Rules of Biblical Interpretation

Discussion in 'Other Christian Denominations' started by Heavenly Pilgrim, Feb 15, 2008.

  1. Heavenly Pilgrim

    Heavenly Pilgrim
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    When discussing Scripture many verses arise that are subject to interpretation. If one does not have some sort of set guideline to follow, that there is a high probability that one could be using Scripture in a way that is not in keeping with the writers objectives and consequently not in accordance to truth. Scripture, under that condition, is more of a tool to use at ones discretion for any purpose one finds need to manufacture support for, (commonly denoted as proof texting) and as such will find themselves abusing the Word of God for their own purposes rather than honestly approaching it with a open heart and mind as to its honest intended meanings.

    What are some of your rules of interpretation? Would you mind sharing them with the list for the benefit of all in hopes of compiling a reasonable set of guidelines we can utilize together when a Scripture is presented as evidence for a given idea, dogma, or notion?
     
  2. BobRyan

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    Exegesis is best -

    1. Pay attention to inconvenient details.
    2. Not the context of the chapter, the book and the same authors use of the same concept in his other writings.
    3. Ask yourself the question - how did the author intend for this text to be understood by his contemporary readers?
    (I.e. no eisegeting evolutoinism doctrine into the creation text of Gen 1-2:3 or Law Exodus 20:8-11)

    Just a few ideas.

    in Christ,

    Bob
     
  3. readmore

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    Pick a verse out of the text at random, ignore the surrounding verses, come up with a single meaning for said verse, and use this meaning to conform your understanding of the rest of the parts of Scripture that speak on the same subject.
     
  4. readmore

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    Just kidding. In addition to Bob's suggestions:
    • Pay attention to the genre (prophetic, wisdom, historical, etc.)
    • Figure out who the audience is (Gentile? Jew? Christian? Etc.)
    • Historical context
    • Logical context of surrounding verses
     
  5. Joseph M. Smith

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    Consider what the tradition of interpretation surrounding that material says. It will not be unanimous, of course, but you can generally weed out interpretations that start with an a priori assumption.
     
  6. Pastor_Bob

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    The three C's of Biblical Interpretation:
    Context
    Context
    Context
     
  7. Dr. L.T. Ketchum

    Dr. L.T. Ketchum
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    The simplest Hermeneutical statement is that theology must result from a Grammatico/Historical/Cultural interpretation. The application of the rules of Biblical interpretation is known as exegesis.

    Exegesis; the application of the laws of interpretation to arrive at the exact concept or idea God intends to convey. (Exegesis makes an analysis. Theology correlates these analyses. Exegesis reveals the meanings of text. Theology interrelates those meanings.)

    The Basic Rules of Biblical Interpretation

    I do not want to put numbers on these rules of Scripture interpretation less, through that means, we emphasize one of these rules above the other. They are each equally important and each must be used to guide the other. Together they formulate a system of checks and balances to insure that we arrive at God’s intended meaning of what He says in His Word.

    ØThe Law of Contradiction

    Since God is immutable, He must be consistent in the revelation of Himself and in the revelation of truth.Any conclusive concept or idea that is contradictory to another concept or idea must be rejected as in error or a misinterpretation because God is consistent in truth (I John 2:21, II Timothy 2:13 and Titus 1:2). Since all truth interrelates, all systematizing of truth must be congruous (in harmony).

    ØScripture Interprets Scripture

    Sola Scriptura means the Bible alone. We should be very careful to avoid philosophical methods. Therefore, we must reject the concept of reason, human logic, higher reason or higher criticism such as relativism or existentialism, as means of understanding what God has said (I Corinthians 2:9).

    Read I Corinthians 2:9-13.

    Instead of human logic or rationalism, we must rely solely upon the Spirit of God to enlighten (illuminate) our understanding of the Scriptures both in its parts and as a whole. That does not mean that our conclusions should be illogical, alogical, or irrational. God does intend for us to use the minds He gave us. We should be extremely careful that all of our ideas and understanding come solely from Scripture and that we do not add to or take from what God’s Word says (Deuteronomy 4:2).

    Read II Peter 1:19-21.

    God has not intended that the Scriptures be understood only by a group of educated elitists. God said what He said in simple language and intended that language to be understood by anyone through the illumination of His Spirit. This means we must read the Scriptures literally. Literal: normal, plain, or literal: since it is God Who seeks to communicate with man, and not confuse man, it is assumed and presupposed that He would do so in the normal, plain, and simplest way of communication, not with hidden, mystical meanings (allegories).

    ØSeek the Plain, Literal Meaning of a Text

    A simple rule has been, “When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense.” This refers to the primary, ordinary and literal meaning of words. In other words, we should not make words say more than what they say (primary). We should see words in the way everyday people of the time (historical context) would have understood them (ordinary). We should not give allegorical, metaphorical or parabolic meaning to words unless we are directed by the text to do so (literal).

    ØText Out of Context is Pretext

    The Bible is a book of 66 individual books. Each book comes with its own purpose and context. However, each book lies within the unity of the larger context of the whole. The Bible is a book of unified Truth. Although we often see it in parts and divisions of Truth, as a whole it reveals a unified Godhead. Therefore, the historical context must be taken in consideration with the grammatical context. What is the overall message the writer is talking about? Word meanings certainly determine context, but we should carefully consider how the context affects the meaning of words. That context often determines the meaning of words. We should never interpret a word in a way that contradicts that context.

    Unfortunately, failure in maintaining the context of a book or the whole Bible is a common failure in the verse-by-verse exposition of a particular book of Scripture. There is a tendency to fractionalize the Word of God and take verses out of context in expositional preaching and Bible study. In order to avoid taking a verse out of context, the exegete must first read the whole book and determine the main theme of the book finding key verses. Then, the book can be broken down into subcategories of that main theme of the book. This is known as outlining. Each verse must carefully be viewed through the lens of the main theme (context) of the whole book and, ultimately, of the context of the whole Bible because the Bible is harmonious truth. The harmony of the Bible simply means that each book is connected as a Choir to all other books, none of which can be out of harmony with the others if harmony is going to be achieved. To take any verse or book out of context will destroy the harmony of the Choir.
    In Ephesians 4:13, God speaks of “the faith” as a “unity.” “The faith” is the all-encompassing teaching of the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) from cover to cover; every “jot and tittle” (Matthew 5:18). The believer keeps “the faith” (II Timothy 4:7) when he maintains the Bible’s unity in teaching and practice.

    Read Ephesians 4:3-6 & 11-13.

    History, Culture and Dispensations

    Word meanings change down through the years. Cultures change. Dispensations change. In various parts of the world and at different times, cultures were/are radically different from one another. If we are going to understand what God is saying in a given point of history, we must understand that history and the culture of the time of the writing of that book of the Bible. This often requires a great deal of research and effort. What God said in any given book was not difficult to understand by the people of the time and culture to which it was addressed.

    The operations (dispensations) of God change, which in turn changes the way God’s people are governed. There are a number of instances where understanding these dispensational transitions are critical to understanding the meaning of a particular portion of Scripture. One example is Christ’s statement regarding John the Baptist.
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    The Law of First Mention

    Often people give meaning to words that are not consistent with God’s original use (especially readers that begin reading the Bible without Old Testament foundations of understanding). The Law of First Mention understands that every doctrine of Scripture in its simplest form finds its origin in the book of Genesis. The Law of First Mention requires the exegete to begin with the first mention of any doctrine in the Bible to discover the fundamental meaning inherent in that first occurrence. Although later occurrences may add clarity, meaning, definition or extension, the later occurrences will never change the original meaning to be different from the original intent. The original meaning is always present within the later occurrence. The fundamental truth of the original occurrence will always be the dominant meaning. The doctrine may expand in clarity and definition, but it will never change in that God does not change.

    ØThe Law of Recurrence

    The Law of Recurrence is an inseparable partner to the Law of First Mention. Often in the Bible, we find a new historical account of something previously revealed in Scripture. The repetition of such an account may give added details that the previous account did not provide. Each mention of such historical events, doctrines or word use must be carefully researched to discover the context and if added details are provided. This is also known as an inductive methodology (not to be confused with deductive/inductive logic). An accurate understanding will come when we gather all the Scriptural evidences to a particular subject or doctrine. This process is what defines a doctrine and what allows the exegete to become dogmatic about any given subject or doctrine. An inductive methodology reasons from parts to the whole; from particulars to the general; a conclusion is drawn from the weight of all the evidence.

    An inductive methodology is primary to avoiding eisegesis. Systematic Theologies are conclusive and dogmatic statements based upon the weight of Scriptural evidences arrived at through the inductive exegesis of every Bible text relating to that theological statement. This is categorically different than Proof Texting or a deductive methodology.
     
  8. Ed Edwards

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    The Questions with the most answers in the Bible make the better Doctrines.


    What is the Name of the Satan (the accuser)?

    1. Lucifer, if you misunderstand some translations of Isaiah 14:12
    2. they ain't no second answer
    "Satan's name is 'Luciver' " makes a poor doctrine

    What is a picture of individual salvation?
    1. being saved (as from eternal damnation)
    2. being saved (as from the wages of sin: second death)
    3. being saved (as from eternal damnation)
    4. being born again
    5. being born into the Kingdom of God
    6. becoming part of the body of Christ
    7. becoming part of the Bride of Christ
    8. filled with the Holy Spirit

    (this list goes on and on, I'm sure you see my point.)
    our Personal salvation by Messiah Jesus is important to God; God put it lots of places in the Bible.
     
  9. Pastor_Bob

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    Interesting thought. It begs the question, how many answers beget a doctrine?
     
  10. Ed Edwards

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    Good Post -- Sir Doctor Lance T. Ketchum! Actual applicable words of wisdom are rare.
     
  11. TCGreek

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    You beat me to it!

    Context! Context! Context!

    Expansion of the three C's: Cultural-Historical-Grammatical context.
     
  12. BobRyan

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  13. targus

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    Speaking of inconvenient details...

    I'm still hoping that you will provide me with the Scriptural support that justifies your denominations acceptance of abortion under select circumstances.

    I'm hoping that biblical interpretation isn't just an academic exercise for SDA's.
     
  14. CarpentersApprentice

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    Who are you thinking of here?

    CA
     
  15. tinytim

    tinytim
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    Here is my system and a worksheet to go along with it.. feel free to use it as you want..
    The 7 steps to understanding the Bible


    In order to properly apply a Bible scripture to your life, you have to properly interpret the scripture.

    If you apply the scripture without the proper interpretation it is called eisegesis. This is using the Bible in a wrong way. It is making the Bible say what you want it to say. It is adding to the Bible.
    When you first interpret the scripture, then apply it, it is called exegesis. This is drawing the meaning of the text from the text. This is what we should be doing.

    Here is a list to run through when you approach a scripture. Remember to always pray first. It is God that directs your steps.

    1) Lexical: When you read a passage, do you know what all the words mean? Define all questionable words. Remember, as someone has said before, “If the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense.”

    2) Literary: What section of the Bible are you in? Prophecy, narrative, poetry, letters, history, etc. A proper understanding of each section will help you know when to take the scripture literally, of figuratively. Whether it is to be General doctrine or specific doctrine…

    3) Historical/Cultural: When was the book written? What was going on in history at the time the book was written? What did this passage mean to the original readers?

    4) Theological: What are the other scriptures in the Bible that deal with the same subject as this scripture? Imagine all the writers of the scripture sitting around a table discussing this scripture, what would they say?

    5) Contextual: Look at the scriptures surrounding this scripture, in what context is the verse written in?

    6) Orthodox: If the meaning of the scripture can be debatable, how has the church interpreted this passage in the past? That may give you an idea. You are not bound to believe someone’s interpretation, but it may give you fresh way to look at the passage.

    AFTER, and ONLY AFTER, you interpret what the passage says:
    If you try to apply a scripture before you understand the meaning behind the scripture you will be guilty of eisegesis (reading your meaning into scripture) The goal of any Bible student should be exegesis (extracting the meaning FROM scripture, and applying it to your life) So, AFTER understanding the meaning of the scripture as the original readers would have understood it, you can then apply it to your situation...

    7) Application: Ask, “What does this mean for me today?” “Why did God put this in the Bible?” “If this wasn’t in the Bible, how would it affect my life?” “What can I get out of this passage that will help me, or help others?”


    Here is a worksheet you can cut and paste to help you work through this process...


    The 7 steps to understanding the Bible


    Worksheet:
    Scripture: ________________________
    Author: ________________________ Date of writing: _________
    Type of writing: (literary style) ___________________________


    Lexical (definitions of words):




    Historical/cultural influences:




    Theological (Other scripture in the Bible that are connected to this passage):




    Context of surrounding scripture:




    Orthodox (What has been the teaching of the church?):




    How does passage this apply to me?
     
  16. Heavenly Pilgrim

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    HP: I sincerely appreciate all the great responses that have been given. I believe we will be able to gain great insight one with another as we go along.
    I want to interject one idea I see as an effective rule at the start that has not been addressed so far that I have seen. If a text proves more than one assertion, or if a text could be seen as to support conflicting ideas, it cannot be used to ‘prove’ either.

    I want to take a verse or so during this exercise later on in the discussion to see if we can illustrate how our ideas of interpretation can be affective tools in our interpreting of the text, and to allow us to stand back and see if in fact we are using all the tools effectively in how we interpret certain verses. This I trust will be a far more beneficial way to look at texts rather than to simply post Scriptures and them argue and debate concerning them from simply our own presuppositions we might in fact be approaching the texts from.


    HP: I do not desire to simply jump to a conclusion as to the ideas of Dr. Ketchum here, but some of what is offered seems to me to be self defeating or contradictory. Some I see as very helpful.
    It is a truth that everyone that approaches Scripture from a philosophical position, either subconsciously or cognately established. It is impossible not to form an interpretation from Scripture without the underpinnings of a philosophical position either morally, intellectually, etc. Take almost any word we learn as a child, or the concepts surrounding words. Consider the word love for instance. There are philosophical ideas held by the individual that guide ones understanding of that word, without which no firm ideas could be deduced from the reading of the word ‘love’ in Scripture. Legion are the concepts that are affected by ones philosophical ideas as to the meaning of words that drive ones understanding of Scripture. Right and wrong, justice, sin and obedience, praise and blame are just a sampling of concepts that are philosophically established that will affect the interpretation of multitudes of texts.
    One of the greatest problems I see In the interpretation of Scripture, is one approaches it without careful consideration of the truths God grants to us even intuitively from childhood up that are God-instilled principles that should not be carelessly set aside, overlooked or ignored in our conclusions as to what is the real meaning of God’s Word in a particular passage. It is from the failure to utilize sound philosophical ideas, formulated upon God-instilled first truths of reason that lie at the very foundation of the error we see so prevalant in the espoused theological ideas floating in and around the church totay. It is when these first truths of reason, and sound philosophical ideas of justice, truth, love, morality etc, granted to us by the guiding light of God instilled first truths of reason are seemingly ignored, and ones man-made, ‘taught’ theological presuppositions are assumed as true without the slightest harmonization of Scriptural truth to intuitive God-instilled truth, that error has flooded the pulpits and the pews of the Church today. We seem so adept and busy at the task of simply regurgitating the errors of the past, that we have little of no time to honestly examine the driving philosophical underpinnings of our theology, falsely assuming that we are approaching truth ‘sola-scriptura’ when in reality nothing is farther from the truth.

    Dr. Ketchum speaks of utilizing “Grammatico/Historical/Cultural” notions and then states that we need to be “very careful to avoid philosophical methods.” Is the Dr. asserting that one can utilize these methods void of philosophy? To assume that was even possible is beyond any scope of sound logic or reasoning. Truth in such a case would be demeaned to ones personal bias however it was established, whether or not it was based in strict accordance to truth or not.

    Sorry Dr. Ketchum, your post is not consistent to me concerning these issues as written. Possibly you could tell us how one can approach truth, either Scripturally, histotically, grammatically or otherwise apprt from ideas of philosophy being at the very core of those issues.

    There was a day and time that much care was given in out theological schools to the study of intellectual and moral philosophy. It is apparent that the need to return to those endeavors is sorely needed in our present schools of higher learning.
     
    #16 Heavenly Pilgrim, Feb 16, 2008
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 16, 2008
  17. Heavenly Pilgrim

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    TinyTim. an excellent post as I read through it quickly.:thumbs: I want to expand upon it with the ideas of others. It is very well organized in an easy to understand format.

    My question to the reader: Can or will anyone on this list honestly be willing to approach their favorite proof text for a given theological notion using your heplful guide without the insertion of any well established theological dogmas presuppositions driving their forgone conclusion concerning the text?

    Before I give the text that I see as the prominent example of interpretive abuse, and see how many their are on the list that would be willing to apply these rules as fairly as they can upon a text, I want to make for certain that we have all the basic sound concepts of Scriptural interpretation nailed down.

    TinyTim, (and all others of course,) can you see any concepts from reading the posts of others that might be added to your process and or rules that need to be added without simply overlapping or restating one you have already given? Can we work from the list TinyTim gave us and add to it as we see the need?
     
  18. TCGreek

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    I like the sound of the challenge put before us. Let's roll!
     
  19. Heavenly Pilgrim

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    HP: Here are Rules of Biblical Interpretation of a godly man used mightily of the Lord in days gone past.

    1.) Different passages must be so interpreted, if they can be, as not to contradict each other.
    (2.) Language is to be interpreted according to the subject matter of discourse.
    (3.) Respect is always to be had to the general scope and design of the speaker or writer.
    (4.) Texts that are consistent with either theory, prove neither.
    (5.) Language is to be so interpreted, if it can be, as not to conflict with sound philosophy, matters of fact, the nature of things, or immutable justice.

    Pay close attention to 1, 4, and 5. I believe we need to incorporate them somehow into the list Tiny Tim gave. What does everyone else think? Would they overlap any already on the list? Should we restate or simply add them, or is their opposition to adding them for any reason?
     
    #19 Heavenly Pilgrim, Feb 16, 2008
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 16, 2008
  20. tinytim

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    Can we practice on James 5:14-15
    (14)
    Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:
    (15) And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.

    I have been struggling with this one lately...
    And would like your imput...
    And HP, I like your list of 5 rules ....

    I may not be on much until Monday, except for drivebys, because I have so much to do for tomorrow...

    But let's examine this passage if you all are willing to, to practice these approaches....

    I have came to it with a cultural bias, and I am trying to lose that bias... I will not reveal what it is until we have hashed, and rehashed...

    Thanks
     

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