“How do you know that your interpretation of the Bible is correct? It can be interpreted in all kinds of ways!”
Have you heard people say that? Yet, did you know that it is possible to examine the Bible in such a way that it actually sheds light on itself? The secret is this: If the surrounding verses do not make the meaning of a particular statement clear, compare that statement with others in the Bible that discuss the same subject. In this way, we let the Bible, not personal opinion, guide our thinking.
Consider, for example, the Bible’s teaching on the condition of the dead. Below are six passages taken from different parts of the Bible. Notice how they form a harmonious picture.
- “The dead praise not the LORD, neither any that go down into silence.”
—Psalm 115:17. *
- “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.”
—Psalm 146:3, 4.
- “The living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing.”
- “The grave cannot praise thee, death can not celebrate thee . . . The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day.”
—Isaiah 38:18, 19.
- “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.”
- Concerning the recent death of his friend Lazarus, Jesus Christ said: “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. . . . Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.”
Do you see the harmony in these verses? Yes, contrary to popular beliefs, the Bible teaches that the dead are actually dead. They are not alive in heaven or somewhere else but are in a deep sleep, as it were, not conscious of anything. Hence, they cannot praise God or even think. *
The main point is this: When we examine the Bible by subject, its basic teachings become clear. Of course, this approach, which Jehovah’s Witnesses use, calls for effort. (Proverbs 2:1-5) But that is true of most things that are really worthwhile.