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Principles of Biblical Interpretation

Principles of Biblical Interpretation

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Published by ucqwik
A short list of principles that help a new Bible student to understand the Bible.
A short list of principles that help a new Bible student to understand the Bible.

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Published by: ucqwik on Dec 23, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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An overview of the subject by Bob Hirst. For detailed study, he recommends the book, Protestant BiblicalInterpretation by Baptist scholar Dr. Bernard Ramm
that is available new or used at Amazon.com.
The study of principles of Biblical Interpretation is for the purpose of making plain andinterpreting Scripture. This study is called
from the root word “hermenuo,” aGreek word used in Luke 24:27-37 where Luke reports that Jesus made plain or explained theOld Testament Scriptures to two disciples on their way to Emmaus after the resurrection. Theprinciples are considered as reasonable ways found helpful in discovering the meaning of theScriptures. Isaiah said, “Come now let us reason together.”Spiritual truth is spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:15). Although spiritual Christians maystudy the same Bible, they can come to conflicting interpretations when they do not use the sameprinciples of interpretation. In the Old Testament (OT) book of Ezra 7:10 we see the differentcharacteristics needed to discover truth. These characteristics are a “prepared heart” (spiritual),“seeking” (intellectual), “to do it” (the will) and “to teach” (the practical).Many Bible students who are familiar with the original languages of Greek and Hebrewbelieve that Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:10-13 describes a decided difference between the work of theSpirit of God in revelation, inspiration and illumination. They believe that . . .
is the work of God’s Spirit in communicating facts and knowledge directly toa person in a vision or a dream [v. 10, compare to Numbers 12:6).
is the work of God’s Spirit in guaranteeing the infallible transference of God’s knowledge to the prophet (v. 13).
is the work of the Holy Spirit that enables the listener or reader tounderstand the message of God that has been revealed and preserved by inspiration. This Greek term is used eleven times in the NT. The natural or unconverted man does not welcome truth (v.14) nor can he “know” or appreciate it. Yet those who believe may have this knowledge (Jn.16:13-15; 1 Cor. 2:12; 2 Cor. 4:6, Eph. 1:17, 18; 1 John 2:27) and spiritual discernment.Paul exhorted teachers to
“preach the Word”
and not their own opinions. Their messagewas to be given to the church and the world (Matt. 28:19,20; 2 Tim. 4:2; Acts 17:2; 20:26-30).When believers err from God’s path it may be because they either do not know or understand theWord of God or aren’t following the leading of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 22:29). Each believer’ssubjective experience is to be guided by a knowledge of the objective standard of the Word of God, the Bible.
The true object of interpretation is to apprehend the exact thought and meaning of the author.A. The true object of language is the imparting of thought.
Page -2-B. Language can be a reliable medium for communicating thought and inspiration. Webelieve God’s thoughts are adequately expressed for his purpose in words of Scripture.There is only one true interpretation of a passage of Scripture and that is the thought inthe author’s mind at the time he wrote it. It is therefore the task of a believing Christian to seek tounderstand what the writer wrote and meant. Once we understand what the writer intended to sayand mean, we may make many applications of the author’s thoughts to our contemporary lifesituations.Since thousands of years have passed since the books of the Bible were written inlanguages foreign to most of us today and since there is an even greater difference in culture,morals and the meaning of words in our time compared to Biblical times, faithful and diligentBible students will be humbled by their inadequacies and open to the possibility that they couldbe wrong in their interpretations.It is the novice student who doesn’t understand the complexities of the task of interpreting the Bible who can afford to be dogmatic about unclear, incidental and figurativepassages. However the more a Bible student knows about the difficulty in understanding unclearor figurative passages, the more likely it is he will become modest and tentative about hisconclusions. As we come closer to God, the more open we will be to discover facts previouslyunknown and to admit when we see we were wrong and therefore ready to change our minds.The sign of a truly educated person is their eager desire to learn and their hesitancy in beingdogmatic in their opinions.We should not be like the preacher who wrote in his notes,
“Argument weak. Shout loudly!”
Since spiritual truth is spiritually discerned
, to understand the thoughts of God theinterpreter must be “born again” by the Spirit. (1 Cor. 2:9-3:4 and John 3:3).B.
The priority of the original languages.
is a Greek word that means to takea meaning from the words.
is to read a meaning into the words that were not in theauthor’s mind when it was written. In order to read the meaning of the original language of theScripture, the student should study Greek and Hebrew. If the student is unfamiliar with Greek and Hebrew, he may use an interlinear Bible and a Young’s Concordance and do all in his powerto understand the passage in question - particularly when it is a disputed or figurative passage.C.
Scripture interprets Scripture.
(1 Cor. 2:13; Isaiah 28:10, 13).We must not distort the main emphasis of Scripture to support an interpretation.Tradition cannot interpret Scripture.Use a modern well accepted standard translation like the RSV, NRSV or NIV.
Page -3-The obvious literal interpretation should be chosen unless it is clearly figurative.Passages that are parallel or correspond to one another can aid in interpretation.Example: Synoptic Gospel parallels can help in understanding a text.D.
Clear systematic teaching passages should interpret shorter incidental passages.
Example: the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ is taught clearlyin Romans and Galatians. These should interpret shorter or incidentalpassages on the same subject. The book of James deals with practicalreligion but does not deal with justification by faith as a doctrine andtherefore James must give way to Romans and Galatians on this subject.E.
God’s truth has been progressively revealed
through the ages.Sound interpretation takes into consideration the culture, moral conditions andhistorical situation of the times when the passage was written.F.
The New Testament interprets the Old Testament
for the purpose of doctrine.The Old Testament was shadowy and only partially revealed God to Israel. TheNew Testament is full and complete and God fully reveals himself in his Son.(Heb. 1:1,2; John 1:16; 2 Cor. 3:6-18; Acts 20:27).G.
Correct interpretations consider the context
and this might be the whole book.
“Neglect of this principle is a common cause of erroneous interpretations and irrelevant applications.”
Michelsen, Interpreting the Bible, Zondervan, p. 99.Reading whole books of the Bible and becoming familiar with the main themeswill help the reader hold the context clearly in mind. The chapter and versedivisions
do not necessarily mark out the limits of a writer’s thoughts
. Thereader should especially notice
the verses before and after the text
in questionand ask himself - What did the author try to communicate to his audience in thistext?H.
If a passage is clearly not literal but figurative
, determine what form does thepassage exhibit and follow
special principles of interpretation
for each one.Common forms are word figures, thought figures, poetry, types, symbols andprophecy.I.
Word figures
.1. Metaphor is an implied comparison. (Luke 13:32; Psalm 18:2)2. Metonymy is representing a thing by one of its attributes. (Gal 6:17, Lu 16:29)3, Synechdoche is putting a part for the whole or a whole for a part. (Rom 5:18)J.
Thought figures
1. Simile is a comparison between two different objects using the words “as” or“like.” (Isa. 55:10, 11; 56:3; Jer. 23:29; Psalm 1:3).

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