If someone disagrees with my interpretation of the Bible and says “That’s your interpretation,” I simply respond, “It certainly is. Have you a better interpretation to offer?”
There are some very straightforward, common sense “Rules of Interpretation” that are valid not only for the Bible, but for literature in general, law, and even the weather report!
Here are the rules:
1. Interpret literally in all cases unless the text or context clearly demonstrates that other than a literal interpretation is required and intended by the author.
2. Interpret literally unless the resulting interpretation is an absurdity, or in the case of the Bible, an interpretation out of harmony with and contradictory to the teaching found elsewhere in the Bible. But be very careful what you identify as an absurdity. It may be that what seems to be an absurdity is actually the truth as taught by the Bible, and that it is your own opinion, or what you have been taught by others, that is the absurdity in the light of the full teaching of the Bible.
3. When you come across figurative expressions in the Bible, look for the literal truth they are intended to convey or emphasize. There are many different figures of speech in the Bible. I have indexed nearly 200 different figures of speech found in the Bible in my Bible study reference work, The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge.
4. Do not read into a text a meaning which would be entirely foreign to or outside the culture of the writer who wrote the document. Thus, it is highly unlikely that the Bible writers speak of modern inventions like trains and automobiles. How about flying saucers? Most likely not. On a more controversial theological note, the reference in Revelation 1:10 to “the Lord’s Day” cannot be a reference to the Sabbath or the Seventh Day of worship, for the expression “the Lord’s Day” acquired this meaning and usage much later. Rather, the Greek expression we translate “the Lord’s Day” at Revelation 1:10 is the equivalent of the Hebrew expression “the Day of the Lord,” and, indeed, what God revealed in the book of Revelation that pertains to prophecy future to the time of the author John takes place during the Day of the Lord.
5. Do not read into a text a meaning which could not have been known to or understood by the audience to whom the document was originally addressed.
6. Interpret a particular passage in harmony with ALL other passages which may have a bearing upon the subject. This is exceedingly important. You cannot cherry-pick your evidence. All relevant evidence must be taken into account to come up with the correct interpretation. Groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Roman Catholics, Calvinists, Seventh Day Adventists, the Church of Christ, and many others flagrantly violate this rule and come up with very mistaken interpretations of the Bible. To successfully find ALL the relevant passages about a subject, you MUST do Real Bible Study and make full and careful use of such tools as an exhaustive concordance to the Bible (Strong’s Concordance is a good choice) and a source of full and complete cross references to every verse in the Bible (such as The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, or Nelson’s Cross Reference Guide to the Bible). If you haven’t made full use of these resources don’t kid yourself into supposing you have properly considered ALL the passages pertaining to the subject, issue, or doctrine you are considering.
7. Be sure to include all relevant passages upon a theme before determining the interpretation of any particular passage. This principle is violated by every denomination or religious group. Jehovah’s Witnesses think they understand such Bible terms as “soul,” “spirit,” “hell,” and other terms more accurately than others do. Their problem is that they have failed to make a full induction of all the evidence before arriving at their conclusions about the meaning and use of these terms in the Bible. I have presented a full induction of all the evidence on these issues in The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge and Nelson’s Cross Reference Guide to the Bible starting at the notes at Genesis 2:7.
8. Interpret a difficult passage in the light of those passages on the same subject which are clear.
9. Interpret a passage with careful attention to the exact words used in the original Hebrew or Greek text of the passage. As a start, make use of Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance to the Bible which identifies the original words numerically, coded to the Hebrew and Greek Lexicons contained in the back of the concordance.
10. Interpret a passage according to the grammar of the original language text, Hebrew or Greek.
11. Interpret a particular passage in the light of its immediate context, what comes before and after the verse being studied.
12. Interpret a passage in the light of its cultural and historical context and setting. Some study Bibles are very helpful in this regard. But they must be studied with care, because they are often guilty of slanting the available evidence to favor their denominational position rather than presenting the straight truth out of the Bible. This is especially true with regard to the mode of Christian baptism practiced in the New Testament itself. All modes (sprinkling, pouring, immersion) are valid because the original language words for baptism in the Hebrew and Greek languages are non-modal words. But for a denomination to claim that their favored mode is the exclusively correct mode taught in Scripture is a very serious error. For example, there are no provable examples of immersion as a mode of the baptism of persons for religious purposes in either the Hebrew or the Greek Scriptures.
13. Interpret a passage in the light of its position in the purpose as stated or implied by the writer.
14. Interpret a passage or a subject in the light of its position in the purpose as given by God in His revealed Covenants, particularly the Abrahamic Covenant (starting at Genesis 12:2) and the Davidic Covenant (starting at 2 Samuel 7:10). Failure to understand these two covenants and their bearing upon Bible prophecy as given in the rest of the Bible has led to many very mistaken ideas currently promoted by Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roman Catholics, most Calvinists, Seventh Day Adventists, and the Church of Christ, all of whom are utterly at odds on the subject of Bible prophecy compared with what the Bible actually teaches.
15. Do not interpret one statement in the Bible in a way which makes it contradict another part of the Bible. All the parts must agree without contradictions. There are no proven contradictions in the Bible when the Bible is properly understood and rightly interpreted. This principle furnishes a good test of the correctness of your interpretation or understanding of the Bible. When you come up with a contradiction, that is the signal you must go back and study deeper into the Bible to resolve the contradiction. Often, when reading and studying the Bible, when you learn something new, the new understanding will correct a prior misunderstanding you might have had.
Did I “step on your toes”? I intended to.
If you have questions about this post, submit a comment below.
I do approve all relevant comments, whether I agree with them or not.