The Seven Rules of Bible Interpretation:
All of God’s Word is TRUE, But Not Necessarily Your Interpretation of It
The Bible, or rather the interpretation of the Bible, should be understood literally whenever possible however when a statement appears to be contrary to our experience, or to established facts, or to the general teaching of truth you can expect that some type of figure of speech is likely being reflected. All of God’s Word is TRUE, however, much of it is figurative language which is not literally true to fact, but rather it represents figurative language, symbols, metaphors, and parables which is how Jesus primarily spoke and taught (Matthew 13:13-16, Matthew 13:34-37) and is how much of the New Testament scriptures were written.
“But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding.” Job 32:8
Before addressing any Biblical related question, one must first believe that the contents of the Bible are wholly-inspired (written under the direction and approval of God). This core belief is the foundation and principle of Christian based faith; and recognizes the Bible as the guided source of what we know of God and His dealings with men.
(2 Timothy 3:14-16) “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:”
Since the Bible teaches that God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33), why then are there so many disagreements between church leaders today; since all, or nearly all, claim to use the Bible as the source for their doctrines? Nearly all false doctrines taught today by Christians can be traced to the distortion of Biblical truths. This can often times be seen in their teaching, traditions, or man-made rituals, which are not found written anywhere in the Bible.
Not every question to which an individual may be seeking an answer is specifically addressed in the Bible. Therefore it is of great importance that we obtain the most correct and “most logical” reasoning or meaning of the words used and as much knowledge of the context which is being referenced. It is critical that we acquire as much understanding of the origin and history of a word or scripture instead of blindly accepting someone’s interpretation as truth without any validation.
One author I agree with, Guy Duty, list what he calls The Seven Rules of Bible Interpretation:
The Seven Rules of Bible Interpretation:
“When two Bible interpretations are claimed for a Scripture, the construction most in agreement with all the facts of the case should be adopted. When all the facts of an interpretation are in agreement they sound together in harmony, like notes in a chord.
“Biblical interpretation is more than knowing a set of rules, but it cannot be done without the rules. So, learn the rules, and rightly apply them….”
1) The rule of DEFINITION: What does the word mean? Any study of Scripture must begin with a study of words. Define your terms and then keep to the terms defined. The interpreter should conscientiously abide by the plain meaning of the words. This quite often may require using a Hebrew/English or Greek/English lexicon in order to make sure that the sense of the English translation is understood. A couple of good examples of this are the Greek words “allos” and “heteros”. Both are usually translated as “another” in English – yet “allos” literally means “another of the same type” and “heteros” means “another of a different type.”
2) The rule of USAGE: It must be remembered that the Old Testament was written originally by, to and for Jews. The words and idioms must have been intelligible to them – just as the words of Christ when talking to them must have been. The majority of the New Testament likewise was written in a milieu of Greco-Roman (and to a lesser extent Jewish) culture and it is important to not impose our modern usage into our interpretation. It is not worth much to interpret a great many phrases and histories if one’s interpretations are shaded by pre-conceived notions and cultural biases, thereby rendering an inaccurate and ineffectual lesson.
3) The rule of CONTEXT: The meaning must be gathered from the context. Every word you read must be understood in the light of the words that come before and after it. Many passages will not be understood at all, or understood incorrectly, without the help afforded by the context. A good example of this is the Mormon practice of using 1 Corinthians 8:5 “…for there be gods many and lords many…” as a “proof text” of their doctrine of polytheism. However, a simple reading of the whole verse in the context of the whole chapter (e.g. where Paul calls these gods “so-called”), plainly demonstrates that Paul is not teaching polytheism.
4) The rule of HISTORICAL BACKGROUND: The interpreter must have some awareness of the life and society of the times in which the Scripture was written. The spiritual principle will be timeless but often can’t be properly appreciated without some knowledge of the background. If the interpreter can have in his mind what the writer had in his mind when he wrote – without adding any excess baggage from the interpreter’s own culture or society – then the true thought of the Scripture can be captured resulting in an accurate interpretation. Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Our only interest in the past is for the light it throws upon the present.”
5) The rule of LOGIC: Interpretation is merely logical reasoning. When interpreting Scripture, the use of reason is everywhere to be assumed. Does the interpretation make sense? The Bible was given to us in the form of human language and therefore appeals to human reason – it invites investigation. It is to be interpreted as we would any other volume: applying the laws of language and grammatical analysis. As Bernard Ramm said:
“What is the control we use to weed out false theological speculation? Certainly the control is logic and evidence… interpreters who have not had the sharpening experience of logic…may have improper notions of implication and evidence. Too frequently such a person uses a basis of appeal that is a notorious violation of the laws of logic and evidence.” (Protestant Biblical Interpretation, Boston:W. A. Wilde, 1956)
6) The rule of PRECEDENT: We must not violate the known usage of a word and invent another for which there is no precedent. Just as a judge’s chief occupation is the study of previous cases, so must the interpreter use precedents in order to determine whether they really support an alleged doctrine.
Consider the Bereans in (Acts 17:10-12) who were called “noble” because they searched the Scriptures to determine if what Paul taught them was true.
7) The rule of INFERENCE: An inference is a fact reasonably implied from another fact. It is a logical consequence. It derives a conclusion from a given fact or premise. It is the deduction of one proposition from another proposition. Such inferential facts or propositions are sufficiently binding when their truth is established by competent and satisfactory evidence. Competent evidence means such evidence as the nature of the thing to be proved admits. Satisfactory evidence means that amount of proof which would ordinarily satisfy an unprejudiced mind beyond a reasonable doubt. Jesus used this rule when he proved the resurrection of the dead to the unbelieving Sadducees in (Matthew 22:23-33).
Learning these seven rules and properly applying them will help keep any interpreter from making errors and will hopefully alleviate many of the disagreements unfortunately present in Christianity today.
(Proverbs 1:5-6) “A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels: to understand a proverb, and the interpretation.”
(2 Peter 1:20-21) “… no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved [Gk. Phero, “to be carried (along)”] by the Holy Spirit”.
(1 Corinthians 14:37) “… the things that I [the Apostle Paul] write unto you are the commandments of the Lord”.
(John10:35) “According to Jesus, “the scripture cannot be broken”.