Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Rules of Interpretation (Romans 15:1-13)

"For whatever things were written before were written for our learning …" (Rom. 15:4).

The analogy of faith (analogia fide) is the primary rule of hermeneutics: Scripture is to interpret Scripture. No part of Scripture can be interpreted in such a way as to render it in conflict with what is clearly taught elsewhere in Scripture. This principle rests squarely on the belief that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and, therefore, free from error. If you interpret a passage in a way that is contrary to another part of Scripture, your interpretation is wrong.

Another rule in hermeneutics is that you must interpret Scripture literally. This does not mean that you take everything on face value, but that you interpret it according to its literal meaning. For example, when Jesus says He is a door, He does not mean He has hinges. To interpret this so would be ridiculous. Jesus means that He is the only way to eternal life. The Bible is literature and must be interpreted as such. Literary forms, figures of speech, and styles of verses or passages all play a part in biblical interpretation. If a passage is a metaphor, read it as a metaphor, not as a didactic form.

Closely related to the literal sense of Scripture is the method of interpretation called the grammatico-historical method. This method focuses not only on literary forms, but upon grammatical constructions and historical contexts. By looking at the grammar, you can discover what the writer was really trying to say. For example, when Jesus says, “You will be My witnesses” (Acts 1:8), is he making a prediction or issuing a command? The English isn’t clear. The Greek structure, however, reveals that this was a command.

The historical context is also very important. You need to know who wrote the book, to whom it was written, why it was written, and what its place is in history. For example, the gospel of Matthew is written to a Jewish audience. Many of its passages involve Jewish history, the meaning of which would be lost to the reader who does not understand Old Testament literature, messianic prophesies, and the Jewish mentality. When you study a passage, try to discover the historical setting, how it fits in the overall plan of redemption, its relevance to the history of God’s church, its audience, and its purposes. Do this and your interpretation will be much more clear and accurate.

If you have an expository dictionary, select any word from today’s passage in Romans and look up its meaning (i.e., teach). If you don’t have such a dictionary, do the same with your concordance. Read other verses that contain the same word. What insights have you gained from your research about how this word is used?