Rules of Bible Interpretation:
Of course the first need, is that the interpreter must be born from above: 1 Corinthians 2:14 tells us that "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." But this blog assumes the new birth is true for the reader, and the desire to know the truth and do His will is present. With that said, here's some advice on understanding God's book:
1. CONTEXT Study every verse in its context, beware of pulling it apart from its context. For example, Jeremiah 29:11 says: "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope." One may recognize that this verse exhibits the kind and generous character of God, but it is said to those who are faced with the Babylonian Captivity which is to whom it was written. It was not a promise given to ME. Similarly, 2 Chronicles 7:14 says: "if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land." This was said to Solomon & the nation Israel and in context must be kept for them and not applied to another nation, lest we find ourselves off on tangents innumerable.
2. Seek a figurative, allegorical, or typological meaning only when the facts demand such an interpretation (Jesus said "I am the door"). He is the only way one can enter into salvation...it is through Him, in that sense he is a door, a clear figure telling us Jesus is the only doorway to salvation (not the doorway into a room, which would be unbalanced literalism). Some passages are harder to grasp literally but still must be. Ezekiel 40-48 has such intricate detail that a literal future Millennial temple is without question. Yet it has sacrifices taking place, and how can that be if Christ's once-for-all sacrifice is never to be repeated? We must grapple with that but there are good answers. Revelation 20 mentions 1000 years multiple times, and there is no reference elsewhere that demands we reinterpret allegorically, so one must take it at face value. There is a literal 1000 year kingdom coming. Some sadly deny this and allegorize Revelation 20. Should a person seek to allegorize the last 9 chapters of Ezekiel, we would suggest that the on-us is on them to particularize how such extensive detail can merely be symbolic or spiritualized en masse. No one who allegorizes Ezekiel has come forth, not yet, with good exegesis. If Revelation 20 is not a literal 1000 years, then what is it?
3. When the plain sense of scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense. Take the words in their normal, literal, ordinary, common meaning. Do not deviate from this unless the facts of the immediate context demand it, or related passages indicate otherwise. The scriptures tend to show in the context when a parable is in view, or a principle, or even on a rare occasion, an allegory. But allegory and "explaining things away" aren't the first stop for an interpreter. Literalism is the first stop.
4. Compare Scripture to Scripture and do Word Studies. Zechariah 6:9-15 and the temple, can be compared to Ezekiel 40-48 to solidify our assurance that a temple is yet to be built that will meet the requirements of Ezekiel's detailed temple. Much light in the sayings of and life of Christ can be gleaned by comparing what two or more gospel writers record about the same incident. Real value comes from Greek word studies, when the various uses of the same word in different context shape its scripture use. Also the study of synonyms such as lutroo/agoradzo can bring fresh distinctions between the similar terms redemption and loosing. This particularly has subtle implications with regard to unlimited atonement, should the reader wish to dig further. A simple use of Strong's Concordance allows a person to see all places where a given word is used.
5. First Mention Principle: Especially evident in Genesis, the first mention of a topic or even a word will be found throughout scripture to present its primary meaning. Future uses then expand and elaborate on the basis of that first mention. Good example: Babylon. Babel has its first mention in Genesis 10:10 where Nimrod builds a kingdom; while in chapter 11 further elaboration is made where men are "building for themselves a city, and making a name for themselves". Herein is the earliest idolatry, and ere the end of Revelation heaven rejoices over the fall of economic and religious Babylon.
6. Double Reference Principle. A prophet may speak of an immediate and local event, which expand to a remote future time, having a far greater meaning. Example: Zechariah 6:9-15 tells of the wondrous crowning of Joshua the High Priest with a kingly elaborate crown. He is called the Branch and the prophet confirms they will indeed build a temple in the 6th century BC. But the whole vision points to a greater person than Joshua, since the Mosaic law did not mingle the office of Priest & King. We are therefore brought to consider a future double reference where One coming after the order of Melchizedek will be found to stand in both positions, Priest and King, and He will indeed build a future temple, as well as the one Zerubbabel an Joshua were leading the people to build in 520 BC. That person is Messiah.
7. Learn Grammar. Greek Grammar can help with interpretation as one looks at the verbs and their tense, mood, voice, etc. The presence or absence of the Greek article is of interest, and the prepositions are an exceptional help. For example on the latter, the use of the preposition "apo" instead of "dia" or "ek" in its context, is an enlightening reminder to those in Philadelphia, that they do not go through the time of testing, but are kept "from" it. Also, in Ephesians 5:18 men are instructed to "be filled with the Spirit." We might take that as a one-time experience to be sought, until from Greek grammar we find that this is a present tense imperative in the middle voice. Or in other words "be continually being filled" which is closer to the meaning, a far cry from a one-time event we might seek apart from the help of grammar. Two warnings on Greek Grammar: First, do not divorce it from the study of context. Language is a beautiful thing but is not exclusively under the domain of the Grammarian. Second, if you learn a little Greek, use it wisely and consider not yourself an expert, and allow the danger of pride to dominate.
8. When dealing with obscure passages, interpret from the clear toward the unclear. Do not major on the interpretation of hard passages such as "baptized for the dead" (1 Corinthians 15:29) which is often how cults build their superstructure. The simple interprets the more difficult passage, not the other way around.
9. Consistency in hermeneutic principle is important. Covenant Theology, for example, is a champion of literal, grammatical, interpretation of scripture. That is, until they study prophecy, and then the literal gloves come off to reveal allegorical hands (pun intended). This is a dual hermeneutic and leaves much of prophecy in a jumble at the whim of any expositors' view of symbolism. Be consistent in your hermeneutic.
10. Distinguish things that differ. Israel is not the Church. The Church is not Israel - not replaced, not modified, nor incorporated. They are distinct. "Upon this Rock I will build (future tense-not yet built in Matthew 16:18) my Church..." The church begins in Acts chapter 2, therefore we will not find it in the Old Testament. Also: Law and Grace are two separate principles. "For the Law was given by Moses, but Grace and Truth came by Jesus Christ." John 1:17 Along these lines, recognize to whom or of whom scripture is written, must be differentiated. For example, "Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones." (Ps. 137:9) is surely not written to Christians. This type of clarity and discerning of things that differ, would have kept the 'church' from ignorant forays such as the Crusades.
11. There are symbols and figures in scripture. The image of Daniel 2 and the Beasts of Daniel 7 clearly tell of the characteristics of literal past & future kingdoms/rulers. In such cases the symbols and figures elaborate and explain the character of the realities, rather than obscure them.
12. Beware of putting application ahead of interpretation. Let the scriptures speak in their original setting, to the original hearers, first. There are applications a-plenty, but not interpretations a-plenty. One danger of studying, teaching & even preaching is always seeking the "application" of a passage "to me" as if I am the center of the universe.
13. Look for Christ in all scripture. There is no greater principle than this. From the seed of the woman to the Branch, to the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world, nothing is more profitable than looking for HIM.
14. Prayerfully Read the Bible over and over and over. Recommended for the new convert who tries but is frustrated making progress understanding scripture: