Today’s post is a transitional post. Recent word of the week posts have concentrated on various aspects of the doctrine of Revelation (Scripture). In the coming weeks, our posts will focus on the Doctrine of God and terms that further reveal the glory and wonder of God to us.
Hermeneutics is the scholarly term for interpretation. Hermeneutics is the science and art of biblical interpretation. Because we believe the Bible is inerrant and authoritative for our Christian faith and practice, it is important that we interpret the Bible accurately.
“For the classic Protestant, though the individual believer has the right to the private interpretation of Scripture, he is capable of misinterpreting the Bible. But while he has the ability to misinterpret Scripture, he does not have the right to do it. That is, with the right of private interpretation comes the responsibility of making an accurate interpretation.”R. C. Sproul, “The Establishment of Scripture” in Sola Scriptura, 42.
One of the most important aspects of my ministry as a pastor is interpreting Scripture accurately. It is not my job to share my opinions or even primarily my convictions from the pulpit. Rather, I am tasked to proclaim “thus says the Lord.” Preaching authoritatively requires that I interpret Scripture accurately.
Following are some principles that will help us interpret Scripture as accurately as possible.
- Interpret Scripture in context. Often, interpretive errors happen because we pull a Scripture out of its immediate, book, or literary context. For example, we could be inaccurate interpreters if quoted a verse as true from one of Job’s three friends. Asserting one of their affirmations without considering that the book of Job understands their affirmations to be in error could lead us to be inaccurate in our interpretations.
- Interpret Scripture with Scripture. The clear teaching of Scripture should inform and illuminate the more difficult passages. See for example the question of eternal security raised in Hebrews 6 with a counterpart in John 10 (John 10:27-30 vs. Hebrews 6:4-6)
- Interpret Scripture in light of its literary genre. Narrative, Didactic, Law, Poetry, Prophetic, Apocalyptic, and Epistolary each have unique interpretive principles for determining meaning. For an example of this in an upcoming sermon, I will be preaching on Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Many have taken that proverb as a promise. But the book of Proverbs is not a book of promises, but rather general observations about life.
- Right interpretation derives from a recognition of biblical authority. The author, not the reader determines the meaning. Meaning then is discovered by the interpreter, not determined. In contrast, when we interpret Scripture through an interpretive lens (whether theological as in dispensationalism or personal as in our own experiences), we can read our own preconceived notions or ourselves into the text. This is a reader-response interpretive strategy that may have benefit for some kinds of literature, but has no bearing on the meaning of the biblical text. The text means today what it has always meant (what it meant to its original readers).
- Remember the two guardrails for correct interpretation: the Holy Spirit (John 16:13) and the church (historical orthodoxy). In order to interpret Scripture well, we need the Holy Spirit and church history. Depending on the Holy Spirit and leaning on orthodoxy will keep us from interpreting texts (difficult or clear) inaccurately. Robert Letham reminds us, “Moreover, it is impossible to come to the Bible with a blank mind, unaffected by philosophical or cultural presuppositions, or previously received teaching” (Systematic Theology, 228).
- Scriptural application is built upon good interpretation. Certainly, the applications we can derive from Scripture are culturally conditioned. For example, when Moses tells us to number our days (Psalm 90:12) or Paul tells us to make the best use of our time (Eph. 5:16), we can apply those admonitions to scrolling through social media apps or binge-watching tv shows. But the application must flow out of the clear meaning of Scripture. Scripture means today what it meant when it was written. To misunderstand what the Scripture originally meant can lead to serious misapplications.
When I interpret passages of Scripture for preaching, I find word studies, commentaries, and theologies to be helpful. When I compare my own study and insights with those of commentaries and theologians, I am more likely to interpret Scripture accurately.
So, in your reading and study of the Bible, trust that it’s God’s Word, study the Bible deeply, and trust the Holy Spirit to guide your interpretations.