The Keys of a Wholistic Biblical Method of Interpretation
Rev. Charles Cooper
of a wholistic biblical method of interpretation include literature,
grammar, history, context, and theology.
These five components are critical in discovering the Author/author's
intended meaning. Each component has very specific defining traits.
Defining traits are the characteristics of something that are most
necessary to its existence. For example an apple has defining traits:
a stem, a core with seeds, outer skin, flesh and juices. These elements
are necessary for an apple to be an apple. One must have the whole
apple before he or she can eat it or make apple sauce or juice.
study with a literary analysis. The Bible contains seven
distinct genres or types of literature: narrative, prophecy,
wisdom, psalm, gospel, epistle and apocalyptic.
Each type of literature has specific defining traits. Any attempt
to interpret a verse or paragraph from one of these genres must
be sifted through its defining traits. Narrative literature
allows one to convey history in the form of facts, stories, accounts,
and biographies from a theological perspective. Narrative literature
usually gives a straight forward account of what happen without
any commentary. The interpreter is not told to do or think anything.
Prophetic literature utilizes "thus says the Lord"
to make His people aware of His will concerning a particular issue.
Their response will result in God's present and future actions.
Poetic literature allows the author to express his emotional
state without reservation. Gospel literature conveys the
earthly life of Jesus Christ, documents His teachings, and outlines
the basic chronology of His life. Epistolary literature presents
ideas, concepts, doctrines, etc. often in the form of an argument.
Wisdom literature teaches basic truth concerning how one
lives wisely. Apocalyptic literature communicates a message
of hope to God's people in a time of tribulation. It employs various
figures of speech, narrative, poetry, and prophetic utterances.
Apocalyptic literature has nine specific defining traits. An interpreter
attempting to discover the meaning of a verse without a full understanding
of these traits will make errors in interpretation. Few Bible students
pay close attention to literary analysis; this often leads to errors
in interpretation and application. That is a very broad statement,
but it is altogether true.
your memory concerning the nature of the specific genre under consideration,
a grammatical analysis is the next step. It is logical to
examine grammar next since it is inherently more consistent than
the remaining elements of the interpretive process. Sentence structure
does not change. Subjects, verbs, objects, and modifiers are the
tools of communication. But be warned! Knowing how a word functions
in a given sentence seldom is the determinant in discovering a particular
passage's meaning. Often the grammar will only serve to help the
interpreter formulate the right questions which, when answered,
provide insight into the meaning of the text.
analysis includes the area of individual words. Words tend to evolve
over time. Word studies help the interpreter to trace the development
of a word from its beginnings to the time period of the particular
writing under consideration. Few words start and maintain the same
exact meaning from beginning to end. Usually a word will pass through
several stages before a fixed nuance is settled upon. Different
authors will use words differently. An interpreter makes a great
mistake in assuming a word always means the same thing regardless
of who used it and when. This type of error most often leads to
faulty interpretations. An example of this type of error occurs
with the word "saved." To mistakenly conclude that it
only refers to spiritual salvation from hell and eternal separation
from God will lead to faulty interpretations in many passages in
both the Old and New Testament. The term can also refer to physical
deliverance from sickness or a dangerous situation.
analysis also covers grammatical structure. Grammatical structure
deals with the relationship between or arrangement of terms within
a given passage of Scripture. At this point, an interpreter will
need to be very familiar with basic grammar. Relationships like
purpose, result, time, concession, means, manner, condition, comparison,
and contrast are indicated by adverbs and adjectives. Phrases and
clauses will also indicate these relationships. After grammar school,
English speakers normally do not think much about grammar. Though
grammar is used everyday, grammatical analysis is not. Adverb clauses
are the work-horses of the English language, but few can describe,
define, or state their importance. However, grammatical analysis
is crucial to the hermeneutical process. No part of a grammatical
diagram should be taken for granted; the importance of each word,
phrase, or clause may be relative, but understanding the Author/author's
intended meaning is impossible without each piece of the puzzle.
Grammar will not provide the answer to the problem, but it will
certainly limit the possibilities. When Paul writes "the love
of God constrains us," several options are available to the
interpreter. The New Testament uses two different words for "love."
Is it emotional love or intellectual love? That little word "of"
could mean "God's love for me" or "my love for God."
Which does Paul mean here? A word study would answer the first question
and further study would answer the second.
component of a wholistic biblical method of interpretation is historical
analysis. Concern yourself with the time period and the impact
of the events of the day in which the text was written. Take note
of beliefs, social norms, and material traits of the biblical world
that may have influenced the writers of the biblical text. Ask yourself:
(1) Where is the author and his audience? (2) What political, economic
and social situations are confronting them? (3) What cultural reference(s)
need to be defined? (4) What is the purpose of the writer for the
whole book? The Bible was not written in a vacuum. The writers and
the audience of the biblical text were confronted daily with situations
and circumstances which influenced their thoughts and conduct.
component is contextual analysis. All things being equal,
context will usually limit the range of interpretive possibilities
and will most effectively qualify the right answer. Each word must
be considered within the sentence. Each sentence must be considered
within the paragraph. Each paragraph must be considered within the
chapter. Each chapter must be considered within the book. Each book
must be considered within the whole Bible. The Olivet Discourse,
as recorded by Luke, indicates that both the disciples and all the
people heard Jesus' sermon on end-times. Matthew indicates only
the disciples heard the sermon. Mark indicates specifically that
Peter, James, John, and Andrew heard it. It is from the context
that these truths are gleaned.
component of a wholistic biblical method of interpretation is theological
analysis. By no means am I suggesting that this step is last
in importance. Rather, theological consideration is left last because
the whole of Scripture is the focus. Theological analysis concerns
itself with God and the continual revelation of His will for the
world. In attempting to understand a passage of Scripture, the interpreter
must be aware of past revelation and how the passage under consideration
advances it. Thus the two primary questions theological analysis
is concerned with are (1) What does the passage say about God; and
(2) What does the text say about God's will for His creation?
analysis must take into consideration that God's revelation of Himself
is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. There is no greater revelation
than Jesus Christ. How God unraveled human history progressively
to bring His Son into the world is the thread that runs throughout
Scripture. Equally important is the fact that human history is moving
to a definitive conclusion. Every passage of Scripture deals either
directly or indirectly with these issues. The interpreter's job
is to figure out how each passage contributes to our understanding
of these two important truths.
purposely simplified our explanation of the hermeneutical process
in order to help Bible students understand how they themselves can
study Scripture. However, this shorter statement on the hermeneutical
process should be understood as an overview of the topic rather
than a complete and exhaustive discussion of these matters. The
beginning Bible student would do well to give serious attention
to the whole matter of Bible interpretation before drawing conclusions
about difficult passages of Scripture. Sola Scriptura hopes to be
a help to those serious about Bible study. For more information
regarding hermeneutics and a list of recommended resources, please
contact us by mail, phone,