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Principles of Biblical Interpretation


Even in this secular age, when biblical Christianity is almost universally despised, everyone loves the Bible—as a convenient prop, that is. From an entirely irreligious President quoting “Two Corinthians” to athletes invoking Philippians 4:13, folks love to make Scripture say what they want it to say. But the Bible is not a ball of Silly Putty to be formed and manipulated according to our wills. It cannot be made to mean whatever suits us. It is God's Word, and it means today what he meant when he said it—no more, and no less.

We need to learn to understand God's Word correctly, as he intended (2 Timothy 2:15). The following is a list of principles of biblical interpretation that will help you to do that.

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  1. The literal* principle. Scripture should be understood in its literal, natural, and normal sense. While the Bible does contain figures of speech and symbols, they are intended to convey literal truth. In general, however, the Bible speaks in literal terms and must be allowed to speak for itself.
  2. The historical principle. A passage should be interpreted in its historical context. What the author intended and what the text meant to its first audience must be taken into account. In this way, a proper, contextual understanding of the original meaning of Scripture can be grasped and articulated.
  3. The grammatical principle. This task requires an understanding of the basic grammatical structure of each sentence in the original languages. To whom do the pronouns refer? What is the tense of the main verb? By asking simple questions like these, the meaning of the texts becomes clearer.
  4. The synthetic principle. This principle, the analogia scriptura, means that Scripture is to be its own interpreter. It assumes that the Bible does not contradict itself. Thus, if an understanding of a passage conflicts with a truth taught elsewhere in the Scriptures, that interpretation cannot be correct. Scripture must be compared with Scripture to discover its accurate and full meaning.
  5. The clarity principle. God intended Scripture to be understood. However, not every portion of the Bible is equally clear. Therefore, clearer portions should be employed to interpret the less clear.
  6. —John MacArthur & Richard Mayhue (Eds.), Biblical Doctrine (Crossway, 2017), 25–26.

* “Literal” is used here in the popular sense, meaning “not figurative.” A more proper use of the word means “according to literary genre.” According to this definition, all Scripture, including figurative passages, are to be interpreted literally. Literary Interpretation



Posted 2018·02·05 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Biblical Doctrine · Hermeneutics

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