Are There Rules For Interpreting the Bible?

Gil Moreno works as the International Coordinator for the Americas with the ministry of Faith Comes By Hearing; serving the poor and non-literate of Latin America and the Caribbean. He graduated from Moody Bible Institute with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biblical Studies and a Master of Arts in Religion from Liberty University.

The idea of having rules for interpreting the Bible might seem offensive to some. Most of us don’t like rules that restrict our freedoms. We value independence. Of course we like certain rules that promote safety such as are displayed on road signs which warn us of upcoming danger; rules that promote order, security and the general well-being of the public. So maybe it’s not that we are against rules, just certain kinds of rules. With this in mind, we can proceed to the subject of Rules of Interpretation. From where did these rules come from? They were not so much created as they were discovered and observed. For many centuries, certain observations in the realm of interpretation have been made.


Let’s look at three of these rules as they apply to Biblical interpretation.

Rule #1: Interpret the Scriptures in the context in they were intended to be understood. To resist this rule is to take the Scriptures out of context which can lead to false teaching as the cults have demonstrated throughout history. Peter warns about this tendency as did Jesus, “…just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1).

Rule #2: Let Scripture Interpret Scripture. When reading the New Testament, for example, we find numerous interpretations regarding the Old Testament. Things which were hidden are now revealed. Jesus told his disciples that the Holy Spirit would bring all the things that Jesus had taught them to their remembrance (John 14:26). He taught them from the Old Testament and today that we are the beneficiaries of these interpretations. Matthew is one of the apostles that explicitly reveals correct interpretations from the Old Testament when he writes in several places, “Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet” (Matthew 1:22).

Another aspect of this rule of interpretation is in holding to a high view of Scripture. We do not interpret Scripture in a way that contradicts other Scripture; rather, when we do not understand something, we take the position that we are lacking and not the Scripture and pursue answers to our questions. We begin our search with the assumption that the Scriptures are a unified whole without any contradiction. To ignore this rule of interpretation is to place ourselves above the Scripture. Letting Scripture interpret Scripture is a safeguard against false or misleading teaching.

Rule #3: Interpret Scripture according to the appropriate genre. This is similar to rule #1 but with a literary emphasis. We would not interpret figurative language as literal. For example, when Jesus said, “I am the vine.” He was not covered with branches and grapes. When Jesus said, “…unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves” (John 6:53). Jesus was not condoning cannibalism.

There are very specific genres in the Bible and each one is meant to be interpreted according to its style. For example, Wisdom literature (Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes) is not interpreted the same as Gospel Narrative (Matt-John), Psalms are expressions of various types of prayer [adoration, thanksgiving, confession, supplication] and are interpreted differently than epistles which are heavy on instruction and doctrine (Romans-Jude). Prophecy (Isaiah – Malachi) is interpreted differently than apocalyptic literature (Revelation and parts of Daniel). A basic textbook on the subject of Hermeneutics expands on methods for avoiding misinterpretation.

Rules of interpretation are intended to preserve the purity of the Christian faith, rules that promote order, security, and the general well-being of the church; to guide us and warn us of potential dangers up ahead and to enjoy the blessings of rightly handling the word of truth.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed,
rightly handling the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15

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