Trivium Pursuit

General Principles for the Interpretation of Scripture

Hermeneutics is the name given to the science and methodology for interpreting (determining the meaning of) Scripture.

Exegetics is the name given to the science and methodology for critically analyzing, explaining, and expounding Scripture.

If there is such a thing as truth, and if it is important to know the truth, and if the Scriptures are the truth, then it is important to know and understand what the Scriptures mean.

If we all chose our own private way and took anything to mean whatever we desired it to mean, then how often would we agree? And why would we agree? We would agree about as often as we happened to have the same desire.

But if we all understood and followed the truth, how often would we disagree? And why would we disagree? We would disagree about as often as we failed to understand and follow the truth.

The bottom line is, if we all agreed to follow the truth of Scriptures, then the differences among us would be due to our ignorance or misunderstanding of the meaning of Scripture. So ultimately, our unity depends upon our having the same principles of interpretation. He who determines how the Scriptures are to be interpreted, determines everything. Who should we entrust with telling us how to interpret Scripture? How about entrusting this to the Scripture itself? Who can speak with authority on the interpretation of God’s Word greater than God Himself?

With this in mind, let us examine a few things which the Scripture says about Scripture.

Principle #1
The Scripture is infallible.

John 10:35 (Very Literal)
. . . the Scripture is not able to be broken.

John Gill wrote: “. . . and the Scripture cannot be broken; or be made null and void; whatever that [Scripture] says is true, there is no contradicting it, or objecting to it: it is a Jewish way of speaking, much used in the Talmud; when one doctor has produced an argument, or instance, in any point of debate, another says, . . . ‘it may be broken’; or objected to, in such and such a manner, and be refuted: but the Scripture cannot be broken, that is not to be objected to, there can be no confutation of that.”

The Bible was inscribed by about 40 different men over a period of about 1,500 years, but every word was inspired by God. God cannot lie nor contradict Himself. Therefore the Scripture cannot be broken.

Corollary 1
The Scripture is the source of true propositions from which alone one may deduce all other necessary truths. We cannot deduce absolute truth from falsehoods, nor from any statement which carries the slightest degree of doubt.

Corollary 2
If any place Scripture seems to contradict another place in Scripture, then the interpretation of at least one of those places must incorrect and open to another interpretation.

Principle #2
Every word – every letter – is inspired and useful.

Second Timothy (Very Literal)
3:15 and that from a babe thou-hast-known the sacred [/sanctified] letters,
which sacred letters are-able to-make- thee -wise to salvation
through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
3:16 Every part of Scripture [/context: each and every alphabetic character of sacred Scripture]
is God-breathed [/inspired by God]
and is useful [/beneficial /profitable]
for teaching [/doctrine /instruction],
for conviction [/proof /refutation /rebuke /demonstration from evidence \lit. a trial to prove or demonstrate something],
for correction [/rectification /improvement \literally: straightening up again],
for discipline [/education /training /chastisement] which is in righteousness,
3:17 in-order-that the man of God should-be properly-formed [\lit. exactly fitted or fully adapted to its purpose],
having-been-fully-equipped [/formed] for every good [/excellent /noble /profitable] work [/deed /act].

Corollary
The Scriptures are sufficient as a guide to determine what we believe, to evaluate our experiences, and to determine our actions. We do not need any other source than Scripture for authoritative guidance.

Principle #3
Spiritual truth can only be spiritually discerned.

Natural understanding is not enough. Interpretation is a spiritual exercise, requiring spiritual faculties (John 3:3). One must be born of God before he can believe and understand and properly interpret the Scriptures to his benefit.

First Corinthians (Very Literal)
2:9 Rather, according as it stands [/has been] written,
Things which the eye has not seen,
and which the ear has not heard,
and which have not entered into the heart of man,
these are the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.
2:10 But God has revealed these things to us [?apostles] by His Spirit:
for the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.
2:11 For who among men knows the things of a particular man,
except the spirit of that particular man which is in him?
In the same way also, no one knows the things of God,
except the Spirit of God.
2:12 Now we have not received the spirit of the world,
rather, we have received the spirit which is from God;
in order that we should know the things which are freely granted by God to us.
2:13 Which things we [?apostles] also speak,
not in words taught by man’s wisdom,
rather, in words taught by the Holy Spirit;
explaining [/combining] spiritual things with spiritual words.
[/explaining things of the Spirit with the words of the Spirit.]
2:14 But a mere natural man does not receive these things from the Spirit of God:
for they are foolishness to him [– to his understanding]:
and he is not able to know such things,
because they are discerned spiritually [– not naturally].
2:15 But the spiritual man indeed discerns all things,
though he himself is discerned by no one [– except his own spirit [verse 11]].
2:16 For who has known the mind of the Lord?
Who shall instruct Him?
But we-ourselves possess the mind of Christ.

The natural man is able to understand the words, but he is unable to receive the spiritual things which are conveyed by the words. He can believe the historical fact of Christ, but he cannot truly believe on or place his trust in Christ, which is a necessary ingredient to receiving all of what Christ speaks by the Spirit in the Scripture.

(This text also supports the previous principle because it teaches that the very words of Scripture are chosen by the Holy Spirit.)

Corollary
Not only are the Scriptures sufficient (Principle 2, Corollary), but the Scriptures are also necessary as a guide to determine what we believe, to evaluate our experiences, and to determine our actions. Without the Scriptures, we are left without guidance.

Harvey Bluedorn

4 Responses to “General Principles for the Interpretation of Scripture”

  1. Wittenberg Gate Says:

    Christian Carnival: Epiphany 2007…

    Welcome to the first Christian Carnival for the Year of Our Lord 2007! May God bless you all with a deeper love for Him and a surer faith as you grow in Christ this year. Each week, Christian blog writers are invited to submit their best post of the we…

  2. Participatory Bible Study Blog » Blog Archive » Principles of Interpretation or Conclusions? Says:

    […] I’m always happy to see discussion about principles of interpretation of scripture, because in general when we have large differences of opinion between Christians they can be traced back to our approach to interpreting scripture and more broadly to our understanding of how doctrine is formed. Thus I was delighted to see General Principles for the Interpretation of Scripture listed in this week’s Christian Carnival. […]

  3. Participatory Bible Study Blog » Blog Archive » More on Principles of Biblical Interpretation Says:

    […] Bruce Alderman disagrees with some of the principles of interpretation from Trivium Pursuit, which I referenced earlier, and has started a series on the same topic. His first principle is: All this is a long way of introducing my first principle of biblical interpretation: “God, what are you trying to tell me through these scriptures?” […]

  4. Participatory Bible Study Blog » Blog Archive » Another Set of Posts on Principles of Interpretation Says:

    […] Since I responsded to a post on principles of interpretation, and Bruce Alderman also weighed in on that topic, I’ve been keeping my eyes open for more interesting discussion. […]

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