Interpreting Scripture – Questions

Interpreting Scripture is a challenging task. But when you read Scripture, you are interpreting it.

Here are some questions to answer which will help you interpret Scripture so you understand it as it was intended. When these questions are answered, you will discover that the fulfillment is greater than the prediction, just as the antitype is greater than the type:

  • Does the New Testament quote it or allude to it?
  • How does the New Testament treat the oracle’s themes and theological points?
  • Who is the author of the passage?
  • To whom were they writing?
  • What is the outline/structure of the passage?
  • Is the choice of words, wording, or word order significant in this particular passage?
  • Are any words repeated? Any significance to the repetition?
  • What is the cultural, historical background and context of the passage?
  • What was the author’s original intended meaning?
  • How did the author’s contemporaries understand him?
  • How would the original audience have been affected by the passage?
  • Why did he say it that way?
  • Are there any unusual words in the passage that call for more exploration?
  • How does the passage fit into the surrounding paragraph? Chapter? Book?
  • Why did the author place the passage here and not somewhere else?
  • In one sentence, what is the main point of the passage?
  • How does this passage connect to the overall storyline of the Bible?
  • How does God want this passage to function in my life?
  • What kind of response does this passage call for?
  • How does this passage reveal Jesus as savior?
  • Father, I believe this passage is about the gospel of your Son. Help me see how!

What other questions would you add?

Interpreting Scripture

Reading the Bible is challenging. We are 2,000+ years removed from when the content was written and the time(s) it was written about.

Much of the struggle in reading Scripture is truly understanding what is meant by the original author(s) rather than understanding it from our 21st Century mindset.

Striving to understand Scripture from its original context is called hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is the method of interpreting Scripture.

Of course, rules for interpreting Scripture are needed. I strive to follow nine (9) rules of interpretation:

  1. Literal Sense – Seek the one intended or literal sense of the text, and to do so with the recognition that God in some cases has chosen to convey meaning through symbolism and figures of speech (e.g., metonymy, metaphor, and simile). Making the sense plain to others is not necessarily looking to the plain sense. With this said, though, be faithful to Scripture, not necessarily literal.
  2. Shortened Perspective – Events in the near and the distant future are often telescoped into one picture, like mountain peaks when seen from a distance. Sometimes the prophets focus on the immediate future and at other times on the distant future; however, both are seen at the same time.
  3. Historical Times-Coloring – Seeking the meaning of the text within the immediate historical situation. Reflecting the historical situation in which they spoke, the prophets preached to a definite life situation and delivered their oracles in terms which their original hearers could understand.
  4. Typical or Typological nature of Eschatology – A type is a person, institution, or event which prefigures and foreshadows a new and greater reality (the antitype). The antitype historically and theologically corresponds to, elucidates, fulfills, and eschatologically completes the type. The antitype is no mere repetition of the type but is always greater than its prefigurement. And since the Scriptures are Christological, the Old Testament’s types (which are so indicated by Scripture) are related to, centered in, and fulfilled in Christ (and His people, the church, reap what Christ has sown).
  5. Christological Focus – The Old Testament prophets were both “foretellers” and “forthtellers.” They were preachers of the covenant, proclaiming the Law and the Gospel to their original hearers. Even their eschatological predictions were given not to provide unrelated bits of information or to satisfy curiosity about the future, but to lead their hearers to repentance and faith.
  6. Old Testament Israel prefigured Christ and Christ is the True Israel – Christ is the New Israel, Israel reduced to one.
  7. Analogy of Faith – “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly” (Westminster Confession (1.9)).
  8. Interpret the Less Clear by the Clear – “There must be a consistency in all revealed truth because it represents absolute truth in the mind of God. Therefore each passage can have only one certain and simple sense. As the infallibly inspired word of God, the Scriptures are reliable, self-consistent and carry within them all that is needed for clarity. Since all that God makes known fits with what He knows perfectly, it is always proper to assume that no contradictions or dual realities can be attached to what He speaks.” (Bob Burridge)
  9. The Christian interpreter must regard the final form of the canon as the norm for interpretation – For instance, the New Testament provides clear and concise statements which should influence our understanding of the Old Testament. And the Old Testament provides the basis for our understanding of the New Testament.

What do you think? Are there any rules that should be added? Changed?

A Gospel-Centered Manifesto Part 2

Christological Focus1

But the greatest challenge (and the greatest privilege) in preaching the Old Testament is finding the way that it points to Christ and bringing that to the congregation in a way that clearly honors the Old Testament passage and makes much of Christ. This is not a call for importing some artificial connection to Jesus whenever we preach. Just the opposite. This calls for understanding and expositing the specific ways in which Old Testament passages point to Christ. But it does presuppose, based on Jesus’ own words in and , that every passage of the Old Testament does indeed point to him.2

Literal Hermeneutic is a Both/And

The goal is to read and preach both Testaments literally (contextual, historical, genre, redemptively) in such a way that it does justice to both the passage and to Christ. Some hermeneutic styles primarily focus on the Old Testament and let that re-interpret the New Testament. The problem with this hermeneutic (and they claim their hermeneutic is literal) is they fail to fully be literal with the New Testament texts which deal with or shed light upon the Old Testament passages in question.

This hermeneutic is nation-of-Israel-centric which eclipses Christ and all He has accomplished for both Jew and Gentile alike.

Further, the problem with this approach is that it arrives at interpretations which are later contradicted by the New Testament.

It misses the point completely

There is a reason Matthew (and all the other NT Authors) go to great lengths to demonstrate Jesus is the point of the Old Testament. We have explained in detail a few times before. Certainty abounds that Jesus is a true Israelite, but not just a true Israelite; Jesus is the True Israelite Who fulfills everything Israel the nation failed to do.

This is not reading into the Old Testament nor reading into what Matthew’s point is really about. It is recognizing the reality Matthew is expressing and taking his cues as a pattern for our hermeneutics precisely because he is inspired and we are not.

Jesus is the Fulfillment, Culmination, and Mediator of the Promises to Israel

We discussed this in detail previously. Because Jesus is the True Israelite, all who believe in Him (both Israelite (modern or ancient) and Gentile alike) become joint-heirs with Christ and all that He inherits is ours.

In essence, to interpret the Scriptures “literally” simply means to interpret them as literature in light of Jesus.

Reinterpreting Scripture

Bobby Grow shares this point, i.e. Jesus is the point of the all Scripture3:

Jesus understood the Old Testament Scriptures, and the promises therein, as finding their reality and fulfillment and purpose in him. He believed that the Scriptures, and the Old Testament promises to his covenant people were all about him; and that they were personally fulfilled in him. For example, as I was reading through Deuteronomy this evening, the concept of “land” and blessing and “Yahweh’s people” kept popping up. Like the Jewish zealots of Jesus’ day, dispensationalists collapse this promise of blessing in the land for Yahweh’s people into a geo-political and “literal” promise that is yet (and is currently) to be fulfilled by the Jewish people in present day Israel (a sign of this fulfillment, for dispensationalists, is the re-establishment of the nation of Israel in 1948). But if we re-interpret these promises as if their fulfillment has come to reality in Jesus Christ, then the promise of blessing in the land for Yahweh’s covenant people will be understood to have fulfillment in and through the obedient humanity of Christ as the new man; the new and obedient Israel (ff); and in the New Heavens and New Earth, the Heavenly Jerusalem, as described in –22. So there is a literal fulfillment after all, but it has already been fulfilled (the now and not yet aspect of the kingdom … or the in-between time we inhabit currently) penultimately in Christ’s first advent, and yet ultimately in Christ’s second advent and the consummation of all things.

One of the problems for dispensationalists is that they understand “literal” through a neo-Platonic lens; so that there is a hard distinction between the spiritual heavenly realm and the physical earthly realm. What the dispensationalist fails to appreciate, properly, is that if we interpret all of reality and the purpose of creation through the analogy of the incarnation and the hypostatic union between the divine and human; that the hard distinction between heaven and earth is not a viable option. If you will, the dividing wall has been broken, and all things have become One in Christ.

Is It Scientifically Verifiable?

Bobby links to another article3 of which Matthew Malcolm shares,

So where did the axiom (interpreting the Bible literally) come from? I think it comes from the way in which fundamentalism buys the modernist-enlightenment claim that the only “real” truth is that which is precisely, scientifically verifiable. And so it follows that if the Bible is truth, it ought to fit the bill – it ought to be precisely interpretable with a single, “literal” meaning…

The pastoral problem with this well-meaning but mis-cued axiom is that it sets people up for confusion and disenchantment.

To illustrate: in a human conversation, we are open to a variety of fluid meanings and trajectories and levels. Someone might say, “no pun intended!” – but as they say this, they are (perhaps quite intentionally) drawing attention to the fact that they made a pun – thus highlighting the dual levels on which it may be heard. This is complex, but it’s a part of normal human communication. If we are open to this sort of complexity in the words of humans, why should we deny it in the Word of God?

To deny the New Testament from re-interpreting the Old Testament through Jesus (the Mediator), we lose our literal hermeneutic.

5:1 After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

Now that day was the Sabbath. 10 So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. 16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

19 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. 21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. 22 The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

30 “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. 31 If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not deemed true. 32 There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true. 33 You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. 34 Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. 35 He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. 36 But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, 38 and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. 41 I do not receive glory from people. 42 But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. 44 How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? 45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (ESV)

24:1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.

13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

36 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God. (ESV)

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— (ESV)

21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— 13 on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

15 And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. 16 The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. 17 He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement. 18 The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, clear as glass. 19 The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. 21 And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass.

22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (ESV)