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principles of interpretation

Shared this with Cru study group leaders tonight:

An Introduction to Biblical Interpretation

Assumption:  the Bible has a dual authorship: divine and human (2 Peter 2:21; 2 Tim. 3:16).  Because of its human authorship it comes to us in human language and culture, and general hermeneutical principles apply (i.e., use of an historical, grammatical, rhetorical approach).  Because of its divine origin it is also authoritative, with integrity (without contradiction), and inerrant in the originals. Because this is God’s revelation we must  seek the ministry of the Holy Spirit for true understanding (1 Cor 2:13-16).
There are three related levels, or senses, of meaning:

The Literal (historical)… what did it mean to the original hearers at that time?
The Spiritual (theological; typological)… what does it mean for all time?
The Moral (ethical; application)… what does it mean for us at this time?

Some basic principles:

1. Take Scripture first in its plain and normal sense. 
2. Understand the historical background of any passage. 
3. Interpret a passage in harmony with its larger context. 
4. Define words by their historical usage, rather than by root or later usage.  
5. Any Scripture has basically one meaning, though many applications.
6. Interpret a passage in light of its literary genre. 
7. Identify figures of speech, which are not meant to be taken literally.  
8. Biblical examples are normative only when supported by a command.  
9. Avoid building a doctrine or practice on one passage of Scripture.
10. A doctrine is not biblical unless sums up all that Scripture says about that topic. 
11. Examine the rationale for any command – distinguish between unchanging principles and cultural applications of those principles.  
12. Allow for progress of revelation—some topics become more clear in later Scripture.  
13. Seek to understand how the passage fits into the unfolding history of redemption. 
14. Identify types (foreshadowing patterns) in line with other clear Scriptural teaching.
15. Prophecy can have both literal and symbolic elements. Fulfillment may come in installments.
16. Compare Scripture with Scripture – the Bible best explains itself.  

Berkhof, L. Principles of Biblical Interpretation
Carson, D. A. “Must I Learn How to Interpret the Bible?” Modern Reformation 5:3. 
Henrichsen, Walter.  A Layman's Guide to Interpreting the Bible. 


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