The Bible is simple, and yet profound. The Word of God is our roadmap, but so many get lost and confused in the interpretation. Our interpretation of Scripture changes the way we act, the way we talk, and the way we live. Without proper interpretation principles, any doctrine can be taught. There are thousands of denominations today, even though we were given one gospel. In order to fully understand God’s Word, it must be interpreted correctly.
The art of interpretation is known as hermeneutics. The art of hermeneutics includes exegesis, understanding the Word, and exposition, applying the Word.
Exegesis means to bring the meaning out of the text. This is the opposite of eisogesis, which is putting a meaning into the text.
David K. Bernard, in his book God’s Infallible Word, outlines 10 basic principles of Biblical interpretation:
- Use the grammatical-historical method rather than the allegorical method. This means that we should look for the meaning the writer intended. This method follows the natural, usual, meaning of the words. This is also known as the literal method. The allegorical method, finding a hidden meaning, should be avoided because it allows scripture to mean something other than the original writer’s intentions. Using the allegorical method would allow us to make a verse mean almost anything.
- Illumination of the Spirit is necessary. The Scriptures are Spiritually discerned.
Luke 24:45 Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures,
1 Corinthians 2:14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
We should study the Bible through prayer. Understanding of the Scriptures is not for the carnal minded, but for the Spiritual minded.
- The Scriptures are clear and meant to be understood. Every believer has the ability to understand and obey the Scriptures without having someone to interpret it for us. This doesn’t mean that everything in the Bible is simple or obvious, but that through prayer and correct interpretation the Scriptures can be understood.
- The Bible is adapted to the human mind. God wrote in human language so that He could communicate with us and we could understand Him.
- Truth is revealed from the Old Testament to the New Testament. The OT is the foundation for the NT- not the other way around. We cannot determine a doctrine from the NT and then read that interpretation into the OT.
- Scripture interprets Scripture. No one passage stands alone. All Scripture is to be compared together. Difficult passages will be explained by clear passages. Any interpretation of a passage will be based on another passage. Each passage should be placed in its proper context. We cannot take a verse by itself, or even a piece of a verse, and then build a doctrine. We must take the complete passage. Our interpretation cannot contradict another passage. Our interpretation must be build by all passages- allowing Scripture to interpret itself.
- The Bible is one unified book with Jesus being the central focus. The Bible has no contradictions. It teaches one Theology. Any seeming contradictions are misinterpretations or misunderstandings of Scripture. The central Theology is that man is sinful and God became our sacrifice for sin, providing salvation by His grace.
- Truth is established by two or more witnesses. God always uses several witnesses to establish truth.
2 Corinthians 13:1 In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.
We should not establish doctrine on one passage. We should always find several passages to establish doctrine.
- Passages have a single primary meaning but can have many applications. Verses do not change meanings to fit various situations. The meaning of the verse is found in its original context. Even though a verse will only have one primary meaning, it can apply to many situations.
- 10. Use sound logic. Logic is the art of reasoning.
Isaiah 1:18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD
Our own reasoning is not our authority in the meaning of Scripture, but we must use logic in order to properly understand Scripture. Our interpretation of Scripture must no fall into fallacy. We must follow the laws of logic in order to build our understanding of Scripture. This means the Bible cannot have errors or contradictions.
In order to correctly interpret the Word of God we must allow it to speak for itself rather than bring our own understanding to the scriptures. One problem that we are all guilty of is bringing our own preconceived ideas to the Bible, and then interpreting scripture based on those ideas. This is our worldview. If I believe the Word of God has no errors then I will not interpret scripture as if there is an error. If I believe that there are contradictions then I will interpret things that I do not understand as simple contradictions. If I believe there is one God then I will interpret scriptures with that worldview. If I believe that God is made up of persons then I will interpret scriptures with that worldview. Our worldview affects out interpretation. We must go beyond our own worldviews and allow Scripture to speak for itself.
We must allow Scripture to interpret itself. No one verse is of its own private interpretation. Letting scripture interpret itself is the key to understanding Scripture. No two verses will contradict each other. If I interpret a passage a certain way, I must be able to find another passage that clearly supports that interpretation. If there are no passages that support a certain interpretation, chances are that interpretation is incorrect.
The most important point of Biblical interpretation is context. Interpretation of verses must include the context of the verse. The context will determine the meaning of words. For example, the word ‘rock’ can be used in many different ways and have different meanings. It’s up to the context to decide the meaning. If I said “this is a rock”, you could assume I’m talking about an actual rock. If I said “he is a rock”, I could be saying that a person is not movable in a situation such as what he or she believes. Context is a very important rule. Too many times I’ve heard an argument where someone said “that was taken out of context”.
Biblical interpretation includes the study and aspects of culture, history, geography, customs, setting, literary genre and forms, context, word meanings, grammar, and harmony of Scripture (Bernard, 1997, pgs. 178-182). Each point is important in understanding who each passage is talking to and why. Some verses are metaphors, other are literal. Some verses were speaking to the Jews under the old covenant; others are speaking to us today. Rightly dividing the Word of God will help us understand the proper context of Scripture and how to interpret it.
We must be aware of our own personal biases and agendas. We must recognize our worldview. We must be willing to set aside what we’ve been taught and not read into Scripture what we already believe. We must use sound principles of Biblical interpretation and allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. This is how we grow in God’s Word.
Bernard, David K., (1997). God’s infallible word.
Hazzelwood: Word Aflame Press