On Biblical Interpretation

Biblical interpretation is an exciting pursuit for me. Call me a Bible geek, but I consider digging around in God’s Word to be thrilling. The Bible never ceases to amaze me. It has many layers which always inform, inspire, and involve me at every level.

One of my goals in biblical interpretation is accuracy. That is, to do my best to understand and present the biblical text as accurately as possible.  I want to communicate as completely as possible the meaning and message within each passage. I do not want to get in the way of the text. I do not want my bias to influence communicating the intent of the text.  I like the way John H. Walton is his book,  The Lost World of Genesis Onesays it:

Sound interpretation proceeds from the belief that the divine and human authors were competent communicators and that  we can therefore comprehend that communication. But to do so we must respect the integrity of the author by refraining from replacing his message with our own.  (page 19).

I have three rules I follow when studying a passage of Scripture that help me “respect the integrity of the author” of the text.

  • I remember that not a single verse in the Bible was originally written to me.  (Walton makes this point well in his book.) As I approach a biblical text I do so understanding that it was originally written for someone else in a completely different context then that of my own. This helps me to not insert me and my situation into the text before I ever attempt to discover the initial reason and purpose of the text.
  • Scripture cannot mean now what it did not mean then.  Therefore it is critically important that I work to uncover what it meant then. That is, I do my homework to find out the original purpose and setting of the text. If my text is in Ephesians, for instance, then I need to learn about who they were and what was happening in their situation. I need– as much as possible– to know why Paul wrote to them and what their context was. By so doing, I can better avoid trying to make the text say something it was never intended to say.
  • A text without a context is a pretext. I do not remember when and where I first heard this, but it is so true. Proper biblical interpretation will always factor in the context to help unpack the many layers of rich truth in each text.  If we ignore context we do so at our own peril when it comes to understanding text. Without context, we can manipulate Scripture, hold it hostage to our own bias, and pretty much make it say what we want. Again, this is why it is so crucial to do our homework; find out what the text first meant by placing in firmly in its original time and setting.

These three simple rules help keep me “honest” when approaching a text. Maybe they can be helpful to you as well. The goal of biblical interpretation is to “correctly handle the word of truth”  (2 Timothy 2:15) in order to present its message as accurately and honestly as possible so its full intent and impact can be discovered and lived out in our lives today.

If you would like more information about biblical interpretation there are many excellent resources available.  Here are a few I suggest:

  • Walton’s book: While not really a book on biblical interpretation per se, it does provide some real nuggets in the intro and first part of the book about biblical interpretation. His exploration of his topic is also an excellent example of researching the broader context of the setting of a text.
  • How to Read the Bible for All it is Worth by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stewart: This is an easy-to-read resource that is extremely informative and practical. It is written so that everyone can benefit from reading it.
  • Toward an Exegetical Theology by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.  This is an older book, but it remains a standard when it comes to understanding biblical interpretation. If you are interested in digging a little deeper, then this book would be very helpful.
  • The Hermenutical Spiral by Grant R. Osbure.  Okay, if you are a geek about this like me, then here is your book.  It is textbook thorough. Plan to spend a little time with it.

7 Responses to On Biblical Interpretation

  1. mattdabbs says:

    Peterson – Eat This Book
    McKnight – Blue Parakeet
    Ryken – How to Read the Bible as Literature
    Johnson – Scripture and Discernment
    Carson – Exegetical Fallacies
    Fee & Stewart – How to Read the Bible Book by Book
    Klein, Blomberg & Hubbard – Introduction to Biblical Interpretation
    Walton – IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament
    Keener – IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament

  2. dannydodd says:

    Thanks Matt. I do not have Eat this Book yet, but heard good things about it. The IVP Bible Background Commentaries are invaluable.

  3. Kay Watson says:

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts on studying the Bible. It’s one of my favorite things to do also!

  4. geneat200 says:

    HU grad here. Lost wife to an affair by her in 1991. 13 years later married very Christian catholic girl. Have been therapist for years and feel called to preach. The coc in Salina KS said I would be a great therapist….but I will never preach…cricket sounds. “Your divorced and you married a catholic-we are all about family, ya know.” Any advice? Mike Cope has been silent in an email to him. Gene Garrison. Tell me this paleolithic approach is a fluke and do I need to move on and find that “One true church?”

    • mattdabbs says:

      I would bet Mike has been silent because he is crazy busy and sometimes doesn’t get to reading some emails for long periods of time. You will probably get an answer before too long. The beauty of Churches of Christ is congregational autonomy. It is not one-size fits all. There are some churches that will reject you over divorce and some that will be very accepting. Did you ask the elders in Salina how they could scripturally support their aversion to having you preach when you were scripturally divorced?

      • geneat200 says:

        I think having married a catholic was a big issue. Since she is as much a catholic as I am a High Priest of the Klingon empire, I thought this odd-I guess gone is the idea of being a seed blown back into good ground. My old HU friend is an elder in IN and said he would have an issue having me preach and stated he saw a difference in hiring and fellowship. I am still pondering that. Of course I enraged him by asking if that consideration for eldership included revelation of a child out of wed lock. Sorry, I degress
        I just seek input on a future as an evangelist in the movement. I grew up in.

  5. dannydodd says:


    Well, sorry to hear all of this. Speaking as a divorcee who is preaching, I know there is hope for you in this regard. I also am personally acquainted with several divorced preachers in our fellowship.

    Unfortunately, your elder friend is likely correct when he told you that being married to a Catholic lady (even if she is non-practicing) is the bigger hurdle.

    I do agree with Matt that we are certainly are a diverse body and that there could be a congregation open to using your preaching gifts.

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