Rules of Biblical Interpretation
Study with Proper Motives. – Proverbs 4:23
Be honest. – Luke 8:15
Love the truth. – John 8:31-32; 2 Thessalonians 2:10
Be humble. Be willing to learn, to admit you have been wrong, and to change. – Matthew 5:3
Be spiritually minded. – Romans 8:5-8
Be willing to obey. – John 7:17
Be willing to put away sin. – Ephesians 4:17-19
Be willing to be different and in the minority. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 1 Corinthians 2:9-13
Realize the Bible contains the mind and will of God. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 1 Corinthians 2:9-13
Make your primary study the Bible itself, not books about the Bible. – Psalm 119:97
Do Not Do “Proof Text” Study. Study to find what to believe; do not study to prove what you already believe. The Bible is our light; we don’t shed light on it. – Psalm 119:105
Set Aside Assumptions, Prejudices and Presuppositions. Prove everything by the Scriptures. – 1 Thessalonians 5:21
Do Not Speculate About the Unrevealed. Remain in the realm of faith. – Deuteronomy 29:29; Isaiah 8:20; 55:8-9; 2 Corinthians 4:13; Romans 10:17
Do Not Array Scripture Against Scripture. The Scriptures are harmonious. – John 17:17
Use the Scriptures to Explain the Scriptures. Consider everything the Bible says on the subject at hand. – Matthew 4:5-7
All Scripture Is Equally Inspired. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
All New Testament Passages Are Equally Authoritative. – Luke 22:14, 29-30; Revelation 21:14
The red letters are no more important than the black. – John 16:13-15; 1 Thessalonians 2:13
The letters of Paul are no more important than the book of James.
Traditions of Men (decisions of church councils, teachings of “fathers,” confessions of faith, creeds) Prove Nothing. Only Scripture is Authoritative. – Matthew 15:1-9
Human Philosophy (works of theologians such as Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Knox, Bunyan, Edwards) Prove Nothing. Only Scripture is Authoritative. – Colossians 2:8-10; 3:17
Always interpret a passage in its “historical/cultural” setting. What did it mean to the people to whom it was written?
Always interpret a psassage in its literal and apparent meaning, using words in their primary and normal sense. If the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense.
Always interpret a passage as any unbiased person would if he just picked up a Bible and read it. The Bible was written for the common man (at a 4th or 5th grade level in general).
Always interpret a passage in context: first the immediate context, then the overall subject context. A text without a context is a pretext.
Always interpret obscure and ambiguous passages in the light of plain, obvious, and clear passages. Let literal passages interpret figurative passages, not vice versa.
Never use an ambiguous or unclear passage to sustain a position that affects our salvation.
Always interpret a passage in its proper grammatical usage (Hebrew & Greek).
Never place a “figurative” meaning on a passage unless the text or context demand it without presuppositions or bias.
Some kinds of literature are figurative.
poetic – e.g., Job, Psalms, Song of Solomon
proverbial – e.g., Proverbs
apocalyptic – e.g., Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, Revelation
parables – e.g., Matthew chapter 13
If a literal application violates plain, scriptural teaching, the passage is figurative. – e.g., Psalm 44:23; 121:4
If a literal application is impossible, the passage is figurative. – e.g., Revelation 12:3-4,9
If the passage is identified as figurative, it is figurative. – e.g., Matthew 13.3
If the passage possesses the characteristics of figurative language, it is figurative. – Matthew 26:27-29
Otherwise the passage is literal. – 2 Corinthians 3:12
Recognize how to understand figurative language.
Look for the “this is that.” – Matthew 13:18
Look for a parallel passage. – e.g., Ephesians 5:18-19; Colossians 3:16 (But remember, similar or even identical figures of speech can illustrate different truths in different contexts. Don’t forget the context.)
Recognize the nature of each different kind of figure of speech. (Perhaps the best study in print on this subject is Figures of Speech Used in the Bible by E.W. Bullinger.)
Be willing to learn from others, but do not accept their explanations uncritically. – Acts 8:30-31; 17:10-12
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