Skip navigation.

Basic Bible Doctrine (Part 05) - Bible Interpretation (Part 2)


3. The rules of Bible interpretation.
A. There are no contradictions in the Bible.
i. When prophets prophesied, they had to do it according to the proportion of faith (Rom 12:6).
a. According adv. - According to. a. In a manner agreeing with, consistent with, or answering to; agreeably to.
b. Proportion - 1. A portion or part in its relation to the whole; a comparative part, a share; sometimes simply, a portion, division, part.
c. In other words, the prophecy given by a prophet which was a portion or part of the scripture (the faith) had to agree and be consistent with the whole of scripture; it could not be in contradiction with what was already given.
ii. Therefore, no portion of scripture should be interpreted to the exclusion of the teaching of the rest of the body of scripture (2Pe 1:20).
a. Prophecy - 1. The action, function, or faculty of a prophet; divinely inspired utterance or discourse; spec. in Christian theology, utterance flowing from the revelation and impulse of the Holy Spirit.
b. Private - 1. Withdrawn or separated from the public body
c. Interpretation - 1. a. The action of interpreting or explaining; explanation, exposition.
iii. Those who are unlearned and unstable wrest some scriptures which are hard to be understood (2Pe 3:16).
a. Wrest - 1. trans. To subject (something) to a twisting movement; to turn or twist.
b. They twist and turn the verse(s) of scripture they don't understand.
c. That verse then doesn't fit with the rest of scripture it is a part of because it has been twisted out of place.
d. In other words, they have privately interpreted the verse in a manner not agreeing with the whole of the faith.
B. The words of scripture should be read distinctly and primary meanings should normally be used. The pattern is shown in (Neh 8:8).
i. One key ingredient that was present in the people which enabled them to understand the reading of the law was that they were attentive unto the reading (Neh 8:3).
a. Attentive - 1. a. Steadily applying one's mind, observant faculties, or energies; giving or evincing careful consideration; intent, heedful, observant.
b. Steadily - In a steady manner (see senses of the adj.); firmly, unwaveringly, steadfastly, uniformly, etc.
c. If we are to understand the Bible, we must apply our hearts to understanding (Pro 2:2; 22:17; 23:12).
d. Apply - II. To bring oneself into close practical contact with a pursuit. 13. To give or devote (any faculty) assiduously to some pursuit, or to do something.
e. God bids us to attend to His words (Pro 4:20).
f. Attend - I. To direct the ears, mind, energies to anything. 1. To turn one's ear to, listen to.
ii. They read in the book of the law of God (Neh 8:8).
a. They read not in the Talmud.
b. They read not in the commentaries.
c. They read not in the annals of Church Tradition.
d. They read not in the writings of the "Church Fathers".
iii. They read in the book of the law of God distinctly (Neh 8:8).
a. Distinctly - 1. In a distinct or separate manner; separately, individually, severally.
b. Every word of God is pure (Pro 30:5) and we should live on each one of them (Mat 4:4).
iv. They read in the book of the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense (Neh 8:8).
a. Sense - III. Meaning, signification. 19. a. The meaning or signification of a word or phrase; also, any one of the different meanings of a word, or that which it bears in a particular collocation or context.
b. They didn't give a sense or one of the senses; they gave the sense.
c. In other words, they gave the meaning of the word under consideration.
d. Notice how the definition of sense primarily is "the meaning...of a word".
e. Secondly, it can refer to "any one of the different meanings of a word, or that which it bears in a particular collation or context".
f. "The meaning" of a word would be the original meaning of a word when it came into existence (the primary definition in the dictionary).
g. The primary definition is therefore the meaning or the sense of a word.
h. In special cases, the sense of a word can be one of the different meanings of a word (a secondary meaning) if the context makes it obvious that "the meaning" (the primary definition) of the word is not being used.
i. A secondary meaning can be used when:
1) To use the primary meaning would cause a contradiction or an absurdity.
A. Example: It's absurd to conclude that Paul gave birth (1. The bearing of offspring. Viewed as an act of the mother: a. Bringing forth, giving birth.) to the Galatians (Gal 4:19).
B. Example: It's absurd to conclude that those who belong to Christ are Abraham's ovules of a plant (primary definition of seed) (Gal 3:29).
2) The context makes it obvious that a secondary sense is being used.
A. Example: We are told to be "Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye." (Col 3:13)
B. The primary definition of "forgive" is (1. trans. To give, grant.).
C. The primary definition doesn't create a contradiction or an absurdity, but it clearly doesn't fit in the context of the verse.
D. The context shows that this forgiving is to be according to what Christ did for us.
a. A parallel text says "forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you" (Eph 4:32).
b. God forgave our sins for Christ's sake by pardoning them and by not retaining his anger against us (Mic 7:18).
c. Pardon - 1. trans. To remit or condone (something due, a duty, obligation, debt, fine, or penalty).
d. This matches a secondary definition of forgive (3. To remit (a debt); to give up resentment or claim to requital for, pardon (an offence).)
e. Note: Definition #3 is also the first definition in OED that was used in 1611.
E. By examining the context and comparing parallel texts in their primary meanings, we have found the applicable secondary meaning of the word in question.
3) The Bible itself states that a secondary meaning is to be used in a given verse.
A. Example: Jesus said that Lazarus was sleeping (Joh 11:11).
B. The disciples assumed Jesus was using "sleep" in its primary meaning (1. a. The unconscious state or condition regularly and naturally assumed by man and animals, during which the activity of the nervous system is almost or entirely suspended, and recuperation of its powers takes place; slumber, repose.) (Joh 11:12).
C. Jesus, though, was using a secondary meaning (4. fig. a. The repose of death.) (Joh 11:13).
D. Jesus then plainly states in primary meanings that Lazarus was dead (1. That has ceased to live; deprived of life; in that state in which the vital functions and powers have come to an end, and are incapable of being restored) (Joh 11:14).
E. This is an obvious case where a secondary meaning is to be used.
4) In such cases as the above stated, a parallel verse in which primary meanings are used should be compared with the verse under consideration to see which secondary meaning for the given word should be used. In such a case, one should not simply choose a secondary meaning at random or one that makes the verse say what one wants it to.
A. Example: Gal 3:29 says that "if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed".
B. The primary definition of seed is: 1. a. That which is or may be sown; the ovules of a plant or plants.
C. To say that Christ's children are seeds of plants is absurd.
D. A secondary meaning must be chosen based on the primary meanings of a parallel verse.
E. In a parallel verse, Gal 3:7 states - "Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham."
F. The primary definition of children is: plural of child.
G. The primary definition of child is: II. As correlative to parent. The offspring, male or female, of human parents; a son or daughter.
H. We see then that the fifth definition of seed should be used because it matches the primary definition of children in the parallel text Gal 3:7.
I. Seed - 5. Offspring, progeny. Now rare exc. in Biblical phraseology.
v. They read in the book of the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading. (Neh 8:8).
a. The result of studying the Bible with this method was that they caused them to understand.
b. The result of the people understanding the words of God was great mirth (Neh 8:12).
C. Compare spiritual things with spiritual.
i. The Bible is not written systematically like other books (ex: there is not a chapter on salvation and a chapter on baptism, etc).
ii. Any given doctrine in the Bible is given piecemeal, here a little, and there a little (Isa 28:10).
a. This is how God teaches us knowledge and makes us to understand doctrine (Isa 28:9).
b. Those who are to learn this way must be weaned from the milk and matured enough for strong meat (Isa 28:9 c/w Heb 5:11-14 c/w 1Co 3:1-3).
c. Precept must be upon precept, and line must be upon line (one doctrine builds upon the foundation of another) (Isa 28:10).
d. The information is here a little, and there a little.
iii. It is for this reason that the Holy Ghosts teaches us by comparing spiritual things with spiritual (1Co 2:13).
D. Interpret the Old Testament in light of the New Testament, not vise versa.
i. The New Testament, the word of the apostles, is a more sure word of prophecy (2Pe 1:19).
a. It is as a light that shines in the dark places of the Old Testament.
b. We would do well if we take heed to this.
ii. The New Testament is a better testament (Heb 7:22).
iii. The New Testament is characterized by great plainness of speech in contradistinction to the Old Testament which was vailed (2Co 3:12-13).
a. The New Testament is not obscure, but is to be understood as it is written (2Co 1:13).
b. It is meant to be understood simply by reading it and when we do, we can understand the mystery which is therein revealed (Eph 3:3-4).
iv. Therefore the O.T. should be interpreted with the apostles' interpretation in the N.T. For example: Act 15:14-17 should be used to interpret Amo 9:11-12 and not vise versa.
E. Distinguish proof texts from reference texts.
i. A proof text expressly states a point of doctrine.
a. An example of a proof text would be: Joh 5:24.
b. Joh 5:24 states that a person who presently believes the gospel presently has everlasting life and his passing from death unto life happened prior to that (is passed is present perfect tense - something that happened in the past and continues into the present).
ii. A reference text refers to a point of doctrine but does not expressly define it. The point must be proved elsewhere.
a. An example of a reference text would be: Rom 10:13.
b. Rom 10:13 states that a person who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. Since the bible speaks of more than one type of salvation, the question then needs to be asked, "Saved from what?”. The text doesn't say what type of salvation is being spoken of, it merely refers to a salvation and would need compared with other texts to define what it is.
F. Observe the argument from silence.
i. The argument from silence is summed up by stating that the Bible doesn't teach what it doesn't teach.
ii. If the bible specifies something, then anything which adds to it or takes away from it is wrong. For example:
a. The law of Moses specified that the priesthood would be of the tribe of Levi (Heb 7:5).
b. Moses said nothing about any other tribe including Judah having the priesthood (Heb 7:14).
c. Therefore because Moses said that the priesthood would be of the tribe of Levi, that means that it could not be from any other tribe.
d. This is the argument from silence: Moses didn't need to say that Judah didn't have or couldn't have the priesthood, he only had to say that Levi had it.
e. If therefore Jesus obtained the priesthood being of the tribe of Judah, the law had to have changed, because it would have been unlawful for Him to be a priest under the law of Moses (Heb 7:11-12).
4. Some practical tips for studying the Bible.
A. Get a good dictionary.
i. The Oxford English Dictionary is the standard of the English language.
a. The Compact Edition of the OED in two volumes can be purchased on Amazon for under $60 used ($600 new).
b. The CD-ROM version of the OED can be purchased on Amazon for around $205. I would highly recommend this for any serious Bible student.
ii. The Webster's 1828 dictionary is also a very good dictionary.
a. It can be found new on Amazon for about $65.
b. There are also free apps for it on the iPhone.
B. Get a Strong's concordance of the Bible.
i. This will aid you in looking at all the usages of a given word in the Bible.
ii. It can be a helpful tool to help you compare spiritual things with spiritual by looking up where else in the Bible a word in a given verse is used.
iii. It will also give the underlying Greek or Hebrew words.
C. Get a good Bible program like E-Sword.
i. This is a free download on the internet and they now have an iPhone app.
ii. In addition to searching for the usages of an individual word, you can search for verses that contain several words or a specific phrase.
iii. You can download other Bible versions including versions previous to the KJV and even the Textus Receptus and the Westcott-Hort Greek NTs to compare to show the origins of the corruptions in the modern Bible versions.
iv. You can also download all the popular commentaries (Matthew Henry, Gill, etc.).
D. Make your own cross-reference Bible by writing down parallel verses next to corresponding verses in your Bible's margins when you find them in your studies or hear them in sermons. Make sure to get a micron felt tip pen.
E. Make use of highlighters in your bible to highlight key verses. You might also want to use different colored highlighters for a specific doctrine or theme.
F. Consider investing in a high quality wide-margin Bible like a Cambridge.

Basic Bible Doctrine.PDF1.11 MB