The Basics of Sound Biblical Interpretation
Sound Biblical Interpretation must be:
Grammatical – Basic Principles
Principle #1 - Since the books of the Bible were written by men in certain ordinary, human languages, no interpretation of Scripture is to be accepted which does not agree with the established rules of grammar.
This is why it is imperative to work from an accurate translation of the Bible and/or learn the Biblical languages and work with the texts in their original languages. You cannot accurately interpret the scriptures using paraphrases or faulty translations. This article by John Piper is a great resource on this topic.
Principle #2 - We must assume that a speaker or writer would use his words in that sense in which those to whom he speaks or writes are accustomed to use them. An in-terpreter’s primary and chief aim should be to ascertain the meaning of words according to the meaning in actual popular usage.
Therefore, the meaning of a word according to the meaning it most generally carried in common/popular usage is to be preferred, unless there are sufficient reasons to compel the exegete to accept some other meaning.
Principle #3 - The exposition of a passage must agree with both the immediate context and the remote context.
Immediate Context: the verses immediately around the a passage. This is why you should NEVER read Bible verses that have been ripped from their context. A good rule of thumb is to read 3 to 4 verses before a verse AND 3 to 4 verses after.
Remote Context: expands out from the entire book being interpreted, to the entire Testament, and then the Entire Bible.
The immediate context is the more important and usually decisive.
Principle #5 - Every word in holy scripture can have only one intended meaning in any one place and in any one relation. The intended sense is one (sensus literalis unus est).
This rule enunciates a fundamental law of human communication, without which intelligent communication would be impossible.
Principle #6 - The literal meaning of a word should in all cases be accepted as one intended sense, unless sufficient reasons prompt the interpreter to accept figurative use of a word, or figurative speech.
The reason for departing from the literal meaning of words is usually provided in the immediate context.
In this connection, the literary genre of a Bible book should be taken into consideration; this at the outset of this study will help the exegete decide whether to interpret a passage literally, figuratively or symbolically.
Principle - Since the books of the Bible were written at certain times over a 1550-year period of history and at certain places on earth and for various purposes and groups of readers, biblical interpretation must be historical. Accordingly, the exegete must carefully consider the historical circumstances under which each Bible book was written, as well as the the historical contents of each book.
Theological - Basic Principles
Principle #1 - Because the Scripture is of divine origin and is the verbally inspired Word of God, it is wholly without inconsistency of thought or speech, without contradiction, without the slightest error (in the original manuscripts).
The Bible is the inscripurated Word of God, and as such presents the truth in ordinary language in all matters of which it treats. The kind of truth the Bible claims for itself is correspondence to reality (the correspondence theory of truth).
The Bible doesn’t set forth ‘propositional truth’ it sets forth ‘propositional revelation’ that reveals knowable truth that is truly true.
Read pages 81 – 84 of Francis Schaeffer’s work entitled “He Is There And He Is Not Silent” Click Here to Read.
Principle #2 - Scripture (not human reason, personal feeling, church, or tradition) is the sole source and norm of true doctrine in the sphere of religion and theology.
This is the principle of Sola Scriptura.
Principle #3 - Scripture interprets scripture and the less clear or plain passages of scripture MUST be interpreted in the light of the clearer passages.
This method must NEVER be reversed!
Here is the Order of Clear Interpretation:
1. The Old Testament must be interpreted by the New - Once we grasp the overall outline of the Bible and see that it is a progressive revelation, we will always look to see how the New Testament interprets the Old Testament. For instance, God promised Abraham a Seed which would bring a blessing to all nations. The New Testament interprets that Seed as Christ (Gal. 3:16).
2. The Gospels must be interpreted by the Epistles - The Gospels record the historic events of our redemption—the incarnation, life, death, resurrection and as-cension of Jesus Christ. But by themselves historic events are not sufficient We need an authoritative word that tells us the true significance of those events.
If a man thinks he can look at a historic event and out of his own head interpret what that event means, he puts himself in the place of God. Take the historic fact of the resurrection for example. It is not for us to presume what the resurrection means. The Epistles spell out to us what it means, and he who goes beyond what is interpreted in the Epistles is fabricating a doctrine out of his own head—or passing on what someone has fabricated out of his head.
3. The incidental must be interpreted by the systematic - This rule applies to the proper reading of any literature. It is common sense, but how hard it is to use common sense when we are so anxious to prove our point!
For example, the heart of all Bible doctrine is the great doctrine of justification by grace, for Christ's sake, through faith. There are two books in the Bible (Romans and Galatians) which present this doctrine systematically, and they do it also in the perspective of sacred history—the promise to Abraham, the giving of the Law, etc. Common sense should teach us to build our understanding about justification by going to the places where the subject and all the ramifications of it are treated systematically.
Now there are places where Paul touches on justification incidentally, like in Titus 3:5-8. He is writing to a fellow minister and has no need to speak in de-tail. Some have used the incidental passage in Titus (i.e., the Roman Catholics at Trent) in an effort to substantiate the doctrine of justification by infused right-eousness (inward renewal). Now let us grant the point that it is possible to get that idea out of Titus 3:5-8. Then there is the book of James, a wonderful place where some go to build a prima facie case for justification by works.
Major heresies are often the result of turning minors into majors
4. The local must be interpreted by the universal - The Bible often inculcates uni-versal principles in the context of a local culture. We must be very careful not to make some feature of local culture a universal norm. For instance, Moses took off his shoes as a token of reverence in the presence of God. That was an Eastern custom which is still practiced in some parts of the world. We Westerners show reverence by taking off our hat. Christian men would not think of going into church with their hat on, for this would show disrespect. But if we were associat-ing with people of another culture, we might take our shoes off before entering the church.
Paul commands us to greet the brethren with a holy kiss (Rom. 16:16). A strict literalist may insist that this form of Christian fraternity is still obligatory today, but most Christians understand it to mean that we should treat fellow Christians like a blood brother.
5. The symbolic must be interpreted by the didactic - Our doctrinal positions should be established by a plain "Thus saith the Lord" from a straightforward didactic passage.
Principle #4 - All biblical interpretation must take cognizance of, and be guided by, Scripture’s self-announced purpose:
2 Tim. 3:15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writ-ings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
Principle #5 - To rightly understand and interpret Scripture is to necessarily distinguish between Law & Gospel elements in the text and then properly relate the former (law) to the latter (gospel). Justification by grace through faith in Christ is the main subject of all true biblical and Christian theology.
The interpreter MUST see to it that his interpretation of the text has CHRIST as its center, teaches HIM, and glorifies HIM as Savior and Lord.
John 5: 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.
Proper Understanding of the Law
1Tim. 1:8 Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully,
Romans 3:20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
Romans 3:28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
Galatians 2:15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ,
Galatians 3:21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
[This resource only gives the basic principles of sound Biblical Interpretation. This is not an exhaustive treatment of the subject. It is compiled from multiple sources including "Biblical Hermeneutics" by Walter A Marier, III and Hermeneutics from Present Truth Magazine.]