We are complementing the series on Matthew 24 with Rule #1 in what we title the “Five Major Rules for Bible Interpretation.” We offer these so readers will become familiar with hermeneutics, the long name for “harmonizing” Bible passages to achieve an accurate and complete understanding.
First, let’s distinguish between “interpretation” and “application.” If I am discussing a Bible word or phrase, and I say, “This is what God means,” I am interpreting the text. If, as a student, I share a verse and how it impacted me, that is an application. I cannot error making a personal application based on opinion, but I can wreck havoc by misinterpreting God’s Word which implies fact. In the former I am speaking for myself, but in the latter, I speak for God.
As a workman for God, there is no excuse for wrongly handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). Remember, Bible teachers are held to a stricter standard (James 3:1).
To whom much is given, much will be required. (Luke 12:47-48 NIV)
Before we venture into unfamiliar territory we should always learn “the do’s and don’ts.” This is especially true of Bible study. Unless we know the rules, we may lead ourselves astray or others will do it for us. Follow the rules and not only will we know truth, but we will have full agreement with believers who follow them. Could it be the reason why factions exist within the wider Christian community is because one or both sides refuses to commit to finding truth? If they were committed, they would sit down, pray for understanding and examine the Scriptures until they reach an agreement.
Years ago, we began using these rules and discovered their immense value. We received permission from Crossway Books, publisher of The Sign, to incorporate five major rules into everything we do. The late-author, Robert Van Kampen, compiled Five Keys to a Face-Value Hermeneutic which appeared in The Sign, page 9.
Rule #1- Accept the meaning of Scripture in its most normal, natural and customary sense.
For readers who generally wish to avoid rules, #1 offers the biggest challenge. Again, quoting Van Kampen, another way to express the above is, “If the plain sense makes sense, you have the right sense.”
Unless we have an obvious figure of speech, accept the plain or literal meaning. If someone suggests an uncorroborated, spiritualized or an allegorical meaning, it should raise a red flag.
For instance, when the Lord said to Abraham, in Genesis 22:17, he would make his descendants as numerous as the stars or the sand on the seashore, should we interpret it literally? According to this rule, absolutely! God does not exaggerate. When the Lord repeats this prophecy to Jacob in Genesis 32:12, then a few more times elsewhere, believe that God will do it!
God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19 NIV)
Is anything too hard for the LORD? (Genesis 18:14)
“With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Jesus, Mark 10:27
Beware of the so-called wise person who explains away miracles and things they don’t understand. They may be good people, well-educated, upstanding, kind, smart and sincere, but their God is too small. Follow this rule then watch your Bible come alive.