"Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Peter 1:20-21). The Scriptures did not originate with the prophets. Rather, the prophets were God's instrument to write His Word in such a way that it can be understood. However, we must not forget the equally basic fact that the Bible can be misunderstood!
In order to get a better understanding of Scripture we should; study the Bible both privately and publicly, listen attentively to expository sermons presented by godly men, and read books by those gifted in illuminating the 'Word of Truth'. We should be skeptical of new biblical revelation and persevere to "receive the word with all readiness of mind, and search the scriptures daily, whether those things were so" (Acts 17:11).
Basic Rules for Biblical Interpretation
1. We must begin with two presuppositions in order to correctly understand the Word of God: (a) the Bible is true, and that it is in fact, our only absolute standard of truth, and (b) that the God who is spoken of in the Bible exists, and that He is who the Bible says He is: the Creator of the heavens, and the earth and all things in them.
2. Our goal is to find Jesus Christ in Scripture because Jesus said to the Jews, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me” (John 5:39). A good way for a young Christian to begin the study of the Bible is to read the Gospel of John, then proceed to other books in the New Testament. While studying, answer the following questions on each chapter:
- What is the main subject of the chapter?
- What truth is most clearly taught in the chapter?
- What is the best practical lesson in the chapter?
- What verse clearly states that lesson?
- Who are the principal people mentioned in the chapter?
- What does the chapter teach about Jesus Christ?
3. Interpreting the Bible correctly is a two-step process: (a) we must first discover what the passage meant in the day and age of the author, and (b) we must discover its message for us.
4. The Word of God cannot and does not contradict itself. The Old Testament teaches the same truth as the New Testament. The New Testament is simply a fuller unfolding of the truth. Any perceived contradiction is always due to human misinterpretation.
5. In typology, a physical object or person is used to represent a spiritual truth. The specific type in the Old Testament must be an illustration of and consistent with New Testament truth. Typology cannot represent one thing in the Old Testament and something unrelated in the New Testament.
6. The topic under consideration must be limited to the context of the Scripture passage. The majority of all errors in interpretation will be avoided if we allow the passage to speak for itself within the context of the chapter or book it was written, instead of looking for a supplementary meaning.
7. The Bible has a skillful economy of words. In every dispensation, God has revealed exactly what He intended for us to know. Therefore, we should seek to discover the meaning of the details in the passage, but we must realize that every analogy, by its very nature, falls short of the full reality. We cannot force details to emerge from a passage that are not there. We must learn what the passage says, and not what we want the passage to say.
8. Although the Bible sometimes speaks in allegories (parables), we must set aside superficial speculative interpretations and look for the basic meaning of the allegory. Allegories can illustrate deep spiritual truth, however an allegory can only compliment established truth, not reveal new truth.
9. An accurate definition of any type or symbol can be determined by identifying constants that fit all the uses of that type in Scripture. For example, "lamb" only symbolizes Christ as the "Lamb of God". Whereas, "lion" must symbolize power because Satan is referred to as "a roaring lion" while Jesus is referred to as "the Lion of the Tribe of Judah".
10. Although truth about Jesus Christ can be found in every chapter of the Bible, not everything in the Bible is a type. Not everything is symbolic. Not everything foreshadows something else. The Bible itself must interpret the symbol or it cannot be accepted.