How Should the Whole Bible be Interpreted?

“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15)


Have you ever wondered why there are so many different views and opinions about what the Bible says will happen in the future, or any other doctrine for that matter? How one interprets the Bible will affect what is believed. Different interpretations will yield different beliefs.

The fundamental issue when coming to Scripture’s prophecies is how one interprets them. The various ways that the Bible is interpreted can be summarized under two categories:

  1. All the Bible must be consistently interpreted in a literal, normal way
  2. All the Bible cannot be consistently interpreted in a literal, normal way

From the following four points it will be shown that the only way all of Scripture should be interpreted is through a consistently literal or normal method of interpretation.

Communication Depends On Words Having One Meaning In A Given Context

In a single context the words can only have one meaning—they cannot have two or more meanings. If this were not the case, communication be impossible and would be nothing but gibberish and nonsense!

There is a world of difference between a word being able to be used a number of different ways and a word in a single context have multiple meanings. Take the follow sentence as an example:

After John passed third base, he slid safely into home.

You probably know that this sentence is in the context of a baseball game. Because of this, you would not understand “passed” in the sense of John dying, though “passed” can be used that way. You also would not understand “home” as referring to where John lived, though it can be used that way. You understood “passed” and “home” as having only one meaning because of their use in this context.

The languages the Bible was originally written in (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) were human languages, having human grammar (what the words mean) and syntax (how the words function in a sentence). The authors were genuine, human authors, having individual personalities, cultures, and language backgrounds. If this were not the case, we as human beings would not be able to understand their figures of speech.

Because words only have one meaning in a given context, a passage in the Bible cannot have a “deeper” meaning or more than one meaning.

The Author Determines Meaning

When interpreting the Bible—regardless of whether it is poetry, history, epistle, gospel, or prophecy—the goal is to find out what the biblical author meant by a particular statement. A helpful, guiding principle is found in Fee & Stuart’s How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, p. 27—

“A text cannot mean what it never meant.”

This principle will help you understand what a biblical passage did mean and what it did not mean. When weighing someone’s interpretation of a biblical passage ask “Is this what the biblical author wanted to get across?”

If someone does not accept the literal or normal interpretation of a passage it is usually because he or she has an agenda that must be proven or upheld. Their beliefs do not come directly from Scripture and they make the Bible’s statements fit into their system.

The Unitary Authorship of Scripture

A third principle that must guide how all the Bible is to be consistently interpreted focuses on who wrote the Bible. Many people say that the Bible has a “dual authorship”—a human author and God. The problem here is that when you have two authors, you end up with two different messages! So instead of “dual authorship,” it is more biblically correct to think in terms of a united authorship.

How could Amos the sheepherder and God be unified in the production of a written message? The answer is the doctrine of inspiration. Consider these two important passages:

2 Tim 3:16 “All Scripture is inspired by God”

2 Pet 1:21 “no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God”

When the Holy Spirit moved Amos to write a message to Israel, God guided him to write exactly what God wanted him to write and protected him from making any errors. God guided Amos the sheepherder to write a message that used all of Amos’s personality and way of writing (grammar and syntax), yet protected Amos from making any errors. The result of this united authorship was a single message given to and understandable by human beings that is absolutely true because of God’s guidance and protection.

The result of inspiration is a single message: What God said, the human author said; what the human author wrote, God wrote. The only way we can know what God meant is through the human author’s words. Because of this, no one can say that Amos meant one thing, but God meant another. What the human author meant is what God meant.

The Meaning is Based in the Text

Where can we find what the biblical author meant? Only in the text. There is only one correct interpretation and meaning of a passage, and that is the one that the biblical author intended. How can we find out what the author meant? Through consistently interpreting Scripture with a grammatical-historical method of interpretation. What does that mean?

Grammatical: what the words mean and how they function

Historical: the setting of a biblical book (culture, geography, etc)

In order to find out what an author meant, you have study the meaning and use of words in a given text and understand the important historical and cultural factors of the time they were written in. If you cannot get a meaning from a text, it is because it is not there! The only way you will get a meaning foreign to a biblical text is by putting it in there.

If the Bible is not consistently interpreted in a literal, normal way, what will the result be? Interpreters will find more than one meaning or say that a passage can have “multiple fulfillments” or a “fuller sense.” This raises a problem: where do you stop? If a passage can have two legitimate meanings, why stop there? Why not 3? Or 7? Or 70? Another problem is the issue of controlling interpretation—if the text does not control interpretation, then what does? Your imagination?

All of Scripture must be consistently interpreted in a literal, normal manner using a grammatical-historical method. That is the only way to learn what the Bible says.

 

Pastor Greenfield brought this message Sunday evening, February 18, 20007.

In addition to Fee & Stuart’s book quoted above, material was also gleaned from Rolland McCune’s syllabus on Dispensationalism from Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, pp. 47-51.