Basic Principles of Biblical Interpretation
By Jeff Klick
I wrote a paper for my latest seminary class and several people felt it would be good for the whole church to be able to read it. Over the next four weeks I will be sharing this with you on the back of the announcement sheet. The class was entitled "Hermeneutics" which is a Greek word that means the study of interpretation, or how to interpret the Bible correctly. So, here goes....
There are four generally agreed upon "norms" for Protestant, post-Reformation interpretation of Scripture: Illumination by the Holy Spirit; New Testament interprets the Old Testament; Literal interpretation is basic; and Scripture interprets Scripture. In this paper I would like to look at each one in detail and make practical application for our lives.
Illumination by the Holy Spirit
Carnal, unregenerated man can not understand the Scripture.
"And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). The "god" of this world, the devil, has blinded the minds of unbelievers. They can not understand the Bible or the "truths" of God. The blinders must be removed first by salvation and regeneration. The truths of God are spirit and must be received and understood by spirit.
"But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them:" (1 Corinthians 2:14).
God, who is infinite, must initiate understanding by His Spirit, if we who are finite have any hope of understanding. God must send His Spirit to open our minds and spirit to understand what He is wishing us to understand. He must condescend to our level to help us. Jesus promised His disciples that it would be better for Him to leave this earth - (
John 16:7,50) the Helper, the Holy Spirit would come and teach us. Without the Teacher - Holy Spirit, we have no hope of understanding the Scripture or God Himself.
The Reformers understood this, and fought the tyranny of the Catholic Church, to bring this truth to the masses. The Roman Church claimed the right to interpret the Bible, and their interpretation wasthe only correct one. The Reformers believed every believer can understand the Scripture with the help of God the Holy Spirit. Man does not need a priest or church dogma to explain what God is saying. The Spirit will teach each one what He needs to know - (
The illumination of the Holy Spirit is necessary to give light to our minds and spirits. As God opens up His Word to us he speaks to both the rational and non-rational sides of man. God gives us insight through His word by the rational, reasoned understandings of grammar and culture. He also touches our non-rational side with the Gifts of the Spirit, intuition, and senses. God created us body soul and spirit, and He speaks to us through His Word in relation to His creation. God addresses our minds with word structure, definitions, and mental understandings. He touches our spirits with dreams, visions, and supernatural giftings. The goal of both is the same - our understanding of the Word, and a deeper relationship to Himself.
When we approach the Word of God we must do so humbly and open to the Spirit. Unlike any other Book, we have the Author living inside of us very willing to open up the meanings and intentions of His Work. As we lay down our arrogance and pride, and ask God to open our understanding, we rest assured that is exactly what He desires to accomplish. God wants to give us illumination as much as we want it.