The Bible doesn’t require years of formal education before you can begin to comprehend it. The Bible was meant to be understood by any believer who can read, if there is genuine interest in knowing what it says. We should rely on the Holy Spirit rather than our own intellect. James 1:5 says that if any believer lacks wisdom we need only ask God who gives generously to all and that God won’t find fault with us for asking.
Paul tells us that a person without the Spirit cannot accept the things that come from the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:14). Educational degrees, even if theological, is no qualification for insight and understanding. This is why we hear of people (even students and professors at Bible seminaries) who tried to read the Bible as non-believers and found they couldn’t understand it, but as soon as they were born again it began to make sense. They simply received the supernatural insight of the Holy Spirit who teaches us all things (John 14:26).
That said, how do we know it is the Holy Spirit teaching us, and not just our intellect (with its sinful tendencies) coming to its own conclusion?
The Purposes of Interpretation
1. To be objective and logical so that we conform to the Scriptures rather than making the Scriptures conform to what we want them to say.
2. To avoid error and find the paths of truth and righteousness (right belief).
3. To find direction and guidance for living a life pleasing to God.
Interpretation is interpretation of language
Language is not like mathematics but is much more fluid. Since the Bible is BOTH the Word of God and the word of man (God used humans in the process of giving His Word), and since we as humans think and communicate in words and language, we must try to grasp the original intent of the human author while at the same time respecting Scripture as the inspired, inerrant Word of God.
In Bibloscope scripture will be interpreted according to the following principle:
The Golden Rule
“When the plain sense of scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise.”
Dr. D.L. Cooper
In other words, scripture will be interpreted literally unless it is evident that a symbolic interpretation is warranted by the text. Theological systems will be evaluated in light of what the Bible says and not the other way, as many do.
Dr. Cooper’s principle has become known as the Golden Rule of Interpretation. If you ignore all the others and only follow this one rule you will avoid almost all the mistakes people make in reading the Bible. What is often portrayed as “spiritual” is nothing more than imaginative or beautiful or emotionally moving — but is it accurate? Don’t be afraid to pour cold water on mystical interpretations.
And the next one is like it, sort of an expanded version of the first.
Literal, Historical, Grammatical, Contextual
These are the most important words in Biblical Hermeneutics, the science of properly interpreting the Bible.
Literal means that each word is given the same exact basic meaning it would have in normal, ordinary, customary usage, whether employed in writing, speaking or thinking. Unless it’s clearly indicated otherwise, we’re to assume the Bible means exactly what it says. (But some passages are identified as parables, dreams or visions, and these are intended to be understood symbolically.)
Historical means that each passage is put into its proper historical setting and surrounded with the thoughts, attitudes, and feelings prevalent at the time of its writing. In Biblical times the Jewish view of the Messiah was one of a charismatic leader like King David. In other words, a man, not God in human form. Knowing that helps us understand how they failed to recognize Him, and why they accused Him of blasphemy when He claimed to be God.
Grammatical means that words are given meanings consistent with their common understanding in the original language at the time of writing. Grammatical interpretation also includes following recognized rules of grammar and in its more advanced form, applying the nuances of the Hebrew and Greek languages to the understanding of a passage.
A good example showing the importance of following the rules of grammar can found in Daniel 9:27 where the subject of the first sentence in the verse is a personal pronoun. “He will confirm a covenant with (the) many.” The rule of grammar regarding personal pronouns is that they refer to the closest preceding personal noun. In this case it’s “the ruler who will come” in verse 26 indicating that the person who will confirm the covenant with Israel is the anti-Christ, not the Lord as some commentators assert.
Contextual interpretation involves always taking the surrounding context of a verse/passage into consideration when trying to determine its meaning. In a given text, does “all” mean “all the people in the world of all time,” or, “all in a group”? The Holy Spirit has usually prompted the Bible’s writers to place indicators in the text surrounding a passage to guide you in interpreting it. In 1 Cor. 9:24-27 Paul compares our life to that of an athlete, training and competing for crowns. The mention of crowns tells us the passage is not about salvation, which is a free gift, but rewards that believers can win after being saved. (In this case it’s the crown of victory, awarded to those who overcome the ways of the flesh by getting rid of selfish desires, bad habits and attitudes, etc.)
Reading the Bible this way exactly parallels the way we would understand a letter from a friend. We would naturally assume that our friend was using words that meant the same thing to both of us. We would understand them within the events of our shared history, we would assume that the rules of grammar we had both been taught applied, and we would interpret what was written within the context of our relationship. We would expect our friend to alert us if any of these assumptions were not going to apply, and explain the reason for it.
The only difference with the Bible is that it was written over a long period of time, during which the meanings of some words changed, and society is generally different now than it was when the Bible was written. This makes books on Bible history and customs and a good concordance valuable additions to your library.
This is a fancy term to remind us that symbolism in scripture tends to be consistent. For example, through out the Bible leaven, or yeast, is used symbolically to stand for sin. Therefore there’s no justification for claiming that in the Parable of the Yeast (Matt. 13:33) and there alone, it stands for the Gospel. Expositional Constancy only applies to words that are used symbolically, so be careful. Peter’s statement in 2 Peter 3:9 that with the Lord a day is like 1000 years and 1000 years is like a day does not justify substituting 1000 years for a day every time it comes up. Peter was simply explaining that the Lord’s concept of time is way different from ours.
The Bible, being the word of God, cannot contradict itself. The Lord is just and righteous so He can’t say something in one place and something different in another. He knows the end from the beginning so He can’t change His mind or take back something He’s given. Everything He says has to agree with everything else He says. For example, if the Bible says it’s God who makes us stand firm in Christ, that He anointed us, set His seal of ownership on us and put His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee of what’s to come (2 Cor. 1:21-22), then it can’t say that we can walk away from our salvation or have it taken away from us someplace else.
Principle Of First Mention
Often when an important concept is mentioned for the first time there is elevated significance in the context of the passage in which it appears. The first mention of the Church is in Matt.16:18 where Peter declared that Jesus is the Messiah, son of the living God. Jesus said that this truth would be the foundation upon which He would build His Church. Notice who’s going to be doing the building and whose Church it is. Studying the passage where an important concept first appears can be very helpful in interpreting subsequent passages on the same subject.
Use Clear Passages To Interpret Obscure Ones
Some passages of Scripture are more difficult to interpret correctly than others. When confronting one of these, it’s best to locate the clearest verses on the subject and use them to help interpret the difficult one.
Take the words “fear and trembling
” in Philippians 2:12 as a classic example. Is Paul counseling the Philippians to work out thieir salvation in a state of being so scared as to tremble all over? Click on the link to see how clear passages help us undersand obscure ones.
Another classic example is Hebrews 6:4-6 which, when taken alone, seems to say that we can fall away and lose our salvation, and if that should happen we can never get it back. But the clearest verses on salvation are Ephesians 1:13-14 and 2 Cor. 1:21-22, and they plainly state the opposite. The Ephesians passage says we were included in Christ when we first heard and believed the gospel. Having believed we were sealed with the Holy Spirit, a deposit that guarantees our inheritance. In 2 Corinthians Paul went even further saying that God himself has accepted responsibility for making us stand firm in Christ and has set His seal of ownership on us, like a rancher brands his cattle.
Applying the principles above we must conclude that the writer to Hebrews had to be talking about something else. When we look at the context of the letter, we find that it was written to Jewish believers who were being lured back into the Levitical system, which used the sacrifice of a lamb to atone for sins. For the Church, the Lord’s death fulfilled what the sacrifice only symbolized, so going back to this was tantamount to sacrificing Him all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace, because by their actions they were saying that His death was not sufficient to atone for their sins.
And as if that wasn’t bad enough, going back to the sacrifice was no longer acceptable to God because the Law was only a shadow of the good things that are coming, not the realities themselves. For that reason it could never make perfect those who draw near to worship no matter how many times they repeated it. (Hebr. 10:1) But when the Lord offered His sacrifice once for all time, He made perfect forever those who are being made holy (Hebr. 10:12-14) During the Church Age all we have to do after sinning is confess our sins to receive forgiveness, be brought back to repentance, and be purified from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9) Now Hebrews 6:4-6 makes sense because it conforms to the internal consistency of God’s Word.
There are many other rules and principles that scholars have developed for application to God’s word, but in my opinion if we just apply the ones listed above we’ll stand a good chance of avoiding the errors and misinterpretations that seem to be so common these days.
The Bible is quite simply the most incredible book ever written. Some parts of it were written at least 4000 years ago, and by 95 AD its most recent chapters were finished. But according to Paul it was written to teach us, upon whom the end of the age has come. (Romans 15:4, 1 Cor. 10:11) If we’ll just read it the way we would any other document, as if it means what it says, the Holy Spirit will reveal wondrous truths from within its pages. Truths that will give us an anchor against the storms of deceit and controversy that have become so common in our time.
The Whole Counsel of God
Understanding of the Bible, whether doctrinal or prophetic or otherwise, and formulating correct Biblical beliefs is much like putting together the pieces of a complicated jigsaw puzzle. In putting together a puzzle, one first examines all the pieces, then selects the border pieces and starts to assemble the border. After the border of the puzzle is completed, one works on filling in the center. As we know, to complete the puzzle, we must fit every piece perfectly with its surrounding pieces. When every piece is fitted in, the picture is complete.
For example, the pieces of the “prophecy puzzle” are the numerous prophetic verses found throughout the Bible. The border pieces are the prophetic principles set forth in scripture, such as the principle that God will not allow His children to be subject to His wrath (1 Thess. 5:9), that no one knows the day or hour of the return of Christ Jesus, etc. In attempting to formulate a correct prophetic view of future events, one must put all the pieces within this framework so that all the pieces fit together perfectly. In other words, one must establish a prophetic belief system that is in agreement with all of the prophetic principles and all of the prophetic scriptures so there are no contradictions. We can check any theological position for its correctness by comparing it to all of the scriptural principles and truths found in the Bible. If it contradicts any of them, that theological position is in error. The theological position presented in this book has undergone the scrutiny of such an analysis. Do not take my word for it. Go to the Lord and the scriptures, and prove to yourself that what is being presented is in agreement with all scripture.
That being said, I must also point out that the Bible was not written in the order in which the books are arranged in our printed Bibles. For example, take Paul’s epistles. Take the following order which (according to the best available scholarship) was the order in which Paul wrote them.
- 1 Thessalonians
- 2 Thessalonians
- 1 Corinthians
- 2 Corinthians
- 1 Timothy
- 2 Timothy
Compare the above sequence with the order found in our Bibles, from Romans to Philemon. The reason for this conventional order is that the people who assembled the individual letters for printing had no idea about when each letter was written, so they were placed in order of decreasing length. Today the approximate dates and the sequence can be found by inference from comparison with the Acts of the Apostles and other early historical records of “fathers of the church” and even certain allusions in secular sources.
Now you could do a little study in the Book of Acts to see what we know about the place Paul wrote each letter from, to whom he wrote it, and what were the issues that he was addressing.
Perhaps you might find that the letters acquire greater clarity because you see them in the context of the chaotic circumstances in which Paul actually wrote them.
In Bibloscope, I will endeavor to present what the whole of scripture says on any given topic, and specially with regard to doctrine and prophetic events and not necessarily what any theological system dictates. I ask that you would prayerfully compare what I present with scripture. If I have been accurate in presenting the truth of God’s Word then all of scripture will agree with what I am stating.
The principles of interpretation that I follow can be listed as follows:
Approach the Bible with a teachable attitude, desiring and expecting to be taught by the Spirit of God. See John 16:13-14; 17:20; 1 John 2:27.
Discover the writer’s intent. This requires study of the literal meaning of the words, the context and the literary form of the writing (was it narrative, or poetry, or figurative, or explanatory?) Consider what was the scope the author set for himself, and what was the plan he followed in organizing his material?
By literal meaning of the words, I mean the usual, literal sense of the words, unless there is reason to believe that they are intended figuratively or allegorically. In such cases, interpret the figure in the same way that one would interpret a figure in normal speech. In other words: If the plain sense makes sense, don’t look for any other sense, or you will end up with nonsense. Observe the meanings of the words, and their grammatical relationships. If the plain sense doesn’t make sense in context, but an idiomatic sense makes perfect sense, understand the passage according to the normal usage of the idiom. You could call this “flexible literalness”. For instance, “My uncle kicked the bucket” means, according to the normal meaning of the English-language idiom, “My uncle died.” And the death of my uncle would, in that sentence, not be an allegory, but a literal fact.
By context I mean the immediate context (the words preceding) and the remote context (the rest of the book). To discover the intent of the Divine writer who inspired the human writer, we also need to consider the global Biblical context (the overarching message and plan of the Bible). Also look at the historical and cultural context. In Paul’s writings, for example, what were the issues he was addressing? In short, why did he write what he wrote? Asking questions like these will help clarify the meaning he intended. The same approach needs to be applied to every book and passage of the Bible.
Consider the literary form of the passage. For example, poetry is not intended to provide facts but to express feelings. Interpret poetry as poetry, instruction as instruction, history as history.
If the passage is a prophecy, consider that in certain instances (for example, the book of the Revelation) the human author may not have understood the full meaning of the prophecy. In non-prophetic portions (for example, the book of Romans), consider that the human author understood what he was writing.
How would the human audience of those days have understood the passage? How would they have understood what was taught? Try to enter into the culture and mindset of the original recipients. But, do not write off a teaching or command as “cultural” unless it is based on and intended only for that culture. If its basis is theological or historical, it very likely still stands. (Example: Baptism has roots in the Jewish culture, but was commanded for non-Jews as well, and so is still applicable.)
In all of the above, compare scripture with scripture. Be consistent with the aim of God’s total revelation. Remember, God graciously accommodates Himself to our limited finite understanding by using language that men can grasp.
Generally speaking, stand firm where the Scriptures are clear, allow freedom where the Scriptures are unclear. Don’t expect all interpretations to be white or black, right or wrong, but allow for shades of gray. Example: One can be 65% sure of a Pre-tribulation Rapture but 100% sure of the deity of Christ.
In difficult cases, check the original language as the final textual authority. This will often (not always) give the extra clarity we need.
It is worth reading through the following articles:
Also the following articles (on another site I recommend), that lay stress on sound interpretation:
And in all of your Biblical study, whether through this website or any other work, let me remind you again of God’s wonderful promise mentioned in the first paragraph of this page:
James 1:5–6 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.
I pray that Bibloscope will be a blessing to you.