Over the coming weeks and months I shall be discussing twelve guides to interpretation which I have formulated and used. These guidelines help me a lot in Bible Study. They are not meant as replacements for hermeneutics manuals of course, but I think they do a lot of legwork. In my opinion Rule 4 is the most important one.
These “Parameters of Meaning” as I call them help establish the boundaries of valid interpretation and ferret out views not supported from the text of Scripture. Here are the twelve “Rules” which establish parameters in which a given interpretation can be said to be “in the ballpark” or not:
Parameters of Meaning – Rule 1: Stick to the plain sense of the words in a passage whenever possible, always observing figures of speech
Parameters of Meaning – Rule 2: Induction and deduction are inescapably linked (via retroduction or ‘abduction’), but induction is always prior to deduction. Never ask “But what about?” questions till you know what the text actually says!
Parameters of Meaning – Rule 3: Avoid importing foreign hermeneutical grids which dictate beforehand how one is going to interpret a passage. This distorts exegesis.
Parameters of Meaning – Rule 4: Any Biblical interpretation must accord with those Scriptures which reveal the correspondence between what God says and what God does. This is especially true when one is given a correspondence between what God says to Himself and what He then does. The wording of the Biblical Covenants are prime examples of this rule. Thus, no interpretation can be admitted which opposes these covenants.
Parameters of Meaning – Rule 5: Don’t contrast the plain-sense with a supposedly deeper “spiritual” sense. This implies God doesn’t mean what He says and is thus equivocal in His very nature; which in turn incurs heavy penalties philosophically.
Parameters of Meaning – Rule 6: Beware of basing an interpretation on the shifting sands of a supposed “genre”; especially “apocalyptic.” Make sure the interpretive decision is well grounded.
Parameters of Meaning – Rule 7: Never draw theological conclusions that are based upon typology. Types are too uncertain and debatable for doctrines to be formulated with them.
Parameters of Meaning – Rule 8: Never ground a teaching on disputed, ambiguous or debated texts (e.g. Matt. 10:26). At best they may serve to support a given position. Doctrines should come from the strongest possible connections between text and teaching.
Parameters of Meaning – Rule 9: If a literal interpretation leads you into wholesale allegorizing, or causes head-on conflicts with other clear texts, which then have to be creatively reinterpreted, it is an illegitimate use of “literal”. There will always be another literal meaning available which preserves the plain-sense of the rest of the passage in its context.
Parameters of Meaning – Rule 10: Never interpret the Bible via assumptions based on extra-biblical data (e.g. “science”, philosophy, history). These can help but they should never preempt Scripture.
Parameters of Meaning – Rule 11: While interpreting Scripture with Scripture is valid, it is only to be employed as a check upon interpretation. Using the Analogy of Faith as part of one’s hermeneutics introduces it prematurely and may smuggle in ones assumptions into the interpretation.
Parameters of Meaning – Rule 12: Never confuse application with hermeneutics and exegesis. It is always “explanation before application.” Making application a part of one’s interpretation is a subtle instance of putting an unrestrained ‘theological’ cart before an ‘exegetical’ horse.