General Principles of Biblical Study

As we study the Bible, whether we are in our own or with a group, there are a number of specific principles that help us to understand the Words of God as we read and study.  These are the principles that I try to follow.  Through personal use of these principles, they have keep me from jumping into places where God would not have me be.  Perhaps they might help you.

Principle 1: Author’s intention.

It is not my meaning of the scripture but the intention of the writer.  This means we should know the who is writing, why he is writing, when he is writing, what is the cultural setting, differences in language historically, what is the style and literary forms being used.

Principle 2: Know the context

A single word, even with a good dictionary must be understood within the sentence and paragraph in which is placed.  What does the following mean? “I booked.”  Does it mean you left in a hurry?  Does it mean secured a ticket on an airline? Does it mean I reported an event? Interpretations must be done in the context of the passage. Therefore, context determines meaning! The nearest context must give the most weight in interpretation. First, there is the near context of the sentence, then the paragraph, then the section and then the book and even author.

Principle 3: Normalcy

If possible, the Bible must be taken at its face value. When Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth”, the rule of normalcy says it is possible that Jesus meant they were Sodium Chloride?  When Isaiah 55:12 says “the trees of the field will clap their hands” the rule of normalcy would take this as impossible because trees have no hands.  When the literal does not make any normal sense, it is most likely there is some sort of figure of speech.  Conversely when Jesus said, “Blessed are the mercy for they shall mercy,”  Figurative language include: Parables, similes, metaphors, hyperbole, satire, analogy and illustration.

Principle 4: The Bible as the Key to the Bible

Use the Bible to help interpret itself. Interpret difficult passages with clear ones. This principal is sometimes called the law of non-contradiction. Because the Bible is God’s word, and God is true, the Bible will not contradict itself.  Do not try to change an Old Testament scripture because it seems to contradict a New Testament scripture.

Principle 5: Application is not interpretation

As we study the Bible there is only one interpretation.  This is God’s word and it does not change with time or human application. When Mary anointed the feet of Jesus with expensive oil, this is the factual interpretation. The interpretation is only refers to the act of Mary. What about us today? An application might be that we are willing to give sacrificially for the Lord’s work and give Jesus acts of worship as Mary did. Another would be that everyone must carry expensive oil to church and anoint the pastor’s feet every Sunday.

Principle 6: Distinctions of audience

Be sensitive to distinctions between Israel and the church and, Old Covenant and New Covenant. Promises made to Israel in the Old Testament cannot automatically be transferred to the church in which we are a part. For example, the land promises were given to Abraham and his descendants (Gen 12:7) but that does not include me, a Gentile Christian. It is true that certain Old Testament commands repeated in the New Testament are still binding, but this is made clear by their repetition in the New Testament. The church was formed in Acts 2 with the descent of the Holy Spirit and most direct statements to and about the church occur after that.

Principle 7: Types of literature

There are many types of literature in the Bible. There is law, narrative, wisdom, poetry, gospel, parable, epistle, and apocalyptic. Each of these types of literature has specific features that must be considered when interpreting a text.

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