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"All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." (II Tim 3:16) "The sum of Your word is truth" (Psalm 119:160)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Some Primary Rules for the Interpretation of Scripture

A great many of the diverse teachings and practices which divide Christians one from another are the result of a failure to follow prudent and reasonable methods of interpreting the Scriptures. Because many have commented to me that my approach to the interpretation of the Scriptures betrays a methodology to which they are unfamiliar, I thought it best to explain the rules of interpretation which I have always followed.

1. I let the Bible instruct me (exegesis). I do not approach the Scriptures with any preconceived notions that I then try to foist onto the text (eisegesis). To this end, I let the Bible interpret itself by examining all that the Lord has to say on a particular topic. By doing this, I avoid the uncomfortable position of trying to explain away passages which do not fit neatly into a doctrinal puzzle that I am trying to construct.

2. For the Bible to be all that it claims to be (2 Tim. 3:16-17) there can be no contradictions. Any perceived contradictions are an indication of a misinterpretation. There are many hard to understand passages in the Scriptures, and many so called contradictions usually involve one of these. In these cases, I do not have to know what a passage means, to know what it does not mean. Again, letting the Bible interpret itself.

3. I keep in mind that the Bible teaches in one of four ways;

  • By express command of the Lord.

  • Through someone writing by inspiration.

  • By example (the Lord or someone acting by inspiration did the thing in question).

  • Implication or necessary inference (where the thing in question is a matter of necessary inference in order to make sense of the passage).

4. I follow the time tested elementary principles of interpretation. The following are a few which I have found to be very profitable. They are from the Elementary Principles of Interpretation by Johann August Ernesti and Moses Stuart, published 1842.

  • "To every word in Scripture there is unquestionably assigned some idea or notion, otherwise words are useless, and have no more signification than the inarticulate sounds of animals." pg. 19
  • "The literal meaning of words is the sense that is so connected with them as to be spontaneously presented to the mind as soon as the sound of the word is heard, and that is the first order." pg. 19
  • "All men in their daily conversation and writings attach but one sense to a word, at the same time and in the same passage, unless they design to speak in enigmas. The sense of a word can not be diverse or multifarious at the same time and in the same passage or expression." pg. 21
  • "There can be no certainty at all in respect to the interpretation of any passage, unless a kind of necessity compels us to affix a particular sense to a word, which sense must be one, and unless there are special reasons for a tropical meaning, it must be literal." pg 22
  • "Words are proper or tropical, literal or figurative. First: A proper or tropical is a definite name given to a certain thing. Originally, words were undoubtedly used in their proper and literal sense. Second: Tropes or metaphorical words are called by Aristotle strangers, foreigners." pg. 34
  • "In no language can a word have more than one literal meaning in the same place." pg. 34

By these rules we understand that a word can have but one literal meaning in the same place and at the same time, and that the primary meaning of a word is the literal meaning unless there is a special reason for it's removal.

I have found these guidelines to be very profitable to me and I will undoubtedly be referring my readers back to them from time to time.

I have no problem with any published 'literal' translations of the Scriptures into the English. Paraphrased versions I completely reject, and I will not allow anyone to get away with making an argument based on the wording of a passage of scripture from a paraphrased version alone. The very existence of paraphrased versions of the Bible betray a great disregard for the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures. They are an aberration which should never have been conceived. The fact that they have found a market among the faithful is somewhat disturbing.


Shinade aka Jackie said...

I find this very interesting and would like to hear your thoughts relating to changes made during the reign of King James!!

EddieGarcia said...

I agree strongly with your stand on paraphrases. Anyone can write one of these but it doesn't make it inspired or correct. Everyone has an opinion too and this is what I find with paraphrases, wrong interpretations of God's inspired word. Thanks for the post and your thoughts!

Friends 4 Life!

Z said...

"Cafeteria Christian" comes to mind..picking and choosing what looks tasty at the moment.
I'm not that smart. I've got to believe the Word's His and that's it...and your interpretation advice here is excellent. Thanks.

Rob said...

Regarding "I let the Bible instruct me", remember from the Acts of the Apostles the account of the Ethiopian eunuch, who could not make sense of the Isaiah scroll. He asked Phillip about it, stating "how can I understand this without someone to explain it to me?"

To me this is a message that there can and will be difficult passages of scripture, from which it helps to have these interpreted by learned men of God.

T Minut said...

Aren't paraphrases from people who have studied the context and original word meanings to translate what was originally intended? Not that they necessarily know but better than someone who has no idea of an idiomatic expression from the time?

bgamall said...

I think one can come to the scriptures with revealed truth. In other words, the elect are called, and it is not a matter of free will at all. And conviction comes by the gospel, not the law. The pretty much destroys the entire protestant non faith.

I also believe that holy wars are false. While Israel is a sign, the fig tree, there is no such thing as dispensationalism. Both dispensationalism and covenant theology are false.

I don't think you will publish this, but be warned, Sarah Palin thought that the Iraq oil war was holy. She is no different than the false holy warriors of history. Hell will be her reward. newcovenanttheology.com

Francis R. Barbour said...

Your methodology seems very well reasoned and quite logical! But how do you compensate for the fact that ' Spiritual Babylon ' has intentionally trained you to think improperly?

What I mean, of course, is this:

I. ) Spiritual Babylon controls all the world's churches; and has:
1.) Indoctrinated Numerous Generations Into Perceiving The Scriptures In Certain Fundamentally Incorrect Ways.
2.) Trained Your Focus To Remain Upon Certain Fundamental Subjects, That Block Your Own Spiritual Growth.
3.) Has Instilled A Certain Amount Of Unwarranted Prejudice Towards The Old Testament Scriptures - In Order To Prevent You From Spotting Certain Obvious Errors.

II.) Political Babylon controls all of the world's schools; and has:
1.) Trained You To Think In Certain Decidedly Humanistic Terms With Respect To: Science, History, Religion, Social Progress, etc....
2.)They have taken fundamentally great historical events such as: The First and Second Seal Of Revelation - and fundamentally downplayed them as merely The Two World Wars [ as if such awe inspiring conflagrations have happened since the beginning of time ].
3.) Moreover, they have trained you to fully accept the propagandist news media as The Public Disclosers Of Truth.

III.) Meanwhile, Cultural Babylon controls all of society's numerous peer groups; and has:
1.) Taught You To Accept The Pagan Holy Days As Yahweh's Own.
2.) Sunday As The Proper Day Of Christian Worship.
3.) The Churches As The True Pillars Of Society.
4.) The Shepherds As Somehow Inherently More Knowledgeable.

I guess what I'm saying is that: " When Lucifer Is Dealing From The Bottom Of The Deck, How Shall Your System Actually Beat Him? "