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Hermeneutics: How To Interpret the Bible



The Science of Interpretation


Hermeneutics is the science of biblical interpretation.


Hermes was the Greek god who served as the messenger for the gods. 

Hermes was responsible for interpreting the will of the gods.


Hermeneuein is the Greek verb that means “to express,”  to explain,”  to translate,” “to interpret

J. C. Dannhaur used the term first in the 1600’s when he used it in reference to Bible interpretation.


The purpose of hermeneutics is to establish guidelines & rules for interpretation of written documents

The goal of Hermeneutics is to discover the thoughts and meaning of the writers when they

communicated through the medium of the written document.

Any written document is subject to misinterpretation.  This includes the Bible.


The written documents we base our faith on present a special problem for us because they were

written between 2,000-3,500 years ago because they were communicated to people in societies, cultures and languages very different from ours.


Hermeneutics in any field should consider:

            a)         word definitions

            b)         contextual analysis – or, the analysis of the context of the writing

            c)         literary types and forms – poetry, parable, historical narrative, dialogue, prophecy, etc.

            d)         historical analogy – the comparing of points of recorded history

            e)         syntactical distinctives – considering meaning arrangement of the words in a sentence

Hermeneutics in the area of scriptural interpretation also must consider:

            f)          the doctrine of inspiration

            g)         the theological significance of scripture that comes by revelation of God and is found in

no other written document.


The books of the Bible are recorded in human speech and so they must be handled in regard to

interpretation as any other book.

In 1860 Benjamin Jowett wrote in his “Essays and Reviews” “Interpret the Bible like any other book.”

His point was towards word meanings, correct text readings, etc. but not meaning there was nothing special about the Holy Scriptures.


In the United States there is a supreme board of hermeneutics called the Supreme Court.

They are to interpret the Constitution following the grammatico-historical method.

The grammatico-historical method meant to interpret the words in light of what the words meant when

 they were used at the formation of the document.





History of Biblical Interpretation

Ezra (450 BC) made an early attempt to establish a systematic interpretation of the law.

            Ezra emphasized observance of the law that ultimately led away from the meaning of the law. 

            Ezra founded a Jewish class called scribes who were devoted to the exposition of the scriptures.

(Definition:  Expositiona setting forth of facts, ideas, etc; detailed explanation;

writing or speaking that sets forth or explains.  Exposition is not the same and is distinguished from these: description, narration, argumentation.”) 

Ezra’s Scribes developed a systematic way of reducing the law to a formula that was both

legalistic and fanciful (imaginative).

The scribes system of interpretation made it impossible to correctly interpret OT by Jesus day.


1)  Jewish Literalism

            a) OT was dissected into separate words and phrases, which were given meanings

 completely void of history, spirit, and context of the material.


                        b) Three influential rabbis from first century BC:

                        Hillel – born in Babylon and came to Jerusalem for training.  He founded the

Talmudic system to organize the mass of regulations that made up the oral law.  He had seven laws of interpretation:

            1) Rule of “light and heavy” or “from the lesser to the greater” (Num.12:14)

2) Inferred relation between two subjects from identical expressions. Example:

the daily sacrifice must be offered on a Sabbath, then the Passover sacrifice may also be offered on a Sabbath.

                        3) The extension from the special to the general.  Example:  Necessary work on

a Sabbath accepted also on a holy day.

                                    4) The explanation of two passages by a third.

                                    5) Drew guidance from a general situation that was applied to a special situation

                                    6) The explanation of a passage from the analogy of other passages. (Mt.12:5)

                                    7) An application of inferences from passages that were self-evident.

These rules allowed the scribes after Hillel to make a multitude of false interpretations.


                        Shammai – a rival of Hillel and a formalist in the extreme school of Jewish legalism.

                        Their disregard for the purpose of the law led to blind slavery of pointless obedience.

                        Shammai made his infant grandson fast nearly to death on the Day of Atonement and

 had a booth (for the Feast of Tabernacles) built over his daughter who was in labor.


Gamaliel – Hillel’s grandson (and Paul’s teacher) was broadminded in his

 interpretation.  He studied and taught Greek literature and advocated the rights and privileges of the Gentiles.


(Ishmael (150 AD) set forth 13 rules of interpretation. Eliezerben Yose (150 AD) had 32.)


2) Jewish Allegorism – (Definition: Allegory – a story in which people, things, and happenings

have another meaning, as in a fable or parable.)   Alexandria, Egypt was the center of Jewish allegorical interpretation. 

Aristobulus, the earliest allegorical teacher, taught that the Greek philosophers and poets derived their ideas from an early Greek translation of the OT. 


Philo made the major contribution to harmonize the institutions and ideas of Judaism with Greek culture and philosophy.  He taught that all Scripture contained a twofold meaning.  They were the literal and the allegorical meanings, which were like the body and soul.  Did not Psalm 62:11 say, “One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard.”  This was the basis for Philo’s assumptions and allegorical teaching.  Like the soul is more important than the body, likewise the allegorical meaning was more important than the actual literal meaning.   An example:  The four rivers of Genesis 2:10, Pishon, Gihon, Tigris, and Euphrates, were symbols for the four virtues of prudence, temperance, courage, and justice. 


Jesus as Interpreter

  • Never had any criticism of the OT as the divine record
  • Jesus was not a rabbi, nor trained in their schools, but he was familiar with their methods
  • Jesus often described them as, “ever hearing but never understanding, . . .ever seeing but never perceiving.” (Mt. 13:14)
  • Jesus credited David’s words to the Holy Spirit (Mark 12:36)
  • Jesus accepted the historical reliability of the scriptures citing stories about Adam, Noah, Abraham, David, Solomon, Jonah, Isaiah, etc. as true and accurate.
  • Jesus interest was in the spiritual values of the OT.  He could see God’s purpose in the scriptures for the human race.
  • There are 36 direct quotes by Jesus of the OT.  He often used OT terminology.
  • When he did use the OT it was to reinforce his own teaching.
  • Jesus appealed to no higher authority when he taught.  He was the source of his own teaching.
  • “He taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” (Mk.1:22)
  • Jesus’ interpretation method was completely new as he explained the meaning of the OT.
  • Jesus did not give a new intellectual approach, such as literal or allegorical, but instead was the coming of God into the world to explain his written word, his plan. (Matt.5:17)
  • A change occurred with the coming of Christ because the question was not the true meaning of the text but the relationship of the text with Jesus and his purpose. 
  • “He interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)


Apostle’s Interpretation

  • Even though Jesus stood independent of the rabbi’s approach to scripture and did not use the methods of interpretation used in his day, the writers of the NT did follow their Jewish heritage.
  • The apostles used the methods of their culture but they used these methods to  reinterpreted the OT through the views they learned from their Lord and teacher Jesus.
  • As always, inspiration did not separate the writers of the NT from their own personal culture, background, vocabulary or education.
  • Extreme liberalism of the rabbi’s appears in Gal. 3:16 and Heb.2:11-13.
  • Rabbinic disregard of context and historical background appears in Romans 9:25.  Although Paul disregards the context and historical background here, he did not abuse the intent of the passage to reveal God’s character.  The coming of the Messiah had shed light on these words and opened a new door of application.
  • An example of Rabbi allegorical interpretation is found in Galatians 4:21-31.  Paul does not deny the historical accuracy but does find a parallel in his own life.
  • The apostles looked for Christ in every passage of the OT as can be seen by Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1 in Matt. 2:15.
  • POINT:  We can not expect to find 21st century methods of interpretation used in the 1st century, but neither can we justify the radical use of 1st century rabbinical methods of interpretation in modern times.


Peter and Hermeneutics

·        Problems in interpretation were arising even at the point of Peter’s death as is seen in 2 Pt.:

o       3:15“(Paul’s) letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures.”

o       3:4 – “They will say, ‘Where is this coming he promised?  Ever since our fathers died everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’”

o       1:20“Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation.”


        Peter makes the need for proper interpretation clear when he says:

o       2 Peter 1:21 – That “Prophecy never had its origin in the will of man but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”  So man can not correctly interpret it with out that same Spirit.

o       2 Peter 3:16 – That “ignorant and unstable people distort” the scriptures because the scriptures “contain some things that are hard to understand.”

o       1 Peter 1:10 – Even the prophets who originally wrote the scriptures did not fully understand all the revelation and meaning of the words they wrote because, “the prophets who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.”  The prophets who wrote the scripture had to apply hermeneutics as they tried to find the full message.



Early Church Fathers Method of Interpretation

            The Epistle of Barnabas (which is not considered part of the canon of scripture):

¨      119 quotes from the OT and 5 from the apocrypha and 21 from the NT.

¨      In this book history is meaningless.  For example, God’s covenant had always been with Christians.

¨      OT only has meaning if understood in terms of the Gospel.  So here we have an extreme method of interpreting Christ into everything for it to have value.

¨      Typology was his basic principle of interpretation.  For example: Abraham’s 318 servants represent the numerical value of the letters TIH.  The “T” stood for the cross and the “IH” (the first two Greek letters for Jesus name) stood for Jesus.  This was the mystery of  Abraham’s servants.

¨      He was the first to base the age of the world on the six days of creation & Psalms 90:4.

Marcion The Heretic

¨      He rejected the OT and most of the NT.  The church developed  the canon due to him.

¨      Dualistic view of the OT and NT.  The OT God of justice vs. the NT God of mercy.

¨      To justify the fact that the OT and NT could not be reconciled he insisted on a literal interpretation of the OT.

¨      He kept part of the NT that he agreed with but rejected the parts he did not agree with by saying they had been added later to the original writings.

¨      He read the remains of the NT literally but rejected the continuity of the NT with the OT message.


Irenaeus, Bishop in Gaul (177-197)

¨      Established Christian thought for the next several centuries

¨      Approached scripture exclusively by exposition of the Bible. 

¨      He used no philosophy.

¨      First to quote from almost entire NT and extensively from the OT

¨      Concerning Bible interpretation he is said to have preserved the best that came before him and anticipate nearly all that would follow from Origen and Augustine and even Luther and Calvin.

¨      His method of interpretation was governed by the principle of inspiration. 

¨      He then understood that since scripture was inspired by God then God wrote both the OT and NT.  From this doctrine of the unity of scripture he concluded that scripture must then interpret scripture.

¨      He then urged that obscure passages be clarified by being compared with passages that were understood.

¨      The foundation of interpretation was that Christ was the center of the scripture.

¨      The only way to understand the OT is in light of the Savior’s coming.

¨      He believed every part of scripture had its own place and purpose.  

¨      Some feel that Iranaeus let tradition be the final judge of interpretation, but this can not be demonstrated.

Origen (185-254)

¨      The first systematic theologian because he employed the entire Bible as the basis for his teaching. 

¨      His interest in exegesis grew out of his concern for the text.  He did more exegetical work than anyone before the reformation.

¨      His Greek philosophical background led him to express orthodox doctrines in extreme allegories.  (The Greeks had to develop a system of philosophical reasoning to draw the divine truth out of Homer’s writings.  They did this by allegorizing Homer’s works.)

¨      Origen was a student and then the successor to Clement in the Alexandrian Bible School.  From Clement he acquired the theory of the threefold meaning of scripture.  The body = literal meaning, soul = moral teaching, spirit = spiritual meaning.

¨      Origen desired to draw out the more important meaning of scripture by developing the allegorical meaning.  His influence on the future interpretation was great, but both positive and negative.

¨      Medieval allegorists who followed centuries later were influenced by him and the Greek church Basil the Great and Gregory continued his views.

¨      The Exegetical school at Antioch attacked him as did Jerome and Augustine.

School of Antioch

¨      Paid close attention to the historical sense of the text. 

¨      Men like Jerome attached supreme importance to the grammatical sense,

Augustine (354-430)

¨      Augustine dominated Christian theology in the West for a millennium

¨      Augustine was more of a theologian like Irenaeus and not interested in the means and methods of interpretation like Origen.

¨      Augustine said, “The Bible was a narrative of the past, a prophecy of the future, and a description of the present.”

¨      Augustine’s contribution to hermeneutics was his emphasis upon faith as a necessity for understanding.  Understanding and insight into scripture came as a result of faith. He embraced the teaching that the tradition of the Church interpreted the scripture. 

¨      The scriptures provided a foundation for the creed of the Church.


Medieval Interpretation (from Augustine until the Reformation)

Ø        Bible study was restricted almost entirely to monasteries and consisted of recitation of texts and copying manuscripts.

Ø        Illiteracy was rampant.

Ø        Rome claimed the right to interpret scripture

Ø        Any development of Hermeneutics had only one purpose – to strengthen and advance the teachings of the Roman Church.

1)  Bondage to the writings of the Church Fathers

Ø        All interpretation had to conform to tradition and that was the writings of the church fathers.

Ø        The main writings they used were the Latin and the interpreter’s job was to harmonize all the writings of the Latin-writing Fathers to form a foundation under the Roman Churches traditions.

Ø        Like the rabbis of NT times these interpreters were confined to collecting and organizing already written teachings. 

Ø        The literal meaning of the Bible was completely insignificant and unstudied.

2)  Scholasticism

Ø        Around 1000 AD an intellectual awakening in the church occurred.

Ø        The movement depended upon the principles of Greek philosophy produced a deductive religious philosophy (Meaning: Deductive – the act of process of deducing or reasoning form  a known principle to an unknown, from the general to the specific or from a premise to a logical conclusion.) within the confines of traditional teachings of the Roman Church.

Ø        Scholasticism depended almost exclusively upon the allegorical method of interpretation, which further perverted the truth of Scripture.

Ø        There was no regard for the original languages of Biblical texts.

Ø         The interpreters job was to support the teachings of the Roman Church

Ø        Thomas Aquinas was a leader in this movement

3)  Mysticism

Ø        In reaction to the bondage and scholasticism of the day the hunger for a relationship with God surfaced.

Ø        But, since the written revelation was not available to feed and guide people in their pursuit of God extreme mysticism developed.

Ø        Mysticism taught that an individual could get all they needed from God by direct communion with him and did not need the traditions or historical revelation (scriptures).

Ø        Of course, Devotional study of scripture was emphasized with allegory as the main method of interpretation.

Ø        Bernard of Clairvaux was a leader.

4)  Medieval Quadriga

Ø        Up until the days of Martin Luther the method of interpretation through the medieval times was the Quadriga.

Ø        The Quadriga was a fourfold method of interpretation that had began in the early church (Clement and Origen of Alexandria) and was completely developed by the Middle Ages.

Ø        This method examined the text for four meanings: literal, moral, allegorical, anagogical.

Ø        Literal – the plain and evident meaning.                  (Jerusalem was the capital of Judea w/ temple)

Ø        Moral – instructed people on how to behave       (Jerusalem is the soul of man, his sanctuary)

Ø        Allegorical – revealed the doctrinal content            (Jerusalem is the church)

Ø        Anagogical – expressed future hope                      (Jerusalem is heaven, the future hope)

Ø        For example, Jerusalem could mean four different things.  To go up to Jerusalem could mean: they went to the real earthly city, their souls went to a place of moral excellence, they should be going to church, or they have the hope of heaven in the future.

Ø        With this method the biblical exegetes can develop all types of strange discoveries in scripture


5)  Medieval Literal Interpretation

Ø        Western Europe cultivated literal interpretation in several cities and monasteries.

Ø        This often occurred under the influence of the Rabbis who studied Hebrew in the tradition of Jerome.

Ø        Nicolas of Lyra (1100’s AD), a great Christian Hebrew scholar stressed the primacy of the literal sense.

Ø        Martin Luther was highly influenced by Nicolas and called him “a fine soul, a good Hebraist and a true Christian.”



v     A rebellion against the Roman Church’s method of interpretation

v     A movement to enthrone the Scriptures in the thought and life of Christianity.

v     Three men established the pattern of hermeneutics that continues until today:  Luther, Melancthon, Calvin.


v     Luther broke with Roman traditionalism but remained under the influence of the Early Church Fathers like Augustine.

v     Luther did not establish the significance of the historical setting of the text for interpretation but he moved interpretation in that direction.

v     The literal sense of Scripture was important to Luther and he did escape the trap of the allegory.

v     Luther rejected the Quadriga (fourfold interpretation), but this did not restrict his application of scripture to many levels.  One interpretation, many applications.


v     A student of Luther

v     He failed, as did Luther, to distinguish the doctrinal distinction of the OT from the NT and freely used OT material as support for Christian doctrine.

v     He did say that NT revelation was complete and final and went beyond the OT revelation.

v     Humanism’s view of reason was placed along side revelation in his study of scriptural interpretation.


v     John Calvin influence Protestantism more than any other Reformer.

v     He left the allegorical method completely

v     He used extreme literalism.

v     He escaped completely the writings of the Early Church Fathers

v     The importance of history was obvious to Calvin although his resources were limited

v     He was too dogmatic and disregarded all other interpreters and so limited his own insight and progress.

v     He gave no place for progressive revelation (even from the OT into the NT)  and tried to find a complete systematic theology in the teachings of the apostles.


Modern Interpretation

q       Protestantism developed its own traditionalism based on the principle of verbal inspiration of Scripture and the original confessions of faith of the Reformers.

Historical Criticism

q       Challenged the inspiration of the Bible

q       Began in England with Deism and Germany with Enlightenment in the 1700’s

q       Taught the gospels contained only a hint of the original Jesus.

q       Leader in this was Albert Schweitzer


Karl Barth

q       Challenged Historical Criticism purely scientific approach to scripture.

q       He said Historical Criticism was simply useful in establishing the facts to be interpreted, not to give the final explanation.

q       He returned to the Reformers idea of scripture interpreting scripture.

q       He said Historical Criticism had the first word for the interpreter but revelation had the last word.



Principles of Hermeneutics


The Reformers primary rule of Hermeneutics:


1)  Scripture is to interpret Scripture

            “Sacra Scriptura sui interpres”  (“Sacred Scripture is its own interpreter.”)


a)  No point of Scripture can be interpreted to bring it in conflict with any other part of


            b)  If there are two possible interpretations for a scripture and one of those conflicts with other

scriptures, the conflicting scripture has proven itself to be the wrong interpretation.

            c)  The presupposition for this rule is that the Bible is inspired and God is the author.

            d)  Some modern liberal interpreters go out of their way to interpret scripture against scripture

in hopes of proving it to be un-inspired.

            e)  Use the clearly understood passages of scripture to shed light on the less obvious scriptures.



Martin Luther was a militant advocate of the second rule of Hermeneutics:


2) The Bible should be interpreted according to its literal sense.

          “sensus literalis”  (“literal sense”)


a)  Even though the Bible is inspired and written by the Holy Spirit it is still literature.

b)  The natural meaning of a passage is to be interpreted according to the normal rules of

grammar, speech, syntax and context.

c)  The letters, words, and sentences do not take on a new meaning.  They are the vehicles used

 by the Holy Spirit to communicate.

d)  Nouns remain nouns; verbs are still verbs; questions do not become exclamations; historical

narratives do not become allegories.

            e)  Literal interpretation then calls for detailed literary scrutiny of the text.

            f)  The interpreter must know the rules of grammar


 3)  Genre Analysis is very important.

a)  “Genre” means “kind, sort, species.”

b)  Genre analysis is the study of the style of writing, literary form, or the figure of speech.

c)  For example we know there is a difference between a newspaper article, a legal document,

an elementary reading book, a restaurant menu, an owners manual, the president’s state of the union address, and  the lyrics to a pop song.


Example #1:  Is the book of Jonah historical?

This question is a matter of genre analysis.  Chapter 2 of Jonah is clearly poetry.  If this 

speaks for the whole book there is no need to hold to a historical swallowing of Jonah by a fish.

Genre analysis can address this issue.  But, if someone rejects the book of Jonah as historical because they do not believe in miracles, this becomes a philosophical question and genre analysis can not directly help resolve the issue.


Example #2:  Is the mustard seed a hyperbole or a mistake?

The etymology of hyperbole shows it to mean “an overshooting.”  The dictionary meaning for hyperbole is, “exaggeration for effect, not meant to be taken literally.”  Newspapers, verbal communication, and historical reports all use hyperboles to make their point with out violating the historical accuracy of the reporter. “The story is as old as time.”  “Everyone has heard what happened yesterday.”  The Bible uses this type of hyperbole in Mt. 9:35 in reference to Jesus going to “all the cities.”  Jesus also calls the mustard seed the smallest of seeds when there are smaller seeds.  The use of hyperboles is not inconsistent with inspiration nor should it be taken literally in your teaching.


Example #3: Is Balaam’s donkey a personification or a miracle?

A personification is a poetic device which inanimate objects or animals are given human characteristics.  The Bible describes hills dancing and trees clapping.  But, what about Balaam’s donkey talking?  Was that a personification or a miracle?  To analyze this objectively is to ask what literary style is being used?  Is there room for a personification in the narrative?

To call something personification that is literally historical because it does not agree with what we believe is not exegesis (here the interpreter is taking the meaning out of what is in the literature), but eisogesis (here the interpreter is putting meaning into the literature).  Is the creation account historical or is it symbolic literature?  Adam is placed in a real geographical location with a real genealogy that is inappropriate for a mythical character.  But, there is reference to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  What kind of tree is this and what do these leaves look like?  This image is symbolic even in the book of Revelation.  Before you begin to teach this you have to decide what form of literature you are teaching.  Is it historical or symbolic?


Example #4:  Which ones are metaphors?   a)  “I am the door.”   b)  “This is my body.”

A metaphor is a word or a phrase that uses one kind of object or idea in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them.  John 10:9, “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved” is clearly a metaphor.  Jesus did not really swing on hinges and have a door knob.  Difficulty begins with verses like Luke 22:19.  Jesus took the bread and said, “This is My body.”  Was this a metaphor?  Was the bread representing Jesus body or did it become his body in a real fashion?  The modern Catholic and Protestant views of this scripture are based on this hermeneutic issue.  The two great reformers, Luther and Calvin, never could agree on the proper interpretation of this verse.  They agreed on inspiration and the authority of the scriptures.  But, they could not agree on the interpretation of this verse.  When Calvin sent representatives to negotiate with Luther, Luther simply kept repeating the words, “This is my body. . . this is my body. . .”


Rules of Hermeneutics


Tim LaHaye’s Five Rules of Hermeneutics:

1)  Take the Bible Literally. . . . . . . .     do not spiritualize the Bible

2)  Keep it in Context. . . . . . . . . . . . .  do not lift a verse out of context to use it as a prooftext 

because text out of context is a pretext.

            3) Watch Out for Idioms. . . . . . . . . .    idioms change from generation to generation even in their own

language; imagine how they change after 2,000 years from a

ancient language.

            4)  Be Alert to the Figurative use of Language. . .authors use figures of speeches that can not be taken

                                                                        literally.  The Context is the key; it will tell you when to take a

                                                                        word literally or to find the figurative meaning.

            5)  Treat Parables Differently. . . . . . .An earthly story with a heavenly meaning.  Parables have one

central truth.  Every illustration can be distorted when every detail of a parable forced to take on an unintended meaning.


R. C. Sproul’s Ten Rules of Hermeneutics:

            1)  The Bible is to be Read Like Any Other Book

                        The Bible is special, but it communicates through the medium of literature.

            2)  Read the Bible Existentially

                        In other words, put yourself in the story.  What were the characters hearing?  What were they

thinking when they heard or saw this event?  Why did Abraham get up early in the morning to leave to sacrifice Issaac?  And, why does the Bible record this bit of information?

            3) Historical Narratives are to be Interpreted by the Didactic

                        “Didactic” comes from the Greek word that means to teach or to instruct.  Much of Paul’s

writing is Didactic literature.  For example, the gospels are often historical narratives (even recording some Didactic messages of Jesus), but the Epistles are more concerned with interpreting the significance of those events recorded in the Gospels.  So, the Didactic style of the Epistles gives us doctrine, exhortation and application that is interpreted from the Historical Narratives in the Gospels.

            4)  The Implicit is to Be Interpreted by the Explicit

Explicit means “clearly stated.”  Implicit means “to indicate without saying openly; to hint, or suggest.”  Example:  Concerning angels being compared to us?  Mark 12:25 says we will be like the angels and not be married in heaven. Does this imply we will become angels?  No.   Does this imply that angels are sexless? No.  This implies that angels are not married.  This explicitly says we will not marry in heaven.  Example:  1 Corinthians 14:4-5 says that the one who prophecies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless it is interpreted.  Both sides of the tongues debate skip the explicit to grab at the implicit.  One side says prophecy is good and so tongues are bad.  The other side says tongues and interpretation make you greater.  If the student focused on the explicit then neither of these two implied “truthes” would stand.  In fact, the explicit eliminates the possibility of either of these implications being true.



5)  Determine Carefully the Meaning of Words

            a)  Defining Words:

                        Accurate communication and clear understanding are difficult when words are used imprecisely 

or ambiguously.  There are two basic methods of defining words:

            1)  etymology – the science of word origins

                        Hipopotamus – Greek word “hippos” means “horse,” “potamos” means “river”

                        Glory – in Hebrew originally meant “heavy” or “weighty”


2)  customary usage – words must be studied in the context of its usage.  Words undergo changes in meaning.   The meaning of a word in a dictionary is written to identify the way people have started using the word.

Cute – in Elizabethan period meant “bowlegged.”

                                                Scan – defined in English dictionary meant “to read carefully, in close detail”


b)  Words with Multiple Meanings:

                        There are many words in the original languages that have two or more meaning.  For example

                        the “will of God.”  There are six different ways to use this word “will.”  Three are:

                                    1)  Will – the precepts God has revealed to his people

                                    2)  Will – God’s sovereign action by which God brings to pass what he wants.

                                    3)  Will – that which is pleasing to God, that which he delights in.

                        Now apply it to “God is not willing that any should perish.” (2 Peter 3:9 KJ).  Is it:

                                    a)  God has legislated a precept that no one is allowed to perish.  It is against the law.

                                    b)  God has decreed and he will make it happen that no one will ever perish.

                                    c)  God is not pleased and is not delighted when people perish.

                        To resolve these potential multiple meanings you must allow scripture to interpret scripture.

                        The NIV does this when it makes the translation into English.  But, are they right?


                        Now the word “Justify:”

                                    Romans 3:28, “a man is justified by faith apart from works.”

                                    James 2:24, “a man is justified by works.”

                        And then, Paul and James add:

                                    Romans 4: Abraham was justified when he believed God before circumcision. (Gn.15)

                                    James 2:21: where Abraham was justified by works when he offered Isaac. (Gn. 22)

                        “Justify” may mean:

                                    1)  to restore to a state of reconciliation with God those who stand under the judgment

of his law

                                    2)  to demonstrate or to vindicate.

Jesus said, “Wisdom is justified of all her children.” (Lk.7:35)  Does Jesus mean wisdom was restored to fellowship or does he mean that a decision is demonstrated to be wise by what it produces?      


c)  Words Whose Meanings Have Become Doctrinal Concepts

The word “save” and “salvation.”  The ultimate salvation is the escape of God’s wrath.  This theological concept is captured in the doctrine of salvation.  The problem comes when we do not realize that this was a word used to express the deliverance from any kind of trouble or calamity including military defeat, bodily injury, disease, and defamation of character, etc.  But we tend to

extrapolate the full theological meaning back into the word every time we read it including 1 Tim.2:15: women will be “saved in childbearing.”  Here “saved” does not carry our doctrine of

salvation with it.


6)  Note the Presence of Parallelisms in the Bible

Hebrew poetry is often structured with a particular meter.  A rhythm of words and vowels.  This meter is lost in translation.  Parallelism is not so easily lost because it is a rhythm of thoughts.  Three types: 


Synonymous Parallelism occurs when different lines or parts of a passage present the same thought in a altered manner:

            “A false witness will not go unpunished,

                        and he who pours out lies will not go free.”  (Proverbs 19:5)


Antithetic Parallelism occurs when the two parts are set in contrast to each other:

            “A wise son heeds his father’s instruction,

                        but a mocker does not listen to rebuke.”     (Proverbs 13:1)


Synthetic Parallelism is more complex.  The first part of a passage creates a sense of expectation, which is completed by the second part.  It can then move in a progressive, staircase movement to a conclusion in a third line:

            “For surely your enemies, O Lord,

                        surely your enemies will perish;

                                    all evildoers will be scattered.”  (Psalm 92:9)


7)  Note the Difference between Proverb and Law

A proverb is not an absolute but an application of wisdom.  Which proverb to use will be dictated by the circumstance.  “Look before you leap.”  or “He who hesitates is lost.”  Both are true, but they are not always the absolute law of action.


Matthew 12:30, “He who is not with Me is against Me.”

Luke 9:50, “He who is not against you is for you.”

            -both are true depending on the situation


Proverbs 26: 4-5- another example of when to answer a fool and when not to.


There are also two types of Law

a)  The apodictic law expresses absolutes:  “Thou shalt . . .”  or “Thou shalt not. . .”

b)  The casuistic law expresses case law and begins with “if. . .then. . .”

            Example:  Exodus 23:4, “If you meet your enemy’s ox or donkey. . .you shall return them.”

            This is explicit for an ox and a donkey, but it is an example of many other things implicitly.

            Casuistic law gives the principle of the law by example.  In otherwords, you should also return

            your enemies chicken, dog, car, snowmobile, etc.


8) Observe the Difference between the Spirit and the Letter of the Law

A Sabbath day journey was established from the point of residence.  But, if a “legalist” wanted to establish a residence at different location he could then according to the letter of the law travel from one residence to another during the entire Sabbath.  You could establish a residence by placing a personal item such as a comb, mirror, or coat at the location.  This was not the spirit of the law.


9)  Be Careful with Parables


10)  Be Careful with Predictive Prophecy


Drew Freeman’s Four Rules and Fifteen Principles of Hermeneutics


Rule One:  Seek to Acquire Facts About God and Christ Jesus By Searching All of Scripture

            Principle One:  Study the Essence of God

                        -sovereignty, righteousness, justice, love, eternal life, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient,

                          immutable (unchanging), truthful

            Principle Two: Seek the Way Christ is Revealed

-Realize that all of history is focused around Jesus.  He is the creator, the alpha and omega, the only true God who became man.  The OT was a shadow of the reality found in Christ.

Rule Two:  Seek to Understand the Facts by Using the Clear Passage as Your Guide

                        -look for the scriptures that are easiest to understand and let those passages guide our

 understanding of the less clear scriptures.

            Principle Three: Realize that Revelation is Progressive

-God reveals information over a period of time.  Revelation are introduced, even in the garden, and then expanded on over time.  It is important to study the first occurrence of a subject in the scriptures to begin your understanding on the right course.

            Principle Four:  Interpret Literally

                        -God says what he means and means what he says

            Principle Five: Consider the Specifics

-We must ask, “Who said this?” “Who did they say it to?” “What circumstances?” “Who was given the promise or the prophecy?”

            Principle Six:     Study the Primary Passages

                        -Certain passages are to be read as the primary declaration of God’s attitude on a subject

§         The Resurrection of Jesus Christ.          1 Corinthians 15

§         The Human Tongue.                             James 3

§         The Restoration of Israel.                      Romans 11

§         Triumphs of the Faith.                           Hebrews 11

§         God’s Discipline of His Children           Hebrews 12

§         The Church                                          Ephesians 1-3

§         Righteousness by Faith              Romans 3:10-21

§         Full Armor of God                                Ephesians 6:10-17

§         Love                                                    1 Corinthians 13

            Principle Seven: Recognize Human Volition

                        -Consider the freedom that God gave mankind to make decisions and the responsibility that goes          

along with it.  The Bible records both good and bad decisions made by men.  God did not cause all of the results of these decisions.

            Principle Eight: Remember the Covenants

-Recognize the agreements (or contracts) made between God and a man or a group.  There are conditional covenants that depend upon man’s obedience and there are unconditional covenants that depend solely upon the truthfulness of God’s promise in the covenant.

§         The Edenic Covenant

§         The Adamic Covenant

§         The Noahic Covenant

§         The Abrahamic Covenant

§         The Mosaic Covenant

§         The Davidic Covenant

§         The Palestinian Covenant

§         The New Covenant to Israel

§         The New Covenant to the Church


Rule Three:  Seek to be Wise by Comparing Scripture with Scripture

                        Any confusion comes from our inability or lack of study.  God intended to communicate.

            Principle Nine: Look for the Differences

                        -There are different concepts that work together:  faith – works: salvation – sin: law - grace.

            Principle Ten: Consider the Context

                        -Consider types of context to consider for every passage:

§         Near Context – compare it to the verses within the same paragraph

The slavery of Gal.5:1 is then clearly “spiritual slavery.”

§         Intermediate Context – the verses within the same book.

Matthew 24:40 must be compared to Matthew 13:49 before it is compared to 1 Thessalonians 4:17

§         Remote Context – recognize the internal consistency if the Word of God

This is used when studying selected words such as “grace” or “faith.”  Also used in advanced principles such as interpretation of prophecy or understanding types and symbols.


            Principle Eleven:  Interpret Comparatively

                        -Focuses on the internal consistency of the Word of God

            Principle Twelve: Seek the Harmony

                        -There are no real contradictions in the Bible.  Disagreements are in the human scope.

                        Contradictory verses will actually complement one another and we gain understanding

            Principle Thirteen: Consider the Dispensation

-Dispensations are periods of history in which God establishes different responsibilities for his people.  Hebrew 7:12 refers to the change of priesthood and a change of law.  This is in reference to a change in dispensations

            Principle Fourteen: Be Careful with Prophecy

-There is no room for unique attempts at interpretation of prophecy.  The interpreter of prophecy actually puts together a large picture that has been cut into many thousands of pieces (some 10,000 verses of prophecy.) 

§         Determine if the Prophet makes the interpretation

§         Determine if the Prophecy has been historically fulfilled

§         Recognize the Language of Prophecy

Rule Four:  Seek to Live the Christian Life by Properly Applying God’s Word

                        There are many applications but only one interpretation of all scripture. 

            Principle Fifteen: Proper Application is Built on Proper Interpretation

                        Step One: Pray for understanding, recollection, and proper application or spiritual principles

                                    James 1:5

                        Step Two: Seek to correctly and fully understand the passage:  Study

                                    2 Timothy 2:15

                        Step Three: Determine the spiritual principle

                                    Romans 13:8-10

                        Step Four: Examine your life to see if you are in violation of scripture and submit God               

                                    1 John 1:9

                        Step Five: Walk in grace and faith.  We began in grace and faith now we produce it.

                                    Colossians 2:6, Ephesians 2:8-10



Six Hindrances to Proper Interpretation:


1) Carnality

            Living in sin will have a tendency to distort scriptural interpretation.

            Since the Holy Spirit reveals truth we must be in fellowship with him.

2) Vanity

            Vanity is the quest for fame or recognition.  This can lead to improper interpretation.

            “Handling” the Word “accurately” (2 Timothy 2:15) includes being guided by the right motivation.

3) Partiality

            Partiality is a prejudice based on individual preferences and it basically distorts the text by thinking:

                        “I don’t want something to be this way.”

4) Lack of Consistency

            a) Practice of Consistent Self-Evaluation and Confession of Sin

            b) The Practice of Consistent Prayer

            c) The Practice of consistent Study

5) Faulty Methodology

Our method of interpretation can hinder of accuracy.  There are some who believe that only certain Christians have been given the gift of interpreting God’s Word.  We have all been given the word and are all priests. 

6) Faulty Reasoning

We cannot rely solely on our ability to reason out the scriptures.  We must be empowered by the Holy Spirit.

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