Any method of interpretation
carried to the extreme can lead to error. Any method used should be
applied to a minimal degree with integrity, legerity and simplicity
and without preconceived opinions regarding the meaning of the text.
The Bible is the living word of the living God so care and caution
should be exercised.
It is my firm belief that God gave the scriptures for us to understand so we could comprehend his grace and glory thereby enabling us to believe in Christ and worship and enjoy him forever. God’s word was not written for scholars who use human wisdom to interpret and then proffer as valid their view of what it means.
Prerequisites to understanding scripture are receiving Christ and prayerful reliance upon the Holy Spirit. Using a consistent method of interpretation throughout the entire Bible and relying solely upon the Holy Spirit achieves the best result.
Hermeneutics is a system of interpretation created by human wisdom. It is a fallible exercise because humans are sinful, therefore imperfect. The more varied and complex the methods used increases the probability of error. (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hermeneutics/), “always keeping in mind that these procedures, like all epistemological procedures, are bound to remain fallible.” How refreshingly true.
The Bible is not science but the very breath of the living, invisible, immortal Creator. (2 Timothy 3:13), “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” When the Bible speaks about that which is scientific or any other subject then it is correct but it is not a book of science. The Bible is a book of faith.
Scientific methods that are works of human wisdom should not be used for interpretation as if God’s word is a frog to be dissected or a theory to be proven. Scientific methods and tests exemplify a walk by sight not by faith. Agnostics and atheists thrive on scientific methods. Turnips are not apples and science is not faith. Scientific methods and tests are for science not for faith. God’s word does not have to be proven rather it should be believed and obeyed. Think of faithful Abraham.
(2 Corinthians 5:7), “7 for we walk by faith, not by sight.”
The just walk by faith and not by what can be seen and proven. Abraham believed God, obeyed God and walked in faith to search for an unseen city.
(Hebrews 11:6), “without faith it is impossible to please him”. His grace alone permits faith and understanding. Faith alone apart from works (human wisdom, scientific tests, etc.) is how God brings us into a saving relationship with himself.
Faith is God’s gift and our passport to enter eternal life that is possible only through the death and resurrection of our savior Jesus Christ. Because faith is God’s gift it is good and complete and lacking in anything human. The shining beauty of faith is above diamonds and rubies and its beauty cannot be enhanced by human wisdom. It value is far above gold and silver and gives us victory over the world. The filth and depravity of human wisdom is without beauty or value and we should never use such to soil the precious gift of faith.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,”
(I John 5:4)
“For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”
The Lord’s return is not a mystery. The work of eternal redemption through Christ was hidden in ages past. (Colossians 1:26), “the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints”. Christ’s redemptive work is now fully revealed including his return to complete our redemption by gathering his elect to himself.
A favorite subject for science fiction writers and TV shows is the cloak of invisibility. Theologians often use high sounding words like apocalyptic and mystic methods of human wisdom as a cloak. Hence some are discouraged from studying the Lord’s return or Bible study in general. They are intimidated by someone they perceive as more intelligent than themselves. The Greek word ‘apokalýptikos’ from which apocalyptic is derived means to reveal. Don’t be intimidated, study the Lord’s return for yourself.
Medical professionals sometime describe a condition with strange words to disguise an understanding of something simple. Cirrhosis simply means scaring such as in liver disease. The use of high sounding words and methods dressed in human wisdom masquerades as a clock of invisibility to hide what is no longer hidden.
The word ‘literal’ is vexing to some. Literal is a good and proper word that means “without interpretation or embellishment” or “limited to the explicit meaning of a word or text”. The use of it is relevant to the Bible because almost all the Bible is literal although symbolic language is also used at times but the symbols always portray literal people and events. The context reveals what is symbolic and what is not and hence it is easily understood without human wisdom. The word literal should not be avoided and those who use the word should not be denigrated.
Assorted forms of interpretation are used. Most are somewhat related to the three I will discuss. Dualism and parallelism are tactics not methods. You can learn of these different methods on the internet if you wish. I will give an explanation and offer comments on normal, genre and allegorical. Also I will discuss true interpretation of scripture.
Normal method of interpretation is uncomplicated. It involves reading and respecting the context, not adding to nor subtracting words from the text, what do words mean, do not change the meaning of words, observe the parts of speech used, observe the verb tenses used, note any symbolic language or metaphor, who is speaking and to whom, related passages, comparing scripture with scripture and plain reading of scripture.
Knowledge of the historical setting of a portion of scripture may help give perspective but it does not change the true meaning of what God has said. Historical setting is not a method of interpretation. Perspective means, "the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance".
Seeking to understand scripture with this method is normal interpretation.
Those of us who use the normal method recognize some passages of scripture as symbolic. An example of symbolic language is, (Psalms 23:2) “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” Using normal interpretation shows simply and plainly the writer meant that God, his shepherd (remember context), would supply his needs as does a shepherd who leads his flock to good pasture and safe water. Nothing hidden, no allegory, nothing deep, no genre needed, easily understood.
Prophetic passages sometimes use symbols such as “sun, moon and stars” but the symbols always represent real people involved in real events. An example, Joseph’s dreams in Genesis 37:5 – 10. The “sheaves” symbolized his brothers. The “sun, moon, and eleven stars” symbolized his mother, father and eleven brothers. The sun, moon and stars were symbols but the persons and events were real and were literally fulfilled as recorded in Genesis chapters 41 through 45. The context clearly shows his father, mother and brothers easily and plainly understood the symbols in Joseph's dreams referred to them and they were offended. Nothing hidden, no allegory, nothing deep, no genre needed, easily understood.
The use of symbolic language and symbols does not negate or obviate a real event or person. It is a portrayal, a word picture, to help understand the truth presented. It is a mistake to dismiss this type of passage as allegorical and think that it does not portray real people and real events. Nothing hidden, no allegory, nothing deep, no genre needed, easily understood.
A metaphor is used at times such as in 1 Corinthians chapter one where Paul uses the phrases, “foolishness of God” and “weakness of God”. This is the use of a metaphor. A metaphor is a figure of speech in which an expression is used to refer to something that it does not literally denote in order to suggest a similarity. Even a third grade student knows that there is no foolishness or weakness of God. A metaphor is not to be taken literally. Nothing hidden, no allegory, nothing deep, no genre needed, easily understood.
Jesus sometimes used parables, a type of analogy. An analogy is “drawing a comparison in order to show a similarity in some respect”. Below is an example. Read the context in Matthew 13 and you will easily understand the nature and purpose of a parable.
(Matthew 13:3 – 8)
“3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: "“A sower went out to sow."
4 "And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them."
5 "Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil,"
6 "but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away."
7 "Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them."
8 "Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”
What is an allegory?
1. a short moral story (often with animal characters)
2. a visible symbol representing an abstract idea
3. an expressive style that uses fictional characters and events to describe some subject by suggestive resemblances
“There has been a highly developed practice of interpretation in Greek antiquity, aiming at diverse interpretanda [to be interpreted] like oracles, dreams, myths, philosophical and poetical works, but also laws and contracts. The beginning of ancient hermeneutics as a more systematic activity goes back to the exegesis of the Homeric epics. The most remarkable characteristic of ancient exegesis was allegorisis (allegoría, from alla agoreuein, i.e., saying something different). This was a method of nonliteral interpretation of the authoritative texts which contained claims and statements that seemed theologically and morally inappropriate or false (Tate 1934). Such exegetical attempts were aiming at a deeper sense, hidden under the surface—hypónoia, i.e., underlying meaning. Allegorisis was practiced widely from the sixth century BCE to the Stoic and Neoplatonistic schools and even later (Scholz 2016: 18ff).” https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hermeneutics/
Allegorical interpretation is looking for a deeper, hidden or underlying meaning instead of the obvious. It was the practice of pagan Greeks who created the allegorical method. It is the preferred method of those who do not want to believe the word of God as written. This method is used by some when reading unfulfilled prophetic passages to find an allegorical, spiritual or deeper meaning rather than the obvious. Hence a thousand becomes something other than a thousand in Revelation chapter 20 and the Son of Man coming becomes the coming of the church in Matthew chapter 24. These are actual examples of allegorical interpretation.
(Colossians 2:8 New International Version 1984)
“See to it that no-one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.”
If the root is evil so is the tree that grows and the fruit produced. (Matthew 12:33), “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit.” Nothing good or scripturally worthwhile will come through the use of a method created by pagan Greeks.
What is alluring about the tools of pagan Greeks to interpret scripture? It appeals to human wisdom and massages the human ego. I am reminded of (Hebrews 12:1 – 2), “1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Cast off the weight of pagan wisdom and rely upon the Holy Spirit.
To interpret fulfilled prophecies using the normal method but then use an allegorical method to interpret unfulfilled prophecies is inconsistent. Again, the allegorical method was invented and practiced by pagan Greeks hundreds of years before Christ’s first advent. Augustine extensively used allegorical interpretation. Apostate Roman Catholic theologians past and present prefer this method.
Assuming unfulfilled prophecies to be allegorical in nature is a mistake and is in fact assuming facts not in evidence. Those who make such a presumption make the scripture subjective to their view. Subjective means, “taking place within the mind and modified by individual bias”. Any method used should be subjective to the scripture not the other way around. Allegorical interpretation subjects the scripture to the human mind.
I have tried to cover the background and use of allegorical interpretation more fully because it is the basis of the amillennial view of Christ’s return which is a majority view of reformed theologians and the official position of the Roman Catholic church. There is no need to buy a book if you desire to further study this method or check the verity of my comments, just use internet resources.
The unrestrained and subjective application of allegorical understanding leads into a realm of mystic imagination where the express precise language of the Spirit’s one meaning can easily become confused and lost. The human mind will always seek the downward path of human wisdom unless the Holy Spirit opens the mind to his precise truth apart from any ability or capacity within us.
(Luke 24:32), “They said to each other, Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”
(Romans 1:19 – 20)
“19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.
20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
In these verses we are taught that God’s revelation is plainly revealed, not hidden in a deeper level. What God has plainly shown to those already condemned should also be obvious to believers. Why would God clearly show himself and his works to those who perish and hide the truth of Christ’s return from his elect? Why look for the hidden among the obvious?
Heretics of the past became bored with the plain teaching of God’s word and left it to find a hidden meaning. The imaginations of their depraved mind became their guide instead of the Holy Spirit who guides into all truth. Like the condemned in Romans chapter one they exchanged the words of the immortal Creator for an understanding they preferred so they could define God their own way and fashion their doctrine and worship to match their own sinful desires.
Korah exchanged God’s clear word for his own understanding, rebelled against the authority of Moses and brought death to himself plus his family and those who stood with him and shared his view of God’s word. Read it in Numbers chapter 26.
The Bible is not just another book such as poetry, historical narrative, biography etc. Rather it is the breath of the only living God who spoke into existence everything that exists both seen and unseen. His words are eternal and shall never pass away. We are sinful flesh and will pass away like the green grass of summer. Eternal consequences will attend all who mishandle God’s word therefore anyone applying any method especially allegorical understanding to God’s word should exercise extreme caution.
Language is the means by which mankind communicates. God used known languages to communicate his word to mankind. Any language in which the clear definition of words is abandoned cannot remain a coherent means of understandable communication. Those who change definitions change the language. Any method of interpretation which abandons the clear definition of words is misleading and false. Those who use a false method because they assume it to be necessary will arrive at false conclusions. Allegorical interpretation is a false method of interpretation especially when applied to God's word.
Definition of genre
1. a kind of literary or artistic work
2. a style of expressing yourself in writing
3. an expressive style of music
4. a class of art (or artistic endeavor) having a characteristic form or technique
Another purported (purported means, have the often specious appearance of being, intending, or claiming) aid in interpretation classifies scripture by genre. This is a high sounding word that simply means to classify by class or style. The presumed need for it mistakenly assumes different genres require different methods of interpretation. Presume means “to accept without verification or proof”. Assume means “take to be the case or to be true; accept without verification or proof”. Who decides which classification is appropriate to a particular book or portion of scripture? Who decides which method applies to different genes. Should this method be used for scripture? Is it needed? Where are the scriptures that teach a need for its use.
Everything associated with genre is completely subjective. Subjective means “taking place within the mind and modified by individual bias”. Isaiah chapters 9 and 53 prophesy of Christ and were written in poetic verse. The genre would be poetry. Being written in poetic form does not change the meaning or aid in understanding these prophecies which were literally fulfilled in the new covenant as detailed in the section titled History of his 1st Advent.
Some use genre to classify the Pentateuch and other portions and books of scripture. The first five books of Old Covenant are often classified as law rather than history. Parts of it are then classified using a sub-genre to distinguish law from history. Are the Psalms music or poetry or both? It should be readily understood why this method is subjective and unnecessary. Classifications are decided by the classifier based upon their opinion.
Genre is used as a precursor to allegorical. It is the horse before the cart so to speak. The reader assigns a classification to a book or portion of scripture and then claims the use of a different method of interpretation is needed, usually allegorical. What a ridiculous and dangerous approach to the word of the only living God.
Genre or classification is subjective. Subjective means an “act taking place within the mind and modified by individual bias or a mental act performed entirely within the mind”. The bias in the mind influences the classification. After classifying something as prophetic or apocalyptic one then proceeds to use the allegorical method. From here the journey into mystic imagination begins. One is now unrestrained to insert his or her views and meaning into the context. This lack of restraint is simply a license to commit or believe error. Intellectualism and heresy go hand in hand.
Genre is useful when arranging folders in your filing cabinet or the file manager on your computer. However It is without value in understanding or interpretation of scripture. Use it where it is useful but not for interpretation of scripture.
C. I. Schofield used genre to classify portions of scripture in his study Bible. He assigned the genre of “kingdom” to the four gospels and proclaimed the teaching therein was not intended for the church. In doing so he denied the words of the Lord in (Matthew 28:19 – 20), 19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus’ command was for his followers to teach all nations what he had taught them. The gospels record the teachings of Jesus. Schofield was wrong in telling his readers that Jesus’ teachings were not intended for the church but for a future restored kingdom of Israel composed of the physical descendants of Abraham.
Assigning genre is arbitrary and a convenient avenue to insert or reinforce one’s own opinion. Human wisdom presumes the need for it but this presumption does not demonstrate the need for it nor proof of validity to use with scripture. Genre is arbitrary and therefore subjective; the classification becomes the prerogative of the reader.
Schofield’s use of classifying (genre) books of scripture made it easy and convenient for him to classify scripture to justify his teachings. In this he has Augustine for company. However, Schofield, unlike Augustine, did understand how to be saved. Unfortunately those teachings have been widely received so beware of an elaborate method of classifications.
Baptists recognize two classifications of the Bible; Old Covenant (works) and the New Covenant (grace) and these are sufficient. Knowing whether a text is poetry, law or history does not materially aid in understanding. When you read in the old covenant of Moses giving the law to the Israelites do you need to know whether it is history or law or both? When you read of God creating the heavens and the earth does it matter whether you call it history or something else. All scripture is the breath of God and is true but not everything related in scripture is to be emulated. Do not worship idols like Israel. Classify it all as truth and believe it and you cannot go wrong.
When music is classed by genre whether country, classical or other, nothing is added to the hearer’s appreciation of the music nor does it change the music as penned by the author. So it is with scripture. Assigning arbitrary classifications to books or portions of scripture adds nothing of value to the reader’s understanding or interpretation of the scripture. Scripture has only one meaning, what God meant, therefore it should never be subject to the discretion of human wisdom’s inventions.
Using human wisdom to interpret scripture appeals to human vanity. Using genre to classify scripture is an exercise of human wisdom. (1 Corinthians 1:21), “the world did not know God through wisdom”. If the world did not and cannot know God through wisdom then how can we understand his word through wisdom? God did not choose the use of human wisdom so why would any believer choose human wisdom? Look to God’s wisdom not to human wisdom.
Human intellectualism (human wisdom) is depraved, denies and defies God and is destructive of sound doctrine. My definition of intellectualism is placing emphasis on the inventions of the human intellect in pursuit of understanding God’s written word. Human wisdom has been in rebellion against God since Adam rebelled, denied the verity of God’s word and violated God’s command by eating the fruit forbidden by God. His sinful rebellion brought both physical and spiritual death to all his descendants. Intellectualism is a source of conceit in those who are captivated and entrapped by it. (Jeremiah 17:9), “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
Use genre to classify the music collection on your computer or to classify anything you wish but it is worthless as a Bible study tool. There does not exist a cogent explanation why it is needed in Bible study. There is no way to prove the need for use with scripture. There is not a word or verse in scripture that justifies its use.
It is presumptuous to assume genre is needed. Assumptions determine conclusions. Example; one assumes genre is needed therefore one concludes it is needed. How utterly ridiculous is such a conclusion. A false assumption always leads to a false conclusion. Assuming something to be a fact when evidence shows otherwise is the basic lie underneath the teaching of evolution and of liberals who deny the authority of God’s word.
Using genre is using depraved human wisdom. Using genre is without merit in connection to the Bible. Using genre is a means of subjecting the Bible to the bias of the depraved human mind. Using genre is a license to inject human opinion into the Bible. Using genre is totally apart from the guiding of the Holy Spirit. Using genre lays the foundation to use allegorical interpretation. Using genre leads to mystic imagination. Using genre is not appropriate for the Bible. Using genre is human wisdom so avoid it when studying the Bible.
Try the spirits and also try the methods and the doctrines which proceed from them.
Relevant words from Solomon. (Ecclesiastes 1:16 – 18)
“16 I said in my heart, I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.
17 And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind.
18 For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.”
Relevant words from Paul. (1 Corinthians 1:29 – 30)
19 “For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.
22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,
23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,
24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.
27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;
28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,
29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Only the Spirit of the living immortal invisible God can permit and enable us by his grace to understand his word. Remember the words of Martin Luther’s wonderful hymn, “The Spirit and the gifts are ours through him who with us sideth.” This promise of our loving Lord was recorded in the gospel according to John.
(John 16:13) “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”
Paul also wrote about the work of the Holy Spirit.
(1 Timothy 4:1)
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons,”
Expressly means, "with specific intentions; for the express purpose". The Spirit speaks expressly, explicitly, precisely. The Holy Spirit guides into all the truth; he speaks with authority; he declares the things to come and he speaks expressly or precisely.
Understanding God’s word is wholly, completely, totally, absolutely the purview of the Holy Spirit who works without and apart from human wisdom.
“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
God’s spirit is evident but how he works is mysterious and untraceable.
The Spirit reveals God through creation and the written word. He is inscrutable and he works mysteriously within a realm hidden from our senses and knowledge.
(Romans 11:33 – 36)
“33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?
35 Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”
The Holy Spirit was active in leading and guiding God’s people in the old covenant. Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. The Holy Spirit was active in the book of Acts as he led and guided the early church.
(Romans 8:26 – 28)
“26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
Today the Holy Spirit is actively leading and guiding the body of Christ. We may not hear or see but the Spirit is here doing God’s will for the believer. Those who believe otherwise do not believe God's word.
We should not neglect the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.
(I Thessalonians 5:19)
“Do not quench the Spirit.”
“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,”
“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
It is unfortunate that misunderstanding and misuse by some has caused others to avoid speaking of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. He is with us and in us doing his work mysteriously beyond our understanding. Cold formalist orthodoxy divorced from the Holy Spirit is as dead as affectionate vibrant liberalism divorced from sound doctrine.
The words of the Apostle Paul should be our mindset as we seek to understand scripture.
(2 Corinthians 4:1 – 6)
“1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.
2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.
4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.
6 For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”