“If we are perplexed by any apparent contradiction in Scripture, it is not allowable to say, ‘The author of this book is mistaken’; but either the manuscript is faulty, or the translation is wrong, or you have not understood.”
In this quote from John Wycliffe (1328-1384), he emphasizes the importance of considering the historical and literary context of Scripture. He recognized the importance of using the whole Bible to interpret the Bible. I have preserved the original vocabulary of this statement.
It shall greatly help ye to understande Scripture,
If thou mark
Not only what is spoken or wrytten,
But of whom,
And to whom,
With what words,
At what time,
To what intent,
With what circumstances,
Considering what goeth before
And what followeth.
Summarized from Living by the Book by Howard Hendricks and William Hendricks
Three Steps in Bible Study
- Observation: What do I see? Read the text carefully and repeatedly. Look for terms, structure, literary form, and atmosphere.
- Interpretation: What does it mean? Bombard the text with questions and be prepared to work to find answers. As you discover answers, work to integrate your answers into a meaningful whole. Take the passage apart to inspect the little details and then put it back together.
- Application: How does it work? Consider how the text applies to your life before you apply it to the lives of other people. Preach the passage to yourself first.
Sample Questions to Ask
- Who? Who are the people in the text? What is said about them? What do they say?
- What? What is happening? What is the author trying to communicate? What is wrong? What is right? What is emphasized, repeated, related, alike, unlike, or true to life?
- Where? Where is this story happening? Are they traveling to or from somewhere? Where was the author? Where was the audience?
- When? When did these things happen? How does this account fit into the timeline of Biblical history? When did the author write this?
- Why? Why was this passage written? Why does this person do that or say that? Why did the author use this word? Why does this passage follow or precede what it does? There is no end to “Why” questions.
- Wherefore? So what? What difference should the truth of this passage make in my life?
These are helpful questions to keep in mind when you are interpreting Scripture.
1. Do I retain the principle and the practice?
2. Do I retain the principle but modify the practice?
3. Do I abandon/discontinue the principle (and therefore the practice as well)?
“When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other senses; therefore take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise.”