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I. Its History and Development


A. The Jewish Precursor

1. There was a slight tendency among the Palestinian Rabbis to make the ancient laws applicable to their day by means of allegory (cf. Asher Feldman, The Parables and Similes of the Rabbis, Agricultural and Pastoral).

2. Philo

a. He (20 b.c.-a.d. 55) was an intellectual Jewish Platonist from Alexandria, Egypt.

b. He learned his method from the allegorical tradition of the Greeks. They had wed the religious writings of Homer to the philosophical and historical writings by the use of allegory. The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer was used to teach logic, ethics, and science. Philo was heavily influenced by Plato and Pythagoras (160 b.c.) another Alexandrian Jew.

c. He was not influential among the Palestinian rabbis because he lived in the Diaspora and was not a rabbi.

d. He found hidden philosophical meaning in the Old Testament by purposely disregarding the historical setting and the intent of the original biblical author’s message.

e. He allegorized the Old Testament passages if:

(1) the text spoke of that which seemed unworthy of God.

(2) the text contained any perceived inconsistencies.

(3) the text contained any perceived historical problems.

(4) the text could be allegorically applied to his Greek mind set and culture.

f. He attempted to remove the exclusiveness of Israel and the physical aspects of YHWH (i.e., anthropomorphism following Aristōbūlus of Alexandria).

g. He allegorized the Old Testament in an attempt to make it relevant to his day and culture.

h. He believed that God spoke to humans supremely through the Jewish Scriptures but also by His Spirit through the Greek philosophers.


B. The development of the allegorical school in Alexandria, Egypt

1. Philo’s basic approach to interpretation was utilized by early Christian leaders at Alexandria in interpreting the Old and New Testaments.

2. Clement’s (Clement of Alexandria, a.d. 150-216) five levels of interpretation from the least significant to the most significant are:

a. the historical or literal sense

b. the doctrinal sense (moral, religious, and theological)

c. the prophetic or typological sense

d. the philosophical sense (uses historical events and persons as representations of philosophical truths and categories)

e. the mystical or allegorical sense

3. Origen (a.d. 182-251) continued this basic approach:

a. He reacted to the uneducated literalism of popular theology of his day by finding symbolism in everything.

b. He arbitrarily combined Prov. 22:20-21 with I Thess. 5:23 to form a hermeneutical principle.

c. With this combination of Scriptures he asserted that every text had three levels of interpretation.

(1) a "bodily" or literal sense (for the common man)

(2) a "soulish" or moral sense (for leaders and merchants)

(3) a "spiritual" or mystical/allegorical sense (for the pneumatikoi who have time, insight, and interest)

4.The allegorical method of interpretation focused on the symbolic use of numbers:

a. The alphabets of Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) languages were also used for their numbering system: aleph = 1, beth = 2, gimal = 3, delet = 4, etc. Therefore, words had numerical values. Words with equivalent values could be substituted for each other in Bible passages.

b. Numbers also had symbolic meaning themselves (this is also true of the OT):

(1) 1 - God

(2) 4 - the earth

(3) 6 - human imperfection

(4) 7 - divine perfection

(5) 10 - completion

(6) 12 - organization 

5. Ambrose’s (a.d. 340-379) allegory influenced Augustine (a.d. 354-430) in his four levels of interpretation, the last being the best. Augustine used II Cor. 3:6 ("Not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills but the Spirit gives life") as a proof-text for his practical depreciation of the literal sense.

a. the literal—teaches historical events

b. the allegorical—what you should believe

c. the moral—what you should do

d. the mystical—what you should hope

6. An example of Augustine’s four-fold method is "Jerusalem" in Gal. 4:22ff.

a. literal—the city

b. allegorically—the church of Christ

c. moral—the human soul

d. mystical—the heavenly city which is mother of us all

7. Augustine's theory of hermeneutics was very different from his practice. His theory was very similar to the principles of the literal school, but his practice tended to be allegorical (cf. Bernard Ramm’s Protestant Biblical Interpretation, pp. 36-37).

8. See Augustine’s use of the parable of the Good Samaritan in How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, p. 136.


C. The strengths of the allegorical method:

1. attempted to use the Old Testament as a Christian document pointing to Christ

2. followed the example of Jesus (Matthew 13; Mark 4, Parable of the soils) and Paul (Galatians 4:25-26, the two mountains, Sinai and Moriah) who used typology

3. attempted to relate gospel truth to their day (as did Philo and Gnostics)

4. Suggested reading: Has the Church Misread the Bible? by Moises Silva


D. The problems of the allegorical method:

1. It imported meaning into the text.

2. It forced a hidden meaning behind every text.

3. It put forth fanciful and far-fetched interpretations.

4. It did not allow words and sentences to bear their obvious, normal meanings.

5. It allowed human subjectivity (the interpreter) to dominate the plain message of the original author.

6. There are no controls on interpretation, no way to evaluate an interpretation.

7. Martin Luther called it "clerical jugglers performing monkey tricks," "a sort of beautiful harlot."

8. In Hexaemeron (9,1) Basil of Caesarea (A.D. 330-379) says:

"I know the laws of allegory, though less by myself than from the works of others. There are those who do not admit the common sense of the Scriptures, for whom water is not water, but something else, who see in a plant, in a fish, what their fancy wishes, who change the nature of reptiles and of wild beasts to suit their allegories, like the interpreters of dreams who explain visions in sleep, to make them serve their own ends. For me grass is grass—plant, fish, wild beast, domestic animal, I take it all in the literal sense. For I am not ashamed of the gospel (Rom. 1:16)."

There are the two extremes—allegory and literalism. The Bible is a library of literary works related to a specific time and culture. Genre and context are crucial!9.It needs to be admitted that the early "orthodox" theologians were from Alexandria. God used this approach to interpretation to speak to the lost and the saved for several centuries.


II. The Reactionary School of Antioch of Syria (Lucian [a.d. 250-312], Diodorus of Tarsus [a.d. 378), Theodore of Mopseutsia [a.d. 350-428, Chrysostom [a.d. 345-407])


A. It has something of a precedent in the literal hermeneutical approach of the rabbis (Aquiba and Hillel).


B. It focuses on the plain, obvious, ordinary, common sense meaning of words and sentences.


C. It tried to understand the original author’s intent and interpret in light of his historical setting.


D. Because of its textual focus, it came to be called the historical-grammatical school of interpretation.


E. It became involved in the controversy over the natures of Christ (Nestorianism heresy which asserted Jesus had two natures, human and divine) and was disciplined out of existence by the Western church (Rome).


F. Therefore, it moved from Antioch in Syria to Persia after a.d. 553 and lost its influence.


G. Its basic tenets were the interpretive approach of the Classical sixteenth century Protestant Reformers (Luther, Calvin and Ziwingli), which they received, in part, from Nicholas of Lyra.


III. Its Basic Tenets


A. The Bible is written in normal human language. James W. Sire in his book Scripture Twisting makes two good points:

1. "The illumination comes to the minds of God’s people—not just to the spiritually elite. There is no guru class in biblical Christianity, no illuminati, no people through whom all proper interpretation must come. And, so, while the Holy Spirit gives special gifts of wisdom, knowledge and spiritual discernment, He does not assign these gifted Christians to be the only authoritative interpreters of His Word. It is up to each of His people to learn, to judge and to discern by reference to the Bible which stands as the authority over even those to whom God has given special abilities" (p. 17).

2. "To summarize, the assumption I am making throughout the entire book is that the Bible is God’s true revelation to all humanity, that it is our ultimate authority on all matters about which it speaks, that it is not a total mystery but can be adequately understood by ordinary people in every culture" (pp. 17-18).


B. The Bible must be interpreted in light of its own historical setting and literary context.


C. The intent of the original inspired author as expressed in the text is the focus of interpretation.


IV. Seven Interpretive Questions to Help Modern Interpreters Think Through All of these Hermeneutical Issues


A. What did the original author say? (textual criticism)


B. What did the original author mean? (exegesis)


C. What did the original author say elsewhere on the same subject? (parallel passages and biblical theology)


D. What did other biblical authors say on the same subject? (parallel passages and systematic theology)


E. How did the original hearers understand it? (historical and literary context)


F. How does the original message apply to my day? (cultural application)


G. How does the original message apply to my life? (personal devotion and implementation)


H. These seven questions (and four reading cycles) will be used in this seminar as stages of interpretive methodology.


V. The First Interpretive Question: Establish the original text—textual criticism


A. The problem of the original languages

1. Must we know the original languages of the Bible (i.e., Ancient Hebrew, Royal Aramaic and Koine Greek) to accurately interpret it?

2. The author’s presuppositions about interpretation:

a. God wants all mankind to know Him!

b. He gave us a written record (to a particular culture in a particular time) in order that we may know Him.

c. He sent His Son to reconcile us to Himself.

d. He wants all humans to be saved.

e. The vast majority of the world only has a translation of the Bible.

f. Scholars are not priests or mediators—even they disagree.

g. Scholars are gifts to the church, but the average person can understand for himself/herself the vast majority of the Bible's message and certainly what is needed for faith and practice.


B. The use of modern translations

1. They are adequate for understanding biblical truths, but need to be handled with caution.

2. When studying the Bible compare at least two translations which differ in translation theory:

a. literal (word for word correspondence)

(1) interlinears (Hebrew or Greek text with English under each word)

(2) King James (KJV)

(3) New King James (NKJV)

(4) American Standard Version (ASV)

(5) New American Standard Bible (NASB)

(6) Revised Standard Version (RSV)

(7) New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

b.idiomatic (dynamic equivalent, expresses the same meaning but do not focus on how many words)

(1) New English Bible (NEB)

(2) Revised English Bible (REB)

(3) Jerusalem Bible (JB)

(4) New Jerusalem Bible (NJB)

(5) New International Version (NIV)

(6) The New Testament in the Language of the People by Charles Williams

(7) Good News for Modern Man or Today's English Version (TEV)

3. Most manuscript problems can be identified by referring to the marginal notes of modern study Bibles (especially helpful is the NIV Study Bible, which is the only modern study Bible where the translators of the original text also wrote the footnotes; now available in NASB Study Bible)

4. The comparing of English translations from differing translation theories will identify problem areas.

a. manuscript variations

b. word meaning options

c. grammatical options

d. theological biases

5. Suggested reading

a. See Appendix Two of this Seminar

b. How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, p. 34-44.

c. Translator’s Handbooks published by United Bible Societies (on each separate book of the Bible).


C. The problem of manuscript variants

1. We do not have "the autograph copies" of Scripture. This refers to the original handwritten manuscripts of the Bible authors.

2. We are over a thousand years from OT originals and hundreds of years (i.e., 200-400) from NT originals. All that we have are handwritten copies of copies of copies of copies! Some of these are good, some not so good, but all are hand copied.

a. Old Testament

(1) Masoretic Text (MT) finished in the 9th century a.d.

(2) Dead Sea Scrolls (DDS) from the Roman b.c. period

(3) Septuagint (LXX) from about 250 b.c. (i.e., the Letter to Aristeas) to possibly 100 b.c. (i.e., modern scholarship)

b. New Testament

(1) the Papyri from the second century a.d.

(2) the Greek texts (uncials) written in all capital letters with no spaces between words, from the fourth through the ninth centuries a.d.

(3) the Greek texts (minuscules) written in all small connected letters (running script) from the ninth through the fifteenth centuries a.d.

3. Suggested reading

a. The Book and the Parchments by F.F. Bruce.

b. "Texts and Manuscripts of the Old Testament" Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 5, p. 683ff.

c. "Texts and Manuscripts of the New Testament" Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 5, p. 697ff.

d. Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism by J.H. Greenlee.

e. Biblical Criticism: Historical, Literary, and Textual by Bruce Waltke and Gordon Fee.

f. The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? by F.F. Bruce.

g. Translating the Word of God by J. Beekman and J. Callow.

4. Suggested helps

a. Notice the marginal readings of modern translations.

b. Compare modern translations from different categories of translation theories. One excellent tool is The Bible in Twenty-Six Translations, Baker Publishers, ed. Curtis Vaughan.

c. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, by Bruce M. Metzger, published by The United Bible Societies.


D. The problem of human language when talking about God

1. It is based on analogous relationships, metaphors, figures of speech and negations.

2. It is limited by our fallen human condition and this physical world’s terminology.

3. It is never exhaustive.

4. It is adequate.


E. The problem of interpreting ancient written texts

1. The changing meaning of words and idioms.

2. The absence of voice inflection and body language.

3. The syntactical differences in human languages.


VI. The Second Interpretive Question - Understanding the Original Author’s Meaning


A. Identify the original author’s purpose(s) in the biblical book.

1. Understanding the whole Bible book or literary unit will help analyze the parts (deductive reasoning).

2. Outlining of the entire book to paragraph level is the best approach to facilitate identifying and following the original author’s thought units. This should be done without the use of research helps.

3. Use a series of four reading cycles to identify the genre, the literary context, and the historical setting.

a. First reading (read the whole book or at least the literary unit you are studying in one sitting)

(1) Look for overarching plan or purpose(s) of the book.

(2) Look for the key verse(s) or paragraph(s) that express its theme(s).

(3) Identify the literary genre of the book or literary unit.

b. Second reading

(1) Note the major literary units (thought units or topics).

(2) Summarize their content in your own words in a simple phrase or sentence.

(3) Check your outline with study aids:

(a) study Bibles

(b) Bible encyclopedias, handbooks, or dictionaries

(c) commentaries

(d) biblical introductions

c. Third reading

(1) Note the internal information (i.e., from the writing itself) about the historical setting.

(a) author of writing

(b) date of writing

(c) recipients of writing

(d) occasion of writing

(2) Add to your outline the major literary units the paragraph divisions. This will form a detailed outline of the entire book. Paragraph divisions will change from translation to translation (compare several translations). They are not inspired. Look at several and decide for yourself which one best divides the original author's thought units into subjects.

(3) Capsule the content of each paragraph in a brief statement (try to express the central thought or topical sentence of the paragraph in your own words). This is the best way to follow the original author’s topics and thoughts.

(4) The difficulty in outlining to paragraph level is that paragraphs often function at different levels of our outlining. Sometimes they form a major unit in and of themselves. But oftentimes they form a small part of a larger literary unit. When you first begin this interpretive procedure compare your outline with several study Bibles, commentaries, and other Bible interpretation helps.

d. Fourth reading

(1) Use parallel passages (in the Bible) and systematic theologies (a type or research book) to gain the big picture (i.e., biblical worldview)

(a) The need to compare parallel passages asserts the belief that all biblical texts have one divine author—the Holy Spirit, and therefore, do not contradict, but rather complement each other. However, for study purposes there is an order of exegetical significance.

i. the same literary unit

ii. the same book

iii. the same author

iv. the same genre

v. the same testament

vi. all of the Bible

(b) the use of a type of theology book generically called "systematic theologies" is very helpful (but the most denominationally biased). They divide the truths of the Bible into categories (God, mankind, Scripture, salvation, etc.). By using the Scriptural index at the back of these books one is able to quickly see how the text being studied relates to the major themes of the Bible (only one, one of several, part of a paradox).

(2) Develop specialized ways to develop specialized lists in order to discern the original author’s structure/thought.

(a) list the major and minor characters (i.e., Genesis)

(b) list key term(s)

i. major theological terms

ii. recurrent terms

iii. terms used to express the central truth of the passage

iv. unusual or unknown terms

(c) list the major events (Acts)

(d) list the geographical movements (Exodus and Numbers or Acts)

(3) Note especially difficult passages (textual, historical, theological, or verses that cause confusion).

(4) At this point it is helpful to complete the detailed outline of the entire book. On the left hand side of a page put the content outline (major literary units and paragraph divisions with your brief statement of their central truth). On the right hand side of the page put the possible application points related to each item in the content outline. There should be an application truth for each major literary unit and paragraph. As you discern the author’s central thought in each paragraph, how does that truth, illustration, parable, example, etc. apply to your culture, your day, your life? There are examples, e.g., Rom. 1-3 and Titus, in the back of this seminar.


B. The significance of literary genres

1. Examples of the different types and their basic literary units which vary from genre to genre

a. poetry: strophe or stanza

b. proverb: look for thematic parallels

c. prophecy: whole oracle

d. historical narrative: the event

e. gospels: pericope

f. letters

g. apocalyptic: oracle 

2. The different interpretive principles related to specific genres

a. Poetry

(1) Hebrew poetic structure is related to thought relationships, not rhyme. These thought relationship structures are the key to Old and New Testament poetry.

(a) synonymous (same thought restated, Ps. 8:4)

(b) antithetical (opposite thought, Prov. 10:1; 15:1)

(c) synthetic or climatic (thought is developed, Ps. 19:7-9)

(d) chiastic

(2) Identify figurative language - restate it in a declarative statement.

(3) Express central truth of the strophe in a simple declarative statement.

(4) Do not push the details.

b. Proverb

(1) Look for application to daily life.

(2) Parallel passages on the same topic are more helpful than context.

(3) Isolate and identify figures of speech.

(4) The truth expressed is usually general in nature and not always applicable to every particular situation.

c. Prophecy

(1) The historical context is crucial.

(2) Focus on central truth of the whole oracle, not details.

(3) There are often multiple fulfillments (i.e., virgin birth in Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:23; Luke 1:26-38 and abomination of desolation in Dan. 9:27; 11:31; 12:11; Matt. 24:15; Mark 13:14).

(a) Check Old Testament background or parallels.

(b) Check Jesus' teachings.

(c) Check New Testament parallels.

(d) Check immediate context both before and after the passage or literary unit for possible historical setting.

(4) Messianic prophecy (i.e., OT) has two focuses.

(a) the Incarnation

(b) the Second Coming

(5) The prophets often record more than they understood. In this case it is the authorial intent of the Holy Spirit not the original human author that is the key. This can be ascertained by historical and/or New Testament fulfillments. Parallel passages become very helpful at this point.

(6) This genre is often hard to interpret.

(a) H.H. Rowley: "It is not to be denied that prophetic books are not easy to understand. They consist so largely of brief oracles, put together on no very clear principles of arrangement, with sudden transitions from one oracle to another, and usually with but the scantiest of evidence of the situation that gave them birth." The Relevance of the Bible (p. 53).

(b) R. Girdlestone: "There is no royal road to the scientific study of prophecy." The Grammar of Prophecy (p. 104).

(c) T. Miles Bennett: "Prophecy has its own peculiar time perspective. . .For a correct understanding of their point of view the interpreter must think first of the signpost rather than the blueprint."

(d) Douglas Stuart in How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, says "Less than 2 percent of OT prophecy is messianic. Less than 5 percent specifically describes the New Covenant Age. Less than 1 percent concerns events yet to come" (p. 166).

d. Historical Narrative

(1) Read much larger sections of Scripture, often several chapters (i.e. life of Abraham or Joseph).

(2) Often the truth is implied, not stated.

(a) notice the dialogue between characters

(b) notice repeated words or phrases

(c) notice authorial comments

(d) look for summary statements which conclude the literary units

(3) This type of genre expects the reader to

(a) have read the whole book

(b) be familiar with previous Scripture

(4) A good book in the area is A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible by Robert H. Stein, pp. 151-167.

e. The Gospels

(1) Comparing the different Gospels is often not as helpful as focusing on immediate context. The Gospel writers did not intend their work to be compared with other accounts of the life of Jesus. Focus on why they selected, adapted or arranged an event in Jesus’ life.

(2) Identify thought units and genre.

(3) Remember the New Testament letters interpret and apply the Gospels.

(4) Jesus said some hard and ambiguous things, however, we must focus on the obvious and clear statements.

(5) The Gospels are not western biographies or autobiographies, but evangelistic tracts! (cf. John 20:31)

(6) Parables in the Gospels

(a) Notice context

i. introductory statements

ii. concluding statements

iii other elements in the literary unit

(b) Look for central truth(s) (cf. Luke 15:1-24, 25-32).

(c) Do not usually push the details of the story (exceptions are: the parable of the sower and the wicked vineyard keepers).

(d) Some parables emphasize similarity (Prodigal Son, Luke 15:11-32) and others contrast (the Wicked Judge, Luke 18:1-8).

(e) Look for that which would startle or surprise the original hearers. This is usually the key point.

(f) Parables require us to change the way we think or act about spiritual things. They are meant to effect a change.

(g) Do not build doctrine solely on parables.

f. NT Letters and other historical narratives

(1) This is the easiest genre to interpret because it is structured like western logical writings.

(2) Focus on context:

(a) historical setting

(b) literary context: : literary unit (i.e., chapter[s] or paragraph[s]s)

(3) The central truths of the literary unit and the paragraph are the stepping stones to understanding the original inspired author’s thoughts.

g. Apocalyptic

(1) Apocalyptic is a uniquely Jewish literary genre. It was often used in tension-filled times to express the conviction that God was in control of history and would bring deliverance to His people. This type of literature is characterized by

(a) a strong sense of the universal sovereignty of God (monotheism and determinism)

(b) a struggle between good and evil, this evil age and the age of righteousness to come (dualism)

(c) use of secret code words (usually from the OT or intertestamental Jewish apocalyptic literature)

(d) use of colors, numbers, animals, sometimes animals/humans

(e) use of angelic mediation by means of visions and dreams, but usually through angelic mediation and interpretation

(f) primarily focuses on the soon-coming, climatic events of the end-time (new age)

(g) use of a fixed set of symbols, not reality, to communicate the end-time message from God

(2) There is a sense of duality in this genre. It sees reality as a series of dualisms, contrasts, or tensions (so common in John’s writings) between:

(a) heaven - earth

(b) evil age (evil humans and evil angels) - new age of righteousness (godly humans and godly angels)

(c) current existence - future existence

All of these are moving toward a consummation brought about by God. This is not the world God intended it to be, but He is continuing to plan, work, and project His will for a restoration of the intimate fellowship begun in the Garden of Eden. The Christ event is the watershed of God’s plan, but the two comings have brought about the current dualisms

(3) These apocalyptic works were never presented orally; they were always written. They are highly structured, literary works. The structure is crucial to a proper interpretation.

Two very helpful and insightful books are D. Brent Sandy’s Plowshares and Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic and John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination.

3. Suggested reading

a. Interpreting the Bible by A. Berkely Mickelsen

b. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart

c. How to Understand Your Bible by T. Norton Sterrett

d. Protestant Biblical Interpretation by Bernard Ramm

e. Linguistics and Biblical Interpretation by Peter Cotterell and Max Turner

f. Literary Approaches to Biblical Interpretation by Tremper Longman III

g. Exegetical Fallacies by D.A. Carson

h. Plowshares and Pruning Hooks by D. Brent Sandy

i. A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible by Robert H. Stein


C. Identify the Grammatical Relationships by Comparing English Translations of Differing Translation Theory (a more detailed discussion of Greek grammar is at the back of the seminar entitled "Definitions of Greek Grammatical Forms that Impact Interpretation")

1. Word and clause order (use interlinear)

a. Normal word for Koine Greek is verb, subject, object.

b. Usually the emphatic word is placed first. This is called fronting

(1) Gal. 2:20 "with Christ"

(2) Heb 1:1 "bit by bit and in many different ways"

2. Verbs (every form except AORIST ACTIVE INDICATIVE) have some type of marked prominence

a. Tense (kind of action and indicative of time)

b. Voice (the who of the action)

c. Mood (the reality of the action)

d. An example: the verb tenses describe salvation

(1) Saved: AORIST, Acts 15:11; Rom. 8:24; II Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:5

(2) Have been saved: PERFECT, Eph. 2:5, 8

(3) Being saved: PRESENT, I Cor. 1:18; 15:2; II Cor. 2:15

(4) Shall be saved: FUTURE, Rom. 5:9, 10; 10:9; I Cor. 3:15; Phil. 1:28; I Thess. 5:8-9; Heb. 1:14; 9:28

3. Conjunctions and connectors

4. Repetitions of word or phrases

a. "these are the generations of" in Gen. 2:1; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10, 27; 25:12, 19; 36:1, 9; 37:2

b. "to the praise of His Glory" in Eph. 1:6, 12, 14

c. Series of AORIST PASSIVE VERBS, I Tim. 3:16

5. Idioms

a. "hate" (cf. Gen. 29:31, 22; Deut. 21:15; Luke 14:26; John 12:25; Rom. 9:13)

b. "bless" (cf. Job 1:5, 11; 2:5, 9)

c. "all" versus "many" (cf. Isa. 53:6,11-12 and Rom. 5:15-19, esp. compare v. 18 and v. 19)

6. Grammatical structure

a. CONDITIONAL sentences (4 types)

b. PRESENT IMPERATIVE with the NEGATIVE PARTICLE (usually means to stop an act in process)

c. AORIST IMPERATIVE with the NEGATIVE PARTICLE (do not start an act)

7. Suggested reading

a. Word Pictures in the New Testament by A.T. Robertson

b. Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible by Joseph Bryant Rotherham, published by Kregel, reprint 1902 (Revell Pub.)

c. NIV Study Bible, NASB Study Bible

d. Study Guide Commentary Series, You Can Understand the Bible by Bob Utley, published by Bible Lessons International (free at www.freebiblecommentary.org)


D. Identify the Key Words in a Given Context

1. Find the most important words of the paragraph or literary unit. These are the words that communicate (or confuse) the central truth of the context.

2. Be sure not to read your historically, culturally, and theologically (i.e., denominationally) conditioned definitions into biblical words.

a. "dog," Deut. 23:18 (male prostitute of the fertility cult)

b. "righteousness," Matt. 6:1 (giving of alms every week)

c. "leaven," Matt. 13:33 (in this case it is positive, used of permeation)

d. "Pharisees," Luke 18:9-14; Matt. 5:20 (they were the most respected religionists)

3. Remember that the context determines the meaning of words, not a preset (dictionary or lexicon) definition.

4. Be careful of reading one biblical author’s fully developed theological definitions into every usage of that term in Scripture.

5. Examples of changing meaning of words (even in English):

a. KJV of I Thess. 4:15, "prevent," but New American Standard Bible has "precede."

b. KJV of Eph. 4:22, "conversation," but NASB has "manner of life."

c. KJV of I Cor. 11:29, "damnation," but NASB has "judgment."

6. Examples of the different biblical authors using the same word with different meaning:

a. John’s use of "world" (kosmos)

(1) physical planet and all who live on it (cf. John 3:16; 16:33; I John 4:14).

(2) human society organized and functioning apart from God (cf. I John 2:15; 3:1,13; 4:4-5; 5:4-5).

b. Paul’s use of "flesh" (sarx)

(1) physical body (cf. Rom. 1:3; Eph. 2:11,14; 5:29,31; 6:5,12)

(2) sin nature (cf. Rom. 8:3-4; Eph. 2:13)

c. Paul’s use of "temple" (naos)

(1) entire local congregation (cf. I Cor. 3:16-17)

(2) individual believer (cf. I Cor. 6:19)

d. James’ use of "save" (sōzō)

(1) spiritual salvation (cf. Jas. 1:21; 2:14)

(2) physical deliverance (cf. Jas. 5:15, 20)

e. author’s use of "rest" in Hebrews 3 and 4 (katapausis, katapauomai)

(1) the Promised Land (cf. 3:11, 18; 4:8)

(2) the Sabbath rest (cf. 4:3, 4, 9, 10)

(3) the Kingdom of God (cf. 4:1, 9-10, 11)

f. use of "all" vs. "many" in Isaiah and by Paul

(1) "all" means "all" (cf. Isa. 53:6; Rom. 5:18)

(2) "many" can mean "all" (cf. Isa. 52:11, 12; Rom. 5:18, 19)

(3) the above is a good example of:

(a) the use of idioms

(b) the significance of parallel passages

(c) the use of context

7. Helpful guidelines for determining the meaning of words in a given context (use concordance or reference Bible).

a. use of the same term by the same author ("heavenly places" in Eph. 1:3, 20; 2:6; 3:10; 6:12).

b. relation of term to its immediate context ("righteousness," Matt. 6:1)

c. be sure to focus on contemporary usage of the term ("It is finished," John 19:30 from Koine papyri found in Egypt, "paid in full").

d. Check the OT usage and relate this to the developed or metaphorical meaning (faith, Hebrew- emun, aman, emunah to Greek- pistis, pistos).

8. Suggested resources for word studies.

a. An exhaustive concordance such as Young’s or Strong’s or a good reference Bible.

b. For those with no background in OT and NT words

(1) Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words by W.E. Vine.

(2) New Testament Words by William Barclay

(3) Synonyms of the Old Testament by Robert Girdlestone

c. For those with some background in Hebrew and Greek

(1) New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis (5 vols)

(2) New International Dictionary of Theology (4 vols.) 

d. Biblical Words and Their Meaning by Moises Silva.

e. Exegetical Fallacies by D.A. Carson

f. Introductory Articles in New International Dictionaries


VII. The Third and Fourth Interpretive Questions: The Use of Parallel Passages


A. First try to find parallel passages by the same author.

1. in the same paragraph or literary unit

2. in the same book

3. in other books by the same author


B. Find parallel passages by other biblical authors.

1. same genre

2. same period

3. same covenant

4. Scripture in general


C. Concentric circles of significance.

1. This is often referred to by the phrase "analogy of Scripture." This assumes that:

a. all Scripture is inspired (cf. II Tim. 3:16)

b. there is no contradiction within Scripture

c. the Scripture is the Scripture’s best interpreter.

d. parallel passages reveal Authorial (Holy Spirit) intent.

2. Degrees of interpretive significance

a. the immediate context is most important

b. used by the same author in the same book (preferably the same literary unit, i.e., "rest" in Heb. 3-4)

c. used by the same author in another biblical book ("filled by the Spirit" - Eph. 5:18; Col. 3:16)

d. same subject by another biblical author of the same period or genre ("Abomination of desolation," Dan. 9:27; 11:1; 12:1, used in Mark 13:14 and Matt. 24:15)

e. check the whole Bible ("virgin birth" of Isa. 7:14 and Matt. 1:18, 23; Luke 1:27)

f. check the believing community for confirmation of your interpretation ("head covered," I Cor. 11 and F. F. Bruce, Questions and Answers)

3. The method characterized

a. Exegesis is related to the immediate context.

b. Biblical theology is related to wider context but the same period, genre, subject or author.

c. Systematic theology relates to the use of the parallels within the entire Bible, the believing community, and beyond.

4.Examples of the need for parallel passages (exegesis alone can cause overstatements and unbalanced theology)

a. baptism in the name of Jesus (versus John’s baptism) necessary for salvation (Acts 2:38)

b. universalism (Rom. 5:18-19; Col. 1:20)

c. husband of one wife (I Tim. 3:2; 5:9; Titus 1:6)

5. One moves from the magnifying glass (exegesis) to the telescope (systematic theology)! Be careful to find true parallels. Our biases enter the process quickly and subtly!


D. The Big Picture - Biblical paradoxes

1. This insight has been the most helpful to me personally as one who loves and trusts the Bible as God’s Word. In trying to take the Bible seriously it became obvious that different texts reveal truth in selected, not systematic ways. One inspired text cannot cancel or depreciate another inspired text! Truth comes in knowing all Scripture (all Scripture, not just some, is inspired, cf. II Tim. 3:16-17), not quoting a single passage (proof-texting)!

2. Most biblical truths (eastern literature) are presented in dialectical or paradoxical pairs (remember the NT authors, except Luke, are Hebrew thinkers, writing in common Greek). Wisdom Literature and Poetic Literature present truth in parallel lines. The antithetical parallelism functions like the paradox. This synthetic parallelism functions like parallel passages. Somehow both are equally true! These paradoxes are painful to our cherished, simplistic traditions!

a. predestination versus human free will

b. security of the believer versus the need for perseverance

c. original sin versus volitional sin

d. Jesus as God versus Jesus as man

e. Jesus as equal with the Father versus Jesus as subservient to the Father

f. Bible as God’s Word versus human authorship

g. sinlessness (perfectionism, cf. Romans 6) versus sinning less

h. initial instantaneous justification and sanctification versus progressive sanctification

i. justification by faith (Romans 4) versus justification confirmed by works (cf. James 2:14-26)

j. Christian freedom (cf. Rom. 14:1-23; I Cor. 8:1-13; 10:23-33) versus Christian responsibility (cf. Gal. 5:16-21; Eph. 4:1)

k. God’s transcendence versus His immanence

l. God as ultimately unknowable versus knowable in Scripture and Christm.Paul’s many metaphors for salvation

(1) adoption

(2) sanctification

(3) justification

(4) redemption

(5) glorification

(6) predestination

(7) reconciliation

m. the kingdom of God as present versus future consummation

n. repentance as a gift of God versus repentance as a mandated response for salvation (cf. Mark 1:15; Acts 20:21)

o. the OT is permanent versus the OT has passed away and is null and void (cf. Matt. 3:17-19 vs. 5:21-48; Romans 7 vs. Galatians 3)

p. believers are servants/slaves or children/heirs

3. Use of Systematic Theologies

a. This type of reference book is one of the most helpful and the most biased.

b. These books help us move from one context, through the limited scope of biblical theology, into the whole Bible, systematic theology.

c. Be careful that you do not let systematic theology smother or silence individual texts that do not fit neatly into your theological system.

d. Purchase several of these types of books from differing theological positions (see list of suggested books at the end of this seminar).

e.Helpful quote from Answers to Questions by F. F. Bruce, Zondervan, "It is important to remember that, when the teaching of Scripture is systematized, something is usually left out in the process" (p. 196).


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