Principles of Interpreting the Bible (Part Two)
This is the second of three articles touching on principles of interpreting the Bible. Any serious student or teacher of the Bible should be concerned with interpreting the Bible accurately. The Bible is God’s Word. We must approach it carefully and respectfully. We can’t interpret Scripture just any way we wish. There are principles that should govern your study and interpretation of the Bible. You can read the first article here and the third article here. The article below covers the third and fourth of six principles.
The Principle of Objective Language
As you read this, you do so with a sort of unspoken agreement between yourself (the reader) and me (the author). We agree to abide by certain objective “rules” of language. If I want you to understand me, then I must abide by those rules. I can’t, for example, change the memo of a truck and instruct that you will catapult my customers. (If that sentence doesn’t make sense, it’s because I changed the meaning of the words to make my point.) It may make sense to me, but I’ll be speaking gibberish to you. When we approach the scriptures, we do so with the same understanding or “agreement” with the biblical authors. They may not have been speaking and writing in English, but they were using an intelligent language that had certain rules. The words they used had specific, limited meanings. We don’t get to change those meanings. Their sentences and paragraphs followed certain rules of grammar. We don’t get to change those rules. There are rules governing their writing and our reading. The Principle of Objective Language reminds us that we don’t get to change the rules to suit our desired interpretation. Whenever we study the biblical writings (or a translation of them), we must do so with an awareness of the objective rules of language.
The Principle of Original Intent
We must ALWAYS remember that every book of the Bible has been delivered through real human beings who left their particular personality “stamped” on their writing. God used their motives, customs, forms of speech, and uniquenesses to communicate His message(s). All interpretation must be approached from the perspective of the author’s (lower case “a”) intent and desired message. Simply put, we have to ask ourselves, “What did the author intend to say?” If we miss this point, we will be in danger of imposing our own agenda on the text or reading into the text some kind of ultra-spiritual message that can’t be verified. If you’re the only person holding a particular interpretation, and that interpretation doesn’t reflect the original intent of the biblical author, then you’ve stopped interpreting the Bible and started articulating your own opinion. You may, in fact, be right in your opinion, but you can’t claim biblical authority is behind it.
Author, Speaker, Bible Teacher
See a list of other articles by Rick Edwards.