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The art of interpreting Scripture
1. IntroductionWhen 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 hermeneuticsAccording 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
2.1.2 Principles of using typesFirst, 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.
Third, the typology of the New Testament should be recognised and studied to find out how 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.5From this point on it will be greatly beneficial to use the five (5) points as discussed by Ramm6 concerning the interpretation of Biblical prophecy:
2.2.1 FundamentalsIt does not matter what our millennial views are, we still need to keep to the fundamental principles of exegesis in the prophetic books and passages.
188.8.131.52 LanguageThe 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.
184.108.40.206 Historical backgroundThe 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.
220.127.116.11 ContextIn 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!
18.104.22.168 Non-SystematicProphecy 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.
22.214.171.124 Parallel passagesIn 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.
2.2.2 EssenceThis would be the innermost characteristic or nature of the prophetic passage at hand.7
126.96.36.199 Predictive/DidacticNote 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.
188.8.131.52 Conditional/UnconditionalNot 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.
184.108.40.206 Fulfilled/UnfulfilledIn 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 Testament.
220.127.116.11 Historical fulfilmentIf 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).
18.104.22.168 UnfulfilledIn cases where prophecies have been unfulfilled, we need to proceed with great caution.
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.8The 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?
22.214.171.124 Multiple fulfilmentIn multiple fulfilment we mean that an Old Testament prophecy contains a local fulfilment in the Old Testament as well as fulfilment in the New Testament.
2.2.4 MeaningIn 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.
2.3 ParablesThe 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?
2.3.1 PerspectiveWe 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 eschatological.
2.3.2 CulturalEven 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.
2.3.3 ExegesisFirst, 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 story.
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.
Fourth, compare 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).
2.3.4 DoctrineTo 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 PsalmsThe 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.
The 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.
2.4.1 PoetryFirst, 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 Hebrew 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 this.
 THE heavens are telling of the glory of God;
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.
Since poetry 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.
2.4.2 LiteratureFirst, there are different types of Psalms.
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 literatureThree 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 intended.11
2.5.1 AbuseWisdom 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
Third, the line of an argument in wisdom literature has often been misunderstood.
2.5.2 Proverbial guidelinesHere are some guidelines as to how the book of Proverbs should be handled:
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
2.6 NarrativeNarrative 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 His salvation plan.
2.6.1 Old Testament and general narrative
126.96.36.199 Three levelsNarrative is told on three levels. These levels have nothing to do with hidden meanings and various allegories.
The 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.
The second 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.
188.8.131.52 Wrong ideas about Old Testament narratives
184.108.40.206 Help with narratives
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.
3. ConclusionIt 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.
Endnotes 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, p216-217.
 Ramm, p217.
 Fee, Gordon D. & Stuart, Douglas, How to Read the Bible for all its Worth, A Guide to Understanding the Bible, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1982, p150.
 Ramm, p245ff.
 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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