Summary: The Eight Fundamental Rules of Biblical Interpretation
The science of Biblical Interpretation (Hermeneutics) began at least about 2500 years ago with Socrates and Aristotle who have influenced it to our day. The eight rules of Biblical Interpretation are found in the writings of the foremost legal and Biblical authorities, both ancient and modern.
They are found in the writings of Irenaeus, master interpreter among the second century church fathers. They were used by the master expositors of the Middle Ages all the way to Luther and the Reformation theologians who disproved Roman fallacies with them.
These rules were involved in the great doctrinal debates of the theologians from the Council of Nice (324 A.D.) to the Council of Trent (1545-1563). It is impossible to determine the true meaning of a Bible doctrine without them. There is nothing more important in all Biblical learning than to know these rules and rightly apply them to Bible doctrines.
The doctrinal errors of nineteen centuries of church history were violations of these principles. It is also true of all the false doctrines found in Christendom today. Think of any false doctrine you know about and see if it isn’t true.
Cults and others use these rules in the ordinary affairs of life but they will not apply them to the Scriptures. They would overthrow their doctrines if they did.
These rules are used by all law courts in the free world. If you should become involved in a court case about the meaning of a Will, Contract, or Deed, the court would use these rules to determine the meaning of the disputed document. In everyday reading and study, everyone uses these rules at times. You could not make sense from anything you read or write if you did not.
Exact rules are needed for an exact result. You cannot get a sure meaning with an uncertain rule. The Bible student must not only study the Scriptures, he must decide how he will interpret them. Two persons can read the same texts and get different ideas from them because they put different meanings upon the words.
A doctrine is only as sure as the proof upon which it is established, and it cannot be demonstrated as sure without these rules, which are the principles to which all logical inquiry appeals.
Many false doctrines are based on a single word or term. Teachers have taken a Biblical word or term and loaded it with a non-biblical meaning. They then detached the word or term from all that the Bible teaches about it and built their doctrine on it.
But, "The whole Bible is a Context." No one has the right to speak as an authority on a Bible subject unless he knows all that the Bible teaches on that subject. When one applies the rules to all that the Bible teaches about a subject, he stands on proven ground.
Dr. G. Campbell Morgan is widely esteemed as "the greatest Bible expositor of the past century," and he said: "We must be set free from the bondage of popular and traditional views in interpretation." 1 Parables and Metaphors, p 7
Dr. R. A. Torrey worked with Dwight L. Moody and was the first head of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. He wrote a valuable book on how to study the Bible, and said that if some Bible teachers "were practicing law and should try in any court of justice to interpret laws, as they interpret the Bible, they would be laughed out of court." 1
Solomon asked: "Who knoweth the interpretation of a thing?" (Eccles.8:l). And Peter said that no Scripture "is of any private interpretation" (II Pet. l:20). No one knows the interpretation of Scripture if he has his own "private" (personal) interpretation. For nineteen centuries, interpreters have ignored the rules, forced their private beliefs upon the Scriptures, and claimed to have a revelation from God.
This is true of much doctrinal teaching in the world today. Interpretation is more than knowing a set of rules, but the rules are necessary. The spiritual sense must be derived from the grammatical sense.
1. RULE OF DEFINITION
Any study of Scripture . . . must begin with a study of words. (Protestant Biblical Interpretation, Ramm, Bernard, p. 129, W. A. Wilde Co., Boston, 1956) Define your terms and then keep to the terms defined. (The Structural principles of the Bible, Marsh, F. E., p. 1, Kregel Publications) In the last analysis, our theology finds its solid foundation only in the grammatical sense of Scripture. The interpreter should . . . conscientiously abide by the plain meaning of the words. (Principles of Biblical Interpretation, Berkhof, pp. 74-75, Baker Book House, 1960) The Bible writers could not coin new words since they would not be understood, and were therefore forced to use those already in use. The content of meaning in these words is not to be determined by each individual expositor. . . to do so would be a method of interpretation [that is] a most vicious thing. (Studies in the Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament, Wuest, Kenneth, pp. 30-37, Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1945) (The author confines the definitions strictly to their literal or idiomatic force; which, after all, will be found to form the best, and indeed the only safe and solid basis for theological deductions of any kind. (Young’s Analytical Concordance, Prefatory Note)