Recommended Guidelines
for Scriptural Interpretation

I've distilled these guidelines from a variety of sources and personal experience. Some presentations of the subject are much simpler, others more involved. I believe the following cut right to the heart of the matter for serious inquirers. All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (NIV).

1. Begin with prayer. Approach the Scriptures with humility and reverence, seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit for understanding. Biblical discernment is impossible without God's tutelage.

"Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law." Ps 119:18

2. Recognize that Jesus Christ, our Savior, is the center of Scripture. The Scripture is not a book of poetry, though it contains poetry. It is not a history book, though it contains history. It is not just great literature, though it contains choice prose. It is not a science book, although its science is flawless. The Scriptures reveal God's work in our world and His plan for our salvation. All Scripture should be approach with this central theme in mind.

"But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." Jn 20:31

"For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: "The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me." For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." Rom 15:3-4

3. Depend on the Holy Spirit to guide you to an understanding of the Scripture. This ties directly to point one above. Dependence on the Spirit does not relieve us of the requirement for thorough study and hard work. The Spirit will enable you to approach the Scripture with the correct attitude and motivation. Apart from the Spirit, there is no Scriptural understanding.

"But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." Jn 14:26

4. Use the analogy of faith. The best commentary on Scripture is Scripture itself. If a particular passage is not clear, then look for others addressing the same subject that are clear. Since all Scripture is God-breathed, it must be internally consistent. We are not free to play dueling verses, but must seek the harmony that God put there.

5. Focus on the textual use of the language. Our language has a wide variety of tools built in for communicating. Likewise, Scripture contains historical narrative, poetry, allegory, hyperbole, etc. Read passages within the context of the sense of that passage’s use of language. Guidelines two and four above will prevent excessive use of allegory, subjectivism, and imaginative flights of fancy. This also prevents finding "hidden meanings" in the text.

"I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth." 1 Jn 2:21

6. Study the Scriptures carefully and diligently. Consider to whom a particular part of Scripture is addressed. What is the historical context? What is the immediate context of that particular passage? What is that particular section about? What other Scriptures address that particular issue, and what is their context? What do the original language manuscripts say? The original Biblical languages don't often translate accurately into English, requiring a careful study of the original Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic. Every translator is human, carrying with them some dogma that creeps into the text. Only by going to the original can we cut through all that overhead.

"It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees." Dt 17:19

7. Consider what others have written on the Bible. Others have gone before us and studied the Scriptures in great detail. Read and prayerfully contemplate what others of good reputation have written and how they came to their conclusions. Know and understand the others' viewpoint, so that you will not be lead astray. Only through careful study will you come to recognize error. In the end, the Spirit may lead you to a different conclusion than those that you read, but you will be wiser for your study.

8. Live the Scriptures. Let God's love and wisdom reflect in your life.

"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." Ja 1:22