"And so we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation." [2 Peter 1:19,20 NAS]
We can't have a "sure word" about the meaning of Scripture (or anything else) unless we have a sure method to interpret the words. The following eight rules are the center of all grammatical interpretation. They have been accepted and used by scholars from Socrates to the present. While my hope is that they will be used to "rightly divide the word of truth" of the Holy Bible, they are equally applicable to legal, historical, and other such language. Since the Bible teaches that God is not the author of confusion [1 Cor. 14:33], how can the many disagreements today between multitudes of Christian denominations and the Jewish faith let alone the proliferation of the cults be explained since all, or nearly all, claim to use the Bible as the basis of their doctrines? Nearly all false doctrines taught today by Christians and cultists alike can be traced to the distortion of the meaning of Biblical words in their Jewish setting. These eight rules are prayerfully offered in the hope that they may help many come to the truth of what God says in His Word.
"When two interpretations are claimed for a Scripture, the construction most in agreement with all the facts of the case should be adopted. When all the facts of an interpretation are in agreement they sound together in harmony, like notes in a chord.
"Biblical interpretation is more than knowing a set of rules, but it cannot be done without the rules. So, learn the rules, and rightly apply them...."
Here are the eight rules:
1) THE RULE OF "DEFINITION":
What does the word mean? Any study of Scripture must begin with a study of words. Define your terms and then keep to the terms defined. The interpreter should conscientiously abide by the plain meaning of the words as taken from the language from which it comes. This quite often may require using a Hebrew/English or Greek/English lexicon in order to make sure that the sense of the English translation is understood and correctly given. A Jewish word or a Greek word must be rendered as correctly as possible when translated and this is not always done by the Gentile writers and interpreters of the manuscripts. That is why consultation with the study aids is mandatory if you are trying to arrive as the correct meaning of the words both written and understood by the speakers and the hearers of the events recorded. In this way one will discover hidden meanings that lie beneath the words rendered in English today; such rendering which mask intended meanings where one can find the non-Jew participating in the Biblical Festivals and Sabbaths for instance. Failing to do such study and evaluations of both "nouns" and "verbs" assure us that we lean upon our own understanding and fail to comprehend the hidden Divine message found in the original words.
2) "THE RULE OF USAGE":
It must be remembered that the Old Testament was written originally by, to and for Jews. The words and idioms must have been intelligible to them just as the words of Christ when talking to them must have been. The majority of the New Testament likewise was written in a milieu of Greco-Roman (and to a lesser extent Jewish) culture and it is important to not impose our modern usage into our interpretation. It is not worth much to interpret a great many phrases and histories if one's interpretations are shaded by pre-conceived notions and cultural biases, thereby rendering an inaccurate and ineffectual lesson. A good example is the term "born again" which has a very unique understanding in it's Jewish context but which is twisted terribly by Gentile Christianity where it looses it's intended meaning completely!
3) THE RULE OF CONTEXT:
The meaning must be gathered from the context. Every word you read must be understood in the light of the words that come before and after it. Many passages will not be understood at all, or understood incorrectly, without the help afforded by the context. A good example is Acts 15 and the Jerusalem Council where James' ruling is to be understood as the reiteration of the Laws of Noah as binding upon non-Jews for their fellowship with and inclusion into the Israel of God.
4) THE RULE OF HISTORICAL BACKGROUND:
The interpreter must have some awareness of the life and society of the times in which the Scripture was written. This requires personal study on part of those desiring to acquire "truth." The spiritual principle will be timeless but often can't be properly appreciated without some knowledge of the background. The concept of "being born again" is a perfect example that involves procedures related to one's faith in God that has today been separated from what it meant "historically" when the topic of conversation between Yeshua and Nicodemas. If the interpreter can have in his mind what the writer had in his mind when he wrote without adding any excess baggage from the interpreter's own culture or society. Only then the true thought of the Scripture can be captured resulting in an accurate interpretation. Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "Our only interest in the past is for the light it throws upon the present."
5) THE RULE OF LOGIC:
Interpretation is merely logical reasoning. When interpreting Scripture, the use of reason is everywhere to be assumed. Does the interpretation make sense? The Bible was given to us in the form of human language and therefore appeals to human reason - it invites investigation. It is to be interpreted as we would any other volume: applying the laws of language and grammatical analysis. A perfect example is found in the teaching of the doctrine of atonement as found in the Old Testament where the "life" is "in" the blood and that God stated that He gave "it" as a form of atonement. The "in" makes blood the object of the preposition whereas the subject of the sentence is "life." According to Jewish teaching again one's life, by his actions, brings atonement and not the blood (the blood is the vehicle for one's soul...his mind...that produces such actions that brings the atonement). As you can see improper grammar can mean the difference between understanding critical doctrines correctly or incorrectly. As Bernard Ramm said: "What is the control we use to weed out false theological speculation? Certainly the control is logic and evidence... interpreters who have not had the sharpening experience of logic ... may have improper notions of implication and evidence. Too frequently such a person uses a basis of appeal that is a notorious violation of the laws of logic and evidence."
6) THE RULE OF PRECEDENT:
We must not violate the known usage of a word and invent another for which there is no precedent. Just as a judge's chief occupation is the study of previous cases, so must the interpreter use precedents in order to determine whether they really support an alleged doctrine. Consider the Bereans in Acts 17:10-12 who were called "noble" because they searched the Scriptures to determine if what Paul taught them was true. Likewise the use of the term "virgin" in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures is altered from the Jewish precedent where the term originally used never implied a "virgin" in Isa. 7:14. The precedent of translating the Hebrew word as "non-virgin" is altered and changed from the Greek translation on downward throughout history.
7) THE RULE OF UNITY:
The parts of Scripture being interpreted must be construed with reference to the significance of the whole. An interpretation must be consistent with the rest of Scripture. This simply means that no parts of the New Testament, for example, can contradict Moses, the Prophets, the Writings, or Jesus and be correct!
8) THE RULE OF INFERENCE:
An inference is a fact reasonably implied from another fact. It is a logical consequence. It derives a conclusion from a given fact or premise. It is the deduction of one proposition from another proposition. Such inferential facts or propositions are sufficiently binding when their truth is established by competent and satisfactory evidence. This evidence is easily obtained by following the above 7 rules of interpretation.
Learning these eight rules and properly applying them will help keep any interpreter from making errors and will hopefully alleviate many of the disagreements unfortunately present in Christianity today.
"A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels: to understand a proverb, and the interpretation." [Proverbs 1:5,6]