and realizing the prisoner is you. It is ironic, since our reason to withhold forgiveness may be that we want to keep the offender obligated to us, or at least dish out some punishment.  In fact, we punish ourselves, and release comes only through forgiveness. Forgiveness releases us from the past, so we can walk into our future. Joseph showed that he was not holding onto his painful past in the way he named his children.  He called his firstborn Manasseh, saying, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house” (Genesis 41:51). He named his second son Ephraim, for “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction” (v.52). He could have been tied by regret to his past with a series of “if only’s.”  “If only my brothers had not been so cruel…” “If only my father had not been so foolish…” “If only Potiphar had not believed his foolish wife…” “If only I had not ended up in Egypt…” Instead of letting his past identify him, he walked in forgiveness—and into a prosperous future. Do you have any “if only’s”?


that people owe us because of their offenses.  The Lord’s Prayer says, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”  When we are hurt by others, they become our debtor. We carry around an imaginary IOU until we forgive them.  When we think of them, we remember what they owe us, and we say in our hearts, “Pay up!” Most people probably won’t pay back their debts.  We need to forgive the debt as God has forgiven us. When people are willing and able to do this, they experience new freedom. For some, it takes time for the emotions to catch up with the actions. Forgiveness is not something we feel; it is something we do. We agree to release others from the debts they owe us, whether we feel forgiveness or not, because it is the will of God and because it is for our good.  The emotions will usually follow the act of forgiveness. As a wise counselor once said, “It is easier to act your way into a new way of feeling, than to feel your way into a new way of acting.” (Part 3 next to finish this series).


Sacrifices in the Bible were often thank offerings. When the best was given, it was saying that they had been given the best. “Abel brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions” (Genesis 4:4). He wasn’t holding back. His offering showed that he was truly grateful for heaven’s blessings.  Cain skimped on his offering. It is clear in God’s warning: “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” (7). Cain did not give the best, showing that he had little regard for God. His life following the judgment from the Lord proved the discipline he received. He did not repent and become a God-follower. Abel passed his test and Cain flunked. Rather than rejoicing with Abel’s success, he chose bitterness. Instead of dealing with his problem and changing his ways, he murdered his brother. Wow! Resentment is dangerous. Get a grip on yours!

God had shown mercy to Cain by saying, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?… If you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it” (6,7). God gave him counsel on what he needed to do: 1) Improve his sacrificial giving, and 2) Take the upper hand rather than giving in to sin. Cain chose to ignore the voice of God and killed his brother, the epitome of irresponsibility. Cain was saying, “You are my problem, Abel. I need you out of the picture.” He should have dealt with his own misplaced anger, but he held back from giving an honorable sacrifice, and he took out his anger on a godly brother.

The story of Cain is a warning to all of us. Anger not attended to escalates. Jesus said that unrighteous anger unaddressed is step one toward murder (Matthew 5:21,22). An innocent man was slain. And Adam and Eve lost two sons–one to death and the other to life as a fugitive. What grief entered the human race so early. The heart of humanity is wicked and capable of murder. When God asked Cain where his brother was, he gave a snide response, attempting to cover up his wicked deed: “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). How bold and brazen can you get?!

Cain was cursed by God to be a wanderer. He would no longer be able to work the ground and have it produce. And he was selfish enough to say, “My punishment is greater than I can bear?” He feared for his own life, but he wasn’t afraid to take his brother’s. Cain was not happy with the consequences of his behavior. He didn’t like God enough to give him the best, and he didn’t like the judgment imposed upon him. What did he expect? He had just murdered his brother in an act of sinful defiance. Should God give him a one-year time-out?

Lamech was a descendant of Cain, four generations down. His verse after a vengeful murder includes a strange sentence: “If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.” Cain must have spread the word that his punishment was unjust and that he had a right to seek revenge. Anger does funny things to people. I suggest you and I pay attention to ours and not justify it when we are wrong. The option is not a good one.


When a boy living at our home ran in a relay race at his high school, he passed the baton too late.  Though I was one hundred yards away, I could see the outburst of anger. When I talked with him later in the morning, he was deeply disappointed in his performance, as is understandable, and I shared his pain.  But that emotion never converted to working harder. Instead, he got more lazy and even cynical regarding track.

By sharp contrast, godly sorrow (literally “sorrow toward God”) produces abundant fruit.  Let’s look closer at 2 Corinthians 7:8-11:

EARNESTNESS.  It is just the opposite of laziness. It is the picture of intensity, action, quick response.  Paul uses it of Christians who must exert themselves to maintain unity (Ephesians 4:3). Rather than leading to passivity, closer to fatalism than faith, godly sorrow brings an exertion of energy, appropriate for the gracious offer of God. 

EAGERNESS.  The NIV says “what eagerness to clear yourselves” (2 Corinthians 7:11). Godly sorrow produced in them communication with Paul rather than withdrawal, a typical response to regret.  They had been distant, and it had broken Paul’s heart, but now the letter he risked writing produced words and actions.

INDIGNATION, anger resulting from injustice.  It is possible to be so passive that we are incapable of appropriate anger.  Some things are worth getting angry about, and the immorality and disunity in the Corinthian church were two of them.

FEAR.  The NIV says “alarm.”  The word is phobos, from which we get phobia.  Fear in meeting a bear in a forest leads to necessary action, a change in direction.  The Christian community in Corinth needed a jolt, and Paul’s letter gave it to them. Fear, especially a fear of God, needs to be present lest we take a complacent outlook regarding iniquity and fall into the trap ourselves. 

LONGING.  Desire that goes to seed produces a longing that can lead to action.  Longing is a cousin of passion, a necessary ingredient to pursue one’s destiny.  Regret puts us to sleep, while godly sorrow lights a fire.

ZEAL.  The NIV uses the word “concern” to translate “zalos.”  That seems too weak for the context. The Greek lexicon says it means “zeal, ardor.”  The Corinthians were shaken out of lethargy and became zealous to connect again with Paul and to deal with the problems in their church.   

PUNISHMENT.  The KJV uses the word “revenge.”  The NIV says “readiness to see justice done.”  It is used of the widow who receives justice after many requests (Luke 18:7).  Justice goes two ways: the release of the innocent and the punishment of the guilty.  Parents and leaders need to know the difference between mercy and indulgence.

The inaction of the leaders in Corinth to gross immorality was creating an unhealthy climate–toleration of evil.  But now godly sorrow was producing good fruit, taking them from regret to repentance, from inactivity to Spirit-led response.  One look at this list can tell us how desperately godly sorrow is needed in the body of Christ, especially where grace has lulled people into sleep rather than action, where mercy means permission rather than forgiveness.

My final exhortation: stay away from regret and live in repentance!


The word “regret” comes from an old English word “greet,” which means “to weep.”  The “re,” meaning “again,” suggests ongoing weeping. Webster defines regret as “sorrow or remorse over something that has happened, especially over something that one has done or left undone” (Webster’s New World Dictionary). At first glance, regret seems hardly dangerous and certainly not deadly. But on closer examination, we can see the folly of regret and the potential to feel its crippling impact. Regret sentences us to live in the past.  It can bury us in remorse and keep us from investing in the future. The ‘re’ of regret tells us that it often hangs around longer than it should. Regret often includes the words “if only:”

“If only I had passed my test.”

“If only we had not broken up.”

“If only they had not forgotten to pay the bill.”

“If only I had taken that position instead of moving.”

Why is regret dangerous?

  1. Unlike repentance, regret doesn’t have a terminal point. Repentance leads to forgiveness, and forgiveness deals with the past effectively.  Forgiveness brings release and usually a lifting of the sorrow. Regret hangs on like a cloud, darkening the atmosphere with an ambiguous gloom.
  2. Regret can lead to repentance, but often it doesn’t.  It is a poor substitute for repentance because it doesn’t bring the same relief.  

It is possible to regret something appropriately.  When we are unable to attend a friend’s graduation, we can say politely, “I regret that I cannot attend.” Not something to repent over. And that kind of regret doesn’t camp out in our soul.  But it can, and sometimes it does, putting a haze over the present and shielding us from the future.

Paul wrote, “Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it.  Though I did regret it–I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while–yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance.  For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.  See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done” (2 Corinthians 7:8-11).  

Paul examined the fruit of two kinds of sorrow: regret and repentance. Regret leads to death, while repentance brings a wealth of potential fruit.  He calls the two sorrows worldly or godly. Worldly regret includes such emotions as anger, self-condemnation, discouragement, depression, and blame, and those emotions do not convert to positive change. (Part 2 will show us what godly sorrow produces).


WHAT’S YOURS IS MINE.  “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers.  They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead” (Lk.10:30).  The outlook of a thief:  If I can get it, I will. The robber is not his brother’s keeper; he’s his enemy.  They give abuse and shame. They take honor and peace and virginity. And they manage to muffle guilt and regret.

.WHAT’S MINE IS MINE.  “A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side” (Lk.10:31,32). Why didn’t these religious people stop?  Because they said, “What is mine is mine, my time, my money, my future. It does not belong to you.”  They were religious but not righteous. They heard the commandment to love God, but they didn’t love people. Therefore, they didn’t love God.

These are the capitalists in the world. We are going after things—and more things.  We bow the knee to the god of gold and seek to accumulate. The religious leaders insulated themselves from real need, a terrible deception.  Capitalism ultimately doesn’t work because of human nature. What we possess possesses us, and we embrace a money morality. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  Actually, I am my brother’s competitor. That is a three-year old’s philosophy, but it is amazing how many people buy into it, and I do mean “buy”. I am not anti-American.  Given the condition of the human heart, capitalism is a realistic economic system. But the early church existed for a time with an outlook that looked more like communism. One problem of capitalism is that I don’t make a good owner.  I begin to worship possessions. God is the only true owner: “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Ps.24:1).

WHAT’S MINE IS YOURS.  “But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have’” (Lk.10:33-35).  The Samaritan was responsibility to care for his brother. Why? Because he was a steward, not an owner. A steward manages what belongs to someone else. If the Creator owns it all, we are managers. The issue is not how much we can accumulate but how much we can care for as stewards of God’s riches.

Stewards are not clutching it, they are caring for it.  You know you are a steward if…

  • You get as excited about giving to a mission in China as getting a jacuzzi.
  • You wish you had more money to give away.
  • You see a need and you have a hard time not meeting it.
  • You get an inheritance and think first about whom you are going to help. Part 2 next!


A bulletin announcement read:  “Topic for this evening–‘What is hell like?’ 7:00 PM. Come early and hear our choir practice.”  Jokes about hell abound. The truth is–hell is no laughing matter!  Jesus painted a dramatic picture when He told about the separation of the sheep from the goats on the day of judgment. In it He revealed some truths about hell:  “Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’…And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:41,46).

I struggle with the doctrine of hell. Isn’t torment overkill, especially for people who were kind, just never said yes to Jesus? How about those raised in Buddhism and never heard the claims of Christ? Does the punishment fit the crime? I don’t like thinking about hell, but the Bible teaches it.

When Scripture says that God is just, that is not justice as I see it but as an eternally perfect and compassionate God sees it. I cannot understand the ins and outs God’s justice. My job is not to tell God how He should exercise judgment. “The Almighty will not pervert justice” (Job 34:12). Let no one think he is either more merciful than God or more just. Whatever punishment is given to the unrighteous will come from the perfect justice of God who is neither vindictive nor imbalanced in his retribution to the unsaved. He spoke through the prophet, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked may turn from his way and live” (Ezekiel 33:11).

  1.  Hell means separation from God.

When Jesus says to the majority of humanity, “Depart from me,” they will be cut off from God with no chance for a review.  God is light and without him there is only darkness. Hell is pitch dark, described as “outer darkness” and “blackest darkness” (Jude 13), hardly something to inspire fellowship.  St. Paul speaks of “exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thess. 1:9). Hell-bound people are God-forsaken.

  1.  Hell is for the cursed.

Jesus says, “Depart from me, you cursed…”  It is one thing to be cursed by a drunk, another to be cursed by a holy God.  He is not popping off in a fit of rage. He has stored up his wrath, and it is finally poured out on unrepentant humanity.  The word “curse” is the last word in the Old Testament. And the threat of a curse comes three verses before the end of the Book. Everything doesn’t end happily ever after, not for everyone.  

  1.  Hell is eternal.

Jesus said that the cursed go to an “eternal fire” (Matthew 25:41). The same word “eternal” describes the unending life of the righteous. John writes that “they (the devil, beast, and false prophet) will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Rev. 20:10).  Sounds like a long time.

  1.  Hell is hot.

If hell is not literal fire, it is just as tormenting, or language means nothing. Jesus says that hardened sinners will be thrown “into the furnace of fire” (Matthew 13:42), and the goats go to the “eternal fire.”  Revelation calls the pit “the lake of burning sulphur (20:10), “a lake of fire” (20:14). This sea of flames is anything but a “cool” place.

  1.  Hell is prepared for Satan.

What kind of God would create such a horrible place?  A God who doesn’t want to send anyone there. Hell has not been fashioned for any human but was “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). He would prefer that they be the only tenants, and they will precede all others (Revelation 20:10) to the place where they know they are destined. People who go to hell will do so over Christ’s dead body!  

  1.  Hell is punishment.

The apostle wrote that “they shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction…” (2 Thess. 1:9). People outside of Christ prefer darkness.  Those making that decision in time will find their eternity bitterly dark. Those not on God’s roll-call will be on Satan’s. Hell will be populated with Methodists and Lutherans, Jews and Hindus, good and bad, religious and nonreligious, rich and poor, with one thing in common–the rejection of salvation through Jesus Christ.  

The church down through the ages has declared the truth of eternal salvation and eternal separation unswervingly. In recent days, the doctrine of annihilationism has been presented as a softer alternative to eternal punishment. I understand the heart of those who suggest this. It is uncomfortable to picture people in eternal torment. I am not however free to consider alternatives outside the scope of Scripture. Death in the Bible is separation, never extinction. Death is an eternal state of pain and deprivation, not of non-being. We cannot read the Bible with our limited understanding and flawed character and conclude that the punishment is unfair. We do not scrutinize the Bible; it scrutinizes us (Hebrews 4:12). We do not stand in judgment of the Word of God; it stands in judgment of us.

People who oppose God actively or passively will spend eternity in hell as best I understand. Those who reach out to God with an honest heart will find him, whether they live in Rhode Island or Rwanda. Truth is truth, for all times, all situations, all people. There is one way, not multiple possibilities. God does not play hard to get: to the proud–yes, to the humble–no. To those who call good God, they eventually make themselves gods, and the living God is out of reach. To those who call God good, he will prove his goodness through an eternal salvation.

Some might be thinking, “Why not be more loving?”  Would it be loving to watch blind people heading toward a cliff and not warn them?  Jesus spoke of hell so that none would go there. Hell is more dreadful than we can imagine–and heaven is more wonderful! Take your pick!



Young adults tussle with knowing God’s will. They change their major four times, often wonder whom God will send their way to marry, and many struggle with finding the right job. Well, Paul spelled it out: ‘Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18). Can’t get any clearer. If we do these three things, tough issues we face just got easier. Guaranteed. Not that it won’t take concentration or time or sweat or waiting, but these three exhortations place us in the center of God’s plan for us, not on the periphery. Here goes:


How about, “Rejoice sometimes?” I can pull that one off. When the team wins or when the neighbor asks for forgiveness for being annoying, it makes sense to rejoice. Why always? Because “always” says that what is threatening me is not a threat to God, that God is bigger, stronger, smarter than I am, that he is truly involved in EVERY detail of my life.


How do we manage this? I’ve been asking God to teach me how to pray unceasingly. Not there yet by a long shot. I don’t think it means non-stop prayer. It does mean that every circumstance in life, positive, neutral, negative, calls for prayer, an attitude of dependence that turns continually toward the Father for what the situation requires. That is doable if we remain childlike as we grow up. Praying in the Spirit helps us fulfill this command–when we rise, while driving, working in the garden, as we hit the sack.


How is this different from the first command? We say, “Under the circumstances, I need to respond this way.” Question: what are you doing under the circumstances? We are told to live not by the circumstance but by the will of heaven. If we believe that some circumstances are able to take us down and maybe out, we just lost. Our God is not proficient enough to see us through, so we are on our own. Apparently the three young men who chose the furnace rather than bowing the knee knew that he was. In fact, he chose to show up in the furnace with them. Cool!

Okay, let’s face it. We cannot possibly fulfill these commands. Does God really expect us to pull off these impossible commands? Wait a minute. What command from heaven is doable? What about loving your enemies or overturning evil with good? We desperately need the Holy Spirit working in our emotions and wills to fulfill what God commands. The Christian life is supernatural from start to finish. Paul writes that “he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4). The holy will of God is fulfilled IN us, not BY us.That is really good news. The Holy Spirit who works in bodies that have become his temple does the will and purpose of God as we yield to his supernatural influence in our lives. Come, Holy Spirit!


Jonah didn’t get it. He preached judgment like God said to. That led to the greatest revival ever, because God is merciful. But Jonah isn’t. He preferred justice to mercy, like we sometimes choose. He will meet them in heaven. Maybe he will apologize.

What happens when God doesn’t cooperate with me? Or when He disappoints me.  God is God. I am not. My moods do not change who God is. I need to adjust rather than telling Him to change.  Being in a bad mood does not alter who God is. God knows what He is doing, even if it doesn’t look that way to me. When God and I disagree, guess who’s wrong? I am a child of God, not the Father. I am called to serve. I do not lead, I follow. God doesn’t have to do things my way; I do things His way. I easily trip over my emotions.  When things happen that I do not like, I need to examine my thinking, not God’s theology.

Dr. Herb Klem started his seminary class at The Master’s Institute this way: There are two things to know: 1) There is a God. 2) You know less about Him than you think. I am not in the position to give God advice. He is the wonderful Counselor, not me. He doesn’t serve my purposes; I serve His. Jesus and Peter had a difference of opinion. Peter got a strong rebuke for trying to tell Jesus, “This shall not happen to you.” Peter was dead wrong. If we don’t learn how to follow, we can’t lead. An unhealthy inversion–for Peter and for Jonah. First he is running, then repenting, then responding, then rebelling–the many moods of a reluctant prophet.

God’s actions displeased Jonah. What could he have done? “God, this is difficult for me. I wanted you to judge them. Help me work through this.” God would have helped. “Do you do well to be angry?” “Maybe not, but I am. Please help me with my emotions.”

You’d think three days in a fish might have softened the prophet. Jonah’s narrow heart contrasted God’s boundless heart. Grace does not connect with one living by law. Jonah’s theology is orthodox but his love isn’t. Pride and prejudice. Jonah likes plants; God likes people. Anger turned out leads to aggression; turned in leads to depression. He wants God to take him out. He was asking to live when he just about drowned. Now he is asking to die. He is turning in his resignation as a prophet. He doesn’t want to work for someone as kind as God. He sounds like Elijah running from Jezebel and feeling suicidal.

What can we learn from Jonah? It is better to form our ideas by God’s character rather than to interpret His actions by our prejudice. God’s mercy does not make sense to people who only wants things fair. Sometimes God’s grace can upset us. He is way too forgiving. Aren’t you glad He is?


I want you to meet Hermen. I don’t know him well, but what I know I appreciate.  He’s opinionated, but I respect his wisdom. Since we share an interest in books, I have learned some of Hermen’s ideas on how to read literature, including the Bible.  Here are some:

  l) Take the simple meaning first.  Don’t allegorize unless the author gives you a clue that you are supposed to.  Interpret words literally, unless given a reason not to. Don’t look for “hidden truth” until you understand the clear meaning. Words contain a socially acknowledged meaning. It isn’t fair pool to redefine a word to fit one’s private interpretation. Words should normally be understood in the customary way they would at the time written. To find the simple meaning, we try to understand the culture in which the term was used.

  2) Let easier passages explain hard ones. Don’t make a case about difficult texts unless the easier passages make the same point.  Cults make a big deal about scriptures over which much controversy swirls.

  3)  Let the author explain himself. Don’t tell him what he meant.  If you read enough, he will probably tell you. Scripture explains Scripture more accurately than a commentary can.  Inductive study hopefully keeps us from reading something into a passage, called eisegesis.

  4) Expect a book to agree with itself. Unless an author is losing his marbles, he will not say one thing in one passage that he contradicts in another. Apparent contradictions are probably in the reader’s mind, not the author’s.

  5) Context helps with text. Check the environment. Hermen agrees with the axiom, “A text without a context is a pretext.” To discover what an author is saying, find out what he already said or says in the next chapter.  It gripes Hermen when people lift a quote out of context and make it say what the writer isn’t.

  6) Authors write books to say something.  Discovering the main message helps you understand supporting points.  The whole should equal the sum of the parts.

  7) If you don’t understand chapter one, maybe you will after you read chapter two.  The end clarifies the beginning. This is called progressive revelation. Revelation completes the big picture.  What happens in the New helps to interpret the Old. For instance, Hebrews helps us understand Leviticus and Revelation, Genesis. 

Hermen won’t budge much.  If you have occasion to be involved with him, you will get along  better if you understand these rules. Hermen’s last name, in case you wish to contact him, is Eutics.  His full name, Hermen Eutics,has an interesting origin, coming from a Greek word “hermenea,” meaning “interpretation.”  Hermen helps us interpret the Bible, an important skill.