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Bonus Bible Study Articles

Advanced Principles of Interpretation

In order to handle the Word of God properly it is important to follow certain guidelines of interpretation (hermeneutics is the academic word that means seeking the contemporary relevance of ancient texts). Observing these guidelines does not always guarantee correct conclusions, but disregarding them frequently leads to error.

If these guidelines sound daunting, donít panic. Common sense usually prevails in Interpretation. The Author wants you to understand!

Seven General Principles of Interpretation:
  1. Work from the assumption that the Bible is authoritative.
  2. Saving faith and the Holy Spirit are necessary for us to understand and properly interpret the Scriptures.
  3. Interpret personal experience in the light of Scripture and not Scripture in the light of personal experience.
  4. Biblical examples are authoritative only when supported by a command. A corollary: The believer is free to do anything that the Bible does not prohibit.
  5. Each Christian has the right and responsibility to investigate and interpret the Word of God for himself (with humility).
  6. Church history is important but not decisive in the interpretation of Scripture. A corollary: The Church does not determine what the Bible teaches; the Bible determines what the Church teaches.
  7. The promises of God in the Bible are available to the Holy Spirit for believers of every generation. (One should avoid a demanding, presumptuous attitude when "claiming" promises given to individuals, like when God promised Sarah a baby in Genesis 18:10)
Seven Grammatical Principles of Interpretation:
  1. Scripture has only one meaning and should be taken literally.
  2. Interpret words in harmony with the meaning in the times written.
  3. Interpret a word in relation to its sentence and context.
  4. When an inanimate object is used to describe a living being the statement may be considered figurative. A corollary: When life and action are attributed to inanimate objects, the statement may be considered figurative.
  5. When an expression is out of character with the thing described, the statement may be considered to be a figurative one.
  6. The principal parts and figures of a parable represent certain realities. Consider only these parts when drawing conclusions.
  7. Interpret the words of the prophets in their usual, literal, and historical sense, unless the context or manner in which they are fulfilled clearly indicates they have a symbolic meaning.
Three Historical Principles of Interpretation:
  1. Since Scripture originated in a historical context, it can be understood only in the light of biblical history.
  2. Though God's revelation in the Scriptures is progressive, both Old and New Testaments are essential parts and form a unit.
  3. Historical facts or events become symbols of spiritual truths only if the Scriptures so designate them.
Four Theological Principles of Interpretation:
  1. You must understand the Bible grammatically before you can understand it theologically.
  2. A doctrine cannot be considered biblical unless it sums up and includes all that the Scriptures say about it.
  3. When two doctrines taught in the Bible appear to be contradictory accept both as scriptural in the confident belief that they resolve themselves into a higher unity.
  4. A teaching merely implied in Scripture may be considered biblical when a comparison of related passages supports the teaching.
Letís Start with Five Basic Rules of Interpretation:
  1. Interpret the text literally unless thereís a good reason not to. Take the passage at face value unless there are other indications to do differently. In Revelation 1:16 when the Lord appears it says, ďOut of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword.Ē I doubt this is literal. The probable interpretation would take this figuratively.
  2. If the text gives you permission, then interpret it figuratively. For example, in Genesis 37, the dreams of Joseph are to be taken as prophetic (the passage says so). They are dreams that have a figurative application.
  3. Figure itís figurative if itís a figure of speech. When you come across phrases like, ďAnd He spoke a parable sayingÖĒ you know an earthly story with a heavenly meaning will follow. When you read words such as, like or, as you know that youíre dealing with similes or metaphors.
  4. A text cannot mean what it never could have meant to its author or his or her readers. The true meaning of the biblical text for us is what God originally intended it to mean when it was first spoken. This rule does not always help one find out what a text means, but it does help to set limits as to what it cannot mean.
  5. Whenever we share comparable particulars (i.e. similar specific life situations) with the original hearers, Godís Word to us is the same as His Word to them.


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