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Interpreting Scripture

Sixteen Simple Rules to Interpreting Scripture

Interpreting scripture doesn’t have to be hard. If you are a real believer then you have God’s Holy Spirit living inside you to teach you and to guide you, but be careful….there are also evil, demonic spirits that would love to feed you subtle lies in place of the truth in order to lead you and others astray.
“Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth”

Here are sixteen rules to help you “rightly divide the Word of Truth”…

1. Before you begin reading your Bible, pray that the Holy Spirit would teach you.
This is imperative, no Holy Spirit, no understanding.

2. Recognize what the Bible is.
It is the written record of God revealing Himself in history. It teaches us who He is, what He is like, who we are, what we are like and what He expects of us. It is written by God Himself through man. It is inerrant, infallible and perfect.

3. Recognize you bring presuppositions to the table.
It is unlikely you are going to lose your pre-understandings, just recognize you have them and resist the desire to impose them on Scripture.
(Pre-suppositions include: democracy, feminism,individualism, tolerance, entitlement, ethnicity, gender, economic status,education.)

4. Identify what type of genre (literature) you are reading:
Historical Narrative(historical events from God’s perspective), Poetry and Songs (expressions of emotion to God),
Legal Writings (teach God’s high moral standard and His view of justice, principles for government, safety, health and society), Wisdom Sayings(God’s view of wisdom, not man’s),
Prophecy (God’s message to a particular group or all humanity), Teachings of Jesus (truth from Jesus concerning the nature and character of God, heaven, what God expects of us and how Jesus fulfills OT prophecies),
Parables (stories with a punch line…please note, there is only ONE major message per parable and parables are not perfect analogies for other doctrinal issues),
Letters (written with a clear purpose to a well defined audience, intended to teach, rebuke, correct, praise or encourage), Apocalyptic (future end-times, Revelation and parts of Ezekiel and Daniel).

5. Understand Historical Context.
When, why and to whom was this book written.Keep in mind the middle-eastern context and do not make 20th century assumptions.

6. Understand Literary Context.
What verse comes before, after? What is the immediate context? What is the book about? What event led up to this passage?

7. It is all literal.
There are no allegories. Jesus quoted Scripture as if it was historical and factual, not allegorical…so should we.

8. Let Scripture interpret Scripture.
Compare your interpretations with other clear teaching. God does not contradict Himself.

9. Grammar, Words and Syntax.
Use Bible dictionaries and commentaries to help you understand the meanings of words, sentence structure, verb tenses and syntax (how the sentence is constructed). Now don’t you wish you had paid attention in grammar class?

10. Interpret unclear verses in light of clear verses.

11. Literal interpretation directs symbolism, parables and poetry. Do not create doctrine from symbolic or parabolic passages that contradict clear teachings. Yes,we can learn theology from these types of passages, but not if they are not supported by other clear verses.

12. Understand “progressive revelation.
” God’s message has been revealed in stages. Remember that many messages were given to a certain people at a certain time fora certain reason.
Be careful to not respond to the wrong message. For instance,God told David to go slay a neighboring country. We would not take that verse and attack Canada.
As a GENERAL rule, there are some general truths expressed in the OT, but if doctrinal teachings are not re-iterated in the NT, be careful not to formulate theology based on an OT writing.

13. Meanings.
We should understand a word by the way it is used in a sentence, a sentence by the way it is used in a paragraph, a paragraph by the way it is used in a chapter, a chapter by the way it is used in a book. Hold on, there’s more.

Understand a book by comparing it with the same author, books by comparing them with other books in the same Testament, and a Testament with the other Testament. That is how you interpret Scripture with Scripture.

14. Author’s intent.
What is the author’s meaning? Do not read into it but read out ofit. Don’t ask, “What does this verse say to me?”. Instead ask, “What does this verse say and how does it APPLY to me?”

15. Distinguish cultural customs from transcultural principles.
A. Is the teaching culture bound (eating meat offered to idols) or of a permanent nature?
B. Is there a trans-cultural principle easily observed? (Greet with a kiss vs. handshake)
C. Is the custom reported or taught in Scripture (parents arranging marriages).

16. Treat the Gospels as a bridge between the Testaments.
Some practices and teachings are transitional.

These 16 rules for interpreting scripture were used by permission from

You can also read another solidly Biblical perspective on how to approach reading scripture and interpreting scripture at this site built by a Christian friend in the Biblical city of Thessalonica.

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