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  • Writer's pictureAnush A. John

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.