The art of interpreting Scripture
When it comes to interpreting Scripture, it is important to notice the
style of writing and the genre used in the writing, for it will bear upon
the way the specific writing needs to be interpreted. It is no use
interpreting passages that fall into the symbolic genre as literal. You
will start believing in horses that fly. It is no use taking history and
interpreting it as doctrine, since that will lead to believing that a work
of God is identified by how long it is around.
 So in the present case I tell you, keep away
from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is
of man, it will fail;  but if it is of God, you will not be able to
overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!" So they took his
advice, (Ac 5:38-39 ESV)
This is a historical account of what Gamaliel told the Jewish council
concerning this new “faith.” Many today have exactly the same attitude
concerning all kinds of groups. Most notably the Word-of-Faith (WOF)
movement led by men such as Kenneth Copeland and also the Toronto Blessing
(TB) led by men such as John Arnott. Should we take what Gamaliel said as
a way of testing a work’s validity whether it is from God or not?
Definitely not! Then we have to conclude that the Jehovah’s Witnesses and
Mormons and the Roman Catholic Institution are works of God, since they
have been around for much longer than WOF and TB!
2.1.1 The validity of types as a method of hermeneutics
According to Ramm there are three reasons why typology is a Biblical
discipline of hermeneutics.
(1). The general relationship which the Old Testament
sustains to the New is the very basis for such a study. The strong
prophetic element in the Old Testament establishes a real and vital
nexus1 [connection] between the two
Testaments. The fact of prophecy establishes the principle that the New is
latent in the Old, and that the Old is patent [obvious] in the New.2
(2). Our Lord’s own use of the Old Testament is His invitation to us to
find Him in the Old Testament. In Luke 24:25-44 Christ teaches the
disciples about Himself, beginning at Moses and following through all the
(3). Even more specific is the vocabulary of the New Testament with
reference to the nature of the Old. The following words are used in the
New of the Old. Hypodeigma means a sign suggestive of anything, a
representation, a figure, a copy, an example. Typos and
typikos (from the verb, typtō, “to strike”) mean the mark of
a blow, the figure formed by a blow, an impression, a form, a letter, a
doctrine, an example, a pattern, a type. Skia (from skēnē,
a tent) means a shade, a sketch, an outline, an adumbration [a general
idea of something without details]. Parabolē means a placing by
the side, hence a comparison, a likeness, a similitude. Eikon
means an image, a figure, a likeness. Antitypon means a repelling blow, an
echoing, a reflecting, a thing formed after a pattern, a counterpart, an
antitype. Allegoreō means to tell a truth in terms of a
2.1.2 Principles of using types
First, however, when a person uses the typical method of interpretation,
it should be noted that types should be seen in the Old Testament only
when the New Testament has noted them as types directly. Types should also
be seen in the Old Testament only when the context of the New Testament
clearly guides us toward seeing a type in the Old Testament.
Second, we should not attempt to prove doctrine from types unless that
doctrine is explicitly endorsed in the New Testament.
typology of the New Testament should be recognised and studied to find
it treats the typology in question.
Fourth, the typical and
accidental should be discovered in any given type. The New Testament must
be considered as to what is typical. Therefore, as an example, a good
interpreter will control himself with regard to so-called types in the
Tabernacle. Every single element in the Tabernacle does not have an
equivalent counterpart in the New Testament.
In fact, using the Prophets in this way [as though
prediction of future events far into the future was the Prophets main
concern] is highly selective. Consider in this connection the following
statistics: Less than 2 percent of Old Testament prophecy is messianic.
Less than 5 percent specifically describes the New Covenant age. Less than
1 percent concerns events yet to come.5
From this point on it will be greatly beneficial to use the five (5)
points as discussed by Ramm6 concerning the interpretation of Biblical
It does not matter what our millennial views are, we still need to keep to
the fundamental principles of exegesis in the prophetic books and
The language of the prophetic passage needs careful attention. The meaning
and significance of proper names, customs, fauna and flora, events,
geography, etc. should be determined. Figures of speech should also be
carefully noted. Prophetic language is more or less figurative at all
times. Even certain phrases that are used multiple times do not always
have the same meaning in the different passages where they are used. A
place name that is so familiar to us, Arabia, will eventually lead us
astray hermeneutically if we assume that the Bible always speaks of the
same geographical area. It does sometimes refer to different areas. The
same goes for Babylon. Especially as it is used in the book of Revelation.
126.96.36.199 Historical background
The historical background of the prophet and the prophecy are both
important. In order to understand what the prophet meant at the time,
political manoeuvres and captivities of the time need to be understood.
In studying prophecy, it would be better to forget about chapter and verse
in order to follow the natural flow of prophetic books. The flow of
discussion is important and the recipients of the current discourse are
important. For instance, in order to understand Mal 3:8-11, we need to go
back to Mal 2:1 to pick up on who this passage was written to and to
understand the whole context!
Prophecy is not written to be a systematic discourse for us to make
complete sense of, as it would be written in a systematic theology
textbook. The prophets were not writing as academia, but rather were
visionaries carrying along the message of God and from God. They would
frequently write the future as the past and the past as the future. In
among all this the present will also find its place.
188.8.131.52 Parallel passages
In order to find parallel passages in prophetic writings it would be
necessary to scour the entire corpus of prophetic literature in the Bible
to find these parallel passages.
This would be the innermost characteristic or nature of the prophetic
passage at hand.7
Note whether the prophet wrote the passage as predictive or didactic
material. Didactic material cannot be interpreted in the same way as
predictive material and vice versa.
Not all prophetic passages are clear whether the prophecies in question
are conditional or not. If this is not clear, then to base some prophetic
doctrine on such a passage would be foolish.
In this regard it is important to search the New Testament for the
fulfilment of prophecies. If such a passage can be found in the New
Testament then both the Old and New Testament passages should be studied.
Some prophecies in the Old Testament have also been fulfilled in the Old
184.108.40.206 Historical fulfilment
If the prophecy in question had already been fulfilled, then the text that
contains the prophecy with the materials of the fulfilment should be
studied together. In prophetic language, things that are far apart
chronologically may appear as if they are close together. These types of
“illusions” are solved in the fulfilment. Prophecies can either be very
clearly fulfilled (1 Ki 17:1) or it could be cryptic (Gen 3:15) or
symbolic (Zech 5:5-11).
In cases where prophecies have been unfulfilled, we need to proceed with
Interpreters should be cautious in the interpretations
proposed for unfulfilled prophecy, for these examples demonstrate that in
some instances little can be gained about the manner of fulfilment from
the prophecy itself.8
The essence of the prophecy must be discovered. Is it about Israel, Judah,
the Messiah, etc? Is the fulfilment meant to be before or after Christ’s
coming? Is it local, temporal or cultural?
220.127.116.11 Multiple fulfilment
In multiple fulfilment we mean that an Old Testament prophecy contains a
local fulfilment in the Old Testament as well as fulfilment in the New
In order to control the interpretation of prophecy so that it is prevented
from becoming something that it definitely is not, we need to start with
the literal meaning of prophetic passages. What this means is that the
prophet meant Zion where he used Zion and Canaan where he used Canaan.
However, there are times when symbolism is used in prophecy. Most scholars
today would agree that when John used Babylon in the book of Revelation he
did not mean Babylon as the historical city. The same can be true of other
places and things.
Neither symbolism nor literalism should be
forced in interpreting prophecy. Each passage should stand on its own.
Literal interpretation is simply the departure point. We should interpret
prophecy in a literal sense unless the New Testament implicitly or
explicitly suggests we interpret it typologically.
The parables mostly called forth a response. That which the Lord wanted to
bring across required a response. However, many times when we want to
understand the parables, we need to know a little more about the times
they were told. When Jesus told the parable of the mustard seed, what did
He really mean?
How do we interpret parables?
We need to put the parables into its proper perspective. That is, we need
to understand them in their relation to the kingdom of God and how they
related to the King, Jesus Christ.
We need to understand that it is
the Christ, the King, teaching about His kingdom. The parables are an
integral part of the Kingdom and its message.
The parables taught
that the kingdom was at hand and yet also that the kingdom was
Even though the eternal perspective of the parables is that of the King
(Christ) and His kingdom, we also need to see that they were told with
real historical and cultural backgrounds. Christ lived among Jews in
Palestine and it is with that in mind that He told His parables. Christ
used the everyday known materials of the day to tell His parables.
First, find that one central truth which the Lord is teaching in the
parable. Typical parables attempt to bring across one single point.
Parables are not allegories in which each element has some meaning in the
Second, we need to ascertain how much of the parable has
already been interpreted by Christ Himself.
Third, note any clues
in the context as to the meaning of the parable.
the parable with the Old Testament to find any association and also with
the other gospels which include the same parable (note differences,
parallels, synonyms, etc).
To discover doctrine in the parables it is important to observe the
historical sense of the parable. Parables do teach doctrine, however, it
is improper to read theological issues into parables.
2.4 The Psalms
The Psalms are frequently misapplied since they are frequently
misunderstood. Interpretive difficulties in the Psalms come when we forget
to remember that the Psalms were written from man to God.
Psalms were written as poetry, prayers and hymns, and therefore were not
meant as doctrinal treatises. The Psalms help us express ourselves to God
and to help us consider His ways.
First, the Psalms are Hebrew poetry expressed through the heart to the
mind. It would be foolish to try and find special meanings in each word
since the Psalms make use of what is called Hebrew parallelism. In
parallelism the second line in a grouping of two sentences simply repeats
and reinforces the sense of the first line. Ps 19:1-2 is an example of
 THE heavens are telling of the glory of God;
Second, we need to keep in mind that the Psalms are musical poems. It
would be inconsistent with the Psalms to read them in the same way as an
epistle or historical narrative. The Psalms appeal to the emotions.
their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.
 Day to day pours
And night to night reveals knowledge.
Third, poetic vocabulary is purposefully
metaphorical.9 It is,
therefore, important to ascertain the purpose of the metaphor.
Distinguishing poetry from prose is another important factor of Bible
Interpretation. About thirty percent of the Old Testament is written in
poetry. Most older versions such as the King James Version doesn’t [sic]
indicate these differences between prose and poetry. Newer versions such
as New International Version, New Living Translation, and New English
Bible are using different formats in writing prose from poetry. You will
notice such differences by looking at the narrative book of Genesis and
the poetical book of Psalms in these newer versions.
is concerned with emotions rather than the accurate descriptions of the
message, it uses more figurative language more [sic] than prose. With
proper understanding, poetry is just as comprehensible as prose and they
are [sic] easier to be memorized.
There are common features of
poetry called parallelism, and you need to recognized [sic] them to help
understands [sic] the main point of the poetry.
- Synonymous parallelism. A line strengthen [sic], develop [sic],
reinforces or repeat [sic] the line before it.
What we have in Matthew 7:7-8 are not 3 steps or different types
of prayer. They are simply different ways of saying the same thing. The
verses are simply expressing that "God answers our prayer " by way of
and it shall be given you;
seek, and ye shall find;
knock, and it
shall be opened unto you:
8 For every one that asketh receiveth;
he that seeketh findeth;
and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
I have swept away your offenses like a
your sins like the morning mist.(NIV)
- Antithetical parallelism. The most common
parallelism in the Bible, where a line contrast [sic] the message or the
point of the line before it.
The wicked borrow and
do not repay,
but the righteous give generously. (NIV)
A wise son maketh a glad father:
but a foolish son is
the heaviness of his mother. (KJV)
- Synthetic parallelism. A line
goes further than just repeating or reinforcing but by providing more
information on the line before it.
The Lord looks
down from heaven on the son of men
to see if there are any who
any who seek God. (NIV)
shall come up on mount Zion
to judge the mount of Esau;
kingdom shall be the LORD'S.10
First, there are
different types of Psalms.
Second, each Psalm of a particular type also has
its own particular form.
- Laments (Individual – 3, 22, 31, 39, 42,
57, 71, 120, 139, 142; Corporate – 12, 44, 80, 94, 137).
(Individual – 18, 30, 32, 34, 40, 66, 92, 116, 118, 138;
Corporate – 65,
67, 75, 107, 124, 136).
- Salvation history (78, 105, 106, 135, 136).
- Praise hymns (8, 19, 33, 66, 100, 103, 104, 111, 113, 114, 117, 145,
146, 147, 148, 149).
- Celebration & affirmation (Covenant renewal –
50, 81; Davidic covenant – 89, 132; Royal – 2, 18—THANKSGIVING, 20, 21,
45, 72, 101, 110, 144—LAMENT; Enthronement – 24, 29, 47, 93, 95, 96, 97,
98, 99; Songs of Zion – 46, 48, 76, 84, 87, 122).
- Wisdom (36, 37, 49,
73, 112, 127, 128, 133).
- Songs of trust (11, 16, 23, 27, 62, 63, 91,
121, 125, 131).
Third, each of the types of the Psalms
also has a particular function.
Fourth, each Psalm should be read
as a unit.
2.5 Wisdom literature
Three books in the Bible are
recognised as being in this category: Ecclesiastes, Proverbs and Job.
When misused,  can provide a basis for selfish,
materialistic, short-sighted behavior—just the opposite of what God
Wisdom literature has been abused in many ways in the past.
First, people tend to read these books only in part and as a result
cannot see the intended message of the book by the original inspired
author. People have taken bits and pieces out of these books to sound
wise, but have many times misapplied these bits and pieces.
the more common mistakes in interpreting these books is neglecting the
whole context. It is very common for us to pick a verse or two with an
instruction that sounds good without considering the surrounding context
or the theme that the author intended. Doing so will cause us to
misunderstand the teaching, and in the worse situation [sic] we will end
up believing a bad advise [sic] as a teaching of wisdom. Without paying
attention on [sic] the context you will miss the line of argument in a
Second, terms, categories, styles and modes—in wisdom literature—have been
misunderstood by people.
Proverbs should be read with care. They shouldn't
be taken as doctrinal statement [sic] for they are written to be easily
memorize [sic], and often they are in "figure of speech". Proverbs are not
laws, prophecies or promises. We shouldn't take proverbs as a guarantee of
successful life, but rather guidelines for everyday living. Exceptions of
[sic] the proverbs doesn't make it a false statement, because it is not
given as a guaranteed formula but a general observation of truth. Many of
the proverbs are hyperbolic or an exaggeration form of speech so we need
to understand them properly. (see Hyperbole)
13:25 The godly eat to their heart contents, but the belly of the wicked
goes hungry. (NLT) Just by looking around today and the story of Lazarus
and the rich man proved that such proverb is not a guarantee.12
Third, the line of an argument in wisdom
literature has often been misunderstood.
2.5.2 Proverbial guidelines
Here are some guidelines as to how the book of Proverbs should be handled:
D. A. Carson, in his
excellent work on fallacies on the exegetical level wrote:
- Proverbs are often parabolic, i.e., figurative, pointing beyond
- Proverbs are intensely practical, not theoretically
- Proverbs are worded to be memorable, not technically
- Proverbs are not designed to support selfish behavior—just
- Proverbs strongly reflecting ancient culture may need
sensible “translation” so as not to lose their meaning.
- Proverbs are
not guarantees from God, but poetic guidelines for good behavior.
- Proverbs may use highly specific language, exaggeration, or any of a
variety of literary techniques to make their point.
- Proverbs give
good advice for wise approaches to certain aspects of life, but are not
exhaustive in their coverage.
- Wrongly used, proverbs might justify a crass, materialistic
lifestyle. Rightly used, proverbs will provide practical advice for
One of the most common errors preachers make in the area
of literary genre occurs in their handling of Proverbs. A proverb is
neither a promise nor case law. If it is treated that way, it may prove
immensely discouraging to some believers when things do not seem to work
out as the “promise” seeks to suggest.14
Narrative is the single most common
literary type in the Bible with 40% of the Old Testament as narrative. In
the Old Testament, the following books are largely composed of narrative:
Genesis, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2
Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, Jonah, and Haggai.15
The following Old Testament books contain large portions of narrative:
Exodus, Numbers, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah and Job.16 Large portions of the gospels and
almost all of Acts are narrative in the New Testament. Narratives show us
God at work among His people, in His creation, toward the unfolding of
2.6.1 Old Testament and general narrative
Narrative is told on three levels. These levels have
nothing to do with hidden meanings and various allegories.
first level is the whole universal plan of God contained in the whole of
the Bible. This level is built upon the major doctrines of the Bible:
creation, fall of man and the power of sin, the need of salvation, the
Incarnation and the solution in the death of Christ.
level centres on Israel or God’s people. This will include the creation of
Israel from Abraham’s call through Israel’s travels and hardships and the
demise of the northern kingdom and of Judah, and the restoration of Israel
after the exile.
The final level includes the many shorter
narratives that make up the first and second levels. Every individual
smaller Old Testament narrative is part of the first two levels.
18.104.22.168 Wrong ideas about Old Testament narratives
- Old Testament
narratives are not just stories about people who lived thousands of years
ago. These narratives are about God foremost, and His dealings to and
through people. It can be said with conviction that the narratives of the
Bible are divine narratives.
- Old Testament narratives are not stories
filled with hidden meanings that must be looked for. They are not
allegories. Biblical narratives do not answer all our questions concerning
the narrative and were not intended to. We should therefore not attempt to
read into these narratives what they do not tell us clearly.
Testament narratives are not always in the Bible as teaching tools. This
means that these narratives do not all teach us directly. They are not
intended to be theological discourses or doctrinal treatises.
- Individual events in narratives or each individual narrative does not have
its own moral to the story. The whole narrative—or larger narrative—must
be studied to find the true moral to the story.
22.214.171.124 Help with
We must interpret and see the meaning of the narratives as a
part of the theme of the book. This is how we can read a particular
narrative in its context, by treating smaller narrative [sic] as part of a
bigger narrative. The story of David and Goliath is part of the story of
King David, and King David is part of the story of the nation of Israel,
and the nation of Israel is part of the main story of the Bible, which is
God's salvation plan for all men.
We must focus on the main message
of the narrative and not be distracted with matters mentioned in the
narrative. When we read stories where angels are mentioned we must not get
carried away with trying to understand about angels. Angels are mentioned
in the narrative, but the message of the narrative is not about explaining
angels to us.
We must not conclude that because it happened in the
biblical narrative it should or must happen to us also. Be careful with
assuming that a narrative has a message, specially for our situation. Like
saying that the story of the Israelites crossing the red sea confirms to
you that you do not really need to learn how to swim. We cannot assume
that there is always a "moral" to learn in every single narrative.
Remember, a narrative can be a part of a bigger narrative where the main
theme should be taken.17
It should not be necessary
for me to reiterate that we should not assume what the text says, but
actually study the text to discover what it says. It should also not be
necessary for me to remind you that we cannot interpret prophecy as a
theological discourse such as the book of Romans. Genres in the Bible
should not be mixed when interpreted. Finally, do not read your own ideas
into the text, but rather let the text speak for itself. This naturally
can only be done in context.
A text without a context is a pretext.
 An important connection between the parts of a
system or a group of things.
 Ramm, Bernard, Protestant Biblical
Interpretation: A Textbook of Hermeneutics, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids,
Michigan, Thirteenth Printing, December 1982, p215-216.
 Ramm, p217.
 Fee, Gordon D. & Stuart, Douglas,
to Read the Bible for all its Worth, A Guide to Understanding the Bible,
Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1982, p150.
 Ramm, p250.
 Ramm, p251.
 Fee, p172.
 BotB, Unfortunately I do not know where I downloaded this information
from. I downloaded this whole website for later study, and now I cannot
remember where from. The title of the site is “Basics of the Bible.”
 Fee, p187.
 Fee, p203.
 Carson, D. A.,
Exegetical Fallacies, Second Edition, Baker Books, a division of Baker
Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Third Printing, January 1998, p137.
 Fee, p73.
 Fee, p73.
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William Dicks]. All rights reserved.
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