Principles you must know to do proper interpretation of the Bible
Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. 2 Tim 3:16-17
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. John 6:63[heading]
Principles of Bible Interpretation[/heading]
Literal Interpretation, Illumination by the Holy Spirit, , Historical Context, Teaching Ministry, Scriptural Harmony.
- Literal Interpretation: “When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense.” The literal principle of Bible Interpretation exhorts the interpreter to seek the most exact and literal meaning of the text that he are interpreting.Most of the scriptures were written literally. However, the scriptures are also full of figurative language which must not be interpreted literally. First seeking the literal sense helps keep the interpreter from spiritualizing what was written literally.
- Illumination by the Holy Spirit: You must have the Holy Spirit: We do not interpret the Word of God by our efforts. God’s word is something he has given in order to interpret himself and his will to us. The Holy Spirit interprets the Scripture for you. To have the Holy Spirit, you must be born again. Then to interpret correctly, you need to surrender your will to the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit is the best and only interpreter of the Bible.
- Grammatical Principle: We must interpret the Bible using the rules of grammar. Jesus did the same thing. Read Matthew 22:23-33 where Jesus employs the use of the present tense “I am” in “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” to prove the resurrection of the dead. Because God said “I am” the God of these people long after they were dead and did not say “I was” their God, Jesus proves to an astonished crowd that these people are still living (and so resurrection is possible) and God is the God of the living and not the God of the dead! That was possible only because Jesus employed the grammatical principle. Also Jesus said “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” Interpreting the Bible grammatically is very important. To do this, and understanding of the Greek and Hebrew will be essential. However, one doesn’t need to know how to read these languages (even though that will be preferable) because there are many tools available to help with understanding these languages. Please refer to the chapter on tools to study the Bible. Interlinear Bible Translations that give the Hebrew and Greek text side by side with the English Text have been very helpful to us. An Exhaustive Concordance, The Vines Expository Dictionary (a dictionary of Old and New Testament) and others are also very helpful in this case.
- Historical Context: You must interpret the Bible as a historical document keeping it in the appropriate biblical history context. The Bible can only be understood that way since it originated in a historical context.
- Teaching Ministry: The priesthood of the believer is an important gift that God has given every believer. The Holy Spirit is the only person that any believer needs to be able to interpret the Bible. However, God has also put Bible teachers in the church whom he has given the gift of teaching the Bible (Ephesians 4:11). We will be wise to consult these gifted teachers or read their books to get help with our interpretation. Some of these are trustworthy Bible teachers, writers of commentaries, Bible translators that have translated different versions of the Bible and many other gifted individuals. However, we must test every spirit (1 John 4:1) and not believe everything we hear, we test everything and hold on to the good ( 1 Thess. 5:21). Let’s be like the Bereans in Acts 17:11 who receive the scriptures with great eagerness but examine everything to make sure it is true.
- Scriptural Harmony: This is also called the synthesis principle. You should never interpret one passage in a way that contradicts other passages that are clear. Interpret obscure passages in the light of passages that are perfectly plain.The Bible is inspired by the same Holy Spirit and He doesn’t contradict himself. If you arrive at an interpretation that contradicts scripture, the interpretation cannot be right.
- Interpretation vs. Application: You must know the difference between interpretation and application. They are not the same thing. Understanding this difference is vitally important in interpreting every single passage in the Bible. You will literally use this for every single passage.
The interpretation of a Bible passage belongs to the occasion, place, time, and persons or people to whom or of whom the passage was originally written. When the interpretation has been completed, then we can apply the passage to ourselves or to others as long as doing so doesn’t put us in conflict with any other passages of scripture. The application must be in accordance with scripture teaching elsewhere in the Bible. Make every effort to interpret every passage in the Bible as those who were addressed would have understood it. You must first interpret a scripture before you can apply it. Avoid the temptation to immediately apply the scripture without first interpreting it as belonging to the people the scripture addresses.
- Scripture interprets scripture. Scripture is the best interpreter of scripture.
- Christ is the subject and God the Father is the Object of the entire Bible. Christ is the living Word of God. You study Jesus to know God. That’s the only way you can know God. There is the written Word of God (the scriptures) and then there is the living Word of God, the man Jesus Christ. Both the living word and the written word have the same purpose and speak the same message. They bear the same testimony. Their purpose is to reveal God to us and their message is the grace of God through which we come to know God. If you want to know God, look at Jesus. He is the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15) The more Jesus is unveiled to you so that you know him more by studying the Word and understanding as the Holy Spirit reveals him to you, what you will realize is that you are knowing God better and better. So Jesus reveals the father, the scriptures reveal Jesus, and the Holy Spirit reveals the Scriptures to us (He reveals Jesus in the Scriptures). The Written Word and the Living Word cannot be separated. To believe the Written Word of God means to believe Jesus (the living Word of God). To preach the Written Word of God means to preach Jesus (the living word). To meditate and listen to the voice of the Written Word of God is to listen to the voice of the Living Word of God (Jesus Christ, which is to listen to the voice of God himself).
- You must pursue accuracy at all cost.
– Be determined to find out just what God intended to teach and not what you wish Him to teach.
– Use the most accurate Bible text or Bible translation.
– Make note the exact force of each word that the author uses.
– Interpret the words of each author in the Bible with regard to the particular usage of that author.
– Interpret individual passages in the light of parallel or related passages.
– Interpret each writer with a view to the opinions the writer opposed
- You must interpret words in Context. Interpret individual verses with a regard to the context. Here, we are talking about context within the passage which is the text that goes before and after the passage being interpreted.
- Interpret personal experience in the light of Scripture and not Scripture in the light of personal experience.
- Examples in the Bible are authoritative only when supported by a command.This is very important. Jesus is the only person who lived a perfect life. But there are many other characters in the Bible whom we can learn from. The way they did something should instruct us. But that should not become normative or treated like law. For example, lots were cast to select Mathias to replace Judas. That doesn’t mean we need to do it. It’s not a command. Even the way the apostles did things need to be viewed carefully. They were human and God records both their strengths and weaknesses in the Bible. Sometimes, their weaknesses are clearly stated, other times they are just presented. As a corollary to this principle, a Christian is free to do anything that the Bible does not forbid. But we need to be careful how we exercise that freedom. Eating pork everyday is not prohibited but atherosclerosis will kill you by giving you a heart attack. So even though you will not be sinning, you will be killing yourself. The bible also doesn’t command exercise, but it is good for you and will help you to live longer and healthier while you serve God.
- You must rightly divide the word. The scriptures are the word of truth. But the truth doesn’t come automatically. You only get the truth if you rightly divide the word. You must consider the dispensations, the books, environment in which it was written. Interpret what belongs to the Christian as belonging to the Christian; what belongs to the Jew, as belonging to the Jew, and what belongs to the Gentiles, as belonging to the Gentiles.
- Inspiration has limits. You have probably heard that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant word of God. That’s quite true but the inspiration has its limits. We must know those limits so that we can be careful not to make the writers of the Bible or the Holy Spirit responsible for the mistakes that translators and commentators make. The Old Testament of the Bible was originally written mainly in Hebrew and a few passages in Aramaic. The New Testament was written in Greek. Note that we don’t have any of the original manuscripts that the Bible was written in. What we have are copies that were made from the manuscripts. Many of them are copies that were made from copies of copies of copies of the manuscript that was actually written. We have nothing to fear about the copying because the Bible was transmitted with a glaring accuracy. Yet there are still some significant differences between the manuscripts that are used for today’s modern translations. What you must know is that the process of copying is NOT inspired. Also, if you are reading the Bible in English, it was translated into English by a translator. The translation process is also NOT inspired. The translator could introduce errors. If you look at many of today’s translations, you see phrases that don’t mean the same thing as in others. Should that make you not trust God’s word? No. Absolutely not. The Holy Spirit is not subject to translator or copying error. He is a person alive today and can guide you into all truth. But you certainly have to be careful in choosing a Bible and also in making sure that you frequently do your own study and look at the words that are translated and their meanings.In the Bible, God uses sinful people to convey his message. You will see statements in the Bible that are made by believers, by pagans, by priests, by demons and even by Satan himself. When we say the Bible is inspired, the sense is that we have an inspired record and we don’t mean that God inspired each and every person or creature in the Bible to say or do what it said or did in the scriptures. God is not the source of all the thoughts and words in the Bible. God inspired the writers to write the truth of what happened (accurately) and the truth he wanted to communicate. Look at the example of David. He was a man “after God’s heart” as to being chosen as King. But that doesn’t mean that God inspires all his actions in the Bible. Paul the apostle makes this point clear when he sets his opinions apart from the commands of God.
- You must derive the meanings of the words from the scope of the passage and not the scope of the passage from the meaning of the words. This is very important when you do word studies. Let’s consider an example in the English language. Let’s take the word “love.” Love has many meanings. I can say:
I love my wife.
I love my children.
I love my shoes.
When I use the word love when I am talking about my wife, it has a different meaning from when I am talking about my children or about my shoes. If you were to see a Greek or Hebrew word in a passage, and then you go and look up the word and realize that it has four or five different meanings as some of them do. You cannot simply insert any of the meanings in the passage and so give the passage a different meaning. You will let the scope of the passage determine the meaning of the word to you and not the word determining the scope of the passage.
- Knowing the Biblical usage of words is important to correctly interpret passages that have these words.
Interpret the words used in any verse according to Bible usage. Interpreters of the Bible translation you are reading are subject to error. They may make mistakes interpreting. Interpretation is not inspired. So you need to be able to do some careful word study…
- Principle of First Mention (Occurrence): The first mention or occurrence of words, expressions and utterances are usually necessary to interpret them.
- The Place and Time Where a Passage Occurs is usually Important to interpreting it. Ask WHY did God put it here? Why at this time? The place where the passage occurs is often essential to its full interpretation.You must ask yourself, why did God choose to put this passage here? Why didn’t it come earlier or later in the chapter, be in another chapter or be in another book altogether? Also use the 5Ws and one H here to understand more about the passage. Interrogate scriptures. The word of God is living and active. Be a detective and ask it questions.
- Figures of speech. You need to pay attention to figures of speech in your study of the Bible. Interpret poetry as poetry and interpret prose as prose. Wrongly taking them as literal can introduce error in your interpretation.
- Bible text can have more than one meaning such as in dual fulfillment of prophecy.
- Bible is a complete Book. Both New and Old Testament are important in understanding the whole Bible. St. Augustine once said “The New Testament lies hidden in the Old, and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.” That is amazingly true. So don’t make the mistake that many people do to say that more importance should be given to the New Testament or that the Old Testament is obsolete and so we have to concern ourselves only with the New Testament. Notice that the writers of the New Testament had no other Bible but the Old Testament. What they did for the most part was expound or explain the message of the Old Testament in light of what Jesus has done by dieing on the cross. The old Testament was their authoritative source.
- Church history may be helpful to consider when interpreting the Bible. However, it doesn’t determine what the Bible says. It is possible for church history to be wrong. Church history doesn’t establish biblical doctrine, the Bible should establish church doctrine– That is, the Bible should determine what the church teachers and not the church determining what the Bible teaches.
- The individualistic culture that we have in the west often hinders proper interpretation of the Bible. Many times, “you” in the Bible is plural. Some older Bible’s like the King James use different words like “ye” and “thou” and “thee” to show this difference. Christianity is as much a group relationship as it is a personal one. This misunderstanding can profoundly affect the way we interpret scriptures, so take note and interpret in context.
The Seven dispensations
- Edenic (Man innocent)
- Times of Ignorance (Acts 17:30) [broken into Conscience & Human govt.]
- Grace (the church dispensation)
- Tribulation or Judgment (Israel vs. Gentiles)—this is the day of the Lord.
Mistakes of interpretation.
Many people teach that in the Old Testament, when you see Israel, you can replace that with the church because the church is spiritual Israel. That is absolutely wrong. Israel is Israel and the church wasn’t even born yet. But we can apply the scriptures to ourselves. The interpretation belongs to Israel or to whomever it was written but the application can be made to us.