Scripture Interprets the Scripture

By Jeff Klick

This is the third installment in a series based on a paper I wrote for a seminary class.

Since the Bible is not a Book of clear directions, but rather, a Book of principles, there must be some type of standard for interpreting the Book. Do we just pick out a verse and make a doctrine? Does it matter who said it or to whom they said it to? Does it make a difference what type of literature it is? How many verses do we need to make an iron clad doctrine? Is the Bible a book of magic that I can just open and get an answer for the day? These, and many other questions, must be answered by every believer who reads the Bible to hear God's voice.

This principle of hermeneutics is often overlooked in Charismatic circles. We have our "precious promise" boxes and "good or bad confessions" verses we quote and pet doctrines we concoct. We take verses out of context and apply them to ourselves expecting God to obey our interpretation, and then are disappointed when He doesn't. We have relegated the Word of God to a wish book and magic charm. Many tend to read the Bible with their minds already made up on what it says. Again, many heresies and much foolishness could be avoided if we would follow this principle of interpretation; let Scripture explain Scripture.

We need to hold very tightly the ideas and doctrines that are clear in Scripture and hold very loosely everything else. The deity of Christ, the resurrection of the believers, the redemption of the cross, the inspiration of the Word, etc. we can hold tightly. Divorce and remarriage; when and if the rapture happens; who the "beast" is; church government; who the "sons of god who had relations with the daughters of men are," and a host of other less prominent areas, we must hold lightly.

Jesus said He was "I AM," the Son of God, received worship, and demonstrated authority over nature, the devil, and death. This is clear and there is an abundance of Scripture to prove He was the Son of God. Who was baptized for the dead is not clear. How to appoint elders or deacons is not clear. The principle is that the obscure passage in Scripture must give way to the clear ones. Start with the clear ones that are repeated often and are explained fully. These you can safely build your life message on. Passages that are not explained fully you must hold much lighter. It is okay to have an opinion, but realize that is what it is. My opinion in not fact, but an opinion.

When approaching a verse we must look at context. The verses right before it or after it; the chapter it is in; the letter or book it is in. The whole of Scripture is the context as well. Scripture will never contradict Scripture. The Bible will never tell you to commit adultery or murder. Any interpretation of a verse that contradicts any other verse is wrong. We must look at the type of literature that the verse is within. Is it a historical narrative? Is it in the prophets or wisdom literature? Is it a letter to someone? Is it a parable or some other special type of teaching technique? All of these must be considered before we approach the correct understanding of the verse.

The Reformers rebelled against the Catholic Church because they were the ones who gave the proper interpretation to the Bible. Men like Luther said it is the Scripture that gives the correct interpretation of Scripture, not church dogma. To understand the parable of the sower and the seeds for example, we just need to read further on in the gospel account, for Jesus tells His disciples the correct interpretation. We also have the benefit of having multiple gospels that often shed additional light on each other. Many "snake handlers" and "poison drinkers" could be avoided if this simple principle was followed. Major and build doctrine on what is clear, and do not build on what is not clear. God intended for the Bible to be His revelation of His will to us. He did not shade His meanings and veil them behind some secrete code. What God desired us to know and understand has been made clear. Much of the other material is not for us to ever fully understand. If we would just obey what wedo understand, there would be so little time left for what we do not understand.

To sum up this hermenutical norm, let Scripture be the final judge on what Scripture means. Never build a doctrine on one verse. If it was an important principle to God it would have been given much more room in the Scripture. God has made the important issues clear.