Principles of Biblical Interpretation

PRINCIPLES OF BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION

 

Introduction:

 

A. God commands us to study his word (2 Timothy 2:15), and promises blessings as we do so (Revelation 1:3).

B. It is important that we search the scriptures (Acts 17:11), to guard ourselves from false teachers (Isaiah 8:20; 1 John 4:1), and to know God’s will for our lives (Isaiah 48:17).

C. We have all found that there are many parts in the Bible which are hard to understand (2 Peter. 3:15,16). The question therefore arises, “how do we know we’re understanding it properly?


1.     While there may be many applications to a passage of scripture, we recognize that there can only be one true interpretation.

 

2.     If two different people give two different interpretations, we recognize that one or the other may be wrong, or both may be wrong, but they can’t both be right.

 

 D. Our difficulty in understanding a passage of scripture must never discourage us from finding out its true meaning; as we learn some basic principles of sound Biblical interpretation and keep at it our efforts will be abundantly rewarded.

 

 Questions:

 

 -Do we need to be fluent in Hebrew and Greek in order to understand the scriptures? 

                             Yes    /        No

 

 -Do we need to have a library of commentaries in order to understand the scriptures?

                             Yes    /         No

 

 -Do we need to have a member of the “clergy” interpret the scriptures on our behalf?

                             Yes    /         No

 

 Lesson 1: Our Teacher – 1 Corinthians 2:7-13

 

 A. As the Scriptures are given by an Infinite, Holy God to finite, sinful man, it only makes sense that we would have a hard time understanding them – 1 Corinthians. 2:14; Isaiah 55:8,9

 

 B. Knowing this, God the Holy Spirit has given himself unto us to help us to understand his word.

 

1.     It is the Holy Spirit that uses the Word of God to convict the lost of sin and convince them of their need of a Saviour  - John 16:7-11; John 6:63

 

2.     It is the Holy Spirit indwelling the saved that illuminates the scriptures to them – John 14:26; John 16:13; 1 John 2;27


C. Therefore, as we approach God’s Word,


1.     We must make certain our relationship with God is as it should be – 1 Corinthians 2:14-3:2


2.     We need to pray before we begin our study, humbling confessing before God our absolute dependence upon him to understand his Scriptures – Ps. 119:18

 

3.     We need to meditate upon His word  - mull it over in our minds through the day - to allow the Holy Spirit to make it plain to us – Joshua 1:8; Ps. 1:1,2

 

4.     We need to commit ourselves to do his Word once we understand what it asks of us  – 2 John 4,6

 

Lesson 2: The Golden Rule of Biblical Interpretation - “Interpret Scripture with Scripture”

 

 A. While we are to try and use common sense in our understanding of the Bible, we must recognize that human reasoning must never be placed as authority over the Bible (Isaiah 55:8,9; Romans 1:22)


1.     No Scripture is of any Private Interpretation – 1 Peter 1:20,21


a.      A passage cannot be isolated from other scripture to get it to say what we want


b.     We cannot establish the meaning of a verse or passage according to the definition that suits us

 

c.     We must not approach the Bible seeking a proof text to justify our position or theology; to do so is handle the word of God deceitfully – 2 Corinthians 4:2, 2 Pet. 3:16

 

d.     We need to recognize that we are not to try and conform the Bible to our thinking, as our thinking may be corrupt; instead we need to conform our thinking to the Bible (Ephesians 4:22-24; Romans 12:2)

 

2.     Our faith must be in God’s Word alone – 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Corinthians 2:5

 

a.      Faith in its Infallibility


i.                    That it is Absolute Truth from Cover to Cover (John 17:17; 2 Tim. 3:16


ii.                  That It is without error and does not contradict itself - Romans 3:4; John 10:35


          *In the Bible you will find many paradoxes –  statements which may at first seem absurd, irrational or even contradictory, but which upon reflection are shown to be highly credible, and the seeming        contradiction is resolved; skepticism and doubt will only cause you to miss out on the blessings that would be reaped from simple faith and continued study


b.     Faith in its Authority – James 1:21-25


c. We must remember that our faith must stand in what the Bible says, not in what the Bible doesn’t say

 

B. We are therefore to Interpret Scripture by comparing it with the rest of Scripture -1 Corinthians 2:13

 

1.     If a passage is unclear, other passages which have similar wording or deal with the same principle can be examined to provide clarity.

 

a.      This can especially be helpful with understanding the symbolism of certain words – (For example, leaven being representative of sin)

 

b. A good concordance can be a very helpful tool in this

 

2.     We need to seek out the whole counsel of God on a matter – Acts 20:27

a.      We cannot take some verses and ignore others

 

b.     This works both ways:

 

i.             You can have several passages which seem to fit together well, but then have one verse which doesn’t fit with the theology you’ve been building; you can’t ignore that one verse, you instead have to readjust your theology to fit

 

ii.       You can have one passage taken alone which may seem to justify one position or another, but when you compare it with the rest of Scripture you can see what it is really saying.

 

Lesson 3: The Foundational Rules of Biblical Interpretation

 

A. The Bible Must be Interpreted Grammatically

 

1.     The Law of Direct Statement

 

a.      Every passage is of scripture is to be understood literally and taken to mean exactly what it says – unless it is patently obvious from its immediate context or employment of obvious figures of speech that it bears another meaning

 

b.     “If the plain sense makes common sense, seek no other sense or it will all become nonsense.”

 

2.     The Law of Context

 

a.      Every passage must be studied in the light of its context

 

b.     This includes

 

i.        The Immediate Context – the chapter in which it is       located

 

ii. The Secondary Context – the Book in which the           passage is located

 

iii. The Broad Context – The Testament in which the        passage is located

 

iv. The Topical Context – The parallel passages in other   sections of the Bible

 

v. The Doctrinal Context – The Relative Doctrinal   passages of the Word of God


3.     The Law of Language

 

a.      Words should be understood on a literal sense, unless such an interpretation involves a clear contradiction or absurdity; in such cases one is to recognize that figures of speech might be employed

 

b.     Examples of Figures of speech: Similies ( 1 Pet. 5:8; Rev. 9:5-10), Metaphors (Ps. 18:2; Luke 22:19,20), Hyberbole (John 21:25)

 

B. The Bible Must be Interpreted Historically

 

1.     The Bible is a historical book with a historical setting, and thus can only be interpreted in light of history.

 

2.     It helps to get an understanding of the historical setting by reading up on Bible Geography, Bible History, and the Manners and Customs of Bible Times.

 

3.     The key for understanding the historical setting is to faithfully apply the “Five Point Question Rule”

 

a.      Who is speaking or writing?

 

b.     To whom is it being spoken or written?

 

c.     What is being spoken or written about?

 

d.     When is it being spoken or written?

 

e.      Why is it being spoken or written?

 


Lesson 4: Particular Laws of Biblical Interpretation

 

A.   The Law of First Mention

 

1.      The First mention of any given subject gives the key to its subsequent meaning, and thus our understanding of any word, expression, or teaching is to be guided by its first mention in the Bible

 

2. Examples: Satan (Genesis 3:1); Tongues (Acts 2:4-11)

 

B.    The Law of Progressive Mention

 

1.      God’s initial statement on any matter is built upon by subsequent references

 

2.      Examples: Prophecies concerning the Birth of Christ

 

C.   The Law of Full Mention

 

1.      The Bible often summarizes its teaching on any subject vitally connected with basic doctrine and life in one key passage

 

2.      Examples: God’s Law – Ex. 20; The Lord’s Supper – 1 Corinthians 11

 

D.   The Law of Illustration

 

1.      For most important Biblical truths, God gives at least one classic illustration in His Word in order to bring that truth home to the heart and mind of man

 

2.      Examples: Job as an example of suffering; Lot as an example of backsliding

 

E.    The Law of Application

 

1.      With any passage of scripture, there can be many applications but only one true interpretation, and so Scripture must be correctly interpreted before it can be applied.

 

2.      In applying the word of God to any situation it is important to remember three types of applications:

 

a.      Precepts – Those things which the Bible assuredly declares; commandments

 

b.     Principles – Those things which the Bible implies; convictions

 

c.     Preferences – Those things about which the Bible neither approves nor condemns; choices

 

F.    The Law of Double Reference

 

1.      A scripture passage which applies to a particular person or event near at hand also applies to a future person or event.

 

2.      Examples: Ezekiel 28:1-19; Hosea 11:1 (compared with Matthew 2:14,15)

 

G.   The Law of Perspective

 

1.      Future events may be prophesied together or in close sequence, but may actually occur thousands of years apart

 

2.      Examples: Isaiah 61:1,2 (compared with Luke 4:16-21); John 5:28,29 (compared with Revelation 20:5,6)

 

H.   The Law of Parenthesis

 

1.      With some passages, certain periods of time may be ignored without comment

 

2.      Examples: The Two Comings of Christ, the Future Resurrections

 

3.      This explains the various “mysteries” spoken of in the New Testament but unforeseen in the Old Testament - Romans 16:25,26; Ephesians 3:4-10; Romans 11:25