Manual The Apostles Methodology to Interpret Scripture

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But diachronic study remains indispensable for making known the historical dynamism which animates sacred Scripture and for shedding light upon its rich complexity: For example, the covenant code Ex.


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We must take care not to replace the historicizing tendency, for which the older historical-critical exegesis is open to criticism, with the opposite excess, that of neglecting history in favor of an exegesis which would be exclusively synchronic. To sum up, the goal of the historical-critical method is to determine, particularly in a diachronic manner, the meaning expressed by the biblical authors and editors.

Along with other methods and approaches, the historical-critical method opens up to the modern reader a path to the meaning of the biblical text such as we have it today. New Methods of Literary Analysis No scientific method for the study of the Bible is fully adequate to comprehend the biblical texts in all their richness. For all its overall validity, the historical-critical method cannot claim to be totally sufficient in this respect. It necessarily has to leave aside many aspects of the writings which it studies.

It is not surprising, then, that at the present time other methods and approaches are proposed which serve to explore more profoundly other aspects worthy of attention. In this Section B, we will present certain methods of literary analysis which have been developed recently. In the following sections C, D, E , we will examine briefly different approaches, some of which relate to the study of the tradition, others to the "human sciences," others still to particular situations of the present time.

Finally F , we will consider the fundamentalist reading of the Bible, a reading which does not accept any systematic approach to interpretation. Taking advantage of the progress made in our day by linguistic and literary studies, biblical exegesis makes use more and more of new methods of literary analysis, in particular rhetorical analysis narrative analysis and semiotic analysis. Rhetorical Analysis Rhetorical analysis in itself is not, in fact, a new method.

What is new is the use of it in a systematic way for the interpretation of the Bible and also the start and development of a "new rhetoric. The fact that all biblical texts are in some measure persuasive in character means that some knowledge of rhetoric should be part of the normal scholarly equipment of all exegetes. Rhetorical analysis must be carried out in a critical way, since scientific exegesis is an undertaking which necessarily submits itself to the demands of the critical mind. A considerable number of recent studies in the biblical area have devoted considerable attention to the presence of rhetorical features in Scripture.

Three different approaches can be distinguished. The first is based upon classical Greco-Roman rhetoric; the second devotes itself to Semitic procedures of composition; the third takes its inspiration from more recent studies--namely, from what is called the "new rhetoric. Classical rhetoric distinguished accordingly three factors which contribute to the quality of a discourse as an instrument of persuasion: The diversity of situation and of audience largely determines the way of speaking adopted.

Classical rhetoric since Aristotle distinguishes three modes of public speaking: Recognizing the immense influence of rhetoric in Hellenistic culture, a growing number of exegetes make use of treatises on classical rhetoric as an aid toward analyzing certain aspects of biblical texts, especially those of the New Testament. Other exegetes concentrate upon the characteristic features of the biblical literary tradition. Rooted in Semitic culture, this displays a distinct preference for symmetrical compositions, through which one can detect relationships between different elements in the text.

The study of the multiple forms of parallelism and other procedures characteristic of the Semitic mode of composition allows for a better discernment of the literary structure of texts, which can only lead to a more adequate understanding of their message. The new rhetoric adopts a more general point of view. It aims to be something more than a simple catalogue of stylistic figures, oratorical stratagems and various kinds of discourse.

It investigates what makes a particular use of language effective and successful in the communication of conviction. It seeks to be "realistic" in the sense of not wanting to limit itself to an analysis that is purely formal. It takes due account of the actual situation of debate or discussion. It studies style and composition as means of acting upon an audience. To this end, it benefits from contributions made of late in other areas of knowledge such as linguistics, semiotics, anthropology and sociology. Applied to the Bible, the new rhetoric aims to penetrate to the very core of the language of revelation precisely as persuasive religious discourse and to measure the impact of such discourse in the social context of the communication thus begun.

Because of the enrichment it brings to the critical study of texts, such rhetorical analysis is worthy of high regard, above all in view of the greater depth achieved in more recent work. It makes up for a negligence of long standing and can lead to the rediscovery or clarification of original perspectives that had been lost or obscured.

The new rhetoric is surely right in its drawing attention to the capacity of language to persuade and convince. The Bible is not simply a statement of truths. It is a message that carries within itself a function of communication within a particular context, a message which carries with it a certain power of argument and a rhetorical strategy.

Rhetorical analysis does have, however, its limitations. When it remains simply on the level of description, its results often reflect a concern for style only. Basically synchronic in nature, it cannot claim to be an independent method which would be sufficient by itself. Its application to biblical texts raises several questions. Did the authors of these texts belong to the more educated levels of society? To what extent did they follow the rules of rhetoric in their work of composition? What kind of rhetoric is relevant for the analysis of any given text: Is there sometimes the risk of attributing to certain biblical texts a rhetorical structure that is really too sophisticated?

These questions--and there are others--ought not in any way cast doubt upon the use of this kind of analysis; they simply suggest that it is not something to which recourse ought be had without some measure of discernment. Narrative Analysis Narrative exegesis offers a method of understanding and communicating the biblical message which corresponds to the form of story and personal testimony, something characteristic of holy Scripture and, of course, a fundamental modality of communication between human persons.

The Old Testament in fact presents a story of salvation, the powerful recital of which provides the substance of the profession of faith, liturgy and catechesis cf. For its own part, the proclamation of the Christian kerygma amounts in essentials to a sequence telling the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, events of which the Gospels offer us a detailed account. Catechesis itself also appears in narrative form cf. With respect to the narrative approach, it helps to distinguish methods of analysis, on the one hand, and theological reflection, on the other.

Many analytic methods are in fact proposed today. Some start from the study of ancient models of narrative. Others base themselves upon present-day "narratology" in one or other of its forms, in which case there can often be points of contact with semiotics. Particularly attentive to elements in the text which have to do with plot, characterization and the point of view taken by a narrator, narrative analysis studies how a text tells a story in such a way as to engage the reader in its "narrative world" and the system of values contained therein.

Several methods introduce a distinction between real author and implied author , real reader and implied reader. The real author is the person who actually composed the story. By implied author one means the image of the author which the text progressively creates in the course of the reading with his or her own culture, character, inclinations faith, etc.

The real reader is any person who has access to the text--from those who first read it or heard it read, right down to those who read or hear it today. By implied reader one means the reader which the text presupposes and in effect creates, the one who is capable of performing the mental and affective operations necessary for entering into the narrative world of the text and responding to it in the way envisaged by the real author through the instrumentality of the implied author.

A text will continue to have an influence in the degree to which real readers e. One of the major tasks of exegesis is to facilitate this process of identification. Narrative analysis involves a new way of understanding how a text works. While the historical-critical method considers the text as a "window" giving access to one or other period not only to the situation which the story relates but also to that of the community for whom the story is told , narrative analysis insists that the text also functions as a "mirror" in the sense that it projects a certain image--a "narrative world"--which exercises an influence upon readers' perceptions in such a way as to bring them to adopt certain values rather than others.

Connected with this kind of study primarily literary in character, is a certain mode of theological reflection as one considers the implications the "story" and also the "witness" character of Scripture has with respect to the consent of faith and as one derives from this a hermeneutic of a more practical and pastoral nature.

There is here a reaction against the reduction of the inspired text to a series of theological theses, often formulated in nonscriptural categories and language. What is asked of narrative exegesis is that it rehabilitate in new historical contexts the modes of communicating and conveying meaning proper to the biblical account in order to open up more effectively its saving power. Narrative analysis insists upon the need both to tell the story of salvation the "informative" aspect and to tell the story in view of salvation the "performative" aspect. The biblical account, in effect, whether explicitly or implicitly as the case may be, contains an existential appeal addressed to the reader.

The usefulness of narrative analysis for the exegesis of the Bible is clear. It is well suited to the narrative character which so many biblical texts display. It can facilitate the transition, often so difficult, from the meaning of the text in its historical context the proper object of the historical-critical method to its significance for the reader of today. On the other hand, the distinction between the real author and the implied author does tend to make problems of interpretation somewhat more complex.

When applied to texts of the Bible, narrative analysis cannot rest content with imposing upon them certain preestablished models. It must strive to adapt itself to their own proper character. The synchronic approach which it brings to texts needs to be supplemented by diachronic studies as well. It must, moreover, beware of a tendency that can arise to exclude any kind of doctrinal elaboration in the content of biblical narratives.

In such a case it would find itself out of step with the biblical tradition itself, which practices precisely this kind of elaboration, and also with the tradition of the church, which has continued further along the same way. Finally, it is worth noting that the existential subjective effectiveness of the impact of the word of God in its narrative transmission cannot be considered to be in itself a sufficient indication that its full truth has been adequately grasped.

Semiotic Analysis Ranged among the methods identified as synchronic, those namely which concentrate on the study of the biblical text as it comes before the reader in its final state, is semiotic analysis. This has experienced a notable development in certain quarters over the last 20 years. Originally known by the more general term structuralism , this method can claim as forefather the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, who at the beginning of the present century worked out the theory according to which all language is a system of relationships obeying fixed laws.

Several linguists and literary critics have had a notable influence in the development of the method. The majority of biblical scholars who make use of semiotics in the study of the Bible take as their authority Algirdas J. Greimas and the School of Paris, which he founded. Similar approaches and methods, based upon modern linguistics, have developed elsewhere. But it is Greimas' method which we intend to present and analyze briefly here.

Semiotics is based upon three main principles or presuppositions: Each text forms a unit of meaning complete in itself; the analysis considers the entire text but only the text it does not look to any date "external" to the text such as the author, the audience, any events it describes or what might have been its process of composition. There is no meaning given except in and through relationship, in particular the relationship of "difference" the analysis of the text consists then in establishing the network of relationships of opposition, confirmation, etc.

Each text follows a "grammar," that is to say, a certain number of rules or structures; in the collection of sentences that we call discourse there are various levels, each of which has its own distinct grammar. The overall content of a text can be analyzed at three different levels. Here one studies in the story the transformations which move the action from the initial to the final state. Within the course of the narrative, the analysis seeks to retrace the different phases, logically bound to each other, which mark the transformation from one state to another.

In each of these phases it establishes the relationships between the "roles" played by the "actants" which determine the various stages of development and bring about transformation. The analysis here consists of three operations: This is the so-called deep level. It is also the most abstract. It proceeds from the assumption that certain forms of logic and meaning underlie the narrative and discursive organization of all discourse.

The analysis at this level consists in identifying the logic which governs the basic articulations of the narrative and figurative flow of a text. To achieve this, recourse is often had to an instrument called the "semiotic square" carre semiotique , a figure which makes use of the relationships between two "contrary" terms and two "contradictory" terms for example, black and white; white and non-white; black and not-black.

The exponents of the theory behind the semiotic method continue to produce new developments. Present research centers most particularly upon enunciation and intertextuality. Applied in the first instance to the narrative texts of Scripture, to which it is most readily applicable, the use of the method has been more and more extended to other kinds of biblical discourse as well. The description of semiotics that has been given and above all the formulation of its presuppositions should have already served to make clear the advantages and the limitations of this method.

By directing greater attention to the fact that each biblical text is a coherent whole, obedient to a precise linguistic mechanic of operation, semiotics contributes to our understanding of the Bible as word of God expressed in human language. Semiotics can be usefully employed in the study of the Bible only insofar as the method is separated from certain assumptions developed in structuralist philosophy, namely the refusal to accept individual personal identity within the text and extratextual reference beyond it. The Bible is a word that bears upon reality, a word which God has spoken in a historical context and which God addresses to us today through the mediation of human authors.

The semiotic approach must be open to history: The great risk run by those who employ semiotic analysis is that of remaining at the level of a formal study of the content of texts, failing to draw out the message. When it does not become lost in remote and complex language and when its principal elements are taught in simple terms, semiotic analysis can give Christians a taste for studying the biblical text and discovering certain of its dimensions, without their first having to acquire a great deal of instruction in historical matters relating to the production of the text and its sociocultural world.

It can thus prove useful in pastoral practice itself, providing a certain appropriation of Scripture among those who are not specialized in the area. Approaches Based on Tradition The literary methods which we have just reviewed, although they differ from the historical-critical method in that they pay greater attention to the internal unity of the texts studied, remain nonetheless insufficient for the interpretation of the Bible because they consider each of its writings in isolation.

But the Bible is not a compilation of texts unrelated to each other; rather, it is a gathering together of a whole array of witnesses from one great tradition. To be fully adequate to the object of its study, biblical exegesis must keep this truth firmly in mind. Such in fact is the perspective adopted by a number of approaches which are being developed at present. Canonical Approach The "canonical" approach, which originated in the United States some 20 years ago, proceeds from the perception that the historical-critical method experiences at times considerable difficulty in arriving, in its conclusions, at a truly theological level.

It aims to carry out the theological task of interpretation more successfully by beginning from within an explicit framework of faith: To achieve this, it interprets each biblical text in the light of the canon of Scriptures, that is to say, of the Bible as received as the norm of faith by a community of believers. It seeks to situate each text within the single plan of God, the goal being to arrive at a presentation of Scripture truly valid for our time.

The method does not claim to be a substitute for the historical-critical method; the hope is, rather, to complete it. Two different points of view have been proposed: Childs centers his interest on the final canonical form of the text whether book or collection , the form accepted by the community as an authoritative expression of its faith and rule of life.

Sanders, rather than looking to the final and fixed form of the text, devotes his attention to the "canonical process" or progressive development of the Scriptures which the believing community has accepted as a normative authority. The critical study of this process examines the way in which older traditions have been used again and again in new contexts before finally coming to constitute a whole that is at once stable and yet adaptable, coherent while holding together matter that is diverse--in short, a complete whole in which the faith community can find its identity.

In the course of this process various hermeneutic procedures have been at work, and this continues to be the case even after the fixing of the canon. These procedures are often midrashic in nature, serving to make the biblical text relevant for a later time. They encourage a constant interaction between the community and the Scriptures, calling for an interpretation which ever seeks to bring the tradition up to date.

The canonical approach rightly reacts against placing an exaggerated value upon what is supposed to be original and early, as if this alone were authentic. Inspired Scripture is precisely Scripture in that it has been recognized by the church as the rule of faith. Hence the significance, in this light, of both the final form in which each of the books of the Bible appears and of the complete whole which all together make up as canon.

Each individual book only becomes biblical in the light of the canon as a whole. It is the believing community that provides a truly adequate context for interpreting canonical texts. In this context faith and the Holy Spirit enrich exegesis; church authority, exercised as a service of the community, must see to it that this interpretation remains faithful to the great tradition which has produced the texts cf. The canonical approach finds itself grappling with more than one problem when it seeks to define the "canonical process. It seems reasonable to describe it as such from the time that the community attributes to it a normative authority, even if this should be before it has reached its final, definitive form.

One can speak of a "canonical" hermeneutic once the repetition of the traditions, which comes about through the taking into account of new aspects of the situation be they religious, cultural or theological , begins to preserve the identity of the message. But a question arises: Should the interpretive process which led to the formation of the canon be recognized as the guiding principle for the interpretation of Scripture today?

On the other hand, the complex relationships that exist between the Jewish and Christian canons of Scripture raise many problems of interpretation. The Christian church has received as "Old Testament" the writings which had authority in the Hellenistic Jewish community, but some of these are either lacking in the Hebrew Bible or appear there in somewhat different form.

The corpus is therefore different. From this it follows that the canonical interpretation cannot be identical in each case, granted that each text must be read in relation to the whole corpus. But, above all, the church reads the Old Testament in the light of the paschal mystery--the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ--who brings a radical newness and, with sovereign authority, gives a meaning to the Scriptures that is decisive and definitive cf.

Dei Verbum , 4. This new determination of meaning has become an integral element of Christian faith.

Marcelino Esquilin- The Apostles Methodology to Interpret Scripture

It ought not, however, mean doing away with all attempt to be consistent with that earlier canonical interpretation which preceded the Christian Passover. One must respect each stage of the history of salvation. To empty out of the Old Testament its own proper meaning would be to deprive the New of its roots in history. Judaism of this time also provided the matrix for the origin of the New Testament and the infant church. Numerous studies of the history of ancient Judaism and notably the manifold research stimulated by the discoveries at Qumran have highlighted the complexity of the Jewish world, both in the land of Israel and in the Diaspora, throughout this period.

It is in this world that the interpretation of Scripture had its beginning. One of the most ancient witnesses to the Jewish interpretation of the Bible is the Greek translation known as the Septuagint. The Aramaic Targums represent a further witness to the same activity which has carried on down to the present, giving rise in the process to an immense mass of learned procedures for the preservation of the text of the Old Testament and for the explanation of the meaning of biblical texts.

At all stages, the more astute Christian exegetes, from Origen and Jerome onward, have sought to draw profit from the Jewish biblical learning in order to acquire a better understanding of Scripture. Many modern exegetes follow this example. The ancient Jewish traditions allow for a better understanding particularly of the Septuagint, the Jewish Bible which eventually became the first part of the Christian Bible for at least the first four centuries of the church and has remained so in the East down to the present day.

The extracanonical Jewish literature, called apocryphal or intertestamental, in its great abundance and variety, is an important source for the interpretation of the New Testament. The variety of exegetical procedures practiced by the different strains of Judaism can actually be found within the Old Testament itself, for example in Chronicles with reference to the books of Samuel and Kings, and also within the New Testament, as for example in certain ways Paul goes about argument from Scripture.

A great variety of forms--parables, allegories, anthologies and florilegia , rereadings relectures pesher technique, methods of associating otherwise unrelated texts, psalms and hymns, vision, revelation and dream sequences, wisdom compositions--all are common to both the Old and the New Testaments as well as in Jewish circles before and after the time of Jesus. The Targums and the Midrashic literature illustrate the homiletic tradition and mode of biblical interpretation practiced by wide sectors of Judaism in the first centuries.

Many Christian exegetes of the Old Testament look besides to the Jewish commentators, grammarians and lexicographers of the medieval and more recent period as a resource for understanding difficult passages or expressions that are either rare or unique. References to such Jewish works appear in current exegetical discussion much more frequently than was formerly the case. Jewish biblical scholarship in all its richness, from its origins in antiquity down to the present day, is an asset of the highest value for the exegesis of both Testaments, provided that it be used with discretion.

Ancient Judaism took many diverse forms. The Pharisaic form which eventually came to be the most prevalent, in the shape of rabbinic Judaism, was by no means the only one. The range of ancient Jewish texts extends across several centuries; it is important to rank them in chronological order before proceeding to make comparisons. Above all, the overall pattern of the Jewish and Christian communities is very different.

On the Jewish side, in very varied ways, it is a question of a religion which defines a people and a way of life based upon written revelation and an oral tradition; whereas, on the Christian side, it is faith in the Lord Jesus--the one who died, was raised and lives still, Messiah and Son of God; it is around faith in his person that the community is gathered. These two diverse starting points create, as regards the interpretation of the Scriptures, two separate contexts, which for all their points of contact and similarity are in fact radically diverse.

Approach by the History of the Influence of the Text Wirkungsgeschichte This approach rests upon two principles: Without being entirely unknown in antiquity, this approach was developed in literary studies between and , a time when criticism became interested in the relation between a text and its readers. Biblical studies can only draw profit from research of this kind, all the more so since the philosophy of hermeneutics for its own part stresses the necessary distance between a work and its author as well as between a work and its readers.

Within this perspective, the history of the effect produced by a book or a passage of Scripture Wirkungsgeschichte begins to enter into the work of interpretation. Such an inquiry seeks to assess the development of interpretation over the course of time under the influence of the concerns readers have brought to the text. It also attempts to evaluate the importance of the role played by tradition in finding meaning in biblical texts. The mutual presence to each other of text and readers creates its own dynamic, for the text exercises an influence and provokes reactions.

It makes a resonant claim that is heard by readers whether as individuals or as members of a group. The reader is in any case never an isolated subject. He or she belongs to a social context and lives within a tradition. Readers come to the text with their own questions, exercise a certain selectivity, propose an interpretation and, in the end, are able either to create a further work or else take initiatives inspired directly from their reading of Scripture.

Numerous examples of such an approach are already evident. The history of the reading of the Song of Songs offers an excellent illustration: It would show how this book was received in the patristic period, in monastic circles of the medieval church and then again how it was taken up by a mystical writer such as St. John of the Cross. The approach thus offers a better chance of uncovering all the dimensions of meaning contained in such a writing. Similarly, in the New Testament it is both possible and useful to throw light upon the meaning of a passage for example, that of the rich young man in Mt.

At the same time, history also illustrates the prevalence from time to time of interpretations that are tendentious and false, baneful in their effect--such as, for example, those that have promoted anti-Semitism or other forms of racial discrimination or, yet again, various kinds of millennarian delusions. This serves to show that this approach cannot constitute a discipline that would be purely autonomous. Care must be exercised not to privilege one or other stage of the history of the text's influence to such an extent that it becomes the sole norm of its interpretation for all time.

Approaches That Use the Human Sciences In order to communicate itself, the word of God has taken root in the life of human communities cf. It follows, then, that the human sciences--in particular sociology, anthropology and psychology--can contribute toward a better understanding of certain aspects of biblical texts.

It should be noted, however, that in this area there are several schools of thought, with notable disagreement among them on the very nature of these sciences. That said, a good number of exegetes have drawn considerable profit in recent years from research of this kind. Sociological Approach Religious texts are bound in reciprocal relationship to the societies in which they originate. This is clearly the case as regards biblical texts. Consequently, the scientific study of the Bible requires as exact a knowledge as is possible of the social conditions distinctive of the various milieus in which the traditions recorded in the Bible took shape.

This kind of sociohistorical information needs then to be completed by an accurate sociological explanation, which will provide a scientific interpretation of the implications for each case of the prevailing social conditions. The sociological point of view has had a role in the history of exegesis for quite some time.

The attention which Form-criticism devoted to the social circumstances in which various texts arose Sitz im Leben is already an indication of this: It recognized that biblical traditions bore the mark of the socio-cultural milieu which transmitted them. In the first third of the 20th century, the Chicago School studied the socio-historical situation of early Christianity, thereby giving historical criticism a notable impulse in this direction.

In the course of the last 20 years , the sociological approach to biblical texts has become an integral part of exegesis. The questions which arise in this area for the exegesis of the Old Testament are manifold. One should ask, for example, concerning the various forms of social and religious organization which Israel has known in the course of its history. For the period before the formation of a nation-state, does the ethnological model of a society which is segmentary and lacking a unifying head acephalous provide a satisfactory base from which to work?

What has been the process whereby a loosely organized tribal league became, first of all, an organized monarchical state and, after that, a community held together simply by bonds of religion and common descent? What economic, military and other transformations were brought about by the movement toward political and religious centralization that led to the monarchy? Does not the study of the laws regulating social behavior in the ancient Near East and in Israel make a more useful contribution to the understanding of the Decalogue than purely literary attempts to reconstruct the earliest form of the text?

For the exegesis of the New Testament, the questions will clearly be somewhat different. Let us mention some: In the matter of the call to follow in the steps of Jesus, can we speak of a genuine relationship of continuity between the radical detachment involved in following Jesus in his earthly life and what was asked of members of the Christian movement after Easter in the very different social conditions of early Christianity?

What do we know of the social structure of the Pauline communities, taking account in each case of the relevant urban culture? In general, the sociological approach broadens the exegetical enterprise and brings to it many positive aspects. Knowledge of sociological data which help us understand the economic, cultural and religious functioning of the biblical world is indispensable for historical criticism.

The task incumbent upon the exegete to gain a better understanding of the early church's witness to faith cannot be achieved in a fully rigorous way without the scientific research which studies, the strict relationship that exists between the texts of the New Testament and life as actually lived by the early church. The employment of models provided by sociological science offers historical studies into the biblical period a notable potential for renewal--though it is necessary, of course, that the models employed be modified in accordance with the reality under study.

Here let us signal some of the risks involved in applying the sociological approach to exegesis. It is surely the case that, if the work of sociology consists in the study of currently existing societies, one can expect difficulty when seeking to apply its methods to historical societies belonging to a very distant past. Biblical and extrabiblical texts do not necessarily provide the sort of documentation adequate to give a comprehensive picture of the society of the time. Moreover, the sociological method does tend to pay rather more attention to the economic and institutional aspects of human life than to its personal and religious dimensions.

The Approach Through Cultural Anthropology The approach to biblical texts which makes use of the study of cultural anthropology stands in close relationship with the sociological approach. The distinction between the two approaches exists, at one and the same time, on the level of perception, on that of method and on that of the aspect of reality under consideration.

And so the Old Testament is a "comedy," and it is farcical, if it is not to be fulfilled as God wrote it. This is why the Old Testament is neglected today. But of course, the Old Testament was the Bible of the early church. They did not have a New Testament, they carried the Old Testament around in their pockets and they preached from the Scriptures as they knew them in the Old Testament. And they justified the Christian religion from the standpoint of the teaching of the Old Testament.

And they looked forward to the future, in the light of the promises which would been made by the prophets. To which also were added, those of the apostles as our Lord Jesus taught them. And that literal sense is the root and ground of all and the anchor that never faileth, whereunto if thou cleave thou canst never err nor go out of the way.

And if thou leave the literal sense, thou canst not but go out of the way. J Gresham Machen wrote "I hold that the Bible is essentially a plain book. Common sense is a wonderful help in reading it. Bernard Ramm says "We use the word ' literal ' in its dictionary sense: Baker Book House, , page Dr Charles Ryrie reasons that "If God be the originator of language and if the chief purpose of originating it was to convey His message to humanity, then it must follow that He, being all-wise and all-loving, originated sufficient language to convey all that was in His heart to tell mankind.

Furthermore, it must also follow that He would use language and expect people to understand it in its literal, normal, and plain sense. The Scriptures, then, cannot be regarded as an illustration of some special use of language so that in the interpretation of these Scriptures some deeper meaning of the words must be sought. We must correctly hear God's Word, Or we will be misled; We must give careful thought and prayer To what the Author said. As Andy Woods explains that " literalism resists going beyond what is written.

A classic example of going beyond what the text says is the ancient interpretation that the four rivers in Genesis 2, the Pishon, Gihon, Tigris, and Euphrates Ge 2: Such an idea is not readily apparent from studying the text in Genesis 2. One must go outside the text of Genesis 2 and bring into it foreign concepts in order to arrive at this conclusion. Paper by Andy Woods Bolding added. Unless the immediate context clearly indicates otherwise, one should always seek to interpret the text literally, in its straightforward, natural, ordinary, usual, normal, meaning, just as you would any other writing, accepting the words at face value without the imposition of hidden or symbolic meanings.

A failure to take full account of [the apocalyptic or prophetic] feature has led to some of the most outlandish teachings on this book by some whose rule of interpretation is "literal, unless absurd. Some attack the principle of literal interpretation by stating that this method denies the Bible's use of figurative language including types, symbols, figures of speech, etc.

Dr Charles Ryrie counters such fallacious arguments noting specifically that literalism "does not preclude or exclude correct understanding of types, illustrations, apocalypses, and other genres within the basic framework of literal interpretation… Literal interpretation might also be called plain interpretation so that no one receives the mistaken notion that the literal principle rules out figures of speech. E R Craven adds that "The Literalist so called is not one who denies that figurative language, that symbols are used in prophecy, nor does he deny the great spiritual truths are set forth therein; his position is, simply, that the prophecies are to be normally interpreted i.

Lange's commentary on Revelation enlarged and edited by E R Craven. Apocalyptic literature does not dictate that one dismiss normative interpretation in favor of "symbolic conjecture". Why is a literal approach to the Holy Scriptures so critical? Because the symbolic approach always raises the question " Whose symbolic interpretation is correct? This fact alone disqualifies a non-literal approach because it has factually demonstrated its bankruptcy in conveying a reproducible message from God.

In effect, the symbolic or allegorical approach literally pun intended makes the book of Revelation unknowable. Perhaps you are still asking why should one insist on a literal or "normal" interpretation of all of Scripture? Couch explains that there are at least three reasons offered by who are committed to a normal reading of Scripture:.

First , the obvious purpose of language is to enable effective communication between intelligent beings. Words have meaning and in their normal usage are intended to be understood… God is the originator of language. When He spoke audibly to man, He expected man to understand Him and respond accordingly.

Likewise, when God speaks to man through the inspired writings of His apostles and prophets, He expects man to understand and respond accordingly…. A second reason for a normal reading of Scripture concerns the historical fulfillment of prophecy. All the prophecies of the Old and New Testament that have been fulfilled to date have been fulfilled literally… Thus, … all prophecies which are yet to be fulfilled will be fulfilled literally. A third reason concerns logic. If an interpreter does not use the normal, customary, literal method of interpreting Scripture, interpretation is given over to the unconstrained imagination and presuppositions of the interpreter.

Kregel Publications Bolding added. Another key advantage of literal interpretation is that it is minimal interpretation and thus superimposes the barest "interpretive layer" or "interpretative bias" on the inspired communication from God. The best interpretation of a historical record is no interpretation but simply letting the divine Author of the record say what He says and assuming He says what He means.

Quoted from one of the few well done, literal, non-confusing commentaries on the Revelation entitled " The Revelation Record ". The greater an author's interpretative bias, the greater the danger that the commentator will add to or subtract from the meaning originally intended by God, a grave error John warns against writing:. I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: See notes Revelation Literal interpretation is occasionally criticized as leading to "ridiculous" conclusions.

Bernard Ramm addresses this accusation leveled at those who adhere to the literalist approach, writing that…. To interpret Scripture literally is not to be committed to a "wooden literalism," nor to a "letterism," nor to a neglect of the nuances that defy any "mechanical" understanding of language. Rather, it is to commit oneself to a starting point and that starting point is to understand a document the best one can in the context of the normal, usual, customary, tradition range of designation which includes "tacit" understanding. Protestant Biblical Interpretation, 3rd rev.

Baker Book House, In other words Literal interpretation does pay attention to variations in the style of the text and thus maintains a consistency of interpretation which is driven by the text itself, not the interpretative bias of the commentator: For example it is often stated that evangelicals who hold to a literal one thousand year reign of Christ based on Revelation 20, also demand that every single passage is to be interpreted literally without exception. This is an unfair and weak attempt to discredit the literal approach, because in fact even strict literalists clearly accept that if the language of a given passage is clearly symbolic, it is to be governed by the laws relating to symbols.

If the passage is clearly figurative, it also must be interpreted based on the laws dealing with figures of speech. For example, when John writes that he "was on the island that is called Patmos" Revelation 1: This "dual hermeneutic" is employed much like the gearshift in an automobile. On the major "freeway" of the gospel text, they generally stay in literal gear. But when a prophetic "off-ramp" or doctrinal "mountain" looms ahead, they shift into a non-literal gear. This inconsistency leads to all manner of confusion and allows for the most amazing conclusions which are often in complete contradiction to the plain meaning of the text!

Much Bible study is done to verify men's preconceptions, since all of us bring our personal opinions and biases with us…. If God has really spoken through the pen of the human author, let's not try to rewrite the script. We should view the Scripture just as we would any other writing, accepting the words at face value without the imposition of hidden meanings. This is the general rule, to which there are notable and recognizable exceptions, such as allegory see Rise of Allegorical Interpretation and typology See discussion of Typology.

Figures of speech are to be interpreted in the literal significance that the figure conveys. Read that sentence again …. We accept the literal meaning of the words. How we can do what it commands we must discover in the context:. Abstain , because indulging in evil gets us into trouble. The punch line is 1Th 5: So we take language in its literal sense when it is used like this.

But when we read, "I am the vine, you are the branches" Jn As we observe the context we read also, "Abide in me, and I in you" Jn I feel a greater certainty as to the literal interpretation of the whole Word of God-historical, doctrinal, prophetical. John Peter Lange has an interesting explanation of a literalist normal, plain language versus a spiritualist mystical writing that….

The Literalist is not one who denies that figurative language, that symbols are used in prophecy, nor does he deny that great spiritual truths are set forth therein; his position is simply, that the prophecies are to be normally interpreted i. The position of the Spiritualist is not that which is properly indicated by the term. He is one who holds that certain portions are to be normally interpreted, other portions are to be regarded as having a mystical sense.

The terms properly expressive of the schools are normal and mystical. A Commentary on the Holy Scripture: In short, the wise reader is advised to look for the clear teaching , not some mystical or "hidden" meaning or special "code" which needs to be deciphered! It is truly remarkable what we can discover when we let God say what He has already said and He gives us eyes and ears to see and hear spiritual truth.

Unless the Scripture calls for you to do so e. Click interesting discussion on literal interpretation. Webster has some interesting thoughts on the meaning of " literal " especially as it relates to accurate interpretation, noting that the meaning is "not figurative or metaphorical", " free from exaggeration or embellishment the "literal" truth ", "characterized by a concern mainly with facts" and "reproduced word for word, exact, verbatim".


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In translation, the attempt is made to convey with utmost accuracy through the words of another language the actual meaning of the biblical text. Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms. Learn to recognize figures of speech especially common in poetic and prophetic passages and to interpret them in the same way they are used in normal speech. In other words, interpret figures of speech in the literal significance that the figure conveys. If Jesus calls Himself a "Vine", interpret the meaning of the passage in light of the specific meaning of the figure of a "vine".

Listen to the great reformer "Sola Scriptura" Martin Luther who insisted that the literal sense…. Allegory , however, is too often uncertain, unreliable, and by no means safe for supporting faith. Too frequently it depends upon human guesswork and opinion; and if one leans on it, one will lean on a staff made of Egyptian reed Ezek Luther wrote When I was a monk, I was an expert in allegories. But after lecturing on the Epistle to the Romans I came to have knowledge of Christ. For therein I saw that Christ is no allegory and I learned to know what Christ is.

Luther wrote that Allegories are empty speculations and as it were the scum of Holy Scripture… Origen's allegories are not worth so much dirt… To allegorize is to juggle with Scripture… Allegorizing may degenerate into a mere monkey game… Allegories are awkward, absurd, invented, obsolete, loose rags. John Calvin known as "one of the greatest interpreters of the Bible" like Martin Luther also rejected allegorical interpretation describing these works as "frivolous games" and declaring that the early church father, Origen and many others were guilty of "torturing the Scripture, in every possible sense, from the true sense".

Bob DeWaay writes that " allegorizing Scripture has a long and destructive history. Though it was practiced by some early church fathers, it existed elsewhere in the ancient world. Some Jewish writers, such as Philo, practiced allegorizing Scriptures. It was found that the teachings of Moses and the Greek philosophers could be integrated by using this method.

The reason many have been sold on the allegorical method is the false assumption that since the Bible is a spiritual book, inspired by the Holy Spirit, that it therefore contains hidden or secret meanings.

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Biblical hermeneutics

The idea is that the truly spiritual person can discern meanings to passages of the Bible that are hidden from the unenlightened. However, it should be noted that the "things of the Spirit of God" that the natural man "cannot understand" are clearly revealed in the context of this passage. The problem was not that a person couldn't grasp the words that Paul preached - that Jesus Christ was crucified, died, and rose from the dead. The claims of the gospel were clear enough.

The problem was that the natural man refused to accept God's wisdom. So this passage does not teach a secret meaning to Scriptures that can be extracted by a clever allegorist.

If so, then why not say Jesus didn't really die and rise again, its just an allegory? Paul taught a literal cross with literal words. Common Errors in Biblical Interpretation - also discusses Hyper-literalism. The first principle is a warning, especially for historical narratives in the Bible: Do not allegorize the story.

That is, do not turn it into a series of symbols as if it did not happen. If we turn a narrative into symbols, anyone can interpret the narrative to say whatever they want; people can read the same narrative and come up with opposite religions! When we read into a text in this way, we read into it what we already think--which means that we act like we do not need the text to teach us anything new! The Bible in Context. Without the Holy Spirit, the Bible is like an ocean which cannot be sounded, heavens which cannot be surveyed, mines which cannot be explored, and mysteries beyond unraveling.

We must—we must—yield to the leadership of the Holy Spirit. John MacArthur gives the following example of non-literal interpretation from a conference he was attending…. This was his interpretation: The resurrection of Lazarus is the church going through the rapture. You are the first. There are passages that give us types and pictures. But beware of interpretations that read symbols and pictures into the text that simply are not there. How to Get the Most from God's Word. Let us not only neglect as doubtful, but boldly set aside as deadly corruptions those pretended expositions which lead us away from the natural meaning.

DeHaan of Our Daily Bread fame admonishes saints to "Be on guard against any tampering with the Word, whether disguised as a search for truth, or a scholarly attempt at apparently hidden meanings. The principle of reading the Bible literally is brought out be the following interchange between Mary Queen of Scots and John Knox. The word of God is plain in itself; and if there appear any obscurity in one place, the Holy Ghost, which is never contrarious to Himself, explains the same more clearly in other places.

William Tyndale who was best known for his translation of the New Testament into English for which he was murdered! The general rule of interpreting Scripture is this: But in that case, the obscure text is to be interpreted by those which speak more plainly… Try all things by the written word, and let all bow down before it. You are in danger of fanaticism every hour, if you depart ever so little from Scripture; yea, or from the plain, literal meaning of an text, taken in connection with the context.

As a general rule if you or someone arrives at an interpretation on a text that no one has ever described, you need to consider that interpretation suspect. Here is an excellent summary of literalism from the recommended website Gotquestions. Biblical literalism is the position of most evangelicals and Christian fundamentalists.

It is the position of Got Questions Ministries as well. If we believe in the doctrine of biblical inspiration—that the books of the Bible were written by men under the influence of the Holy Spirit 2 Timothy 3: The rules of human language then become the rules of interpreting Scripture. Words have objective meaning Ed: Meaning which is undistorted by emotion or personal bias; based on observable phenomena , and God has spoken through words. Biblical literalism is an extension of the literalism that we all use in everyday communication.

If we deny biblical literalism and try to interpret Scripture figuratively, how are the figures to be interpreted? And who decides what is and is not a figure? Were Adam and Eve real people? What about Cain and Abel? If they are figurative, where in Genesis can we start saying the people are literal individuals? Any dividing line between figurative and literal in the genealogies is arbitrary.

Or take a New Testament example: Did He say it on a mountain? Was Jesus even real? Without a commitment to biblical literalism, we might as well throw out the whole Bible. If biblical literalism is discarded, language becomes meaningless. More importantly, if words can mean anything we assign to them, there are no genuine promises in the Bible. Hell needs to be a literal place—as does heaven —if we are to have anything to be saved from. To be clear, biblical literalism does not ignore the dispensations.

Commands given to Israel in the theocracy do not necessarily apply to the New Testament church. Idioms, metaphors, and illustrations are all a natural part of language and should be recognized as such. We follow the rules of language.

Allegorical interpretation of the Bible

But unless a text is clearly intended to be figurative, we take it literally. What is wrong with the allegorical interpretation method? Reading in the King James Version that a believer should go into his closet to pray Matthew 6: He explained that he was very uncomfortable, but he learned a lot about the Bible! He was right in interpreting the Bible literally, but he needed a new translation of Matthew 6: Why is literal interpretation important? It is necessary to understand the plain or normal meaning of the Bible.

We should not look for allegorical or "hidden" meanings or attempt to give unnatural meanings to ordinary words. We can readily understand the Bible when we interpret it literally. The account of creation, the Exodus from Egypt, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus-all are understood in their literal or normal meaning. Reading the Bible literally also guards us from the imaginative ruminations of the cults. For example, the Christian Science cult sees the Bible as one vast allegory; hence, the devil is not a person, only "a lie, error.

Old Testament prophecies have been fulfilled literally, giving us a precedence for literal interpretation. It was literally prophesied and literally ful-filled that Jesus would be born of a virgin Isaiah 7: We need not look for mystical, hidden meanings behind the plain words of Scripture. Though we recognize figures of speech, we interpret the Bible in its ordinary meaning. That is a comfort. God did not intend that only seminary trained people could grasp the Scriptures. He wants all of us, from all walks of life, to read, understand, believe, and enjoy His Word.

The Bible is to be interpreted literally, understanding the words in their normal meaning. In interpretation of prophecy, the safest, simplest and most sane approach is take the text as saying what it means and meaning what it says. In a sense the literal approach assumes that the best interpretation is no interpretation. For example, in the prophesy of the Revelation, one assumes that John desired to communicate to his reader and therefore wrote plainly, saying exactly what he wanted to say under the inspiration of the Spirit of course and what he believed to be the most effective manner of communicating that truth to all generations.

As alluded to above, the literal plain sense approach does not ignore the fact that prophecy often uses symbols and figures of speech. The point to emphasize is that the interpretation of such figures and symbols is not to be left up to the reader's imagination or ingenuity. Click for an example of a somewhat imaginative, non-literal interpretation of Revelation 20 Figures of speech must be defined and explained unambiguously, either aided by the immediate context , the broader context or comparison with other similar passages.

If one determines to approach a prophetic book such as the Revelation with a literal mindset, they will find that much of the difficulty in understanding is effectively eliminated. As someone has well said. One of the main reasons why so many commentaries resort to an allegorical interpretation of prophecies like the Revelation and Daniel is that they find the literal meaning of the prophecies difficult to accept and attempt to explain them in some less offensive manner!

We should be seeking the plain sense of the meaning of the text when we come to the Bible. Before the Face of God: Book 2 What is interesting is that Sproul an amillennialist goes on to add that "literal interpretation means we have to be able to recognize the literary form in which parts of the Bible come to us. Some of these forms are poetry, symbolic prophecy. The hermeneutical danger inherent in this genre of logic is that it opens one up to the non-literal interpretation of a prophetic passage, especially if a literal interpretation would be counter to one's overall approach to systematic theology.

In other words, the person puts on their "systematic theology" set of "sun glasses" so to speak of course and then sees that shade or tint from the "glasses" in every prophetic passage they seek to interpret. They become much like the fellow in the cartoon below Tony Garland in his excellent, highly recommended commentary on the Revelation free online at: A Testimony of Jesus Christ writes that there are two main approaches to interpretation as they relate to prophecy, Quoting Ramm. Among evangelicals there are generally two major camps regarding how prophetic passages should be read.

Amillennialists will generally allegorize large portions of the prophetic Word, especially passages that speak of the Second Advent of Christ and the establishment of the one thousand year literal Davidic kingdom. In contrast, premillennialists , following the teaching of the early church, treat the Second Coming with the same literal hermeneutic as they would the First Coming of Jesus. They hold that the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, should be understood literally from a normal reading unless typology See discussion of Typology or poetry is used.

And even then, premillennialists believe that "literalness" is implied behind the figure of speech or illustration used. Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation. Baker Book House, , page Bolding added. The most serious charge that can be leveled against non-literal interpretation is that of perverting the promises of God. God's promises, both in the OT and NT, were given to specific recipients using words which they understood in the context in which they lived and in which the promises were given. When a nonliteral view of these passages is adopted, this robs the original recipients of the promises as God gave them:.

Adopting a nonliteral view of the Old Testament kingdom prophecies raises some disturbing questions:. If prophecies seemingly addressed to Israel really apply to the church which did not exist at that time , did God give revelation that failed to reveal? And if those prophecies were meant to apply symbolically to the church, why were they addressed to Israel? Ironically, many who spiritualize Old Testament prophecies reject the futurist interpretation of Revelation because it allegedly robs the book of its meaning for those to whom it was written.

Yet they do the very same thing with the Old Testament kingdom prophecies. God's promises involve both ends of the communication channel: It is not permissible, after the fact, to make what God said mean something different which would have been entirely foreign to those who originally received His word. Allegorization and spiritualization do just that. A Testimony of Jesus Christ free online. When a literal hermeneutic is applied to the interpretation of Scripture, every word written in Scripture is given the normal meaning it would have in its normal usage.

Proponents of a consistent, literal reading of Scripture prefer the phrase a normal reading of Scripture to establish the difference between literalism and letterism. Many depart from the simplicity of the "plain sense" rule of literal interpretation reasoning something like….

If the plain sense does not fit my theological system, then I will seek some other sense, lest I should end up agreeing with the literalists! Now we must frankly admit that a literal interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies gives us just such a picture of an earthly reign of the Messiah as the premillennialist pictures Charles Ryrie, The Basis of the Premillennial Faith, Neptune, New Jersey: Or it's like the husband busily perusing his Bible and obviously annoyed with his wife's attempts to converse, to which he finally exclaims in frustration….

I'm looking for a verse of Scripture to back up one of my preconceived notions! Are you a "literalist"? As for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, When my wife says, "Honey, would you please take out the garbage? I could stop and reflect, Hmm, maybe I've been acting like a bear lately. Maybe she wants me to clean up my act. If she asks me, "Would you please bring home a loaf of bread today? Do I say to myself, Things have been tough financially.

"The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church"

She probably wants me to ask the boss for a raise? I take the sack of garbage and deposit it in the garbage can; I go to the store and buy a loaf of bread. Because normal use of language is to communicate literally. Why should our study of prophecy be any different? The Bible is understood very well when we interpret it literally, but what is literal interpretation? It is understanding words in their normal meaning. Reading about Adam and Eve and understanding words in their normal meaning, we realize they were historical people who sinned against God and plunged the human race into sin.

Paul compares and contrasts Christ and Adam in Romans 5, understanding both to be literal, historical men. If Adam was not a literal, historical person, then we have no basis for saying Christ was either-a serious point indeed. In Exodus we read how Jacob's family grew into a nation of two million, was brought out of Egypt, and given the law. It makes good sense to understand that literally. Old Testament prophecies have been fulfilled literally: Even figures of speech must be understood in their literal meaning first e. Doesn't it make good sense to interpret prophecy literally if that is how the Bible as a whole is understood and if that is how other prophecies have been fulfilled?

This is a crucial matter since it determines whether we will interpret the Bible consistently or not. The literal method of interpreting the Bible is the way the Bible is normally understood and the way we should also interpret prophecy. Not listed in order of importance and as always be a Berean even on articles on "Interpretation! Excellent Material - Highly Recommended. Includes an interesting synopsis of the history of how Scripture has been interpreted since the first century AD, I would recommend the synopsis by Dr Stephen R Lewis see page You may be surprised at what you discover about the so called Early Church Fathers and their slide into allegorical interpretation which even such highly regarded men as Augustine AD et al championed and which sadly led to the allegorical method becoming the favored method of Scripture interpretation for almost years the "dark ages" - perhaps herein lies a clue as to why they were so "dark"!

As one writer has said "the Middle Ages was a vast desert so far as biblical interpretation is concerned" Mickelsen. A Plea for Consensus by Elliot Johnson. Understanding Its Message J. The authenticity of the Bible-I've often said-is revealed in or manifested in the field of hermeneutics, which means interpretation. Interpret Scripture with Scripture and don't base your convictions on an obscure passage which cannot be supported by other more easily interpreted texts.

Clear up problem areas with the clear teaching of other passages relating to the same subject. This guideline is based on the hermeneutical principle known as analogia Scriptura. According to this principle, Scripture never contradicts Scripture. In other words God never teaches something in one passage that violates what He teaches in another passage. Nothing can cut the diamond but the diamond; nothing can interpret Scripture but Scripture.

Compare Scripture with Scripture. False doctrines, like false witnesses, agree not among themselves. The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: Develop the practice of comparing Scripture with Scripture because Scripture is always the best commentary on itself. The beauty of using Scripture to interpret Scripture is that when the Bible answers its own questions, then we know the answer is correct. Because the Bible is a unified whole, and God never contradicts Himself.

In other words, the great interpreter of Scripture is Scripture. The Bible is unified in its message. Although it sometimes presents us with paradox, it never confounds us with contradiction. Tony Garland in his excellent treatise on the Revelation commenting on the importance of studying Scripture " in the light of related passages " writes that…. This principle is also known as the Analogy of Scripture… the systematic study of the Scriptures across all the books of the Bible to arrive at a self-consistent understanding of any particular topic.

This principle is founded upon the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture. That the inspired books, being ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit 2Pe 2: When we encounter what seems to be an inconsistency commonly referred to as a "Bible Difficulty" , we must assume that the problem is one of our own understanding and not God's Word. The experienced student of the Word will recognize how frequently what appeared to be contradictory turned out, upon further insight, study, and illumination, to be by design.

In his work "Analogia Scripturae" Martin Luther said that obscure passages are to be understood in light of the clear passages emphasizing that. The TSK s a conservative resource originally compiled by Dr. Torrey around the turn of the 20th century and to this day remains the most comprehensive collection of Scriptural cross references available, with over , entries. Formerly, the only source of the TSK was a large hardbound volume. With the advent of the computer era, the TSK is now readily available in a variety of computer formats:. TSK has far more cross-references per verse than any other resource currently available in any format.

TSK references are more "relevant" to the verse in question than most marginal references. This is which is important because. Since Scripture is always the best commentary on Scripture, consider making it a practice as you perform inductive study to check the Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge often, especially when seeking to know the meaning of a given text.

The great preacher Donald Grey Barnhouse testified to the value of using Scripture as a commentary on itself, remarking that…. The only way to cut a diamond is by a diamond: In like manner, the best way to understand Scripture is by Scripture itself. Let's illustrate this principle with 1 Corinthians There are at least three major problems with this interpretation:.

For example, the writer of Hebrews clearly teaches that it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment Heb 9: They say that he inserted a cryptogram a message written in code while he translated Psalm In this psalm, the 46th word from the beginning is shake and the 46th word from the end is spear.

Furthermore, in , while the King James Bible was being translated, Shakespeare would have been 46 years old. Despite these coincidences, no serious evidence supports this theory. Some people also claim to have found hidden meanings when interpreting the Bible. Certain cults will cite a verse out of context, only to lead someone into heretical doctrine. Some quote John To interpret a biblical passage accurately, we must always consider the context and compare it with other Scripture.

This respects the clear meaning of the Bible without trying to find hidden meaning in it. After you have performed your own inductive Bible study, consult conservative resources to check your interpretative conclusions. The order is important -- first the Scriptures then secondary sources for the Word of God illuminated by the Holy Spirit of God is important than any commentary. Without the Word there is no life, no growth, no holiness, and no acceptable service. We should read it, study it, memorize it, meditate on it, and above all obey it cf application.

Even for the experienced Bible student it is best to consult the commentary after one has made his own independent study. There are several reasons for that. First, no commentator is infallible, nor is any commentator an expert on every passage of Scripture. Often a commentator will rely on the work of earlier commentators. Therefore, to preserve one's independent judgment and the integrity of one's own work, it is best to do personal study first by exegeting or drawing out the meaning of the passage with the basic tools. On the other hand, it is never wise to conclude one's study without referring to several of the best commentators on a given passage.

In that final stage of study, the commentator provides a check for one's own conclusions and also provides additional insight before one's work is complete. Furthermore, the commentator provides appropriate background sources that can be checked. Understanding and Applying the Bible Bolding added.

Consultation serves as a good check on the accuracy of your interpretation, but use secondary sources with caution because no single individual has a corner on all the truth. As George Sweeting past pastor of Moody Bible Church once said "Commentaries are splendid; however, beware of being chained to them. Someone has humorously said, " The Bible throws a lot of light on the commentaries. To read the words of men and neglect the Word of God is to say the books of men are of greater worth.

Be wary if you come to a conclusion that no one else has ever "discovered" and you cannot find support in any other conservative commentary. When you are in the process of performing an Inductive Study, it is always tempting to see how your " Study Bible notes " or favorite commentary interpret the section of Scripture you are studying. Please refrain from consulting secondary sources until you have given the Scriptures time to speak for themselves! I have traveled in many parts of the world where even the best-equipped pastors have only a study Bible, a concordance, and perhaps a Bible dictionary.

Three or four books at most—and no computer resources at all! These pastors have learned how to study the Scriptures inductively on their own, without relying on commentaries or other tools. It is interesting to note that most of the church growth worldwide is currently occurring in these third-world countries. Clearly, having a huge library of books is not the most important factor.

You can buy the best Bible study tools available and still not be a good Bible student. How to Study the Bible and Enjoy It. Although you may never have thought of other Bible Versions as commentaries, you will be surprised at the insights you can glean from reading a passage, paragraph or chapter in a different version. However, I would offer two caveats: First, always do your inductive study with a more literal translation before comparing other translations. Second, be very cautious when reading translations that are predominantly paraphrases.

Paraphrased Bible versions represent a restatement of the passage with the goal being to give the meaning in another form. Examples of paraphrased versions include: Click chart comparing various popular translations for degree of literalness the more literal the closer the translation is to the original Greek or Hebrew manuscripts Remember that paraphrased versions are highly interpretative and you should never base your final interpretation on a paraphrased version.

A special note of caution cp He 5: On the other hand, the Amplified Version is an excellent, recommended resource which can even function much like a "mini-commentary". If you have internet access, there is a resource that allows easy comparison of multiple passages including the Amplified Version which functions much like a "mini-commentary" on a given passage…. To see the verses in parallel columns click " Layout: As an alternative to Biblegateway. Then you can easily and quickly compare multiple versions simultaneously without having to be connected to the internet.

Special discernment is in order when referring to commentaries on prophetic books like Revelation click for a brief discussion of the common methods of interpreting Revelation [preterist, historicist, idealist, futurist or literalist] and a list of recommended futuristic commentaries and sermons and Daniel click for a list of futuristic commentaries and sermons on Daniel.

Please note that commentaries on prophetic books vary widely in their interpretative approach, and you may not always be able to easily discern their bias Click for a list of published Revelation commentaries categorized by the predominant interpreter view. If an interpreter does not use the normal, customary, literal method of interpreting Scripture, interpretation is given over to the unconstrained imagination and presuppositions of the interpreter thus accounting for the widely-varying imaginative interpretations of the non-literal interpreters.

Remember that all the prophecies of the Old and New Testament that have been fulfilled to date have been fulfilled literally, thus there is no precedent for anything but a literal approach to the prophetic books containing prophecies yet to be fulfilled. Another key advantage of literal interpretation is that this approach results in minimal interpretive overlay of the inspired text. Clearly the best interpretation of a historical record is no "interpretation". One should seek to allow God to say what He says and assume that He says what He means.

The more interpretation that is necessary to "make sense" of the text, the greater the danger one will add to or subtract from the meaning intended by God Rev Garland who advocates a literal approach to interpretation of prophecy has an instructive note writing that. These reasons must be found in the immediate context of the passage under study or related passages. It is not sufficient to simply classify the book of Revelation as an apocalypse and therefore turn the rules of interpretation upside-down as does this commentator:.

Garland continues Notice how this commentator appeals to the apocalyptic genre in order to dismiss literal normative interpretation and to assert that we should avoid normative interpretation in favor of pure symbolic conjecture! The easy answer to this proposal is to simply ask, "Whose symbolic interpretation? This is because there is an infinite variety of interpretations possible when using symbolic conjecture.

The result is that no two interpreters hold to the same meaning except in a handful of areas. This fact alone disqualifies a non-literal framework because it has factually demonstrated its bankruptcy at conveying a reliable message from God.

Interpreting Scripture (by Ron Rhodes)

In effect, it makes the book of Revelation unknowable by man Ed note: Which is exactly the opposite of what the title word Revelation or apokalupsis means! A Testimony of Jesus Christ an excellent online commentary on Revelation. If you are studying the Revelation, one " test " is to note how the author interprets the " years" in Revelation Is the approach literal or allegorical spiritualized or symbolic? Allegorize allegory in simple terms means to say something different from what the words themselves mean literally. Allegorizing is searching for a hidden or secret meaning underlying but remote from and unrelated in reality to the more obvious meaning of a text.

In other words the literal reading is a sort of code, which needs to be deciphered to determine the more significant and hidden meaning. In this approach the literal is superficial, the allegorical is the true meaning. If the commentary you are consulting takes an interpretative approach that is anything other than literal , you need to be very careful regarding their comments on prophecy or you may likely end up more than a little confused! Once any interpreter departs from the literal where the literal makes perfectly good sense , they enter into an arena where the passage could mean almost anything and where their fanciful, false interpretations are limited only by their imagination!

Click here for an example of a non-literal interpretation of Revelation 20 by an otherwise respected theologian, B. For more discussion on the origin and spiritual danger of the allegorical method of interpretation especially as applied to prophetic books like Revelation and Daniel click here for Anthony Garland's analysis. If you are interested in prophecy, I would strongly encourage you to take the excellent four part Precept Ministries International inductive study on the Revelation.

Click here for the transcribed lectures by Kay Arthur on Revelation Parts , but not until you've done your own inductive study! The four part Precept course on Revelation takes 47 weeks to complete but when you have finished, you will be in awe and blessed by the illumination God's Spirit gives you into His Revelation and to prophecy in general. You will also be saddened by the great confusion in the commentaries and the unfounded fear many believers express toward this wonderful book written for overcomers. What Does It Really Mean?

But when Lot's wife looked back, she turned into a pillar of salt. Although we believe that every word of Scripture is inspired, this doesn't mean we should take every word literally regardless of its context. Some people seem to do this and thereby miss the true meaning of many Bible passages. The Bible is filled with images—word pictures we call similes and metaphors. The book of James gives us a classic example, calling the tongue "a fire" James 3: We know it doesn't mean that we have a literal flame in our mouth.

Jesus used figurative language too. He said, "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out" Mt. What He meant, of course, is that we should take strong measures to keep ourselves from sin. We need to listen carefully to what God is saying in His Word so we can put it into practice.

His Word is a "lamp" for our feet and a "light" for our path Ps. What does the context say? What does the text mean? What does it mean to your life? Perhaps you are thinking "There is no way I can read and understand the Bible like the folks who have formal seminary training. There is no guru class in biblical Christianity, no illuminati, no people through whom all proper interpretation must come. And so, while the Holy Spirit gives special gifts of wisdom, knowledge and spiritual discernment, He does not assign these gifted Christians to be the only authoritative interpreters of His Word.

It is up to each of His people to learn, to judge and to discern by reference to the Bible which stands as the authority even to those to whom God has given special abilities. As one reads it as a love letter is read, then one reads it as the Word of God. No merely intellectual understanding of the Bible, however complete, can possess all its treasures.

It does not despise such understanding, for it is essential to a complete understanding. But it must lead to a spiritual understanding of the spiritual treasures of this book if it is to be complete. And for that spiritual understanding something more than intellectual alertness is necessary. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned cp 1Cor 2: The Relevance of the Bible, p.

There are right ways and wrong ways to interpret Scripture. Here are six principles of interpretation that are accepted just about everywhere. You have heard that it was said, " An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Tom tries to persuade his friend Huck to join him in his plans to form a band of robbers and to take captives much like pirates used to do.

Huck asks Tom what pirates do with the captives they take, and Tom answers, "Ransom them. But that's what they do. I seen it in books; and so of course that's what we got to do," explains Tom. The people were also quoting and repeating things they had found in a book--the Old Testament. But they were merely mouthing words. The ideas had been separated from the spirit of the original revelation.

By misapplying Mosaic principles of conduct, the people were justifying their sinful attitudes and actions Mt. This should be a reminder to us. When we quote the Bible, let's be sure we understand its meaning and context. Then we won't get things "all muddled up. When reading God's Word, take special care To find the rich treasures hidden there; Give thought to each line, each precept hear, Then practice it well with godly fear.

A text taken out of context can be a dangerous pretext. Bob DeWaay - Failure to Consider the Context - Imagine that someone read you one sentence out of the middle of a large book you had never read before. How likely would it be that you could properly understand the author's meaning?

If it were a novel you would not know who any of the characters were, what had happened to them previously, or what the plot was about. It would be an impossible task, one that we normally would never do. Yet often this is how the Bible is read. Since it is laid out with verse numbers which have been added by editors, they were not in the original , we often falsely assume each verse is a little literary work of its own, disconnected from anything else.

However, with no other information, it would be just as unlikely we would understand a single verse pulled out of the Bible as we would understand a sentence taken out of the middle of a novel. If we have a shared body of information, study the whole of Scripture, understand the Jewish background of the Bible, and understand the setting of each book of the Bible, then a verse quoted from a given book will make sense to us. Yet many never gain this information.