BIBLICAL HERMENEUTICS: How to study and interpret the Bible
1. Basic Principles
- The Bible is a divine in origin, and because of our limited human ability to understand spiritual concepts, prayer is an absolute necessity as we study the Bible. Ask God to open your mind to understand His word (Luke 24:45).
- The Bible is also a human book and, to a degree, must be interpreted like any book.
2. Interpret the Bible literally.
- Literal – means that we take the words for what they mean in the normal, or plain sense. (i.e. use common sense folks)
- Literal doesn’t mean that symbolism is rejected. Certainly all biblical text has a point, or literal truth, but the words being used to describe the truth may not be meant to be taken literally (i.e. poetry).
3. Use the Grammatical-Historical method.
- Grammatical – means we follow the grammatical rules of literature; including studying the word meanings in their original language (OT: Hebrew; NT: Greek).
- Historical – means we seek with diligence to determine the historical background and context before rendering an interpretation. (No revisionist history)
- Ask the right questions of the text (Jer 29:13).
- Keep the paragraph, chapter, and book IN CONTEXT!
- Eisegesis – Reading our own meaning into the passage due to our bias and subjectivity. (Do NOT do this)
- Exegesis – Learn what the text itself is saying, and then draw the meaning out of the passage. (Do this)
- Compare scripture with scripture.
- Allow the clear passages in the Bible to interpret the less clear ones.
- God’s word can never contradict itself. If passages appear to contradict, ask:
- Am I keeping both passages in context?
- Are the passages, in fact, complementary?
4. Be mindful of the following literary styles used in Scripture:
- Narrative: Recorded stories of people, nations and events
- Laws: God’s requirements for the nation of Israel
- Genealogies: List of names of generations of people
- Poetry: A rhyming of thoughts and ideas
- Proverbs: Practical advise for daily living
- Prophecy: Proclamation of future events (some have already been fulfilled and some are yet to be fulfilled)
- Apocalyptic prophecy: Prophecy that is highly symbolic
- Letters: The instructional writings of New Testament apostles
5. Four Stages of Biblical Interpretation.
- Do I understand all the facts in this passage?
- Do I know the context before and after the passage?
- Do I know the meaning of all the words?
- Do I understand the general flow of the discussion?
- Do I understand the historical and cultural background?
- What did the author mean in his own historic setting?
- What does the passage actually say?
- Does the context help define the meaning of the passage?
- Is the passage relevant in today’s culture?
- Why did God allow these events/circumstances to be recorded long ago for me to read today? (Rom 15:4; 1 Cor 10:11)
- How can I apply what I have learned to my own life?
- How will applying what I learned to my life glorify God?
6. Special Challenges to consider when interpreting the Bible.
- Hyperbole – An exaggeration used for effect – an overstatement.
- Example: “I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse!”
- Metaphor – A simile makes a comparison by using words such as “like”–“life is like a circus.” A metaphor is a similar comparison, except that it omits the word “like”
- ” I am the door.” (John 10:9)
- ” This is My body.” (Luke 22:19)
- Anthropomorphism – Describes non-human objects as though they have human characteristics.
- Do rivers have hands to clap or do hills sing for joy? (Ps 98:8)
- Does God have physical eyes (Ps 33:18), or feathers and wings (Ps 91:4), when He has revealed that He is spirit? (John 4:24)
- Parable – A story take from everyday life to teach a main point. The details are illustrative, but not the direct teaching of the parable.
- In contrast, an allegory is a totally made-up story. The details may be significant.
- Prophecy – Telling history in advance.
- ¼ of the Bible is prophecy!
- The standard of fulfillment is 100% accuracy, 100% of the time. Some OT prophecy had a partial fulfillment in the OT with a complete fulfillment later in the New Testament.
- Some prophecy is still yet future.
- Poetry – Hebrew poetry expresses itself by parallelism, and not by rhythm or rhyme.
- Two phrases are joined so that the second repeats the first with different words; Or
- The second states the opposite of the first; Or
- The second adds a new thought to the first.
- Sometimes the couplet will be arranged with the second phrase reversing the order of the first.
- Apocalyptic – Type of literature that uses symbolism to describe literal material and spiritual realities using figurative language (i.e. Revelation).