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How to Catch a Pomfret - Basic Biblical Interpretation

A Sermon on Basic Biblical Interpretation

1. The Basics of Biblical Interpretation

a. The Literal Interpretation

The dictionary sense: " . . . the natural or usual construction and implication of a writing or expression; following the ordinary and apparent sense of words; not allegorical or metaphorical" (Webster's).

When do we prefer NOT to use the literal sense:

1. When the figurative makes good sense. Or the figurative seems to have a more spiritual sense.

2. When the literal makes less sense.

e.g. John 1:14 the dual natures of Christ, miracles.

3. When leaders have interpreted something figuratively.

4. When a concept is figurative in one location, we tend to use it figuratively elsewhere.

When should we use the figurative sense?

1. When that is incompatible with the context or purpose of the passage.

1 Cor. 3:13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.

2. When parallel passages explain the word or phrase in question and clearly show that the literal is not the intended sense, cf. Luke 11:20 with Matt. 12:28; Mal. 4:5 with Matt. 17:11-12.

3. When the literal sense conflicts with doctrines, precepts or historical facts clearly set forth in other passages of the Bible.

b. The Historical-Grammatical Interpretation.

Interpret in Context. The word context means something that is woven together.

i). Historical context.

ii). Literary context – Immediate and Larger

Sample outline: Literary Context

iii). Word Use - Be sensitive to the grammar or word usage.

Matthew 10:22 “You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.

Mark 1:5 And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.

John 12:19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are not doing any good; look, the world has gone after Him.”

c. Analogy of Scripture.

"The Bible appears like a symphony orchestra, with the Holy Ghost as its Toscanini; each instrumentalist has been brought willingly, spontaneously, creatively, to play his notes just as the great conductor desired, though none of them could ever hear the music as a whole . . . The point of each part only becomes fully clear when seen in relation to all the rest" J.I. Packer, God Has Spoken

d. Christocentric Emphasis.

Martin Luther once said, "If you will interpret well and securely, take Christ with you, for He is the man whom everything concerns."

John 1:45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”;

John 5:46“For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me..

e. Implicit vs. Explicit.

John 3:16“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

John 6:44 “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.

f. Progressive Revelation.


1. Expect the full revelation of God in the New Testament.

2. Do not force New Testament meanings into the Old, yet you will be able to more fully expound the Old knowing its counterparts in the New.

3. Be aware of partial and elementary nature of the Old Testament revelation and adjust our view of the OT accordingly.

4. Avoid contradictions in Scripture by forcing a New Testament standard of morality or doctrine upon an Old Testament passage.

"Distinguish the times and you will harmonize Scripture.” - St. Augustine

g. Historical Narrative vs. Didactic

Jephthah: Judges 11:30-39

Gen 22

a. Setting of time or place – birth of Jesus. Luke 2:1-2

b. Conveyed in prose style.

c. Presence of genealogies

d. No obvious moral point in the text.

Gospels vs epistles.

h. Exceptions are not the Rule.

Acts 1:26 Drawing Lots

Acts 21:22-26 Paul's Vow.

i. Interpretation vs. Application.

Interpret in context and Apply in context

2. Practical Steps

a. Listen and Wait.

b. Read and Store.

Psalm 119.11 I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. The Holy Spirit reminds us.

John 14.26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

c. See the Big Picture first.

d. Meditate and Understand.

Matt 13.19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.

e. Preach as much as possible.

2 Tim 4:2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

Ecclesiastes 11:6 Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.


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