BIBLE INTERPRETATION METHODS AND NUANCESÂ Bible Etymology
The English word "Bible" is from the Greek phrase ta biblia, "the books," an expression Hellenistic Jews used to describe their sacred books several centuries before the time of Jesus. Christians adopted the phrase "Old Testament" to refer to these sacred books they shared with Jews.
Jews called the same books Miqra, "Scripture," or the Tanakh, an acronym for the three divisions of the Hebrew Bible: Torah ("instructions" or less accurately "the law"), Neviim ("prophets"), and Kethuvim ("writings," including Psalms, Proverbs, and several other books). Modern scholars often use the term "Hebrew Bible" to avoid the confessional terms Old Testament and Tanakh. 1.Â
The Bible containsGod's messages to us, but if we cannot properly interpret what it says, we're destined to become confused, misinterpret and probably misapply biblical content. As Paul writes to Timothy, we need to "correctly" handle "the word of truth." But how do we go about interpreting the Bible? This thesis will cover some basic principles of interpretation that will go a long way towards equipping everyone to correctly interpret God's Word.
Understanding the Context
Interpreting the Bible is part of a field of study known as hermeneutics. While this sounds complicated, its underlying principles aren't that difficult to grasp and can be applied to any written form of communication. Trying to understand what the text says is, in short, hermeneutics.
Applied to the Bible, principles of interpretation are meant to help, not hinder, our ability to make sense of what the Bible records. Another section of this thesis will address how to handle Bible difficulties, but having a basic foundation in hermeneutics will often help in that area, too.
Unlike some postmodern approaches to written texts that claim there really is no objective meaning to writing, throughout the centuries Christians have interpreted the Bible and continuously drawn out Christianity's essential foundations. The Bible, then, does indeed communicate objective truths.
The Importance of Context
Perhaps the greatest principle of biblical interpretation is context. Too often passages or portions of Scripture are quoted, cited or otherwise used to make a point or argue against a point when in reality the entire context of the passage is ignored. Although there are many books in the Bible, it is a cohesive whole wherein God distinctly communicates to us. This means that every passage is part of not only its immediate context, but also a broader context.
The words used are important, as is the context of those words. Whenever seeking to rightly interpret the Bible, make sure you understand the immediate context. What is the passage about? What comes before the passage you are examining? What comes after? Along these lines, not only is immediate context important, but so is the broader context. In other words, given a particular passage that speaks to a certain topic, what does the Bible as a whole say on the subject? Don't overlook the immediate context or the broader context.
It's also wise to avoid citing passages selectively just to try and bolster a particular point without keeping the context in mind. That's why theologians caution against building elaborate doctrines on obscure or isolated passages, or doing so by only referencing passages that appear to agree with our particular pet doctrine, while ignoring other significant passages that tend to argue against our position.
Draw Out or Read Into?
In addition to understanding the context of Bible passages, it's also crucial to keep two other related principles of interpretation in mind. These are known as exegesis and eisogesis. Exegesis has to do with reading and interpreting the text by drawing out from it what it is communicating. Eisogesis, on the other hand, is when we attempt to read into the text what really isn't there. Exegesis, then, is the right way to approach a passage, as we seek to determine what the author intended, fairly looking at the text to see what it really says. Eisogesis, however, can lead to many errors, especially if we approach a passage with assumptions or presuppositions that really aren't in the text at all.
The "golden rule" of interpretation applies here: seek to interpret a text as others would seek to interpret what you have written or said. In other words, just as we would not want someone reading ideas into what we have said or written that are not there at all, we should not seek to do this with biblical writings either.
Kinds of Biblical Writing
Another point to keep in mind has to do with the kind of biblical literature we are dealing with when seeking to interpret a passage. The Bible contains a variety of genres or styles of writing ranging from the overtly poetic, such as the Psalms, to prophetic writings, wisdom literature, apocalyptic literature and more. Knowing what kind of passage we are dealing with often helps our interpretation of it.
Related to this are questions of interpreting the Bible literally or figuratively. Both are valid approaches so long as they are judiciously employed. For instance, when the biblical writers share evidence of the resurrection of Jesus they do so quite literally. Despite some liberal interpretations arguing that the biblical writers are, for example, merely speaking of Christ's resurrection figuratively or as a symbol of some kind, the biblical text is clear that the resurrection is viewed as literal. Even Paul acknowledged, "And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins" (1 Corinthians 15:17).
However, there are certain passages clearly intended as figurative. When Christ says he is "the gate" (John 10:7-9), he does not literally mean that he is a physical gate, complete with hinges and handle. Instead, he is using figurative language. When we read in Psalm 91:4 that God will cover us "with his feathers," we are not supposed to literally picture God as having feathers. Again, this is figurative language.Â
Mistaking figurative language for literal language, or vice versa, is very important when it comes to biblical interpretation. Again, context will often help us understand what is truly meant.
Correctly handling "the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15) is something we are all called to do. Learning some basic principles of hermeneutics, or biblical interpretation, will help us do so consistently. 2
Hermeneutics is the process of correctly interpreting the Bible:
Revelation Defined Webster's Dictionary defines revelation as, "an act of revealing or communicating divine truth. Revelation simply is something that is revealed by God to man. Revelation is very much and still is abused to this day. Within some Charismatic churches today, there are many that still claim to receive revelation from God to be used as additional God-breathed scripture. It is through the supposed revelation from God that Joseph Smith received the words of what is today the Book of Mormons. On the positive side, when the disciple John was exiled to the island of Patmos, it was there where he received direct revelation from God about future events that would take place throughout the world. He penned this revelation in the Book of Revelation. Additionally, the Apostle Paul received the gospel not by man but by direct revelation from Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:12). Inspiration Defined The entire scriptures were written by means of inspiration. It was written by man inspired of God. In other words, God put His infallible words in written text. The words themselves are what is inspired, not the writer. It is important for the interpreter to recognize the Bible as a wholly God-inspired work and not just some mere religious book containing words written by man. If an interpreter does not recognize this fact then he will easily find inconsistencies and find the stories rather strange or extraordinary. As Ramm notes, "The divine inspiration of the Bible is the foundation of historic Protestant hermeneutics and exegesis." Bible Cultural Background Interpretation As mentioned earlier, understanding and knowing the cultural backgrounds of the people contained in the books of the Bible is imperative to the interpreter. For example, knowing the Galatian culture might assist the interpreter in better understanding the book of Galatians and their livelihood. He will be able to better understand the issues effecting the Christians of Galatia and Paul's intentions of addressing them in his epistles. Even more so, the interpreter must take into account the cultural differences between the Galatians of the Bible and that of today's culture. Are some of the issues addressed to the Galatian church irrelevant to us today? How does the interpreter determine what is and is not relevant to our cultural practices and customs today? Zuck further elaborates, "The issue of cultural relevance is an important one because of the two tasks of the interpreter: to determine what the text meant to its immediate readers in that cultural setting, and to determine what the text means to us now in our context. We can clearly see the cultural differences of yesterday versus today. This is an important and significant issue that the interpreter must sincerely contend with. He must establish what is and is not relevant to us today. If an issue is not relevant then sometimes the principle is. In which case the interpreter can apply a relevance that pertains to us today and apply it to that very same principle. This cultural understanding is vital in the interpretation process. Grammatical Interpretation Grammatical interpretation is "the process of seeking to determine its [Bible] meaning by ascertaining four things. These four things consist of: a) lexicology - determining the usage and meaning of words. b) morphology - determining word forms and how they are structured. c) parts of speech - determining certain functions of words. d) syntax - determining the relationship of words and how they are used together. Grammatical interpretation is important in the overall principle of hermeneutics. Understanding the grammatical usage of words, a particular sentence, phrase, or paragraph is imperative so that the interpreter can get a fuller sense of the meaning of which the writer was trying to convey. Since the Bible is a verbally inspired work then we must truly begin to understand every single word, "jot and tittle", so that we can grasp every meaning that can possibly be found throughout the scriptures. Rhetorical Interpretation Rhetorical interpretation is the process of determining the literary quality of a writing by analyzing its genre, structure, and figures of speech and how those factors influence the meaning of the text. In other words, it is the determining process of understanding the organizational layout and different styles of expression and words contained within a certain passage. Observation Observation is the first of three steps in this interpretation process. This step asks, "What does it say?" As the interpreter, we are to objectively observe the whole picture of what we are attempting to interpret. Figuratively, we are to act as a detective -- investigating, and examining what the passage is saying. Within this process, the interpreter is to determine the background and setting of all that encompasses the passage, including that of the author himself. Additionally, he is to observe the text itself, determining what is a metaphor, simile, transitional or comparative word, etc. Some of the questions the interpreter might ask are: - Who are the key figures in the book? Who is Jeremiah, Nehemiah, Cyrus, Paul, Timothy, Barnabas, Peter, John, Luke, etc.? - What are the key dates? When was the book written? When did the author die? When did King Cyrus reign? When was the temple completed, etc.? - What are the key verses in the book? What are the key words? What statement is the author trying to convey, etc.? - What are the key events taking place?
- What conclusions can be drawn from this passage? Must we observe Jewish customs and laws while being a Christian? Can we summarize the passage? - What is the historical setting? When was Ephesus occupied by the Romans? When did Paul setup the church at Antioch, etc.? Additionally, the interpreter will observe any key doctrines, themes, and the author's intention in writing the book. It is within this process that the interpreter would greatly benefit by utilizing Bible tools and references. Dictionaries, commentaries, Bible atlases, concordances, etc. It is important to interpret literally in this process and to allow the Bible to speak for itself. In the Tyndale Theological Seminary and Biblical Institute's, Hermeneutics course study notes, Dr. Mal Couch points out, "study objectively not subjectively." It is important to not allow any preconceived conclusions to influence this vital step of interpretation. This includes denominational beliefs, personal opinions, spiritualizing or excessive allegorizing of the passage, etc. Lastly, without this first process of observation, the interpreter cannot properly continue to the next step -- interpretation. As Zuck states, "Interpretation should build on observation and then lead into interpretation." The Audience to Whom the Book is Written It is imperative in knowing whom the book is written to. This will impact the interpretation of any given passage of the book. In many of Paul's epistles the titles of the books themselves are addressed to a particular people, i.e. Corinthians, Thessalonians, Hebrews, etc. Who were the Corinthians? What were they like? Were they comparable to our society today? These questions must be asked and answered by the interpreter before he is to study the book itself. This is so that he might better understand what issues are applicable to us today and how it may directly or indirectly relate to or effect us. Figures of Speech A figure of speech is a form of written expression used to vividly illustrate a point by using forms contrary to normal laws of grammar. An example of such can be found in John 4:13-14 when Jesus refers to himself as "living water" with his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. The "living water" the woman thought of was literal water that would never make her thirst again. The "living water" Jesus was referring to was Himself, the living Word. Do figures of speech go against literal interpretation? Generally not. In fact, figures of speech can be used to "drive home" (figure-of-speech intended) a literal point or truth. The "living water" is a figure of speech for Christ's offer of eternal life to all who drink of it. This point is a factual, literal, and true statement. All who accept Christ into their lives will have everlasting life Syntax Syntax comes from the Greek word syntassein, which means "to place in order together. Syntax is the process of determining the relationship between words and how they are used together to form sentences, phrases, etc. The order in which words appear and how they are used relationally can make a significant difference in what it is saying. It is important for the interpreter to determine the correct usage of a sentence or phrase by examining this relationship of words. Literary Genre Literary genre is a category depicting the various forms or types of literature found throughout the Bible. Some of the primary categories are: Legal/Law - consisting primarily of the Pentateuch, replete with a systematic form of rules, ordinances, etc. Narrative - consisting of a story that entails a crisis, problem, or issue that might occur in an individual(s) life with progressive problems that finally reach a climax. Ultimately, the story will end with some form of a solution or victory. Poetry - books put to song, prose, and lament with the intention to convey an important message. Wisdom Literature - consisting primarily of Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes because of the vast amount of wisdom given. Gospels - the form of literature used to describe the life of Christ complete with biography, doctrine, and narrative. This form of literature consists of the Synoptic Gospels and the Book of John. Logical Discourse - these are the epistles that can be found throughout the New Testament. Two kinds of epistles exist: expository and hortatory discourse. Prophetic Literature - material that consists of information, revelation, and disclosures pertaining to future events. The Book of Revelation written by John is most notable for this form of literature. Synecdoche A synecdoche is a phrase used to substitute a part of something for a whole or a whole for a part. The term Gentiles is used quite frequently to represent all that are not Jewish. In yet another example in the Olivet Discourse when Jesus was talking about the end-times and days of tribulation, he spoke of two men in the field, one will be taken and the other left (Matthew 24:40). He was not speaking of their being just two men, he was speaking in generalities of many men that will be taken and many that will be left. This is an example of synecdoche. Merism A merism is a type of synecdoche that comprises of two opposing parts signifying a whole singular concept. An example of such can be found in Isaiah 11:6: "The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat..." Although these exact animals may in fact live amongst one another peacefully someday, the message here is that there will be a universal peace that will transcend the earth when Christ returns to forever reign. A time when all living creatures, great and small, will live peacefully with one another here in the new earth or in the kingdom of God. Hendiadys A hendiadys is as Zuck states, "the substituting of two coordinate terms (joined by "and") for a single concept in which one of the elements defines the other. One example of a hendiadys can be found in I Thessalonians 3:12: "May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else..." Here, "increase and overflow" can be used as "increasingly overflow". May the Lord make your love "increasingly overflow" for each other and for everyone else. Personification Personification is the attachment of human characteristics or expression to anything that is not a human. One such example can be given in Isaiah 14:8, "Even the pine trees and the cedars of Lebanon exult over you and say, 'Now that you have been laid low, no woodsman comes to cut us down." Anthropomorphism An anthropomorphism is the ascribing of human elements to God. Recently, on a local Christian radio station I was listening to R.C. Sproul. He asked the listening audience to close their eyes and to visualize what God looks like to them. Afterwards, he called upon certain people to describe what they envisioned. Some envisioned God as depicted in Michelangelo's famous painting at The Sistine Chapel in Italy of the old yet muscular man reaching out to Adam. Others envisioned him as a spirit containing human emotions and characteristics. These are all considered to be anthropomorphisms. Anthropopathism An anthropopathism is a type of figure of speech attaching human emotions and expressions to God. Such an example can be found in Nahum 1:2a, "The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath." Jealousy is a component of human emotions, thus an anthropopathism. Zoomorphism A zoomorphism is the ascribing of animal characteristics to God. Shortly after the mass exodus from Egypt, the Israelites encamped at the base of Mt. Sinai. Moses then went up to the mountain to receive instruction from God. God told Moses what to say to the people. "You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself." (Exodus 19:4) "eagles' wings" is an animal feature used to describe God's carrying the people out of Egypt. Euphemism A euphemism is "the substituting of an inoffensive or mild expression for an offensive or personal one. Euphemism comes from the Greek word, euphemismos, which means auspicious or to sound good. Ellipsis An ellipsis is a set of words to be added by the reader to better understand what seems to be an incomplete sentence or phrase. In Romans 5:13, it says, "For until the Law sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law." (NASB). For until the Law what? The reader simply adds, "was given" to understand this verse more clearly. Zeugma A zeugma is a sentence containing two nouns associated with one verb, when only one noun would suffice. An example of a zeugma can be found in Luke 1:64 which reads, "His mouth was opened and his tongue." Here there are clearly two nouns associated with only one verb. As Zuck stated, "The NIV has supplied the words "was loosed" after the word "tongue" in order to render the sentence in good English. Aposiopesis An aposiopesis is a sudden break in a sentence. This is usually due in part to the character's overwhelming emotions. Such example can be given in I Peter 2:4-5, "As you come to him, the living Stone rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." It can be speculated that Peter, the author of this book, was caught up in the emotion at the time he wrote this, thus the sudden breaks in the sentences. Rhetorical question A rhetorical question is a question asked by someone that does not necessarily require an answer. It's primary purpose is to make a certain point and to allow the reader to ponder the thought or reasoning rather than providing an answer. In my own estimation there is perhaps no more profound example of rhetorical questioning as can be found in the Book of Job. Instead of God answering Job's questions, Job is presented with a series of many questions by God, questions that no man could ever answer. Such questions as: - "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?" (Job 38:4) - "Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb?" (Job 38:8) - "What is the way to the abode of light?" (Job 38:19) - "Have the gates of death been shown to you?" (Job 38:17) - "Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion?" (Job 38:31) There are many more that follow. God knew that Job couldn't possibly even begin to answer these questions. God's intention for these rhetorical questions was to simply get Job to recognize his awesome power and sovereignty. Hyperbole A hyperbole is simply an expression used to emphasize a point by using slight exaggerations. One such example can be found in Matthew 18:21-22. Peter went up to Jesus and asked him how many times shall we forgive a brother when they sin against us. Peter went on and asked, "Up to seven times?" Jesus' response was quite amazing. "Jesus answered, I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven." Jesus obviously did not mean for us to forgive someone only 77 times and after that, that's it no more forgiveness. He meant that we shouldn't even keep track of how often we should forgive someone. Just as we have been forgiven we too should also continuously forgive others as long as they are truly repentant and seeking our forgiveness. Litotes A litotes is an understatement or a negative connotation to express a positive point or affirmation. When Paul was expressing how God had given him the grace to preach to the Gentiles, he referred to himself as "the least of all God's people" (Ephesians 3:8). Additionally, when expressing how Christ Jesus came to the world to save sinners, Paul referred to himself as the "worst of sinners" (I Timothy 1:15). The King James version says he was the "chief" of sinners. Nevertheless, the underlying point is that Christ can save anyone, even Paul, who as he claims, is the worst of all sinners. Irony Webster's dictionary defines irony as, "the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning. When Jesus was explaining to the religious leaders who his Father was, the leaders were responding by saying God was their Father. Jesus then responded with, "You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire." (John 8:44) At first glance it sounds as if Jesus was agreeing with them saying, "You belong to your father...", then He equivocally continues by saying, "the devil". He goes on to agree that they do in fact carry out their father's desires. Pleonasm A pleonasm is a repetition of words or the adding of similar words. Perhaps an example of a pleonasm can be given from Psalm 17:6, "I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer." The passage, "Give ear to me and hear my prayer" seems to be a slight repetition of words or expression. Instead, the Psalmist could've said, "give ear to my prayer" and the question would've been the same with less words. Oxymoron An oxymoron is an expression containing two opposing words to make a point. The word oxymoron comes from two Greek words * oxus ("sharp") and moros ("stupid").47 Paul gave many oxymorons when he was addressing the Corinthians about the importance of not being yoked together with unbelievers. For example: - "For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?" - "Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?" - "What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?" - "What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?" These can also be construed as rhetorical questions. However, these questions contain opposing words to enforce the issue more clearly. Another oxymoron can be found when Jesus was speaking of who will be first in the kingdom of God. "But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first." (Matt. 19:30) Here are two opposite phrases used together in the same sentence, an oxymoron. Paradox A paradox is an expression of terms containing what might seem an absurdity or contrary to normal opinion.48 An example of a paradox can be found in Galatians 2:20. "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." Obviously, Paul was not literally crucified with Christ on the same day Christ was crucified on the hill at Golgotha. Additionally, the term "crucified" is not synonymous with "life" such as how Paul uses it in this passage. This is considered a paradox. Paranomasia A paronomasia is better known as a "play on words". These words sometimes contain a two-fold meaning. Webster's defines paronomasia as, "to call with a slight change of name. Â A good example of a paronomasia can be be found in Matthew 4:19, "Come, follow me, Jesus said, and I will make you fishers of men." Jesus knew Peter and Andrew's trade as fishermen. He knew they could catch fish physically. Instead Jesus chose the words, "fishers of men" so that Jesus could show them how to be productive spiritually. Like bringing fish out of the water so to were Peter and Andrew to bring men out of one element into another. Interpretation Interpretation is the second of three steps in the process of interpreting the Bible. This step asks, "What does it mean?" As discussed earlier, the interpreter must first perform a thorough and concise observation of the book or passage prior to continuing on with the remaining steps of the interpretation process. Within the process of interpretation, the interpreter is to determine the meaning of the passage or book, and to whom it is addressed to. Some of the questions the interpreter might ask are: - Who wrote the book? Paul? Moses? Luke? David? Who in fact did write Hebrews? - What is the overall theme of the book? About God's grace? God's love? The establishment of the Law? Paul's missionary journey's? - Who is the third person? Me? God? Jesus? Who is the "I" referring to? Daniel? When Christ said, "God so loved the world." Who is the world? Only those that believe? - Can certain passages be generalized? Or must it be specified? Is it literal? Is it symbolic? The Beast of Revelation. Is it an actual man, or is it a system? - Does the passage only refer to that particular generation? Or does it similarly refer to our generation of today? - What does the passage mean? When Jesus said, "I am the vine." What is the vine referring to? What does the term, "last days" mean? Was it at the time of the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D.? Or is it yet future? As can be clearly seen, it is obvious that the interpreter will have to again consult his or her Bible references and tools during this process. Additionally, a lot of cross-referencing will be made as well. For example, in comparing similar passages that can be found throughout the synoptic gospels. How does Luke describe the account of Jesus' miracle of calming the storm versus Matthew's account? Or, what is the difference between the Holy Spirit of the Old Testament such as in Psalm 51:11 and that of the New Testament at the day of Pentecost, it's first arrival after Christ's ascension? These are but a few of the many questions that can be asked within this vital step of interpretation. It is worth noting that this crucial step of the interpretation process, "is perhaps the most difficult and time-consuming of these three steps."10 If ever there were a step that should not be avoided, ignored, or even misused, it is this one. After confidently analyzing and interpreting the applicable book or passage, the next step of the interpretation process is application. Allegory Webster's dictionary defines allegory as, "the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence." Or, "a symbolic representation."16 Zuck summarizes allegory as, "a narrative or word picture which may or may not be true-to-life, with many parts pointing symbolically to spiritual realities."17 Both of these definitions accurately describe allegory. There is a correct place for allegory to be interpreted in the Bible just as there is not. For example, many times Christians have suggested that the nation of Israel of the Old Testament is symbolically representative of the Church. Or, the inner chambers of the Jewish Temple is symbolic of the inner recesses of man's mind and heart. These both have been mistakenly interpreted as an allegory. A correct example of allegory is shown in Psalm 80:8-11: "You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it, and it took root and filled the land. The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches. It sent out its boughs to the Sea (probably the Mediterranean), its shoots as far as the River (Euphrates or Jordan)." The "vine" in verse 8 is undoubtedly the nation of Israel and refers to it's exodus led by Moses in 1446 B.C. "You drove out the nations and planted it." This is referring to Israel's many victorious battles against the people who inhabited the land of Canaan, and their geographical establishment as a nation. Verses 9-10 describes Israel's expansion throughout the newly conquered land. In verse 11, it says, "It sent out its boughs to the Sea, its shoots as far as the River." This is referring to the nation of Israel's outermost reaches and boundaries. These are just a few examples of correct and incorrect allegorical interpretation. Parables What is a parable? A parable is simply a fictitious story that illustrates a religious principle or truth. The word finds it's root in the Greek word parabole which refers to short statements and proverbs also called similitudes. There are many parables found throughout the Bible. Perhaps most famous are those told by Christ to His disciples. However, these particular forms of parables are not found in John's gospel, they are found extensively in the Synoptics.54 The Parabolic Teachings of Jesus The question is asked, "Why did Jesus teach in parables?" Jesus used parables primarily for two purposes. Zuck states, "One was to reveal truths to his followers and the other was to conceal truth from "those on the outside" (Mark 4:11)."55 However, these two purposes seem to contradict one another. But as you will see, there were legitimate reasons behind these purposes. Jesus wanted to truly impart his truths and teachings to his disciples unhindered. He desired for them to learn and grow from these most profound illustrations. Jesus knew that these parables would be forever written on the hearts of men and women and would make disciples of of people for centuries to come. He employed the use of parables to enlighten, exhort, and edify the believers. On the other hand, He also knew that the ones who were plotting to kill Him, and setting out to destroy Him, such as the religious leaders, i.e. Pharisees, Saducees, etc. would be unable to understand or comprehend the true underlying spiritual meaning of his parables. They were simply blinded by the hardness of their hearts and their unbelief. To the unbeliever, on the surface these parables seemed like mere stories containing good moral principles. However, they contained much more than that, they were "meat" for spiritual growth and stories to help illustrate godly principles for living. Jesus also knew the effectiveness of using parables. Generally, He used stories containing elements that the average person could relate to. I personally have made an observation that a majority of the parables contain some form of element relating to agriculture or farming. Such examples as the parable of: Sheep and Wolves (Matt. 7:15), The Soils (Mark 4:4-8), The Mustard Seed (Luke 13:18-19), The Workers in the Harvest (Matt. 20:1-6), The Lost Sheep (Luke 15:3-7), just to name a few. Unlike today, this was a common way of life for most people living at that time. Because of this, Jesus was able to maintain their attention and focus and effectively communicate to them the underlying spiritual implications of these stories. Additionally, these parables moved the listener to think. It required much thought and effort to understand and decipher the meaning of the parable. It stimulated the mind and aroused their curiosity. It moved them to enact and apply the message to their own lives. Jesus was obviously well acquainted with the purpose and effectiveness in using parables. Parables were commonly used in the era in which Christ lived. Even more so in the Middle East. He knew what the results would be in using His parabolic teachings. It would cause growth for some, yet blind others, his enemies.
Literalist approach the Bible as the word indicates. â€œLiterallyâ€.Â Every passage is to be taken as it is written regardless of translations based on language, cultural or historical experience. If it is written then no interpretation is needed.
One difficulty with this view is most young-earth creationists and those who believe in the literal method interpret the Genesis creation account for example, through the lens of the modern English Bible. While English translations can make it sound as though the creation days were 24-hour periods, textual and grammatical elements of the original Hebrew narrative suggest otherwise. Indeed, a literal reading of the Hebrew text provides compelling exegetical clues pointing to prolonged creation days. To understand why this is the case, one only needs to consider the chain of translation. From original Hebrew, the text was translated to the Greek Septuagint, to Latin Vulgate, to English Wycliffe, to English Tyndale. However, the King James Version, and finally the modern versions, such as the NIV, NASB, ESV and other modern translations were translated directly from the original Hebrew and Greek. Because every language is unique, some of the nuances of the original text have sometimes been lost in translating it into modern English. Application Last and foremost is the application process. This step is the final of three steps in interpreting the Bible. This step asks, "How does it apply to me?" Without this step, the reader will not properly understand how the passage pertains to his or her life. Perhaps the most important aspect of this step is in determining who the passage is both directly and indirectly addressed to. Additionally, it must be determined if the passage can be applied directly to all, at any time, or not. These determining factors can be better labeled as: Direct, Indirect, and Generic.11 Some of the questions the interpreter might ask are: - To whom is the passage addressed to? Timothy? Titus? The church at Colosse? - What is the passage about? Church government? Marriage? How to approach a brother who might be in error? Spiritual gifts? - Who is the passage directly applied to? Me? Timothy? Anyone? - How would it be indirectly applied? Written directly to Timothy, but indirectly to pastors? Spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6 applied directly to the church at Ephesus but could it be indirectly applied to any of us today? - How can I determine if it is a generic application? What key words are observed in determining this? For example, all, you, I, the church at Philippi. Using Galatians 3:26-27 as an example. "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." We must determine to whom Paul has directly and indirectly applied this passage to. Clearly, the passage was directly written to the church in Galatia. By using the interpretation process, the student will have seen that in Roman society, a youth coming of age laid aside the robe of childhood and would put on a new toga. This represented his passage into adulthood with full rights and responsibilities. Paul combined this cultural understanding with the concept of baptism. After being baptized, the Galatian church were becoming spiritually grown up and ready to take on the privileges and responsibilities that came along with being more spiritually mature. Indirectly, this passage can be applied to all of us today. Some of the key words can be observed, "...all of you who were baptized into Christ". All of us who have been baptized must recognize we too have now put on new robes and have clothed ourselves with Christ, ready to take on anything the Lord might give us. After all, we have had the honor and blessing of being called, "sons of God". It should never be taken for granted that today, there is easy access to the Scriptures. About the time of the reformation William Tyndale literally translated the Bible into English whilst on the run and being pursued by those trying to take his life for doing so. Thomas Cranmer was burnt alive for his defense of the same and today people attempt to edit sections of the Holy Bible that they are uncomfortable with or that they perceive to not be authentic. In this day and age liberals and higher critics literally meet together in an attempt to determine the meaning of scripture and which portions should be interpreted literally, which parts should be removed and which segments were supposedly written at a later date. The date of the writing of the book of Daniel was questioned for the above reason as it provides such an accurate depiction of the Empires that succeeded the Babylonian one. Interestingly, a visit to the British Museum contains historical items relating to the book of Daniel which supports the orthodox Biblical record.
Scripture Interprets Scripture The best commentary on Holy Scripture is Scripture itself, which helps Bible students to understand its meaning. For example, a detailed analysis of the gospel of John and the epistles of John will reveal that the epistles of John are basically a commentary on John's gospel. Also, a verse or even a passage should not be read in isolation to form an opinion but it should be understood in the context of the whole passage, book or even better the whole Bible. Many people can derive independent theologies from using a particular verse out of context to suit their own agenda instead of interpreting the verse in light of the rest of Scripture. Literal Vs Allegory In their favor, allegorical commentators note that if a hyper literal approach is granted the meaning can be nonsensical. Bible passages should be read literally in their common sense plain meaning unless it is obvious that it relates to a symbolic truth. For example, it is apparent that Jesus isn't a literal lion or a lamb but two of His titles are 'Lamb of God' and the 'Lion of Judah' as they are descriptive of His character and can be understood more easily if read in context. Since the creation story provides a systematic non-allegorical description of the Garden of Eden, surely it should be understood that way. Adam is listed in a literal chronological framework in Genesis 5:1 Chronicles 1, Matthew 1 and Luke 3. The Tree of Life in Genesis concurs with the Tree of Life in Revelation Chapter 22. Due to the historical, cultural and linguistic difficulties, certain parts of the Bible can be difficult to comprehend. Currently though, numerous commentaries, Bible Dictionaries and lexicons are available to assist in this process. In addition, did not James say though "if any of you lack wisdom, let Him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him." (James 1:5) PRACTICAL RULESThese rules will enable you to arrive at a critically sound interpretation. Some of these rules are the outgrowth of a high view of scripture. In other words, the entire Bible is the product of one author (God) at the same time that it is product of many authors. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to seek to find a consistent message throughout the Bible. * Interpret in light of the context of the passage. Follow the thought development in the book you are reading, and make sure your interpretation flows along with the general direction of argument. Sudden changes in subject are unusual. If you have the thought development of a book centering on one subject, suddenly switching to another, and then back to the first, your interpretation is almost certainly wrong. Consider the larger context as well: which Testament? Which author? What time period? Never view a passage in isolation from its surroundings. The context should be considered the most important kind of evidence in the interpretation of a passage. Usually context supplies all we need to know.