Tuesday, April 05, 2011


Any serious bible study involves several steps that result in good Biblical interpretation. These are not steps intended just for scholars but are essential for anyone who wishes to know what the bible truly says and means. For the next couple of posts I want to present some basic steps that will show how to interpret the text of the bible in a fashion that involves some integrity.

For the record, I'm using the word "integrity" here in its meaning of "soundness" or "completeness." I'll state what those steps are, define them, and then illustrate them. I'm writing this for the many of you who are not Pastors, and yet, for some reason, read this blog. I hope they help you in your study of the scriptures.

The first step or principle I'll mention is what I call grammatical integrity. [Soundness] This is having an involvement with the grammar, language, and syntax of a passage. It refers to a procedure called doing an "exegesis" of the text. Don't be afraid of that word. Exegesis simply means going to the text and "exiting" or "extracting" from the text what is being said in it with as little of your own bias or preconceived ideas as possible. It's just learning to let the text do the talking.

What is done all too often, by many, is what's technically called eisegesis. [Reading INTO the text rather than drawing OUT of the text.] Eisegesis is, I believe, a very dangerous thing and at best ends up with a shallow kind of understanding especially when someone is responsible for teaching the scriptures to others.

Eisegesis happens like this, you get an idea of what you want to convey to people and you go find some verses to support your idea. You have no clue what those verses are really saying but they sound like what you're wanting to talk about and you just use those verses as if they are addressing your already predetermined idea. Do you see this? That is shallow at best but very dangerous at worst. This is especially so when teaching. It's assuming what a text means instead of letting a text say what it means.

Now some of you are thinking you're left in the dust right now since you don't know Greek or Hebrew. This does take some involvement at some level in the original languages I'll admit, BUT, the fact is, I don't think you need to know Greek or Hebrew to do this step at all. There are a couple of tools that will help.

One tool is what's called an Interlinear bible. You will find an on-line edition here. This enables you to see the Greek words to each verse of every book in the New Testament. With this tool you can find the Greek words identified with the English word and begin your work of interpreting a passage.

A good Bible dictionary will also help. One that I would recommend is called the Collin Brown Bible Dictionary. It's a big thick book but has just about any word that is needed as you study the scriptures. You will be able to find a real solid entomology of any word including the history of the word, where it comes from, and even its uses in classical Greek, New Testament uses and things of that nature. You can also find it here online here..

A Biblical dictionary can be extremely helpful to any serious student of the Word. It will give the true meaning intended by any word used in the original language and that is really essential. Everyone needs a good Bible dictionary.

A prime example of what I'm talking about is in James where this is said, "For anyone who is a hearer of the Word and not a doer is like a natural man, as a man who looks at his natural face in the mirror once he has looked away and gone away, has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was." The word for "looks" in verses 23 and 24 [KJV Beholdeth] and the word "look" in verse 25 that says "But one who looks into the perfect law and continues therein..." are two entirely different words translated into English as "looks."

They appear in English to basically be the same word meaning the same thing. They don't. The Greek language shows them as different and an Interlinear bible with a dictionary would reveal this. The first one means "to glance." The second one means "to gaze." You wouldn't notice the difference without the original being seen and checking a Bible dictionary.

Knowing this, I could then, with integity, say,"We forget what we see in the mirror [The bible] about what God tells us because we tend to GLANCE at it. But when we GAZE at the bible our lives are different. It is too often the opposite. Grammatical integrity in textual study would have shown that.

Then there is the second step which I'll define as historic integrity or understanding the historic and cultural realities that surround the text. This helps to explain not just what is being said but why certain things are being said. Understanding the historic and cultural realities of an apostolic letter for example will help explain why certain things are being taught or exhorted in that particular letter at that particular time. Failing in this can result in wrong and inaccurate application.

I will give you an example that isn't earth shaking but is one of working in the history area when studying passages like First Corinthians 5, 12 and 14. Those are the chapters about not getting drunk at the communion table and the women being silent that Paul stated to the Corinthians if you recall.

When you get into the history of the Corinthian people and what was part of their history before they were redeemed you find they were part of what is now commonly called the "mystery religions." One of the teachings of the mystery religions was that ecstasy equalled spirituality.

So, one of the ways they believed helped them connect with their gods or goddesses, which they believed filled the universe, was to go into a divine frenzy and one of the things that helped them kick into their divine frenzy (that's what Plato actually called it) was drunkenness and sexuality. Lots of wine and lots of sex.

I never understood how on earth the Corinthians could get drunk at communion without being totally nuts. But they weren't really nuts at all. They just carried over into their new found faith the idea that drunkenness might help them experience Jesus like it had helped in their old religion. Getting drunk wasn't that much of a stretch for them at all because that was exactly what they had come out of. I am just giving you an example which, in this case doesn't change your life perhaps, but it might help you see why they were so willing to get drunk in Corinth. So now you understand why Paul was saying what was being said in that One Corinthian five passage.

This is particularly important when you begin to study what Paul said about "women being silent" and why that was so important to the Corinthians. I will speak to that as I address another point or two of good biblical interpretation next time.

Four total principles of interpretation will be presented that are very important as they will help us know the meaning of a passage of scripture. This time grammatical integrity and historical integrity and next time contextual integrity and timeless truth integrity which is knowing the difference between a timeless truth and a regulation for a certain people at a certain time.

Simply things but major errors can be avoided with a little knowledge of principles for correct interpretation. Don't worry. My final point will be that the Holy Spirit is the only One who can really enable us to understand Truth and to study the bible isn't accomplished by personal discipline.

More next time.

Paul B.


Bob Cleveland said...

It occurred to me a long time ago that not everything ever said to anybody, in the Bible, applied to everybody, for all time. There were promises made to the apostles that are unlikely to be made to a bunch of followers who don't know how to "pray as we should" (NAS).

I recall our first mission trip to Haiti, in 1970, and being instructed that women must not wear sleeveless dresses. Culturally, in Haiti, a sleeveless dress was typically worn by women of easy virtue. Nobody argued, and all the team understood the deal.

Then, after I'd misinterpreted John 1:12 for years, someone pointed out that the word "power" was actually "authority", which is completely understandable once you hear that.

Put them together and that had me buying a computer Bible, which has the interlinear bible plus Strong's and Brown-Driver & Briggs and Thayer's. And I bought it in about 1994. I find, now, I cannot prepare a lesson without having it handy.

Good post, Brother.

Anonymous said...

Good post. It's so true what you said about some preachers' Scripture reference won't have a thing to do about their topic. [Been a long-long time since I've heard one. That's just for Rodney.)]

I know you haven't discussed this subject yet, but the search for truth sometimes can depend on WHY something is said.

In reference to what I'm going to say, Jesus said religious leaders walked on God's laws for sake of tradition. (Mark 7:9)

With all the Biblical disagreements that Baptists have; nothing can compare to the disagreement between Christians in Acts 15.

Peter's words of salvation being a gift by Jesus were omitted in the letter to the Christian Gentiles, but why James switched the subject of how Gentiles were saved to how they would be accepted by Christian Jews will probably never be known. This 'switch' allowed the faith plus works people to get their foot in the door and I believe that's how the Catholic religion started.

But back to the subject WHY. I'm sure Peter could say with Paul: “My message comes from Jesus Christ, who told me what to say.” (Galatians 1:12)

Whereas, James' WHY was TRADITION: “For these things have been preached against in Jewish synagogues in ever city on every Sabbath for many generations.” (Acts 15:21)

And along with tradition, some preachers and people like to credit their reasons or judgments on God as James did in (Acts 15: 28 Holman) “For it was the Holy Spirit's decision—and ours...”

I believe we need the Book of James to learn how Christians should act, but not how they become or remain a Christian.

Paul Burleson said...


Excellent comment. Your reference to the computer bible may be real helpful to some folks.


You and my wife must be cousins or something. She is ALWAYS asking "why" about things. ;-)

It's a good question to ask. But the answer isn't always easy to give I would think. I'm going to post about this one day.

James did say...“For it was the Holy Spirit's decision—and ours...” I believe him but anyone else I'd wonder how he or she determined that it was the HS!! [ smile]

Rodney Sprayberry said...

Good post Paul. I suspect you will touch upon this but I will offer a thought anyway.

IMHO it is virtual impossible not to bring something of ourselves to the text. Such things as personal history, emotional baggage, and culture, etc. all affect our understanding of any particular text.

Obviously the goal is to minimize their impact with the resources and techniques you mention.

Regardless it is helpful to be aware of this interpretational reality and acknowledge it with honesty and humility.

As you suggested the HS is the one that does the teaching and the interpreting...sometimes He even does it even when we approach the text with eisegesis!

During doctoral intensives, I took a hermeneutic course that helped us learn to make good use of the tools and techniques like the ones you have mentioned.

However, we were required to read Larry Crabb's "Understanding People" and write and paper on it. All of us thought it was strange that it was required reading in a doctoral level hermeneutics class.

Several of us asked the professor about it and he smiled and said. A proper reading of scripture will help you understand people. A proper understanding of people will help you read scripture.

This book will help you do both.

It did.

Paul Burleson said...


Could not agree more with what you've said. That's the reason for my phrasing it.."With as little as possible." it is impossible to have none of it. [Personal bias and preconceived ideas.]

About twenty years I carried Larry Crabb's book "Understanding People" with me for a couple of years as faithfully as I carried my bible. It is one of those that REVOLUTIONIZED me personally.

Good comment.

Aussie John said...


It's rather pleasing to see that there are still some who understand that the Scriptures were written in the context of a time in history, to a people whose thoughts and actions were an integral part of that context.

I'll certainly share your words with some brethren. Thank you!

Paul Dresvyannikov said...


I stumbled upon your blog when searching another's. I wanted to thank you for the link to the online interlinear Bible. This will aid me in the future.

I greatly appreciate it.

Paul Dresvyannikov.

Anonymous said...

“You are certainly free to eat food offered to idols...it is not against God's laws to eat such meat.” (1 Corinthians 10:23 Living)

Hey! Did Paul disagree with the “Holy Spirit's decision and ours”? :)

Rodney, I think you believe your professor was right in saying, “A proper understanding of people will help you read scripture.”

Would you and Paul agree that a proper understanding of writers of the Bible would help us read scripture?

The Nazirite was to: “...call down my blessings upon the people of Israel; and I myself will personally bless them.” (Numbers 6:27)

James was raised a Nazirite.
Foxe's Book of Martyrs: “James drank no wine...neither did he eat any animal food...to him only was it lawful to enter into the Holy place...clothed with linen only...his knees, by oft kneeling for craving forgiveness for the people hardened like the knees of a camel...called Just and safeguard of the people.” Pharisees said: “...all the people and we ourselves are ready to obey thee.”

Josephus: “Ananus delivered James to be stoned...[because of public outrage] King Agrippa took the high priesthood from Ananus.” “These miseries [Roman's slaughter of Jews] befell them by the anger of God, on account that they had slain James the Just who was a most righteous person.”

Birth of Christianity: “James was the authoritative leader of the Jerusalem mother-church, which was operating two major missions, one to the Jews and one to the pagans. In a combined community, such as that at Antioch, Christian Judaism had to prevail over Christian paganism. Peter and Barnabas presumed that kosher regulations were no longer important. Before James's intervention, they ate with the pagans like pagans.”

Why didn't James quit his day job of praying for God's blessing upon the people if he understood Calvary did away with his job?
I believe he didn't understand Jesus fulfilled the Law, but thought He only came to back up the Law, and it was 'business' as usual.

At Paul's trial, one word from the most important man in Israel and I believe Paul would have been free, but Paul wrote: “No man stood for me.” He prayed the same prayer he heard Stephen pray – had the same crime been committed?

In keeping on topic, the conclusion was reached after years of seeing clues, motives, etc. I believe Paul's death would be the grandfather of all the TV shows on 'Cold Case'.

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J,

I appreciate that.


You're welcome.


Interesting thoughts!

Anonymous said...

Nice reply! But be careful...you know they call a person that's two steps ahead a leader, but 10 steps a martyr. :)

Rodney Sprayberry said...

Rex, you asked "Would you and Paul agree that a proper understanding of writers of the Bible would help us read scripture?"

My answer would be yes it does help.

But I might add that we do not always have a full understanding of the writers, main characters, issues, and cultural atmosphere of the Bible.

We have quite a bit, to be sure, and I am grateful for it.

Even with the vast information we have access to, we have a tendency to filter those resources through our own preferences, bias, and pre-conceptions!

Nevertheless, it has been my experience that it never seems to be enough anyway. Knowledge might puff up but it never seems to satisfy. Solomon was right, it does make a person weary!

There are always more questions that need answering, more clarity wished for, more discovery desired.

I wonder why?

Maybe "knowledge" (that is facts and information) is a cheap substitute for "knowing" (that is relationship and experience)

Hopefully the Christ-follower has some of both.

The words of Jesus are instructive to me personally:

"You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you can possess eternal life. These are the scriptures that testify about me. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life"

In light of all of this it is perfectly understandable that there would be disagreements among fallen people about the Bible.

What is miraculous is that fallen people can have any unity of interpretation at all!

To me that pretty strong evidence for the work of the HS (in the work of inspiration and interpretation)

Christiane said...

The Holy Spirit opens our hearts to understand that which He inspired to be written.

The 'circle' is completed through Him.

That gift of that 'knowing' is the grace that does include our reason, but goes 'beyond' reason.
Another name for that kind of knowing is 'faith'.

Rodney Sprayberry said...


Somehow you always manage to say in a few words what it take most of us several paragraphs. Thanks :)

Anonymous said...

You're right that most “have a tendency to filter those resources through our own preferences, bias, and preconceptions!”

I'd like to think I have the ability to change my mind when I see all the facts. I believe the biggest obstacle to change is pride.

As a child and until I really started studying the Bible, I believed every word was true. Acts 15 caught my attention that two 'white hat' guys said different things.

At first, James agrees with Peter: “Peter has told you...and this fact of Gentile conversion agrees with what the prophets predicted. So my judgment [who made him the JUDGE?] is that we should not insist that the Gentiles who turn to God must obey our Jewish laws, [STOP TALKING—ADJURN THE MEETING] EXCEPT that we should write to them...[four Jewish laws]” (Acts 15:14-20 Living)

They don't have to but they have to? The devil loves double talk and confusion.

The results of the letter to the Gentiles: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit by keeping the Jewish laws...have you gone completely crazy? (Galatians 3:2-3 Living) “...you are following a different way to heaven that doesn't go to heaven at all.” (Galatians 1:6 Living)

Why did Paul blame the Gentiles? They were waiting for an answer how they were saved and if four laws were good, wouldn't all be better?

It seems preachers avoid Acts 15. Is it too messy with too many waves?

Paul Burleson said...


I've been away from my blog for the past couple of days researching for the next post, believe it or not!! Boy have I opened a whole new vista for me personally. Great stuff I'm finding.

Great discussion going on here too.

My take on motives is fairly simple while motives themselves are not simple at all.

1) My own motives surprise and disappoint me often. But my own are all I can reasonably be sure of [Often deceiving myself] and I can and should judge them in both the sense of discernment and condemnation.

2) Others motives I can only speculate about since only God can know the inner workings of a person really.

3) If someone tells me their motive is a certain thing, I accept it. If I doubt their honesty about it, I keep my suspicions to myself since I have read number 2.

4) I am always aware that Paul said to NOT.. "judge [condemn or mistakenly think you know for certain.] anything before the time when the Lord will bring to light the hidden things of darkness [Hidden actions] and will reveal rhe counsels of the heart." [Motives and inner attitudes.]

1 Corinthians 4:5

That philosophy has served me well for many years and I'm comfortable with it...FOR ME. [Each person to their own plan for living life in difficult areas.]