But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 NASB
Examine everything – It is more difficult to unlearn than to learn. The problem is that as we grow older we discover that a great deal of what we learned has to be unlearned before we can gain new insight. Paul’s audience was like us. They already “knew” many things, but what they knew stood in the way of what they needed to understand. Therefore, Paul tells them to examine everything (panta dokimazete). So must we. The only question is how to do that.
“The desire for explanations is a very understandable human need. We want to hear the truth, and we want to understand why and for what purpose a certain thing happened. However, we also have another, simultaneous wish: we expect this truth to be easily understood. These two wishes are, in most cases, mutually exclusive. Our assumptions about our ability to understand are often quite presumptuous. Often, when we do get an explanation, we are unable to understand it. . . . That does not mean, however, that we ought not to question.”
So the first thing in our quest is the question. Our answers are useless if we do not know the question. Why did Paul say this? What did Paul mean by each term? How did Paul’s exhortation fit into his own cultural view? Who were the people he addressed? Questions, questions, questions – all needing to be answered before we can say anything certain about Paul’s message. This is the role of spiritual forensics (thank you Karen Chin for this wonderful phrase). That means, among other things, that we can’t pretend that Ruth is an Old Testament version of West Side Story. It isn’t even a version of East Side Story. If we want to understand God’s Word, we will have to dig through the words He used to communicate to us long before we can start applying the meaning to our lives.
Paul’s exhortation implies one other crucial assumption. There is a standard. Paul uses the Greek verb dokimazo. It means “to examine, to prove, to test.” But all examination, all testing, implies a standard by which something is tested. There has to be an answer key in order to score an exam. There has to be a measuring stick in order to calculate distance. And there has to be a system of government in order to live in a Kingdom. The biblical standard is Torah. There can be no doubt about this. Everything Yeshua does and everything his disciples do after Him is measured by the standard of Torah, the assumed guide of all orthodox Jewish behavior. If you pull Torah out of the mix, you cannot understand anything in the New Testament documents.
With that in mind, we can list the ten principles of spiritual forensics:
1. Revelation is spoken before it is written – it was manifested in the authors before it was communicated in written form.
2. The meaning of the manifested message must be understood according to the culture, time, place and circumstances of the original audience.
3. Grammar – the whole system of the language, Syntax – arrangement of words and phrases, Morphology – the form and inflection, Phonology – the sounds, Structure – consonants as integral components of meaning, and Idioms must all be considered.
4. Hebrew has layers of meaning and each layer must be understood in order to grasp the full manifestation – PaRDeS plus exegetical intricacies like letters + pictures.
5. If the meaning we supply to the text could not be understood by the original audience, then our interpretation of the text is probably wrong.
6. A contemporary application of the text can be supplied only after we have determined as best as possible what the original audience would have understood.
7. Understanding the author’s motivation is crucial to understanding the original meaning and the contemporary application, if any.
8. Ignoring the cultural and historical setting of the text allows the contemporary audience to read into the text what the cultural presupposition of the current reading audience assumes to be true.
9. Scripture is one. No interpretation of the text that either adds to or subtracts from the original meaning in contradiction of the whole text can be legitimate.
10. NO interpretation of the text is a matter of personal revelation alone. The interpretation of the text is always a function of the believing community, not of any particular individual.
And you thought that reading the Bible was easy? That’s another cultural myth. We all want easy answers, but God often gives us parables that are difficult to understand.
Topical Index: exegesis, spiritual forensics, 1 Thessalonians 5:21, examine, test, dokimazo
 Adin Steinsaltz, Simple Words, pp. 94-95