What principles of interpretation can help me read the Bible?

Many of our listeners and students know that hermeneutics is at the very foundation of how we know what we believe in our theology, how we understand Scripture, and how we interpret Scripture.

In many ways, hermeneutics was the key for me in coming to understand the doctrines of grace and the doctrine of salvation in Scripture. It was equally significant for me in coming to understand covenant theology and the Bible’s view of the end times and eschatology, or the study of last things. It was also foundational in understanding paedobaptism, or infant baptism.

If you don’t study hermeneutics in depth, you’ll never come to understand these things, and that’s really what separates us as denominations. It’s not that we say, “We just believe this, and you believe that.” We’re reading the same Bible. We’re reading the same passages. We’re reading it not through a different lens, but through a different method of interpreting the Scripture.

There are numerous principles we could outline, but I would say that we need to allow the Bible to show us how to interpret itself. That is one of the most foundational principles of hermeneutics. We need to study Scripture to see how Scripture, particularly the New Testament, interprets the Old Testament and how the New Testament writers understand the Old Testament. Then we want to interpret passages that are less clear to us in light of those which are more clear. We want to understand the original meaning and understand the Bible as a unique book, inspired by the Holy Spirit, that is to be interpreted differently than any other book.

So, those who want to study theology need to start by studying hermeneutics. For those who want principles, it really takes a few books to dig in. Knowing Scripture by R.C. Sproul is a very helpful starting place. We just did an issue of Tabletalk on biblical metaphors, which is an issue of hermeneutics. About every year or two in Tabletalk, whether people realize it or not, we try to give people an issue on hermeneutics.

If I didn’t state it earlier, hermeneutics is the science, or the method, of interpretation. So, we need to study these things if we’re going to rightly understand our theology.

 

This transcript is from a live Ask Ligonier event with Burk Parsons and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, just visit Ask.Ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.