1. What principles of interpretation are necessary to study the bible?

If we desire to study the bible, we must realize from the outset that there are certain rules or principles that we must keep in mind, if we would understand it accurately, and so be able to apply it appropriately. The study of the principles of interpretation that we use to help us understand the bible is called “hermeneutics”; and the hermeneutic that we have when we approach the text is of paramount concern, because it will shape our understanding of everything we read.

Although many Christians may not even know what the term “hermeneutics” means, yet in truth, everyone has a hermeneutic which governs how he understands and applies the scriptures. In contemporary western Evangelicalism, a post-modern, individualistic hermeneutic is the norm, and so home bible studies are often designed on the principle of going around the room and asking what a particular verse or passage “means to me”; and in answering that question, no one is right or wrong, but everyone can glean little tidbits of inspiring thoughts that they find personally encouraging or applicational. This hermeneutic is very destructive to a Christian's ability to understand what the bible is really saying, and has the effect of confirming him in his own wisdom, instead of casting him on the wisdom of God, as he has expressed himself in the bible.

There are many other influential and destructive hermeneutics in currency today, such as a literalistic reading of Old Testament prophecy which refuses to accept the New Testament teaching that all prophecies have found their fulfillment in Christ, and are inherited by everyone who is in Christ; so in order to avoid these and other false hermeneutics, it is important to know what the true and proper principles of hermeneutics are. At the most basic level, a proper hermeneutic will be characterized by the following adjectives: grammatical, historical, contextual, and Christ-centered; all of which will be examined a little more carefully in the following questions.

We ought to read the Scriptures with the express design of finding Christ in them. Whoever shall turn aside from this object, though he may weary himself throughout his whole life in learning, will never attain the knowledge of the truth; for what wisdom can we have without wisdom of God? - John Calvin Commentary on John 5:39

There are two ways to read the Bible. The one way to read the Bible is that it’s basically about you: what you have to do in order to be right with God, in which case you’ll never have a sure and certain hope, because you’ll always know you’re not quite living up. You’ll never be sure about that future. Or you can read it as all about Jesus. Every single thing is not about what you must do in order to make yourself right with God, but what he has done to make you absolutely right with God. And Jesus Christ is saying, “Unless you can read the Bible right, unless you can understand salvation by grace, you’ll never have a sure and certain hope. But once you understand it’s all about me, Jesus Christ, then you can know that you have peace. You can know that you have this future guaranteed, and you can face anything.” - Tim Keller

For Further Study

Must I Learn How To Interpret The Bible? by D.A. Carson
God-Centered Biblical Interpretation by Vern Sheridan Poythress (Online Book)
Hermeneutics and Biblical Authority by J.I. Packer
Jesus Christ: The Interpretive Key to the Scripture by John Hendryx
The Reformers’ Hermeneutic: Grammatical, Historical, and Christ-Centered by Nathan Pitchford

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