The Good News

Discussion of the Best News in the World, the Gospel of Jesus, and related topics

How to Interpret Scripture?

We are beginning a study in the Revelation of Jesus Christ and I was looking at resources for the study.  The Revelation is hard to understand and in my research I find that there are at least 5 approaches to interpreting the Book.   I also found some notes from a blogger I admire, Jolly Blogger, and want to give you some wisdom from him on how to interpret the Bible–not just the Revelation but all of it.  His blog was titled: Is Reformed Eschatology Hard to Understand?

Here is a clip from that blog I want to focus on.

<Quote>  First of all, it was based on the most basic and solid principle of hermeneutics and that is that Scripture interprets Scripture.

One of the key elements of the principle that Scripture interprets Scripture is that the clear interprets the unclear.  For most of my Christian life I had been trying to read and understand Revelation and Daniel’s 70 weeks in a standalone fashion.  I think it was Hoekema who said that one of the keys to his position was that he interpreted the book of Revelation in light of the rest of Scripture, not the other way around.

In other words, the book of Revelation is somewhat unclear, but throughout the Scripture there are many clear eschatological statements.  Rather than interpreting those clear passage in light of the unclear passages in Revelation, do it vice versa. <end quote>

Most lay people don’t know the basic and solid principles of hermeneutics, ie, the methods used to rightly interpret biblical texts.  Jolly Blogger gives us a few good interpretation pointers here.   The first is Scripture interprets Scripture.  With that concept no Scripture stands alone.  Proof texts become secondary or tertiary.  For difficult passages, context, background and other Scriptures are used to get to the correct interpretation.

Then my Jolly Blogger gives this illustration which is so appropo.

<Quote>But many people take a very straightjacketed approach to literalism which is closer to a sensus woodennes 2.

In one class I taught on eschatology my nemesis was a lady who was probably in her 60’s or 70’s who thought I was all wet and who questioned if I believed the bible.  At one point in the class I think we were talking about the locusts in Revelation and I was going through several potential understandings of the text.  We were about 10 or more weeks into the class and she had long since become exasperated with the drivel and error I had been trying to pass off as biblical teaching and on this day she had another meltdown and asked me why I just didn’t take it literally, I suppose meaning that these were going to be literal locusts.

I too was exasperated with her and said that I didn’t believe these were locusts for the same reason she didn’t believe we were justified by works, though the bible clearly teaches this.  She gave me a dumbfounded look, as I am sure you are doing now, but I repeated to her that the bible very clearly and literally teaches that we are justified by works.  The rest of the class was also getting a little worried, this being a presbyterian church and all.  I then quoted James 2:24 to her:

You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
The Holy Bible  : New International Version. 1996, c1984 . Zondervan: Grand Rapids

So I asked her if she believed that a person is not justified by faith alone.  She didn’t.  I asked her why?  She fumbled around for a moment and I answered the question for her.  The reason she doesn’t believe that we are justified by works and not by faith alone is that there are many other Scriptures that factor into her understanding of justification and that influence her understanding of this particular text.  She would not allow this text to stand on its own, but took the rest of the Scriptures into account when interpreting this text.

Similarly, the reformed do not let the book of Revelation and the 70 weeks stand on their own, we interpret them in light of the rest of Scripture.  And, we interpret them according to their genre, usage, forms, etc..

But my point is that one of the big stumbling blocks is a misunderstanding of what constitutes the sensus literalis 1.

A second reason that I have frequently seen for not accepting the reformed view of eschatology is that it contradicts the teaching of many well respected and beloved teachers.  In that same class I was teaching another lady hung with the class for several weeks and finally dropped out.  When I asked her why she said she couldn’t answer my arguments, but she had been taught differently by a beloved pastor her whole life and couldn’t bring herself to think that he was wrong. <end quote>

I love these illustrations because they are very helpful in dealing with others in our church communities as we discuss scripture and their interpretation.   Realize also that I am not talking about application of a passage here,  only interpretation.

I want this out here because we all deal with a more “informed” set of non-believers today.   Most of the informed non-believers are “literalists.”   Many of the agnostics or atheists today are “literalists” to the point of being sensus woodennes 2.  They use one scripture pitted against another to “prove” there are contradictions in the Bible.  Of course, the perception is contradictions when one passage says one thing and another passage “appears” to contradict.  The point is that good hermeneutics must be applied to understand the meaning of some passages.  The classic example of incorrect interpretation of Scriptures is the three accounts of the resurrection of Jesus.  Because different details are included in each account in the Gospels, a cursory review by some lead them to conclude that these accounts are inaccurate or are not inspired.  That’s the conclusion when good methodology is not used to first understand and then interpret these passages.

For additional principles in interpreting Scripture  see here(Bible.org, Dr. James Davis) or here(Wayne Grudem) or here(R. C. Sproul) or here(Bible Interpretation–a collection of resources).

Notes:

  1. Additional explanation of sensus literalis (Analogia Scriptura).
  2. sensus woodennes special insight is needed to interpret this concept.   I believe it means off base or too rigid and becoming unuseful.
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