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Bible Studying and Scripture Interpretation Overview
Reliability of Scripture
Reliability is a much larger study of its own
“What is truth?”
“How do we (even as Christians) learn truth?”
As Christians, how do we know that Jesus lived, that he did anything, or said anything?
Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
2 Timothy 2:2 “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”
How do we know that what we have today is what Jesus and the apostles passed on?
Brief Overview on Historic Reliability of the New Testament
We have to look to the available records of what occurred.
In terms of the standards for determining historic actuality, as a historic record, the New Testament account of what Jesus Christ said and did is more reliable than any other account or information we have concerning any other ancient figure or event.
The New Testament records are far superior in terms of number, proximity in time, and detail concerning the life of Jesus Christ than any other source of information on his life and teaching.
The use of hermeneutics presupposes that scripture is THE reliable authority for determining truth
Without that assumption, without the view that scripture is authoritative concerning truth, hermeneutics are irrelevant and unnecessary
“Exegesis – the critical interpretation of the biblical text to discover its intended meaning. Both Jews and Christians have used various exegetical methods throughout their history, and doctrinal and polemical intentions have often influenced interpretive results; a given text may yield a number of very different interpretations according to the exegetical presuppositions and techniques applied to it. The study of these methodological principles themselves constitutes the field of hermeneutics (q.v.).” – Britannica.com
"Exegesis - [N.L. - Gr. exegesis, - exegeisthai, explain, - ex-, out of, and hegeisthai, lead.] Critical explanation or interpretation, esp. of Scripture." - The Living Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language
With regard to meaning, “to lead out of” the text itself rather than “from outside” into the text
“Eisegesis – the interpretation of a text (as of the Bible) by reading into it one's own ideas -- compare EXEGESIS, Etymology: Greek eis into (akin to Greek en in) + English exegesis.” – Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
“Hermeneutics – NOUN: (used with a sing. or pl. verb) The theory and methodology of interpretation, especially of scriptural text.” – The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.
to let scripture reveal its own meaning
without exegesis governed by sound hermeneutic principles, scripture becomes merely vessel into which we pour our own meaning, ideas, or imaginations
i.e., we become the authority and NOT the scripture
Variety of Hermeneutic Systems
The Allegorical Method
Definition - The literal meaning of the text is either, not the true meaning, or only one of many meanings. The elements of each passage have a corresponding spiritual reality which is the "real" or ultimate meaning of the passage.
The Naturalistic Method
Definition - The naturalistic world-view (i.e. the universe is a closed system of cause and effect) is the standard by which scripture must be interpreted. Scripture becomes intelligible only as ancient man's attempt to explain nature. It also assumes that religion has evolved through several stages which can be used to date the material in the Bible.
Miracles are rejected as primitive explanations or myths.
The goal is to rediscover the "true record" (i.e., the "historical" Jesus, or the "strata" in the Pentateuch) within the legendary accounts of the Bible.
Definition - Neo-orthodoxy takes an approach to theology that places the religious experience of the interpreter in the center. The Bible is important for stimulating such an experience. When it does so, it "becomes the word of God" for that reader, at that time. Neo- orthodox theologians are generally willing to accept the conclusions of the naturalistic theologians regarding errors in the Bible, but feel that these do not affect the reader's ability to encounter God through it.
Definition - The devotional method focuses almost exclusively on what is personally applicable and edifying. It tends to ignore context, historical background, and other important interpretive principles.
History – Traces of the Grammatical-Historical Method
articulated in various ways at various times in Christian history
New Testament and Early Church
The exegetical practices of the apostles and New Testament authors forms the basis of the grammatical-historical method
Later articulations of the grammatical-historical method to one extent or another were based upon the New Testament model
“Biblical literature, Early Stages –The New Testament writers shared a creative and flexible principle of exegesisthat has regard for the literary and historical context and traces a consistent pattern of divine action in judgment and mercy, reproduced repeatedly in the history of Israel and manifested definitively in Christ.” – Britannica.com
“The apostles followed their Lord in regarding the Old Testament as the inspired Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21). In at least fifty-six instances God is explicitly referred to as the author of the biblical text. Like Christ, they accepted the historical accuracy of the Old Testament (e.g., Acts 7:9-50; 13:16-22; Heb. 11).” –Hermeneutics: Principles and Process of Biblical Interpretation, by Henry A. Virkler, p. 55
“In conclusion, the vast majority of the New Testament references to the Old Testament interpret it literally; that is, they interpret according to the commonly accepted norms for interpreting all types of communication—history as history, poetry as poetry, and symbols as symbols. There is not attempt to separate the message into literal and allegorical levels… Thus, the New Testament itself lays the basis for the grammatical-historical method of modern evangelical hermeneutics.” –Hermeneutics: Principles and Process of Biblical Interpretation, by Henry A. Virkler, p. 58
“Biblical literature, The Patristic Period – Alexandria had long boasted a school of classical study that practiced the allegorical interpretation of the Homeric epics and the Greek myths...Later, the Antiochene fathers, represented especially by Theodore of Mopsuestia (c. 350–428/429) and John Chrysostom (c. 347–407), patriarch of Constantinople, developed an exegesis that took more account of literal meaning and historical context...In the West, the Alexandrian methods were adopted by Ambrose (c. 339–397), bishop of Milan, and Augustine (354–430), bishop of Hippo…” – Britannica.com
(also known as “Literal Interpretation”)
“Hermeneutics, Literal Interpretation – Literal interpretation asserts that a biblical text is to be interpreted according to the “plain meaning” conveyed by its grammatical construction and historical context. The literal meaning is held to correspond to the intention of the authors…Jerome, an influential 4th-century biblical scholar, championed the literal interpretation of the Bible in opposition to what he regarded as the excesses of allegorical interpretation. The primacy of the literal sense was later advocated by such diverse figures as Thomas Aquinas, Nicholas of Lyra, John Colet, Martin Luther, and John Calvin.” – Britannica.com
The literal and historical meaning of Scripture should be held in high regard.
The task of the expositor is to understand the meaning of the author, not to bring his own meaning to the text.
A verse should be studied in its context, not in isolation from the verses around it.
The Holy Spirit is not a substitute for the necessary learning to understand Scripture. The interpreter should know Hebrew, Greek, geography, and other subjects.
The obscure passage must yield to the clear passage.
The expositor should take into account that revelation is progressive.
Quoted from Hermeneutics: Principles and Process of Biblical Interpretation, by Henry A. Virkler, p. 60-61, in which the author himself cites Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, pp. 36-37.
Martin Luther, 1483-1546
a few quotes
"…nothing is more commonly stated or more generally accepted than the idea that the Scriptures are obscure and ambiguous, so that the spirit to interpret them must be sought from the Apostolic See of Rome. Nothing more pernicious could be said than this, for it has led ungodly men to set themselves above the Scriptures and to fabricate whatever they pleased, until the Scriptures have been completely trampled down and we have been believing and teaching nothing but the dreams of madmen." – Luther, Bondage 158-159.
“The literal sense alone is the whole essence of faith and Christian theology.”– A. Skevington Wood,. Luther’s Principles of Biblical Interpretation. (London: Tyndale Press, 1960), 7.
Luther’s German translation of the Bible in 1521 and 1528 included hermeneutic principles:
on the necessity for grammatical knowledge;
on the importance of taking into consideration the times, circumstances and conditions;
on the observance of the context;
on the need of faith and spiritual illumination;
on keeping what he called the "proportion of faith" for maintaining the perspicuity of Scripture (often called the analogy of faith principle);
on the reference of all Scripture to Christ.
(Farrar, History of Interpretation, 232.)
Its been argued that Luther’s principles were influenced by Erasmus
He was ordained priest of the Roman Catholic Church
“Erasmus helped lay the groundwork for the historical-critical study of the past, especially in his studies of the Greek New Testament and the Church Fathers.” – Britannica.com
should weigh not only what is said but also by whom it is said.
should observe to whom the words were said.
should see what words were used at what time and on what occasion.
should note what precedes and what follows the words under consideration, that is, the historical and literary context must be known.
should have a knowledge of Hebrew, Greek and Latin as well as the disciplines of dialectic, arithmetic, music, natural science, history and especially grammar and rhetoric (both of which were preferred to dialectic).
should handle the ambiguities and apparent contradictions by textual emendation and knowledge of grammar. If difficulties still remain, then obscure passages should be correlated with other passages to bring illumination to the problematic texts, which often led to allegorical interpretations. Also, these difficult passages should be viewed from within the circle of orthodox Christian doctrine, the teachings of Christ and common sense (= law of nature; for Erasmus, the law of Christ and the law of nature were in essential agreement).
should at this point look to the Fathers (the Greek Fathers are preferred to the Latin Fathers) and the classical writers for additional insight for the literal and spiritual meaning of the text.
 These principles are summarized and expanded in J. B. Payne, "Toward the Hermeneutics of Erasmus" in Melanges, Scrinium Erasmianum, vol. 2, edited by J. Coppens, cited in Payne, Erasmus: His Theology, 45, 46, 252.
Commentaries on these men will sometimes also make note that in practice they did not always live up to their own hermeneutic principles
The Grammatical-Historical Method
Sometimes known as “Literal Interpretation”
“Hermeneutics, Literal Interpretation – Literal interpretation asserts that a biblical text is to be interpreted according to the “plain meaning” conveyed by its grammatical construction and historical context. The literal meaning is held to correspond to the intention of the authors.” – Britannica.com
Colossians 4:3 “Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds…”
Quote from earlier
“…interpret according to the commonly accepted norms for interpreting all types of communication—history as history, poetry as poetry, and symbols as symbols.” –Hermeneutics: Principles and Process of Biblical Interpretation, by Henry A. Virkler, p. 58
What is “The Mystery” of Christ?
Many prophecies concerning the first advent of Jesus Christ were veiled in such a way that they fall OUTSIDE “the commonly accepted norms for…all types of communication”
that is what Paul meant by the phrase, “the Mystery”
Luke 24:44 And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. 45 Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, 46 And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: 47 And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
Romans 16:25 Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, 26 But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith:
Thus, these prophecies fall OUTSIDE the grammatical-historical rules of interpretation
First Example: Psalm 16:8 I have set the LORD always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. 9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. 10 For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Acts 2:22 Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: 23 Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: 24 Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. 25 For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: 26 Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope: 27 Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. 28 Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance. 29 Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. 30 Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; 31 He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. 32 This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.
Second Example: Psalm 22:15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death. 16 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. 17 I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me. 18 They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture. Matthew 27:35 And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots.
What’s the reason for the enigma or “mystery”
to confirm – Acts 17:11, Acts 18:28
to disguise – 1 Corinthians 2:7-8
Pertains ONLY to Old Testament texts
Pertains only to the first advent of Christ, including
inauguration of a New Covenant,
and inclusion of the Gentiles in that Covenant
Practical Techniques for Studying and Analyzing Scripture
Try to identify the key issues and key questions before beginning.
Keep them in mind and review them as you proceed through the study.
Bible Software and a word-editing program is the best way
at your finger tip
copy and past (instead of retyping)
rearrange for association
*search by Strong’s Concordance Numbers AND Verb Conjugation Numbers
Impossible to underestimate the value of survey work