When it comes to reading the Bible, there is any number of ways to study the scriptures. Depending on the legitimacy of scriptures scholars have used them for support of either their lifestyles or their ideologies for millennia. When the scriptures are contrary to these lifestyles or ideologies, some scholars have de-legitimized the scriptures rather than adjust their illegitimate action or philosophy to the edicts of the scriptures. You can recognize them easily when you hear arguments like, “The (entire) Bible is written in metaphor.” Or “You can’t apply instructions written 2-3 thousand years ago to the issues of today.”
In fact, the Bible is timeless. There are very few passages that are agreed upon to be applied only for a specific generation. An example can be found in the New Testament at 1Corinthians 14:34. This describes the cultural habits of the day in which women were required to be silent in the service. This arose because under the Law of Moses women were not allowed to study the Law or to sit in study of the prophets. They received all of their instruction through the men in their families. Plus during a public meeting the men and women would separate having men on one side of the building and women on the other side. Since women were encouraged to attend Christian services if the speaker referred to the Prophets for support of a specific message a woman might, having no familiarity with the passage and being in the habit of asking her husband or brother, and having not learned etiquette for this new form of service, ask her man across the room what the speaker is referring to even though they were in the middle of a public service. This would be disruptive to the speaker and likely the entire service.
The Bible was not intended to be a confusing, convoluted tome of laws and rules by which God can condemn us to hell, but a simple set of guidelines for living and for relating to God and each other. Matthew 11:25 It is only the prejudices of men that confuse and attempt to convolute the scriptures to make them fit their own desires.
Here are some guidelines for understanding the love letter God wrote for His children.
ELEVEN PRINCIPLES OF A LITERAL METHOD OF INTERPRETING THE SCRIPTURES
- FOLLOW THE CUSTOMARY USAGES OF THE LANGUAGE. Accepting what the words literally mean is a vital part of this first rule. Unless the passage says otherwise, or is clearly using metaphorical language begin by giving Scripture a literal meaning. The rule is well stated, “If the literal sense makes sense, seek no other sense.”
- COMMIT NO HISTORICAL OR CULTURAL BLUNDERS. 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.
- MAKE CHRIST CENTRAL IN ALL INTERPRETATIONS. In John 5:39, 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.
- BE CONSCIOUS OF CONTEXT. 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.
- INTERPRET BY THE ANALOGY OF THE FAITH. 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.
- RECOGNIZE THE PROGRESS OF REVELATION. 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.”
- GRANT ONE INTERPRETATION TO EACH PASSAGE. 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.
- CHOOSE THE SIMPLEST ALTERNATIVE. 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. It seems here that God sanctioned the sacrifice of Jephthah’s daughter. God would, however never condone human sacrifice hence the simplest alternative is that Jephthah’s daughter became a lifelong of the Lord.
- NEVER INVENT EXPLANATIONS TO SILENT AREAS OF SCRIPTURE. 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.
- NEVER THEORIZE TO ACCOMMODATE MAN’S VIEWS OR MODERN SCIENCE. This principle is closely aligned with the ninth principle. In interpreting Scripture we should never invent explanations to areas where the Bible appears vague.
- NEVER BASE A DOCTRINE ON ONE PASSAGE OF SCRIPTURE. 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.