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LCENWRD – SALCEDO HANDOUTS FOUR PRINCIPLES OF BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION James Davis 2013 Introduction When it comes to making claims about what the Bible means, sometimes we hear comments from Christians or non-Christians like the following: “Well, that’s just your interpretation.” “The Bible can be made to say anything you want.” “You can’t really understand the Bible. It is full of contradictions.” “No one can understand the true meaning of anything anyone says.” Or, someone sitting in a Bible study might say, “This is what the Bible means to me.” All of these types of comments are about principles of biblical interpretation also called in theological jargon hermeneutics. Welcome to our postmodern world. Pilate’s question lives on: “What is truth? (John 18:38).” Some issues that we as Christians face regarding the topic of biblical interpretation include: How does divine inspiration and human authorship affect biblical interpretation? What does a text mean? What are some general principles of interpretation? How do we interpret the Old Testament? How do we interpret the New Testament? These are all critical questions for us to consider as we seek to become better interpreters of God’s word, the Bible. What Does a Text Mean? The last lesson looked at the topic of inspiration and found that the Bible is both a human book and a divine book. There are certain implications of this for biblical interpretation. The first is that the human authors had a specific historical audience, context and purpose. These authors used their own language, writing methods, style of writing and literary form of writing. The divine authorship of the Bible gives it its unity and the ultimate source of all interpretation is from God. In the book of Genesis Joseph was asked about the meaning of some divinely given dreams and he replied, “Don’t interpretations belong to God? (Gen 40:8). So let’s just start with the most basic question. What does a text mean? The answer to this question is that a text means what the author intended it to mean. If there is only one thing you learn from this lesson this is it. For a simple example, if you wrote a letter with some statements in it that are a little ambiguous, then what does the letter mean? Does it mean what you intended it to mean or how the readers interpret it? Of course it means what you intended it to mean. The true meaning of a text resides in the authorial intent of the text. This leads us to the first primary and fundamental principle of interpreting the Bible. General Principles of Biblical Interpretation Principle 1: Interpretation must be based on the author’s intention of meaning and not the reader. This means we must get into the author’s context, historically, grammatically, culturally and the literary forms and conventions the author was working in. To be able to do this some good Bible study tools are needed since we are 2000 years or more removed from the biblical authors and their context is very different than ours. The first tool that any

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