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Practical Rules for Interpretation: Rules 4-5

Rule 4 – The Implicit is to be Interpreted by the Explicit

In language, there is a difference between things that are implicit (things that seem to be stated) and things that are explicit (things that are clearly stated)

Some people make huge mistakes by making leaps from what seems to be the case in a certain verse.  For instance, in Mark 12:25, Jesus says in heaven there will be no marriage and we will be like angels.  Some are certain that means the angels are sexless.  Does it say that?  No.  That is something they believe it implies but there is no necessity of that idea from the text.

John 20:19 (ESV) – 19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

Does John 20:19 teach that the resurrected Body of Christ could walk through walls?

John 3:14-15 (ESV) – 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

Does John 3:15 state, explicitly, that all men have an ability to believe?

Even the most careful scholars can fall into the trap of reading too much into the implications of Scripture.

Not only do we have problems when we draw too much from the implications of Scripture but we sometimes get into trouble when we reject explicit teaching because of implications we have drawn from other parts of the text.  Remember, Scripture cannot contradict itself but we can.  Sometimes are implications are very wrong and they way to test our implications is to harmonize them with the things that are clearly, explicitly stated.

1 Corinthians 7:38 (ESV) – So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better


Have you ever heard somebody say that Paul taught that marriage was bad?  Just because one thing is said to be better does not mean that the other is not good!  He also states elsewhere that it is better to be married than to burn with lust!

Rule 5 – Determine Carefully the Meaning of Words

Whatever else the Bible is, it is a book that communicates information and is filled with words.  Thoughts are expressed by the relationship of those words.

Misuse of words and misunderstanding go hand in hand.  We have all been frustrated trying to find the right words to use and the right way to express ourselves so that somebody else can understand what we’re trying to say.  We’ve also been frustrated when we spoke or wrote something clearly and somebody didn’t understand what we said because they could not understand our words.

Sometimes technical language can be irritating when theologians or others speak in their terms that we have trouble understanding.  Many times though this is done so that the language they use is precise and to avoid confusion.  Our everyday language is used in such a broad way that our words take on meanings that are too flexible to be used in precise communication.  What if you had chronic stomach pain and the only diagnosis your doctor could give you was “You have a tummy ache.”  We want to know if it’s indigestion, a hernia, or perhaps cancer.  Precision is very important sometimes.

Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament is a series of word studies that consists of several large volumes and helps to see how words are used in Scripture.

There are two basic methods by which words are defined:  etymology and customary usage.  Etymology is the study of the origin of the word and can help us understand what the word means by its origin.  The origin of a word is not enough, however, and we need to know how the word is typically used in Scripture and how it is used in context.  This is very important as some authors adopt some words that might be used differently than Pagan scholars did.  Thus, while reading how Aristotle used the word Logos is useful, it is more important to look how John uses the term to determine the meaning and significance of it.

Some words have multiple meanings and it is important to see that the same word is used differently by different authors when used in different contexts.  Remember, it is not enough to just find words but to read words within sentences and paragraphs.

Romans 3:28 uses the word Justify in a different sense than in James 2:24.  Two words with different meanings in their context.  All sorts of havoc have been wrought by those who don’t handle the difference properly.

Words whose meanings become doctrinal concepts.  Some words can give people fits when interpreting them.  It is those groups of words that have come to be used for doctrinal concepts.

Consider the word save and the corresponding word salvation.  In the biblical world, a person was “saved” if he experienced any deliverance from any kind of trouble or calamity.

Paul says on one occasion that women will be “saved in childbearing” (I Tim 2:15).  Does this mean that there are two ways of salvation:  Believe on Christ or Get Pregnant!  Paul is speaking on a different level and sense of the word salvation.

The Bible even speaks of God’s redeemed having been saved (through Justification by faith), being saved (sanctified by the Spirit after belief), and will be saved (at the Last Judgment).

All of this points to not being lazy when we read or being too simple-minded to understand that some concepts have more than a surface meaning.  Some people always want things to be simple and broken down into one word sentences but there are complex questions and answers in Scripture.  Our call to a simple faith is not a call to being simple-minded.

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