How to correctly interpret the Bible–A few more common-sense rules

In my last post I shared more than a dozen basic rules of Bible interpretation. Fifteen rules, to be exact.

Anyone who carefully follows the rules will most likely come up with the correct interpretation of what the Bible says and means.

If you break even one of the rules when you make an interpretation, you will come up with a wrong or mistaken interpretation of what the Bible says.

Therefore, the rules are very important. So here are a few more:

16 You cannot legitimately pick and choose separate statements and combine them arbitrarily. The Bible says:

Judas went and hanged himself (Matthew 27:5);

Go and do thou likewise (Luke 10:37);

What thou doest, do quickly (John 13:27).

17. You cannot leave out material which, if included, would require or necessitate a change in the interpretation.

18. Whenever an interpretation involves the comparison of two or more subjects, or related topics, the interpretation must take into account not only the similarities, but also the differences which may exist. This principle is most important when studying the subject of Bible prophecy. Many interpreters mistakenly suppose that all references to “elect” in the New Testament or Bible as a whole must refer to the Christian church or Christian believers. This leads them to a mistaken interpretation of Matthew 24:31,

Mat 24:31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

The term in this verse has reference only to the Jewish elect, and has nothing to do with Christians or the Rapture. Jesus was speaking to a Jewish audience before the institution of the Christian church, which was then yet future. The Jewish audience Jesus addressed knew their Bibles well and would immediately connect what He said with well-known prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament. Most of us, to properly figure this out, had better get hold of a copy of The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge or Nelson’s Cross Reference Guide to the Bible and consult the cross references to discover these passages. You are unlikely in the extreme to discover where they are using any other Bible study resource that I know of.

19. A correct and authoritative interpretation must be based upon what the text itself says, not upon what someone else claims it says. This is a most important rule. You cannot safely base your understanding of what the Bible teaches based upon what your church, denomination, or other teaching authority has told you it means. We MUST go strictly by the Bible alone (Isaiah 8:20). Many violate this rule by following the teaching of a particular school of interpretation (“this is the Reformed understanding of this Scripture,” R. C. Sproul, October 2010 broadcast of his Renewing Your Mind radio program), or follow the teaching of their own denomination, or follow their favorite teacher.

20. When there are two differing interpretations of a Bible verse, text, doctrine, or passage in the Bible, if the interpretations are contradictory, they cannot both be correct. One or the other interpretation must be wrong, or they may both be wrong, but they cannot both be right. A correct interpretation must comply with the rules of interpretation. An incorrect interpretation will always be found not to comply with the rules.

21. A correct system of doctrine or a correct interpretation of the Bible must share the doctrinal balance and emphasis of the Bible. Many fall into the error of over-emphasizing a particular doctrine or theme or even verse and neglect the emphasis and balance of the Bible.

Some interpreters over-emphasize a particular attribute of God, such as His love, or His sovereignty, in a manner that is not in accord with the Biblical harmony of His attributes. Calvinists overemphasize Divine Sovereignty. Jehovah’s Witnesses emphasize only a few of God’s attributes in their literature, and even deny that God is omnipresent!

Some religious movements, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, think they are more correct than others because they emphasize the Divine Name of Jehovah. Yet the Bible supplies us with many other important names of God which are important to know and understand in order to learn about His character (Psalm 9:10).

One must not “camp” on a very limited set of Bible texts and “run” with them (John 10:28 to the exclusion of John 10:27; 1 John 2:19. Acts 2:38), to the exclusion of much else in the Bible that deserves equal or greater emphasis, or that the Bible itself emphasizes.

For example, the most prominent theme of the New Testament is the Apostolic witness to the bodily resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ (follow the cross references starting at Acts 2:24, 32 in any good study Bible: Acts 3:15, 26. 4:10, 33. 5:30. 10:40. 13:30, 33, 34. 17:31. Romans 4:24. 1 Corinthians 6:14. 15:15. 2 Corinthians 4:14. Galatians 1:1. Ephesians 1:20. Colossians 2:12. 1 Thessalonians 1:10. 2 Timothy 2:8. Hebrews 13:20. 1 Peter 1:21). That is never the emphasized subject of the Jehovah’s Witnesses I have encountered or studied with. This pretty much proves they are wrong all by itself.

22. Much important truth found in the Bible can only be derived from the Bible by means of necessary inference derived from a careful study and comparison of related Bible passages.

The doctrine of the Trinity is a clear example for those who believe in the Trinity, but it is not clear to those who do not, because the doctrine is derived from a careful comparison of statements throughout the Bible and is derived as the logical conclusion by necessary inference. The practice of infant baptism in New Testament times by the original apostles and meeting as Christians for specifically Christian worship on the First Day or Sunday and not the Seventh Day Sabbath of the Jews are likewise doctrines derived from the New Testament record by necessary inference.

23. In the Bible there is what may be called the “Progress of Doctrine,” such that God in His written Word reveals new information or additional teaching which may modify, supersede or replace what was revealed to that time.

An example or two of what may be called “Progress of Doctrine” in the sense I mean it would be: (1) the “church” as mentioned in Matthew 16:18 was not present or in existence in the full New Testament sense at that time, but is a matter more fully revealed later in the New Testament record. This affects the interpretation of Matthew 18:17, for that verse pertains to an existing institution and practice in force even while Jesus was giving this teaching, and refers in its cultural context to the discipline practiced in the Jewish synagogue. (2) Certain doctrinal truths are taught in the writings of Paul and are explicitly stated to be “the commandments of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37), and pertain to matters that had not been revealed before. 1 Thessalonians 4:2 and especially 1 Thessalonians 4:15 are a remarkable instance of this, for many fail to study the cross references available for 1 Thessalonians 4:15. Even more clearly this feature can be observed in the “mystery doctrines” enumerated in my note at Romans 16:25 in the New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge. Is the Church present in the Old Testament? Many believe it is. But the evidence from Matthew 16:18 which uses the future tense (“I will build my church”) would be evidence that the New Testament Church as revealed in the NT is something new, so it was not present in the Old Testament.

24 Do not use a general statement of a doctrine in the Bible at one place to deny the more specific aspects of the doctrine stated elsewhere.

Example: Some believe in a single General Resurrection of the righteous and unrighteous at the same time, or simultaneous resurrection of all the dead on the “last day” (John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15); Scripture more specifically elsewhere teaches the resurrection of the just is separated in time from the resurrection of the unjust (Luke 14:14 and its cross references). Similarly, the Judgment is not a simultaneous grand Judgment for everyone at the Great White Throne. John 5:24 ought to alert the Bible reader that those who hear and believe are excluded from judgment, as mentioned also by Paul in Romans 8:1. The judgment seat of Christ may not be just a one-time all-inclusive judgment of all the saved as to their rewards. The Scriptures reveal (see Psalm 67:4) that our Lord Jesus Christ will be judge here on earth over all the nations forever as He rules as Messiah upon the throne of David which will be established forever upon this earth in Jerusalem (see Luke 1:32, 33 and related passages). The meaning of “last day” used in John 6:54 and other mentions in that immediate context must not be understood to suppose all prophetic events regarding Christ’s Second Coming must be sandwiched into a 24 hour period! “Last day” is an idiom in John which refers to the second of the two ages, “this age” and “the age to come,” mentioned, for example, at Matthew 12:32, misleadingly (for the modern English reader at least) rendered “this world” and “the world to come” in the KJV.

If your interpretation, or my interpretation, or anyone else’s interpretation, breaks one or more of these rules, the interpretation is wrong.

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2 Responses to How to correctly interpret the Bible–A few more common-sense rules

  1. ken sagely says:

    i have been blessed by the rules of interptation, i have always liked isa 8/20 “if they speak not according to this word,it is because they have no light in them, jn 5/37″search the scriptures for the bear witness of me”, act 17/11 the bereans,”they received the word with all readiness of mind, and they searched the scriptures daily,whether these things were so” i think they underscore the importance of studying the bible for ourselves and following the rules of interpretation. our faith is built on the word of god rom10/17 “faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of god” if i want my faith to grow then i must spend time in the word “comparing scripture with scripture” i co 2/13. gifted bible teachers have there place, but paul warned in 1cor 1/11-15 about placing to much empasis on them “being under the word is no substitute for being in the word” a good bible teacher will teach and encourage you how to get in the word for yourself that is what paul is saying is in eph 4/12-16 we are “grow up into him in all things,which is the head,even christ” and the only way that will happen is by real bible study.the new treasury of scripture knowledge and crgb are the best tools to help you with real bible study.real bible study isnt for just pastors,bible scholars, its for regular christians like you and me.thats why i liked these tools right off they are so simple to use. psm119/105″ his word is a lamp to our feet a light to our path” thank you ken

  2. admin says:

    Dear Ken,

    Thank you for your excellent response!

    Isaiah 8:20 is a most important verse!

    I have had many and long arguments with devout Roman Catholics on the Internet or in person about their false claim that we are not supposed to go by the Bible alone.

    Roman Catholics often challenge me, “Show me the verse in the Bible that says we are to go by the Bible alone.”

    I start by sharing Isaiah 8:20.

    There are many other misguided religious groups that argue that you cannot go to the Bible alone yourself to discover what it says. You must go by their teaching authority. Once again, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are an example of this in the extreme.

    Roman Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses and many other churches teach that studying the Bible and learning what it says by your own study violates the Bible’s warning that we must not engage in “private interpretation.”

    I thoroughly answered that mistaken idea on this site in an earlier post.

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