Saturday, January 6, 2024

Rules of Interpretation (Romans 15:1-13)

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

The primary rule of hermeneutics is called the analogy of faith, which is to interpret Scripture with Scripture. This means that 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 is anchored in the belief that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and, therefore, free from contradiction. If you interpret a passage in a way 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, “I am the vine” (John 15:1), He does not mean He is a plant. To interpret this “literally” would be ridiculous. Jesus means that He is the only source of life to those who are a part of His church. 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 method of interpretation is a rule of interpretation called the grammatico-historical method. This method focuses not only on literary forms, but on 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 it’s 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 and messianic prophecies. When you study a passage, try to discover the historical setting, the audience, and how it fits in the overall plan of redemption. Do this and your interpretation will be much more accurate.

If you have an expository dictionary, select any word from any passage in Scripture and look up its meaning (e.g., knowledge, know). 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?