Interpretation answers the question, “What does the passage mean?” Tons of books and web sites are available on this topic–not to mention hundreds of institutions providing degrees in related fields–so these are the basic rules. But don’t let anyone intimidate you in following their steps; God makes His knowledge and will known to ANYONE who seeks. (There’s a good topic for you to keep track of throughout your studies.)
- Context ALWAYS rules first. Never take a Scripture out of its context to make it say what you want it to say. Look at context first from the perspective of the book being studied, the overall chapter, the paragraph, and the sentence. Try to stay away from giving individual words meanings that reinterpret sentences, paragraphs, and onward up.
- Always seek the FULL counsel of God’s Word. Never accept someone’s teaching based on one or two verses; ensure that they’re not taken out of context as they’re employed throughout the whole Bible.
- Scripture NEVER contradicts Scripture. It’s amazing how the best interpreter of Scripture is other Scripture. One of the best study aids is a good Bible dictionary which will show words and concepts as they’re presented throughout ALL of Scripture. This is often the best use of footnotes in your Bible that indicate other verses utilizing the same words or phrases in other places so you can compare and contrast how it’s used in many passages.
- Never base a belief or conviction on an obscure passage of Scripture. You can always ask other Believers, go to Bible dictionaries or commentaries, or submit it to God in prayer and await His direction.
- Interpret Scripture literally. Obviously there are no dragons and the Bible uses it and other symbols. But these are far and away the exceptions in the Bible as the vast majority are very, very literal. Beware of false teachers who teach that all the Bible is but allegory, such as Jonah and the big fish, or the Garden of Eden, etc., etc. These and all events, places and things in the Bible are real and not allegory. God is very clear in Scripture when He uses allegory, parables, or other literary devices to communicate His Word.
- Begin with the primary meaning of the passage. Let the passage speak for itself. Seek to understand what the author had in mind. Flee from those that teach about things such as “Bible codes” or try to twist Scripture to support a meaning it never had in the first place. Making something complicated is usually an outward sign of someone that is going to great lengths to justify some kind of sin in their life or the choices they’ve made. Keep in mind that allegories and typology always illuminate what is already present in Scripture—they are never used as the basis for doctrine but to support and explain it in harmony with the rest of God's Word.
- The NT has priority. A long-time rule of interpretation is expressed in the saying, "The 'New' is in the 'Old' concealed, the 'Old' is in the 'New' revealed". In other words, what was initially set forth in the Old Testament is brought to light and fulfillment in the New Testament.