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Practical Rules for Interpretation: Rules 1-3

Rule 1:  The Bible Is to Be Read Like Any Other Book

1.  The principle is the sensus literalis.  The Bible is uniquely inspired and infallible but grammar is still grammar.  Form of literature is still form of literature.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t inspire nouns to be changed into verbs, poetry into historical narrative, etc.

2.  There is a difference from other literature in that prayer and divine illumination play an enormously helpful role.  We pray to God for pure hearts and a clean mind to overcome our prejudices.  There are plainly written things in Scripture that we don’t want to see and embrace sometimes.

3.  We pray that God will overcome our laziness and make us diligent students of Scripture.

4.  “Mystical flashes” are not a Biblical pattern and not the way of wisdom.

5.  “Lucky Dipping” – a method of “Bible Study” where the person prays for divine guidance and lets the Bible fall open to a random passage.  With eyes shut the person finds a random Scripture verse.  This is sinful.  The Bible is not a mystical Ouji board.  Worse, it distorts the meaning of Scripture as we bring our desired outcome to verses that have a different meaning.  The Scriptures are not a cookbook of verses that we use to find specific verses we think apply to our situation.

Rule 2:  Read the Bible Existentially (Try to put yourself in the story)

1.  Be careful here.  This rule could be grossly distorted.  Some have argued that the only way to read Scriptures is existentially (what it means to me) and that they have no historical context or significance.  Scripture took place in actual history and it really does matter that an actual Jesus was on the Earth and died for our sins.

2.  Rather, we ought to get passionately and personally involved in the Scriptures as we read them.  We should “crawl into the skin” of the characters.  By trying to put ourselves in the life situation of the characters of Scripture (understand their culture too), we come to a better understanding of what we are reading.

a.  What was Aaron’s reaction when his sons Nadab and Abihu were destroyed (Lev 10:1-3)

b.  Why did Abraham get up early in the morning to sacrifice his son?

3.  When we read certain portions we can become “judgmental of the characters and even God Himself when we read of cruel and unusual punishment.  Stop at those points and ask:  “Why is God angry here?  What does this tell me about Him?”

4.  There is a common human tendency to view our actions in a positive light and the actions of others in the worst possible light.  Some people have so much hostility toward Paul on the matters of homosexuality and/or feminism that they can’t hear a word he says.  Using this method, even feminists can realize their own prejudices and learn principles that might reform their understanding of the world and the Scirptures.

Rule 3:  Historical Narratives Are to Be Interpreted by the Didactic

1.  The term didactic comes from the Greek word that means to teach or to instruct.  Didactic literature is that which teaches or explains.  Much of Paul’s writing is didactic for instance.

2.  General relationship between the Gospels and the Epistles:  The Gospels record what Jesus did and the Epistles interpret the significance of what He did.  The emphasis in the Gospels is found in the record of events, while the Epistles are more concerned with interpreting those events in terms of doctrine, exhortation, and application.

3.  Since the Epistles interpret and come after the Gospels in order of organization, the basic principle is that the Epistles should interpret the Gospels rather than the other way around.  The rule is not absolute but it is generally a good rule of thumb.

4.  This puzzles many.  Don’t the Gospels record the words of Jesus?  Isn’t that giving more authority to the Apostles than Christ?  Not at all.  This has to do with the order of interpretation because Christ purposefully left things to be explained by His apostles.

5.  Remember, Jesus didn’t write any of the books of the Bible.  When we attempt to pit the words of Jesus against the writings of Paul we are really pitting John against Paul or Mark against Peter.  Really, we are pitting God against God.  Jesus words and teaching are not just found in the Red Letters!

6.  If we can trust the Gospel writers at all, perhaps we can trust their accuracy when they record that Jesus called the prophets and the apostles the foundation of the Church.  Jesus chided the Pharisees for not believing the One God sends.  What criticism do we have for not believing the Apostles whom Christ sent?  If you reject the Apostles, you reject Christ who sent them.

7.  One of the reasons that we use the Apostles teaching (didactic literature) to interpret historical narratives in the Gospels and Acts is the danger of inference.  Events can be interpreted any number of ways depending on who is viewing them.  We aren’t free to see Christ hanging on the Cross and come to our own conclusion about what it means and then correct Paul when he explains its significance in Romans.  Christ’s actions on this planet were not meant to be watched and imitated.  They had a meaning that was explained.  When we read the explanation we realize that WWJD is not the way we live our lives.  We live our lives by “What does the Bible teach.”

8.  Many will draw their doctrine from historical narratives and use what they believe the narrative teaches to overrule something that the Scriptures teach elsewhere.  Building doctrine from narratives is very dangerous.  Neo-Pentacostalism and the “2nd Baptism of the Holy Spirit” is but one of many aberrant examples.

9.  Historical narratives are full of phenomenological language.  “The Sun stood still” and other examples were not given to us as a Science book.  Narratives describe many events as they appear to the eye and we should not become dogmatic about what we infer from them.

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