Again there is division here, between Ishmael and Akiva. The method of solution of such opposing statements by the help of a third passage is a point of divergence between Ishmael and Akiva. Under this rule the integrity of the text itself is not assailed, the changes made being only for the purpose of explanation. At a minimum I think we can safely say there was certainly more than the literal in rabbinical exegesis, however we do not directly see how many layers or dimensions of meaning were really toyed with by probably most rabbis until we look at Philo of Alexandria who merged traditional rabbinic thought with Grecian philosophy, something some of the early church fathers also did.
To those who thus sought to weld Grecian thought with Hebrew revelation, two objects would naturally present themselves. They must try to connect their Greek philosophers with the Bible, and they must find beneath the letter of Scripture a deeper meaning, which would accord with philosophic truth.
But it was this very rationale of the Law which the Alexandrians sought to find under its letter. It was in this sense that Aristobulus, a Hellenist Jew of Alexandria, sought to explain Scripture. Even more extravagant was the idea, that a word which occurred in the LXX. Of course, all seemingly strange or peculiar modes of expression, or of designation, occurring in Scripture, must have their special meaning, and so also every particle, adverb, or preposition.
Again, the position of a verse, its succession by another, the apparently unaccountable presence or absence of a word, might furnish hints for some deeper meaning, and so would an unexpected singular for a plural, or vice versa, the use of a tense, even the gender of a word. Most serious of all, an allegorical interpretation might be again employed as the basis of another. We repeat, that these allegorical canons of Philo are essentially the same as those of Jewish traditionalism in the Haggadah, only the latter were not rationalizing, and far more brilliant in their application.
In his symbolical interpretations Philo only partially took the same road as the Rabbis. The symbolism of numbers and, so far as the Sanctuary was concerned, that of colours, and even materials, may, indeed, be said to have its foundation in the Old Testament itself. The same remark applies partially to that of names. The Rabbis certainly so interpreted them. Everything became symbolical in his hands, if it suited his purpose: numbers in a very arbitrary manner , beasts, birds, fowls, creeping things, plants, stones, elements, substances, conditions, even sex - and so a term or an expression might even have several and contradictory meanings, from which the interpreter was at liberty to choose.
It will at the same time show how he found confirmation for his philosophical speculations in the Old Testament, and further illustrate his system of moral theology in its most interesting, but also most difficult, point. The question is, how the soul was to pass from its state of sensuousness and sin to one of devotion to reason, which was religion and righteousness. But Philo found a symbol for each, and for a preparatory state in each, in Scripture.
The three Patriarchs represented this threefold mode of reaching the supersensuous: Abraham, study; Jacob, practice; Isaac, a good disposition; while Enos, Enoch, and Noah, represented the respective preparatory stages. Enos hope , the first real ancestor of our race, represented the mind awakening to the existence of a better life. But all study was threefold. It was, first, physical - Abram in the land of Ur, contemplating the starry sky, but not knowing God.
This was Abram after he left Haran, and that knowledge was symbolised by his union with Hagar, who tarried intermediately between Kadesh and Bered. Onwards and ever upwards would the soul now rise to the knowledge of virtue. But the highest of all was the spiritual life which came neither from study nor discipline, but through a good disposition.
Here we have, first of all, Noah, who symbolises only the commencement of virtue, since we read not of any special virtue in him. Rather is he rest - as the name implies - good, relatively to those around. It was otherwise with Isaac, who was perfect before his birth and hence chosen , even as Rebekah meant constancy in virtue.
And yet, though these be the Stoic virtues, they all spring from Paradise, the Garden of God - and all that is good, and all help to it, comes to us ultimately from God Himself, and is in God. Appendix - Philo versus Traditional Rabbinism P It would be almost safe to say Philo would accept a thousand layers if that best explained the aggregate compilation of all the wisdom of the world.
This can be found directly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church :. The profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church. Thanks to the unity of God's plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.
The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ's victory and also of Christian Baptism. The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written "for our instruction".
The anagogical sense Greek: anagoge, "leading". We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem. Protestants generally avoid Catholic practices in interpreting scripture and reject all use of a four layer system. Luther used the traditional layers in some ways, but mostly for illustration purposes, or rhetorical purposes. Really Luther adopted a historical layer that was Christ centered but 'kind of but not really' used an allegorical layer with respect to types of Messiah.
I am only saying this from what I have read of Luther. Even Calvin who clearly avoided such allegorical uses as childishness and hyper creativity, still used the allegorical method in a sense to support 'types of Messiah' and this easily crossed over into the mere allegorical uses on some occasions, juts not as much as Luther. A glance at Luther's works show this break away from the Catholic tradition of exegesis to a historical-Christological interpretation:. A prophetic preview as it were of the whole series of lectures on Romans is sounded in the marginal gloss to de filio suo in Rom.
I think, what I have already said: that revelation is given in accordance with the thinking of the people to whom it is given. Luther's Works Vol 20, P In this sense for example we can see the gospel of John was almost written to convert people like Philo as it starts out showing who the real logos is, an idea expressing the fabric of life found in Greek philosophy and adapted by Hellenistic Jews. Christ condescending to preach the same gospel to that type of person if you will. Textual criticism and scientific approaches to interpretation have influenced many Protestants more towards extreme almost hyper literal frameworks, making Calvin seem like a poet in comparison, however this approach rarely makes it into a pulpit.
On the other hand, the average pulpit preacher often seems to make use of allegory without any real concern about the academic quality of such uses. This is just my own unfounded observation. In my own view, as I have argued before, hermeneutics using textual and historical analysis that is theologically neutral does not really exists, though I myself try to do this as much as possible and respect those who seem to be doing it as well. I think a certain amount of modern hermeneutics needs to incorporate scientific approaches, but not if they form a predetermined rule that disallows common biblical faith and sense that God himself is speaking in the scripture with an infallible witness.
I think I represent the average Protestant in many ways. Protestants seem to understand there are a literal layer and a spiritual layer, at least from the standpoint of God Himself giving us sight into the depths of His word and Old Testament shadows pointing to realities of Christ and His kingdom. I think you can see this variety by simply reading different Protestant commentaries. Some see Christ in many places, others juts see Him in places where the New Testament has verified that He is there. Technically speaking I do not think of the scriptures of having any layers at all.
To me there is simply the external word of God and it leads us into knowing the living word of God, which is Christ. The scripture does not say that there is a 'literal' and a 'spiritual' layer but that there is a 'carnal' or 'spiritual' understanding of scripture, depending on our relationship to the living word and how filled we are with it. Shadows and their anti-types do not have to be called a layer, just a different application or meaning of a single layer.
Saying that there are 'two' layers could be a snare because it implies there must be a type or metaphor 'everywhere' on top of a literal. This too the scripture nowhere states. Then I look under every leaf… Pause at every verse of Scripture and shake, as it were, every bough of it, that if possible some fruit at least may drop down. Keep in mind that although careful observation always precedes accurate interpretation, observation does not inevitably lead to correct interpretation as shown in the humorous illustration of The Cow Click here.
Speed-reading may be a good thing, but it was never meant for the Bible. It takes calm, thoughtful, prayerful meditation on the Word to extract its deepest nourishment. Partial examination will result in partial views of truth, which are necessarily imperfect; only careful comparison will show the complete mind of God… He once wrote When I read this passage for the hundreth time, the following idea came to me.
Andrew W Blackwood has recognized the necessity of this absorbing process in Bible study in preparation for the ministry of preaching. He writes:. Before man dares to preach much about the Christ of the Fourth Gospel, he ought to live with this book for a number of months. In case of difficulty he should consult a first-class exegetical commentary… But the main stress ought to fall on reading the Bible book itself, as it was written, and on dealing with each paragraph as a unit' from Irving Jensen.
Independent Bible Study. Always check to see who the "neighbors" are! Context is the setting in which something "dwells". If you take a fish out of water, it doesn't function well! This principle holds for any passage of Scripture which is taken out of context. In simple terms, context is that which goes with the text, the "neighbors" so to speak -- that which comes before and after. This interesting word picture is depicted below….
What happens when you remove a piece of thread from a garment? It doesn't function well and it does not fulfill the weaver's intended purpose! It was woven together with other threads in order to make a garment, even as a specific Biblical passage is woven together with other verses to make a context. Any time we break into the middle of a book, a chapter or a paragraph, we need to look at the surrounding context.
When you interpret Scripture, whether it is a single word, a verse or a paragraph, you must always consider the Scripture in light of the surrounding verses, chapters and book in which it is found and finally in the context of the entire Bible. Your interpretation should never contradict the context of the book, chapter or paragraph you are studying. If you ignore context, the accuracy of your interpretation will suffer and may even be "spiritually dangerous. It follows that using Scriptural pretext is a major "tool" of the cults or non-Biblical systems of belief about life, death, eternity, etc click example.
If you fail to read hear the verse in context it's like the all too typical experience with cell phones where you may hear every other phrase or word which can lead to a completely inaccurate understanding of what the other person has said which can potentially have dire consequences! Louis Cassels wrote that "Any single verse of the Bible, taken in isolation, may actually be dangerous to your spiritual health.
Every part of it must be read in relation to the whole message. One of the early reformed theologians Ulrich Zwingli emphasized the importance of context , declaring that pulling a passage from its context "is like breaking off a flower from its roots. We can prove almost anything by the Bible if we isolate texts from the contexts and turn them into pretexts ….
You can prove anything by the Bible, provided you twist the Scriptures out of context and reject the witness of your own conscience. The Bible is a book of literature and it must be interpreted according to the fundamental rules of interpretation. If people treated other books the way they treat the Bible, they would never learn anything…. Most heresies are the perversion of some fundamental doctrine of the Bible. False teachers take verses out of context , twist the Scriptures, and manufacture doctrines that are contrary to the Word of God….
Beware of taking promises out of their context … Few passages in the Bible are more misunderstood and misapplied than the Sermon on the Mount see notes. Often people will take single verses or phrases from Matthew and disregard the context. Kay Arthur: How to Study Your Bible : this reference is highly recommended especially if you are new to inductive Bible study.
The knee bones connected to the thigh bone, The thigh bones connected to the hip bone, The hip bones connected to the tail bone, Now hear the word of the Lord! That's primitive physiology but good methodology. It recognizes the connectedness of the body, that it all hangs together. There's unity. So it is with Scripture. The Bible is a sixty-six-book collection, but it hangs together as one Book. Its a unified whole. And that's the principle on which context the second key of biblical interpretation depends.
Living by the Book. There are two levels of context to keep in mind— immediate and remote Ed : Some have more than 2 and illustrate using successively enlarging circles. Immediate context refers to the sentence in which a word is found or the paragraph in which a sentence is found. Remote context refers to the entire progression of thought leading up to the verse.
Let's take a look at a familiar passage to get a feel for this. Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.. Hebrews note , He note. The immediate context is found here in the first two verses of Hebrews 12, which refer to a race of faith that is to be run with endurance.
The author speaks of how to run that race and who to keep our eyes on while we run. The remote context , on the other hand, is suggested by the first word of chapter 12, " therefore ," which draws our attention back to Hebrews There we find several examples of faith as portrayed by various saints down through the ages.
The word therefore informs us that what is said in Hebrews 12 is "as a result of" what has been revealed in chapter In that context, then, we know that the " cloud of witnesses " refers to the list of faithful people in chapter The passage is couched in terms of an athletic event, which was a common point of reference in ancient Greece and Rome.
The faithful saints of old are presented as " witnesses " to our present " race. In its context, the verse is saying that the life of faith is like a race in which we are required to " run with endurance ," just as others have successfully run before us. We are prone to interpret everything we read in terms of our modern Western culture, since the "here and now" is where we live. The Historical and Cultural Context answers questions like. The epistles for example were written to a particular group e. Although you can discern various aspects of the historical and cultural context from careful observation of the book, you will probably have to use secondary resources to discover other aspects of historical or cultural context that might help your interpretation.
Remember : Never attempt to interpret a verse by itself but at the very minimum take a moment and examine the paragraph in which it is found. Not only is the immediate context paragraph, chapter and book surrounding a verse important, but the context of the entire Bible is also crucial in understanding the meaning of a particular passage.
Because Scripture never contradicts itself, so if we arrive at an interpretation in one passage that contradicts truth in another passage, we have an inaccurate interpretation. In short all Scripture is the context in which any Scripture is to be considered and applied, for God always agrees with Himself! A A Hodge helps us understand why any Scripture should be interpreted in light of all Scripture explaining that…. The doctrines of the Bible are not isolated but interlaced; and the view of one doctrine must necessarily affect the view taken of another.
Scriptural paradoxes are seeming , not actual , contradictions. Scripture is its own infallible interpreter and every part of it must be interpreted in the light of the whole of it… The Bible is a self-consistent unit. What it teaches in one place it does not contradict elsewhere. Truly, the inner unity of the Bible is miraculous; a sign and wonder, challenging the unbelief of our skeptical age. Basics of Bible Interpretation. The Bible appears like a symphony orchestra, with the Holy Ghost as its Toscanini, each instrument has been brought willingly, spontaneously, creatively, to play his notes just as the great conductor desired, though none of them could ever hear the music as a whole… The point of each part only becomes fully clear when seen in relation to all the rest from God Has Spoken.
Now let us come back to the Scripture; we cannot do better than keep close to it, for our text is only to be understood by the context. Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture. The locks of Scripture are only to be opened with the keys of Scripture; and. The Two Pivots. Have you ever been misquoted because your quote was yanked " out of context "? Then you understand how significant context is to accurate communication. Read the simple illustration below to understand the crucial role context plays in accurate interpretation:. If I said "I saw the trunk" how would you interpret the meaning of the word "trunk"?
It could refer to a tree, a car, an elephant, a piece of luggage, athletic wear, etc. How can one determine the correct meaning? Clearly, the context determines how one interprets the meaning of "trunk". So if we were at the zoo, you would most naturally understand that this is a reference to the trunk of an elephant, etc, etc. You get the point - a Scripture taken out of context can easily lose God's and inspired human author's intended meaning.
Don't misquote God by taking Him out of context! It is surprising that although we use " context " in everyday communication, we often tend to disregard this crucial role of interpreting in context when studying the Scriptures. We need to discipline ourselves and make a habit of always consulting the verses before and after that favorite verse, so that we can be sure we don't take the passage out of context.
See an illustration of context from Our Daily Bread. See also " Quote Misquote ". We cannot find a safer guide to follow Than precepts from the pages of God's Word; But if we twist and misapply the Scripture, We make its sacred teachings seem absurd. Even experienced Bible students are often surprised to see what a familiar Bible quotation means when understood in light of its immediate setting.
Difficult problems of understanding often evaporate simply by determining how a text is framed by the main idea running through that section of Scripture. As alluded to earlier, reading one passage in the Bible by itself can be like looking at a piece of a jigsaw puzzle.
As you analyze it, you see elements of form and color, but you realize that it is only one essential part of the "big picture". Because the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament are all "chapters" of one Book, those who live by the whole counsel of God will increasingly be enabled by the Holy Spirit to see each individual part in light of the whole.
If the Bible student would merely let a passage speak for itself within the context of the paragraph, chapter, or book, the majority of all errors in interpretation would be avoided. The problem is our bias, or our subjectivity. Many times we approach a passage thinking we already understand it. In the process we read our own meaning into the passage. This is called eisegesis. This is called exegesis. Only by watching the context carefully and by letting the passage speak for itself do we give Scripture the respect it deserves.
Of course, it is impossible to dismiss totally our own bias and subjectivity. Our interpretation will always be colored by our culture and our opinions about the passage, or perhaps by our theological beliefs, which are partially based on the passage. But this should not discourage our attempt to let the passage speak for itself as freely as possible, without being weighed down with our personal opinions and views. Youngblood, R. Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Dictionary.
President Lincoln was once misquoted as saying that he would rather live in Russia than in America. What President would make such a remark? It was said by the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln. But he's being quoted out of context. He actually said, "I shall prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty--to Russia, for instance. He feared that many wanted to change "all men are created equal" to "all men are created equal, except non-whites.
The context makes all the difference, for it tells us exactly what Abe meant to say. Similarly, if the immediate and wider contexts are not considered, a person can make the Bible say anything he wants it to say. Roy Zuck comments: The lack of proper hermeneutics has also led to the Bible being highly abused and maligned. Even some atheists seek to support their position by referring to Psalm , "There is no God.
A woman entered the Democratic primary for governor of Texas because she was convinced God had told her in the Bible that she would win. When she saw on the official list of nominees that her name was last, she read Matthew "Many that are first will be last, and the last first" which convinced her she would win, but she did not win. Scripture interpreted and applied out of context can be twisted to mean just about anything we want it to mean. The cults are masters of the deceptive craft of taking passages out of context, which is why believers need to continually be Bereans and remember that "Context is King".
A man dissatisfied with his life decided to consult the Bible for guidance. Closing his eyes, he flipped the book open and pointed to a spot on the page. Opening his eyes, he read the verse under his finger. It read, "Then Judas went away and hanged himself" Matthew b Closing his eyes again, the man randomly selected another verse. This one read, "Jesus told him, 'Go and do likewise. In Bible study, get the right message from the right passage. MacArthur, J. How to get the most from God's word. Dallas, TX: Word Pub.
Howard Hendricks adds that "Telescopic reading is based on this principle of examining the text in the broader context. It never settles for close-ups alone; it always demands the wide-angle lens of perspective. It always asks, What is the big picture? Hendricks goes on to comment that evaluation of "the passage in light of the book as a whole… is the ultimate extension of checking the context.
Remember context is king in interpretation and a text out of context is at best a "pretext" definition and even worse may be a "proof text" or a text of Scripture quoted to prove, defend or support a specific doctrine or belief. Every major cult is founded on a violation of this principle of failing to handle in context as illustrated in the following exercise. Terry explains the importance of taking into account historical context, including the setting, and circumstances in which the words of Scripture were written noting that….
The interpreter should, therefore, endeavour to take himself from the present, and to transport himself into the historical position of his author, look through his eyes, note his surroundings, feel with his heart, and catch his emotion. Herein we note the import of the term grammatico-historical interpretation. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics.
Remember that when you are doing Greek Word studies see synopsis of Greek Verbs similar warning applies to Hebrew , many Greek words have more than one meaning as determined by the context. A word can only mean one thing at a time so we must make every effort to determine the writer's single intended meaning. The diligent student needs to to be cautious when looking up definitions of a specific word in Greek lexicons and using the definition to amplify or interpret the meaning of that word in a specific verse.
If the definition you choose makes the verse more difficult to understand, then you have probably chosen a definition that is not "compatible with" the context of the verse you are studying. Let me give you an example of how context affects the meaning of the Greek word. This is My beloved Son. The Greek Verb akouo normally means simply "to hear" but in this context conveys the sense of "Hear Him and obey Him" and in fact is so translated by the Amplified Version "Be constantly listening to and obeying Him!
As an aside when doing " Word Studies " don't forget to occasionally look up words in the English dictionary and the same caution applies - be certain that it "fits" the context of the verse under study. Let's look at an example in Php Paul commands believers to " Be anxious for nothing … ". A study of the Greek word for anxious merimnao - see word study uncovers an interesting origin from the Greek verb merizo which means to divide and gives us a vivid word picture of the effect of anxiety on most of us!
When we look up the word anxious in Webster's dictionary we read " Anxious: Characterized by extreme uneasiness of mind or brooding fear about some contingency: worried. What a picture of the potential effect of anxiety! Some Bible Versions translate Php with the verb " worry "… take a moment and look up " worry " in an English dictionary - you may be surprised what you discover note especially Webster's origin and definitions !
The earlier versions of Websters frequently use Scripture to illustrate the use of a word - Webster's Dictionary - and Editions. The growing numbers of sermon-sippers and seminar-sitters who flit from one doctrinal dessert to another like helpless hummingbirds are deceiving themselves unless they are choosing to heed the truths they have heard cp Jas , 23, note , Jas note. A theological student whom later I knew as a senior friend had committed himself to starting his ministry in the north of England when he received a very attractive invitation to join a teaching institution in South Wales instead.
No such thing happened, however, so he went north after all wondering what had gone wrong. Instead, the concerns which he brought to his reading of the text had governed his interpretation of it.
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Yet we constantly do this, and it is one chronic obstacle to understanding. In his classic book The Invisible War online Donald Grey Barnhouse has a section subtitled "How to Read the Bible" in which he illustrates the importance of reading the Biblical text in context Our certainty rests upon the Word of God and upon some of its statements about how we are to read its pages.
An illustration is, perhaps, the best way to come to the heart of the method. Some years ago I entered the playroom of our home one evening, and found my two boys at work on a large picture puzzle which had been given one of the members of the family at Christmas. It was a finely made puzzle, on three -ply wood, beautifully cut, and among its hundreds of pieces a score or more were designed in the shape of common things.
The little sister, three years old, too young to match the intricately cut edges of the pieces, had been allowed to pick out those pieces which resembled articles she knew and arrange them in rows at the edge of the table. She was eager to show me what she had done. Here was a piece in the shape of a clover leaf; here was an apple, a wheelbarrow, the letter S, the figure four, an umbrella, a violin and a bird. To her mind those and the other shaped pieces were the most important things in the puzzle.
To see them, and to identify something that was in her world, made it all very interesting. To her older brothers, however, the shape of individual pieces was merely incidental. They knew that the violin would become part of a cloud, that the umbrella would be lost in the pattern of a lady's dress, and that the other figures would melt into flower garden and trees. The unfortunate person who takes some text by itself and attempts to build a doctrine on it will be in utter confusion before he has gone very far.
Only with this wrong type of Bible reading can anyone ever come to the absurd conclusion so often expressed, "You can prove anything by the Bible. When, however, the shape of the individual verse is fitted into the whole divine plan of the revelation of God, the full -rounded, eternal purpose begins to be seen; and the whole of the Word of God becomes something so stupendous, so eternal, so mightily divine, that every rising doubt is checked immediately.
There comes, then, a knowledge of the finality of God's revelation which becomes as much a part of the believer as his breathing, or his sense of being alive. Any other possibility cannot be entertained even for a moment. The believer knows that the Bible is the Word of God, even more surely than he knows that he is alive. If we are going to understand the Word of God, we must have a spiritual attitude toward it. The Lord said 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" 1 Corinthians God refuses to reveal Himself to just any casual passer-by.
The Lord indicated this when He said in the Sermon on the Mount:. This same thought must have been in His mind when He prayed, saying, "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, be because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight" Matthew , The fact that one must have a spiritual attitude that comes from spiritual life in order to understand the deep things of the Word of God is also the true meaning of the great verse which we quote in paraphrase: "For whosoever hath [new life in Christ], to him shall be given [knowledge of the divine plan and revelation], and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not [the new life in Christ], from him shall be taken away even that [common sense and deep learning that might make him one of the world's leaders of the world's thinking] he hath" Matthew For any given doctrinal subject, read the entire volume, selecting every verse that bears on the truth under study.
Put all of these passages together, and the synthesis of the result is the true Bible doctrine on the question with which you are concerned. A verse from Moses, and one from Ezekiel, and one from Paul, put side by side, each illuminating the others, fit into the perfect pattern of the whole design and give the whole light which God has been pleased to reveal on that particular theme. Taken one by one, the verses may be no more than mere shapes, meaningless as far as the over-all purpose of the inspired revelation is concerned. This is why the Lord says that one of the first principles of Bible study is that no Scripture is of "private interpretation" 2 Peter The exegesis of the Greek shows that this verse should not be interpreted to restrict the right of the private individual to read and understand the Bible for himself.
The existence of teachers by divine order and arrangement is like the original institution of divorce, not because it was God's first choice, but because of the hardness of the hearts of men Matthew The responsibility for reading and knowing the Word and will of God is upon every individual, who must find out for himself, conclude what he believes and be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within him, knowing that he will be answerable to the Lord for the content of his faith, and that he will not be permitted to present the excuse that he believed what some church or group of clergy interpreted for him.
All this to show what the passage does not teach. Positively, what it does teach is that no passage of Scripture is to be taken by itself, but that Scripture must be read in the light of the rest of the Bible. Many heresies arise from a false interpretation of a single verse of Scripture, and the matter is even sadder when we realize that the interpretation would have been corrected if the heretic had taken time to collate all of the passages covering the subject on which he erred. The one sure method of continuing in the path of truth is to have before you all that the Bible reveals on any possible point of discussion.
Obviously, for any one man to know all truth would mean that he had compacted the whole of the Scripture, like a pyramid, and made it stand upon its apex with its full weight upon a single passage. Then the whole process would have to be begun over again and continued through all the thousands of topics which could be discussed from the Bible. Time is too short for any one man to do this.
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That is why no individual has ever been able to write a satisfactory commentary upon the whole of the Bible. Men who have spent their lives on a single book have produced the great commentaries on those individual books. PRINCIPLE : If the plain sense of the Scripture you are studying makes good sense, then do not seek to make some other sense out of it or the final interpretation could be complete nonsense and totally unrelated to God's intending meaning.
Take every word in its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and self-evident and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise. This preceding principle is my paraphrase from David Cooper's widely quoted statement that…. When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise.
David L. Los Angeles: Biblical Research Society, Notice the important phrase, studied in the light of related passages. This is the biblical equivalent of a "safety net. You might be asking yourself "Why is there so much emphasis on literal interpretation, for it seems so logical that the safest interpretation is that which remains closest to the original text.
In lieu of a more in depth explanation, the highly respected evangelical author Dwight Pentecost offers the following succinct analysis of the history of Biblical interpretation…. It is to be noted that all interpretation began with the literal interpretation of Ezra. This literal method became the basic method of Rabbinism. It was the accepted method used by the New Testament in the interpretation of the Old and was so employed by the Lord and His apostles. This literal method was the method of the "Early" Church Fathers until the time of Origen ca.
Augustine's influence brought this allegorizing method into the established and brought an end to all true exegesis Ed : primary concern in exegesis is an understanding of the text. This system continued until the Reformation. At the Reformation the literal method of interpretation was solidly established and, in spite of the attempts of the church to bring all interpretation into conformity to an adopted creed, literal interpretation continued and became the basis on which all true exegesis rests.
It would be concluded, then, from the study of the history of interpretation that the original and accepted method of interpretation was the literal method, which was used by the Lord, the greatest Interpreter, and any other method was introduced to promote heterodoxy quality of holding to unorthodox doctrines. Therefore the literal method must be accepted as the basic method for right interpretation in any field of doctrine today. Interestingly, Pentecost goes on to add the caveat that just because one holds to a literal approach does not necessarily guarantee that they will arrive at an accurate interpretation.
For example, witness the Rabbinical teachings that espoused a literal approach and yet were far removed from accurate interpretation in many Scriptures, not to mention the writings of many of the otherwise "literalist" reformers who often approached apocalyptic uses symbols that communicate absolute truth or prophetic literature the four fully apocalyptic books are Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, Revelation with an allegorical approach, reasoning that the prophetic genre called for a non-literal approach.
If we kept the Jews more in view, many of the difficulties would vanish; and innumerable beauties would be seen in passages that are now passed over as devoid of interest. So, so sad, and as Simeon rightly says, so much to their loss for in their spiritualizing and replacing the literal nation of Israel with the Church they fail to grasp some of the most incredible "Hope" diamonds pun intended as the "Hope" diamond was once the largest ever mined!
S Lewis Johnson echoes Simeon's thoughts noting that "Robert Louis Stevenson, whom we know as a man of literature, was nevertheless a believer. And in his latter days, he became firmly convinced that the Scriptures would be fulfilled as God had written them. And when he spent his last days on the island of Samoas, he came into contact with a missionary, who later wrote an article in the Atlantic Monthly. And in this article he went on to say that Robert Louis Stevenson, in his last days, spoke often about the fact that the Christian church had neglected the great promises of the Old Testament.
And so the Old Testament is a "comedy," and it is farcical, if it is not to be fulfilled as God wrote it. This is why the Old Testament is neglected today. But of course, the Old Testament was the Bible of the early church. They did not have a New Testament, they carried the Old Testament around in their pockets and they preached from the Scriptures as they knew them in the Old Testament.
And they justified the Christian religion from the standpoint of the teaching of the Old Testament. And they looked forward to the future, in the light of the promises which would been made by the prophets. To which also were added, those of the apostles as our Lord Jesus taught them. And that literal sense is the root and ground of all and the anchor that never faileth, whereunto if thou cleave thou canst never err nor go out of the way. And if thou leave the literal sense, thou canst not but go out of the way. J Gresham Machen wrote "I hold that the Bible is essentially a plain book.
Common sense is a wonderful help in reading it. Bernard Ramm says "We use the word ' literal ' in its dictionary sense: '… the natural or usual construction and implication of a writing or expression; following the ordinary and apparent sense of words; not allegorical or metaphorical' Webster's New International Dictionary Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, , page Bolding added. Dr Charles Ryrie reasons that "If God be the originator of language and if the chief purpose of originating it was to convey His message to humanity, then it must follow that He, being all-wise and all-loving, originated sufficient language to convey all that was in His heart to tell mankind.
Furthermore, it must also follow that He would use language and expect people to understand it in its literal, normal, and plain sense. The Scriptures, then, cannot be regarded as an illustration of some special use of language so that in the interpretation of these Scriptures some deeper meaning of the words must be sought. We must correctly hear God's Word, Or we will be misled; We must give careful thought and prayer To what the Author said. As Andy Woods explains that " literalism resists going beyond what is written. A classic example of going beyond what the text says is the ancient interpretation that the four rivers in Genesis 2, the Pishon, Gihon, Tigris, and Euphrates Ge , 13, 14 , represent the body, soul, spirit, and mind One need only examine the works of Philo to find numerous examples of such a hermeneutical methodology.
Such an idea is not readily apparent from studying the text in Genesis 2. One must go outside the text of Genesis 2 and bring into it foreign concepts in order to arrive at this conclusion. Paper by Andy Woods Bolding added. Unless the immediate context clearly indicates otherwise, one should always seek to interpret the text literally, in its straightforward, natural, ordinary, usual, normal, meaning, just as you would any other writing, accepting the words at face value without the imposition of hidden or symbolic meanings.
A failure to take full account of [the apocalyptic or prophetic] feature has led to some of the most outlandish teachings on this book by some whose rule of interpretation is "literal, unless absurd. Page Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Some attack the principle of literal interpretation by stating that this method denies the Bible's use of figurative language including types, symbols, figures of speech, etc. Dr Charles Ryrie counters such fallacious arguments noting specifically that literalism "does not preclude or exclude correct understanding of types, illustrations, apocalypses, and other genres within the basic framework of literal interpretation… Literal interpretation might also be called plain interpretation so that no one receives the mistaken notion that the literal principle rules out figures of speech.
E R Craven adds that "The Literalist so called is not one who denies that figurative language, that symbols are used in prophecy, nor does he deny the great spiritual truths are set forth therein; his position is, simply, that the prophecies are to be normally interpreted i. Lange's commentary on Revelation enlarged and edited by E R Craven. Apocalyptic literature does not dictate that one dismiss normative interpretation in favor of "symbolic conjecture". Why is a literal approach to the Holy Scriptures so critical?
Because the symbolic approach always raises the question " Whose symbolic interpretation is correct? This fact alone disqualifies a non-literal approach because it has factually demonstrated its bankruptcy in conveying a reproducible message from God.
In effect, the symbolic or allegorical approach literally pun intended makes the book of Revelation unknowable. Perhaps you are still asking why should one insist on a literal or "normal" interpretation of all of Scripture? Couch explains that there are at least three reasons offered by who are committed to a normal reading of Scripture:. First , the obvious purpose of language is to enable effective communication between intelligent beings. Words have meaning and in their normal usage are intended to be understood… God is the originator of language. When He spoke audibly to man, He expected man to understand Him and respond accordingly.
Likewise, when God speaks to man through the inspired writings of His apostles and prophets, He expects man to understand and respond accordingly…. A second reason for a normal reading of Scripture concerns the historical fulfillment of prophecy. All the prophecies of the Old and New Testament that have been fulfilled to date have been fulfilled literally… Thus, … all prophecies which are yet to be fulfilled will be fulfilled literally. A third reason concerns logic. If an interpreter does not use the normal, customary, literal method of interpreting Scripture, interpretation is given over to the unconstrained imagination and presuppositions of the interpreter.
Couch, M: Classical Evangelical Hermeneutics. Another key advantage of literal interpretation is that it is minimal interpretation and thus superimposes the barest "interpretive layer" or "interpretative bias" on the inspired communication from God. The best interpretation of a historical record is no interpretation but simply letting the divine Author of the record say what He says and assuming He says what He means.
Quoted from one of the few well done, literal, non-confusing commentaries on the Revelation entitled " The Revelation Record ". The greater an author's interpretative bias, the greater the danger that the commentator will add to or subtract from the meaning originally intended by God, a grave error John warns against writing:.
I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God shall add to him the plagues which are written in this book and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book. See notes Revelation , cp Pr , 6, Dt , Literal interpretation is occasionally criticized as leading to "ridiculous" conclusions. Bernard Ramm addresses this accusation leveled at those who adhere to the literalist approach, writing that….
To interpret Scripture literally is not to be committed to a "wooden literalism," nor to a "letterism," nor to a neglect of the nuances that defy any "mechanical" understanding of language.
Rather, it is to commit oneself to a starting point and that starting point is to understand a document the best one can in the context of the normal, usual, customary, tradition range of designation which includes "tacit" understanding. Ramm, B: Protestant Biblical Interpretation, 3rd rev. In other words Literal interpretation does pay attention to variations in the style of the text and thus maintains a consistency of interpretation which is driven by the text itself, not the interpretative bias of the commentator: For example it is often stated that evangelicals who hold to a literal one thousand year reign of Christ based on Revelation 20, also demand that every single passage is to be interpreted literally without exception.
This is an unfair and weak attempt to discredit the literal approach, because in fact even strict literalists clearly accept that if the language of a given passage is clearly symbolic, it is to be governed by the laws relating to symbols. If the passage is clearly figurative, it also must be interpreted based on the laws dealing with figures of speech.
For example, when John writes that he "was on the island that is called Patmos" Revelation virtually all commentators, symbolic and literal, agree that John was literally on an island named Patmos! This "dual hermeneutic" is employed much like the gearshift in an automobile. On the major "freeway" of the gospel text, they generally stay in literal gear. But when a prophetic "off-ramp" or doctrinal "mountain" looms ahead, they shift into a non-literal gear. This inconsistency leads to all manner of confusion and allows for the most amazing conclusions which are often in complete contradiction to the plain meaning of the text!
Much Bible study is done to verify men's preconceptions, since all of us bring our personal opinions and biases with us…. If God has really spoken through the pen of the human author, let's not try to rewrite the script. Proof-texting , i. We should view the Scripture just as we would any other writing, accepting the words at face value without the imposition of hidden meanings. This is the general rule, to which there are notable and recognizable exceptions, such as allegory see Rise of Allegorical Interpretation and typology See discussion of Typology. Figures of speech are to be interpreted in the literal significance that the figure conveys.
Ed note : Read that sentence again …. We accept the literal meaning of the words. How we can do what it commands we must discover in the context :. Abstain , because indulging in evil gets us into trouble. The punch line is 1Th , "He Who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. So we take language in its literal sense when it is used like this. But when we read, "I am the vine, you are the branches" Jn , we recognize figurative language and seek the literal meaning of the figure.
As we observe the context we read also, "Abide in me, and I in you" Jn and easily recognize that our Lord is talking about a shared life, since a branch is a living part of the vine, receiving the flow of life from it. I feel a greater certainty as to the literal interpretation of the whole Word of God-historical, doctrinal, prophetical. John Peter Lange has an interesting explanation of a literalist normal, plain language versus a spiritualist mystical writing that….
The Literalist is not one who denies that figurative language, that symbols are used in prophecy, nor does he deny that great spiritual truths are set forth therein; his position is simply, that the prophecies are to be normally interpreted i. The position of the Spiritualist is not that which is properly indicated by the term.
He is one who holds that certain portions are to be normally interpreted, other portions are to be regarded as having a mystical sense. The terms properly expressive of the schools are normal and mystical. In short, the wise reader is advised to look for the clear teaching , not some mystical or "hidden" meaning or special "code" which needs to be deciphered! It is truly remarkable what we can discover when we let God say what He has already said and He gives us eyes and ears to see and hear spiritual truth.
Unless the Scripture calls for you to do so e.
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Click interesting discussion on literal interpretation. Webster has some interesting thoughts on the meaning of " literal " especially as it relates to accurate interpretation, noting that the meaning is "not figurative or metaphorical", " free from exaggeration or embellishment the "literal" truth ", "characterized by a concern mainly with facts" and "reproduced word for word, exact, verbatim".
In translation, the attempt is made to convey with utmost accuracy through the words of another language the actual meaning of the biblical text. Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms. Downers Grove, Ill. Learn to recognize figures of speech especially common in poetic and prophetic passages and to interpret them in the same way they are used in normal speech. In other words, interpret figures of speech in the literal significance that the figure conveys.
If Jesus calls Himself a "Vine", interpret the meaning of the passage in light of the specific meaning of the figure of a "vine". Listen to the great reformer "Sola Scriptura" Martin Luther who insisted that the literal sense…. Allegory , however, is too often uncertain, unreliable, and by no means safe for supporting faith. Too frequently it depends upon human guesswork and opinion; and if one leans on it, one will lean on a staff made of Egyptian reed Ezek ].
Luther wrote When I was a monk, I was an expert in allegories. I allegorized everything. But after lecturing on the Epistle to the Romans I came to have knowledge of Christ. For therein I saw that Christ is no allegory and I learned to know what Christ is. Luther wrote that Allegories are empty speculations and as it were the scum of Holy Scripture… Origen's allegories are not worth so much dirt… To allegorize is to juggle with Scripture… Allegorizing may degenerate into a mere monkey game… Allegories are awkward, absurd, invented, obsolete, loose rags.
John Calvin known as "one of the greatest interpreters of the Bible" like Martin Luther also rejected allegorical interpretation describing these works as "frivolous games" and declaring that the early church father, Origen and many others were guilty of "torturing the Scripture, in every possible sense, from the true sense". Bob DeWaay writes that " allegorizing Scripture has a long and destructive history. Though it was practiced by some early church fathers, it existed elsewhere in the ancient world.
Some Jewish writers, such as Philo, practiced allegorizing Scriptures. It was found that the teachings of Moses and the Greek philosophers could be integrated by using this method.
The reason many have been sold on the allegorical method is the false assumption that since the Bible is a spiritual book, inspired by the Holy Spirit, that it therefore contains hidden or secret meanings. The idea is that the truly spiritual person can discern meanings to passages of the Bible that are hidden from the unenlightened. However, it should be noted that the "things of the Spirit of God" that the natural man "cannot understand" are clearly revealed in the context of this passage. The problem was not that a person couldn't grasp the words that Paul preached - that Jesus Christ was crucified, died, and rose from the dead.
The claims of the gospel were clear enough. The problem was that the natural man refused to accept God's wisdom. So this passage does not teach a secret meaning to Scriptures that can be extracted by a clever allegorist. If so, then why not say Jesus didn't really die and rise again, its just an allegory? Paul taught a literal cross with literal words. Common Errors in Biblical Interpretation - also discusses Hyper-literalism. The first principle is a warning, especially for historical narratives in the Bible: Do not allegorize the story.
That is, do not turn it into a series of symbols as if it did not happen. If we turn a narrative into symbols, anyone can interpret the narrative to say whatever they want; people can read the same narrative and come up with opposite religions! When we read into a text in this way, we read into it what we already think--which means that we act like we do not need the text to teach us anything new!
The Bible in Context. Without the Holy Spirit, the Bible is like an ocean which cannot be sounded, heavens which cannot be surveyed, mines which cannot be explored, and mysteries beyond unraveling. We must—we must—yield to the leadership of the Holy Spirit. John MacArthur gives the following example of non-literal interpretation from a conference he was attending…. The resurrection of Lazarus is the church going through the rapture. You are the first. There are passages that give us types and pictures. But beware of interpretations that read symbols and pictures into the text that simply are not there.
How to Get the Most from God's Word. Let us not only neglect as doubtful, but boldly set aside as deadly corruptions those pretended expositions which lead us away from the natural meaning. DeHaan of Our Daily Bread fame admonishes saints to "Be on guard against any tampering with the Word, whether disguised as a search for truth, or a scholarly attempt at apparently hidden meanings.
The principle of reading the Bible literally is brought out be the following interchange between Mary Queen of Scots and John Knox. The word of God is plain in itself; and if there appear any obscurity in one place, the Holy Ghost, which is never contrarious to Himself, explains the same more clearly in other places. William Tyndale who was best known for his translation of the New Testament into English for which he was murdered! The general rule of interpreting Scripture is this: the literal sense of every text is to be taken, if it be not contrary to some other texts.
But in that case, the obscure text is to be interpreted by those which speak more plainly… Try all things by the written word, and let all bow down before it. You are in danger of fanaticism every hour, if you depart ever so little from Scripture; yea, or from the plain, literal meaning of an text, taken in connection with the context. As a general rule if you or someone arrives at an interpretation on a text that no one has ever described, you need to consider that interpretation suspect.
To know the literal or most obvious meaning of a passage was a good thing, but to know the higher moral, allegorical, and anagogical meanings was even better. Precious few, however, could attain to these other, more hidden meanings of Scripture. This tended to obscure the meaning and significance of the Bible for the uneducated, and it led to all sorts of fanciful interpretations among those who had more learning.
Of course, there is nothing in Scripture itself that justifies such a view of biblical interpretation. In fact, if the Bible teaches anything about itself, it is that its basic message is clear enough for anyone—even a child—to understand. This idea is known as the clarity of Scripture, which is also called the perspicuity of Scripture. Moses instructs the people of Israel to teach the divinely revealed commandments of God to their children. This implies that the children are capable of understanding and applying the Word of God as their parents teach it to them.
But note that it also implies that ordinary mothers and fathers are able to have a grasp of Scripture sufficient enough to teach it to their children. This is particularly notable, given that most of the people to whom Moses originally spoke these words would not have had much in the way of education, and many of them would have been unable to read at all.
The clarity of Scripture does not deny that some passages of Scripture are difficult to understand 2 Peter — Many people treat the Bible like a puzzle or a secret code that is full of hidden meanings accessible only to a select few. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. Scripture can be understood by anyone who puts in the basic effort to read it in its context. Here is an excellent summary of literalism from the recommended website Gotquestions. Biblical literalism is the position of most evangelicals and Christian fundamentalists. It is the position of Got Questions Ministries as well.
The rules of human language then become the rules of interpreting Scripture. Words have objective meaning Ed : Meaning which is undistorted by emotion or personal bias; based on observable phenomena , and God has spoken through words. Biblical literalism is an extension of the literalism that we all use in everyday communication. If we deny biblical literalism and try to interpret Scripture figuratively, how are the figures to be interpreted?
And who decides what is and is not a figure?
Exegesis and Hermeneutics: The Bible Interpreter's Two Most Important Tasks
Were Adam and Eve real people? What about Cain and Abel? If they are figurative, where in Genesis can we start saying the people are literal individuals? Any dividing line between figurative and literal in the genealogies is arbitrary. Or take a New Testament example: did Jesus really say to love our enemies Matthew ? Did He say it on a mountain? Was Jesus even real? Without a commitment to biblical literalism, we might as well throw out the whole Bible. If biblical literalism is discarded, language becomes meaningless. More importantly, if words can mean anything we assign to them, there are no genuine promises in the Bible.
Hell needs to be a literal place—as does heaven —if we are to have anything to be saved from. To be clear, biblical literalism does not ignore the dispensations. Commands given to Israel in the theocracy do not necessarily apply to the New Testament church. Idioms, metaphors, and illustrations are all a natural part of language and should be recognized as such. We follow the rules of language.
But unless a text is clearly intended to be figurative, we take it literally. Reading in the King James Version that a believer should go into his closet to pray Matthew , every morning he took his flashlight and his Bible into his closet, shut the door, and read his Bible. He explained that he was very uncomfortable, but he learned a lot about the Bible! He was right in interpreting the Bible literally, but he needed a new translation of Matthew Why is literal interpretation important?
It is necessary to understand the plain or normal meaning of the Bible. We should not look for allegorical or "hidden" meanings or attempt to give unnatural meanings to ordinary words. We can readily understand the Bible when we interpret it literally. The account of creation, the Exodus from Egypt, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus-all are understood in their literal or normal meaning.
Reading the Bible literally also guards us from the imaginative ruminations of the cults. For example, the Christian Science cult sees the Bible as one vast allegory; hence, the devil is not a person, only "a lie, error. Imagination takes over. Old Testament prophecies have been fulfilled literally, giving us a precedence for literal interpretation.