How to Interpret the Bible Accurately: Principles of Accurate Interpretation

© Ron Jones, D.D. 2001

1. The Bible is the inspired Word of God and is therefore true, inerrant, and cannot contradict itself.

Every part of the Bible and its doctrine will be in agreement with all other parts.

This principle has four implications:

a. The historical, geographical, and scientific statements in the Bible are as true as the spiritual statements.

b. Not all quotations of individuals in the Bible are true, but are accurately recorded.

c. One book of the Bible cannot contradict another book of the Bible in its record of details.

d. One book of the Bible cannot contradict another book of the Bible in its doctrine.

2. Let Scripture explain Scripture and develop doctrines based on all that the Bible says.

3. When two doctrines, which are clearly taught in the Scripture, appear to be contradictory, we must accept that both are true and their resolution is above our human understanding.

4. Narrative examples in the Scriptures should be accepted as authoritative only when supported by a Biblical command.

5. The Biblical statements that clearly teach doctrine are to explain the statements that imply doctrine.

6. The words and sentences of Scripture should be understood literally, i.e. in their usual, normal, and ordinary usage of that day.

Literal Interpretation would include simple statements and the use of figures of speech.

Simple statements involve taking the words to mean their simple and plain sense without a metaphorical expression or any fictional elements.

Simple statement: Matt.27:50 a simple statement of Jesus’ death.

Figures of speech are expressions of normal, everyday usage and are part of a literal approach to Scripture. There are metaphors, similes, types, and the like. The Bible is full of these as is any literature.

Some figures of speech are

1. Similes.

A simile is a comparison in which one thing resembles another in one or more characteristics and they are compared using the word "like" or "as."

Lu.10: 3 "I am sending you out like lambs among wolves"

2. Metaphors.

A metaphor is a comparison in which one thing resembles another in one or more characteristics and they are compared except "like" or "as" are not used.

Matt.5: 13 "You are the salt of the earth."

3. Personifications

This is the ascribing of human characteristics or actions to inanimate objects or ideas or to animals.

Isa. 55: 12 "the trees clap their hands"

4. Anthropomorphisms

This is the ascribing of human characteristics to God.

Ps. 8: 3 "the work of your fingers

5. Types

A type is someone or something in the OT which symbolizes someone or something in the NT.

The Passover lamb is a type of Christ. Exod.12: 21, 1 Cor.5: 6-8

To interpret the Bible literally means to understand that the authors used both simple literal speech and figures of speech. The key is determining which is which.

How do we determine what is figurative and what is not?

1. If the simple sense makes sense, do not seek a figurative sense.

2. If the simple sense doesn’t make sense, then seek the figurative sense if it agrees with the rest of Scripture.

3. If an expression is taken in the simple sense, and contradicts other clear Scriptures, the expression may be a figure of speech if that makes sense and agrees with the rest of Scripture.

4. Don’t take an OT person, thing, or event as a type unless the NT indicates it is a type.

7. The meaning of a text of Scripture is the author’s intended meaning for his readers when he wrote it. The author’s intended meaning must be discovered by the context of his writing.

There are four main contexts:

1. What is the historical/cultural context of the writing?

2. What is the "flow of thought" of the book, chapter, or paragraph of the writing?

3. What is the grammatical context (the meaning of words and sentences and the way they are put together)? The same word may have a different meaning in two different contexts

4. What is the literary context (the type of literature it is)?

8. Let Scripture interpret your personal experience. Do not let your personal experience interpret Scripture.

9. Once the correct interpretation of a Scriptural statement has been discovered, base the application of it on the common elements contemporary Christians have with OT and NT believers.

10. Hold fast to the truths of the gospel, which the Holy Spirit has given you at salvation as you seek to interpret God’s Word.

11. Submit to the equipping ministry of the pastor-teachers and other teachers given by Christ and gifted by the Holy Spirit

12. Commit to the goal of understanding a Scriptural statement by wisdom and discernment and pray for the Lord’s help in discovering its meaning.

13. Apply the Scriptural statement to your life depending on the Holy Spirit to work in your life and produce His fruit.