Basic Bible Interpretation (Part 1)



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

                                                sound words...."

            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

                                    interpret something.

                        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.

                                    PRO 8:8-9.

            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,

                                                structure, etc."

                                    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

                                    primary meanings.

                        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.

                                                1CH 15:2.

                                    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

                                                                        an aid. 

                                                            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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