Levels Of Interpretation

Q. A quick question: in at least two of your studies you have used the expression “Let’s get mystical”. And in the study about the first miracle of Jesus you go as far as saying that John (the apostle) was a mystic. Can you clarify this for me? I’ve always been under the impression that I should consider mysticism something wrong in the eyes of God, although I must admit I do not know a great deal about it.

A. My use of the term “mystical” may not be theologically correct, but it’s something I learned from an early mentor and it stuck with me. The Scripture was described to me as containing deeper levels of meaning that can come to our understanding as we study, like an onion reveals additional layers as it’s peeled. I have found this to be especially true in studying the Gospel of John. I believe the Holy Spirit uniquely inspired him to place deeper level meanings in his gospel.

Since ancient times Hebrew scholars have spoken of 4 levels of meaning to be found in the Scriptures. Today many in the Church feel the same way. The first level is the plain or simple meaning. The second is an implied meaning, where a specific situation might also apply generally. Third is a conceptual meaning. Those who preach an entire sermon from one or two verses are demonstrating an example of this. And fourth is the hidden or mystical meaning. My interpretation of the Lord’s miraculous changing of water into wine is an example of this.

It’s important to understand two simple rules of this “multi-level” interpretation. First, not all verses have all four levels of meaning. Many are meant to be taken just as they’re written. Second, no deeper meaning of any verse can contradict the simple meaning of either that or any other verse in the Bible. Many people have been taught to reject these deeper level meanings because of the numerous errors of interpretation committed by people who ignore the rules. But I was taught that these deeper levels were put there by the Holy Spirit who reveals them to us as a reward for diligent study.

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