Doctrine of Interpretation

July 18, 2010

7 Principles of Interpretation


“It is properly required of the theologian {whether with a small ‘t’ or capital ‘T’} that he both understand and expound the Scriptures.  This is the distinctive field in which he serves.”

“The unrevoked anathema which rests upon all who pervert the Gospel of divine grace {Gal. 1:8-9} may be deemed, to some degree, to be true concerning the misrepresentation of all divine revelation.  In view of” this fact, “…the uncompromising student will do well to give indefatigable study to the Sacred Text and demand of himself that right relation to God which insures the priceless divine guidance into all Truth {spirituality}.  The conclusions of other men should be given due respect.  It is the student’s task,” however, “…to advance these assured results of scholarship beyond the attainments of past generations, striving to be as humble and true as the fathers have been.  2 Timothy 2:15 does enjoin “study” which is the application to, and the investigation of, the text of Scripture itself and not merely the perusal of the writings of other men about the text.  The word ereunao- ‘to search, to examine;’ used six times in the NT… is three times related to an exercise on the part of men by which they examine the Bible with utmost care.”  Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. I, Bibliology, pp. 114-115  {Brackets, parentheses & italics mine.}

Some Methods:

1.  Consider the purpose of the Bible as a whole.  The Bible is not a treatise on natural science or ancient history.  It is an unconditional declaration from God concerning Himself and His works; especially as those works relate to the eternal welfare and destiny of the human race.  That welfare and destiny is centered in the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

2.  Note the distinctive character and message of each book.  Noting the differentiating characteristics of each book is essential, since a vital factor in any particular truth is its place in a certain book, and in the light of that book’s specific message.  E.g., the theme of Philippians is spiritual joy; that of Galatians is Paul’s scathing manifesto against legalism, and against the Judaizers who were undermining his ministry with a gospel of works— Jewish works— for salvation; the theme of 1 Corinthians is carnality, and the problems created by a carnal church in the 1st cent.

3.  Ask to whom a given Scripture is addressed.  An accurate interpretation of any given passage depends often on a distinction being made between its primary and secondary applications.  A primary application is made when a given passage is recognized as pertaining directly to those to whom it was addressed.  A secondary application is made when a given passage is recognized as not applying directly to a certain person or class of people, but its moral and spiritual principles are appropriated by them.  False doctrines and theological systems are sustained more by their confusion of primary and secondary applications of the Word than by any other factor.  No feature of interpretation demands more discernment than this!  The apostle Paul’s plea for ‘diligence’ in 2 Timothy 2:15 is also a warning, for the “Word of Truth” will not be ‘handled accurately’ apart from arduous study.

4.  Consider the immediate context.  The character and scope of the truth under contemplation at any point is to be discovered, primarily, by the surrounding context.  E.g., in 1 Corinthians 9:27 the Greek word adokimos— translated “disqualified,” and meaning- not standing the test— cannot mean loss of salvation in a context which deals only with eternal rewards for Christian service.

5.  Compare all Scripture on any given theme or doctrine.  A correct interpretation will also depend predominantly on an induction being made of all that the Bible presents on a particular subject.  The statement of a doctrine or theme of the Word of God will be true to the mind of God only as all He has said on that theme is brought into view.  The necessity of a full and comprehensive induction is indicated when the principle of progressive revelation is acknowledged.

6.  Ascertain the exact meaning of the determinative words in the text.  A knowledge of the original languages can— not necessarily does— lead to more precise conclusions and accurate insight into what a difficult passage teaches.  The study of both Hebrew and Greek, to the extent that worthwhile exegesis is undertaken, is paramount, and most definitely belongs to the preparation of the Bible expositor.  To be utterly dependent on the findings of other men is somewhat discouraging since the requisite authority in communication is lacking.

7.  Avoid personal prejudice and preconceptions.  To twist or mold the Bible to make it conform to one’s preconceived notions is no less than “adulterating the word of God”— 2 Corinthians 4:2— and is worthy of judgment from Him whose Word has been abused and distorted.  At no point is it more important to exercise the conscience and seek the mind of God than when delving into the precise meaning of the Word and then teaching those findings to others.



In his account of the risen Lord’s walk to Emmaus Luke, in 24:27 of his Gospel, informs us that Jesus reproved the disheartened disciples for not believing what the prophets had spoken.  He says, “And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.”  “Explained” is the Greek verb diermhneu/w (diermeneuo), from dia- ‘through {used intensively},’ and hermeneuo- ‘explain, interpret.’  Hence, it means- interpret fully; unfold the meaning of what is said, explain or expound.  The root of this word is Hermes- ‘herald of the gods.’  Hermes was the Greek name of the pagan god known to the Romans as Mercurius or Mercury.  Hermes was the god of science, invention, eloquence, speech, writing, and art.  It was believed that Hermes was the one who brought the messages of the gods to the mortals.  From this family of words comes the English ‘hermeneutics,’ the science of interpretation.

“Hermeneutics is the science and art of Biblical interpretation.  It is a science because it is guided by rules within a system; it is an art because the application of the rules is by skill, and not by mechanical imitation.  …In that conservative Protestantism takes only the Bible as authoritative, there is no secondary means of making clear the meaning of the Bible.  Therefore, we know what God has said by the faithful and accurate interpretation of the Scriptures.”  Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, p. 1

“This is the primary and basic need of hermeneutics: to ascertain what God has said in Sacred Scripture; to determine the meaning of the Word of God.  …In every one of those places where our interpretation is at fault, we have made substitution of the voice of man for the voice of God.”  ibid., p. 2

2 Peter 1:20 says, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is {a matter} of one’s own interpretation.”

This v. tells us that there is only one interpretation of any passage of Scripture, and that is the Bible’s own interpretation.  Christians are confused today about Biblical interpretation in part because they do not know what the word “interpretation” means.  In English, “interpret” can be defined in at least two ways.  In its oldest and primary sense, “interpret” means “to explain or tell the meaning of; to make understandable.”  In a secondary sense it means “to give one’s own conception of; to conceive in the light of individual belief, judgment or circumstance.”

In Bible study, as in most of life, the first sense of this word applies.  The plain, literal interpretation of anything spoken or written is what the speaker or writer means by what he says; it is not what the listener or reader thinks or feels about the message he receives.  E.g., when an air traffic controller gives landing instructions to the pilot of an approaching aircraft, there is only one ‘interpretation’ of his directions that matters.  The pilot has a vested interest in making sure that he understands exactly what the controller meant by what he said.

The statement, “There are many ways to interpret this,” is as meaningless— and potentially dangerous— to the student of the Word as it is to the pilot of the airplane.  The only interpretation the pilot is after is the controller’s; the only interpretation the Bible student is after is God’s.

The first goal of Bible study is to determine what God meant by what He spoke through Scripture.  This is Biblical interpretation.

“No man has a right to say, as some are in the habit of saying, the Spirit tells me that such and such is the meaning of… a passage.  How is he assured that it is the Holy Spirit, and that it is not a spirit of delusion, except from the evidence that the interpretation is the legitimate meaning of the words?”  Alexander Carson, Examination of the Principles of Biblical Interpretation, p. 23

“It is the first business of an interpreter,” said John Calvin, “to let his author say what he does, instead of attributing to him what we think he ought to say.”  That is not so horribly difficult a task as some people imagine.

Biblical interpretation, like mathematics, is an exact science.  We know that 1 + 1 = 2 in every country of the world.  No matter what language the formula is translated into, 1 + 1 = 2.  3500 years ago, 1 + 1 = 2.  The Bible tells us that Moses lived 40 years in the palace of Pharaoh, 40 years in the desert, and 40 years leading the people of Israel through the wilderness, a total of 120 years.  Is it amazing and miraculous that clear back in the time of Moses they were somehow able to add 40 plus 40 plus 40 and come up with 120?  Of course it is not amazing or miraculous; it is mathematics!  No one would dare say of the conclusion that 40 + 40 + 40 = 120, “That’s just your interpretation,” because an absolute science cannot be tampered with.

When we work with the science of hermeneutics, we are working with the only science which deals with something more absolute than mathematics: the Word of God.  Before mathematics was, the Word existed.  Long after mathematics is gone, the Word will still stand {1 Pet. 1:24-25}.  When the rules of systematic Bible study are followed the interpretation of any passage is the same, whether the person studying is living in 21st cent. America or 4th cent. Ethiopia.


“The only way to clear the atmosphere and to determine what is right and wrong, proper and improper, orthodox and heretical, is to give one’s self to a careful study of the science of Biblical hermeneutics.  Otherwise we deal with symptoms, not with causes; we debate about superstructure when we should be debating about foundations.  It is important, therefore, to determine how God’s Word is to be understood that we may know what God has said.  This is the chief and foremost need for hermeneutics.

The second great need for a science of hermeneutics is to bridge the gap between our minds and the minds of the Biblical writers.  …The greater the cultural, historical, and geographical divergences are, the more difficult is the task of interpretation.

The most obvious divergence is that of language.  The Bible was written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.  To formulate rules to bridge this gap is one of the most important tasks of Biblical hermeneutics.  The basic problem at this…” juncture “…is that languages are structurally different.  The English language is analytic in structure, i.e., the sense of a sentence depends largely on word order.

‘The rat ate the cheese’ does not have the same meaning as ‘the cheese ate the rat,’ although the same words are used in both sentences.  Greek is an agglutinative language, and so declines nouns and adjectives, and conjugates verbs.  Hence one can alter the word order of a Greek sentence two or three different ways and still get the same meaning; for meaning is not basically dependent on word order, but on word endings.

There is also a cultural gap between our times and Biblical times which the translator and interpreter must bridge.  …A knowledge of marriage customs, economic practices, military systems, legal systems, agricultural methods, etc., is all very” useful “in the interpretation of Scripture.

The geography of the various Bible lands is,” at times, quite “…instrumental for understanding the Sacred Text.  …References to towns, places, rivers, mountains, plains, lakes and seas all lend a flicker of light to the meaning of the Bible if we will study them with the help of geographical science.

If geography is the scenery of Scripture, history is the plot of Scripture.  Each incident is dependent on a larger historical context for its better understanding.”  Ibid., p. 4-7

Summary:  The two great needs for the science of hermeneutics are:

1.   That we may know clearly and evidently what God has said.

2.   That we may span the linguistical, cultural, geographical, and historical gaps which separate our minds from those of the Biblical writers.

Referring to the men who are gifted and trained to study and interpret the Word of God Dr. Alexander Whyte once said, that the “students of NT exegesis… are the happiest and the most enviable of all men who have been set apart to nothing else but the understanding and the opening up of the hid treasures of God’s Word and God’s Son.”


The science of hermeneutics demands that we approach any study of the Word of God from three perspectives: Isagogically {the historical background and context}; Categorically {the doctrines, i.e., categories of information on a particular subject}; and Exegetically {exegesis deals with the grammar, etymology (derivation of words), and syntax (word order and sentence structure)}.

1.  Isagogics.

Isagogics is a word that has all but disappeared from English language dictionaries.  It is from the Greek preposition eis- ‘into,’ and ago- ‘to lead.’  In English an ‘isagoge’ is an introduction.  Isagogics is defined in Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language as “introductory study; esp., the study of the literary history of the Bible, considered as introductory to the study of Bible interpretation,” and in the 1955 Oxford English Dictionary as “introductory studies, especially that part of theology which is introductory to exegesis.”

Isagogics is the study of the historical and cultural background of Biblical passages.

The Bible must be interpreted in light of the time in which it was written.  All Scripture was written for every believer— 2 Timothy 3:16— but not all Scripture was written to every believer.  If our goal is to understand what the writer wanted his readers to understand then we have to know something about history.

E.g., though the four Gospels are similar, each was written to a different audience for a different purpose.  Matthew wrote primarily for Jews, to present Christ as King; Mark wrote for Romans, to present Christ as Servant; Luke wrote for Greeks {Gentiles}, to prove the humanity of Christ; and John wrote for the world, to prove the Deity of Christ.  Certain words and phrases are used in each which uphold and expound these themes, and different historical conditions are relevant to the study of each book.

Another example is 1 Corinthians 8-10, which cannot be understood apart from some background knowledge of idol worship in Corinth.  The city of Corinth was dominated by the temple of Aphrodite {goddess of love and sex: Greek equivalent of the Babylonian Ishtar and Phoenician Astarte}, where gluttony, drunkenness, and sexual immorality were a regular part of worship.  Most of the Christians in Corinth were raised in this idolatrous system, and some were having a difficult time getting out of it.  In these chapters, Paul is not just talking about meat— for our ascetic vegetarian friends— but about meat offered to idols.

2.        Categories.

A category is, very simply, a specific area of Bible doctrine.  The Bible is one Book, inspired by one Spirit, with one unified message progressively revealed.  To fully understand the Biblical teaching on any subject we must take into consideration all that the Bible has to say on that subject.  We will never have a proper interpretation until we take all the passages on a subject, draw them together, and then examine them individually.  That is contextual, categorical study; it is time-consuming work, but it is absolutely essential for accuracy in teaching.

Our approach to the Word of God must also be dispensational.  God has divided human history into time segments known as ‘ages’ or ‘dispensations.’  E.g., in the Old and New Testaments, the application of faith is different.  It is the same faith, with the same focus on the Messiah— the Person of Jesus Christ— but under the New Covenant of Grace we don’t sacrifice lambs, bulls or goats.  Why?  A dispensational approach to Scripture tells us that the types or pictures represented by animal sacrifice were fulfilled in the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ; rendering them unnecessary and obsolete.  Many of the promises and principles in the Bible are dispensational in character.  Unless we understand this simple fact, and know how to determine which ones apply to us, we will never be able to tap into the power of God.

3.        Exegesis.

Exegesis is a Greek word which means- ‘explanation.’  It is defined in Webster’s New World dictionary as the “explanation, critical analysis, or interpretation of a word, literary passage, etc., especially of the Bible.”  Exegesis comes from the preposition ek- ‘out,’ and hegeomai- ‘lead, guide.’  To exegete is to lead or guide out of a passage what is inherent there.  Exegesis refers to the grammatical study of the Word of God.

This means the study of individual words and of how words are put together in sentences and paragraphs.

Because the Bible is inspired by God the Holy Spirit, every word in the Bible is important.  In the book of Galatians Paul builds an entire doctrine of grace on the fact that one word in a passage in Genesis— seed— is singular rather than plural in the original text.  Exodus 20:13, where we find the command to Israel, “You shall not murder,” is another place where the exact word in the passage matters greatly.  Ratsach is one of ten Hebrew words that mean ‘to kill.’  It is used only of premeditated murder.  Knowing this makes it easier to understand that God did not contradict Himself when He commanded Israel’s leaders and warriors to kill their enemies in military situations.  It is certainly important to be able to go back to the original Hebrew and Greek words in Bible study, and the books and tools are available which make that relatively easy to do.  However, in most cases apparently obscure words can be clarified by studying the immediate context.

Probably the most important rule to remember in Bible study is to always consider the context.  To understand words or phrases, study the sentences which surround them.  To understand a sentence or sentences, study the verses that surround them.  To understand verses and paragraphs, study them in the light of the chapters where they are found.  Think about where they fit in the scheme of the entire book.  All of this helps to shed light on the proper perspective of a particular passage.


The Reformers taught certain principles for Bible study based on what the Bible says about itself.  Let’s look at three of the most important of these principles.

1.        The Bible can be understood.

How would a God of both love and justice communicate?  In a way that we could understand.  God loves us, desires our obedience, and is perfectly fair.  We have to believe that He speaks clearly in His Word and that if there is confusion, it is in us, not in the passage.  So, we use two basic tools when we study: common sense and persistence.  That means we study from the center out, explaining difficult or obscure passages by the light of clearer passages.  It means we look, first and foremost, for the logical explanation or interpretation of a passage; chances are that is the most accurate interpretation.  That also means we look for repetition— of words, of ideas— because we know that if God says something more than once, it’s probably something He wants us to notice.

2.  The Bible is a book of progressive revelation.

A message is being developed in Scripture and it is more fully and clearly developed toward the chronological end than at the beginning.  More about Jesus Christ and salvation is revealed in the NT than in the Old; more about the function of the Church is revealed in the Epistles than in the Gospels; more about the future of the world, mankind, Israel, and Satan, in Revelation than anywhere else.  So, we try to understand OT prophecy in the light of the NT account of its fulfillment; and certain OT characters and events in light of NT comment on them.

3.  The Bible does not contradict itself.

As God, by His very nature, cannot contradict Himself, neither can His Word to man.  To accept this principle means that when we find apparent contradictions we continue to search for answers in the certainty that there is in Scripture a perfect agreement, which careful and diligent study will bring out.


The Bible clearly lays out three spiritual requirements that must be met before we can even expect to comprehend the Word of God.

1.        We must be born again— John 3:16, 36.

John 3:6 tells us, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit;” and in 1 Corinthians 2:14 we see that it is impossible for the unbeliever to understand the “things” of God.  Paul told the Corinthians in clear and explicit language, that the “natural man [psuchikos- ‘soulish man,’ i.e., unbeliever] does not accept the things of the Spirit of God [why?: two reasons]; for [1] they are foolishness to him [cf. 1 Cor. 1:18-25], and [2] he cannot understand them [ginosko- ‘know, recognize, perceive’], because they are spiritually appraised [discerned],” 1 Corinthians 2:14.

2.        We must rely and depend on the Holy Spirit’s teaching ministry.

In vv. 12-13 of this same chapter {1 Corinthians 2} Paul wrote, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world [human viewpoint: the worldly wisdom and corrupt rationales of the Cosmic System], but the Spirit who is from God [HS], that [hina- ‘in order that;’ it begins a final purpose clause and is used by Paul to point out the principal reason for our having been given the HS at salvation] we might know [with a clear and absolute understanding; subj. mood of oida means that volitionally, the choice to learn and apply the Word is entirely up to you and I] the things freely given to us by God [‘freely given’ comes from the verb charizomai- ‘give in grace;’ those ‘things given to us by the grace of God’ are spiritual truths in the form of Bible doctrine], which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom but in those taught by the Spirit, combining [also, ‘to compare; interpret’] spiritual [adj.- pneumatikos] {thoughts} with spiritual {words}.”

He goes on to say in v. 15, “But he who is spiritual [believer in a proper adjustment to and influenced by the HS] appraises [discerns] all things [every aspect of Bible doctrine], yet he himself is appraised [discerned] by no man [the spiritual man is a mystery, an enigma, to both the carnal man and the unbeliever].”

If we approach the Word without the Spirit we may find information, but wisdom and power will be beyond our grasp.  This is true not just for unbelievers, but also for believers who are walking in the energy of “the flesh” rather than “by means of the Spirit,” Galatians 5:16.  This is precisely why it is paramount, every time we open our Bibles, that we utilize the confession and cleansing of 1 John 1:9, and that we know ourselves to be yielded to the will, Word, and Spirit of God.

3.        We must approach in faith.

Jesus said in John 7:17, “If any man is willing [qe/lw (thelo) means- will, intend, or desire; it implies both volition and purpose; here it has the sense of resolution and determination: ‘if any man is resolved and determined’] to do His will [in surrender and submission to it], he shall know of the teaching [doctrine], whether it is of God or {whether} I speak from Myself.”

God shares His deepest secrets only with those who approach His Word in humility and trust.  True wisdom, understanding and power are reserved only for those who are willing to obey God in both intake and application.  When we find Scripture at odds with our ideas or our desires, we must let the Bible be the final authority.  Where the Word of God opposes what we think, our thinking is wrong; where it opposes what we want, our desires are wrong.
In Conclusion

In Bible study— more than anything else in life— we get back exactly what we put in.  Sloppy study will never fill our thirst.  The more minute and tireless our study, however, the more we will be rewarded.  The people who have great insights into the Word, will, and character of God are the people who have put in time and effort, who do not quit when study turns to sweat.  If we carefully follow consistent rules of study, we will gradually develop the skill of interpreting the Bible; we will eventually learn how to get to the heart of God’s message.

The goal of Bible study should never be intellectual achievement.  We should always approach the Word with the desire to be transformed a little more into the “living image” of the Lord Jesus Christ.  We should never end our study without asking ourselves: [1] how this portion of Scripture applies to our circumstances; and [2] what we’re going to do with the things we’ve learned.

This is especially important for Pastor-Teachers, Teachers and Evangelists to remember.  We study to learn, not just to teach.  If we study only to teach others, the Truth never penetrates our own souls or convinces us of our need for correction.  Neither do we continue to grow, for we ourselves are not subject to what we study.  If we remain students, if we are disciples, then we will have no difficulty having sufficient information to teach to others; and they will be moved by those things which God has made real and exciting to us in our own growth.

Biblical Interpretation

Adapted from Bernard Ramm’s article on ‘Biblical Interpretation’

(click here to view in Word format)

The Distinction

General hermeneutics is that set of rules employed in all materials which stand in need of interpretation.  Biblical hermeneutics is the study of those principles which pertain to the interpretation of Holy Scripture.
Some Principles on Biblical Hermeneutics

1.  Biblical hermeneutics is both a science and an art.  It is a science in that it can reduce interpretation within limits to a set of rules; it is an art in that not infrequently elements in the text escape any treatment by rules.

2.  Hermeneutical principles are distilled from the activity of exegesis itself.  Therefore, ‘divisions’ between exegesis and hermeneutics are somewhat artificial.  The practical issues of exegesis are what drove scholars to formulate a hermeneutical theory.

3.  Biblical hermeneutics, exegesis, and teaching form one continuum.  Five points of application:

A.   The greatest responsibility of a pastor-teacher is the ministry of the Word to his congregation.

B.   His teaching must be centered and grounded in the interpretation and application of the Bible— the Word of God!  {Cf. 1 Peter 4:10-11}

C.   When this is the case his messages will be Biblical, exegetical, and expository.

D.   The Word of God is his Source; exegesis, the scientific ascertaining of its meaning; and exposition, its ‘application in proclamation.’

E.   The Bible is the written Word; exegesis is the Word understood; and teaching is the Word made relevant to time and place.

4.  Exegesis and exposition bear a special relationship to one another.  Exposition grows out of exegesis.

A.   In exegesis the P-T concentrates on the meaning of the text historically understood.  What did it mean to the people to whom it was written?

B.   In exposition his main concern is with its relevance and application for the here and now.  Two principles:

1)   Exegesis without application is mere academics— the ‘paralysis of analysis.’

2)   Exposition that is not grounded in exegesis is superficial, misleading, or both.

C.   There must be no separation of exegesis and application.  Application is not a secondary thought, a dispensable activity after exegesis; exegesis should lead, inevitably, to application.

5.  If the Word of God is the focal point of his ministry, then the P-T must deal with his text exegetically before he deals with it homiletically.

A.   To be a responsible exegete demands a responsible working theory of Biblical hermeneutics.

B.   To be a faithful steward demands a mature working theory of Biblical hermeneutics as the basis of homiletics.  Textual criticism is followed by a study of isagogics, i.e.: authorship; date of writing; place of writing; recipients; and conditions which prompted the writing.
Principles of General Hermeneutics that Carry Over into Biblical Hermeneutics

1.  Literary Genre.  The material of literary genre must be settled.

A.   It is the literary genre of the text which determines the frame of reference in which words are used; therefore, the frame of reference logically precedes the words themselves.  This is simply a recognition of the fact that some Scripture is written as poetry, some as proverbs, some as history, sermons, parables, etc.

B.   Determining the literary genre of the text determines the interpreter’s mood and viewpoint.

2.  Word Study.  Exegesis usually begins with a study of words, because the word is the ultimate unit of meaning.  Words can be studied in a variety of ways.

A.   Etymologically— its formation and derivation may unlock its meaning and give you new insight; or e.g., insight may be gained in breaking down the components of a compound word.

B.   Comparatively— tracing a word through many passages of Scripture is basic homework for thorough exegesis.  Studies of synonyms have merit as well.

C.   Historically— Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the NT is the classic example of this type of in-depth research.  This moves from Classical Greek usage to the Hebrew Bible; from there to the LXX; from the LXX to the inter-Biblical period {Aramaic}; then a comprehensive treatment in the Greek NT.

3.  Grammatical Exegesis.  The study of words alone is helpful but limited.  It is grammatical exegesis which moves forward into the interpretation of the sentence in all its parts, and the paragraph where the sentence is found.

A.   Grammatical exegesis is sometimes called ‘literal exegesis.’  By the literal meaning of words and phrases is meant their normal, natural, customary sense in their language.

B.   Allegorical exegesis is the virus to which literal, historical, grammatical exegesis is the cure!

C.   Literal exegesis is the ‘check’ upon all irresponsible exegesis, whether it be found in the history of the Church or in some contemporary cult.

D.   In grammatical exegesis context is paramount!  It has been said and rightfully so, that “A text without a context is nothing more than a pretext!”  Context begins with the accepted Canon of Scripture itself, then moves down to the Old or NT, the individual book, a ch. within the book, a paragraph in a ch., the sentence within the paragraph, and finally, each word within the sentence.  Nothing in the Bible— nothing— stands isolated and alone.

E.   The next stage in grammatical exegesis is to recreate the political and sociological environment of antiquity.  This takes into account the cultural elements in the text; e.g., references to people, events, social practices, geography— cities, towns, rivers, mountains— flora and fauna.  Two principles of hermeneutics.

1)   Good hermeneutics is the thorough use of good resources; bad hermeneutics is their neglect.

2)   Critical and grammatical commentaries will be more rewarding to a teaching ministry over the years than popular and devotional ones.
Hermeneutical Principles Unique to Scripture

1.  The Spiritual Factor.  It was Calvin who noted, and the apostle Paul who stated in 1 Corinthians 2:14-15, that the Word of God is spiritual, and therefore, can only be perceived and discerned by the spiritual man.  {Cf. passage, vv. 10-15}

A.   The Bible can very clearly be understood when: [1] we are born again— personal faith in the Son of God; [2] we are empowered and enabled by the Spirit of God— ‘not grieving, not quenching, and walking by means of the Spirit’— Eph. 4:30, 1 Thes. 5:19, and Gal. 5:16; and [3] we approach with an attitude of humility, in simple child-like faith.

B.   For those who reject the teaching ministry of the Spirit as a purely subjective phenomena, which it is, I say:  Human nature being human nature, there is not a scholar alive that is completely free from presuppositions— right or wrong, accurate or inaccurate— and from emotionally and culturally rooted dispositions which influence his interpretations.

What this tells us is that the subjective aspect of Biblical exegesis— that is, the mentorship of the HS— is of immense importance.  In fact, it’s absolutely indispensable.

2.  The Unity of the Bible.  The unity and harmony of Scripture is Jesus Christ, and the redemption and revelation centered in Him.

A.   The one theme of both testaments is the Person of Jesus Christ and His redemption of a human race bound in the slave market of sin, His reconciliation of that sinful race to a righteous God, and His propitiation of God’s righteous demands concerning sin.

B.   For the Body of Christ in the Church Age the focus and priority of the Scriptures is the NT and especially the Epistles, for it’s here that we find the Incarnation, the impeccable life of the Son of God, His saving Work on the Cross, His Resurrection, and the impact of His Person and Work on the Spiritual Life.

3.  Progressive Revelation.  From the time of Adam in the Garden of Eden to the apostle John on the Island of Patmos, the concept of progressive revelation is based upon the conviction that revelation and redemption were moving along an historical line.  The most obvious division of this line is between the OT period and the NT period.  In the NT we find a division in the Gospels and the Epistles: from the life and ministry of Christ in Hypostatic Union leading up to the Day of Pentecost, and the dispensation of the Church which began on the Day of Pentecost.

There is a definite progression in Scripture; and unless this principle of progress is recognized there can be no clear exegesis of Scripture.  Progressive revelation means that as the timeline of history unravels, the plan and purpose of God becomes fuller and clearer; the meat is slowly being put on the bones, if you will.  Basically, this means two things to the interpreter.

A.   If there is tension or conflict between the older revelation and the newer, the older must give way to the newer.  I.e., our theology as Christians, as the Family of God in the Age of Grace, must build its ‘final formula’ on the mystery doctrines of the Church.

B.   That not all Scripture is as important to our daily faith and practice as others.  Here, we’re dealing with its theological significance.  Many times, both past and present, a proof text is cited without regard to its location in the Bible.  E.g., a passing reference to something in the Psalms is given as much weight as a v. in Romans.  Note this principle:  The location of a text in the Canon of Scripture determines to some extent its exegesis and the theological weight behind it.

4.  Scripture’s Self-Interpretation.  Around the time of the Reformation the Roman Catholic Church insisted that it was ‘gifted with the grace of interpretation,’ and therefore, it knew instinctively the interpretation of Scripture.  The Reformers rejected this erroneous claim and set in its place the rule that Scripture is its own interpreter: Scriptura sacra sui ipsius interpres.

A.   What raised this issue was the problem created by difficult passages.  The Catholics appealed to their ‘gift of interpretation’ to lead the way; the Reformers appealed to the principle that ‘Scripture interprets Scripture.’  We need to understand that the Bible is its own greatest commentary.

B.   The term ‘Scripture’ is used two ways in this principle.  What it means, very simply, is that the Bible as a whole interprets the various parts, and hence, no single aspect of the Word can be so interpreted as to destroy the teaching of the whole.  I.e., what are minor and incidental references in Scripture cannot be made the foundation of our doctrine or the basis of our theology.

One of the characteristics of sects and cults who name the name of Christ, or make some other claim to Christianity, is this kind of exegesis.  They major in the minors to the exclusion of the foundational and fundamental truths of the Spiritual Life.

C.   The principle that ‘Scripture interprets Scripture’ is called the ‘hermeneutical circle.’  The whole of Scripture can only be discerned through interpreting it part by part.  This is part of the reason why we should study the Bible word by word, v. by v., dealing with categories of information— dealing with the doctrines— as they come along.  Because no man’s attention span is so great or intellect so highly developed that he can ingest the entire Bible at once.  Yet no part stands alone.  There is nothing in Scripture which stands totally and completely by itself, isolated from the rest.

D.   The ‘Bultmann Circle:’  In order to understand it the exegete asks questions of the text, which in turn asks questions of him.  This gives him deeper insight, which leads to deeper questions; and on and on and on and on it goes.

5.  The Supernatural in Scripture.  Simply put, the evangelical expositor accepts, he believes, what he sees concerning the supernatural in the text.

A.   Many theologians, especially since the time of the German ‘Enlightenment,’ have taken the stance that all supernatural events recorded in Scripture should be written off as ‘misunderstandings,’ that science can explain everything.  But science is governed by laws, and what are called ‘scientific laws’ and ‘laws of nature’ are really divine laws created by the Governor and Sustainer of the Universe, the Lord Jesus Christ.

B.   The Christian expositor recognizes a fundamental difference between the supernatural in Scripture and the supernatural in other literature.  There is a rationale for the supernatural in Scripture based upon the Biblical structure of revelation and redemption which is completely lacking in other ancient cultures.  We realize that the present order of the kosmos as it “groans,” awaiting its redemption {Rom. 8:21-22}, is due to sin, both angelic and human.  Part of God’s revelation to sinful man and part of His redemption in a sin-darkened Cosmic System is His employment of the supernatural.  Therefore, when the evangelical expositor is confronted with the supernatural in the text he doesn’t rule it out ex hypothesi but accepts it as a vital element in divine revelation.

6.  Theological Exegesis.  The serious student of the Word of God is interested in the fullest reach of his Biblical interpretation, which leads to the necessary theological exegesis of the text.  Don’t confuse this with a ‘double treatment’ of the text, a grammatical interpretation and a ‘spiritual’ interpretation.

A.   Get the principle down:  Theological exegesis is the natural extension of grammatical exegesis.  There has been an abundance of ‘double exegesis’ in a negative sense in the history of Christianity.  It goes all the way back to the times of early Church fathers in the first few centuries who imposed an allegorical meaning on the grammatical meaning of a passage.  We call that eisegesis.  It’s still quite popular today.

B.   Theological exegesis extends grammatical exegesis because it is interested in the largest implications of a passage of Scripture.  Propositions imply other propositions; principle is built on principle; conclusions in one area lead to greater conclusions in other areas.  When all the facts are considered, and all those facts rightly interpreted, the student draws what is known as an inductive conclusion.  {Cf. Ephesians 2:8-9}

One example of theological exegesis is found in Ephesians 2:8-9 where Paul’s use of the perfect tense serves to emphasize rather clearly and dramatically the doctrine of eternal security.  The passage says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith [‘grace’ is God’s initiation to man; ‘faith’ is man’s response to the grace of God, and faith is the sole contribution of man in salvation; ‘you have been saved’ includes the result that you now ‘stand saved forever;’ from the perf. pass. part. of sw/zw (sozo), which in / pass. voice means- attain salvation, be delivered from the 2nd Death]; and that not of yourselves, {it [eternal salvation] is} the gift of God; not as a result of works [i.e., there is nothing you or I could ever do to appropriate this, it is a gift of grace received in faith], that no one should boast.”

C.   It’s not so much a matter of difference between grammar and theology in exegesis, as it is theology taking up where grammar leaves off and seeking to find the fuller implication, and ultimately, application of the text.  For this reason theology is forced to define concepts with terminology not used in grammar.  E.g., AOS {Adam’s original sin}, OSN {old sin nature}, the total depravity of man, Hypostatic Union, etc.  You get the picture.  This accounts for the vast difference in vocabulary between grammatical exegesis and systematic theology.

D.   The outstanding theologian differs from the ordinary theologian in his ability to draw out these principles, implications, and conclusions from the Word of God.  It is in men like Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Chafer and Thieme that the genius of theological exegesis can be seen.

E.   The fact that theological exegesis deals with the creative extension of a section of Scripture means it is not controlled as strictly as grammatical exegesis.  Theological exegesis is more art than technique; and therefore, spiritual insight {which only the Spirit of God provides} is more important to it than the details of grammar.

The proof is always in the finished product, and the ultimate justification of theological exegesis should be its ability to make the Word come alive to the hearer, to bring the meaning out in its greatest depth.

F.   One major aspect of theological exegesis is that the Canon of Scripture is the context of every passage of Scripture.  Keep that in mind.  This is the principle of Scripture interpreting Scripture in the theological sense.  The one doing the exegeting brings all the other materials that are related to the text to bear upon the text.  Again, this is as much ‘art and insight’ as it is exegesis.  While definite care should be exercised, we should not hesitate in our study as communicators of the Word to gain new insight, reach new conclusions, build one principle upon another.  This is the only way our knowledge and communication of the Word are going to remain fresh, stimulating and challenging for the sheep of our fold.