Foundational Guidelines for Interpretation

  1. The goal of interpretation is to understand the meaning of the passage as the author intended it to be understood by the audience he was writing to.
  2. The Bible is to be interpreted by the same rules as other books and other communication.  God has communicated to us in human language and in a manner that is identical to the way we communicate with one another.
  3. The significance and application of a passage to me is a distinct and secondary action that should occur only after I have understood the author’s intended meaning to his original audience.
  4. The words of scripture do not have a secondary, allegorical meaning in addition to or underneath their natural meaning.  Many of the words of scripture are figurative, just as in all other communication.  But they must be understood as figurative only when the context requires it.  And in this case, the figurative meaning is the natural meaning.
  5. The author’s intended meaning must be ascertained from the words of the text in their context, including whatever knowledge we possess of the historical and theological context.  We must draw the meaning from the passage, and not impose our own ideas or agenda based on prior assumptions.
  6. The textual context in which a phrase is used is the primary factor in determining its intended meaning. A word’s or a phrase’s entomology (history) or its meaning in other passages or other literature can assist in understanding its use in the passage in question, but the word’s or phrase’s context is always the controlling factor in determining its meaning in that passage.
  7. In defense of the goal of finding the author’s meaning, the scripture nowhere supports the idea that Biblical authors did not know the meaning of what they were communicating.  Prophets did not know many of the specifics about the subject they were prophesying about, such as when they would occur or who, specifically, they were speaking about.  Yet they did understand the specifics of their predictions.  They understood what God was revealing through them, yet had questions and made inquiry about what had not yet been revealed.  Biblical authors at times did not understand the words of an angel or the significance of a vision, yet they always understood the meaning of their own statements.  Thus, it is always possible to seek the author’s intended meaning.
  8. There are many difficulties in understanding scripture that require diligent study. Peter shared Paul’s culture and language, yet he stated that Paul wrote some things that were difficult and hard to understand.  Today, the difficulty of understanding the scripture is further exacerbated by the fact that we are removed from the original languages and from the culture and times in which the biblical authors wrote.  So, we should not be surprised or alarmed if we are unable to determine with certainty the meaning of a passage.
  9. God’s revelation has been progressively revealed throughout history.  Yet later revelation never contradicts previous revelation or makes it defective, inferior, unimportant, morally primitive, or inaccurate
  10. Antecedent theology­–When interpreting a passage, we may appeal to preciously theology that has already been revealed that he reader and author share knowledge of, but we should not appeal to later revelation that was unknown to the reader or author.
  11. New Testament quotations of Old Testament verses often stress an application of an Old Testament passage, rather than strictly referring to the Old Testament author’s intended meaning.  Therefore, New Testament quotations are not to be used as a model of how to interpret scripture.
  12. The dual or multiple fulfillment of some prophecies should not be understood as a dual meaning to the prophecy, but as a multiple fulfillment of the one meaning in two or more events.
  13. Since scripture is inspired by God, the biblical authors were not constrained by their limited knowledge of cosmology, natural history, or the sciences.  We should expect their statements to accurately describe reality.
  14. Direct divine commands to specific individuals in specific situations should not be taken as normative for all believers in all ages.  They will have significance for all believers in all ages, yet are not intended to be strictly obeyed in all ages.  Guidelines for application of commands that include cultural elements are

  • If the reason for a questioned practice or custom has its basis in God’s unchanging nature, then the practice is of permanent relevance for all believers in all times.
  • A practice or cultural command is permanent when it is grounded in the nature of God or in the ordinances of creation.
  • The cultural form of a command may be modified even though the principle of that form remains unchanged for all subsequent believers (a holy kiss may become a holy hug, washing feet may become washing dishes or some other form of menial service).
  • Circumstances sometimes alter the application of those laws of God that rest not on His nature, but on His will for particular men and women in particular contexts. (Jesus pronounced David guiltless even though in an emergency he ate the bread that only the priests were to eat—Matthew 12:1-5.)


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