7. Interpreting Scripture – Hermeneutics

The Bible is trustworthy in every area of teaching. We, as evangelicals accept it as full final and authoritive in matters of faith and practice. Most cults today claim that they are based upon what the Bible says. This is not a new thing since John tells us that many who associated with them in the church left them because they were guilty of error or heresy and not true believers (1 John 2:18-21.) We must be ready to reject certain doctrines and errors. How then do we find the right truth and doctrine that God reveals in Scripture? As we discover doctrines in the Bible we discover how God thinks. We must know doctrine in order to explain were they are going wrong and correct error in the Church. “When I read Scripture or doctrines I am entering a realm that is beyond the reach of my understanding” Dr. M.L Jones. We are to rely utterly upon the Holy Spirit pray for insight and wisdom

First we must analyse scripture and , understand clearly what the text is saying then apply it. It has a message for us and we must receive it.

Anglo- Catholics, Orthodox Catholics and Roman Catholics historically venerated the word of God, but has trusted tradition to interpret the Bible on all major matters. Liberals do not view the Bible as the infallible and all sufficient word of God. But evangelicalism has historically affirmed the infallibility and sufficiency of the canon of Scriptures as a God-given guide in all matters of faith and life; and their necessity as a control and corrective of human thoughts about God.

When interpreting the word of God we must take into account what the human writers of scripture were consciously expressing. We must understand the literal interpretation over against the allegorical one. We must understand the harmony and veracity of all 66 books as being one Book fully inspired by God. This leads us to the organism of revelation of the whole, a unit of life, “The word of God is alive and powerful…” All the books in the Bible were written to build believers in faith, obedience and worship.

The Bible is Dependable in All Matters

While the Bible is not a textbook on history, science, geography, cosmology etc. it can be trusted to be true in its content concerning any information it records. It contains no errors in any historical, geographical, and cosmological or any other subject and never contradicts any true law in God’s universe. We quote the following from John MacAurthur on Scientific Truth of the Bible in order to give you confidence in the authenticity of the Bible and encourage you to read, study and understand its infallibility.

Scientific Truth of the Bible

The First Law of Thermodynamics – The Word of God accurately states the first law of thermodynamics. The Bible says in Genesis 2:2 that “God ended His work which He had made.” The matter and energy that was part of the original creation is all there and will ever be; no new matter or energy is being created. The complete cessation of creative activity has been recognized by modern science as the first law of thermodynamics, or the law of the conservation of mass and energy. According to this law, which is one of the most universal and certain of all scientific principles, nothing is now being created or destroyed. That principle is illustrated in the following verses:

1. Isaiah 40:26—“Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, who brings out their host by number; he calls them all by names by the greatness of his might; for he is strong in power. Not one fails.”

2. Nehemiah 9:6—“Thou, even thou art Lord alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are in it, the seas, and all that is in them, and thou preservest them all.”

3. Ecclesiastes 3:14-15—“I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be forever; nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it …. That which hath been is now, and that which is to be hath already been.”

The science of hydrology and the hydrologic cycle is clearly described in Scripture:

Hydrology. (Isa. 55:10-11) “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth, and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”

3. Job 36:27-28—“He [God] draws up the drops of water, they distil rain from the mist, which the clouds pour down, they drip upon man abundantly” (Ecc. 1:7; Ps. 135:7;)

Clouds. Job 26:8—“He bindeth up the waters in his thick clouds; and the cloud is not torn under them.” This verse speaks of the formation of clouds by condensation.

Job 38:22–“Hast thou entered into the treasuries of the snow? Or hast thou seen the treasuries of the hail?” This speaks of the clouds. (Jer. 38:22).

Astronomy. Jeremiah 31:37—“Thus saith the Lord, if heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the Lord.” This verse mentions the immense size of the universe. It also tells us that God will not permanently set aside Israel.

Number and variety of stars. Jeremiah 33:22—“As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, neither the sand of the sea measured, so will I multiply the seed of David, my servant.” (Jer. 33:22; 1 Cor. 15:31).

The order of the cosmos. Jeremiah 31:35-36—“Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day, and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night…’If this fixed order departs from before Me,’ declares the Lord, ‘then the offspring of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before Me forever’” (Jer. 31:35-36).

Air Pressure. Before the thousands of years before the first barometer was invented the Bible talked about air pressure. “He imparted weight to the wind” (Job. 28:25).

Geology – Isostasy

Isostasy is a field of study within geology that deals with the balance maintained within the earth’s crust. The differing weights of the various types of rock maintain a delicate balance; otherwise the earth would wobble in its rotation like a lopsided basketball. Isaiah 40:12 says, “[God] hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and measured out heaven with the span, and measured the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance.” Psalm 104:5, 8 tells us that God “established the earth upon its foundations, so that it will not totter …. The mountains rose; the valleys sank down to the place which [He] didst establish for them” (NASB). The Bible teaches that the earth is balanced.

Physiology – The Circulatory System. No longer do we bleed sick people but since Harvey discovered the circulatory system, demonstrating that the blood sustains life. We now understand the importance of blood in sustaining life, doctors sometimes give blood transfusions to sick persons. The importance of the blood in sustaining life is recognized in the statement of Leviticus 17:11 that “the life of the flesh is in the blood.”

Psychosomatic Illness – By affecting the flow of blood–Emotional stress can increase or decrease the amount of blood in certain areas of the body. For example, anger often makes a person red in the face. Secondly it can affect the secretions of certain glands–Have you ever gotten nervous and had your mouth dry up before you gave a speech? Your brain sent certain impulses through your nervous system that dried up the glands that provide the fluid in your mouth. Excessive emotional stress can produce excess thyroxin, which is then poured into the blood stream. That can cause illnesses such as a goiter or even serious heart disease. Thirdly. By affecting the muscles–Emotion can change a person’s physical health by creating muscle tension. The nerves affect the muscles by causing them to tighten up and become tense.

God knows that our emotions are very important to good health. Proverbs 16:24 says, “Pleasant words are like an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.” Emotional stress caused by criticism and angry words can adversely affect our health. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” A happy person tends to be healthy; an unhappy person tends to be unhealthy.

Geodesy – Is the branch of geology studies the size and shape of the earth.

It was believed by many ancient peoples that the earth was flat. Ptolemy, in the second century after Christ, proposed a spherical earth as the stationary centre of the universe, with the sun and the other heavenly bodies revolving around it. Not until the sixteenth century was it made clear the earth was a sphere. But the Bible taught this many centuries before. God revealed it to the men of God.

The Bible teaches the earth is round. Isaiah 40:22 says, “It is He who sitteth upon the circle of the earth.” Job 38:14 says, “It [the earth] is turned like clay to the seal.” That is a reference to the small cylinders used in ancient times to put one’s seal on a clay document. Those cylinders had sticks through the centre, like a rolling pin, and while the clay was still soft, they would be rolled across it, leaving the impression of the seal. The Bible tells us the earth rotates on its axis like a cylinder making a seal.

The Bible was written to be understood by all and should be obeyed. It will give information and instruction. It is not a mystery book that only a few can understand but an open revelation of God, to all men, of all time, and in all places. He used ordinary men, from many backgrounds (fishermen, herdsmen, tax-collectors, doctors, soldiers – as well as kings and priests) to write different books of the bible. It is for the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated, male and female, young and old, of every race and nationality backgrounds book. They have read it, loved it, believed it and can understand it.

Prayer, Reading and Mediation

Pray for the Holy Spirit to speak to you and help you understand what you are reading in Scripture.

Reading the scripture should be a daily event and you should expect God to speak to you through His Word. Our Lord tells us, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”

Meditate upon it is to concentrate and give attention to it. It is contemplation and letting it permeate though your mind and feed your soul and spirit. King David often used the word meditate in the Psalms.

A Simple Way To Study Scripture

We call it the five Ws. Who it involves in the text, Where it takes place, When it happened, What it is saying. Why, it is saying it. This can be applied to a verse, a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter or a book.

When we do this correctly it enables us to know the Word of God better and it develops our relationship with Him. It is not to be just a doctrinal exercise, but it honours Him, blesses believers and causes us to worship Him better. “Mans chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”

Going Deeper. Some people claim they are not interested in doctrine. That is a cop-out if not even laziness. The Bible is full of truths that God has revealed to us and we must study to “show ourselves approved a workman that needs not be ashamed rightly dividing the Word of truth”.

You Can Understand Scripture. The scriptures were written to common ordinary people. Professors, intellectuals, wonderful thinkers cannot understand it unless they have the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 1:26). One does not have to be a theologian, know Hebrew and Greek or have a high standard of education to understand it. The Roman Catholic Church says people cannot understand it unless the Church explains it to them. You don’t need any special gift in order to study for your self. You do need the spiritual gift of teaching if you are going to teach it. You don’t need an experience with an angel or some supernatural visitation for you to understand. You can understand what you read. “But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him.” (1 John 2:27.) “Be diligent (study) to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:15). However to go deeper the guidelines below will help.

Many of the Cults claim they are based upon the Bible. We must know our Bible in order to refute their teachings and bring the to a true knowledge of the Word of God. We need to explain to them were they are going wrong.

When we know the Bible we can reject certain doctrines and philosophies that are not according to God’s truth. John says, “ (antichrist) …went out form us, but they were not of us. …But you have an unction for the Holy One, and you know all things…” (1 Jn.2:18-21.)

What about Disagreements Scripture? Some disagreements are a result of erroneous teaching, taking a text out of context; people injecting their own opinion, or philosophy. Some start with a theory, i.e. this is what we have always believed and our fathers before us. These people need to look at scripture again to find out if what they believe is true. Others say they have a “prophecy” from God this is not certain nor to be trusted as the infallible word of God. Others have a hard and fast view about Prophecy and the end times and will not budge and they will not fellowship with other believers. We should be willing to disagree agreeably if it is not a fundamental of the faith. Some take a Scripture literal when it is symbolic. Then there are those with a party spirit. They are prejudiced and defend them at all costs. Paul encountered this in Corinth (1 Cor. 3:1-5). There are some areas of scripture we will never understand until we get to heaven, Now “we look though a glass darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12). Our knowledge is not full. It is not final. (Dr. M. L. Jones God the Father, God the Son page 42-43).


Definition – Hermeneutics. The Greek word “hermeneuo” – hermeneutic means to explain or interpret. Logic and intellect cannot take the place of the Holy Spirit. The Bible is not an ordinary book but God’s divine Word and can only be understood in a spiritual way. We need the Spirit’s guidance, inspiration and illumination.

There are certain laws or principles that will help us to “rightly divide the Word of truth”. One important factor to remember is that the Scriptures are written mainly from a Jewish perspective. It is therefore highly important to get as much information on Jewish history, worship, and culture as we can in order to interpret God’s Word properly. To understand as much of the Greek and Roman languages, history and culture as well as the various other cultures and civilizations mentioned of the Bible will make scripture richer and more exciting for students of Scripture. The original languages of Scripture are virtual goldmines of information. However many of us are not gifted as others in languages nor do not have the gift of teaching but we can use tools written by gifted people to dig for and find precious jewels in the pages of God’s Word.

It is not necessary to know all the above to read and understand God’s Word. The ordinary believer can gain insight because of the Holy Spirits guiding him into all truth. It is important to ask for His guidance and for insight as we study the Word. We will be built up in our faith. Application means we must do something with what we learn so that we do not be come “couch Christians.” Let the word of God speak to you “be not hearers only but doers”

Principles of Interpretation

This is not a major treatise but a simple way for the Christian to study for him or her self. It will be of particular importance to those who have the gift of pastor/teacher. They must understand the scriptures and be able to convey what they mean. “So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. How shall I understand unless someone teaches me” (Acts 8:30-31; c.f Eph. 4:11-12). As well as academic information they should be in touch with what the Holy Spirit wants to say currently to the people whom he is speaking to.

Always compare Scripture with scripture. Our doctrine must never be founded on just one scripture, part of a statement or a proof text
Scripture does not contradict scripture. Never arrive at any conclusion from scripture, which makes us contradict something, which is stated in Scripture.
History and Culture. This is getting to know the historical background. It may include literature, culture, archaeology or other pertinent background details. An understanding of David’s sin with Bathsheba will give a better understanding of Psalms 51 and 37.
Exegesis – This is to understand a word, its etymology, and syntax or how words go together. Tenses and grammar are also important. The idea is to take a word apart, explode it, and find it’s meaning, and put it back together again then convey it to others.
Categories – There are certain doctrines in a text that need deeper explanation. We can also trace a doctrine through scripture i.e. blood, sacrifice, God, salvation, holiness, love etc.
Typology – The scripture gives us many types and allegories, particularly in the Old Testament. These portray truth but are not taught as doctrine, they shed light on the truth. The New (Testament) is in the Old (Testament) concealed, the Old is in the New revealed. Some theologians and all liberals misuse allegory to teach the idea that truth is doctrine, this is improper and a poor interpretation of God’s Word. Here are some examples. Joseph was a type of Christ, the sacrifices are a type of Christ’s finished sacrifice on the cross, and Pharaoh was a type of Satan etc.
Prophecy – This is prediction. There are many prophecies in scripture, some about Christ, some about Israel, some abut the Gentile Nations, some about the end times and the state of mankind, some about the anti-Christ and his false political system. It is important to distinguish who and what it is referring to. The variety of information to be unpacked is amazing.
The Law of First Mention. When a word or doctrine is first used in scripture it is usually an indication of its true meaning and gives better insight when used again.
The Context of a Word, a verse, and a scripture is usually interpreted by the context. “A text taken out of context is a pretext.”
Parables or stories. Our Lord and the writers of Scripture often used human stories in order to make it easier for people to understand. This makes it come alive and more relevant to people.
An Example of Exegesis 1 Peter 1:1-2

Vs 1. a) History and Culture. Paul was going to Spain to evangelize it. There was persecution at the time in Rome by Nero but it had spread to the provinces. Peter knows very soon Nero will send tribunes to hassle more Christians. So he warns the saints about coming disaster, suffering and pressure.

b) Categories of Doctrine. 1. Apostleship, 2. Jesus, 3. Christ, 4. Hypostatic Union, 5. Diaspora.

c) Exegesis. Examining each word or verse, taking it apart, find its meaning then putting it back together again. I.e. Peter means – a stone; Christ means Saviour; Strangers are people born in another country, Diaspora means exiles.

Vs 2 Categories of Doctrine. 6. Election; 7. Foreknowledge, 8. Sanctification; 9 Spirit; 10. Blood; 11. Grace; 12. Peace; 13. Peter = a stone; 14. Dispersed (Diaspora). In these two verses we have 14 different doctrines. Why don’t you try and do this with another verse of scripture for yourself?

Vs 3 Exegesis. “Blessed” – Greek “eulogous” meaning to speak well of. It is happiness in the soul by what you say or think. It is a celebration of the soul.

“His” – “autos” meaning myself, automatic. Here He is the principle of the plan.

“Abundant” – “polus” meaning great in quality and quantity. This is a celebration of God’s grace.

“Mercy” this is God’s grace in action; it is the basis or function of it.

“Begotten again” – “anagenno” to be born again. Believers are born again into God’s own family. We are now his property. God will provide for His own family even though we do not deserve it. He knew all about your hard and difficult times, your dull times and provided for them also. It depends upon the parent, He goes on providing even when the child is being disciplined. You will never have any blessing in time that He has not provided or you in eternity. His love; mercy and grace will never change. This is what causes us to celebrate.

“Into” is “eis” directional future.

“Lively” is “zao” meaning always alive. It started at the new birth and has no termination point and includes the hope of the resurrection.

“Hope” is “elpis” meaning confidence in the unseen.

“By” – “die” through the resurrection.

“Resurrection” – “anastatsis” – to stand up. The basis of our confidence is that we will stand up again in the resurrection.

“Dead” –“nekro” naked, the soul and spirit leave the body.

The exegesis of these verses will give you a better understanding and hopefully the confidence to study further.

More Helpful Guidelines

The law of progress. God reveals plans and doctrines progressively.
The law of unity. All parts of scripture have a unity without discrepancy.
The law of recurrence. The Holy Spirit goes over the same ground adding detail and emphasizing a principle of repetition.
Important Truths

Any doctrine we claim to be from the Bible must have its source in the Bible. This means that if any claim to have visions or a message from God, we cannot accept such statements. This includes traditions men make binding.
The origin of truth and the true objective of truth is to impart thoughts that are exclusively scriptural and not partial scripture. Some modern teaching about certain spiritual gifts is that part is true and part is not, this is not Biblical. It has to be all true or else they are false prophets. i.e. A person may give a prophecy and part is true and part is not, this is wrong. God would never lie or be untruthful. In the Old Testament people whose prophecy was not true were deemed false prophets and were stoned to death.
Language is a reliable medium of communicating. That is why it is good for people to receive the Word of God in their own language.
Usage determines the meaning of the words. i.e. homologlo = identify, cite confess sin but it must be with “godly sorrow” , your sin should make you aware of how you offended God (John 1:9).
Function of words depends on association with other words i.e. the structure of a sentence.
The reason for interpretation is to understand the mind of the authour.
There will be no contradiction. What is being read or studied will agree with the rest of scripture. Apparent discrepancies are only apparent.
One cannot understand unless he understands what is to be interpreted.