This is the third and final part in this series. In the first part I introduced the concept of biblical hermeneutics, which are principles for interpreting the bible. We need sound principles of interpretation because, even though we have the right to read and interpret the bible ourselves, we have an obligation to correctly interpret the bible. The second part introduced some interpretive principles focusing on the importance of “Scripture interprets Scripture,” and it included an example from the New Testament. In this concluding article I show how vital is the principle of “Scripture interprets Scripture” when interpreting the Old Testament.
In the first part of this series I introduced the concept of biblical hermeneutics, which are principles for interpreting the bible. We need sound principles of interpretation because, even though we have the right to read and interpret the bible ourselves, we have an obligation to correctly interpret the bible. This part introduces some interpretive principles focusing on the most important principle.
Years ago when I was still a boy I remember hearing a particular sermon illustration. I don’t remember what the sermon was about, and I don’t remember exactly how the illustration was presented, but I do remember the gist of it. Two grandsons were talking about their grandfather. The first grandson says, “It’s amazing that grandpa is 90 years old and he still doesn’t use glasses.” The second grandson replies, “Well maybe he just likes to drink from bottles.” The illustration is not particularly funny, but I think you get the point. The first grandson was referring to eyeglasses, and the second grandson thought he was referring to drinking glasses. The first grandson made what he thought was a literal statement. The problem was the second grandson gave a different literal meaning to “glasses.” The second grandson incorrectly interpreted the statement of the first grandson because he had a different primary meaning for “glasses.” Maybe the second grandson always referred to eyeglasses as eyeglasses and drinking glasses as glasses (or drinking glasses). Now I’m sure most of us would have understood “glasses” to mean eyeglasses. The problem, though, is there was not enough context to fully clarify which type of glasses the first grandson was thinking of, and, evidently, there were no other conversations about this particular subject that would cause the second grandson to realize the first grandson was referring to eyeglasses.
So what’s the point? The point is this is why we have differences in interpreting the bible. One person reads a verse and it means one thing, and another person reads the same verse and comes up with a different meaning. If I’m dependent only on my understanding of what words mean and ignore the context and what other parts of the bible have to say on the subject, I have a very subjective interpretation. It is subject to my education (secular and religious), my life experiences, my culture, and my version of common sense. In other words if I interpret the bible by what I consider to be literal I could easily come up with an incorrect interpretation.