We live in one of the most relativist societies in history. Post-modernism has invaded the church today and affected it with its “tolerant” and relativistic view of truth. John MacArthur rightly states that “Post-modernism is the denial of absolute truth.” The statement “absolute truth” is redundant. John MacArthur understands this but what he means is that relativism is the absolute rejection of the exclusive truth of the Bible. There is only one truth, not individual truths. Because truth would then be dilluted and not be truth anymore. Truth is exclusive and is not relative. Nothing else matters in life than the quest for truth.
Have you ever heard someone tell you when discussing the Bible “that is just your interpretation”? That is what I seek to address in this entry. That question opens the door to the Bible having many interpretations, thus destroying its reliability. Derek Thomas said that ““That’s just your interpretation” is difficult to answer. We need a hermeneutic for normal Christians.” There is only one interpretation of the Bible, like Thomas said, “the Bible has many applications, but one interpretation.”
A prevalent notion today is that the Bible can be interpreted depending on what you are going through or how you feel so that you can be “blessed” by a certain verse or passage. How you feel or what you think a verse or passage means is irrelevant and useless. You can think a verse or passage means something, but you cannot alter its exclusive and infallible truth.
Let me outline ten basic principles of hermeneutics (the branch of theology that deals with the principles ofBiblical exegesis; the science of interpretation):
1-There must be a hermeneutic for ordinary Christians. This simply means that ordinary people can understand the Bible through what Leland Ryken calls “ordinary literary criticism.” Allow me to explain by quoting Ryken, “
2- Scripture has many applications but one meaning. Clearly the human experience that we can relate to in the Bible has several applications in our daily lives. However, it all leads to one meaning and one meaning alone.
3- Scripture is its own interpreter. This could best be summarized by the Latin term used by the Reformers in the Reformation “Sola Scriptura” (Scripture Alone). Scripture is the sole authority on which you will base your interpretation, making it therefore God’s interpretation, not yours.
4- Interpret obscure passages with those that are clear. You cannot approach Revelation exclusively in isolation from other books of the Bible or certain passages in Revelation in isolation from other passages in the same book. If a passage is too hard to comprehend, always read those passages that are clear enough and interpret those hard to understand in light of those that are clear.
5- Pay attention to genre.
6-remember writers sometimes said more than they knew. Bible writers often prophesied on things they did not comprehend. John the Baptist preached the Kingdom of God already at hand with the prevailing Jewish notion that when the Messiah came He would establish His literal kingdom on Israel and destroy the Romans. When John was imprisoned and saw that evil endured and the kingdom was not established as he believed it would be, he sent to Jesus to ask of Him if He was the Christ that was to come or if they should wait for another. John prophesied on the kingdom of God that is now taking place in heaven at the right hand of God the Father. Therefore, always keep in mind that they were just instruments used by God to prophesy His decrees.
7- Distinguish between description and prescription. When Jesus talks about tithing in Matthew 23:23, it would seem clear that Christians ought to tithe today. As Greg Koukl states, “A closer look shows this won’t work, though. Jesus’ remarks occur before Pentecost. He was simply reinforcing the teaching of the Mosaic Law already incumbent on the Jews in virtue of the fact that the Old Testament economy was still in force” (Should Christians Tithe?, STR). You have to be careful to distinguish when the Bible is giving a description (a statement, picture in words, or account that describes something, not necessarily a mandate to the modern church), and when the Bible is giving a prescription (a mandate). Is Jesus giving a description or a prescription in this passage?
8-No interpretation can ever contradict the gospel. Justification, being saved through grace by faith alone is the central teaching of Scripture; the work of redemption and Christ’s atonement of His people from all nations in the Earth is what the Scriptures teach from cover to cover. Anything short or contrary to this is false and to be rejected.
9- Be careful about etymology (sometimes it’s true and sometimes not): the definition of original Greek words to further explain a point can be useful, but it is not central or the ultimate method to interpret the Bible rightly. I have used this many times, and sometimes I have concluded that merely by defining the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek terms I will successfully exegete a passage of Scripture. This is not true. Etymology is amazing and a great tool, but not the ultimate tool.
10- Beware of a false Christo-centrism and false finding of doctrines everywhere. Many times we as Christians think we have found Jesus in certain passages of the Bible. We go to the Old Testament and we conclude “hey! There is Jesus!” with a good intention, but not too different from people finding Mary in a tortilla or a pan. I am not denying that Jesus does appear sometimes in the Old Testament and the New, and that all the prophets spoke concerning Him, but many times this false Christo-centrism leads to the loss of focus in the central message the passage is trying to convey. This also applies to other “doctrines” of the Bible. For example, many people, when turning the pages of the books of Daniel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Revelation see the millenium in places where it is not even talking about the millenium (as many understand and view it, a literal thousand year reign in ethnic Israel). Beware of falling into this. I have many times and am prone to it, just as every Christian is.
These are basic hermeneutic principles that can help you rightly divide the Word of Truth and come to the one and only interpretation of the Bible. See how all deviations of these ten principles lead to myriads of interpretations? Let us be careful when approaching the Word of the Living God. For it is infallible, inerrant, harmonius, perfect, and everlasting.