Basic Principles of Bible Interpretation

As we study the scriptures, or anything else for that matter, we need to do some objective evaluating of the content. Here are some guidelines:

1) Who wrote it? (Author) Is this person speaking for God, or themselves, or for a position or belief they are trying to re-enforce or question?

2) To whom was it written? (Audience) Believer or non-believer? Those under law or under grace? To those in authority or to the common man?

3) What was the social situation? (Environmental Context) What city? What is the history of the region? What was going on politically, religiously, financially at the time?

4) When was this written? (Age Context) Was this written under Law or under Grace? Pre-Resurrection or Post-Resurrection?

5) What is the practical application for us, since we, as believers, now live in the age of grace? (Application)

6) Review the passage before and after the scripture being studied. Remember, in the original there were no chapter breaks, passage numbers or even punctuation or capitalizations.

7) Study key words according to their original definition. A Strong’s Concordance, referencing the King James Version, is an invaluable resource, as is a good interlinear reference, which gives a modern-day translation with a “straight-rendering” or “word-for-word” translation of the original language, whether Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek).

8) Does what I have learned from this passage cause me to depend on God, or on myself (the strength of my emotions, will or intellect). I have found this a good test to see whether I have interpreted a passage according to grace or from a law mentality, which begets legalism and death.

9) When using outside references, dictionaries, expositories, etc., use as great a variety as possible, as often these individual works are written to enforce a viewpoint, approach, belief, doctrine or denomination.

10) When studying scripture, use as many versions and translations as possible, as each will have a nuance that may give further revelation by the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment. This also trains us to become interpreters, rather than simply sponges that absorb the surface layer.

These are just a few criteria to keep in mind whenever we study the scripture, regardless of what version we use. This is important because we want to handle the scriptures rightly, and not be putting words in God’s mouth. In this way, we can have confidence that as the Holy Spirit brings the words to life, He is doing so according to His will, and not because it’s something we want to hear, or have heard from someone else.

Adapted from Practical Christianity by Dianne Thomas

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