The conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch is recorded in Acts 8:26-40. Once Philip joined the Eunuch he ask him the question “Do you understand what you are reading?” The Eunuch replied in all honesty, “How can I unless someone guides me,” Acts 8:30-31. Fortunately, Philip had a proper understanding of scripture and was able to teach the gospel message in a way that led to the salvation of the Eunuch’s soul. From this true story we learn the importance of correctly understanding the Biblical message. How can we understand the Bible in the 21st Century? This is a very important question.
Scholars have pondered over how to interpret Scripture for Centuries. To this very day there are different approaches on how to correctly interpret the meaning of the Biblical message. The word “hermeneutic” means “the science of interpretation”. It has been correctly stated that if we use the proper hermeneutic when we study the Bible we will arrive at the interpretation (understanding) God intended for us reach. Simply put, if you and I have two different understandings on any of the teachings found in the Bible, at least one of us is wrong. We cannot both be right but we could both be wrong. Understanding the Bible correctly is important. After all, “God is not a God of confusion,” 1 Corinthians 14:33.
The following nine methods of Bible interpretation listed below have been in my possession for nearly 50 years. Unfortunately I do not know who provided the information to me. I have elaborated on the nine ways to interpret scripture so many times that I no longer know what is my own research and what belongs to the original author. Still, it is good information to consider. Look it over for yourself and see what you think.
VARIOUS METHODS OF HERMENEUTICS (“The science of interpretation”)
- Mystical – Has its origin in heathenism. This theory says that an individual must be in rapport with God. This theory believes some are closer to God than others and only they can interpret Biblical meaning for the masses. This idea probably had its origin in Gnosticism. The gnostic believed he had a deep understanding of God’s will and was convinced that the ordinary person could only understand the truth if it were explained to him by a person in the know.
- Allegorical – This is the view that everything means something else. Therefore, nothing is certain because all you read and study is representative of something else. This method of interpretation only succeeds in confusing people. If everything is allegorical then we would need an inspired man to tell us the meaning that God intended for us to receive.
- Spiritual – While this is similar to the Mystical theory of interpretation it does differ in liberality. This method states that anyone can develop closeness to God and develop an inward spirit of light that guides them in the way they should go. Such people can then shed that light to those who lack this spiritual light from God and thereby pass their special knowledge on to others. If this method is correct then some of us cannot understand the truth without help from the “spiritually enlightened” individual.
- Hierarchical – This is the assumption of authority in presenting religious truth. This leads people to believe that the preacher or church leader is the only one who has the ability to discern truth from error. Hence if they have a question they ask the preacher. Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” John 8:32-33. The Lord clearly said that His disciples had the ability to know (understand) the truth. It is true that people of understanding can certainly help us along the way. Such people are of great value to God’s people. However, this does not change the fact that knowledge and understanding are available to all who seek it.
- Rationalistic – This method believes that nature is the standard and reason is the guide for religious interpretation. Those who use this approach to understanding Scripture discount such events as Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead because it is contrary to nature. They would disbelieve the creation story because it defies human reasoning. Supernatural events are disavowed by this approach to understanding Scripture hence it cannot be the correct hermeneutic.
- Apologetic – In contrast to the rational approach, this method states there is absolute perfection in the entire Bible as God’s word. While this sounds like a good method to use it does not distinguish between the devil’s lies and God’s truths. While the entire Bible is absolutely true, some of the dialogue recorded tells us of people who are not telling the truth. You must look at the context in order to discern who is speaking and then determine if he is telling a lie or the truth of God.
- Dogmatic – This method assumes something is true and then sets out to prove it from Scripture. This is the wrong way to interpret scripture. That is because the Bible is not to be used to prove that one’s beliefs are correct. Bible Study is designed to teach us what to believe. Never reason in your own mind what is true and then go to the Bible to prove it. Such a method will certainly lead you astray. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death,” Proverbs 16:25. When we study correctly we will learn the will of the Lord. The diligent student searches the Scriptures daily to see if what he has been told is true, Acts 17:11.
- Literal – This method of hermeneutic states that all of the Bible must be taken literally. The problem is that the prophets, the Apostles, and even Jesus Himself often used figurative language to express spiritual truths. People who use this approach are usually inconsistent because there are so many figurative statements in the Bible that should not be taken literally. Many who study the book of Revelation try to put literal interpretations upon passages that are figurative pictures of past or upcoming events. One must pray for wisdom when interpreting difficult passages of scripture. We must make sure our conclusions do not contradict other plain and clear passages of scripture.
- Inductive-Deductive – The student using the inductive method seeks to lead into his study all of the biblical material that deals the subject he is studying. Once this is accomplished, the person makes a warranted conclusion (a deduction) that is in harmony with all the other passages that deal with that topic. This method insists that all Scripture be interpreted in a harmonious way. Of all of the methods of interpretation discussed thus far this is the best way to study Scripture.
Studying the Bible is a lifetime task. It takes a long time to research topics such as faith, righteousness, repentance, baptism, God’s grace and a host of other important topics. Once you are a child of God there is no need to rush. You have a lifetime to increase your knowledge and understanding. Do so carefully and diligently. God will bless you efforts. Peter encouraged us to, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” 2 Peter 3:18. Once we gain knowledge we should request wisdom from God, James 1:5-8. Then, as we study, we will begin to gain understanding. It comes bit by bit and grows into an unshakable faith in God and His holy book. When God’s truth is correctly applied to our lives we live with the assurance that one day we will join the righteous as we enter our heavenly home.