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The Word. The Science of Biblical Interpretation Part 1. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip to Ethiopian Eunuch Acts 8:30. “How could I unless someone guides me?” Ethiopian Eunuch to Philip Acts 8:31. Can we understand what the Bible means?.

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The Word

The Science of Biblical Interpretation

Part 1

“Do you understand what you are reading?”

Philip to Ethiopian Eunuch

Acts 8:30

“How could I unless someone guides me?”

Ethiopian Eunuch to Philip

Acts 8:31

Can we understand what the Bible means?

" And all the people gathered as one man at the square which was in front of the Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the Lord had given to Israel. Then Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women and all who could listen with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it before the square which was in front of the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of men and women, those who could understand; and all the people were attentive to the book of the law.”

(Nehemiah 8:1-9)

"Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord the great God. And all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. . . .They read from the book, from the law of God, translating [explaining] to give the sense so that they understood the reading."

(Nehemiah 8:5-6, 8)

“The Bells started questioning their assumptions about the Bible itself – “discovering the Bible as a human product,” as Rob puts it, rather than the product of divine fiat. The Bible is still in the center for us,” Rob says, “but it’s a different kind of center. We want to embrace mystery, rather than conquer it.” “ I grew up thinking that we’ve figure out the Bible,” Kristen says, “That we knew what it means. Now I have no idea what most of it means. And yet I feel like life is big again – like life used to be black and white, and now it’s in color.”

- Christianity Today, Nov. 2004, pp 37-8.

"Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words."

(1 Corinthians 2:12-13)

Here, the Apostle Paul makes clear that God’s thoughts can indeed by communicated via finite human language.

We can know what the Bible means.

Can non-Christians understand what the Bible means?

" For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

(1 Corinthians 1:18)

"But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”

(1 Corinthians 2:14)

Ginōskō: “grasp the significance of something”

Non-Christians can understand the meaning of the Bible’s text … but … without the illumination of the Spirit, they will not grasp the text’s significance.

“There is a difference between having a right speculative notion of the doctrines contained in the world of God, and having a due sense of them in the heart.”

- Jonathan Edwards


From the Greek hermēneuō (interpret)

(Hermes was the Greek messenger of the gods)

(a) The study and statement of the principles on which a text—for present purposes, the biblical text—is to be understood, or (b) The interpretation of the text in such a way that its message comes home to the reader or hearer.

Hermeneutical Process

Observation – what do I see?

Interpretation – what does it mean?

Application – how does it apply?

Observations in Scripture





Observation is crucial because it feeds into the next cycle, which is interpretation. Without good observation skills, a wrongful interpretation could be the end result.

Observation - Terms

Terms are often categorized as routine (“the”), difficult (“spirit”), crucial (“law”), and important (“death”).

"Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”"(John 3:3-8)

Is there another part of the Bible where we find both the Spirit and Water?

"The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters."(Genesis 1:2)

Observation – What Stands Out to You?

" A Psalm of David. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.“

(Psalm 23:1-6)

Notice the pronouns – once suffering comes, God comes close…

Terms in the Original Language

The pronoun is singular and feminine; indicates Mary alone – speaks to virgin birth

Observation - Structure

Questions to ask as you are reading the Text

Who – who is a particular person; who is doing the speaking ; who is the author

What – what is the argument; what is the point

When – when did an event take place; when was a work written

Where – where did an event take place; where was a person born

How – how did something happen; how was an event taking place

Why (perhaps… may be more application)

Observation - Structure

Six Things to Look for in the Text

Things that are emphasized

Things that are repeated

Things that are related

Things that are alike

Things that are unlike

Things that are true to life

The order of things in the text

Things that are Emphasized

" Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name."

(John 20:30-31)

“Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens,“

(Hebrews 8:1)

Things that are Repeated

"It was also about these men that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.”"

(Jude 14-15)

Things that are Repeated

" In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.“

(Genesis 1:1)

" In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.“

(John 1:1)

"On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance."

(Genesis 22:4)

“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day.”

(Luke 9:22)

The Order of Things in the Text

"For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error."

(Romans 1:26-27)

Why would Paul start with the women instead of men? Perhaps because in most cultures, the women are the more sexually modest ones – maybe Paul is beginning with the women to show how base the culture had become.

Structure of a Book

Observation - Genre

Understand the Literary Type of Material being Read






Observation - Genre


Narrative is a story told for the purpose of conveying a message through the record of events, situations, people, settings, plot, and various other factors that constitute a story.

Kinds of Narrative include:

Tragedy (e.g. Saul)

Epic (e.g. Exodus)

Heroic (e.g. Paul)

  • Literary Devices of Narrative include:

  • Typology (e.g. Balaam)

  • Chiasm (Noah)

Observation - Genre

The Story of Balaam

" But God was angry because he was going, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the way as an adversary against him. Now he was riding on his donkey and his two servants were with him. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand, the donkey turned off from the way and went into the field; but Balaam struck the donkey to turn her back into the way. Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path of the vineyards, with a wall on this side and a wall on that side. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she pressed herself to the wall and pressed Balaam’s foot against the wall, so he struck her again. The angel of the Lord went further, and stood in a narrow place where there was no way to turn to the right hand or the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she lay down under Balaam; so Balaam was angry and struck the donkey with his stick. And the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” Then Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a mockery of me! If there had been a sword in my hand, I would have killed you by now.” The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I ever been accustomed to do so to you?” And he said, “No.” Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed all the way to the ground."(Numbers 22:22-31)

Observation - Genre

The Story of Balaam

The story of Balaam and the donkey foreshadows the relationship between Balaam and Balak. The dullness of the prophet is akin to the dullness of Balak; what the donkey is to Balaam, Balaam is to Balak.

Chiasm Structures – Noah’s Life

Point of Noah’s story is not judgment, but salvation of God’s people

Chiasm Structure - Book of Jude

Point of Jude is the doom of the heretics

Observation - Gospel

The Difference between Narrative and Gospel

Observation - Genre


Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon are the main poetic books, but other books contain poetry as well.

The primary thing to observe in poetry is the use of parallelisms. There are three forms of parallelism:

Synonymous - Presents the same thought with a slight difference

Antithetic – Sets two thoughts in contrast to one another

Synthetic – Sets expectation that is completed by 2nd part

Observation - Genre


Synonymous parallelism

"A false witness will not go unpunished, And he who tells lies will not escape."(Proverbs 19:5)

Antithetic parallelism

" A wise son accepts his father’s discipline, But a scoffer does not listen to rebuke."(Proverbs 13:1)

Synthetic parallelism

"For, behold, Your enemies, O Lord, For, behold, Your enemies will perish; All who do iniquity will be scattered."(Psalm 92:9)

Observation - Genre

How Understanding Poetic Parallelism Helps

"That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things."(Isaiah 45:6-7, KJV)

  • This is a case of antithetic parallelism; the first is set against the second. What is the opposite of peace? Evil? No. This leads us to consider that the KJV has a poor rendering of the Hebrew word ‘רע’.

"The One forming light and creating darkness, Causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these."(Isaiah 45:7, NASB)

Observation - Genre

How Understanding Poetic Parallelism Helps

"‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:13)

Why would Jesus ask that God not lead us into temptation when the Bible says, "Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone."(James 1:13) ? Further Matt 4:1 reads: "Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

This is a case of synonymous parallelism. To be led into temptation is to be exposed to the power of the enemy, which is what Jesus asks for this followers to be delivered from ( the end of the verse should actually read – “evil one”); it is a general prayer of deliverance from the enemy’s power. But will we see trials that come from the enemy? Of course. But God can deliver us out of Satan’s power.

Observation - Genre

How Understanding Typology Parallels Helps

The temptations of Jesus in Matthew and Luke 4 parallel those of Israel (also called God’s son):

  • First Temptation – Food (Israel wants to go back to Egypt for food)

  • Second Temptation – Test God (Israel tests God’s patience)

  • Third Temptation – Worship (Israel worships other gods)

  • Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy each time, which speaks about these events

Observation - Genre


This certainly involves prophecy as in predicting the future, but is also rightly classified as “forthtelling”. There are various types of prophecy:

Judgment Oracle: the most basic such as in Amos 7:15-17

WoeOracle: details the transgressions and resulting judgment

Salvation Oracle: promise of deliverance from catastrophe or judgment

Legal Oracle: mimics a court trial such as Isaiah 1:2-4

Symbolic Oracle: prophet uses something physical to represent their point

Apocalyptic Oracle: employs visions, direct visitations, and symbolism to communicate future events

Observation - Genre


This primarily involves the epistles of the New Testament and is designed to teach the reader. Its key characteristic is that it is prescriptive vs. descriptive.

"All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?"(1 Corinthians 12:30)


"And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance."(Acts 2:2-4)

Observation - Background

What is the historical context?

What is the political environment?

What is the religious environment?

What is the geographical environment

What is the cultural big picture?

Observation - Background

" “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. ‘So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. ‘Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see."

(Revelation 3:14-18)

Observation - Background

“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. ‘So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth…”

Laodicea was between Hierapolis and Colossae. Hierapolis was known for its hot mineral springs which produced healing properties, whereas Colossae has a rare cold stream whose waters were very refreshing. Laodicea built aqueducts to pipe both the hot water from Hierapolis and cold water from Colossae into the city. However, the hot water cooled down and the cold water warmed up; they both became lukewarm. Moreover, the water contained sludge that made it sickening to drink.

Christ is telling the Laodiceans they are just like their water; they neither heal nor refresh and literally are of no value; they make Him sick just as their water does them.

Observation - Background

“Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see”

Laodicea was known for its wealth. It had a strong banking industry, was famous for its sleek black wool, and had a medical school that offered a special salve to heal common eye troubles of the Middle East.

Christ tells them they are actually very poor regardless of their material wealth. In place of their banks, they need real gold; in place of their black wool, they need white garments; and in place of their physical eye salve, they need spiritual eye salve so they can really see.

Observations in Scripture





Observation takes work, but the fruit it bears is quite large when it is funneled into the next step of the hermeneutical process, which is interpretation.

The Word

The Science of Biblical Interpretation

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