Basic Bible Interpretation (Part 1)
BASICS OF BIBLE INTERPRETATION
I. NEH 8:7-8, 12 sets forth the basic principles of Bible interpretation.
A. The method the Levites employed caused the people to understand the law.
B. First, "they read in the book in the law of God."
1. No one should try to decipher what the Bible means until he first knows what the Bible says.
2. They read in the law, not in commentaries.
3. By reading the words of Scripture we come to understand Scripture.
EPH 3:3-4; PSA 119:104, 130.
4. The Bible means what we read.
C. Secondly, "they read....distinctly."
1. Distinctly: "In a distinct or separate manner; separately, individually,
2. Every word of God is vital. DEU 8:3.
3. Each word in a verse must be considered, its part of speech, its
definition, and its relation to other words.
4. The grammar of Scripture must be heeded.
a. Grammar: The department of the study of a language which
deals with its inflexional forms or other means of indicating the
relations of words in the sentence, and with the rules for employing these in accordance with established usage."
b. 2TI 1:13. "Hold fast the form (shape, arrangement of parts) of
D. Thirdly, they "gave the sense."
1. Give to words THE SENSE, that is, their primary meaning.
2. Giving to the reading THE SENSE yields ONE interpretation.
a. In the Bible the word "truth" is always singular.
b. PSA 119:151 "...all thy commandments (plural) are truth
c. All parts of Scripture must harmonize so as to form a singular
fabric of truth or doctrine.
3. To give the senseS would yield numerous interpretations.
E. By this method the words of the Lord "were declared unto them."
1. Declare: "To make clear or plain (anything that is obscure or imperfectly understood); to interpret."
2. Interpret: "To expound the meaning of; to render clear or explicit."
3. To declare a thing is the opposite of hiding it.
PSA 40:10; ISA 3:9; JER 38:25.
4. Words taken in their primary meanings are necessary to declare or
5. God's word is to be declared. ACT 13:32; 20:27; 2CO 2:1.
a. Declaration is needed to know the certainty of what we believe.
LUK 1:1-4; JOH 16:29-30.
b. Declaration is the means to fellowship with God. 1JO 1:3.
c. We use "great plainness of speech" rather than veiled language
or jabberwocky. 2CO 3:12-13.
6. The word of God is to be handled in such a manner that the truth is
manifested, that is, made evident to the eye or understanding; shown
plainly. 2CO 4:1-4.
a. This method contrasts the "HIDDEN things of dishonesty."
b. If the gospel is hidden, it is not because it isn't clearly revealed.
It is because men's minds are blinded.
7. By the method of NEH 8:7-8, all the words of wisdom are PLAIN.
F. The Bible does contain parables, proverbs, dark sayings and figures.
PSA 78:2; PRO 1:6; HEB 9:24.
1. However, these are declared or interpreted with words used in their
primary meanings. Otherwise, there is no declaration or interpretation
that yields any understanding.
2. Consider these important examples of interpretation.
a. GEN 40, 41:1-32. Joseph interpreted dreams in words taken in their primary meanings.
b. DAN 4-5. What kind of reputation as an interpreter would Daniel have gained had he not interpreted Nebuchadnezzar's
dream with words taken in their primary meanings.
c. MAT 13:36-43. Declaring the parable was explaining the analogy with primary meanings.
d. MAR 5:41-42. The context shows that interpretation involves
explanation with words given their primary meanings.
e. JOH 11:11-14. Jesus used the word "dead" in its primary sense
to explain the word "sleep" which He had used figuratively.
3. The Bible usage of the word "interpret" shows us what the Bible means
by interpretation: making plain by primary meanings!
G. False doctrine begins with not taking words in their primary meanings.
1. The method of false teaching is that which Satan used in the garden of
Eden. 2CO 11:3-4.
2. Satan beguiles from the simplicity that is in Christ.
a. Simplicity: "The state or quality of being in simple form,
b. Simple: "Free from duplicity, dissimulation, or guile; innocent
and harmless; undesigning, honest, open, straightforward."
c. Dissimulation: "Concealment of what really is, under a feigned
semblance of something different."
d. Explanation with primary meanings is simplicity.
e. This does not imply that all parabolic language is duplicity.
(1) If an interpretation of parabolic language does not primarily mean what it says, then the interpretation is
itself a parable which really interprets nothing.
(2) If the explanation of parabolic language is not given in
primary meanings, then it is a case of duplicity.
3. Mark Satan's method in the garden of Eden. GEN 3:1-6.
a. The word of God was first questioned: "Yea, hath God said?"
b. Read what God said in GEN 2:16-17 and give the words THE
c. Satan's question is echoed in such questions as:
(1) Is that really what that means?
(2) Could not that mean?
d. The word of God was added to and watered down: "neither shall
ye touch it, lest ye die" (v.3).
(1) God did not forbid them to touch the tree.
(2) God said, "thou shalt SURELY die...," not "lest ye die."
e. The word of God was denied: "And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die" (v.4).
(1) From GEN 3:5 we note that once the error was established, a system of doctrine was built around it.
(2) Beware of any system of doctrine that involves denying
the plain sense of a verse.
4. The word of God was defied: "She took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat" (v.6).
a. Eve focused her attention upon Satan's system of doctrine
rather than on what God said.
b. Mind that Satan's system was desirable.
II. Following is an overview of sound Bible interpretation based upon the pattern of
using primary meanings (the sense) as did the teachers in NEH 8:7-12.
A. Always attach primary meanings to words unless:
1. the primary meaning creates a contradiction or an absurdity.
a. Example: "Son" in 1TI 1:18 cannot be taken in its primary sense since this would contradict ACT 16:1 and 1CO 7:8.
b. Example: "Rock" in PSA 18:2 cannot be taken in its primary
sense since this would contradict the fact that God is a personal
Spirit, not an impersonal, feelingless stone. JOH 4:24.
c. Example: MAT 23:14 does not mean that the Pharisees ravenously bit, chewed and digested houses in a natural sense.
2. the Bible itself tells you that it is not using a word in its primary sense.
a. Example: JOH 11:11-14. Sleep means death in this case.
b. Example: MAT 16:12. Leaven means doctrine in this case.
B. If you must use other than a primary meaning for a word, observe these points:
1. Examine the context for the subject matter.
2. Go to passages dealing with that same subject matter that speak in
3. Always explain passages with secondary meanings or figurative
language in the light of passages that speak with primary meanings.
C. Other principles of Bible study are actually the application of the basic
principles of NEH 8:7-8.
1. Distinguishing between a proof text and a reference text is essentially
paying attention to precisely what the words say.
a. A proof text expressly states a point of doctrine.
b. A reference text refers to a point of doctrine but does not expressly define it. The point must be proved elsewhere.
2. Minding the context of Scripture is paying attention to the reading.
a. Context: "The weaving together of words and sentences."
b. By observing the context one is noting how the words relate to
one another which is the method of NEH 8:7-8.
(1) Many have assumed that HEB 3:7-8 is a call to the
unregenerate to decide for Christ and heaven. This ignores the context that plainly declares that these
words were written to such as were already "holy
brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling" (HEB 3:1).
(2) Similarly, many have assumed that JAM 5:20 teaches
that conversion is the means to regenerate a sinner from
eternal spiritual death. This ignores the context which shows that James is writing to brethren (v.19), beloved brethren (JAM 1:16, 19; 2:5) who have the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ (JAM 2:1) and are encouraged to patiently await the coming of the Lord (JAM 5:7-8).
c. Context alone, though, has its limitations.
(1) Example: JOH 2:13-21.
AA. The context of temple in vs.13-19 was the earthly
Jewish building for public worship of God.
BB. But the temple that Jesus spoke of in v.19 was His
body, not the Jewish building. v.21.
(2) Portions of the Book of Proverbs have consecutive verses
that are contextually connected but much of Proverbs is
a list of relatively random observations.
D. Words in their primary meanings may be applied to different things.
1. Example: The word save can be applied in its primary sense ("to
deliver from...") to many different things from which one may be
2. Example: The word kingdom can be applied in its primary sense ("kingly function, authority or power...") to God's rule of the universe,
the local church or a particular country.
III. Given that words are to be generally taken in their primary meaning, observe the
following rules in interpreting Scripture.
A. Rule #1. There are no contradictions in the Bible. 2PE 1:20-21.
1. If Scripture does not generally use primary meanings, we would have
difficulty even recognizing a contradiction.
2. "Knowing this first..." This principle of no contradictions is to be kept
foremost in our minds when we approach Scripture.
3. Prophecy: "Divinely inspired utterance."
4. Private: "Withdrawn or separate from the public body."
5. Each part or prophecy of Scripture must be interpreted in accord with the rest of Scripture, not in discord with the rest of Scripture.
6. Any conclusion we arrive at for any given passage had better agree with the whole of what the Bible teaches.
B. Rule #2. Compare Scripture with Scripture. 1CO 2:13 c/w ISA 28:13.
1. Since every part of Scripture harmonizes with the whole of Scripture,
comparing Scripture with Scripture must be done.
2. Scripture is to be expounded with Scripture.
3. Subjects are to be presented piece-meal in the Bible. As such, various
passages must be compared to get the whole picture.
4. In short, the Bible is the best commentary on the Bible.
5. Do not rely on dreams, traditions, history, experiences or other books
to interpret Scripture.
C. Rule #3. Observe the argument from silence: what the Bible does not teach,
it does not teach.
1. Example: HEB 7:13-14.
a. Moses said nothing about the tribe of Judah being in the priesthood.
b. This fact was used by Paul to prove that no man from that tribe
gave attendance at the altar.
2. Example: NUM 4:15.
a. None but the Levites could lawfully carry the ark of God.
b. This is proven from the fact that Moses never said anything about anyone else but the Levites carrying the ark.
3. The Bible is a complete, closed system.
a. It has a beginning, a middle and an end.
b. It was produced by an Infinite Mind which knows all
possibilities and contingencies.
c. Thus, if something is not in Scripture, it is not Scriptural.
4. Because the Bible is a complete, closed system, it is not to be added to
nor taken away from. DEU 4:2; 12:32; PRO 30:6; REV 22:18-19.
a. God's commandments are to be kept exactly as delivered without addition or subtraction.
b. Aaron's sons were killed because they added to God's word in
offering a fire that God did not command. LEV 10:1-2.
c. Saul was judged because he subtracted from God's word in
doing less than God commanded and substituting his own
idea. 1SAM 15:3, 9, 20-23.
d. This explains why our church does not have Sunday schools,
choirs, musical instruments, holiday celebrations and a host of
other things that churches have added.
e. This also explains why our church keeps the ordinances that
Christ has given us as delivered, lest we subtract from God's
due order. MAT 28:19-20 c/w 1CO 11:1-2.
5. Because the Bible is a complete closed system, we cannot judge a
thing as sin if the Bible does not call it sin. 1JO 3:4 c/w ROM 4:15.
a. Some reason that if the Bible does not speak of a certain thing,
then that means it is forbidden.
b. Consider the Amish who (with qualification) forbid the usage of electrical devices because they were not used in the Bible.
(1) In attempting to apply the argument from silence thus,
they are actually violating it.
(2) They are setting up a whole range of "thou shalt nots" which are NOT in the Bible. COL 2:20-22.
c. Some argue that to use a hymnal in church worship would be
sinful since there is no mention of a hymnal in the Bible.
(1) A hymnal is not an addition but only an aid.
(2) The church is to sing hymns in musical praise (EPH 5:19; COL 3:16) but no specific command is given as to how the words and notes of the hymn are to be conveyed.
AA. If the Bible taught that hymns should be sung
from memory, or by having a learned songleader
"lining" for the congregation, etc., then a hymnal would be inappropriate.
BB. The Bible issues no such command, so the hymnal
adds nothing to a command and is therefore only
CC. By contrast, supplementing vocal music with instrumental music adds an element to what God
clearly stated He wanted to hear and is therefore
D. Rule #4. The Bible alone is the standard of truth. PSA 119:128; ROM 3:4.
1. Arguments from science, tradition and history are to be rejected if
they contradict the Bible. COL 2:8; 1TI 6:20; TIT 1:14.
2. Wisdom's children justify wisdom. MAT 11:19.
3. True science and true history justify the Bible.
4. Proving everything by the Bible will lead to sound faith and mind.
ACT 17:11-12; 2TI 1:7.
E. Rule #5. Submit to Scripture.
1. Application of what you have learned will lead to learning more.
HEB 5:14; MAT 11:29; COL 1:10.
2. If you disobey what you know you should do, this can lead to
justifying your disobedience, which will require that you reinterpret
Scripture by incorrect methods.
3. If you do what God says, you will love it. PSA 119:167.
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