Principles of Interpreting the Bible (Part One)
Volumes have been written on the topic of biblical interpretation. My goal here isn’t to contribute anything new to the topic within the academic world, but to provide some broad (and brief) principles for those who aren’t lifelong “biblical scholars.” Even though you’re not a “Bible scholar,” you’re probably teaching the Bible at some level or you are anxious to accurately interpret the Bible for yourself, your family, or others. All of the six principles of interpreting the Bible in these articles are related; and you’ll see there’s some overlap, but I hope these will be helpful. Due to length, there will be three articles in total with two principles for each article. Read the second article here and the third article here.
The Principle of Humility
We always should approach the study and interpretation of God’s Word with humility from two angles. First, we need to remember we are finite creatures attempting to understand the words and message of an infinite Creator. We should do so humbly and prayerfully. Arrogance can be one of the greatest enemies of solid biblical interpretation. Arrogance can blind us to God’s message because we think we’ve already got it figured out. Humility, on the other hand, keeps us open to the prompting and voice of God’s Spirit as we study. Second, we need to be open to the instruction and insights of others. In the same way that arrogance can keep us from hearing from God, so it can cut us off from the wisdom and gleanings of other people, now and in the past. Arrogance leads us to believe we’re the first to arrive at a particular interpretation. Probably not. Humility keeps us open to centuries of Church history and millions of other believers. If we find our interpretations are varying significantly from those of historic Christianity, we may want to see if arrogance is influencing our study.
The Principle of Intelligible Intent
There are those who will suggest that “we can’t really know what God intended to say in the Bible”. Such a statement, however, reduces the Bible to a collection of non-intelligible words with no value at all. This kind of argument is often used to stifle dialog and avoid the hard work of articulating a reasonable rationale for our interpretations. Rather than defend an interpretation (and consider alternatives) through meaningful discourse, other opinions are dismissed and humility is abandoned. The Principle of Intelligible Intent reminds us that God’s Word and God’s words CAN be understood because God’s intended message is, in fact, INTELLIGIBLE. It may not always be easy to discern, and we may not always agree on precisely what it is; but we shouldn’t stop trying to reach agreement and engaging in real conversation in an effort to do so. It is an insult to Almighty God to suggest He is unable to communicate to us in a way we can understand. We can understand God’s intended message, but it sometimes takes work.
Author, Speaker, Bible Teacher
See a list of other articles by Rick Edwards.