Thursday, April 6, 2017

Principles for Literal Bible Interpretation

By Cooper P. Abrams, III

(Revised August 2001)

* (All rights reserved)

Introduction:         It is apparent from all the contradictory teachings of the many denominations and cults of Christendom, that they all cannot be right. For the most part, each claim to use the Bible as the source of their teachings. For example, most evangelical churches teach that salvation is by one's faith through God's grace apart works. However, some churches emphatically teach that baptism is necessary for salvation. Both may claim the Bible as the source of their belief. Most Protestants practice baptism by sprinkling whereas Baptists baptize by immersion. The Roman Catholic Church teaches it is the only true church, and that Peter was the first pope based on their interpretation of Matthew 16:18. No one else outside Catholicism accepts this interpretation.
        Even the "Christian" cults such as the Jehovah's Witnesses use the Bible to deny the deity of Jesus Christ, the existence of Hell, and most carnal doctrines of the Christian faith. The Mormons, another cult, uses the Bible verse in 1 Corinthians 15:29 as the source for their practice of baptisms for the dead. No one else accepts this interpretation. Seventh Day Adventists have their church services on Saturday, the Jewish "Sabbath Day" and teach Michael the Arch Angel is Christ. They teach this based on their understanding of the Bible's instruction concerning the Sabbath. Pentecostal churches and the modern Charismatic movement teach "tongues" and miracle healings as valid gifts of the Holy Spirit today. All fundamentalists and many other Christian denominations strongly disagree.

         It is a fact that many different sects of "Christendom" use the Bible to prove contradictory teachings. Paul Lee Tan, in his book Literal Interpretation of the Bible says, "Apparently the Bible can be made to prove almost anything."1 All claim that the Bible is the Word of God. Considering all the contradictions, which are so apparent, one must ask and get the answer to the question, "Who is right?" Surely, God is not teaching, for example, that one is saved by good works and also teaching man is saved by God's Grace without works.

         1 Cor. 14:33, says "God is not the author of confusion." Apparently, there has been great latitude taken in the interpretation of what the Bible says. The word "interpretation" means to arrive at the original meaning the writer intended when he penned the words. The original meaning the author intended is the interpretation and must be found before you can apply it or make application of the passage. A faulty interpretation will produce a faulty application and therefore it is vital to correctly interpret the Scriptures.

         The great need today then in determining what the Bible really teaches is a correct method of interpretation. If the Bible is the Word of God and God's revelation to man, then surely God would not give us His revelation without a way to discern what He meant. For God not to give us a way to interpret the Bible is to leave the interpretation of Scripture to human wisdom that is at best faulty. To have the interpretation of Scripture rest on man's wisdom is to have "flesh" interpreting that which is spiritual.

        Often we hear the platitude that we must not "major on the minors" which is saying that part of the Word of God in not as important as other truths. Another concept purports that we really cannot be sure about what the Scripture teaches and therefore it is not important. For example some would say it is not important whether a church baptizes by immersion or sprinkling as it is only a matter of one's heart. Does it really matter with God and how do we then determine if the kind of thinking is correct or not? The only place to turn is to God Himself and the only non subjective place to seek the answer is His written word. Therefore to resolve the matter and find what God wants we must determine what "thus saith the Lord" because God is the Authority. The makes it paramount to be able to interpret the Bible and determine its absolute meaning.

         The problem today is not, that God did not give us a method of interpretation. God gave us a method, but man has refused to use it or not been diligent in seeking it! The method that God gave is the literal method, or what man has labeled the Grammatical-Historical Method. The Grammatical-Historical method interprets Scripture by taking into consideration the context of a passage, the grammatical uses of the words and the historical setting in which they were written. The literal method, "lets Scripture interpret Scripture" thus it is God who interprets His word for us. It is not a new method in any sense of the word and is the only method in which the Scriptures interpret the Scriptures.

         The literal method is letting God interpret what He has said. Surely, God is best qualified to tell us what He means. The Bible is the complete word of God to man. Revelation 22:18, says man is not to add to the Word of God, the Bible. II Timothy 3:16-17, clearly states that God gave us the Bible. The verses tell us that the Bible is " . . . profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." When God "breathed" on the writers of Scripture they literally produced the Word of God, completely and accurately. The doctrine of "verbal plenary inspiration," means God chose each word God for its specific meaning. When God inspired the writers to use a word it was because that word conveyed a certain meaning. It communicated a certain meaning to those who read it. This means that if we find what was the correct meaning of the word, considering its context, normal and customary usage at the time it was used, we can know the correct interpretation.

         Let us then look at eleven principles of literal interpretation that lets the Scriptures interpret Scripture. When we say let Scripture interpret Scripture we are saying, let God interpret His Word for us.



             We have dictionaries that are lists of words with their definitions. A word can have several meanings. But a word does have a limited meaning. As an example take the word "mountain." It could be referring to many types of hills of various heights and compositions, but it would NOT be referring to a "tree." The customary, and grammatical meaning of the word "mountain" is a geographical mound or hill of some sort. It would be improper to imply that when the writer used the word "mountain" he was referring to tree or anything else. It could be used figuratively for example a person could say "He was a mountain of strength." But if used in this manner would be clearly apparent in the sentence that this was not a literal mountain but was a metaphor.

             Often, Bible interpreters incorrectly give Scripture an allegorical or so called "spiritual" meaning. Paul Lee Tan uses the following example of an allegorical interpretation of Scripture. One interpreter allegorically interpreted the journey of Abraham from Ur to Haran as an imaginary trip of a Stoic philosopher who left his sensual understanding and after a time arrived back at his senses. Another example of misusing allegory would be to teach that the two pence given to the inn keeper in the parable of Good Samaritan, represented Baptism and Lord's Supper.2 The only proper time to use allegory is when the Scripture itself instructs us to do such as in Galatians 4:24.

    Accepting what the words literally mean is a vital part of this first rule. Unless the passage says otherwise, or is clearly using metaphorical languate give Scripture a literal meaning. It is a well stated rule, "If the literal sense makes sense, seek no other sense."

    A. The example of Revelation 20:6.
      1.For example, Revelation 20:6, states that Christ will reign for one thousand years after the Great Tribulation. This thousand years is called the "Millennium" and the verse "literally" states that the time period is one thousand years. Amillennialists falsely assert that this thousand years is only figurative to support their belief that there will not be a thousand year reign of Christ on earth. They deny there will be a thousand year reign of Christ although the Bible says He will rule for a thousand years. They falsely teach it only means some indefinite period of time.

      2. Here is the problem. If it does not mean a literal one thousand years then how do we go about determining its "real" meaning? Often we are told to let the Bible commentator or scholar tell you, because he has education and incites that the ordinary Christians does not have?! The problem with this answer is which Bible commentator should not go to who you can trust has the correct answer? With what criteria do you test each commentator to see who is correct. Do you see the problem? When you leave the literal method of interpreting Scripture you have no means to determine what the passage says! It is left up to each person to determine for himself what it means without any standard or system of rules to follow. Clearly, this leads to great confusion and makes it impossible to know what God intend to tell us!

      3. It is obvious from reading Revelation 20, that the thousand years is literal and not figurative. There is nothing in the passage that would indicate that the period of time is figurative. Thus if we accept literally what the Bible says we are letting the Bible interpret itself. The correct interpretation of the passage is that Christ will literally reign for one thousand years on earth! The literal meaning of the words tell us what God said. There is no confusion or misunderstanding. The question the "spiritualizers" of the Bible should ask themselves is, why did God say literally that this period of time would be a thousand years? If He had some other period in mind, why did not just plainly state what He meant? Why would He say one thing and mean something else. Clearly, the truth is that God said what He meant. He said one Christ will reign one thousands years because that is what will happen.
    B. Often the Bible does use figurative speech. The art or skill of an interpreter, using the proper rules of interpretation combined with good sense can easily understand the meaning. In 2 Peter 3:8, Peter says that one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day. Here the time period is clearly figurative. Note that the verse says one day "is as" a thousand years. It does not say one day is exactly one thousand years. It would be wrong to take this figurative statement as meaning absolutely that a day in heaven is one thousand years. It would also be wrong to use this verse to say that a when the word day is used in Scripture it means one thousand years. Note that here the Bible is interpreting the Bible.
      1. In the Bible, when a verse is not to be interpreted literally it is clearly indicated. By examining the passage we know that Peter in 2 Peter 3:8, used a simile. A simile is figure of speech

      2. Many have tried to use this verse to fix the purported long ages of evolution into the Genesis account of Creation. They believe that this verse allows for great latitude in interpreting the word "day" in Genesis 1 and 2. But if we apply sound rules of interpreting Scripture to the passages in Genesis it too shows that this is a erroneous interpretation.

      3. The word for "Day" is the Hebrew word, "yom." It can mean:

        (1) The period of light (contrasted from the period of darkness).
        (2) A twenty four hour period.
        (3) A general vague "time".
        (4) A point in time.
        (5) A year.

      4. Some want to believe the "days of creation" were long periods of time, which would support evolution. They would suggest the meaning of the word "yom" is "long ages." They point to verses such as Psalm 102:2, which use the word in a general sense. "Hide not thy face from me in the day when I am in trouble..." This could mean the day was one twenty hour period or it could mean any length of time of trouble. However, to understand what the word means you must look at the word in all the contexts it is used. Look at verses such as Gen. 7:11, 27:45 Ex. 20:10 Lev. 22:277 Num. 7:24, 30, 36, 40, 48, 54, 60, 66, 72, 77-78 Psa. 88:1, 139:12, Eccl. 8:16. These verses illustrate an unfailing principle found in every use of the word, "yom." Whenever "yom" is modified by a number, or whenever "yom" is used in conjunction with the idea of day and night, or light and darkness, it ALWAYS means a normal twenty four hour day.
      5. The use of a number with the word "yom" is conclusive evidence that the "Days of Creation" were twenty four hour periods of time. The Bible says, ". . .the evening and the morning were the first day." The use of the words, evening, morning and first, limit the meaning of the word "day" to a twenty four hour period of time. That is exactly what is says. To interpret the time period which is stated here as meaning anything but a twenty four hour period is a gross error in interpreting what the writer meant.

      6. Further evidence is found in Exodus 20:11, which supports this conclusion that these days in Genesis 1, are twenty four hour period of time. Note the statement of Moses, "For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day: therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." This is as clear a statement of the time frame of Creation as can be had. Moses in connecting the six day Creation with instructions concerning the Sabbath day is conclusive evidence that the Creation was accomplished in six literal twenty four hours periods.

      7. Peter, in 2 Peter 3:8, is assuring believers that God will keep his promises to us. It is pointing out that God is not confined to time as we know it. The use of the phrase "a thousand years is as but a day with the Lord" is understood as being a metaphorical reference to fact God is not limited by time. He is says what we might perceive as a delay in time is within the structure of God's plan for the world.

      8. If you interpret 2 Peter 3:8, literally, then you would still have only seven thousand years for God to complete the Creation. You would still not have the billions of years the evolutionist insists it took to create the world and life as we know it. In any case you can not honestly use this passage as a precedent to interpret the "days" of Genesis 1, as being anything other than a twenty four hour period of time.
      9. The result of our research produces conclusive evidence that the one thousand years referred to in Revelation 20:6 is literally a time period of a thousand years. We then can be dogmatic is stating the Amillennialists are wrong in their interpretation and the correct interpretation is there will be a literal Millennium.
    C. The rule is this: "Always accept the literal meaning of the words of the passage unless there is strong evidence to do otherwise." As stated earlier, "If the literal sense makes, sense, seek no other sense."

    We are very fortunate to live in this age. Excellent Bible helps are available to help us find the original meaning of a word. Word study books such as Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, enables anyone to research a word without knowing the language and find its original meaning.
    D. It should be understood that this does not mean we are to take metaphorical language literally. For example: Deuteronomy 32:4 states, "He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he." Certainly God is not literally a rock. And the statement is referring to God immutability (unchanging) or absolute trustworthiness.

    D. Syntax. Important to arriving at the correct meaning of a word is the study of syntax. Syntax is the study of the word in is grammatical setting. It deals with understanding the word's grammatical use as a verb, noun, adjective, adverb or part of speech. It also seeks to decide the tense, mood, voice, and case of a word.

    E. When God used a particular word He did so to convey a particular meaning. You cannot ignore the customary and grammatical meaning of a word, in its historical setting and honestly claim to arrive at an interpretation of the passage that God intended. To ignore this principle of sound Biblical interpretation is to destroy the very Word of God itself. God did not give us a subjective and confusing method of understanding His Word. God chose each and every word for its precise meaning and recorded it and reserved it so there would be no confusion. Any other method of examining Scripture other than the literal method is illogical and unacceptable.
    A. The Bible was written over a period of about 1400 years. During that time many historical and cultural changes have taken place. To arrive at the correct meaning of a passage you must consider when the statement was made and the historical and cultural situation surrounding the passage.

    B. The example of God's command to stone false prophets. Deuteronomy 13:5, deals with false prophets in Israel. It states that in Israel false prophets were to be put to death. That is clearly what the passage says and what God commanded Israel to do. Does this mean that Christians today are to put false prophets to death? Obviously, we would not because we live in a different time in history and have a different culture. We live in the Church Age sometimes called the Age of Grace, and dispensationally are not in the Age of the Law as was Israel. God gave the Law to the "nation" of Israel, He did not give it to the Church. The Law was their Constitution, Bill of Rights and system of judicial laws. There is a vast difference between Israel in the Old Testament and Christians in the New Testament. Christians today meet voluntarily in the local assemblies. Churches do not have any political or civic authority over its members.
    God was not addressing Deuteronomy 13:5 to the churches of today and they are not being instructed to stone false prophets. But there is a principle we can learn from this instruction given to Israel and Christians can apply the principle behind the commandment. The basis of this law was the principle God wanted to teach Israel that being that they were to be separated from false teachings. The churches today must keep themselves free from false teachers and thus we can apply the principle behind the law today by denouncing false prophets and remaining separate from them. It would be a wrong application of the passage for Christians today to practice putting false prophets to death. That would be a grave historical blunder.

    C. For example look at the historical setting of the Book of Daniel. In interpreting the Book of Daniel, one would have to consider that Daniel was a captive in Babylon. All the events of his life take place there. This historical information would be essential in understanding the Book of Daniel.

    D. Another example that could be confusing is the use of the names "Judah" and "Israel." Historically, the twelve tribes of Israel divided after the death of King Solomon. It is necessary to understand who the names "Israel" and "Judah" identify. The ten tribes, that occupied the northern area of Palestine, were called Israel. Most times the name "Israel" is referring to the nation as a whole or the twelve tribes. Other times it refers only to the ten northern tribes after the tribes separated after Solomon's death. The Bible addresses the tribes of Judah and Benjamin in the south as "Judah." The name "Judah" can refer to the Southern Kingdom (the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin). Or it may be referring to Judah alone, as the name of the tribe of David,. You must consider the historical setting of the word's use to know what it refers to.
            In John 5:38, Jesus said, "Search the Scriptures for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they that speak of me. “The whole Bible is about the Lord Jesus Christ, and Christ is central in all Scripture. An example of not taking this principle into consideration would be to say that God had a plan of salvation in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament Christ came with a new plan. It would be saying the Old Testament saints were saved by the Law and the New Testament by Grace. The Book of Hebrews clearly says that the Law and all the sacrifices did not atone for sin. Hebrews 11, states the all the Old Testament saints through faith received the promises of God. Their faith was in the future coming of the Messiah and Savior who would atone for sin. Thus, Christ was central in salvation in the Old Testament as He is in the New Testament. It was Christ's death on the Cross that saved the Old Testament saints. They trusted in Him as their Messiah, before the fact of His birth, death, burial and resurrection.

            The appearance of the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testamanet called "theophanies"3 were actually "Christophanies"4 and were all preincarnate appearances Christ. The title "Angel of the Lord" occurs 52 times in the Old Testament and 27 times the appearance of the Lord is recorded by the phrase "the LORD appeared." The significance of this truth is that Jesus their Messiah had appeared many times to Israel prior prior to His incarnation. Regretfully, their sinful hearts blinded them to the One they had been expecting for 2000 years.

    A. The context of a text or verse refers to its setting within a larger portion of Scripture. It refers to the verses that occur before and after the text. This would include the paragraph, chapter and book. The situation surrounding the text is relevant in understanding its meaning. The writers of Scripture wrote in the environment in which they lived and this is why knowing the background, culture and current situation of the a Scripture passage is so important. Further the writers were being inspired by God to present biblical truth. This truth is learned "Line upon line, precept upon precept" and therefore the correct interpretation of a verse or phrase is absolutely dependent on the whole of the context in which it is stated.

    B. For an example look at 1 Corinthians 15:32: The verse ends with the words, "let us eat, drink for tomorrow we die." Without considering the context of this phrase quoted by itself would appear to be saying that Paul was teaching a person is to live a carefree life, getting all the "gusto" they can. A look at the context of the statement shows that Paul was teaching quite the opposite. The statement is a reference to worldly philosophy that only lives for the moment and ignores the future. Paul was instructing the Corinthians that there is certainly life after death. Man will be judged and held accountable for his deeds. The point Paul made was that if there was no resurrection of the dead there was no reason to live a righteous life. In verse 34, Paul is rebuking the Corinthians for the way they were living. They were living as if there was not going to be a resurrection and this was to their shame! So we see that the context of a verse is very important and absolutely necessary for understanding or interpreting the verse.

    C. Many false teachings and beliefs, that are so prevalent today, can be traced to ignoring of the context of a passage. Mistakes can be made by sincere men. Other times false teachers, who have no fear of God, deliberately deceive their followers.

    D. The Mormons quote 1 Corinthians 15:29, as their text verse in establishing their practice of baptizing the living for the dead. However, Paul in making this statement was not teaching a doctrine. He was using the practice of some pagan religions of baptizing for the dead as an illustration of the universal belief in life after death. How do we know that this is what he meant? Look at the context of the statement. From the context of the statement we can see that the subject of the passage is the resurrection of the dead. Verse 12, establishes the theme Paul is addressing, "Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead." Contextually, verse 29 is a part of Paul's answer to this question. You cannot honestly say what this verse means without considering the context and everything said in conjunction to this statement. The Bible nowhere teaches that baptisms for the dead are a Christian practice or Biblical doctrine. This is the only reference to such a practice in the Bible and there is no biblical or extra biblical record of Christians baptizing for the death.
      1. Consider the following statement:
        "If the Egyptians did not believe in life after death why did they go to such great lengths in preparing their dead for the hereafter?"
      2. In making this statement, one would not be establishing the validity of their practices in preparing the dead for the afterlife. Its validity of life after death is not being addressed. Only the fact of their belief in the practice is addressed. There is no hint in the statement that the person condoned the practices of the Egyptians. The point the writer is making is that they must have believed in an after-life because of how they prepared their dead. Likewise, Paul was not establishing a doctrine and telling the Corinthians to do this. He does not say that they were doing this. He was using this practice of pagans as an illustration of the universal belief in life after death even among non-believers.

      3. Let's look at another example of the importance of the context of a statement in the following:

      "Police today arrested Bill Smith for the murder of his wife Jane Smith. The Police reported that Bill Smith later changed his story. In an earlier statement he claimed that John Doe had murdered his wife. He now has made a full confession."

      4. Suppose in reading this statement to you someone would only read the partial statement: "John Doe murdered his wife." This statement by itself would lead you to believe John Doe had murdered his wife. However, if you read the whole paragraph you would see that this was not what the article meant at all.

      You can see in this illustration the importance of the context of a statement. Context helps determine what happened, and what is the correct interpretation of the written statement.

      5. A good rule is: "A text without a context is only a pretext." The definition of the word "pretext" means a false reason or motive put forth to hide the real one.5It is impossible to understand any statement without considering its context.
    E. We must consider the following aspects of context in researching a passage.
        Immediate Context
        Broad Context
        Parallel Context
        Historical Context
        Analogical Context

      1. The Immediate Context of the verse means the verses just before and after the verse.
      2. The Broad Context of a verse addresses the verse's place within the chapter and the entire book.

      3. The Parallel Context of the verse refers to other places the word or text is found. It may be in the same book or a different place in Scripture.
    F. An example of studying a parallel context would be consulting a Harmony of the Gospels to find other Scriptures where accounts of an event in the life of Christ are found. In studying the parallel context, if the New Testament quotes the Old Testament, you would study the context of the Old Testament passage. This would help you decide why the New Testament writer quoted it and what it means.
      1. For an example you will find three accounts of the Temptation of Christ. (Matt. 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, and Luke 4:1-13) Seeking a parallel context could give a greater understanding of a statement or event, as one writer may give information another would omit. Further each of the Gospels was written to a particular audience. Matthew was written to the Jews; Mark to the Romans; and Luke to the Gentiles. Read the account from these three perspectives would aid one in understanding a single account.

      2. Seeking the Historical Context would lead to consulting history to find the setting of the statement. The Historical Context can be found from several places. First would be from the Book that the passage of Scripture is found. Next, you could consult one or several of your Study Helps. Book on archaeological discoveries made in the Bible lands have shed light on many Biblical events. All these findings together would show the current traditions or political situations of the passage. In language studies how a word was used in the past helps reveal what was original meaning.

      3. The Analogical Context is vital to arriving at the proper interpretation of a passage of Scripture. The analogy of a passage of Scripture deals with its resemblance or similarity with the rest of the Bible. This is discussed in detail in the next section. Briefly it means that Scripture does not contradict itself. If the passage you read seems to contradict some other Scripture, then you must study further to understand the passage to resolve the seeming conflict.

        Illustration: The great error today of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements of today that they ignore the context of what the New Testament says about speaking in unlearned languages (tongues). They fail to see the historical setting of who in the New Testament spoke in unlearned languages and why they did so. The also ignore 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, which emphatically states that when the Bible was complete "tongues " would cease and therefore ignore the broad context of this early church sign gift. 
        The Pre-wrath Rapture people and the Amillennialists totally ignore the dispensational truths concerning God plan for the Jews and mixing up promises and prophesies concerning Israel with the God working with the church. The result of such a careless hermeneutic has produced untold confusion and division. Those with unsound principles of interpretation are weak and immature. It is truly sinful to refuse to study and to apply God’s rules of interpretation. To incorrectly interpret a passage of Scripture is to add or subtract from God's word and is condemned by God. Jesus Christ is the "Logos" meaning "the word of God. You cannot separate Christ from the Word as they are One and the same. Jesus Christ as John 1:1 says is the Word. To tamper with or misuse the Word of God is to defame Christ Himself and to instead of God's truth and lie representing it to be truth. That is a serious error and thus it is vital and absolutely necessary to know what God actually mean by what He said. That is the task of hermeneutics to correctly arrive at presenting a accurate interpretation of what God said.
      4. Every Scripture is interconnected to all other Scriptures. You cannot take a verse or passage out of its context, a way from the other Scripture and interpret it correctly. This leads us to the next principle of interpretation.
A. The Bible does not contradict itself. God did not make the Bible to be contradictory. If a passage of Scripture seems to contradict other Scriptures the problem is not in the Bible but with the interpreter.

B. Some may object to the premise that the Bible does not contradict itself. However, at the heart of understanding the Bible is understanding what the Bible says about itself. The Bible claims to be the Very Word of God! To attack and discredit the Bible is to attack and discredit God. God is totally capable of giving us this revelation accurately and did so when He inspired each word, paragraph, chapter, and book of the Bible.

C. The term "Inspiration" is the theological term taken from the Bible which expresses the truth that the Bible is God's Very Word. To understand inspiration we must look at two classic Scripture verses:
    1. The first passage is II Tim. 3:16."All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:"

    2. The word "inspiration" can be literally interpreted "God-breathed." The Greek word is "theopneutos", which means "theo" = God, and "pneutos" = breathed. The Hebrew word is "nehemiah" and is used only once in the Old Testament in Job 32:8. The verse is saying God breathed on the writers of the Bible and the wrote His Very Word.

    3.The next passage is II Peter 1:21, "For prophecy came not in old times by the will of man but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit."

    4. Literally the verse is saying that inspiration is the process by which the Holy Spirit supernaturally moved on the writers of Scripture and what they wrote was not their words, but the very word of God. God superintended each and every word of Scripture and it accurately reflects what He intended to say. Heb. 1:1 says, "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in time past unto our fathers." Therefore God has at different times in the past, and in many ways has spoken through me to reveal Himself to us. Paul and Peter state that what these men wrote was God's word.

D. Examples of how God spoke to man or revealed Himself and His will. Hosea 12:10 "I have also spoken by the prophets, and have multiplied visions, and used similitudes, by the ministry of the prophets." A literal translation of the verse says, "I spoke to the prophets, gave them many visions.
    1. God spoke by angels to Abraham and Lot in Genesis 18-19. To Daniel, in Dan. 10:10-21.
    2. In visions. Isa. 1:1, Ezek. 1:1, 8:3, 11:24, 43:3, Dan. 7:1, 8:1, 10:1.
    3. By miracles. Ex. 3:2, Moses and the burning bush. Judges 6:37-39, Gideon's wool fleece.
    4. By voice directly. Ex. 19, to Moses I Sam. 3, to young Samuel.
    5. Through an inner voice. Jer. 46:1
    6. By chasing lots. Jonah 1:7, Prov. 16:33
E. David said, "The spirit of the Lord spake by me and his word was in my tongue" II Sam. 23:2. God used men to speak to other men. When the prophets spoke what God had revealed to them, they used phrases such as "thus saith the Lord", or "the Word of God cam to me saying." They made it clear that what they were saying was from God.

F. To look at the matter in a practical way, what was happening was that as the writer sat down and wrote, God "breathed" on him by the ministry of the Holy Spirit. As he wrote the Spirit guided his thoughts so that what he produced was from God without error or omission. It was literally, word for word, what God wanted written.

G. In theological terms the doctrine that God wrote the Scriptures and that every word of Scripture is inspired of God is called, "verbal plenary inspiration." This is the view of Scripture which the Bible itself teaches.
    1. Definitions of the words are: VERBAL = "WORDS" and PLENARY = "FULL”. It means that God-breathed the very word of God in full expression of His thoughts in what the writer of Scripture wrote. This means that every word that was written was the mind of God with error. In other words, although the Bible was penned by men, it was really from God.

    2. God guided them in the choice of every word and expression. This does not mean God did not allow for personality and cultural background of the writer to be used in expressing God's Words. God allowed the writers to express His thoughts in their own way.

    3. This is why we must conclude the Bible is without error. God wrote it and preserves it and not man. It is the product of God, and His very Word to man. It then is without error or contradiction.

    4. When there seems to be an error or contradiction the problem is in the interpretation of the verse or passage not the Scriptures. If your passage appears to be a contradiction then your course of action is to continue studying until you arrive at the correct interpretation. Many times arriving at the correct interpretation of a passage of Scripture will take a great deal of study.

    H. For example lets look at one "so called" problem passage. I Peter 3:19 says, "By which also "He" (referring to Christ) went and preached unto the spirits in prison." At first, reading the verse appears to say that Christ after His crucifixion went into Hell and preached salvation to the lost pre-flood peoples giving them a second chance for salvation. This presents the interpreter of Scripture with a serious problem because other Scriptures clearly state man does not have a second chance to be saved. After death comes a man's judgment.
      Job 21:30, states the "The wicked is "reserved" to the day of destruction."
      Hebrews 9:27 "It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment."
      Luke 16:22, The rich man in Hell, begs for mercy, but was denied even a drop of water.

    If you consider the verse in the analogy of the faith, saying that this verse teaches that Jesus gave those before the flood a second chance is a contradiction of other Scriptures. This alerts you to the problem! In considering what the verse means you must consider the analogy of the faith. In other words, does this interpretation contradict other Scripture? Clearly this interpretation does, so you would be alerted to look for another possible meaning.
    I. The next step would be to take into consideration the other principles of interpretation. Using these principles you attempt to arrive at an interpretation that is not contradictory. Principle #4, "Context," would lead to you to read the verses before and after this one. The context of the verse would show you that Peter is writing about Christ's suffering and death for the sins of the world. This is the subject of these verses. (See verse 18) Verse 20, gives us the time of the preaching to the pre-flood people. It says, "When once the long-suffering of God, waited in the days of Noah." So the verse tells us this preaching was done in the days of Noah, not at the death of the Lord Jesus.

    J. From the passage the explanation becomes clear. The pre-flood people were offered salvation, by Noah, who preached to them before the flood. The Principle, that we are to make Christ central to the Scriptures, points us to understand Christ made possible the salvation that God offered to the pre-flood people. Noah, in preaching salvation was preaching Christ! The "spirits" or the pre-Flood people who rejected Noah's warning and offer of redemption are in "prison" or hell awaiting judgment. This interpretation does not violate any doctrine of Scripture and is not contradictory. It then is the better, and correct interpretation. You see then that we are letting the Scriptures interpret the Scriptures.

    K. The rule is a simple one: In interpreting Scripture you must always consider the fact that the Bible does not contradict itself. If a proposed interpretation conflicts with other Scripture then your interpretation is not correct. You then must continue your study and arrive at an interpretation that is not contradictory.
    A. In the proper interpretation of Scripture it must be understood that God gave His revelation, the Bible, to man over a long period of years. This is the doctrine of "Progressive Revelation."

    B. For and example, when God gave the first prophecy of the coming of Christ, He revealed very few of the details. God only revealed that, "I will put enmity between thy seed and her seed it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." All Adam and Eve knew was that God was promising them a Redeemer, who would overcome Satan and bring and end to the curse that sin had brought to the earth. God revealed His Plan of Salvation over the whole period of the Old Testament progressively. Over time, as God worked with man, He revealed more about the Messiah and gave more details. This process took place over hundreds of years. Four hundred years before Christ's coming, the Old Testament was completed and God had revealed, the Savior's name, place of birth, year of birth, that His death would atone for sins, the virgin birth and a total of over 300 prophecies concerning Christ's coming.

    C. Another example is the giving of the Law. Abraham, the Father of the Nation of Israel, died having never heard of the Law. When Israel became a nation and needed laws to govern them, God use Moses and gave them the Law at Mt. Sinai. The Law given at Mt. Sinai was the "Constitution" of the Nation of Israel. It set forth principle and specific instruction as to what was right and wrong in all spiritual and civil matters. It set penalties for crimes against God and individual Israelites. It addressed everything from cleanliness to relations with other nations.

    D. We live now in the age of Grace. The author likes to call this the Age of Principles. Christians are not under the Old Testament law. We live by a higher rule, that being the principles of God. We obey God out of love. The law defined right and wrong and commanded men to do what is right. You do not have to command people to do right when that is what they want to do. When God gave commandments to the Church, they were given to define correct actions.

    E. When the Old Testament Laws were broken by the officials of Israel, namely the priests, administered justice. In the Age of Grace, every believer is indwelled by the Spirit of God who brings conviction. We also have the Word of God to instruct us in righteousness. When we sin the Holy Spirit convicts us. It is God that chastens each believer. No civil authority has that right in this age. Our civil government does not punish us when we disobey God's commandments.

    F. When the canon of Scripture was completed, about 90 AD to 95 AD, God had completely revealed all that man needed to know to be saved, and live for God. He even stated in Revelation 22:18, that no man should ever add to or subtract from the Scriptures.

    G. Another important principle to understand is that when God revealed a principle in the Old Testament, it was never invalidated by later revelation. Take for example the Law given at Mt. Sinai. Are the principles of the Law given at Mt. Sinai valid today? Surely they are!
      1. The Law says we are to "have no other God before thee." (Deut. 5:7) That is a true now as it was then.

      2. It is important to understand the Bible's principles do not change in time. Customs, culture, political situations may change and this in turn may change the way the principle is applied, however the principle itself does not change.

      3. For an example, in Deut. 7:1f, God instructs Israel to be separated from the wicked peoples of Canaan. In II Cor. 6:14, the same principle is being applied to the Christians being unequally yoked with unbelievers. In both passages, God is teaching us the Doctrine of Separation. Time changed the people involved, the manner of separation, and a host of other details. Yet it is the same principle in both the Old and New Testaments. The principle is clear that a passage of Scripture can only have one meaning or interpretation, but in different circumstances can have different applications.
    When the words of Scripture were penned they had only one meaning. We should search for that one meaning. To accept multiple interpretations for one scripture passage causes confusion. Scripture itself does not allow for multiple interpretations of a verse. Note that we are talking about interpretation and not about application. A passage can have several applications, however in its historical and grammatical setting it can have only one interpretation.

    God promised the Nation of Israel would inherit the area of land from river in Egypt in the south to the Euphrates in the north. (Genesis 15:18) In is incorrect to interpret this verse in any other way but to say God promised this land to Abraham's descendants. It does not mean God gave it to the church or anyone else. The Euphrates River does not mean the Persian Gulf or any other body of water. It has only one meaning. That meaning must govern your interpretation.
    In a very few instances the correct interpretations is not clear. This is a rare occurrence. There is a classic example of this found in Judges 11:30-40. Jephthah, made a vow that if God would grant him victory in battle, whatever met him coming out of the doors of his house when he returned home, he would sacrifice in a burnt offering to the Lord. When He returned home he was met by his daughter! In verse 39, it states that he honored his vow. Some interpret that verse to mean she was offered up to service for the Lord in the temple others that she was literally sacrificed as a burnt offering. Both sides of this debate have valid reasons to accept their view. The Bible says the daughter went into the mountains for two months of mourning to "bewail her virginity" with her friends. After the vow was carried out the women in Israel each year went for four days to the lament in honor her loyalty and sacrifice. God would never condone human sacrifice. It is a simpler explanation that Jephthah gave her up to temple service to be a perpetual virgin. She was his only child and now Jephthah would have no descendants. In this example we can see that historically both views cannot be right. She either lived or died, and one or the other is true, not both. We can honesty only allow one interpretation, because it can have only one. The simplest alternative is that she lived. We can not be dogmatic and state either view is absolutely the right one. Thus, when it is not clear would should remain silent or honestly admit the meaning is not clear.
    A. Simply stated it means do not make up explanations to areas of Scripture that are silent and where God has not given us all the information about some topic of Scripture.

    B. For example, the Bible does not say where Heaven is. The Bible only indicates its direction is up. It is foolhardy to speculate that it is in some specific area of Space. Some state they believe Heaven is in the northern area of space where astronomers report there are few stars. This speculation serves no valid purpose. If the Bible is silent we then too are to be silent. To offer one's personal speculation on some subject that the Bible is silent is in a real sense adding to Scripture. Many times, one person's stated speculation becomes another's belief.

    Illustration: Jesus said, only the Father knew when He would return, however a well known fundamentalist evangelist of national acclaim stated in a Bible conference that when the planets aligned in 1984, the Rapture would occur. Many tracts were printed stating this view. Obviously, he was wrong. In the eyes of many people his testimony was hurt. His predictions served no purpose. If God is silent then we need to be silent!
    A. This principle is closely aligned with the ninth principle. In interpreting Scripture we should never invent explanations to areas where the Bible appears vague. We may not have the knowledge to understand some teaching or event in the Bible. The limitation is in our knowledge, not in the truth of the Word of God. When a man begins to speculate he is in fact trying to second guess God! Such speculation casts a shadow over the credibility of the Bible and our faith. It does not convince the doubters and only brings confusion. The best approach is not to invent explanations, but honestly say we do not know!

    B. Examples of man trying to harmonize science and the Bible is seen in the theories such as "Theistic Evolution" and once popular "Gap Theory. “Theistic evolution is the product of man's trying to fit into the Bible the false teachings of the so called "science of evolution." In truth, evolution contradicts the Biblical account of Creation and there is no possible way to make the two coincide. To suppose that God used evolution to create the world is to deny the literal meaning of Genesis Chapter One. You must understand that God's Word is perfect and without error. It is inerrant, and infallible. When God said He created the earth by speaking it into existence out of nothing, then that is the Word of God on the matter. If science disagrees, then science is wrong! Science is the product of man's wisdom which is often proven faulty. The Bible is the very Word of God who is never wrong!

    C. On several occasions I was privileged to hear the late Dr. Charles Stevens, founder of Piedmont Bible College. One principle he stressed was that the only way to know the truth was to examine it using the "looking glass" of the Bible. In other words, we are to take the Bible and examine everything by it. We look at the world through the Bible. It is the ONLY true standard. It is the only pure source of truth on earth. The world's way is the opposite. Man with a sinful and warped mind examines the Bible and declares it invalid. Man starts out with a distorted view and can only come to a distorted conclusion.

    D. Such theories, such as the Gap Theory, in no way have any value within themselves. This "theory" states that between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, there is a gap in time in which the fossil record is placed. Its explanation is that the fossils are the remains of another race of man and a world that was destroyed before the present world was created. This theory is based on man's speculations of over one hundred years ago when evolution became popular. Men such as C. I. Scofield, under attack by so-called modern science, tried to accommodate the popular teachings of the then new science of evolution. He and others theorized a gap in the Biblical record between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. Dr. Scofield had a limited understanding of geology. Few men in his day understood where the fossils came from. Today, we can easily explain the fossil record. It was created by the Flood when God destroyed all life on earth saving only Noah and his family and the animals in the ark. The fossils are the remains of the pre-flood world, not some world created and destroyed by God before the current Earth. All fossils are found in sedimentary rock deposits. Sedimentary rock is formed by water action such as would be caused by a world wide flood.

    E. Today, evolution is fast falling into disfavor and even secular science is questioning the teaching of Darwin. Yet, today the Gap Theory is still being taught by a few proponents as fact, and yet it was never anything more than a man's theory or speculation. Today, few theologians hold or teach the view, but it will probably be many years before it completely disappears.

    F. To try an harmonize the teachings of evolution with the Bible, theologians in fact have denied the Word of God. God said He spoke the Universe into existence, it did not evolve over long periods of time as evolution postulates. The gap theory in reality instead of clarifying the matter of Creation caused confusion. It actually supports the false theory of evolution. This author believes it aided in causing Christians to believe in evolution or some form of it. If that is so then the inventors of the Gap Theory caused many people to believe in the lie of evolution.

    G. We should never invent supposed solutions areas where the Bible is silent.
    A. No doctrine should be built on only one passage or verse of Scripture. Any true doctrine of God will be found in many places in the Bible. The Mormons base their doctrine of baptisms for the dead on only one verse in the Bible. (I Cor. 15:29) No where else is the practice even mentioned. If you cannot find other places in the Bible that teach the doctrine this should alert you to a problem. If the supposed doctrine is only found in one place you should seek to find out why. In every case you will discover that what is being taught is not a doctrine. To arrive at the correct understanding of a teaching (doctrine) in Scripture you must study all related texts and then put them together. Until you do this it is difficult to know that you have all the truth revealed on a particular subject.

CONCLUDING STATEMENT: In trying to determine what the Scriptures mean we must have a method or standard of interpretation as a guide. The literal method stands alone as the only real Biblical method. Why? Because the best interpreter is God Himself, and by letting Scripture interpret Scripture we are letting God, the Author of the Bible tell us what He means by what He said.


Allegory. Taking the literal meaning off story, discourse, or something written and giving it another spiritualized or non literal meaning.

Analogy. Similarity between things partial resemblance. Comparing something point by point with something else noting its similarity . As applied to Bible study, it means the scriptures are alike and do not contradict each other.

Context. The parts of a book, passage or verse, which shows the whole situation and relevant environment in which it is found.

Expository. Setting forth facts, ideas, and an explanation from a detailed examination of a passage.

Exegesis. Critical analysis or interpretation which seeks the meaning from the passage and does not impose meaning on the passage.

Interpretation. To arrive at the original meaning the writer intended when he penned the words.

Syntax. Syntax is the study of the word in is grammatical setting showing it relation to other words.

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